Rose swirled her straw around and watched the Doctor drum his fingers against the table. "So...the parade."
He cut his eyes towards her. "Don't start."
She suppressed a grin. "I'm just saying, after the whole Christmas Truce thing --- which was amazing, by the way --- you said you wanted me to see the Victory Parade for World War II. Because you're on some sort of a kick, apparently."
"I got us to 1946, didn't I?"
Rose nodded. "True."
The straw squeaked as Rose finished the last of her malt. "But it's March. You said the parade was in June, yeah?"
The Doctor's shoulders sagged. "I don't know what's wrong with her. I used to be very good at this."
Rose kept the obvious response to that to herself; the Doctor was no fun to tease when he was in one of his funks. "Well, at least it's not Cardiff this time, right?"
The Doctor grinned at that, and Rose felt the tension dissipate as his ever mercurial mood shifted. "You could still show me around at least, right? Ooh, the next Olympics were in London, weren't they? They'd be starting work on the Village right about now, right? We could go see that...."
"There won't be one, not this time. They're planning on just shovin' everyone into the hospitals and making due. It's too soon after the war to even think about building anything."
"Oh." Well, that exhausted her knowledge of 1940's London. "There still has to be something to do, right?"
The Doctor scoffed, saying "There's always something to do." He offered her his arm, but when she stood to take it she had to jump back to avoid being bowled over by a small boy running at top speed. The boy didn't stop or even look back, and Rose shouted, "Hey, watch where you're...." before she saw why he was running.
Four older boys had rounded the corner and were headed right for him. "Get 'im! Get the Kraut!" the leader shouted and his cronies roared approval. Rose watched in horror as the boy they were chasing tripped and fell, letting the other four close the gap. He managed to get up but they caught him before he could start running again; she saw them shove him to the ground, the followers chanting "Kraut! Kraut!" as the leader started to kick.
Rose turned to the Doctor but took a step back when she saw his face. His expression was a mask of fury, and when he started moving an instant later she'd never seen someone run so fast. By the time she caught up he'd already reached the boys and had grabbed one shocked underling by his collar, hauling him right off his feet. He deposited the boy in an ungainly heap behind him and pulled another one back. "All right, all of you clear out! Now!"
The other cronies stopped, stunned to see an adult suddenly in their midst. Their leader wasn't so easily deterred; even when the Doctor stepped in front of him he still fought to get at the other boy over the Doctor's arm. "My brother's dead 'cause of Kraut scum like you, Kreiner! Lemme go"
"Enough of that." The Doctor flicked his arm just enough to take the boy off his feet; he landed with a solid thump and looked up in astonishment. "Go home, if you know what's good for you. All of you," he said, taking the time to glare at each boy personally.
The leader boy picked himself up. "What're ya gonna do?" he said, trying to put a sneer into his voice. "You're not gonna hit me, you're a grown-up."
"Y'know, you're right. I'm not."
The boy smirked. "So what're you gonna do?"
The Doctor crouched down to eye level with him, and Rose saw a particularly nasty grin on his face. "I'm going to tell your mother." Rose saw his cronies wince, one running away entirely, and tried not to smile; they were still at an age where that was a hideous threat.
Their leader remained unmoved. "Like she'll care I got caught thumping the Kraut...."
"Don't call him that," the Doctor said, with so much venom the boy flinched. The Doctor stood up and gave him such a look that the boy stumbled backwards. "Go home. Now." The Doctor smiled in a way that even Rose found terrifying. "Before I get angry."
His two remaining underlings had long since started sidling up the street, and when the leader joined them he too tried to make it look like it was all his idea. The Doctor continued staring them down; the boys kept looking over their shoulder, their steps hurrying more the further away they got until they all broke into a full run halfway up the block. When they had disappeared around the corner the Doctor turned his attention to the boy they'd been attacking. "You all right?" he asked as he crouched down.
The boy had managed to pull himself up to a sitting position. "I'm fine," he spit out, wiping his bloody nose. "I don't need help."
"'Course you don't."
The boy gave him a suspicious look, as if he wasn't sure if he was being made fun of, then his defenses dropped by a fraction. "Never saw them run from anyone."
"They do this a lot?"
The boy shrugged. "I can take it."
An unreadable expression crossed the Doctor's face. "'Course you can." He backed up to let the boy get to his feet. "You have someome to take care of that eye?"
He just shrugged again. "I can handle it. I'm used to it."
The Doctor crouched down again, back to eye level, and took a moment before speaking. "It gets better," he said, with a quiet intensity that made Rose shiver. "I promise you that. It gets better."
The boy pulled up short and gave the Doctor a long, penetrating (and to Rose's eyes, skeptical) look, then took off, running down the street.
The Doctor straightened up and stared after him, absently brushing one hand down his sleeve; Rose felt him jump when she took his hand. "You all right?"
"Yeah," he said, just a shade too quickly. "Yeah, I just...." He sighed. "Sometimes I wonder about the TARDIS."
"Do you know him?" she asked, nodding her head towards the street the boy had disappeared down. "Or...will you know him, maybe? This is time travel stuff, isn't it."
