Title: Every time
Pairing: Nine/Rose, Ten/Rose, Eleven/Rose
Summary: Throughout all the ages of the world, he still loved her. Loves her. Will love her. A timey-wimey story of red bicycles, ivory dresses, and cracks in the universe. Written for Challenge 94for the then_theres_us LiveJournal community.
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me. Doctor Who and its characters belong to the BBC and RTD and the Grand Moff and all the other writers and movers and shakers of the Whoniverse. I promise I put them back where I found them.
When did he start?
The Doctor lies. The Doctor always lies.
But that wasn't the case. He simply embellished, simply told stories in the way Time Lords never did, fusty old fools with their records and their rules.
Amelia Pond was seven when he met her. Is seven. Would be seven.
What was he thinking, asking a scarlet-haired Scottish child to come with him in his journeys? He remembers the pain of regeneration, the molecular, sub-atomic changes happening within his body reverberating across the ends of time and space. He remembers stumbling through the New Year's snow, trainers smudged and dirty, face and cheeks still wounded from the explosion, the last evidence of the Master's sacrifice. The idiot. He would've lived.
Everybody would've lived.
Four fucking knocks.
Four knocks and Rose Tyler's smile.
Oh how she smiled, all pink and yellow and bright-eyed as she wished him a happy new year. Happy new life, Doctor. He wondered if that would be the last time he'd see her. His twin hearts beat a dirge in his chest. New-New-New Doctor for Rose; always for Rose.
He remembers her at seven, all bruises and bumps on her knobbly knees and colt-like legs. She was still brown-haired then, with shades of sunlight and ginger, and eyes so large they could see the whole universe in one glance. He just dropped in to see her once. Just once. Martha was asleep then, and he just missed her so -
He wonders if this was going to be a pattern for the companions he would treasure - seeing them as children, shaping their futures in such a way that they would always, always respond to the call of his blue box. He raised them up in a way their mothers and fathers and aunts and teachers never did. He made them want. He wanted them to want: the stars, the birth of galaxies, the alien life teeming beyond the atmosphere of their small, precious little world.
Rose was seven. Amelia is seven.
For Rassilon's sake, Susan was seven when he got her.
He shakes his head and starts the dematerialization sequence. The TARDIS console room glows, the shift from green to golden. His poor old girl is tired; he must've hurt her during the last few moments. He sends a silent apology into the space around him, promising her that he was going to rest. That they were going to rest.
The TARDIS responds with a glimpse of Rose's smile.
He feels his heart break just a little.
Ah, but this body doesn't know Rose the way his last two regenerations did - has never felt her arms around his shoulders, her warm weight on his chest, her fingers in his hair. He can move on. He can forget.
He tells the TARDIS to go back for the child.
They'd just left Platform One, just had chips with vinegar and grease, and now she was asleep in the room she claimed for her own, the TARDIS redecorating the walls and floor and ceiling for her. She'd do that, sometimes, and while he was a grumpy old sod who refused to acknowledge the fact that her hand felt so right when entwined in his, he could appreciate his ship making her feel... at home.
He had absolutely no clue what it meant anymore. But when his beloved ship shuddered and stopped, he simply tugged the leather jacket closer around him and marched down to the door to see where they ended up.
London, from the look of it. Christmas. He loves Christmas. He used to love Christmas. Now all he could see was the snow and the gaudy decorations and the jangling, clanging mess of brass and bells. He wanted to shout at them, at these insignificant little apes, to smash their stalls and bright lights and decorations, to tear it all down with his bare hands the same way he tore down Arcadia -
He felt his twin hearts squeeze in remembered pain.
He leaned against a brick wall, teeth gritted and hands balled into fists. He wanted to forget. God damn it all, he wanted to forget.
"Hello, old chap."
The Doctor turned around, eyebrows raised as he watched a gangly young-old man with floppy brown hair and dust-drenched clothes saunter towards him. "What do you want?"
