Title: A Compass and his North

Pairing: Nine/Rose

Rating: Adult

Summary: The Doctor learns to hope, even after the ravages of the Time War. Set after "Aliens in London/World War Three" and before "Father's Day".

Excerpt: "There is something incomprehensible in her gaze, her eyes the colour of sunlight filtering through autumn leaves. Her hand traces the path of scars across his forearm, her fingertips tripping lightly across his skin. They leave licks of flame in their wake. He wonders where this is all going."

Word Count: 1,914 words

Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who or any related spin-offs, characters, etc. They belong to the BBC and their respective creators. I have been informed that the Sontarans can lend me their duplicator so that I can have my own Christopher Eccleston, so now it's just a question of, ahem, getting him where I want him to be. :D

Author's Note: Taken from Challenge 71, The Ninth Doctor, from then_theres_us LJ community. Written for the open challenge month. The images used are (just remove the spaces):

http:/ img9. imageshack. us/ img9/5651/tumblrl0tps72ctb1qapkj4. jpg
http:/ img43. imageshack. us/ img43/9514/tumblrli7bhdqpr21qbkdaq. jpg
http:/ img809. imageshack. us/ img809/8462/tumblrl2abuspcbr1qbiyr2. jpg

Oh simple things, where have you gone?

I'm getting old and I need something to rely on

- "Somewhere Only We Know", Keane

They are hurtling through the Time Vortex once more, and he takes the time to catch a breather. He encourages her to raid the wardrobe room, as she's not really brought much of her clothes along - perhaps a duffel bag's worth of trousers and tops, but nothing really exciting. She enjoys wandering his ship, and he enjoys accompanying her. The TARDIS had changed the rooms after his last incarnation, and he is still finding bits and bobs scattered at the oddest places.

One day, Rose informs him that she's found the swimming pool, and what was it doing in the library? He gives her a questioning look, and follows in her wake to investigate.

"Here it is," she says as she opens the double doors. And indeed, the Olympic-sized swimming pool that, at least a couple of decades before, had its own room, complete with an attached jacuzzi and sauna. But now -

He strokes a TARDIS coral strut that is growing out of one of the walls of the room, branching upwards to the ceiling. "Guess she's just being moody."

Rose shrugs and makes her way towards a chaise lounge piled high with white fluffy towels. "Well, I'm gonna change. Meet you back here in ten?"

He finds himself, for the first time in centuries, in less than three layers of clothing. While he is no wilting violet, he knows he is not a perfect specimen, either by Gallifreyan or human standards. The last days of the Time War were not kind to his body, despite his biology and the well-equipped medbay on the TARDIS. Faint scars still run across his arms and chest, and there is a small circular burn at the junction between his neck and shoulders where he was tortured, oh, such a long time ago. He usually covers these up with his jumpers and jacket, but right now... he shrugs. It's not as if Rose is looking.

He sinks into the warm water of the pool and does a few laps, feeling his body stretch and move against the water. He is still getting used to this new form - a body exclusively created for fighting a losing battle - and he knows that it shows, all rangy muscles and long, lean limbs. Good for running. Hands that have known the heft and weight of weapons, that have destroyed entire solar systems. He swims faster, farther, wondering if he can swim away from all these memories.

He does not realise that Rose has already entered the pool until he encounters her hands on his shoulders, effectively stopping him mid-lap. She is wearing a shimmery gold-and-mahogany bikini, and her hair is piled untidily on top of her head. He surfaces from the water, dripping, and gives her a long look. There is something incomprehensible in her gaze, her eyes the colour of sunlight filtering through autumn leaves. Her hand traces the path of scars across his forearm, her fingertips tripping lightly across his skin. They leave licks of flame in their wake. He wonders where this is all going.

She moves closer, invading his personal space. For a moment, is tempted to move back, to make an inappropriate quip, clear the air. But the play of light and shadows across the wood-panelled room, across the gently lapping water of the pool, makes it hard to even think about the reality of the situation. He feels like he is in some kind of dream, except his dreams are never this vivid, and never this good.

"Doctor," she whispers. "I'm - "

"Rose." Even her name is like an invocation on his lips; the deepest, most secret prayer.

Her palms are now pressed against his chest, and he is very aware of her single heartbeat thudding against her ribcage. He can smell her scent - citrus, soap, and something that reminds him of Rose early in the morning, padding into the kitchen barefoot, searching for tea. He keeps his arms at his sides, and allows Rose to map out the faint traceries of his body. She does so carefully, as if committing a new language to memory. Finally, with the water contributing to her buoyancy, she stands on her tiptoes and dips her head, her lips brushing gently over the sensitive skin of the wound on his shoulder. He shudders at the touch. Even though - or perhaps, despite his time sense - he knows that every tendril of possibility will only lead to one place: his bed.

