Disclaimer: I don't own them, but I love them dearly.
The first time he takes her, they're both a little miserable.
Which is only understandable. They're worn thin, the two of them, and after the events of the 7th of November, 1987, he isn't so much looking to take her somewhere fun as somewhere she can't possibly get into any trouble. He'd like to hope that a children's arcade on the east coast of the United States is enough to withstand his jeopardy-friendly new companion, but… well. If anyone could manage to end up in a life-threatening situation somewhere between the Fudge Shoppe and the Whack-a-Mole, it's Rose Tyler.
He camps out on a bench next to the Merry-Go-Round and waits for the inevitable, letting himself get caught up in the sights and sounds of unfiltered humanity. The sun had been setting when they'd arrived, and now the neon lights of the boardwalk illuminate the night, drowning out the stars. Children laugh, parents call after them, and Doppler screams of adrenaline junkies wax and wane as the Himalaya reverses direction.
He feels alright, watching over them like this. A sentinel in leather.
"Where do the ducks go?"
He jolts, and attempts a recovery with a spluttered "Huh?"
(It's not his finest moment.)
Rose settles down next to him with a soft smile. "Sorry. S'just, you reminded me of whassisname, just now. From Catcher in the Rye?"
He looks at her sideways. "You remembered Where do the ducks go but you couldn't remember the main character's name?"
She shrugs, utterly unaware of how remarkable she is, and they sit together in comfortable silence—watching a seagull swoop down and steal an abandoned bit of pretzel off the boardwalk planks.
"Salt water taffy?" she offers, holding out a crumpled white paper bag. (The gesture is so achingly familiar that for a moment he forgets where when who he is.)
He reaches into the bag and chooses a banana piece without a word, and pretends not to notice how she leans into him when she puts it away.
"One more player," a barker shouts into his microphone, "we need one more player for this round!" He's hawking some kind of bizarre game—the goal of which, as far as the Doctor can tell, is to pop a balloon by aiming a water gun into the mouth of a clown statue. A challenge of marksmanship, done up in carnival colors and plushy animal prizes.
Rose looks up at him then, eyes hopeful, chin resting on his shoulder, and he never stood a chance. "Oh, go on then."
She darts away, leaving him alone again on the bench, but it's hardly ten seconds before the wails of a child in need pierce the night. With a brief check up on Rose—totally caught up in conversation with the barker—he's off like a shot in the other direction.
"Are you hurt?" he asks the whimpering little girl as gently as he can. He smiles a bit to bring out his ears, hoping to make her laugh.
"I got—" she hiccups, "I got—I got lost."
"Is that all? Oh, we can fix that. I'm an expert." She blinks up at him, teary-eyed, and he takes the encouragement he can get. "I get lost all the time, me. Aim for the chippy and end up at Henrik's. Not the worst thing to happen, come to think. But let's see what we can do. I'm the Doctor; what's your name?"
"S-s-s-Susan," she whimpers, and his chest constricts painfully. "Mom says I shouldn't talk to strangers."
"But she says it's okay to talk to teachers and policemen and things, doesn't she?"
"And doctors," Susan adds, brightening.
He takes her hand. "Of course 'and Doctors.' Now, where did you last see your mum?"
"She said she had to go feed the parking meter and that she'd be back in a minute, and that I should stay where I was, but it's been forever and so I thought maybe if I went to find the car I would find her, but I couldn't remember where we'd left it, and—"
"Where did she tell you to wait?" the Doctor interrupts, knowing from experience that the monologue could go on for hours if he didn't stop it.
"By the police station," Susan informs him, and he starts off in that direction. After a moment of looking at him, she adds: "You talk funny."
"Ah, but to me, you talk funny. So I guess we're even."
It's not long to wait, really, once they're in the right place. He's got her rambling about her pet hamster when their conversation is interrupted by her shrieking mother.
(He has the worst luck with that, honestly.)
"Susan, thank God you're—who the hell are you?"
He puts up his hands in a gesture of peace. "I'm the Doctor, I was just—"
"I didn't ask your job, I asked—and hey, I don't need some silly quack getting handsy with my daughter!"
