Hi! I'm back, apologizing once again for the long break between updates. Thanks for all the prayers and well-wishes; they were very much needed and appreciated.
And yeah, I'll understand if you need to go back and re-read the last chapter (or chapters, or the whole story... or series) to get ready for this one. But if you're enjoying it, that's just a chance for more fun, right? I hope?
Beta'd by SamiWami. Collaborated on with Jonn Wolfe (note, that's a double "N" there, not "John").
Chapter 6 - ...On the Inside
Any expectations of similarities to the Powell Estate vanished from the Doctor's mind as he looked through the doorway - unless, of course, he allowed for the few occasions on which he had parked the TARDIS inside Jackie's flat.
"Is this -" Rose began. "This isn't - it can't be - I mean, it's not, right?"
"No... it's not," the Doctor answered her as they both stepped slowly inside. "It's not the TARDIS, but it certainly does bear a striking resemblance, doesn't it?"
Rose just gave a light laugh as she looked around, wide-eyed.
It hadn't lasted long, but when he had first opened the door the Doctor's mind had actually reached out, expecting the TARDIS' presence.
However, along with noting the distinct lack of sentience, he'd also quickly processed the fact that what had at first appeared to be the console was actually some kind of mid-room fireplace with a greenish, translucent hood. Instead of a captain's chair, it was encircled by three, comfy-looking couches and little coffee tables on a slightly raised platform. The chimney duct was surrounded by lit, colored-glass hangings that recalled the Time Rotor. Curving, open staircases climbed along either wall from the doorway up to the next level, but the upstairs rooms flanked the main living space with its three-storey vaulted ceiling, leaving all three levels of windows on the opposite wall free to pour light into the main room. The window shutters and various lights and mirrors around the room were all designed to mimic the roundels that covered the console room's walls. While the flat was obviously of squarish construction, decorative screens had been arranged along the curve of the staircases to cut off corners and enhance the impression of roundness.
Rose had climbed to the fireplace, and was now circling it, gazing up at the "rotor". "She must have made quite an impression," she observed.
"On Billy, you mean?" the Doctor asked, stepping up to join her. "Yes, I'd say this rules out at least the Vortex Manipulator theory, if not a few others I've come up with." It also ruled out a ride from any of his own incarnations prior to Nine. The decor was most definitely inspired by the TARDIS in her current coral configuration.
Rose met him, taking his hands. "No carpet," she said, bouncing slightly on her toes and grinning up at him.
He made a show of looking around, although he had already catalogued every visible detail. "Doors and windows: nicely concealed," he said, nodding his approval. He glanced down at the couch they were standing beside. "Might even take a few pointers for when we get back to the old Girl." With a quick twist and a surprised shriek from Rose, he dropped, bouncing, onto said couch with Rose on his lap. They still had just over eleven and a quarter days left before he could propose, but that didn't mean he had to keep his distance from her. And the couches looked much less awkward than the Captain's chair for the various pre-proposal activities he had in mind.
However, Rose inexplicably pushed back from him after but a single, too-brief kiss. "Shouldn't we take a better look 'round?" she giggled.
"Don't see why," he countered, gently pulling her back. "Comfy couch," he explained against her lips.
She hummed her ascent, then gave a startled gasp as he laid her back on the cushions - purely to demonstrate his observation of the couch's comfiness. He grinned internally as she tugged on his hair, kissing him more deeply. But then she went and pulled away again. "It's very comfy," she whispered, "but I still think we should finish investigatin'," she insisted, biting her lip.
"I am investigating," the Doctor whined while he nuzzled his way down her neck to the collar of her dress.
Rose gave a laugh that quickly trailed off into a very pleased sounding sigh as he explored his new discovery. "It's jus," she attempted breathily after a few moments, "there could be clu- ah..." She distractedly cut off, gently scraping his neck and scalp.
Quite pleased at his ability to capture her attention, the Doctor attempted to return to her lips.
"Clues!" Rose announced suddenly, causing the Doctor to jump back, propped up on his arms above her. She bit her lip sheepishly, then continued, "There might be clues around here or upstairs, an' maybe things we need to be lookin' out for right off."
The Doctor sighed, letting himself collapse enough to rest their foreheads together. "Why does that have to make such sense?" he asked, frustrated by how much he actually agreed with her thought process.
She gave him a dazzling grin as he capitulated, as well as a nice, deep - but entirely non-escalatable - kiss. "Race ya up the stairs?"
Knowing full well that she'd never beat him to the top, he at least had the good grace to help her to her feet, first.