"Just wanted a quick chat with you, set things to rights."
"Thought we weren't supposed to do these things, you 'n me. Or 's it me 'n me?" He looked at his future self up and down in disapproval. "I suppose it just happened, else you wouldn't be wearing clothes that look like it came out of a bin."
"Touché," his other self said, heels knocking together, an amused smile on his lips. "I'd forgotten how blunt I used to be."
"How long's it been?" he asked.
"Oh! Eleven, now."
He raised an eyebrow. "We go through them fast."
"That we do."
"So what 're you doin', hangin' about London now?"
"Ah!" His other self's green eyes lit up in delight. "We're supposed to buy Rose a red bicycle for her twelfth Christmas."
"Rose? As in Rose Tyler?"
"Yes, of course, how many Rose Tylers do you know anyway? Goodness, I'd've thought I'd be the one with memory problems, not you."
"Why'd I buy Rose Tyler a red bicycle?"
"Because she grew up with barely anything, and this year'll be magical for her, and we'll be the one - well, you'll be the one - to make it so." The older Doctor looped his arm around the younger Doctor's, and steered him towards the direction of the shops. Back to the lights, and sounds, and life.
He visits her while she's working at Henriks', about a week before his younger self would track down the Nestene Consciousness and blow up her job. He's gotten his tweed jacket and bow-tie and new companion and brand-spankin'-new sonic screwdriver and he's all set. But something still draws him to her timeline, damn whatever River Song is doing in his life, and so he tells Amy that they're doing a bit of shopping, that they're out of milk, and hopes that Harrods and Selfridges are ready for the whirlwind that is Amelia Pond.
It is 2005 and he still remembers the smell of the old/new building, the piles of clothes and plastic and the shop-window dummies waiting to be animated. He shudders at the memory as he takes the lift from the basement to the first floor, and fingers his sonic screwdriver nervously.
She is in the ladies' section, her bright blond hair visible between the racks. She's stacking silk tops on the shelves and he watches her move with a quickness, an efficiency that he's always appreciated. She's not stupid - he's always appreciated her cleverness - and wishes that he could give his favorite girl the life she's always deserved right here, right now.
He wanders up and down the aisles, look at cotton and cardigans and wondering why lingerie was designed to be as uncomfortable as possible when she finally caught his eyes and quirked an eyebrow. "What d'you want, mate?" she asked, her accent familiar music to his ears. "'Cos I gotta tell y' now, I've got a boyfriend."
"Ah." Mickey Smith, of course. Those were the days. "No, no. I'm just looking for a present. Something to give a precious girl."
Her gaze turned from defensive to wistful. "Oh, tha's lovely. 'Precious girl'. Not somethin' blokes call their girlfriends these days." She saunters towards him, ready to take him around the shop. "D'you know what she likes?"
Apple grass. She loves the smell of apple grass, and the color pink, and oh God she wears too much eyeliner but she's absolutely beautiful and her smile takes my breath away.
But he says none of those things. Instead, he says: "I'd want to get her a dress. A pretty frock for a pretty girl." And he looks at her up and down, and tells her: "I think you're just about the same size."
Rose smiles at him, and points out the season's dresses, what girls were wearing. Her voice is enthusiastic without being pushy, and he knows that she's genuinely interested in getting him the perfect item and not just fobbing off the most expensive dress on the rack. But after fifteen minutes, he asks her, just as she was pointing out their newest acquisitions, "What would you like?"
And she looks at him - really looks - and without waiting, takes him towards the back of the racks, to the 50% off dresses, and pulls out a floor-length ivory dress, heavy and beautifully embroidered, with a matching short pearl gray jacket. "It's too expensive, even wit' my employee's discount, but I think it's absolutely gorgeous. An' nobody wants it 'cos it's not this season or anythin', but I think that wit' the right makeup and stuff, it'll look beautiful. Not that I'd ever have any occasion to wear it, y'know what I mean?"