He chances a quick look around for Rose, and finds her fifteen feet away—doing her best to appear inconspicuous by hiding behind a Dippin' Dots stand. Her lips contort in mirth as she tries not to laugh, and his anger melts into amusement, knowing she finds humor in the situation.
"Hey! 'Doctor!' I'm talking to you!"
He's never been so grateful for his ability to keep a straight face. "You're right. I'm sorry. I should have just left her there, crying. My apologies for interrupting your social evening."
With that, he spins on his heel and walks towards Rose. He doesn't get very far before he feels a soft but insistent tugging at his jeans.
"Thank you, Doctor," says Susan.
He swallows a lump in his throat. There are a thousand things he could say—("…no regrets, no tears, no anxieties…")—but the only thing he can think of is "You're welcome."
When he finally gets back to Rose, she gives him a hug; a proper one, too, eyes closed and clinging.
He's doing his best not to stare at her in awe when she pulls away. "What was that for?"
"I dunno," she shrugs shyly, "you just looked like you needed it, is all."
"Who, me? No. I'm fantastic! Never better."
And the miracle of it is that he's telling the truth.
The second time, she has to beg.
"The whole of time and space at your fingertips," the Doctor says in disbelief, "and you want to go back to the same old beach we've already visited." He wrinkles his nose in unapologetic distaste as he specifies, "in New Jersey."
"You seemed to like it well enough the first time."
"Well yes, but I had rubbish taste in my last incarnation."
"Oi!" she protests, and it takes a few moments of confused ear-pulling on his part before he can puzzle out just why she's offended.
"No, I didn't mean—not you," he says, but he can tell she's upset because she's biting her lip that way she does when she doesn't want to frown. (There's a line at the corner of her mouth now, from the habit. It's only gotten more pronounced since his regeneration, and oh, how he'd missed it when the Wire'd stolen her away.)
Her face softens when she sees how worked up he's become. "Look. You can make it up to me, yeah?"
He brightens immediately. "Of course! Anything. Just name it."
"Alright then: I want to go to the boardwalk."
(He probably should have seen that coming.)
His smile dims just a little, but he tries not to let it show. "The boardwalk temples of Pugnakul Six? The living forest boardwalks on Maqwit?"
"The beach," Rose says stubbornly, "on New Jersey, America, Earth." He opens his mouth and she quickly adds "—in the late twentieth century."
"Please?" she asks, and the simple word does everything her logical arguments could not.
"You are a killjoy, Rose Tyler," he proclaims as he throws the proper switches, and the absurdity of it bounces off the walls and grating of the console room until their laughter drowns out the echo.
"You're being ridiculous!" she shouts through cupped hands into the shadowy recess under the planks. Somewhere in that darkness is the TARDIS, and somewhere in that TARDIS is the Doctor.
"I'm not being ridiculous," he yells back, "I'm being perfectly rational. There are a thousand billion lovely, exotic alien beaches I would be more than happy to take you to. The Isles of Breckin on Garbulon Optima have purple sand. Purple sand, Rose, can you imagine? Now come back in here before you get sunburned."
She digs her toes into the (average, everyday, sand-colored) sand and tries not to think about how silly she must look to everyone else on the beach—shouting at nothing like she is. Five more minutes and she'll probably be well on her way to becoming a local legend. It wouldn't be the first time. The Crazy British Lady Who Shouted At Nothing, they'd call her. Or, well. Hopefully a catchier variation thereof. (And oh god, she's starting to think like him.)
"Rose…?" he calls tentatively. As if he's worried she'd wandered away without him.
She rolls her eyes. "Yes, Doctor?"
"There are… cats… down here. Stray cats. Just… here. Cats. Living under the boardwalk."
"I don't like it. Them. The… cats."
"Then lock the TARDIS so they can't get in and come join me, you big baby."
He emerges slowly, looking as though he's never been so put-upon in his life.
"The Jersey shore," he announces stubbornly as he reaches her side, "is the Cardiff of the United States."