Rose was only two-thirds of the way up the right-hand staircase when the Doctor reached the landing and darted down the hall to the left. Deciding to split up and cover more ground, and hopefully delay his victory speech, Rose took the right turn at the top and opened the first door she came to. It was a spacious, full bathroom, with a second door leading to the adjacent room. The ceiling was lower than she'd expected from the construction of the main room, but still at least as high as any regular flat's. A quick look around revealed some towels, and to her immense surprise and relief, her own toothbrush and other toiletries.
"YES!" she exclaimed, closing the curtain of the combined bathtub/shower. "Maybe I won't be at Henrik's for long, after all," she mused. If she'd somehow managed to stock the flat with her personal items, surely she and the Doctor would have provided for their financial -
She suddenly noticed the Doctor's toothbrush next to hers. Huh. Opening the mirror over the sink, she discovered his razor. So, sharing a bath. Maybe there's only the one? Or...
Rose moved hesitantly towards the door to what she presumed to be the bedroom. Naw. They wouldn't be sharing. Would they be? How much could things have changed between them during their time here? And even if anything had, would their future selves go so far as to set their past selves up as roommates?
The bedroom was closer to what she had expected, with its two-storey ceiling. Glancing back, she realized the low bathroom ceiling made room for a kind of a loft in the bedroom, but she didn't see any furnishings up there.
She couldn't be sure if it was disappointment or relief that she felt as she looked more closely around the room. There were more of her things out on top of the dresser, but none of the Doctor's. The bed was a queen, but so was her own bed on the TARDIS. She braced herself before she opened the closet, and then frowned at what she found - or rather, didn't find - inside.
It was empty.
"Now, come on," she complained aloud, thougts of bunking with the Doctor temporarily pushed to the back of her mind. "Nothin'? Not a dress, or a jacket, or anythin'?"
She checked the dresser drawers, but all that turned up were some underthings and one sleep shirt. "At least there's that," she allowed. Why go to the trouble of leaving these things here, but not anything else? She decided it had to be the Doctor's fault, and he must have spun some line about paradoxes or the like. Scowling at the nearly bare dresser, she noticed a note stuck to the top of the porcelain candy dish that she normally used for earrings back on the TARDIS:
"Bus fare; not for ice lollies!" it read.
"Guess it's Henrik's for me, after all," she sighed, replacing the lid over the handful of coins she found inside.
What appeared to be another note, this one on the bedside table, caught her eye. She pursed her lips when she saw it was addressed "Doctor" but didn't hesitate to pick it up and read it anyway.
"Stop equivocating and putting it off, you twat. Get the ring out of your pocket and ASK THAT GORGEOUS GIRL RIGHT NOW!
Rose's jaw dropped, and her hands seemed to burn as she held the note in front of her. She reread it three more times in the space of only a few of her racing heartbeats. What on earth did it mean? The Doctor already pulled his own "wedding" ring from his pocket. Was it something having to do with that? Because it certainly couldn't mean anything close to what it seemed to clearly mean...
"Rose?" the Doctor called from right outside the open door to the bathroom.
Without conscious thought, Rose stuffed the note into one of the large front pockets of the Doctor's jacket. As she turned to face him, she wondered how many other pockets the jacket had, and what she might find if she went poking around in them.
The Doctor's head poked through the door, promptly followed by the rest of him. "There you are," he said, smiling. It wasn't until he'd closed the distance between them that he even bothered to look around at the room. "This must be yours, then," he observed.
"Yours the other way?" Rose asked, forcing herself to relax as he took her hand.
"No, I expect it's Billy's," he answered. "I don't really need one, do I?" he added.
"No," Rose laughed, hoping her chuckle didn't betray any of her early speculation or habitual daydreaming. "Guess not, 'specially if we're not gonna be here too long."
"Well, I'm starving, and I imagine you probably are, too," the Doctor announced.
Rose's stomach gave an involuntary answering growl. She realized that she'd only had attempted chips, a shared lunch, and the chestnuts since breakfast - and who knew how long that had actually been. Why did he have to bring up food when they didn't have any cash beyond bus fare?
"And if my nose does not deceive," he said, tapping the side of his nose for emphasis, "we've got at least something of a stocked pantry in this place."
"We do?" Rose asked, surprised. He nodded, and Rose immediately pulled him towards the second bedroom door. "Oh, we'd better," she grumbled. "It'll almost make up for the lack of clothes if it's true."
So focused was she on finding the kitchen, that Rose got absolutely no look at the gobsmacked expression on the Doctor's face at her comment.
To be continued...
Jonn Wolfe offered me ten quid if I could slip in the note from Billy and have Rose find it first :) Don't know how he's gonna pay up... maybe I'll just have to make him start writing for me.