A/N: Nothing you recognize belongs to me! This is my response to kelkat9's prompt over on the doctor_rose_fix fall fixathon!
The scars are souvenirs she'll never lose
The past is never far.
'Name,' the Goo Goo Dolls
There are days that stand out like sparkling jewels in the Doctor's memory; days when they catch the bad guys and save the good guys, days when, in the words of his Ninth self, everybody lives. There are other days in their mad, hectic life when the universe is kind and time slows around them; days without any running at all (unless it's Rose chasing the Doctor because he stole the last of her candyfloss or the Doctor chasing Rose because she took the ridiculous hat he won at a booth on Gamma Echo 7 and pretended to throw it in the trash or Donna chasing both of them because she's caught the Doctor with his tongue down Rose's throat or Rose with her hand in the Doctor's trousers for the millionth time and they promised to keep the PDA to a minimum). There are days when the heaviness of his burden as the Last of the Time Lords and hers as the Bad Wolf (his friend and love and partner) recede into the distance and they can be, just for a while, her Doctor and his Rose.
He cherishes these times and wraps them around himself like armor—because for every bright and shining day there are so many more that go wrong. Some days they've hardly stepped out of the TARDIS before they're thrown into trouble. He doesn't look for it—he meant what he said in the church where Rose's dad died so many years ago. All he really wants is a quiet life, him, her, and the universe (and maybe a companion or two when they run across someone who deserves the stars). Some days they bring down the bad guys but the good guys get hurt. Some days they can't save anyone at all, they can hardly save themselves—and those days are the hardest.
Today was one of those days. It started out as a lark, and that adds to the sting. The Doctor was taking Rose and Donna to Atheros 5 in the 28th century; something about the atmosphere and the oceans interacting made the water an effervescent purple and sand a pale lavender, which was striking against the blood-red sky. He told Rose the exact reason, of course, but he knew she wasn't listening. She never did when he babbled—she just gave him that tongue-touched smile that drew his eyes to her mouth. She and Donna had been asking for a proper beach for ages; all of her memories of the beach went back to a place in Norway and the worst day of her life. It hadn't been remotely pleasant for him either, and he was only too glad to replace it with something else in his mind.
They never made it to the beach, because when the Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS he realized that he'd landed two centuries too early. He knew this because he'd landed in the middle of a hospital. There was a plague on Atheros 5 in the 26th century, a plague that ravaged the population. It left practically half of the Atherosians dead and raged, unchecked, for almost a decade.
It would also cross the species barrier quite nicely. Oh, he was at no risk; his superior Time Lord biology would squash the virus before it caused any trouble—but Rose and Donna were defenseless against it. He tried to explain that to them, tried to usher them back in the TARDIS so they could get to their original destination, but then Rose laid a hand on his arm and looked at him with her brown eyes full of hope and question and pain and Donna folded her arms over her chest and lifted her chin. They never liked seeing people suffer, and the plague was excruciating.
So he rolled up his sleeves and he tried. They'd arrived just at the beginning of the outbreak, early enough so that maybe, just maybe, he could fix it (or at least make it less painful). But the people were frightened, and suspicious, and they were outsiders. They arrived when the plague started and had technology no Atherosian had seen before. It wasn't long before they were forcibly removed and detained and listed as potential subversive elements and dangers to the crown.
There was a riot that night, which was handy for escaping—except that Rose didn't want to leave. There was this girl, this little girl; she couldn't have been more than seven. Her mum had the plague and her dad was gone and she'd attached herself to Rose, even followed her into the prison because there was nowhere else for her to go. The guards had taken her away, promised to look after her until a home could be found.
The guard station was the first building to burn. They had pulled Rose away from the flaming ruin, Donna on one side, the Doctor on the other, and once they'd reached the TARDIS she'd shrugged away from them and vanished into the depths of the ship.
Donna is gone now. He'd dropped her off at Cardiff for a little bit, told her to ring him when she wanted them to pick her up. Someday soon he is going to drop her off with Lee and she isn't going to come back—he can feel it. And that's good. She deserves someone who can love her for the fantastic woman she is, whether or not she's traveling through space and time. His tries to push the thought away but he can't stop the tight feeling that has settled in his chest. He will miss Donna. She's like the sister he never had, never knew he wanted until she showed up on the TARDIS in her wedding gown and berated him for kidnapping her (which he didn't do, thank you very much).
