Rose straightens her shoulders, gathering her courage and her thoughts. Talking stuff over is the Doctor's kryptonite, she knows, but there's stuff that they just have to-
The Doctor spins around suddenly, and before Rose can even glance at his face, he is snogging her.
It's quick and hard, and the shock of it has her stumbling back, only to be caught by his hand pressed between her shoulder blades. His mouth is busy against hers, insistent, his tongue already making overtures at the seam of her lips, and for a moment, all she can do is cope. All she can do is kiss back, the shape of his mouth so familiar even though the taste isn't, not at all, except in some vague half-memory full of hospital smells and cat-nuns and the time the surprise kissing shoe was on the other foot.
On her back, his fingers are curling into a fist, clutching her shirt. The other one, the one that's gently threading itself into her hair, trembles just a bit. It's good, really good, and everything she wants, but.
It's not what she needs.
With a wet, smacking sound, she pulls her mouth away from his, and for a moment, his lips chase after hers. The heady rush of that alone is nearly enough to distract her from her objective, which is distance, she's pretty sure. Right-distance, perspective, clear-headedness, that's what's needed here.
Unbidden, her tongue darts out and licks the taste of him off the edge of her lips.
"You just...I…" She shakes her head, trying to clear it, and wipes the heel of her hand against the corner of her mouth. "What the hell are you doing?"
The Doctor blinks, one eye slightly before the other, with a small head shake. His eyes trace each part of her face, mouth working soundlessly, before he leans his forehead against hers.
"We're not just gonna...snog this out, okay?" she says and then feels ridiculous. "There are things I need to know. You, um." Pausing, she tilts her head, pulls back enough to see his eyes. "You remember everything, yeah? Being John Smith?"
"But," she swallows, "that wasn't you, because you were in the watch. John Smith was just a...a place-filler?"
"No." The Doctor seems to realize that he's still holding her about the waist, and lets his arms fall. And takes a step back for good measure, tugging on his ear. "Not exactly. I mean, yes, the essence of me was in the watch, but it wasn't necessarily all of me, because you know that I wouldn't be able to run even a human body on minimal capacity." He begins edging around the console, his hand gestures slowly picking up speed and arc.
"And frankly, though the TARDIS may be the most magnificent machine in the universe, and the chameleon arch the height of development, she's not capable of completely rewriting the brain. Especially when dealing with time sensitives."
His voice gets a bit squeaky, despite his best attempts at masking the fact. "Where humans are only capable of one personality that remains at the basest level unchanged, Time Lords have multiple capabilities. But even they have limits. Wonderful thing, brains. Humans never quite learn how to tap into their potential. Quite honestly, the Time Lords didn't either, but we were always a few leaps and bounds ahead. But there's always a bit of the person in there. You know, Time Lords are all ambidextrously-brained? Would make it difficult if you were inclined to do something in one incarnation, but unable to do it because of a little problem in your physio-"
"'Kay," she says, cutting him off. "So it was a little bit you and a little bit not-you."
"Welllll-" he rubs his hand on the back of his neck. "The TARDIS gave me a history. A little bit of a fib mixed with some truth. Easier to keep things straight."
"And that's why he was John Smith from the Powell Estate, yeah?"
His cheeks take on an endearing pink tinge, and he clears his throat. "Yeah."
Rose bites her thumbnail, thinking back over what she knew of John Smith's personal history. "So how much was true?"
His tongue rests on the back of his front teeth for a moment. It's like he's deciding what's safe- what path has the least landmines. "You know most of the details and their origins. The Powell Estate was a way for the TARDIS to let you know that it was me, I suppose."
The question that she doesn't quite want to ask is right there on the tip of her tongue. The TARDIS hadn't just been name-dropping-the unfinished tale of the lost love, the one he'd had to leave behind, never to be mentioned again-the whole thing smacks of the Doctor and his past. Rose had always shied away from questioning John Smith about it because it seemed to make him uncomfortable but also because it'd felt like an invasion of the Doctor's privacy. It's just, now that he's said that bit about the TARDIS leaving her hints, she's wondering if it hadn't been meant as a reminder. The Doctor doesn't do that sort of thing, at least not with companions. At least not with her.
Yeah, pretty much failed to get the memo on that one.
"So," she says slowly, awkwardly, "the um. The woman you- he- said he'd loved. That would be your…?"
His eyes unfocus before he blinks suddenly. "My...who?"
Rose blinks back at him. "Your wife."
She might as well have slapped him, for the look of shock that's on his face. He turns around for a second before turning back to her. "No. We weren't-" He shoves his hands in his pockets. "It wasn't like that."
"Oh." She doesn't know what to say.
