The Doctor awoke confused. First of all, why had he been asleep? He very rarely slept. Oh, that's right. He had regenerated yesterday. Well, the day before actually, since he'd spent nearly twenty-four hours recovering from regeneration sickness. He'd slept here on the couch in Jackie's flat after dinner. He'd probably sleep every night for about a week. His system still needed to settle into his new body. He struggled to sit up in his groggy state and his hand brushed something on the side of the couch. Looking down, he saw what it was. There on the floor, leaning against the side of the couch, was a Christmas stocking stuffed full of goodies. He swung his legs over the side and picked it up.
It was the standard red stocking with the white fuzzy brim and, along the side, scrawled in what looked like white-out, it said 'DOCTOR'. Although it was slightly off-kilter due to the implement and surface, he could tell it was Rose's handwriting. He smiled as he felt warmth spread through his chest. She must have gone out and gotten this last night while he was sleeping. The first thing he saw sticking out the top was a banana. She knew he loved those. Did he still love those? He immediately took it out, peeled it, and took a bite. Oh, yes. He definitely still loved them. He loved them more than before, in fact. This tongue was so very sensitive. He ate the rest of the banana quite quickly and tossed the peel on the coffee table before looking through his stocking again. The next thing was a candy cane, which he popped in his mouth and sucked on while he sifted through the rest of his present. There was a beautiful kantrice stone. The Doctor remembered when Rose and found some of these in a stream in the jungles of Welloxia. She had been entranced by their shimmering beauty and kept a few. Now she was giving one to him. There was a couple handfuls of sweets at the bottom, but what was more interesting to the Doctor was the folded piece of paper on top. He unfolded it and read:
Happy Christmas, Doctor! Sorry this is late, but you were a bit unconscious on Christmas morning. The stocking looks a bit thrown together, I know, but it was all I could find last minute. I got you a banana! Do you still like those? You'll have to give me a list of your new likes and dislikes. (If you even know what they are yet) I'll see you when I wake up.
"Is it okay?" he heard her voice behind him and looked around. She stood in the door to her room wearing her flannel pajamas with cartoon owls all over them. "The stocking, I mean."
"It's…It's wonderful," he said sincerely. "Thank you."
She smiled shyly (since when was she shy around him?) and came to sit down next to him on the couch. "I wanted to get you a proper present, but all the shops were closed. Besides, I didn't know what you'd want. New you and all."
He smiled. "That's alright. Neither do I." They sat for a moment, in what he was sure was their first awkward silence. Finally, the Doctor voiced his concerns. "Are you really alright with this? The new me, I mean."
"Yeah," she answered. "It's gonna take some getting used to, but we'll be fine." The Doctor raised an eyebrow, unconvinced. Rose persisted. "It's like a haircut, yeah?" Now he just looked confused. "If you have a friend and they've had a certain hairstyle for a long time, you associate that look with them. When you look for them in a crowd, you look for that head with that hair. Then one day they get their hair cut, styled, and colored. The first time you see them, you're taken aback. You don't even recognize them. But they're still your friend, yeah? It'll take you a while to associate that look with them, to look for that head in a crowd, but eventually you will. This is more extreme, I admit, but you're still you. On the inside you're still the Doctor. You just got a very alien version of a haircut."
There were lots of little moments when the Doctor fell in love with Rose Tyler. This was definitely one of them. "I…" he laughed, shaking himself out of his revere. "I've never had it put quite that way before."
"I suppose it's a bit silly ," Rose said, embarrassed.
"No, not silly at all," he said taking her hand. "It was a very intelligent assessment. Not many people would look at it that way. Thank you."
She smiled brightly and the Doctor couldn't help but smile back as he felt his hearts speed up. If he loved her before, he adored her now. In his new body he seemed completely attuned to her.
"What's it like?" Rose asked. "Being new?"
