VI. Love

It's the aftermath of the Wedding Disaster of the Century. Not that many people will remember; at Harriet Jones' order, the guests have been given Retcon, all cameras, camcorders, and mobiles have been retrieved and all footage and photos deleted, and everyone, including Madelaine, believes that Jimmy had a relapse on his wedding day, and Madelaine called the whole thing off. Later, Torchwood will come up with some sort of accident that tragically killed the entire band.

Only Harriet Jones, the Doctor, Rose, Pete, and Jackie know the whole story.

A splinter of flying pew had grazed the Doctor's temple, and Rose is examining it critically. It isn't deep, but it's bleeding profusely. Fortunately, it doesn't look like it needs stitches, and the first aid kit supplied by the hotel has an adequate amount of bandages. She ignores the Doctor's whines about disfiguring scars and carefully dabs an antibiotic over the wound before applying the bandages.

"So… you knew they were aliens." She keeps her tone neutral, but inside, she's annoyed. If he'd just told her, she and Torchwood would have been ready, and they could have avoided the whole fiasco.

"I had my suspicions," he admits. "It was the photos in the gossip magazines; they all had a mole in the same place, right where the breathing orifices are located." He shrugs. "Your story about Jimmy going clean overnight thanks to the power of love was further proof that something was wrong, but I needed to see these celebrities in person to be sure. And then, when I shook their hands, I knew."

"And you didn't say anything? I could have helped you!" And it would've gotten her out of being a bridesmaid.

"I needed to see if I could still handle situations like this on my own." He sighs, shoulders sagging. "And I made a mess of it, didn't I?"

She sits on the bed next to him, and takes his hands in hers.

"You were brilliant," she tells him. "Especially considering you were armed only with a bottle of whiskey. Which, by the way, you shouldn't have been able to bring inside. Didn't security search you? Seems like they would've found it."

The Doctor just gives her a crooked grin, and Rose decides she doesn't want to know.

"So," she says instead. "Vrrexians. What are they, then?"

"Nasty creatures, the Vrrexians. Start off the size of marbles and take up residence in your throat, where they sprout ganglia that hook into the spine and take over the body. Over time, they eat their way through the body, growing and replacing the host's organs with their own, until there's nothing left of the host except the skin and skeleton. Leaves them with a skin suit that they can alter at will – depending on the limitations of the skin, that is. They're usually not this ambitious, though, and tend to keep to themselves. This group seems to like celebrities and has delusions of world conquest." He smirks. "They're also violently allergic to alcohol, so taking over a planet like this is going to be difficult. They probably infested Jimmy and his band right after he met Madelaine. They saw an opportunity to get close to the President through her daughter, took over Jimmy and turned him into someone she'd fall in love with."

"Why Jimmy? Why not Madelaine, or even Harriet Jones? Wouldn't that be easier?"

"Jimmy's body would've been weak from hard living. A healthy body's immune system could fight the infestation and win. There are ways to weaken a strong host, but it takes time. I suspect Jimmy's been slipping something to Madelaine, in food or drink perhaps, to prepare her as a host. Then they would've done the same to Harriet."

"That was why you were obsessing over Jimmy?" She seizes on this. "So, this fascination with gossip… it's just an excuse to find aliens?"

"Wellllll," he rubs the back of his neck, and glowers when his hand comes away covered in slime. "Part of it, yeah…"

It seems there's more of the Doctor in him than she'd dared hope. But then, hope fades when the Doctor pulls his hand from her grasp. His next words send her heart plummeting.

"Rose… we need to talk," he sighs.

Rose stiffens and turns away, focusing her attention on gathering up the bandage wrappers and throwing them in the rubbish bin. It was time… She mentally steels herself, and decides to make this easier on him.

"I know what you're going to say. You're gay. It's all right," she says soothingly, as the Doctor splutters behind her. "I'm not angry. I know it's not your fault. You're as much Donna as you are the Doctor, and that's just the way it happened." She turns to face him and shrugs. "I'll still be your friend, no matter what happens."

"I'm not gay!" He looks genuinely shocked. "Why would you think that?" he demands indignantly.

"You haven't even touched me since the beach! You called Jimmy Stone 'dishy' and you wear my make-up and clothing! You spent all last evening flirting with that male singer! What am I supposed to think?"

"It was you who called Jimmy 'dishy,'" he points out. "I just… sort of agreed with you." He considers this for a moment. "I see how that could've been misleading. As for the singer… He's a Calafrasian. They're a little intimate by nature, and he was delighted to find someone familiar with his species. And what were you expecting? That I'd want to start shagging like rabbits the moment the TARDIS dematerialized? I was dumped on you without you having any choice in the matter! I though you'd need some time – I know I certainly do." He tugs at his hair. "I wanted to get used to this body and its…its impulses, before even attempting a relationship."

