It had started when they'd gone to a planet famous for it's shopping centers. When she'd asked why he was suddenly willing to let her go shopping, he'd rapidly changed the subject without giving an answer.
She'd known the answer, just the same. She had, once again, been taken prisoner by some hostile aliens recently and, though the incident was no fault of his own, he was determined to apologize in some way. Since she wouldn't allow him to apologize verbally, this was the next best thing.
They'd been strolling through an alleyway when it happened.
"I'm sure the shortcut's just through here," the Doctor said, glancing about.
"Uh-hu," Rose answered, rolling her eyes and laughing softly as she followed at his heels. "Sure it is."
Like many other things the Doctor did, his "shortcuts" often had a habit of going awry.
"I'm serious," he said, throwing a mock affronted look over his shoulder at her. "I'm-"
Then, he stopped, both his words and his feet, and Rose ran right into his back, not expecting the sudden halt.
"Doctor?" she asked, coming up to stand beside him.
He was frozen in place for a moment with his eyes fixed on a small piece of fabric a foot or two in front of him. A second later, he stumbled forward and crouched in front of it. Gingerly, he lifted the fabric into the air and examined every inch.
"Doctor?" Rose asked again, softly.
She could see that the fabric was about three feet long. It had probably been a child's blanket once. Now, it was filthy, with a number of holes in it. But, the part that the Doctor was focused on was whole, near the top. A familiar pattern had been stitched there, circles, carefully interlocked, beautifully brought together to create a whole. It was familiar, but, she hadn't been able to place it at the time.
"It's nothing, Rose."
The Doctor folded the tattered fabric carefully and somehow managed to get it in one of his pockets. Then, he took Rose's hand in a slightly firmer grip than usually and walked on without saying another word.
Once he'd seen the blanket, all the life seemed to go out of the Doctor. He took her to one shop after another, tried to act as if nothing were wrong. But, his hearts weren't in it. He seemed to be a million miles away.
So, as soon as possible, she made an excuse to return to the TARDIS. He'd gone to work on the console as soon as they were inside. Ostensibly, this was to choose their next destination. But, Rose saw him pull the blanket carefully out of his pocket and look down at it instead of the console, eyes suddenly looking impossibly old. After a moment, he looked up again and fiddled with the monitor for a bit, before falling to studying it with the same sorrowful expression. Sliding behind him, Rose saw that he'd pulled up more of the complex circular script on the monitor.
That was when it hit her.
It was Gallifreyan, the language of his people, of course. She mentally berated herself for not realizing sooner. Slowly, she came to stand beside him, placing a gentle hand on his arm. He turned to face her and she saw that, for once, he was not hiding behind an emotionless mask. He couldn't this time. And, in those eyes, which could be so expressive when he let them, she caught what seemed like a hundred different emotions, a thousand different memories, as well as the shimmer of unshed tears. In that instant, he seemed so ancient and so young at the same time, weighed down by years and grief, but looking like a small child who had lost everything and everyone he cared for.
She pulled him close and wrapped her arms around him, trying as best she could to show him that he wasn't alone anymore. Soon, the shoulder of her shirt grew damp and she could feel the slightest tremor under her fingers as they rubbed small circles on his back.
"I'm so, so sorry," she whispered.
She sighed. She hated these days. But, the Doctor needed them. He let this side of himself show so rarely. Most of the time he took the sorrow of all he'd lost and left behind and hid it somewhere deep inside, grinning and pretending he was always okay. Now, most days, his smiles were sincere, but, sometimes, you could see the slightest difference, days when the smiles didn't quite reach his eyes.
Then, there were days like today, when the emotions finally forced their way out.
The simplest thing could act as a catalyst on those days. And the release of those pent-up emotions happened in one of two ways: anger or sadness. She hated the anger days most of all because they only made him feel more guilty when he lashed out at someone. But, days like today were almost equally abhorrent to her.
She didn't know how long they stood like that. Sometimes, she would say something to try to comfort him, but, all her words seemed empty and hollow. So, they stood mostly in silence until the Doctor regained his composure, pulled back, and placed his hands on her shoulders.
The smile he gave her was small, but genuine, as he said in a quiet, slightly hoarse voice, "Thank you, Rose."
He gave her another quick hug, letting his chin rest on top of her head. Then, with a sigh, which, Rose pretended at least, was half one more release and half resignation at having to pull away, he stepped back, gave her a broader grin, and asked, "Where to next?"
With that, he started running around the console, jabbering about possible destinations. It was his way of trying to show that he was okay and, though he wasn't really as okay as she would like, Rose let him get away with it this once.
