Fire. Every cell was on fire. Each one changing, reshaping itself on the molecular level. Every regeneration was different. After eight of them, he knew that well. This, though was the first time he was completely conscious for it. Completely aware of every sensation. And standing up! He didn't even know he could do that! And Rose. She was standing there, watching the whole thing, completely unprepared. Why the hell hadn't he told her? There had been many occasions that would have been a perfect time to bring it up, but he stayed quiet. Why?
She was the only thought running through his mind as his new body formed. And then it was over. He gasped his first breath with his new lungs, his skin fresh and new, almost stinging as the air hit it. The first thing he noticed was that he felt taller. Not much, maybe a half an inch to an inch. For a millisecond, he forgot his surroundings. Then he remembered. He was in the TARDIS with Rose. Oh god, Rose! She must be so confused! It was then that he came up with what was, quite possibly, the stupidest strategy for handling the situation. Pretend nothing was wrong.
"Hello," he said. "Oka-" he almost bit his tongue. Right, get a feel for the mouth before speaking. He ran his brand new tongue over his brand new teeth, mapping them out. "New teeth," he said. "That's weird. Now, where was I? Oh, that's right! Barcelona!"
Rose stood there watching this man in the Doctors clothes talk to her as if she should know who he was. What the hell had just happened? Where did the Doctor go? Was he alright? Who was this guy? Her brain was barely working from the shock, but she worked out that he seemed to be inspecting his own body.
"Go on then, tell me," said the man, with an oddly familiar grin. "What do you think?"
What did she think? What did she think of what? She replied to him with her own question. "Who are you?"
"I'm the Doctor," he said, seeming slightly insulted.
That was impossible. "No. Where is he? Where's the Doctor? What have you done to him?" This man neither looked nor sounded anything like the Doctor. He didn't really expect her to believe such a rubbish story, did he?
"You saw me. I-I changed. Right in front of you," he said, sounding a bit wrong-footed.
"I- I saw him sort of... explode, and you replaced him. Like a- a transmat, or a body-swap or something." Rose gathered her courage and walked towards him. She would not believe his story. No way would she look a fool in front of an enemy. No way would she let him trick her. "You're not fooling me," she said pushing him lightly. Her voice came out a little less convincing than she intended. She should have pushed him harder, she thought, but something in her subconscious refused to cause him harm. "I've seen all sorts of things," she continued. "Nanogenes, Gelth, Slitheen." They could disguise themselves in skin suits, she remembered. "Oh my god, are you Slitheen?"
The man raised his eyebrows. He seemed to be finding her attempt to logic this out a bit comical. "I am not a Slitheen," he said.
"Send him back," she said. "I'm warning you. Send the Doctor back right now!"
"Rose, it's me!" he said desperately. Something made her heart jump when he said her name and a familiar feeling swept through her. "Honestly, it's me," he continued. "I was dying. To save my own life, I changed my body. Every single cell. But...It's still me."
It was getting hard to ignore the feeling that he was telling the truth, but she still made an attempt. "But... You can't be."
"Then how could I remember this?" he said, moving forward. "Very first word I ever said to you." He was standing so close to her now, and for some reason she didn't move away. "Trapped in that cellar, surrounded by shop window dummies. Oooo, such a long time ago." Then he looked her in the eyes very seriously, and she really met his for the first time. "I took your hand," he did so as he said it, and she couldn't stop her heart from racing. "And I said one word. Just one word. I said, 'Run!'."
The memory of that meeting replayed in Rose's mind as she looked into his eyes. They were large and brown, his eyes. Her Doctor's eyes were piercing blue and intense. Yet... these eyes, though they were a different shape and a different color, they were the same. She saw the same man looking out. She couldn't quite explain how she knew. She just... knew. "Doctor?"
"Hello," he said with a wide, warm smile.
Good. She knew it was him. How would she handle it though? The Doctor bounded around the console, joking and trying to keep the situation light, but it wasn't working. She still looked so lost. Well, what did he expect? She wouldn't just say, 'Oh, so you're different now? Okay. On to Barcelona then?'.
"Can you change back?" she asked.
"Do you want me to?" he asked.
