As I am a professional writer and have work to do to get paid, I have decided to deal with these thudding plot bunnies in the traditional manner - I will inflict them on others. Please see my Profile for the Challenges of the Month. Brand new August challenges have been added for your entertainment, education, and inspiration. If you'd rather do July's, instead, I'm accepting July II Challenges until the end of August or until I can't keep up, whichever. Thanks to all those who have participated thus far - I've REALLY enjoyed all the results. The new challenges will run through the end of August. Please let me know when you respond to a Challenge so I can read and review.

This fic was requested for July II by catyuy. I was asked to have mentions of several people, have Ten and Rose drop in on the Brigadier and Doris, and required to have the Brigadier mention the relationship between Rose & the Doctor. I'm not sure if this came out the way it was expected to do. It DEFINITELY isn't what I expected at all.

Just Ask

"I should make my own brochures," the Doctor was saying, as he threw open the doors. "'How to Lose Gracefully to the Doctor and His Fabulous Companion!'"

"Me too," Rose agreed, fishing out a pair of sunglasses and shoving them at the Doctor. He made a face. She frowned and tapped her toe until, pouting adorably, he put them on. "I'll call mine 'The Companions' Guide to Running Like Hell.'"

"I'm with you on that," agreed a slightly portly older gentleman who appeared just outside the doors.

"Brigadier!" the Doctor exclaimed, rushing forward to seize the man's hand and shake it vigorously. "Brigadier Alistair Gordan Lethbridge-Stewart!"

There was a pretty laugh and an attractive older woman came up next to the Brigadier, putting a hand on the arm that the Doctor wasn't attempting to remove in his enthusiasm. "And Doris!" the Doctor exclaimed. Far more calmly, he bent and gently kissed the woman's cheek. "You're as lovely as ever, Doris. Keeping the old bear in line?"

"If I'm an old bear," said the Brigadier in a gruff but friendly tone, "what does that make you?"

Rose blinked in surprise. "Hi," she said, softly.

"Rose, this is my old friend. Call him Brigadier, everyone does. And Doris, the rather unfortunate lady he's drafted into looking after him in his dotage."

"Rude," Rose said. "Really, really rude."

"Was it?" asked the Doctor, looking at her with surprise evident, even despite the sunglasses. "Oh, sorry." He turned back to his friends. "As Rose pointed out, I am rude this time, and sorta brown, I think she said."

The Brigadier shook his head. "You've been rude before," he said. "I got used to it."

"You're quite young this time, though, aren't you?" Doris asked. "I think I've only ever seen you this young once before. How did that happen?"

For some unfathomable and unknowable reason, the Doctor blushed, just the faintest tracing of pink across the freckles on his cheeks. "Pot luck!" he exclaimed after a few seconds of tugging at his ear.

"Come on then, Doctor, Rose," said the Brigadier, "we've quite a crowd today."

"I like a party!" the Doctor said and proceeded to produce a banana from a pocket. "See, Rose."

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, I know."

The Doctor and the Brigadier started talking about something, heaven alone knew what, so Rose smiled at Doris apologetically. "Sorry," she said. "He talks all the time, this time out."

"We'll go without them. They'll follow when they get hungry."

Rose liked the older woman instantly. "You might regret that one. Have you seen the Doctor eat?"

"Does he still like steaks or is he back on one of his vegetarian kicks?" asked Doris.

"Not as much as he did last time, I don't think. But he ate my mum's shepherd's pie and went for seconds, and I gotta tell you, that's like living more dangerously than he usually does."

"Which is really saying something," Doris agreed.

They both laughed.

"So she's met Sarah Jane," the Brigadier asked. "How'd that go?"

"Not so badly. Mickey was there, and he would keep going on about the Mrs. and the Ex, but I think they liked each other. Rose and Sarah Jane, I mean. Not Mickey. Well, Sarah liked Mickey, but that might have been his name and the fact that he screams, too. Who all's here?"

"Liz came by earlier, but she couldn't stay. Mike and Jo came this time, and I asked Dr. Sullivan, but you know Harry."

"Still a bit shy, yeah," the Doctor agreed. "And busy, I guess, with World Health and stuff."

"John's here."

"Got to get back to Rose, now," the Doctor said immediately.

The Brigadier laughed. "What are you suggesting?"

"John Benton is likely to remind her of last me and I've had enough of my companions running off with people who remind them vaguely of me."

"He's in his fifties," the Brigadier said with a smile. Nevertheless, they started to walk toward the patio in the back garden.

"Yeah, well, her mum said I looked about forty-five last time. Think she might have a thing for older men and I'm not risking it."

"You know her mother?" the Brigadier demanded, pulling up short, staring at the Doctor in astonishment.

"Yeah," he said and shrugged. "What? The woman detests me. Well, detests me and sometimes I don't think I like the look in her eyes at all."

"You're getting quite mellow in your old age, Doctor. There was a time you didn't even talk about their families, never mind to them."

"Well, Rose is... well, she's..." The Doctor scratched at the back of his neck. "She's just different, all right?" he said.

"Have you told her?" the Brigadier asked kindly.

They turned the corner of the old house and there Rose sat, a single young flower, looking a little wilted and jaded in among the older blossoms from his (relative) youth. Jo was sitting next to her, chattering away, still blonde and lovely in her fifties, and the Doctor was assaulted by a sudden image of Rose's face looking at Madame de Pompadour. "I can't," the Doctor said. "She'll leave me."

"You don't know that."

"They all leave me. Whether for long-hair pillocks or Mike Yates or John or Mickey the Idiot, they all go in the end, because I can never give them what they want."

"Might I suggest, just this once, that you ask her what she wants?"

The Doctor shook his head. "I couldn't bear the answer," he said.

When they left that evening, Doris pressed chocolate cake on them and a kiss onto each of their cheeks. "Bring him back to see us soon, Rose," she requested.

Rose nodded. It seemed to her, in a way, that these two people were the Doctor's family, even if he didn't know it. She brushed back a tear and went inside to put up the cake.

When Doris had also gone, the Brigadier smiled at the Doctor and shook his hand. "If I thought for a minute that you'd listen to me, I'd tell you what you look like looking at her."

"What do I look like?" the Doctor asked, sadly.

"Like I did, when I met Doris. Like someone who didn't know what to do with a second chance after he'd long since blown the first one."

"Oh," said the Doctor. "So I didn't fool you at all?"

"I can't figure out how you're fooling her!" the Brigadier replied with a gruff snort. "Just ask her, idiot. If you're going to lose her, either way, what possible difference would knowing make?"

A day later, by TARDIS time, they were standing hand in hand watching the sky of an ancient world that had never been touched by man kind and never would. Only one set of human feet would ever tread the soil here, and they were Rose Tyler's, and the Doctor was fine with that.

He took a deep breath. "How long are you going to stay with me?" he asked, already dreading the answer that he knew must come.

Rose looked at him, serious and beautiful and more than a little bit perfect. Her hair whipped in the wind and her dark eyes shone with a soft, gentle contentment. She seemed to have given the answer some thought, seemed to have made up her mind a long time ago, because the answer came readily to her lips without fear or hesitation. "Forever."