Almost a week later, Rose was in the kitchen, making tea, when the Doctor came bounding in, grinning madly.
Rose gave him a look of mock-suspicion, asking, "What've you done now?"
The Doctor's smile turned innocent. But, there was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes and his hands were wrapped carefully around something behind his back.
"Why, Rose," he said sweetly, "whatever do you mean?"
Rose laughed and then tried to sidle around to see what he held behind him. But, the Doctor saw it coming. He quickly turned so that his back was to the wall.
"What are you hiding?" Rose asked, stepping closer. It wasn't until then that she noticed, his smile was playful and bright, but there was something else there too, just a touch of seriousness and earnest affection.
Rose cocked an eyebrow at him, both curious and confused.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" he teased.
Rose rolled her eyes, though she was secretly glad that he was so happy, whatever the reason.
"If I didn't, why would I ask?" she answered, trying again to peer behind his back.
"Ah-ah, no peeking," he scolded lightly, wagging a finger at her.
She came to stand in front of him once more, arms folded over her chest.
"You're doing this on purpose," she accused.
His cheeky grin was answer enough.
"What is it?" she asked.
He stopped bouncing on his toes.
That serious, earnest look came into his eyes then, much more visible. "Close your eyes and hold out your hands," he said softly.
A moment later, he placed whatever he'd been holding carefully, almost reverently, into her outstretched hands, letting his fingers brush her palms.
"Okay," he said almost in a whisper, "you can look."
She opened her eyes to find a small white box tied with a TARDIS-blue bow in her hands. Using the same reverent care he had, she pulled the bow loose and lifted the lid from the box. Inside was a little gold pedant on a thin golden chain. And on the pendant was that strange, but wonderful, Gallifreyan script.
The Doctor thought the smile that she gave him was brighter than any sun he'd ever seen.
"It's beautiful," she said softly, lifting it from the box, letting it dangle in front of her. But, it wasn't just its beauty that she saw. She saw it for what it was, the Doctor giving her a little piece of himself, perhaps, the piece that he kept closest to his hearts. And, because of that, she loved it.
"You like it?" he asked, face lighting up like a child at the praise.
"Of course," she answered. "Did you engrave it?"
He fished in his coat, pulling out his sonic screwdriver, flipping and catching it expertly as pride made his grin still brighter.
"But, of course." Returning the screwdriver to its place, he reached out a hand to take the necklace, asking playfully, "Shall I?"
She nodded. "What does it say?"
"Rose," he answered, then paused. "Well," he amended, stepping behind her to clasp the necklace in place, "a more correct translation would be…" He paused again, as if for effect, and when he spoke again it was in a whisper, his mouth so close to her ear that his breath warmed her skin while, at the same time, making her shiver.
She could feel the blood going to her cheeks, despite the fact that she sternly told herself this was just more of the Doctor's mock flirting, something that had been happening rather often since his regeneration. But, fake or not, when he had clasped the necklace in place, she turned and rose to her toes to kiss his cheek as thanks.
As she did, her eyes closed of their own accord.
It was for this reason that she didn't see him turn his head at the last second so that, rather than brushing his cheek, her lips meet his own.
Her eyes flew open. But, before she could pull away in embarrassment, he snaked his arms around her waist and pulled her close, returning the kiss. A moment later though, he released her.
What was he doing? What was he thinking? his mind shouted at him. All this time, all the defenses he'd put up. He knew the risk, the pain, of falling in love with a human and yet he was giving in, just like that? Besides, what if Rose didn't feel the same?
His decision was made for him, his question easily answered, when Rose wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly on the mouth.
That was it. He didn't stand a chance. He nearly staggered back in surprise, but then quickly returned the gesture with fervor equal to or greater than her own. His arms, which had fallen back to his sides a moment ago, now rose to wrap themselves carefully around her, as if she were the most fragile thing in the universe. He pulled her as close as he could and she melted contentedly into the embrace.
The kiss felt oddly bitter-sweet to Rose. As if the Doctor poured all his emotions, all the things he couldn't say, into the gesture; sadness at what he had lost, fear at what he might lose, but also a deep love, almost a need, for her.
When they pulled apart at last, foreheads together, breaths mingling in the small space between them, the Doctor felt the cold metal disk around Rose's neck swing forward and touch his own skin. Letting go of what the future might hold, to instead focus on the present, he grinned down at it before looking back at the beautiful girl wrapped in his arms.
His Rose indeed.