He is careful with her body, with his heart. She is bare to his gaze, curving across the white sheets, her pale hair a halo beneath her head. TARDIS-created sunlight streams through a window, creating secrets and spaces on her skin. He leans over her, his hands molding her flesh as surely as if he was creating a masterpiece. His lips find the peaks of her breasts, tongue laving the nubbed peaks. She moans and writhes beneath him, her fingers curved around his head, anchoring him in place. He imagined her nipples unfurling beneath his mouth and lips and tongue, flower petals in motion.

A hand explores south, paring open her legs to find the moment where they met, the junction of her thighs. The Doctor allows his callused hands to dip between her legs, slick moisture coating his fingertips. He slips one finger, then two, inside her, and she arches her hips off the sheets, seeking more pressure. She is sweat and silk and heat around him, and he pumps his hand quickly, rhythmically, watching her with hooded eyes as she helplessly moves against him, her instincts taking over her body. Her eyes are closed, her lips parted, her breasts the most delectable dessert presented to him. Rose moans his name one last time, breathless, as she comes against his hand.

He brings his fingers to his lips, sucking her flavour into his mouth, then bends down to kiss her as he parts her legs wider, settling himself in between. The tip of his cock bumps against her entrance, still warm and moist from her orgasm. Before she can say anything, before she can even come down from her climax, he enters her. Her breath hitches as her body accomodates his length, his girth. His skin is cool against her over-heated surface. She hooks her ankles across the small of his back, pulling him even further inside, until all he can focus on is the feeling of Rose surrounding him like a perfect summer's day, like a benediction, like an answered prayer. He moves slowly, trying to prolong the moment. She is whispering filthy things into the shell of his ear, words that pull him up to dizzying heights as his hips start pistoning into her in that most ancient of rhythms. All the universe falls away and they are left suspended in space and time, bodies joined in the center of the very first star.

Rose comes first, hurtling through her orgasm with the force of a rocket. She is light and sound and beauty around him, and as her muscles clench, he follows her. His body tightens, taut and tense, and he comes, his own climax thundering through his body with the force of a hurricane. Rose catches him as he falls, her soft arms welcoming his frame as the Doctor collapses on the bed, spent.

He takes her to modern-day France because she asks him to, nicely, her smile still alternating between cheeky and shy. He does not know how long they've been sharing his bed, but it has gotten to the point where half her things have migrated from her room to his, and the sheets smell of sex and Rose.

They go to the Arc de Triomph. It is a blustery autumn day, almost winter, and the trees surrounding the Champs-Élysées are bare, the branches reaching up in supplication to the blank grey skies. The Doctor tells her about how Napoleon made a wooden replica of the arc for his bride Archduchess Marie-Louise so that she could enter the city in pride, as the arc wasn't finished at the time. They stand, small and insignificant, in front of the list of names of the dead, inscribed against the wall. The Doctor understands the cost of war, and the importance of memory. He wishes there was a memorial for the dead of Gallifrey.

Rose's hand wraps around his, her fingers filling the gaps between.

They make their way down to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where there is already a small crowd gathered around the memorial. The Doctor is quiet as he looks at the marble slab surrounded by flowers, the flickering of the eternal flame that marks the passing of life.

"What does the inscription mean, Doctor?" Rose asks quietly.

"Here lies a French soldier who died for the fatherland," he translates, his voice rough. He knows the TARDIS translates every language on Earth, and the writing as well, but he understands why Rose asks anyway.

The crowd shifts as people leave, arrive, depart. An older woman approaches them, her dark eyes sympathetic. "I see you've survived a war as well," she says to the Doctor. "I am sorry."

The Doctor nods. "Thank you."

"I was a nurse during the Second World War. Met my husband there as well, on the front lines. He's gone now, and here I am, still going on." She looks at Rose and the Doctor.

"I've lost... everyone I've cared about," the Doctor says.

The old lady nods, and lays a hand on his arm, the one that Rose isn't currently hanging on to. "But there is always hope, young man." She glances at Rose, and gives her a gentle smile. "And I see you've already started to remember what hope feels like."

The Doctor glances down at Rose, whose smile is wide, her eyes are glittering with unshed tears. "I think I am," he says. "Thank you."

But the old lady is already gone.

They lie on his bed that night, wrapped around each other like twin strands of the same thread. They speak of everything and nothing in between, the dark surrounding them like a shield. She tells him that she wants to stay with him forever. He tells her that if he dies, she should take his body and burn it, an ancient Gallifreyan rite that only he knows about now. She does not tell him that he will not die, and they do not pretend that they will live happily ever after.

They do not say that they love each other.

There is no need for those words.

And in the dark, when Rose's breathing evens out and she is settled in his arms, he thinks about the perfect ending - one possibility out of thousands, millions, when she is old and so is he, and they sit on a wooden bench somewhere in the universe, wrapped in wool and scarves and soft things, and they watch the leaves of some impossible tree turn orange in the sunlight. And he watches as his dream-Rose slowly crumbles to the ground to become dream-dust, and then he watches his own body follow (he is always following her, he knows, for he is merely a compass needle always drawn to her North) and disappear, swallowed by the ground. He cannot tell anymore which fragments are hers and which are his, because they have merged, refusing to be separated, even in death.