"One ride," she says soothingly, hooking her arm through his. "But you have to come with me. And if you don't like it, then we can leave."
"I promise," she agrees.
Five minutes later and they're reeling in chaotic concert on the Tilt-a-Whirl: shoulders banging against each other and fingers gripping the safety bar. Every spin brings them closer together, and the ride is over far too soon for their tastes.
"Still want to leave?" Rose asks, playing at nonchalance, watching in amusement as he tries to school the muscles around his mouth into a frown.
"Well alright then. Race you to the roller coaster!" she dares, tongue between her teeth. (And for once, he's the follower, chasing after her as she bobs and weaves through the crowd.)
"You aside, though," he says randomly as they share a funnel cake several hours later, "I really did have terrible taste back then. I mean, come on; jumpers and leather?"
"I liked it."
He blinks at her, feigning insecurity. "But you like me more now, right?"
She ceases licking the powdered sugar from her fingers to grin at him. "What happened to 'good different or bad different?'"
"You haven't answered my question."
"You haven't answered mine."
Predictably, neither of them does. But later—after she trounces him thoroughly at skeeball—she offers to use her tickets to buy him something. He takes her hand as they walk to the prize desk, and he's amazed all over again at how easily they break even.
"Look Rose," he says excitedly, dropping her hand and rushing forward to splay his fingers against the display case. His breath fogs the glass as he whispers "silly quacks!" in total awe.
She bursts into laughter before she can examine the trinkets within, but—sure enough, on the second shelf: yellow-and-orange backflipping ducky toys, each about the size and shape of a golf ball. They're garish and cheap and she loves them on sight.
"Two silly quacks, please," she requests, breathless and still giggling.
The attendant behind the booth raises an eyebrow. "You mean the ducks?"
The Doctor and Rose just laugh harder.
(Hers lives on her dresser, next to her December 24th, 1869 issue of The Western Mail and the piece of bezoolium she's bought for her mum. He perches his on the console, and it stays there a week until it falls into some exposed circuitry after a particularly rough landing. They never find it again; he tells her it's because the TARDIS liked it too much to give it back.)
They've been in New York two weeks before he idly mentions that he's rented a car.
"Sorry?" she asks sleepily. They're spread out like lizards on a rock in Central Park, soaking up sunlight, and she's half-sure she misheard him.
"A car, for tomorrow. There's somewhere I've been meaning to take you."
She rolls over to curl into his side and smiles against his neck. "There's always somewhere you've been meaning to take me."
"True. But this is special."
"Do I need to bring anything?" He's notoriously bad at preparing her for their little trips—so used to getting by on just the sonic screwdriver and the infinite stores of the TARDIS. (She recalls how many an early adventure had ended with them stuck in a muddy ditch, trainers sodden clear through as they tried to move the car.)
"Nope! Well—a swim suit. You'd do well to bring a swimsuit. Preferably a bikini. Preferably one that's itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny and yellow polka-dotted, if we can manage it."
"Mmmmn, I dunno," she smirks. "Have you earned it?"
In her fantasy, this is where he leans down to meet her mouth and proves that, if he hadn't earned it before, he could certainly earn it now.
But this is reality and he's the Doctor, so instead he leaps up in a cartoonish huff and doesn't stop complaining until she buys him an ice cream cone.
"That really what you're wearing?" she laughs when he slips into the driver's seat the next morning. At his suggestion, she'd put on a light sundress over her (itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dot) bikini. She'd figured, when he had told her to get in the car and that he'd join her in a minute, that he was going to change into swimmers.
Unless his usual pinstripes were suddenly waterproof, she was very much mistaken.
"I'll change when we get there," he says breezily with a wave of his hand. "If you saw in advance it would give it away."
"Give what away?"
He just grins at her.
"Allons-y," he says as he turns the key in the ignition, and she feels a familiar thrill in the pit of her stomach. This has been her life since she was nineteen years old—and for all that it's changed, she's glad to be reminded that it's still exactly the same in all the ways that matter.
