The dance hall is thoroughly decked out in red and white crepe paper and balloons. The tables are liberally festooned with hearts. The band members are in white tuxes with red carnations for boutonnieres. It is, he supposes, quite the affair.
The Doctor has no idea why he's here.
They've landed on Earth in 1952 in the middle of a chilly February, purely by accident, and he's been swept along in Amy's wake after she'd fixed on the idea of going dancing. She and Rory have been cutting it up on the dance floor. (Amy's moves are only occasionally inspiring a raised eyebrow from some of the old ladies distributing punch and ginger snaps.)
The band leader strikes up the next song, which has to be the schmaltziest piece of music ever to fall out of the brains of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and the Doctor never really cared for South Pacific as a musical anyway.
Some enchanted evening…you may see a stranger…
The Doctor takes a sip from his drink, and it occurs to him to wonder 1) who exactly spiked the punch and 2) why they couldn't be bothered to spike it with anything stronger. Young people these days. Really.
Across the crowded room, something catches his eye – a movement that doesn't look quite right, temporally speaking. A woman, a blonde woman has, quite literally, come out of the woodwork, much to the surprise of a couple canoodling in the corner.
The Doctor's hearts stall. This isn't right. This can't be right.
She should be safe. She should be happy.
But her jacket…the blue, leather jacket.
The Dimension Cannon.
Some enchanted evening…someone may be laughing…
She has stopped her forward momentum with an ease that speaks of regular practice and is now checking a device on her belt. She sighs—not the right time; not the right place. Coordinates are entered; the next jump is programmed.
His mind races. How long did she say it took to charge up? Thirty minutes? Could he…introduce himself? Should he?
She is leaning back against the wall, watching the dancers with detachment, her arms folded across the front of her leather jacket. She looks…
Oh god, she looks like him. Like he used to look, lifetimes ago.
Like someone who has travelled much too far without a hand to hold.
Will this just hurt her more, to see him here in the future without her? She's already been through so much, trying to save him and everyone else, and he can't remember if he even thanked her properly.
He's staring, he realizes, and it's a mistake. She has come too far and seen too much not to notice. Her eyes flicker over to him, and her eyebrows shoot up.
Somehow, impossibly, she recognizes him.
Of course, she's always been good at the impossible.
And miracle of miracles, it's a smile that blooms on her face. Granted, not the biggest, brightest one she has (and oh, he knows them all so well), but at least it's not a broken one.
Rose Tyler has never broken yet.
She glances over her shoulder, notices the door leading out to the moonlit balcony. She looks at him again, gives him a come-hither nod, before she turns and walks outside.
…Who can explain it
Who can tell you why
Fools give you reasons
Wise men never try.
It takes him a moment to stop staring, for his hearts to start beating again. On stage, the singer takes a sip of water as the music shifts to the instrumental bit.
Well. Clearly, something must be done.
He spots an older lady at one of the tables, admiring the bouquet of roses her husband has just given her. He races over to them.
"Please," he gasps, riffling through his pockets for money, "would you let me have a rose? I'll pay you anything you want…" He glances down at the handful of strange and occasionally alien monies in his hand. "Well, everything I've got, at least."
The husband frowns. "Hey, buddy, I got these for my wife."
"Please," the Doctor repeats. "That girl, I…she…and I... And she's going to be leaving soon, and…" He shakes his head. "And I don't know if I'll ever see her again." He starts thrusting the change in his pockets forward onto the table. "Please."
"Oh, Howard," says the wife. "Look at him! And his girl going away and all." When her husband still frowns, she leans over and pats him on the cheek. "You've given me so much love, I'm full up on it. Let's let a little spill over for somebody else." And with that, she pulls a rose out of her bouquet and hands it to the Doctor. "Here you are, young man."
"Thank you," he says fervently. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."
On stage, the singer picks up the mic once more.
He starts to run toward the doorway when an idea occurs to him.
Oh, he can do better.
Some enchanted evening… when you find your true love…
He ducks into a quiet corner and pulls out his sonic screwdriver. A few adjustments, and he activates it over the rose. He hurries, his fingers flying, because she's waiting for him. He can feel her waiting for him.
And then for the last touch, he breathes on the flower. Golden energy seeps through his lips and passes into the rose.
There we are. Perfect.
After all, it's just a year of his life.
Not really too much to give. Not when it's her.
He runs his hands through his hair nervously and heads toward the exit.
…Once you have found her
Never let her go
Once you have found her
Never let her go.
But…he'll have to. Have to let her go. After all, she still has a whole multiverse to save.