The Doctor chuckled. "Yeah. Yeah, somethin' like that. It gets a bit complicated." He squeezed her hand. "You ready to go?"
"Go where?" she asked as he began leading her back to the TARDIS.
"Anywhere you like."
"I thought you said we would find something to do?"
"I changed my mind. Is that a problem?"
Rose grinned. "No problem here."
When they got back to the TARDIS the Doctor paused in the open doorway, lost in thought with his hands in his pockets. "Will you meet him again, do you think?" Rose asked.
He shook his head, a far-off expression on his face as he closed the door behind them. "Like I said. A bit complicated."
"...and just then this tall scary Northern bloke comes out of nowhere and tells them all to scram. The next thing I knew they were halfway up the street, and that lot didn't run from anyone. I couldn't believe it." Fitz leaned against the TARDIS console, a lazy smile on face. "You should've seen the girl he had with him, too. Her seeing me all bloody and beaten up like that almost hurt worse than getting beat up in the first place."
"Why am I not surprised there's a girl involved?" the Doctor said, his voice muffled by the open console panel he was half hanging out of.
"Hey, I wrote more than one song about that girl, I'll have you know." He walked around the console and saw that the repair job didn't appear to be going well; the Doctor was in his shirtsleeves and had enough tangled wires in his lap to make Fitz distinctly uncomfortable. "Are you sure you don't need a hand?"
"I'm completely capable of fixing my TARDIS, thank you."
"So you've figured out what's wrong with it?"
The Doctor sat back and sighed. "No. I'm starting to think she's just feeling stubborn."
"So we're stuck?"
"I'm very much afraid so."
"Great." Fitz picked up one of the spanners littering the walkway and absently started tapping it against the console railing. "I was such a miserable little brat back then, I never even said thank you. Kind of regretted that over the years, to tell the truth. I used to keep an eye out when I did shows, hoping that maybe I'd run into him again and get my chance. I always knew that was pretty unlikely, but…I don't know." The Doctor had stopped working and was watching him now, and Fitz suddenly felt self-conscious; it was always easier to pour his heart out when he could pretend no one was paying attention. "My whole childhood, that was the only time anyone ever stood up for me. Hell, my whole life, 'till I met you anyway." He scuffed one foot against the floor. "It's funny, the things that keep you going. Whenever things got bad, sometimes that day would pop back into my head and I'd be able to get out of bed one more time."
"I'm sorry you had to go through so much."
"Lots of people went through worse."
"And I'm sorry nonetheless."
Fitz shrugged. "Yeah, so am I, but it made me who I am, I guess. Have to be honest, if my fucked-up childhood meant I earned this," he said, gesturing to the Doctor and at the vaulted ceiling of the TARDIS, "I guess that's a fair trade."
He felt the Doctor follow his gaze, basking in the Gothic beauty of his ship. "What made you believe that promise?" he asked, his voice soft in the cavernous room. When Fitz only shrugged he continued, "When we met you were as cynical a young man as I'd ever met. What kept that moment alive for you?"
Fitz shifted his weight as he searched for an answer. "I don't know," he finally admitted. "He just...I don't know. He seemed really sure. Like he knew something I didn't."
The Doctor smiled, then tipped his head to the side. "And should I assume that this sudden burst of nostalgia is somehow related to the new jacket you're wearing?"
"It's more your taste than mine."
Fitz ran one hand down his new leather sleeve. "Yeah, I found this in town while I was hiding from that…what did what did you call them?"
"Yeah, them. You always have lot of ugly things trying to kill you," he said, shaking his head. "Anyway, you're right, the jacket's what brought the whole incident back to mind in the first place. It reminded me so much of what that bloke wore that day that I had to have it. I won't even say how much I spent, it's embarrassing."
"Would I be cruel then if I pointed out that it doesn't quite fit?"
Fitz laughed. "Yeah, I know, it's big on me. Even if it's just going to gather dust in that Wardrobe of yours, I still wanted it. It reminded me of a good day in my childhood, and I didn't have a lot of them."
'That sounds like a perfectly sensible reason to me," the Doctor said. The he grinned as he studied the circuit board in front of him. "And I think I may have figured out what's marooned us."
He bent back over his wires and Fitz crouched beside him. "Need help?
"Yes, hold this blue wire just so."
Fitz followed this instruction, feeling the ship thrum under his fingertips. "Any chance this'll kill me?"
Fitz let out a mock sigh. "I don't even know why I ask anymore." Suddenly the ship sprang to life, and Fitz heard the Doctor's triumphant laugh as the central column started to drone.
"Well, Fitz? Where should we go?"
"Someplace fun for a change."
As Fitz watched his friend key in coordinates he thought again about that cold March day, the Northerner and his pretty friend. The Doctor had taught him that the biggest differences were always made in the smallest moments, and Fitz found himself hoping again that he'd be able to show what a difference that day had meant.
And who knows, he thought, I might still get the chance.
That was the best thing about the Doctor. Even he couldn't say what the next day would bring.