Rose leaned against the doorway, her arms crossed, determined to commit this sight to memory.
The Doctor was drawing.
Of course, so was Tony. Hunched over the coffee table with a pack of Crayola spread between them, Tony's tongue between his teeth and the Doctor's useless but beloved glasses at the end of his nose, they looked ridiculous.
She felt a surge of affection for both of them, warming its way up her torso and spreading a smile across her face. Tony had been an anchor for his sister in the years before the Dimension Cannon, had been the first roots she'd even considered planting in this parallel world; now there was the Doctor, sitting on the living room floor, the two of them together a sight she'd never allowed herself to hope for.
Much to her delight and Jackie's distaste, the pair had gotten along famously from the very start, the novelty of which had never worn off for Rose. Tony reacted to the Doctor as though he was a living, breathing action hero straight out of his favourite cartoon; the Doctor, for his part, regarded Tony as an endless wealth of entertainment and was constantly willing to do the mundane sorts of things that tried the patience of even parents and big sisters – like, apparently, drawing with crayons.
It was just so fascinatingly domestic that she couldn't help but wonder if the tolerance for tiny humans that this Doctor possessed was the result of Donna or of parenthood long past. But it seemed rather tactless to ask someone if their knack for babysitting sprung from a two-way biological metacrisis or from raising the child – children? – they'd lost so long ago, so she held her tongue. It wasn't as though she was even certain what Time Lord parenting entailed – did they draw with crayons, too?
As if on cue, the Doctor tossed down his crayon with a triumphant "aha!" He flipped the paper up to show Tony, and from her spot in the doorway Rose could make out little more than a mass of reds and oranges with something like a snowglobe in the middle.
"There," the Doctor said with a note of pride that was considerably more sincere than it probably deserved to be, "all done." He grinned at Tony across the table. "What d'you think?"
Tony wrinkled his nose. "But the colours are all wrong!"
The Doctor's grin was quickly replaced by a look of confusion. "Sorry?"
"The colours are wrong," Tony insisted again, jabbing a finger at the picture. "The sky should be blue."
"Oi! Orange is a perfectly acceptable colour for a sky!"
Tony stuck out his tongue. "Is not."
Rose half-expected the Doctor to stick out his tongue in retaliation. Instead he adopted an expression that was suspiciously like a pout, something she found even more hilarious.
"Well, there's no need to be so ethnocentric about it," he reasoned.
Rose rolled her eyes. Ethnocentric. He'd called a child ethnocentric. That was probably her cue to get involved.
"No fighting, you two," she called, dropping her arms and stepping from the doorway even as her smile stayed on. She raised an eyebrow at the Doctor in a manner that she hoped conveyed the message ethnocentric? Really?
He beamed at her, either missing the message or choosing to ignore it. She suspected it was the latter.
"Not fighting," he said innocently. "Were we, Tony?"
It seemed Tony was not in the mood to agree. Instead he cocked his head at Rose. "What's eth—et—what's it mean?"
Rose considered what her mother's reaction would be if Tony's new favourite word was ethnocentric and, kind soul that she was, chose to spare the Doctor that particularly unpleasant fate. Instead she smiled, kneeling down by the end of the table.
"It means you're good at drawing."
At her explanation, the Doctor was indignant. "Well don't lie," he said, exasperated. "Tony, it means –"
Rose gave him her most pointed of stares.
Not surprisingly, he faltered.
"…Er, it means you're very good at drawing," he amended, punctuating his sentence with a smile in Rose's direction.
She figured the smile translated roughly to please don't hurt me; she replied with a smile that said only if you don't give me reason to.
"Oh," Tony said, pleased. He set down the crayon in his hand and held up his picture for inspection. "Rose, look!"
The picture in question was a crude (though truthfully, Rose doubted she could do all that much better) depiction of the Tyler mansion, complete with a stick-figure Tyler family and her favourite plus one. The sun was wearing sunglasses, there was a zeppelin in the sky, the grass was comprised of single green lines, and in the corner of the paper, Tony's name acted as an oversized signature.
She grinned at him. "It's perfect!" she announced earnestly, and Tony's face lit up in response.
She glanced at the Doctor, expecting to see him grinning back at her, only to find him staring at the picture in his hands. Closer now, she could see the details – red ground that swelled into mountains beneath the orange sky that Tony had rallied against, surrounding a mass of spirals and towers enclosed in a great dome. It was no planet she'd seen before, and she was seconds from asking him outright when she caught the look of distant longing in his eyes. It was a look she knew well, even if she was used to seeing it on a different face.
It lasted only a second – then, it seemed, he felt the weight of her gaze and looked up, flashing a bright smile that might have deceived just about anyone else.
Her feeling of realization was closely followed by a heavy sadness settling in her chest.
"I think," said Rose, gently taking Tony's drawing from his hands, "that this deserves a spot on the fridge. D'you want some juice while I'm up?"
Tony nodded his head with an enthusiasm only children could manage over juice. "Yes, please!" he recited, already reaching for a new piece of paper to host his next masterpiece.
She rose to her feet and looked down. "Gimme a hand, Doctor?"
He peered up at her from the floor, uncomprehending. "You need help getting a glass of juice?"
Rose stared incredulously. For someone so very clever, he was completely daft.
Finally, it seemed to click. "Oh! Right! 'Course you do." He sprung to his feet, grabbing her free hand – habit, she figured, not that she minded – and dragging her towards the kitchen. "Onwards!"