When she stays silent, he reluctantly continues, "Time Lords might have been advanced in almost every other way, but when it came to social conventions, you might have found us...cold. Aloof. Matches were more political, and...genetically driven than based upon actual affection."
"Oh," she repeats. The idea of him being in a political marriage is startling, opposite everything she knows about him, and she's having a hard time reconciling it with the man in front of her. No wonder he ran away. Part of her heart breaks a little at that, trying to imagine him as part of something that sounds so soulless. So empty.
The instinct to reach out, touch him, hold him, is strong, but if she gives in, he'll withdraw again. She's sure of it.
"So, um, that's not it then," she says, trying to decide how to phrase her next question. "Was that bit just part of the fib?"
He ducks, hiding his face, fiddling with a couple of controls in front of him. "Eh? Must have been. I suppose it was, yes."
"What d'you mean, 'suppose,'" she says, frustrated. "It either was or it wasn't. Was there," she swallows, "somebody else that was meant to be?"
She walks up and stands right in front of him, face right below his so he can't look away. She's so used to letting him avoid these subjects that it's almost second-nature, but she needs this answered. John Smith shook apart their carefully platonic house of cards, and she'd let him. Even knowing everything she did about the Doctor, she'd let him. And she knows, she understands he has his limits, and that's...that's fine. She can live with that. It's just that, if there was somebody else, a Sarah Jane or a Lynda-with-a-Y or a...a Reinette, she needs to hear it from him. If only so that she can start to reorder her heart.
"Doctor," she prompts.
He looks every bit of his 900-plus years. "What are you really asking, Rose?"
"Who was she?"
His throat makes a soft click as he swallows, eyes looking everywhere about the console room but her. "You."
She looks at him blankly. "Me."
He nods, still not quite meeting her face, which she's sure is completely flabbergasted.
"Me," she repeats. "The girl's me." She shakes her head a little. "You left her behind. In your story, she gets left behind."
"She was lost, not left behind."
She takes a chance, reaching for his hand. "'M not going anywhere, Doctor."
He looks down to their hands and intertwines their fingers. Her thumb brushes over top of his, and he looks back up at her. "But you will. One day." He drops her hand and leans both of his hands on the console, bowing his head down between his arms before shoving himself back up. "But no need rehashing the 'Curse of the Time Lords' stuff." He sniffs. "Should we go back to London? I'm sure you're ready to see your mother."
It's almost tempting to say yes, to go back to the standard procedure. They'll hold hands as they walk through the Powell Estate and see her mum and get chips and never, ever talk about it again. It's safe. It's smart.
But that doesn't stop the words coming out of her mouth. "Don't say that. Just don't. We're not setting this aside. You can't snog me one minute and mope the next, then ask to pretend like none of it happened."
The Doctor sits heavily on the jumpseat, elbows on knees, hands clasped in front of him. After several long seconds of silence, he looks up at her. Tired. "What do you want me to say, Rose?"
"I want you to explain. I still remember only part of how we even ended up here-what was the plan? And then, with all that happened between us…" She stops, almost loses her nerve, but it's time to take the plunge. "I mean, John Smith. He was in...in love with me. Doctor," she catches his gaze, holds it, "I need to know where he stops and you begin."
He looks at her, jaw working before he runs a hand down his face. "The original plan was to land in the actual 1873. But then the TARDIS was attacked by the Family, and she must have been thrown off-course, hit a couple of time skips, since we didn't arrive at the same time. The plan was to land, and I'd be hidden as a human. The Family would have died off after a few months- no blood, no foul. You would open the watch and presto."
"But instead we ended up in Alfred Hitchcock wonderland."
"Exactly." He looks as if he's debating for a second before he tentatively reaches forward for her hand. "I'm so sorry about...what happened. I wasn't there for you."
"Doesn't matter." But she lets him take her hand, slip their fingers into a familiar hold. "And, um. And the rest?"
"Right." He lets out a breath, a small half-smile gracing his face for the first time since they returned to the TARDIS. "No chance we can skip that part?"
She looks at him, waits a beat. "Not if you want to kiss me again."
His eyes widen, and he visibly swallows.
"I dunno," she adds. "Maybe you don't."
His eyes then narrow, on to her game. "Why don't you just ask specifically what you want to know."
"Fine. Why did you kiss me just now?"
"Because I wasn't sure that I would have a chance to again." He scoffs, self-deprecatingly. "Carpe diem."
"What d'you mean?" She pulls back, suspicious. "You're not leaving me behind."
"What if what I have to offer you isn't enough anymore?" Rose goes to refute his claims, but he waves a hand, cutting her off. "Don't. I was there, remember?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You weren't exactly kicking John Smith to the kerb, as it were."