"No," he said. This was it then. "Do you wanna leave?"
"Do you want me to leave?" she asked, sounding a bit hurt.
"No!" he said quickly. God, that was the last thing he wanted! "But... Your choice, if you wanna go home."
She didn't answer. She looked like she was considering it. His hearts felt like they were teetering on a ledge. She didn't have to go home for good. Maybe she just needed some time to think. So he offered to take her to Christmas in her time. He made a joke about her mother and she smiled a bit. Good. That was progress. Then something in his body jolted. And again. Regeneration sickness had started to set in.
"You alright?" Rose asked.
No. No, this wasn't right at all. Regeneration sickness had never been like this. It had never been so painful. Bollocks. Now his mind was starting to go. Not in the harmless invalid way it usually did. He was being a complete loony! A danger to himself and, more importantly, to Rose. Luckily, they landed in one piece, and he stepped outside to find Jackie and Mickey. And then, everything went dark.
Rose sat by the Doctor's bedside as he mumbled through labored breaths, a cold sweat coating his face. This wasn't right. None of this made any sense. The last thing she remembered before waking up in the TARDIS was trying to get back to the Doctor on Satellite Five. What had happened back there that made him have to change?
He said he'd changed to save himself, but looking at him now it seemed like he might be dying. What was the point of changing just to die anyway? She reached out and took his hand on the bed. There was no response. He seemed worse now than when they'd first brought him in. She blamed herself for that. Waking him up for a stupid Christmas tree. She should have been able to handle that on her own. When he was awake though, for those few minutes, he really seemed like her Doctor again.
"Doctor," she said. "I don't know what to do. I've seen all these things with you, but I can't handle something this big on my own. I don't know how different you really are, but... It doesn't matter. Just, please, please wake up. I need you. I need to see you smile and grab my hand, so I'll know everything is alright." Rose could feel herself beginning to cry. In that moment she was glad he couldn't see her. Sitting there feeling sorry for herself while the world was in danger. Shameful. "You must be so disappointed in me," she said with a nervous laugh as she wiped away the tears that threatened to fall. "Blubbering like this."
Rose looked at his unconscious form for a long moment and squeezed his hand. "I'm sorry I wasn't strong enough," she said. And she felt his fingers close around hers.
"Did you miss me?" said the Doctor cheekily. He may not know much about his new self yet, but one thing that never changed; He always fancied a grand entrance.
He sorted the Sycorax leader enough to stall him and made his way over to Rose and asked what he looked like. He wasn't ginger! Damn! She didn't seem put off by his looks, though. That was good. And Harriet Jones was here! She seemed to be doing well. Quite well, seeing as how she was prime minister now.
Now to deal with Big Ugly. He found himself spouting quite a speech. Ah, another talkative one. He certainly wasn't short on clever things to say either. That was good, because one of his top priorities right now was being very impressive. He seemed to be powered by a strong need to prove himself to Rose. So, when the Sycorax questioned his ultimatum, he decided on the most grandiose, impressive way of defeating him. A duel to the death.
Rose watched as the Doctor fought the leader of the Sycorax atop the ship. There was no doubt in her mind that he was her Doctor. He looked so heroic with that sword. Like some pajama clad knight. Then he was pinned, his hand cut off. Rose watched as, amazingly, he grew it back, wiggling his fingers as they formed. It was actually a little creepy. In an instant, she was grabbing a new sword off the wall. "Doctor!" she called, and tossed it to him.
"So I'm still the Doctor, then?" he asked catching the sword and twirling it impressively.
"No arguments from me!" Rose shouted back with a smile.
That was all he needed. Her confidence in him made him feel more powerful than ever. He knew he would win this fight. And win, he did.
The Doctor felt Rose's eyes on him as they walked back up to Jackie's flat. "What?" he asked, smiling.
"Just looking," she said.
"That good or that bad?" he still hadn't seen himself yet.
She smiled. "God, you're vain."
"I just want to know!" he said in mock offence. "It's important to look good when you're saving the universe."
"Relax. You look fine," she said. Better than fine. He was positively scrumptious. "You gonna wear that to dinner?" she asked fingering the collar of Howard's dressing gown.
