Disclaimer: I don't own anything, BBC owns it all.
Beta: Thanks so much to Bonnie for beta reading! If not for her this episode would have been awful and probably never ever posted.
The fact that the interior of the TARDIS was not fixed had taken several weeks to get used to. Her bedroom wallpaper would occasionally change colour, and once the room had moved to a different hall entirely. She'd ended up passed out on an animal-fur quilt after three hours of trying to find her way back to the console room, and had actually kept the knife she found under the pillow. Once she found her way out, the Doctor had promised it wouldn't happen again, and vanished under the console to have a conversation with the 'interfering old boat'.
Although her room had remained largely in place after that, the colour palette had gotten much more sporadic. Once the entire room, floor, walls and ceiling had turned rainbow tie-dye, but she'd blamed that on the their trip to Devaom. Apparently most of the fun in the planet's infamous fun fairs came from the 'special' topping on their funnel cakes.
The ship seemed to get many of her decorating ideas from their recent visits; exhibit A: The kitchen. The single most changeable room aboard the TARDIS, which Rose presumed had to do with it being the only room, other than the console, likely to see both Rose and the Doctor on any given day. The last time she had been in it, the décor had been vaguely reminiscent of a large New York restaurant: lots of polished steel and an immense oven; now it looked like a 1950s diner had exploded inside.
She tilted her head and pondered the neon Coca-Cola sign embedded over the red formica table while she sipped her tea. Well, she focused her eyes on the sign as she pondered other, much more significant things — but it was easier to pretend she was simply baffled by the way an interstellar time ship seemed to enjoy recreating tacky American memorabilia.
One of the aforementioned significant things was resting silently on the table. She steadfastly refused to look at it, knowing that the object — her mobile — wasn't ringing and it wasn't going to. There was a part of her that was proud of Mickey for denying her any further contact — she'd treated him dreadfully and for far too long, but it was eclipsed by the parts of her that wanted the comfort and safety that he had so steadfastly provided for so much of her life. It was awful and selfish to hold onto him, even knowing that she had no intention of doing what he wanted and staying home...possibly ever — oh, preferably ever, so very preferably ever — but that didn't mean she wasn't fond of visiting. Mickey was part of home, and losing that was a bit crushing.
He was also easier to ponder than the other significant thing. That significant thing was not in the fluorescent-lit kitchen; instead he was stretched out under the console, repairing something that she couldn't even pronounce, let alone understand the purpose of.
She took a sip of her tea and made a face; it had gone cold during her mental ramblings. She stood and sighed, pouring the undrinkable brew into the bright red sink. She took a deep breath and steeled herself before stalking out of the room. Significant thing number two was at least one she could deal with, and she was not the sort of girl who sulked others into submission.
Rose Tyler was a fighter, even when her opponent was the Doctor.
When she reached the console room he was where she had expected. She could hear muttering from beneath the grate floors, interrupted occasionally by sparks and the hum of the sonic screwdriver. She heard a faint zap! and then the Doctor's faintly annoyed voice drifted up to greet her.
"D'you want somethin'?"
"Sort of," she curled up in the captain's seat, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.
"Go on then," his tone was a bit less gruff, a bit more curious.
There was a sudden thump! that sounded suspiciously like a head impacting against something metal, and then, with a flurry of words that didn't need or receive translations, his head appeared near the ramp to the doors. She couldn't quite read his expression; there was a bit of pain, as he rubbed what would probably be a very large bump later, a hint of anger and a significant amount of resignation. "Sarah Jane mention that, did she?"
"Said she was surprised I didn't know about it," Rose rested her elbows on her knees and met his stare levelly. "An' somethin' that didn't make sense, said there was a first and second you that she knew."
"Technically it was the third and fourth," he replied rather glibly, climbing out from beneath the deck. He crossed to stand in front of her; he folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the console in a deceptively casual pose. "It's a Time Lord thing, Rose. That's all."
"Really?" she sounded a bit more sarcastic than she'd intended. "An' here I thought it was just a bloke thing that Mickey'd never mentioned."
"No need to get snippy!" he narrowed his eyes. "It's not gonna happen any time soon so it doesn't matter."
"So, what, there's a schedule to this thing that I don't get to know about?" her brow furrowed. "Why's it a big secret?"
"It's not a secret," he looked up, glaring at something above her head. "It's just not somethin' I like to talk about."
"But it's important, right?" she folded her arms, mimicking his posture. "Why won't you just tell me?"
"Because regeneration is death, Rose!" he glowered at her, ignoring her suddenly wide eyes. "If I die, I get a new body. That's what it means, I die and have to keep goin' whether I want to or not. Brand new me," he hit his thumb against his chest, "this is what it means."