He wants to tell her that she is beautiful and that yes, she will wear it one day, to a ball in a crystal palace on a faraway land, and that he will be the one to take her there. That she will glitter and he will gaze at her with love in his eyes. That yes, Rose Tyler, you'll have the occasion to wear this dress.
But instead he sweeps the dress and jacket off the rack and marches towards the cashier. Rose hurries after him, her fingers fluttering in panic. "You can't do that," she says.
"Can't do what?" he asks as the cashier - Rose's colleague, more than likely - rings up his purchase and wraps it in tissue and folds it in a be-ribboned box before tucking it into a large paper bag.
"Buy my dress for someone else," she hisses. "I was savin' up for that!"
He signs the credit slip with a flourish and hopes that the Brigadier still wasn't tracking down his credit card purchases, and takes the shopping bag from the bewildered cashier. He is thankful that there's not a lot of people at Henriks' on a Tuesday afternoon, that Rose is at least attempting discretion, that Amy is still nowhere in sight. He walks down the polished hall and finds a quiet corner in the store. Rose is turning pink as she follows him; she's not actually aware that she's followed him, just that she finds her footsteps matching his as she tries to fathom the reasons behind what just occured.
The Doctor turns and presents her with the shopping bag. Her lips form a surprised 'O' as the weight of the bag falls on her forearms. "What?" she sputters, her eyes wide and slightly frightened. "Are you a stalker? Are you tryin' to get me to bed or somethin'?"
"No! No, no, no. Nopity nope nope." The Doctor shakes his head. "Just... think of it as a gift. From an old friend. Or a new friend, if you'd like."
"I don't want it." She holds the parcel in his face. "You can 'ave it back."
"Ah, Rose Tyler, a gift freely given should never be refused."
"How'd you know my name?"
But now he was already moving away from her, hands in his pockets, the memory of Rose Tyler and that dress - and mind you, that dress wasn't always on Rose Tyler that evening - making him smile. "Just remember to pack it if you're going away on a trip. You'll never know when you need it," he says over his shoulder. "Oh, and always remember your towel!"
"My name's not Arthur Dent, 'nd I'm not goin' off this planet!" she yells back, laughter bubbling out of her lips.
"I wouldn't bet on it," he says, before disappearing into the lift.
It was their first trip after the Sycorax that didn't involve death and mayhem and destruction. She's cut off most of her hair now, and she's lost most of her roundness now, with all the running they've done. She's gone and done something with her hair so that it looks all messy and undone and he wonders if her hair will look like that spread against the dark cobalt of his bed.
They dance, and they dance, and they dance, round and round like pinwheels and the oribt of planets. This is not like that time after World War 2 and the nanogenes and Captain Jack, when she laughed in delight while he spun her around the center console in his leather jacket and workman's boots. This is dancing, and finally they return to the TARDIS and she snogs him, breathlessly, and he snogs her right back.
She grins up at him and tweaks the black bowtie of his tuxedo around his neck. "Bowties are cool," she declares.
He laughs. "So far, so good," he says. "Maybe this tuxedo's finally going to be the lucky one."
"Lucky on or off you?" she asks cheekily.
"Rose Tyler!" he exclaims as he claims her mouth again, as he sheds his clothes and she shimmies out of hers, and her dress, that perfect ivory dress with the heavy fabric and embroidered edges, tumbles on the floor.
He found that crack. That one crack that led to a sky filled with zeppelins. Just before the universe ended and the Pandorica opened, he found that one crack.
And before he could tell Amy, before he could send a signal to River, before he could even blink -
He took that step. He slipped in between the cracks.
He knew he'd see her one last time.
He hoped it wasn't a lie.
author's notes: This is my birthday fic for myself, because it's my birthday today and I wanted to write something to remember it by. Unbeta'ed, just like the old days, so confusing tense shifts and non-British spellings are mine. Constructive comments are always welcome. Thanks for reading!