But not for the next twenty-six minutes.
He holds the rose behind his back as he steps through the doorway, away from the dancers and the music.
Rose Tyler is there, leaning back against the stone railing surrounding the balcony. Her head is tilted back; she is gazing at the night sky. She is glowing in the moonlight, with her hair brushing her shoulders, the ends curling into little crescents, and it's Yeats that pops into his head in this moment: A woman of so shining loveliness that men threshed corn at midnight by a tress.
She'd probably laugh if he said that.
Still, she's magnificent, and time practically bends around her. Rose Tyler, Defender of the Earth. Hardly surprising that that title should prove too small for her.
A small shift of her head, and her attention moves from the heavens to him.
"Hi," she says softly.
"Hello," he replies with half a wave. This old-new routine is rusty from disuse, but it still earns him a smile. He can tell already that she won't be asking him the questions that he can't/won't answer—how long it's been for him, what happens to her, and what the hell is he doing here without her.
"So," she says. "New look?"
"Oh, right," he replies nervously. "How did you recognize me?" (Good-different or bad-different?)
Her head tilts one way and her lips tilt the other. "A tweed jacket and braces? And floppy hair? Pretty sure I could recognize you anywhere." She glances down, squints in the darkness, and raises an eyebrow. "Mind, are those your old boots?"
"Oh, s'pose not."
"Aren't you going to mention…" he gestures up to his collar.
She grins. "Yeah, I saw that, too. Bow ties now, huh?"
He grins back. "Bow ties are cool."
She hums, in neither agreement nor derision, and he realizes that she is just soaking it all in, the man he is now. She is letting him write the story of himself across her consciousness, just as she used to do so long ago, and it wouldn't bother him so much if he wasn't such a careless writer.
And it worries him that she might be assigning some grand significance to these little things he says, cobbling together a gospel of him from the pieces he lets slip out. Bananas are good, bow ties are cool, and you should always wait five and a half hours.
She really ought to know by now that he's just winging it.
"So," she says, interrupting his thoughts. Her eyes glance down at the arm he still has hidden behind his back. "What're you…"
"Oh, right." He drags his hand through his hair. "Well. This is for you." He holds out the flower.
He's managed to surprise her, at least; it takes a moment for her to respond.
"You're giving me a rose?" she asks at last, stepping closer to him, reaching out to take it. "A rose for Rose?" She grins.
"I suppose you're going to tell me that's just what Mickey used to do?"
"Well…" she hedges a little, unwilling to hurt him. Just like always.
"Oh, but this is much more impressive," he says. "This rose has been infused with transtemporal biopattern energy. It will bloom and then revert to the bud stage over and over again."
Let's see you top that, Mickey.
(Did he really just think that?)
"You're giving me an…everlasting rose?" she asks in a strange voice.
He nods, not quite sure how to read her ducked head, her curved shoulders.
"A rose that will never wither and die…"
He catches his breath in alarm at that, and at how her shoulders have begun to shake. For one terrible moment, he thinks he's managed to make her cry.
Until she raises her head.
Oh, it's a beautiful sound.
"I swear, only you," she giggles. She presses the rose to her cheek. "But I won't be able to take it with me. The Dimension Cannon won't recognize it; it'll get left here when I jump."
"No, it won't, not if it's on your person. I temporarily destabilized the cross-wave molecular signature."
She beams up at him, as delighted by the technical babble as the flower. They are standing quite close together now, close enough for her to reach up and touch his cheek.
"Oh, you've got blue eyes again." She sighs sentimentally.
"They're green!" He protests. "Well, green-ish."
"Eh, close enough."
"You don't miss the blue eyes still, do you?" Why this bothers him, he'll never know.
She shrugs. "These days, I miss it all."
He can't really say anything to that.
"Don't worry," she says, with a consoling pat to his shoulder. "After this, I'll miss the green ones, too."
And it hits him that the problem was never that he couldn't tell her that he loves her.
It's that he'll never, ever be able to tell her how much.
After all, some things the English language is not fit to describe.
(Although it occurs to him that she might have thrown him a bone—back when she was in the habit of scattering words through all of time and space, she might have bothered to craft one for him to use, just for this occasion.)
Ah well. It'll be a nice project for the meta-crisis to work on. Speaking of which…
"In Pete's World, do you have a flat?" He's not quite sure why he wants to know this so badly, except that maybe he wants a little piece of her day-after-day life.
"Yes," she says, clearly puzzled.
"Will you keep the flower somewhere in your flat, Rose? For me?"