What he's suggesting sounds reasonable. More than reasonable, actually. But it also sounds slow and tedious, and it's been far too long since Rose has been with a man. Was he even interested in a physical relationship, or was he just referring to their previous hand-holding, more-than-friends-but-soooo-not -lovers relationship? She has to know.

"Do you… not want to shag like rabbits, then?"

He suddenly seems to find the wallpaper pattern the most interesting thing in the world. Rose realizes with shock that he's blushing. "Sometimes it's all I can think about. This body… it has a lot less control than what I'm used to, and… I spend my days dreaming about doing this." He cups her face, his long fingers stroking her cheeks, and then lowers his head and presses his lips to hers.

He's found banana lip gloss, is her last coherent thought, before she's lost in his kiss. Well, that, and He really can do marvelous things with his tongue

He breaks off, murmuring, "I'm sorry… I shouldn't have done that without knowing how you feel… I can't always help myself; this body is more emotionally driven than I'm accustomed to."

She wants to reassure him he has nothing to apologize for, but she's been rendered speechless. She does, however, manage a satisfied smile, and he relaxes.

"I just wanted to take it slow… take some time to get to know you all over again until we're free to travel again. You… you do want to travel with me again, don't you? Or has all this weirded you out?" He gives her that same pleading look he'd given her when he'd first regenerated, part scared, part hopeful.

She smiles. "Alien, remember? You've always 'weirded me out', and it's never stopped me before." Then what he said sinks in. "What do you mean, travel?" She thinks he means the world, and her heart quickens. She's always wanted to backpack through Europe, and the thought of doing it with him at her side…

He sniffs. "Haven't you been listening to me? I've been going on about it for the past week! He – the other me – gave me a piece of TARDIS coral, and Pete's given me permission to use Torchwood's alien tech to grow it into a ship, in return for acting as an advisor."

She stares, stunned. She'd thought he was talking about frying food, and all this time, he was growing a TARDIS! "The stars?" she breathes, hardly daring to hope. She's missed seeing alien vistas, meeting new cultures on their own turf, shopping in exotic bazaars… She's even missed the diplomatic incidents, the running, the alien prisons… But most of all, she's missed the man sitting next to her, his eyes shining with excitement at the prospect of wandering the stars again.

"All of space and time," he grins. "It'll be a year or so before she's ready, of course. And it won't be the same," he warns. "New engines, so we'll have to break her in slowly. No long trips, or traveling too often. She won't be a complete TARDIS, but she'll have a couple of rooms, and be able to travel time and space. No multi-storey wardrobe, no food replicators, no pool… And I… I'm not the same either." He runs his hands through his ginger hair. His dark roots are already showing. "You're right; I do have more of Donna than is good for me and, well, sometimes that bit makes me do… things…" he gestures helplessly towards her dress.

"So, basically, I'd be traveling time and space with a transvestite who gets PMS worse than I do?" Rose asks, lips quirking. "I've had worse offers." She reaches towards him, taking his human-warm hand in her own.

"Occasional, compulsive transvestite," he corrects, smiling. "One who loves you," he adds, as if that makes it all right. Rose thinks it actually does. "But yeah, the Doctor and Rose against the universe – when we're not attending one of your parents' functions or sleeping in or shagging or whatever else it is normal humans do. Which is as it should be." He takes his hands in hers.

Rose grins broadly. "And I'm sure we'll look fabulous while doing it." He nods excitedly.

And with that, it's decided. They're the Doctor and Rose again… but this time, with benefits.

"We're getting a bigger flat, though," she says after a moment. "That loo's not big enough for the both of us. And you really need a room of your own to, er, get in touch with your feminine side." She thinks for a moment, then asks gently, "You're not wearing my knickers under there, are you? Because that's one thing I'm really not comfortable with …"

"There's only one way to find out," he purrs.

She doesn't need further invitation, though it doesn't quite live up to the fantasies she's been having about the tuxedo. There'd never been any phlegm-like alien sludge in any of them, and soon their hands are coated with the stuff.

Well, now she has an excuse to try out the shower fantasy.

It turns out that he's not only not wearing her knickers, he's also not wearing boxers. What he does have on, however, makes her stare, and she wonders if she really wants to know how he acquired the bride's garter and managed to slip it on during the whole wedding fiasco.

Then she decides she doesn't want to know. There are far more important things she can be doing with her time.

She gives him a teasing smile, tongue poking out between her teeth. "I don't know about you," she says breezily, "but I'm sore, sticky, and I smell. I could use some help out of this dress and into the shower."

"Ah. Okay," the Doctor says, sounding confused and disappointed and most of all, frustrated. His gaze is downcast. "You can use it first, if you like."

She tugs on his hand. "I meant that we should both take a shower. At the same time. Together."

His eyes widen, and he grins. "Ah. I knew that." He stands and starts to follow her across the room.

"Oh, and Doctor? Keep the garter on."