There is time to think about all of that later. He hasn't seen Rose since he sent them back into the Vortex and he can't stop icy tendrils of doubt from worming their way into his mind. She's been back for a year and she's still his Rose, always his Rose—but she's gone through so much and sometimes he catches looks he can't read, gestures he doesn't know. When that happens it hits him all over that she is two hundred and five years old and she spent one hundred and eighty four of those years away from him. And he wonders if this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back—if this will make her leave. Oh, he knows that she loves him, that she's promised to stay with him forever and that death itself will step aside when Rose Tyler has made up her mind, but the fear lingers in the back of his skull, a tickle and an itch he can never quite erase.
He lets his head fall back to rest on the cold metal grating of the floor. The TARDIS humms around him and he pats the underside of the console. Her lights flicker, and he knows that this is his cue. Any more tinkering and she's liable to shock him and the last thing he needs is burnt fingers. He sends a questing thought her way (Rose?) and the swimming pool drifts into his mind's eye. The Doctor slides out from beneath the TARDIS console, pats the smooth metal affectionately, and shoves his hands into his pockets. Time to find Rose.
The TARDIS is not like other ships. Rose Tyler knows this, has since the moment she set foot inside of it (and then promptly ran back outside, but that's a story for another time, and so long ago that the edges of the memory blur and fade). The rooms have a tendency to change place, and appearance, and sometimes even to vanish all together. She asked the Doctor where they went, once, and he gave her some answer about a holding ring and near-infinite space, and she had pretended that his explanation made a little sense (she is good at pretending) and refrained from asking again. After a while she adjusted to the strangeness of living inside a ship that was also alive and sentient and she no longer jumped when she found a fresh towel hanging over the shower curtain where there had been nothing. She no longer paused when the corridors twisted and led her somewhere completely different. When she opened a door and the room had completely changed (the kitchen was the most frequent culprit; it seemed to shift weekly) she took a moment to observe the new décor, and then went about her business.
So when she opens the door to the swimming pool and finds that it looks nothing like it did the last time she visited, Rose is not surprised. It had been a rather intimate affair—a circular pool set into the floor with just enough space for two, maybe three people. It was more like a hot-tub, really, and a minibar had been within arm's reach of the edge. The floor had been tile, but warm to the touch unlike the pool where Jackie had taken Rose when she was a child, and there were none of those pesky 'no diving' signs in site. In other words, it had been the perfect place to relax: warm, cozy, and a bit romantic.
Now, now it is magnificent. The walls are warm brown stone, or maybe coral, she can't tell from this distance. Decorative arches are carved high-relief into the wall and seem to grow out from it. Rich, dark wooden trim lines the floor and columns of the same stretch to the ceiling. Candles flicker in brass sconces, casting a golden glow on the wall and highlighting the simple carving. The ceiling itself is pitch black and a canopy of violet lights hang just below. The pool is vast and nearly fills the room. The molding that curves over the edge is the same stone as the walls, but the sides and bottom of the pool are black, to match the ceiling. The lights dance on the water's surface, bob in the soft ripples that her legs make as Rose steps down into the warm water. Her favorite dressing gown, a silky red affair, lies in a heap next to the water's edge.
There's no need for swimsuits now that Donna is away. The Doctor knows the lines of her body, has followed the scars that cut across her back and chest and sides with his hands and lips and tongue. She turns to face the door, and falls backwards. The water catches her and she is submerged for less than a minute before she floats back to the top. Rose stretches out her arms, starts a lazy backstroke that takes her to the middle of the pool. The water feels good against her skin. It washes away the ash and the dust, the dirt she cannot see but knows is there.
She's always had an affinity for water. When a mission went wrong, when she was having a bad day, when she woke up with tears in her eyes and his name on her lips she would stagger into the shower and turn the water up as hot as she could handle and wash away all of her failures, her anger and her pride, her frustration and the grief that settled into her bones. After she escaped from Torchwood the first thing she did was take a shower. She scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed, trying to get the feel of their hands and knives and eyes off of her skin, trying frantically to wash the slick redness of Tony's blood out of her knuckles and the whorls of her fingertips and beneath her nails.
Rose takes a deep breath. She is here, on the TARDIS. She is safe. And from the right angle it looks like she is swimming in the night sky. A small smile curves her lips. "Is that what you do, girl?" she asks the ship. "Swim through time and space?"
"Not exactly." She tenses and very nearly submerges herself in her surprise. The Doctor, as always, moves silently. She has no idea how—he's tall and lanky and quieter than a cat. He stands in the doorway, hands stuffed into his trouser pockets as he studies the room. "Well," he finally says, drawing the word out for several syllables. "Not bad."
"I think it's gorgeous." Rose feels compelled to defend the ship and the TARDIS humms affectionately at her. She twists in the water and her feet brush the bottom of the pool, just barely. The Doctor wanders over to the edge, crouches down and stretches out his hand to cup her cheek.
"I got worried," he murmurs as she leans into his palm.