The Doctor considered this. No one had ever asked him before, so he wasn't sure how to explain it. "It's…refreshing." Rose's brow creased with confusion and he elaborated. "The process itself hurts like hell, but after it's over….-You know how your skin feels after you've had a sunburn and the burnt layer has finished peeling off?" Rose nodded mutely. "It's all raw and tender, but not painfully so. Now combine that with the tingly feeling you have after your foot wakes up from being numb, only a bit more subtle. Now add the feeling of walking into an air conditioned shop after being outside in a heat wave and a tall glass of water after being really thirsty. That's sort of what it feels like physically."
"What about non-physically?"
"I'm very curious about myself. I'm not sure how I'll react in certain situations. I don't know what foods I like, what physical feats I can perform, what my style is. I know who I am, but I still don't know who I am. It's confusing and thrilling and I just want to experience everything just to see how it fits me. I want to try every food, dance to every song, swim in every sea!"
Rose couldn't help but grin at how worked up he got as he spoke. His excitement was contagious and she wanted to experience all those things with him.
"Speaking of the regeneration," he added. "It'll take a while for everything in my body to settle. My moods may be a little off and I'll be rather weak for a few days, so we should take it easy for a bit."
"Oh that's good," said Rose. "because mum was saying last night that she really wanted us to stay through New Years."
The prospect of spending a week with Jackie Tyler loomed over the Doctor like a portent of doom. "Really? Because we could 'take it easy' in the TARDIS as well."
Rose's eyes widened and she worried her bottom lip slightly. Both actions were almost imperceptible, so the Doctor knew she wasn't intentionally begging. But she was hoping, and he couldn't deny her anything. "Alright," he sighed. "We'll stay." The smile and hug he received made any henpecking he would have to endure from Jackie worth it. "But just one week!" he feigned sternness. "Then we're gone."
Rose nodded. "One week." She smiled. "I'll get a bit restless here after that too."
"Oh really?" said Jackie's voice behind them. "Maybe you should go now, then, and I'll just go down to the shops by myself."
"I didn't mean it like that, Mum." Rose assured.
"What do you want to go shopping for anyway?" asked the Doctor. "We've got loads of leftovers."
"Not the market," Jackie replied as if he were stupid for asking. "Boxing day sales at the department stores."
"You just got presents! What would you need to buy?" the Doctor argued.
"She does it every year," said Rose.
"We do it every year," Jackie corrected. "Nothing like finding a bargain," she added to the Doctor.
"Do you mind if I go?" asked Rose. "It's sort of like a tradition."
The Doctor had forgotten how close Rose and her mother were before he came along. They probably had lots of little things they used to do together. He'd taken that away from them, especially from Jackie. After she'd taken him in and nursed him back to health, the very least he could do was give her her daughter back while they were here. "You go on," he said. "I've got lot's of repairs I need to do on the TARDIS anyway."
"Thanks." She kissed him on the cheek before she got up and his hearts leapt in his chest. Perhaps he should take this time to get these feelings under control.
It was a few hours later, with his head in the bowels of his precious ship, that he heard the TARDIS door open and felt Rose enter. "Welcome back," he said, and climbed up out of the grating to greet her. "How was your-" He stopped when he saw her. She was smiling sheepishly at him and- "You cut your hair."
"Do you like it?" she asked.
He had loved her long hair. He liked this too. It was cut just above the shoulder. It made her look a little older, a bit more sophisticated, but it wasn't better or worse than before. Just different. "It looks fantastic," he said.
"I thought we could change together," she said.
Then he remembered what she had said earlier about his regeneration. "You did this for me?"
She nodded. "And I just thought it was time for a change."
The Doctor was moved. She cut off her hair for him. Just to show him she was alright with his regeneration, she cut off her hair. Rose Tyler really was fantastic. No. She was absolutely amazing! He dropped his sonic screwdriver and walked swiftly over gathering her in a hug.
"Doctor?" she hugged him back, a bit confused.
"Thank you," he whispered.
"It's just a haircut," she said meekly, though she knew it meant more.
It was a symbol. He had changed, so she changed with him. It meant that whatever happened, whatever he did, she'd be right there with him. And he knew he couldn't control these feelings. He would continue to love her for every little thing she did. And maybe someday, he'd be able to tell her.