"Yeah, Christmas dinner. Mum said she'd go out and get a full holiday spread. Special occasion 'cause we're here."
Christmas dinner with Rose's family. Not so long ago, he would have run and hid at the very idea. Now though, it didn't sound so bad. He wasn't sure if that was because of the regeneration or just a change in him that occurred over time. "That sounds nice," he said.
"Really?" said Rose. He really had changed.
"Yeah, I think I can brave your mother's cooking for one night," he said with a smirk.
Okay, not changed that much.
This was his favorite part of regenerating. Picking out his new look. He stepped into the TARDIS wardrobe and set to finding what would look best. First things first though. He had to see the new body.
The Doctor closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and stood in front of the mirror. Slowly, he cracked his eyes open and looked at his image. Wow. Not bad. Not bad at all! In fact, this was quite possibly the best body yet! He took off the dressing gown and turned around. Yes, yes, very good. Nice arse to boot. He leaned forward and examined his face. His right eye was a little smaller than his left eye, but that was alright. He had freckles! That was a first. He really was very slim. Skinny, even. As he looked though the racks he thought that something tight cut might look good. Then he found it. A slim-fit brown pinstriped suit and a long tan suede trench coat. Very sharp.
He undressed in front of the mirror and took a closer look at his new form. He was a bit pale. He wondered what Rose would think of that. He realized immediately that this was silly. Rose would never see him naked. That thought quickly triggered other thoughts he shouldn't be thinking. He wondered why it was that every decision he made concerning this body was hindered on what Rose would think. Why did he want her, no, need her to like this new him so much? He never used to care what others thought.
He didn't just have freckles on his face. There was a smattering of them on his shoulders and arms as well. He felt a distinct male pride at how his package turned out. Even though people rarely saw it and his sex drive was quite low unless he had strong feelings for someone, he was still always glad when it turned out well down there. And as hard as he tried to push such thoughts away, he again wondered what Rose would think, and that led further down a path of thoughts he should really not be having.
He dressed in his new suit and coat and checked himself in the mirror one last time. He noticed that, the closer his face got to the mirror, the harder it was to see. He must be farsighted. So, he grabbed a pair of glasses, tucked them in his breast pocket, and made his way up to the flat.
Moment of truth, he thought as he opened the door. Rose looked up at him as he walked in and swept her eyes over his body, before smiling brightly in approval. He beamed at her. Good. She liked it.
They ate dinner and, surprisingly enough, the Doctor really seemed to enjoy himself. Rose kept stealing glances at him. He was so different, yet so the same. She couldn't quite put her finger on it. The new body certainly hadn't affected her feelings towards him. She was just as attracted to him as she'd ever been. Again, the attraction was the same, yet different. She wasn't any more or less attracted to this body than the last. Just, in a different way. He did look positively adorable with that paper hat on. And then he added those glasses. She almost laughed. The great superior Time Lord needed glasses! They did look very good on him though.
They stood in the falling ash looking up at the pieces of the Sycorax ship as they hit the atmosphere. And Rose got up the courage to ask what she'd been wondering for a while now. "So, what are you gonna do now?"
"Oh, back to the TARDIS. Same old life." He didn't know if she would still want to come with him. He made no assumptions in his answer.
"On your own?" asked Rose. He was the same man, but he wasn't. Maybe he had no room for her now. Maybe he wanted to travel alone.
"Why? Don't you wanna come?" he asked. He was so afraid she'd say no, but he didn't want to pressure her.
"Do you, then?" he said. "I just thought...'cause I...changed."
"I thought...'cause you changed... you might not want me anymore."
"Oh, I'd love you to come!" he said, making no attempt to hide his relief that she still wanted to be with him.
"Okay!" Rose beamed.
Mickey watched as they got reacquainted. He had thought, even hoped, that Rose would want to stay here now. But nothing had changed. There they were again, lost in each other. Completely forgetting there was anyone else there. "You're never gonna stay are you?" he said.
They turned, and he could see that they really had forgotten they were not alone. "There's just so much out there," said Rose. "I've...got to."
Mickey nodded. Same old excuse. But he knew as well as she did that that wasn't the main reason she kept leaving. She wanted to be with the Doctor. Maybe it was time he accepted that.