"Brilliant!" he announces as he exits the car, squinting from the sunlight. Rose takes a moment's break from eagerly surveying their surroundings to admire him as he stretches and inhales deeply. "Smell that ocean—molto bene!"
She gasps and takes another sharp look around, suddenly suspicious. "Wait a tic. Are we…?"
"I can't tell you unless you ask me," he teases, beaming at her.
She looks him in the eye. "Doctor," she asks with as much gravity as she can muster, "where are we?"
"We, Rose Tyler, are standing in the parking lot of Jenkinson's Boardwalk in the lovely Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, Ocean County, New Jersey, America, Earth," he narrates, heart soaring. He knows it's not on purpose, but she's far more likely to call him sweetheart or luv than she is to call him 'Doctor,' these days, and he never gets tired of her thoughtless affirmations. "Early 21st century, unfortunately, but I do what I can."
She gapes, and he starts to get a little nervous.
"Do—do you like it?"
She doesn't say a word—just grabs him by the lapels and pulls his lips down onto hers, and he decides he doesn't particularly care what she calls him, as long as they can do this instead.
"I believe," she murmurs against his mouth, "that you told me you were going to take off your clothes?
(Later, he emerges from the men's bathroom decked out in flip flops, board shorts, and a ridiculous Hawaiian shirt left unbuttoned over a tee that reads 'London. Paris. Rome. Point Pleasant Beach.' It's five minutes before she can stop laughing long enough to take a shaky picture on her mobile, his indignant pout blurred by her unsteady hand.)
They spend the day making discoveries, drunk on cotton candy and sea air and each other.
At the aquarium, they find out that the Doctor makes better fish faces, but that Rose makes superior apologetic faces—which are ultimately more useful, when the staff tries to kick them out for causing a ruckus. (They also find out that a seal can hold its breath for over seventy minutes, whereas a human-time lord metacrisis can only hold his breath for 43 seconds—at least, it would have been 43 seconds if Rose hadn't distracted him.)
At the arcade, the Doctor discovers that he is a brilliant pinball player, and an excellent singer to boot. Rose discovers that her threshold for loudly performed renditions of "Pinball Wizard" is three times all the way through, plus one verse and one chorus, and the Doctor discovers that Rose has very effective ways of shutting him up. (Which isn't really a discovery, per se, but it's nice to be reminded.)
On the beach, Rose learns that Pete's World seaweed bears a remarkable resemblance to the Vertilum twig-people of Tharkin, and the Doctor learns that telling people who are not Rose this fact is not a very good way to make friends. He attempts kite-flying instead, which quickly leads to another lesson: that flying kites is far more difficult than it looks, and often ends in a tangled disaster.
By the end of the day, 'licking the boardwalk railing is not appropriate no matter what that stain looks like,' 'if you wear your brainy specs on the loop-the-loop roller coaster they will fall off,' and 'the seagulls are smarter than they look' have also been added to the Doctor's list.
Rose doesn't realize anything she didn't already know—namely, that she adores this man more than anything, and that there's really no such thing as domestic when he's around… no matter how hard the universe tries to tie them down.
"You scream like such a girl," she says with relish over their junk food dinner. (Another discovery—made when a jellyfish had brushed up against his leg while they swam. He'd squeaked and flailed about so intensely that one of the lifeguards had actually attempted to save him; the Doctor inexplicably grew quite tired of making discoveries after that.)
He scowls at the tower of onion rings he's building. "You promised me we'd never speak of it again. Is that what your promises are worth? Three quarters of an hour?"
"I think I promised you forever, actually," she shrugs, drawing pictures on her napkin in ketchup.
He peers at her through his stack of deep fried deliciousness, and she can't interpret his expression. "That you did. And… how do you think we're doing so far?"
She considers it. The way he steals the chips (French fries, she reminds herself) from her plate when he thinks she isn't paying attention; how she's been sipping from his Coke without thinking about it.
It's comfortable and ordinary and infinite, and there's nowhere she'd rather be.
"I think we're doing alright," she concludes.
His kiss tastes of mustard, and it doesn't surprise her in the least.