"Sorry," she replies. Ever since the Crucible he's been on edge. What she did—channeling Bad Wolf, throwing the Daleks back into the Time War—it frightened him. When she's out of his sight for too long he panics, and she's woken more than once to find him in the grips of a nightmare. She burned, he had confided in her, and then buried his face in the curve where her neck meets her shoulder. Rose can relate. After he regenerated she was stuck to his side for at least a week. Every time she turned around the fear would rise up and choke her so that she had to touch him, to reassure herself that he was there. "I just—needed a swim."
He pulls back his arm and stands. His jacket hits the floor a moment later, and his dexterous fingers set to work on the buttons of his cuffs. "Mind if I join you?" The question is a formality; he knows the answer. If she wanted to be alone he never would have found her. The TARDIS is fond of the Doctor, Rose knows, but she and the ship have something special. For a brief moment in time they were one being, and that tends to leave a mark.
She smiles, a proper, tongue-touched grin and the corners of her eyes crinkle. "Of course." Her head tilts to the side and his eyebrow rises involuntarily as a cocky grin spreads across his face. He loosens his tie, pulls apart the knot and slides it from his neck with a flourish. He likes to put on a show, and it's only fair. The number of times he's watched her undress far outweighs the times that he has returned the favor. His shirt is next and her fingers itch to touch him. He is lithe and sleek beneath the layers of clothing of which he is so fond. She licks her lips and his eyes track the movement of her tongue. He toes off his trainers and she bursts out laughing. He has black socks with magenta toes on, and they've got Friday written on the sides.
"What," she sputters as water gets into her nose. "What are those?"
"These?" He flexes his toes. "Picked 'em up on Thraglar. One pair for each day of the week."
"You have a Time Machine," she points out. "Every day could be Friday!"
He clicks his tongue and winks at her. "Who says it's not?" His hands rest briefly at the button of his trousers, but instead he pulls the socks off (and very nearly falls into the pool, but she smothers a giggle with her hand and doesn't mention it). He flicks the clasp of his belt open and it joins his jacket on the floor. He pauses with his fingers halfway to undoing his trousers' zip and the corner of his mouth tugs up into a smirk.
"Go on then," she tells him, her voice low and challenging.
He complies. His trousers fall to the floor and her eyebrow rockets up. "No pants day?" she asks and licks her lips. He mirrors her action.
"Felt like being a bit—free."
"I can see that," she murmurs, and he flashes her one of his dazzling grins as he meanders over to the steps that lead down into the pool.
The water is warm, but not uncomfortably so. His cooler body temperature has caused problems before, usually when they attempt to shower together. For some reason Rose likes her water almost hot enough to scald a human, which is much hotter than he is willing to take. Her lips are parted and her eyes are wide and dark as she watches him descend. The intensity of her scrutiny never fails to astonish him. She studies his body like she expects to find the secrets of the universe next to his mole—and maybe she will. For all that he can talk for England, he's always been better with actions when it comes to the words that are really important (words like I love you and I need you and Never ever leave me).
He holds out his hand and she takes it, lets him pull her through the warm water until she's pressed against him. Her head tilts back as his free hand winds through her hair and he kisses her gently. Rose's free hand settles on the sharp line of his hip and he shivers as she drags her nails, so gently, against his skin. He closes his eyes, lets her take control of the kiss as his hand slides from her hair to caress her neck, her shoulder, and wind its way down her back. Her skin is soft and smooth beneath his fingertips—until it's not. There are scars like braille carved on her body and a story unfolds on her skin.
He pauses as he remembers, jarred out of his rhythm by guilt. What she did with the TARDIS brought her back to him, has given him a chance to grow old with her—but everything has a price and she has paid in blood and pain. For him. He tarnishes everything that he touches.
She has no patience for ghosts, not between them. Her nails dig into his hip where the skin is stretched over bone and the bite brings him back to the present. She's watching him with those eyes again and he knows that she can see the desperation he's worked so hard to hide. Ood Sigma's words cycle through his impressive Time Lord brain (I think your song will end soon) and he knows, oh he knows—something is coming for him. He thinks that she might know too. And he needs her. So many times she's been taken from him, ripped away or sacrificed or very nearly died (and there but for the grace of a mad Dalek go I) and he can't let it happen again. Whatever is coming—it will not take her.
He meant to be gentle, to worship her until she forgot the smell of the hospital and the way the firelight reflected off the sides of the buildings in the government complex, maybe until she forgot her name and all she could do was moan his name and beg him for more. He can't though, not when he can recall with perfect clarity the way her hand stretched out to him while the Void sucked her in, not when the feel of her body reduced to ashes lingers on the tips of fingers that technically never felt it.
