They chose the planet of Maenestrehla for three reasons.
The first reason was that the Doctor was loathe to take them anywhere that might happen to have time windows opening into any portion of eighteenth century Europe, and as the people of Maenestrehla rarely expressed interest in any planet other than their own, it seemed as unlikely a place as any.
The second reason was the absolutely spectacular display of colour that occurred during Maenestrehlan autumn. Situated on a hill, its capital city looked down on valleys on blues and purples, rock patches of pale pink mingled with spots of deep fuchsia and rivers of pale yellow.
The third reason was that Maenestrehla happened to sell ice cream of every imaginable flavour, and it was this reason that sold the idea to Mickey and Rose.
"It's like Harry Potter. Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans!" the Doctor had told them eagerly, only to learn neither Mickey nor Rose had ever expressed any interest in the boy wizard. His faith was further tested when Mickey, presented with a virtually comprehensive list of flavours – a list including everything from mint to foie gras to alien fruits that no twenty-first century human had ever tasted before – chose vanilla.
"Vanilla?" the Doctor had spluttered indignantly. "I bring you to a planet where you can have any flavour of ice cream imaginable and you pick vanilla?"
"It's good!" Mickey had stubbornly protested. "Anyway, most of these flavours shouldn't even exist – who wants ham ice cream?"
Committed to proving a point, the Doctor had proceeded to order the ham-flavoured ice cream, and when he happened to drop the cone a minute later, it was tragic and entirely accidental and not, as Mickey seemed to believe, "on purpose".
The two were ahead of him now, walking the winding path that overlooked the valley, lost in gossip about people the Doctor didn't know. He trailed behind them, hands in his pockets, watching and listening.
Shareen had a new boyfriend, a bloke named Daniel that she'd met at a bar. Someone named Will had unwisely quit his job in order to "make it" with his band. Amanda had left her boyfriend to be with another girl named Amanda. Sam was unemployed, Mike just bought a car, and Marla might be pregnant.
It was disturbingly like listening to the summary of a soap opera, the Doctor thought, and it was another flashing neon sign of a reminder that Rose was very young and very human.
Like he needed any more of those.
The last few days had been a non-stop deluge of reminders, really. First there was Sarah Jane, and though it had been wonderful to see her again, save the day with her again, run with her again, it had come at a price. It poked a hole in the carefully constructed bubble of ignorance he'd always chosen to live in with regards to his companions and his argument with Rose seemed to be stuck on loop in his mind.
She was getting older, his Sarah Jane.
And then came Reinette.
Reinette had been a fascinating piece to a fascinating problem, and beyond that she'd been a bright and beautiful girl who dealt bravely with being thrust into a situation she was never meant to experience. She was captivating, that girl in the fireplace, and her death – her natural, normal human death – had shaken him to the core.
Hours. Her entire life had flickered past him in hours; she'd grown and aged and died before he'd changed his tie. Poetically speaking it was a sick but accurate allegory, and the letter that lay tucked into his breast pocket seemed impossibly heavy. Minutes for him, decades for her. Dead and gone in the blink of an eye.
(You wither and you die.)
Ahead of him, Rose laughed. She tossed her head back as she did so, her hair a golden-orange under the influence of the Manestrehlan sunset, and the sensation of dread that had shadowed the Doctor since the Krillitanes reared up, tugging at his hearts and settling itself in his stomach. She was growing up, Rose Tyler, fantastic as ever and more brilliant each day and yet –
He sighed, turning his gaze on the vast slope of blue to his left. It was beautiful, to put it plainly, a final dazzling show before the winter set in, cold and harsh and abrupt. Winter here lasted nearly the length of a full year on Earth, thick sheets of ice and snow coating the city and the valley below. For the Maenestrehlans this was ideal – they adored the cold, flourished in it – but for most visiting creatures it was uninhabitable. Their economy, so dependent on tourism, relied on the autumnal display of colour that lasted only three weeks of every Maenestrehlan year.
It worked. Thousands flocked to see the majesty of Maenestrelha in its fall, eating outrageously flavoured ice cream and sending postcards of blue forests. Thousands flocked to watch the leaves die.
Such splendour in decay.
"Oi, slow poke, you coming or not?"
Rose peered over her shoulder at him, a grin on her face and an orange drop of ice cream on her chin. Seeming to feel it, she stuck out her tongue to lick away the offending splotch, and the Doctor was fairly certain his left heart seemed to stumble in its rhythm as she did so.
Looking at her, he tried not to think of the lines that had been added to Sarah Jane's face – of Reinette, who aged and died while his back was turned – of the inevitable day when Rose's bottle blonde would be replaced with gray. He tried not to think of each second spent with her as the wasting of some precious finite resource, some reservoir that, once dry, would leave him shaken and damaged and so very lonely.
(Imagine watching that happen –)
Instead, he tried to focus on the present, on the grin she was giving him, the lively sparkle in her eyes, the pink tinge of her cheek, the orange hue of her lips from the ice cream, the golden sheen of her hair in the sunset, the way she could make his hearts do things they shouldn't merely by licking her cheek –
(To someone that you –)
"Well?" she called, eyebrows raised.
Nothing gold, he thought grimly, even as he put on a manic grin and bounded forward, wedging himself between the two and looping his arms around their shoulders.
"Sorry. Lost in thought. Consequence of being very clever." He beamed at the both of them, pretended not to notice when Mickey rolled his eyes, then released their shoulders to clap his hands together. "Now! How do you two feel about a beach?"
Author's Notes: The poem alluded to in the title and by the Doctor is Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay".