Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who or Lilo and Stitch.
He's been off ever since the Coronation.
At first she thinks it's just her imagination, or that she's overreacting—reading panic into his actions because she feels so out of control herself. It's easy to pretend, now that they're home and safe, that The Wire was just another villain, or that the incident on Florizel Street was just another dangerous-but-lighthearted scrape they'd gotten into. But she's still shaken by it, days later: still wakes up in cold sweats from nightmares of sucking and aching and burning that lead to empty blackness. She'd been reckless and ended up in over her head, and she scares herself remembering it.
She thinks she scared the Doctor, too.
The untrained observer would probably say he's not acting differently at all. That he's his usual self, with his boundless energy and endless babbling. But there's something vacant and vaguely desperate about him that she can't put her finger on, and it worries her. A nervous tension between his shoulder blades; a dimness in his eyes that his smile can't brighten. The Doctor may know everything, but Rose knows the Doctor—and he is most certainly not okay.
As long as she's known him, he's only ever talked because he had something to say. Something vitally important that she had to understand right now, because he wanted her to appreciate everything in its fullest glory—whether it was the key to saving both their lives at any given moment or a piece of trivia about Altairian footwear. But recently, it's like he's been talking because he's scared of what will happen if he stops. Not because he has lots of things to say, but because there's something he particularly wants to avoid saying.
The biggest clue, of course, is that they haven't left the Vortex in nearly a week. This in and of itself wouldn't be that suspicious—she recalls one occasion, back when he was still getting used to his current body, where he'd kicked off a particularly significant lever in a fit of driving enthusiasm, stranding them for over a fortnight while he made repairs. His tinkering now seems unfocused and superficial in comparison.
She wishes she knew what had happened, when she'd been stuck in the Wire's ether. Can't imagine what he went through to save her, how terrifying it must have been for him to find her empty shell. When she puts herself in his shoes, the mere prospect of it chills her to the bone.
So she lets him try and distract himself and comforts him the only way she knows how: keeping him company and keeping mum. Pretending she doesn't notice his barely-concealed paranoia. It's not so much that she wants to encourage his avoidance; it's that she knows the easiest way to get him to admit anything is to act as if she's not paying attention. To make them both feel better, she takes to spending her downtime lounging in the captain's chair while he does repairs, rather than retreating to her bedroom—talking to him through the grating, so he knows she's still there.
It's enough, for a little while.
Eventually, though, cabin fever starts to set in—and if Rose thinks her feet are itching, then she knows the Doctor's probably driven himself half-mad from staying still so long. So after beating him for the fifth consecutive time at MarioKart, she tentatively approaches the subject:
"You know, you did promise me Elvis."
He's not looking at her; his attention seems to be consumed with examining his controller, testing the buttons for stickiness. He gives it a lick, frowns, and then blinks towards her general direction. "Sorry; what?"
"Elvis. We got side-tracked. I'd still like to see him, if… if that's okay."
Now she has his attention. He considers her carefully, expression inscrutable, and she wishes for the thousandth time that she could see what he was thinking.
He claps his hands.
"Hold on," he exclaims, leaping up and bounding over to his DVD collection, "I've a brilliant idea!" (Well. She calls them DVDs, because it's easier than referring to them as compact holo-digital media containment chips, which is what the Doctor insists they are.) After a bit of rummaging, he pulls one out in triumph. "Lilo and Stitch," he declares, with such a self-congratulatory tone you'd think he animated every frame himself. "All the Elvis we could possibly want, and we never have to leave the den."
She bites her lip, unsure of how to proceed. He's overtly ignoring her bait, now—crossed a line from evasion to pure stubbornness. She could push the issue, make a fight out of this in order to get him to admit to something, but even thinking about it exhausts her. She can afford to play along a little bit longer.
"Is it any good?"
He looks at her as if he doesn't understand the question. "What do you mean?"
"I've never seen it," she shrugs.
His jaw drops. "What?"
"I dunno, I just… when did it come out?"
"Two thousand… two?" he hazards, pulling at his ear. "Yes. Because they animated a plane sequence they then had to take out because of September 11th. So 2002."
She smiles at his deductive methods. "Well there you have it. I was sixteen when it came out, Doctor," she chuckles, shaking of her head. "Bit too old for Disney movies."
This is, it turns out, the wrong thing to say.
"Rose Tyler," he admonishes, sounding completely affronted, "you take that back right now. I've been around for nine centuries. Am I too old for Disney movies?"
She opens her mouth to retort, but thinks better of it at the last second. "Of course not," she says instead, with as straight a face as she can muster. "You're absolutely right; I have no idea what I was thinking." He doesn't seem to buy her sudden change of heart, so she innocently adds, "What's it about?"
He blinks, momentarily lost, before glancing back at the disc in his hand. "What, Lilo and Stitch? It's about a mad, lonely alien who runs away to Earth and learns to curb his destructive tendencies through the support and companionship of a misunderstood human girl… what?"
"No, I see that smile. You can't hide from me, you're laugh—stop laughing! What is it? What's so funny?"
"Doctor," she gasps between giggles, "don't you think that story sounds a teensy bit familiar?"
He looks from her to the movie several times, then holds it out for her to see. "Rose," he responds with equal good-natured exasperation, "Stitch is fluffy. And… and… and… blue."
"The TARDIS is blue," Rose replies with a shrug, then reaches up to scratch playfully at his scalp, mussing his meticulously tousled hair. "And you've got to admit, you're a bit fluffy."
It seems to hit them both at the exact same time that she's running her fingers through his hair; they go simultaneously pale and wide-eyed.
"Tell you what," she stutters, hastily withdrawing her traitorous digits, "you get it set up, and I'll make us some popcorn, yeah? Have a proper night of it."
To say that she runs away would be generous.
She takes her time in the kitchen, trying to come up with a method of attack. She vaguely recalls seeing commercials for Lilo and Stitch on the telly at some point or another—knows it contains space ships and lasers and a great deal of beaches. Hopefully something in the film will remind him of a place he's always wanted to take her, a person he suddenly decides she needs to meet. And then things can go back to normal. She is not, she tells herself firmly, to touch his hair again. No matter how soft or inviting it seems.
When she returns to the game room, she finds something rather extraordinary.
The Doctor is on her couch.
They've only ever watched movies one way—him in his cushy armchair because it makes him feel old and dignified, and her on the couch, because she likes to stretch out. It'd always been like that, since she first came on board. When the Doctor was a little less fluffy and a lot more blue.
But now here he is, on her couch.
"Good idea," she says as nonchalantly as she can, grabbing a blanket. "Now we can both reach the popcorn, instead of you insisting that I toss it in your mouth."
He pouts. "I am excellent at catching popcorn in my mouth."
"Yeah, but I'm rubbish at throwin' it." She places the bowl in his lap and settles next to him—curling into his side the slightest bit, with access to the crook of his arm if she were to put her head down. (She only forbade touching his hair, after all. Touching him is… completely innocent.) "This… s'this alright?"
He swallows. "Yeah."
Eager for something to do with his hands, he fumbles for the remote and turns on the TV.
She falls in love with the film. It's both very serious and endearingly whimsical, and to say that she can relate to the subject matter would be an understatement. She winces at the fights between Lilo and Nani ("Do you want to be taken away? Answer me!"); sniffles when Stitch wanders off into the woods, inspired by the Ugly Duckling ("W-waiting." "For what?" "Family."); whimpers when Lilo is captured by accident and Stitch tries to save her ("Don't leave me, okay?" "Okay…") and by the end of the movie, she's crying in earnest—a constant stream of steady, silent tears. ("This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.")
"Oh, Rose…" the Doctor murmurs sadly, pulling her in and kissing the top of her head.
It's only then that she realizes he had his eyes on her for the duration of the film. At the time, she hadn't thought anything of it—she's used to him experiencing things through her eyes; it's how regains his sense of wonder. But it slowly dawns on her that he hadn't been watching her watch the movie. He'd just… looked at her. Gazed.
She pulls away from his embrace, suddenly feeling the fierce need to look him in the eyes. For a split second, she's almost surprised at what she finds there—familiar brown, instead of the older blue she'd half-expected.
It's been ages since she let herself think of the old Doctor. At first, she'd made it a mental taboo—because it hurt too much, or because she couldn't stop making comparisons. But the movie's brought up so many memories of him, so clearly ("I hear you cry at night. Do you dream about them? I know that's why you wreck things, and push me") and she feels like a complete idiot for ever having separated the two in her head. He hasn't changed at all; not really. He's grown a bit, but he's still the lost man she treated to chips when their worlds ended.
("Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind. Or forgotten.")
His hand is on her face.
She goes rigid and tries to regulate her breathing as his skin ghosts against hers. With effort, she keeps her eyes on his, but his gaze wanders—following the paths he traces with the pads of his fingers. It's all she can do to stay perfectly still as he explores her; she can't help but feel as though even the slightest movement could spook him, break this spell.
She's never been touched like this in her life.
It's not so much that he's gentle with her, treating her like fragile glass (though that does cause a ripple of sensation to shoot straight to her core.) It's the reverence of it; awe that she's always been certain he felt, but so rarely ever shows. His fingers brush along her jaw, over her lips, and for a single moment she truly believes he's going to kiss her.
"Rose, I—" he chokes, and glances helplessly back at the TV screen.
And she thinks she understands all the things that he's not saying.
Ohana becomes something of a language between them.
The next morning, he announces that they're having an adventure—a spin of the dial to anywhere; he's eager to surprise them both. The TARDIS doesn't want to land, but they forge ahead anyway: Rose bravely, with carefree abandon, and the Doctor following behind, feigning laughter he does not feel.
They discuss houses.
Later—impossibly later, a lifetime later—she'll be told she has to go. That the Doctor is gone, that there's nothing they can do, and they're sorry, so sorry. And she fights and she claws until they have jam a needle in her; desperate to keep her promise. She can't stop thinking it, like a song stuck in her head: "Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind." It's the last thing she hears as the world goes dark.
Miles below, the Doctor still cannot find the words. "Tell Rose… tell her…" he trails off, helpless. Remembers a close moment on a squishy couch, and oh, she knows. She has to.
("How long are you going to stay with me?" "Forever.")
They do their best to make it true. No one gets left behind. ("I made my choice a long time ago, and I'm never gonna leave you.") Or forgotten. ("Rose. Her name's Rose.")
And of course, the emotionally-charged climax happens on a beach. Twice.
("That's me, when we first met. And you made me better. Now you can do the same for him."
"But… he's not you."
"He needs you. That's very me.")
She looks behind her to the stranger with the Doctor's face, and suddenly all she can see is the lost man she met as a teenager. He's fluffier and more blue than she's ever known, but still unquestionably the Doctor. Broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.
He whispers in her ear.