Brannigan gestured down the highway with a furry hand.
"So you take a left, straight on for 'bout a hundred yards, left again and walk over that hill. Big grassy thing, you can't miss it. The staircase down to the Undercity is on the other side."
"And that'll take us right into Pharmacy Town?"
"Yes indeed, sir, pops out right in the market place," he confirmed, his feline features lifting into a very human grin.
"Well, thanks then, Brannigan, Valerie." The Doctor nodded at the basket of wriggling kittens. "Kids."
"Goodbye then, sir, and . . . thank you."
The Doctor shook the Cat's hand and turned away. Perhaps they weren't so bad after all . . .
He started in the direction Brannigan had indicated, pausing for a moment to let Martha catch up. Her eyes were distant, as if she were thinking very deeply about something. It scared him how little he cared. Once upon another time, another set of eyes, he would have been at her side at once with a curious question and a hand to hold. His fingers twitched automatically; his hand always felt so very empty these days.
He took a deep breath and curled his hand into a fist, relieved when Martha broke their silence.
"Doctor, who exactly was the Face of Boe?" she asked, with a sense of nervous trepidation; the Doctor found it so easy to forget how new this all was to her.
He opened his mouth to answer, reached in his mind for a response . . . but found none. With some surprise, he realised that he had no idea. Strange. He felt he had known the Face of Boe so long and yet they had only met three times.
"An old friend. Just an old friend," the Doctor replied. "And I mean literally. They say he's lived for billions of years."
"But what species is. . . was he?"
"Well, no-one's entirely sure. He came from the Boekind, but none of the others lived that long. . ."
As they took the left, then left again, the Doctor told Martha all he knew about the Face of Boe, which was little. Why was it that even from the first time he met the Face, he felt familiar, like he had known him a long, long time ago?
"There's the hill Brannigan was on about." said Martha, pointing ahead. Sure enough, they had emerged out of the city, onto a sloping stretch of grass. The Doctor looked up.
He ground to a halt, his feet refusing to take another step. He blinked. And suddenly the wind picked up, blowing the smell of apple grass into his face. Suddenly, the woman at his side wore a blue hoodie and a breathtaking smile, her blonde hair whipped around her face by the breeze.
In that moment, in that single blinding second, he forgot. He forgot the Battle of Canary Wharf, the Daleks and the Cybermen, the wall of white. He forgot that she was gone, that he would never see her again. For just a moment, the hole in his soul seemed healed. The pain he fought to hide from the world disappeared and his heart felt the warmth of another hand holding his.
Because he had been on this stretch of apple grass before, what seemed a thousand years ago. He remembered it like it was yesterday though, every line of her face, every graceful movement of her body. What was it he had called her? Pink and yellow. As if that could cover her beauty, her kindness, the glow he felt every time she smiled.
Ah, her smile. She could make him forget everything, all the pain of the Time War, the joy of their travels, with one smile. A life without that smile was somehow . . . empty.
"Travelling with you . . . I love it. . ."
How happy those words had made him. Because if there was one thing he was sure of in this world, it was that he loved it too. That he loved her too . . .
"Doctor? Doctor, are you alright?" Martha's voice cut him like a blade, because it was the link to reality that snatched his borrowed moments of ignorance away from him.
He gasped aloud as the pain and loss and anger and grief fell upon him with a crushing weight, as he remembered.
Breathe, he reminded himself.
"Fine," he murmured, and walked away from the city, and away from a thousand memories of his Rose.
A/N: Thanks for reading! Please feel free to let me know what you think. :)