The trek to the kitchen was disappointingly short, leaving Rose hardly enough time to decide how she was going to approach the subject. The truth of it was that she worried about him. She'd seen him toss and turn at night, haunted by the frequent nightmares that Time Lord sleeping patterns could escape. There were moments every so often when someone or something at Torchwood would get under his skin and she'd catch just a glimpse of the supposed "danger" the Doctor in brown had self-righteously spoken of. She so often attributed it to other things – to whatever had happened in her absence, to losing the universe he knew so well, to losing Donna, Jack, Martha, Sarah Jane and his precious, precious TARDIS – that she very nearly forgot the survivor's guilt that shadowed him every step of the way. She supposed it was the sort of wound that never healed, just faded into a chronic ache you learned to live with.
She knew what that was like.
She dropped his hand as they reached their destination, using a magnet to stick Tony's drawing to the fridge and pulling open the door to get the juice. The Doctor grabbed a glass from the cupboard, slid it towards her and then leaned back against the countertop, watching her.
"So," he said, prompting.
Right. It probably didn't make much sense to insist that someone follow you, only to ignore them. "So," she said, hoping to keep her tone light, "didn't know you could draw."
His tone was smug and his expression teasing as he said, "Oh, I can do everything."
She rolled her eyes. "Right."
She stared at the juice as she poured it into the cup, considering the best course of action. She could say nothing and the topic would go undiscussed as always; she could dance around the subject and watch him do the same, avoiding the hurt and vulnerability as keenly as always.
Or she could be blunt, test the depth of the water with both feet, risk getting wet and maybe even risk reaching him.
Well, she'd never been a coward.
"Is that your home?" She saw him stiffen in her peripheral vision and plunged on, turning her head to watch him. "I mean, what you drew, is that what it looked like, your planet?"
He looked ahead, gazing at nothing, lost in memories she didn't share. Then he swallowed, dragging one hand across his cheek and securing the façade of always all right back in place. "Well, rough approximation, really. Not the most accurate medium, crayons."
She nodded absently, overcome with a burning desire to know more, to lift even the smallest bit of the weight of his shoulders. "What was it called?"
"Gallifrey," he replied, glancing at her in honest confusion. "Never mentioned that?"
She shook her head, rolling the word around in her mind. It felt alien in a way that even Raxacoricofallapatorius didn't anymore, something she thought profoundly sad.
"Gallifrey," she repeated. She offered a half-smile. "Looks beautiful."
He nodded, smiling weakly in return. "It was, yeah." Then, just as she expected, he dropped his eyes and looked away.
She tried, not for the first time, to imagine what it must be like – last of the Time Lords, destroyer of worlds. It was impossible. She'd seen the heart of the TARDIS and destroyed thousands of Daleks, but then promptly forgotten all of it. She'd seen her planet burn, but then she'd gone and had chips on it; she'd been the last of her kind but seen evolution take its course, humans of all kinds spread to the far reaches of the universe.
The closest she'd come was losing the planet she'd been born on – but standing in the kitchen on her parents' mansion, getting a glass of juice for her brother, in a city called London on a planet called Earth, she had to admit it wasn't the same.
And there it was again, she thought, the brick wall that had always prevented this conversation from advancing. As awful as she felt, as much as she wanted to help, there was nothing she could do and no way she could understand. It was why she'd avoided it from early on, why she'd flippantly suggested chips that first day, why she'd always spent so much of her time determined to drag a smile out of him and keep things lighthearted. She had been sure the best she could offer was distraction and a hand to hold, and when he'd regenerated and become so full of life and laughter and flirtation, she 'd come dangerously close to forgetting how bitter, how lonely he'd once been.
Then there was Canary Wharf. Then there was Donna's world, where no hand to hold meant death; then there was the darkness and Davros and the Doctor-Donna and losing it all to spend his only life with her.
She supposed she'd have to be more than a distraction.
The faraway look hadn't yet left his eyes, and so she resigned herself to asking the question she already knew the answer to.
He jolted, ever so slightly, drawn back into the moment by the sound of her voice. "Sure, 'course." As expected, he smiled. "I'm fine, brilliant."
Despite her concern, Rose rolled her eyes. "You know no one believes you when you say that?"
He grinned again, sincerely this time. "Donna made that pretty clear, yeah." When she didn't grin back, his expression sobered. "It was a long time ago, Rose."
She raised an eyebrow, skeptical. "Yeah? Am I supposed to believe that makes it all better?"
"No," he said, and the honesty surprised her.
Once again, he turned to avoid her eyes, and she sighed. "You never talk about it, and obviously you don't want to, and that's fine, just – I wish -- I want to help you."
His head turned back to her, his brow furrowed. "But you do. You have. You–"
He broke off, and she could see him hesitate the way he always did when he reached the brink of any sort of emotional confession. Wordlessly, she held out one hand and wiggled her fingers, offering a silent encouragement; he let his arms fall, twining his fingers with hers.
"I'll always miss it," he continued finally, rushing the words the same way one hurries to pull off a Band-Aid. "I'm sorry if that worries you, it just -- it was home." He raised his eyebrows, the slightest trace of a grin on his lips. "But everyone leaves home in the end, yeah?" He looked down at their hands, thoughtful, and swung them from side to side. "And I'm fine, really. I'm happy, Rose. Here. With you, and your blue sky and your ridiculous number of zeppelins and your marginally ethnocentric brother."
She squeezed his hand, and he looked up to meet her gaze.
He beamed at her, that manic grin of his, and leaned forward; her heartbeat increased ever so slightly with anticipation and her lips curled into a sly smile.
"Now," he said, looping his free arm behind her, "…I believe we promised Tony some juice!"
With a wink, he grabbed the juice from behind her and spun around; Rose had only a second to register the complete disconnect between what she had expected to happen and what had happened before he grinned over his shoulder at her and tugged her forward, hand still clasped in hers.