She smiles and nods. "Yeah. Of course."
"Where?" She doesn't seem to understand the question, so he elaborates. "Where in your flat?"
"Oh," she says. "I'll, um, put it on the window sill. Uh, in my bedroom." At this she blushes just a little, and he grins in satisfaction.
He is staking a claim, he realizes. And it's probably wrong and definitely selfish. How will it feel for his other self to walk into her home for the first time and find a piece of him already there?
Hmph. Too bad for him, he decides. After all, he gets to keep every-bloody-thing else.
She glances down at the device on her hip, skims her eyes over the readout. It's a practiced movement, one she must do every day, many times a day. He recalls that he never asked her how many times she had to cross the Void to find him.
He doesn't think he wants to know.
"Time to go?" he asks in a remarkably steady voice.
She shrugs. "Not quite yet."
"It's amazing," he says, though it's harder to speak now. "What you're doing—it's amazing. You're saving the whole multiverse." There's an almost ridiculous sensation building in his chest, an aching and swelling, and he can't quite give it a name.
Pride really shouldn't hurt quite this much.
She smiles a tired smile. "Not quite yet."
"You find me," he blurts out at last, because even if she won't ask, he has to tell her. It's the only thing he has left to give to her. "It'll be OK. Everything will work out."
"I know," she says.
"And how's that?"
"Well," she says with a little chuckle. "You're still here, aren't you?"
"Still here," he agrees, reaching out to cup her cheek like he did, oh, such a long time ago. "And, I think, you're almost where you need to be. Not too much farther to go."
She closes her eyes and leans into his touch, and he strokes the other side of her face with his free hand. So lovely. So weary. His poor, precious girl. Clearly, this calls for more poetry. So he leans in and murmurs:
"I, too, await
The hour of thy great wind of love and hate.
When shall the stars be blown about the sky,
Like the sparks blown out of a smithy, and die?
Surely thine hour has come, thy great wind blows,
Far-off, most secret, and inviolate Rose?"
She is smiling, but he frowns. "Actually, that fits too well."
"Yeats? Yeah, I met him." She shrugs.
"You did?" He drops his hands in surprise.
"It was sorta by accident. Early jump with the Dimension Cannon. And he had this problem with this Faelean Architon. It was hiding in his carriage house , so I was trying to help him out, yeah? But the damn thing knocked me for a loop, and afterward, I ended up lying on his couch, babbling to him about myself for awhile.
"So once I came to, I asked him to keep it all a secret. Then later, I go and read his stuff, and it's all 'Rose-this' and 'Rose-that.' 'The Rose Tree,' and 'The Secret Rose.'" She shakes her head. "That's when I stopped telling people my name."
He stares at her. "'To The Rose Upon The Rood of Time.'"
She rolls her eyes. "I know, right? Last time I trust a poet."
And then he's laughing, and she's laughing, because suddenly the world is full of edible ball bearings, lycanthropic royalty, and surprise trips to Downing Street once again.
He steps closer, closes the distance, and holds her in his arms. (He can't not.) The fit isn't the same, but it doesn't matter because the Doctor and Rose coming together is like a universal constant, like the law of gravity, except of course, the universe isn't that kind to him, but…
But the universe is that kind to her, and most days, that's enough.
She makes a happy sound against the fabric of his shirt, and time bends, and nothing hurts in the charmed circle of her arms.
The device at her hip beeps, and she breaks the hug just a little to glance down at it. For the first time, her lips tremble.
"That's my ride," she says, ducking her head. "Sixty more seconds."
"Rose," he says softly, holding her close.
Something like a spasm passes over her face, and she swallows. "Gonna disappear soon," she says softly. "Now you remember your lines, don't you?"
He tilts her head up. "What are my lines?"
"Well," she says, and it's mostly a smile on her lips. Mostly. "I say 'I love you.' And you say…"
"That I love you, too?"
She stares up into his eyes, and for the first time, a tear slips over her lashes. She swallows. "Nah, that's not right," she says at last. "Don't tell me you've forgotten."
He runs his thumb over her cheek, catching the tear. "Quite right, too," he murmurs.
"There we are," she says with a little laugh.
"Rose," he says again, pulling her closer.
"Almost time to go, Doctor," she whispers, and her arms tighten on him. "I'll see you later."
"Not if I see you first," he whispers against her mouth, pressing his lips to hers, and there's far too much pain for it to be a good kiss, but he keeps his mouth there, brushing hers, until she fades from his arms and he's left kissing nothing but a memory.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Rose."