She furrowed her brow as his words sank in. "So, if you got really hurt on one of our trips...you'd just come back a totally different person..." her eyes narrowed to slits, "and you weren't gonna tell me?"
"Not plannin' on it, no," he stood straighter, arms still tight across his chest.
"Well that's just brilliant, isn't it?" she pursed her lips. "An' if you showed up one day lookin' like someone else without warnin' me, I guess you thought I'd just accept that?"
"Thought you might, yeah!" he glared at her for a long moment. "An' like I said, it's not gonna happen anyway!"
"What makes you so sure? We've come awfully bloody close before!" Rose refused to back down. "You should've told me!"
He spun around and circled the console, slapping switches and twisting knobs angrily. He was furious — he fairly vibrated with anger; every muscle in his body was tensed and coiled to fight or flee. He clenched his fingers around the rail and took a deep, steadying breath.
"All right," he replied slowly; his voice was still tight, but it was even and calm. "I'm sorry." he took another deep breath. "Maybe I should have mentioned it."
Rose peered around the time rotor, biting her bottom lip. "Can I ask one more thing?" she asked, her voice small.
He nodded shortly.
"How much changes...inside?" she was watching him intently, and answering twitch of his face gave away far more than he would have liked.
"Depends," he forced himself to step away from the controls, shoving his hands deep into his dimensionally-transcendent pockets and attempting a casual attitude. "Surface stuff is always different. Still me, just might decide celery's a good fashion decision."
She blinked at that, but didn't comment. He sighed and raised an eyebrow at her, waiting for the next question. "Sarah Jane said," she paused, hesitating. "She said you didn't pay much attention to her, afterwards."
He glanced sharply at her, but she was steadfastly staring at the rotor. "Said that, did she?" he let out a breath and did his best not to tense up again. "Might've seemed that way; was a bit less concerned with bein' polite that time 'round. Just meant I didn't coddle her, never that I wasn't payin' attention." He paused, shooting her an appraising look. "Rose?"
She refused to meet his eyes.
"That what this is about, then?" he stepped in front of her, expression finally softening. "Even if I did regenerate, I wouldn't go an' forget about you."
"You sure?" she looked up, hesitantly. "If stuff changes -"
"Little stuff changes," he corrected, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders. "Big stuff's the same. You, Rose Tyler, are big stuff."
She chewed on the inside of her cheek, not particularly reassured.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "What else?"
"Just...well," she hedged, "I dunno. Since Sarah Jane I've been wonderin'..."
"Yeah?" he nodded encouragingly.
"You've had all these people with you," she continued, glancing up for a moment before her focus landed somewhere in the vicinity of his clavicle.
"There's been a few," he agreed.
"'S that all I am?" she didn't look up. "Just part of the crowd?"
There was a long pause as he processed her words. "No," he admitted with a small, rather self-deprecating laugh. His hand moved to gently cup her cheek, tilting her head up gently to meet his eyes. "There's never been another like you," his voice was so soft that she almost thought she had imagined the words, but for the chill of his breath across her face.
She held perfectly still, hardly breathing, terrified that any movement, that any sound might shatter the strange atmosphere that had erected around them. They stood frozen for a moment that lasted centuries, then the Doctor ducked his head and cool lips were pressed softly against hers. She returned the pressure cautiously and swallowed a gasp as she felt a hand slide to her waist, his fingers teasing at the belt loop of her jeans.
Her hands moved of their own volition, finding the beats of his hearts under the smooth leather of his jacket; the coarseness of wool beneath her fingertips the only thing grounding her in reality. His tongue played across her lips, making her sigh against him; he seemed to abandon her belt loop, his long, beautiful fingers caressing gently just under the hem of her t-shirt. She couldn't hold back a gasp at the feel of his cool skin against hers, and before she could regain any semblance of a hold of her senses she felt his tongue brushing lightly against hers. Her hands curled in his jumper, though whether she was holding him down or herself up could be debated.
He tasted like nothing on Earth and everything on Earth. She couldn't identify it, but she decided then that she was very willing to spend the time trying. There could be studies involved.
The Doctor pulled away slowly, resting his forehead against hers. "Rose Tyler," he whispered. He chuckled quietly and then he was in motion — away from her. He bounded back to the missing floor panel and started to crawl under it.
"Oi!" Rose objected, before she could stop herself. He frowned and raised an eyebrow at her. "What just...?"
"Thought that part was obvious," he replied, confused.
"Well, yeah, but!" she floundered for a moment. "Don't we have to like, talk about it or somethin'?"
He looked surprised. "I don't know," he shrugged. "Do we?"
"Kind of, yeah! Was that just a one off sort of thing then?"
Now he looked hurt. "Do you want it to be?"
"Um...no?" she blushed. He grinned.
"Oh," she smiled slowly. "Good."
"Yeah," his grin widened, "it is."