He lets go of her hand only long enough to wrap his other arm around her, and then he crushes his lips to hers. She opens her mouth, lets him in and he takes her mouth like he's going to take her, without reserve or pause. Her arms slide up his sides, over his chest, to wrap around his neck. One hand grips his shoulders and her nails dig into his skin again, the slight pain a pleasant companion to the way she pushes her hips forward, rubs herself against him. Her other hand tangles in his hair. He moans into her mouth when she scratches his scalp. His hold on her loosens and his hands slide down her back, over the network of scars, and cup her thighs just beneath the curve of her arse.
He lifts her with little effort. As skinny as he looks, Rose always seems to forget just how strong the Doctor actually is. Of course, the water helps. She wraps her legs around him obediently and rests her forehead against his shoulder when he breaks the kiss so she can breathe. Respiratory bypass or not, she thinks smugly, he's nearly panting.
And then he moves. He's hard and pressed against her, so close to where her body wants him and when he steps forward shards of pleasure spark through her veins. She turns her head, attacks his neck with her lips and her teeth. Oh, he likes when she uses her teeth. He's a bit of a masochist this go 'round, or maybe he's always been. Not like she has much of in the way of experience to compare.
His hands shift restlessly over her skin as he searches for the places that make her moan. He's all hard angles and long lines beneath her and she molds to fit him like she always has—but he shifts to accommodate her, slides his hand around to tease the nipples pressed into his chest. He grazes the soft nub with his thumbnail and she gasps. The Doctor pounces. His other hand cups her face and pulls it around gently so he can kiss her again and she lets the water support her weight, lets it hold her while he strokes her with fingers and tongue.
She pulls back only far enough to position him beneath her, and then she sinks down on him. His head falls back and his eyes close and she files this memory away with all those that she cherishes, little moments when the rest of the universe disappears and it is only them. He has so many walls up that sometimes she is afraid that he will get lost behind them and she will never find the real him again. But he gives her these moments, precious seconds where his walls have fallen like Jericho and she is standing over them.
And then they're moving and it's skin sliding against skin and the coolness of his body and the warmth of the water and the fizzling pleasure that builds between them as he thrusts into her and she meets him, stroke for stroke. It's the way his breaths are loud in the still room and the way that the little moans she makes when he hits just the right spot carry over the water that ripples around them. It's the way she gasps when his teeth fasten on her neck, just above the curve of her shoulder and oh, that will leave a mark but she's not complaining. It's the way his hearts are pounding in his chest and she can feel the vibrations beneath her hands and her breasts. It's the way that words fall from his lips in a language that the TARDIS will not translate and time has forgotten. It's the way she shifts just a bit, changes the angle and then they're both over the edge and falling, falling.
The Doctor leans back against the edge of the pool and he's never been so grateful for the water because he isn't sure he can hold Rose up on his own at the moment. His mind and his body are having—difficulties. She lays her face on his shoulder and he can feel her smile on his skin, but neither of them speak. There are some moments when words are unnecessary; even he knows this (although she will deny it). He presses a kiss to her forehead and takes a deep breath.
Sex is just about as intimate as two human beings can get, but he isn't human, and physical intimacy has nothing on telepathy. He was so close, this time, so close to reaching out with his mind and pulling her in so that every barrier dissolved between them and they were no longer two separate people, but one person in two bodies.
But not now, not like this. Not because he's afraid, and not if—not if he's going to die. He won't saddle her with that, won't make her his culture's equivalent of his wife only to leave her a widow. A storm is coming, and he can feel it even if he can't see it yet.
"Doctor?" she murmurs and he glances down at her. "Not that I mind, but if we stay in here any longer we're going to prune up."
He lets his arms fall to his sides and she shifts, letting him slip of out her so that she can slide down and off of him. He watches her hips sway as she exits the pool and picks up a towel from a convenient pile. She wraps it around her body like a toga and cocks her head at him. "Thought I'd make some tea. Are you coming?"
"In a minute," he replies with forced cheerfulness. "Just need a bit of time, you know, collect my thoughts."
A smirk curves her lips. "You think you're so impressive," she teases him.
"Rose Tyler!" he exclaims in mock-affront. "I am so impressive, as you very well know!"
"Seriously though," she continues and makes no move to leave. "Are you all right?"
He rolls his eyes. "I'm fine, Rose, now go. I'll be along in a tic." The smile falls, though, as soon as the door shuts behind her. A storm is coming. His jaw clenches and his eyes are flat and dark like the night. He is the last of the Time Lords, the Oncoming Storm, Time's Champion. The universe might be arrayed against him, might reach out its arms to rip her from him.
Let it try.