The Doctor was trying to convince her mum now, that they weren't daft for wanting to leave. He came back over and held his hand out to her. Rose took it and found again, that, despite the difference in shape, holding his hand still made her feel the same way.
Rose watched the Doctor as he sat next to her on the couch back at the flat. His suit jacket lay draped over the arm of a chair a few feet away and his tie was loosened. Mickey had gone home and her mum had gone off to bed. She watched the light from the telly flicker across his new face. As much as he was still the Doctor, he was a new man. She noticed little differences during dinner. Different mannerisms and such. It would take some getting used to.
Feeling her watching him, the Doctor turned to look at Rose. She made no move to hide that she was staring. She continued to look at him curiously, as if appraising him. "Go on, then," he said invitingly.
"I can tell your curious," said the Doctor, indicating his face.
Rose looked at him for a moment, then slowly brought her hand up to his cheek. He smiled warmly at her and she brought another hand up to cup his other cheek. She ran her fingers over his skin. It was much smoother than it used to be. Her fingers glided back, over his face and into his hair. It was baby soft. Well, it would be, wouldn't it. It was brand new.
The Doctor found himself breathing heavier. His eyes drifted shut as Rose ran her fingers through his hair. The scalp was definitely a favored spot on this body. The air in the room was hovering between curiosity and intimacy. His hearts were thudding so loud he was afraid she would hear them. This was either a very good or a very bad idea. Maybe both.
Rose's hands came down his shoulders to rest on his chest, over his hearts. He willed them to slow down.
"How many times have you done this?" asked Rose.
It took his clouded brain a moment to realize that the silky sound of her voice had actually formed a sentence. "What?"
"This regeneration thing," she clarified. "How many times has it happened?"
"Oh," he said. "Nine. This is my tenth body."
"Wow. So... will you just keep going? Keep regenerating forever, and never die?"
The Doctor was amazed to hear that she asked this as if it were a sad thing. Because it was. Humans never seemed to understand that. Always craving the prospect of immortality. They never realized that it was more of a sentence than a gift. A curse, in fact. No, he wasn't immortal, but he was close enough. "No," he answered. "I get thirteen. Then that's it. Game over."
Thirteen? So, he only had three left. The life he led, the life they both led; who knows how fast he'd use those up? "Better start being more careful then," she said, poking him fondly in the chest.
He chuckled lightly. "I will. Promise."
"There's one thing I don't understand, though."
"Why'd your accent change?"
"Ah. That. Well, actually, that was because of you," he said smiling at her.
"Me?" said Rose disbelievingly "How did I make your accent change?"
"You influenced me."
Rose wasn't even entirely sure what he meant, but for some reason she was flattered.
"I spent every moment with you since we met. Well, except for when you were asleep. Honestly, you humans sleep too much. Of course some of you would rub off on me." He didn't mention the fact that she was the focus of his thoughts during his regeneration.
"It's not exactly south London."
"It's... further south."
Rose giggled at that. That is, until she saw the Doctor do something she'd never seen him do before. He yawned. "What was that?" she asked as he moved to recline longways on the couch.
"It was a yawn," he said matter-of-factly "I'm sure you've seen one before."
He was definitely more cheeky now. "You're tired."
"You're never tired."
"Oh, that's not true."
"I've been with you for a year and I've only seen you sleep three times."
"Four," he corrected.
"Regeneration takes a lot out of you," he explained. "On top of that I just chased away an alien invasion when I was only just better enough to be up and about. I think I have a right to be a little sleepy."
"You're alright though?" Rose asked, concerned.
"Yeah," he said with a soft smile. He watched as she got up and got a blanket from the back of a chair and draped it over him. "So I'm staying here, then, am I?"
"Yup," she said resolutely.
They smiled at each other for a long moment until the Doctor gently took Rose's hand in his. "Thank you," he said.
Rose was taken aback. "For what?" she asked sitting down next to his horizontal form.
"Everything," he knew she couldn't possibly know all he meant with that little word. How much he was thanking her for and on how many levels he was actually using the term. But if ever there was a word in the English language that could describe Rose Tyler, that one came the closest. Everything.