Disclaimer: They're not mine; I'm just borrowing them.
Author's Note: Because, well, apparently Eleven communicates best with little girls.
The wind whistles in her ears, scenery blurring as she sprints as fast as her short legs will let her. She runs until she's exhausted, runs until she can't—skidding to a stop before she pitches off the ledge of an insurmountable obstacle. Lungs burning, muscles aching, a bruise forming on her lower back where her rucksack hits with every stride.
The rucksack contains nothing but two peanut butter sandwiches and a stuffed monkey named Winston; the obstacle is a traffic light.
Rose Tyler is five years old, she is running away from home, and she is not allowed to cross the street by herself.
She closes her eyes and catches her breath, trying to think creatively. She'd seen kids her age help old people walk about on the telly and things—maybe she could cross the street with one of them? The only old person she knows is Mickey's Gran, who's never needed any help doing anything, but that's probably a special case, she reckons.
She spies a bit of tweed, reaches a hand out and lunges.
"D'you need help crossing the st—oh."
"Hello," says the significantly-younger-than-Rose-anticipated man. He's old but not old—younger than Mum, anyway. But thinking about Mum makes Rose nervous and a bit sad, so she decides not to anymore. He looks a bit surprised to see her, her stranger, and his ridiculous fringe falls into his cartoonishly wide eyes as he stares down at her.
"Hello," Rose replies. "I'm Rose."
"I can see that," says the man. Which is a bit of a strange thing to say, she supposes, but that's alright. It makes him interesting. He squeezes her hand a bit and she tries not to jump—she'd rather forgotten he'd been holding it. His fingers are cool and strong and natural around her own slightly sticky digits (making the sandwiches had been a bit of an adventure); she likes the way it feels, so she doesn't let go. "You're a long way from home," he finally stutters, leading her away from the zebra crossing and sitting them down on a nearby bench.
"I like your bow tie," she says. He's giving her the kind of look that she thinks are supposed to be very threatening and scary when strangers give them—a bit fond and a bit familiar. She knows what she's meant to do—she's meant to kick and shout and run. (Rose is very good at running.) She unzips her rucksack instead. "D'you want a sandwich?"
"I would love one," says the man, incongruously delighted. After a longish pause, he adds a reluctant-sounding "thanks." (She doesn't mind. She forgets to be polite sometimes, too.)
She takes a bite of her own, and feels her stomach untie for the first time in hours.
Next to her, the man spits and gags loudly.
"Wassrong?" she demands, mostly concerned for his safety, but just the slightest bit defensive of her culinary skills. (She knows the Heimlich Maneuver in theory—they had a safety assembly about it in school and everything—but he's very tall and she's quite little and she doesn't think that would work.)
"What is this?" he asks, wiping at his mouth with his cuff.
"Peanut butter sandwich."
"With no jam? I should have expected—you never were one for jam—but…" he looks at her again and his jaw clamps shut suddenly, as if he's just remembered something he'd forgotten. "Rose, do you know where we are?"
"Paddington Station. Well, almost."
He smiles, and she hears a good girl that he doesn't say. "And do you want to tell me just what kind of trouble you thought you'd get up to at Almost Paddington Station?"
"…'m running away from home," she admits in a mumble, looking at her feet.
"I suspected as much," he says, and even though his eyes are serious, his lips twitch in amusement. "And where, exactly, do you plan to go?"
"I dunno. Anywhere."
"I bet your Mum would miss you," the man says softly.
Rose toes the ground with one loosely-tied trainer. "Bet she won't even notice I'm gone," she retorts, but her belly starts hurting again like it always does when she lies.
The man laughs, but he doesn't sound very happy. "Rose Tyler, if there is one thing in this universe I can promise you—and there is an awful lot of universe out there, you know—it's that you are always missed when you've gone."
"How d'you know my name?" Rose asks, not sure which one of them is being rude.
He gives her a conspiratorial wink and a smug grin. "I know lots of things."
She smiles at him in spite of herself, but then she has to look away again. "Really, though. Mum'd be alright without me. I just get in the way."
"Nonsense," says her tweedy stranger, as if it's fact.
"But I do, though! She has to work a lot so we can pay for things, and she never has time to play anymore, and—" Rose cuts herself off suddenly, going red. She would not cry.
"She'd still miss you, though. And what about Mickey? If you run away, he won't have anyone to play with, either."
For some reason, this seems to be about the funniest thing the man's ever heard, and she has to wait impatiently while he laughs. Eventually his face clears, and he looks at her like… like she's something special he's never seen before. She blushes again and settles further into the bench.
"It's not often I say this," he says after a while of just sitting quietly with her, "in fact, it might even be a one-time deal, so you'd best pay attention. Rose?"
"You… you've got to go home. Alright?"
She nods, looking everywhere but at him.
"I'll walk you," he offers.
He holds her hand the whole way back—not just at the zebra crossings.
("Can't I go with you?" she asks when he drops her off at the front gate.
He seems upset at the question. "Not yet," he says eventually. She gives him a hug around his knees to cheer him up, but she's not sure how good of a job she does—his eyes are still sad when she waves goodbye to him from her balcony.)
"Just a quick pit stop, he said," Amy mocks in an exaggerated version of his voice when he reenters the TARDIS. "You'll hardly even notice I'm gone, he said. What could possibly be so interesting tha—Doctor?"
He closes his eyes in relief and leans heavily against the door, letting her sarcastic Scottish vowels wash over him. She's Amy—difficult, familiar, magnificent Amy—and she's here and she's now and that's the most important thing. He doesn't say a word—just crosses the console room in a few sure strides and crushes her into a hug, burying his face in her hair. (A mantra: Amy, here, now.)
"Doctor, what's…" Amy doesn't pull away; just lets him squeeze the breath out of her and hugs back as best she can. "Doctor, you're shaking."
He bites down on an apology that, for once, isn't to her.
He is forever keeping the little girls who need him most waiting.