Her jaw drops. "Is that what you think?"
"Why not?" He sighs, closing his eyes for a second, collecting himself. "Rose. There have been few that have come with me that have- taken to my life as much as you. Hell, half the time I think if you could pilot her yourself, you'd drop me off now and again." His upturned lips fall. "But you're right- we can't act like this didn't happen. But that doesn't only go for me."
"You think I'd choose him over you?" She makes a noise of frustration. "That doesn't even make any sense. One minute you tell me he is you, sort of, and the next you're what, jealous?"
"No, I mean-" He leans back, shaking his head. "I suppose you could frame it that way. But it's not jealous of him as much as realizing there was something about him that obviously appealed to you. And it's the why. The fact that it was me is not the issue."
"This is some sort of domestics thing, isn't it? Oh, Rose lived in a house with doors for a few months, obviously she's gonna want to get new carpets and to start reupholstering the furniture." She crosses her arms, glaring. "You're such a bloody wanker."
"It's not that." The TARDIS refuses to translate the next couple of words. "...you can't tell me that there wasn't something about the man that didn't appeal to you- whether or not you want to admit that there are certain aspects of that life that you want!"
"Didn't have a lot of choice, though, did I?"
He turns around, shaking his head. Then, his squares his shoulders, turning back around. He asks, voice low, "When did you find the watch?"
"I-" She drops her eyes. "Yeah, alright, I waited. Two days."
It definitely isn't triumph on his face.
"But," she continues, "but it wasn't that I didn't want you back, or didn't want this life back. And it's not fair of you to use it like that. I didn't know what would happen. And yeah, John Smith, I…" She closes her eyes. "It was easy. I knew what he thought. What he felt." Opening them again, she looks straight at him. "But I'd never pick him over you."
He comes forward, taking both of her hands. "Then why did you keep your distance once I came back?"
"Why did you?"
"The first thing I did was snog you!"
"The first thing you did was run off for the TARDIS," she protests.
"Rose," he says, slightly patronizingly. "I was back the millisecond the watch was opened."
It takes her a moment to understand, to place the instant she heard that click into the context of her memory. John Smith had been kissing her goodbye, and then the Doctor had bounded up, but... Wait, no. The watch had opened early on, at the beginning, so...ah.
That had been the Doctor sticking his tongue in her mouth.
Her cheeks go pink as the realization dawns, and almost involuntarily, a smile spreads across her face.
He smiles in return, almost bashfully. "So- yeah." He clears his throat. "But we haven't cleared up the matter. That is, the fact of him being more...open? I know that I haven't- but I would think, you know, because you're so brilliant, and you always see right through to the centre of the matter, that you would just know. That there couldn't be any way that you didn't know-"
"Doctor," she interrupts him, putting a stop to the torrent of words by placing her hands on his cheeks.
For just a moment, she lets them rest there, her eyes locked on his. He'd told her, in some ramble ages ago, about Time Lords having the ability to slow time, stretch it out, and she thinks she knows what that must feel like, here and now with his face cupped gently between her fingers.
Slowly, she shifts them, tracing the lines of his cheekbones, mapping the planes of his face just as she had before. His eyelids flutter closed as she reaches the corner of his eyes, and his head drops, giving her easier access to his eyebrows, forehead. She follows the slight creases, lets one index finger slide down the bridge of his nose. It slips right off the tip and lands on his lips, soft and slightly parted. Leaning in closer, she can feel each exhale on her own face, feels his warm breath washing over her lips as she lifts her chin.
"Rose?" he rasps, his hands finding her shoulders, her neck.
"It doesn't matter what incarnation I am in-" He rubs his thumbs gently behind her ears, his face earnest. "You always fancy me." He leans in and captures her lips before she's able to respond.
Her mouth drops open at that, and why yes, that's the Doctor's tongue in her mouth again. "You!" she splutters somewhat incoherently, pushing him back in an effort to stop the kiss. "You tosser!"
He hums happily- definitely unrepentant- and threads his fingers into her hair, kissing her again.
"Fine," she huffs in between kisses, "but if you're not going to say it...I'm not saying it either."
He nips at her bottom lip before leaning back with a cocky grin. "Is that a threat...or a wager?"Her eyes narrow. "'M not betting with you again. You still owe me ten quid.""Double or nothing?"She looks him over in mock-scrutiny. His face is alight with happiness-and obvious overconfidence, because she's pretty sure she can break him. But mostly, he looks open, like something has finally given way at last. Like he's lain down that last bit of armor. So she doesn't say the words that are just there, thrumming under her skin. Beautiful and peeking out of the corner of her mouth, she grins. "Done."