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ONE

The first time he saw her he was walking back toward his TARDIS on a street corner nearby to Coal Hill School where his granddaughter, Susan, had been attempting to fit in to human culture with people of like physiological development (never mind her true adolescent age being higher than they could ever hope to achieve in a full lifetime). 

She had bottle-blonde hair that fell with a vague interior curl at the ends to her shoulders that framed a somewhat rounded face with soft features. Naturally-plump lips rested under a smoothly-curving nose at a decent distance between two large, whiskey-colored golden-brown eyes. Dark, natural eyebrows curved appropriately over said eyes with the long lashes and resembled the same dark color as her roots. Overall, she was average height and average build (curvy, but not disproportionately so) and had the lean body of a runner who actively engaged in other cardio workouts alongside a daily jog. Her makeup was complimentary more than overpowering and her clothes were nondescript; slightly ripped jeans at the knee and a soft, pastel pink knit sweater underneath a tight navy blue leather jacket with a pair of scuffed Chuck Taylor trainers to complete the ensemble. 

All in all, not someone he was usually ever giving a passing glance at much less scrutinize over to such detail as he had to notice all of that. But it was what was in her eyes that gave him pause and caused him to dissect every millimeter of her appearance looking for something he was puzzled to admit he hadn’t found.

While she was definitely youthful in appearance - barely past the age of twenty on the human scale he shouldn’t wonder - her eyes were much older. Not necessarily that she looked young for her age, but that she had seen many things beyond her years. 

She was standing on the very same street corner, leaning against his TARDIS and seemingly to be debating something with herself as she swung a simple-looking Yale key on a metal chain. His fourth-dimensional vision, however, recognized it for what it was; a TARDIS key. Whether it belonged to his TARDIS or someone else’s was up for debate, but it was enough to make him wary. She caught sight of him and smiled.

It was an interesting grin, to say the least; her lips curved up with very slight dimples and the faintest glint of white teeth poked through, but her eyes were guarded and her body language spoke of being used to having to leave rather quickly upon making a new acquaintance with someone. 

“This yours?” She asked, patting the side of the TARDIS - which most people would have automatically assumed was nothing more than a standard Police Box - and making sure that their eyes met. 

His first reaction was to bluster his way out of it, to say something vague about how technically anyone within the country of England ‘owned’ such a box by way of taxes, but the way she was studying him with a relaxed critical eye immediately disavowed that. It was almost as if she were expecting him to do that, as if it were to confirm something, and the last thing he wanted was to do that. He didn’t like playing in a game he didn’t know the rules to.

“If it were, then you’d be trespassing on private property by leaning against it,” he answered contritely, hands coming up to grip the lapels of his coat as he rocked back on his heels and tossed her a ‘superior Time Lord’ look. The young woman’s smile became genuine as she eased off of the dark blue wood and approached him in a manner that was meant to convey calm and friendliness. It only served to have the opposite effect on him. 

“Good. I’m looking for a friend of mine,” she explained when he arched an eyebrow. “We sorta... got separated on accident.”

“What sort of friend would this be, that you can’t recognize them when you see them?” He retorted. To his surprise she just shook her head and laughed. 

“The Time Lord kind. You wouldn’t be the Doctor by any chance, would you?” She asked. 

...In hindsight, he would deeply regret what he was about to do. Especially when she repaid him in like kind, but in his defense he was young and concerned about his fellow Time Lords forcing himself and his granddaughter back to Gallifrey. 

“Afraid not, young lady,” he said with a weak smile. “But I know of him. Might I ask who you are?” Her smile, while still genuine, became strained. He hadn’t noticed the underlying hope that ran through it until it was gone, as if it were the only thing holding her together. 

“Marion,” she murmured with a slightly shaky inhale of breath. “Marion Prentice. What about you? You got a name, or do all Time Lords go by titles?” She teased, attempting to cover her suddenly-noticeable desperation. 

“I’m called... Professor,” The Doctor lied after a few moments. 

“The Professor,” Marion murmured, drawing it out and quirking an eyebrow. “What is it with you people and Academic titles?”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it,” the Doctor snorted. “There was a man in my graduating class who called himself The Master.”

“Right... not pretentious at all then.” That elicited a short laugh from the both of them and, despite himself, the Doctor found himself relaxing in her presence. He hesitated briefly before opening his mouth to ask why she was there, why she was looking for him, but she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and flashed him a blinding smile. “Anyway... nice meeting you.” 

“But- but I- but you-“

“Maybe I’ll see you around!” She parted cheerfully. “Bye, Professor!” 

The Doctor was left standing incredulously in the street for a few moments wondering what had just happened before it finally occurred to him to see where she went. He chased after her, rounding the corner of the nearest brick wall, and stopped short when he found that she was nowhere to be seen. It was like she’d vanished.

He moved his TARDIS later that day to a junkyard a few blocks away from the school on the off-chance she had unsavory friends, but there was a small part of him that was hoping she’d be determined enough to track him down so that he could get some more answers out of her.

 

TWO

The second time he saw her he was trekking through a rather tourist-trapped type island in the Bahamas in the late thirty-second century. Jamie had been complaining for days that he wanted to go somewhere warm, and even gentle Victoria had finally put her foot down and demanded they not actually stay somewhere until it was a decent temperature outdoors. 

Marion was walking along the beach, her jacket - a loose grey hoodie this time he noted with a form-fitting nondescript tee shirt underneath - tied about her waist and her jeans rolled up to her knees. She was swinging her chucks aimlessly back and forth in her hand as she let the surf wash up to her upper ankles, smiling as she turned her face into the wind. 

Jamie had let out a soft exclamation of appreciative surprise and immediately scurried over to try and woo her, much to Victoria’s amusement and the Doctor’s exasperation. Nice boy, Jamie, but a little quick on the draw when it came to being overly-friendly with pretty women even if it was never overtly-flirtatious rather than an awkward sort of keen introduction. Marion, upon being on the receiving end of this endeavor, promptly wore an expression of long-suffering flattered non-reception. The Doctor decided to leave them to it despite being immensely curious as to how she’d got here, but he figured it might be considered rude if Jamie actually took to this one.

He was proven wrong when Jamie tripped over a submerged root, went down with a yelp into the tide, and floundered for a few moments. The sound of her laughter plucked pleasantly at his hearts and he was unable to restrain himself from scurrying over. 

“Marion?” He called. Her head whipped around to track his progress as he and Victoria picked their way carefully over the sand. Jamie was spitting muddy water out of his mouth and muttering a quiet string of expletives under his breath as he fought to get upright, finally succeeding by the time they made it over. Victoria, already barefoot, moved into the surf to help her friend. The Doctor, still clad in shoes, cautiously skirted the edges of the invading and retreating tide. 

“Not exactly kitted out for the beach, Professor,” she teased. Her tongue caught between her teeth as she smiled and his breath caught at how much happier she looked than she had the last time they’d met. Something good must have happened, then. Jamie and Victoria exchanged a look at the odd title but said nothing, immediately understanding that he’d given her a pseudonym for a reason. 

“How’d you know it was me?” He asked, intrigued. He shoved his hands underneath his coat and hooked his thumbs around his suspenders, rocking slightly back on his heels and flashing her a curious look. Marion shrugged.

“Just do.” It occurred to him that her name might have also been a pseudonym as well, one that not many people (and certainly no one that changed their face on a frequent basis save for him) were subject to. He let the matter drop. 

“How ah, how are you here?” 

“P- Professor, I’m taking Jamie back to the... ship to get him warmed up and dried off,” Victoria said as she led a shivering and sodden Jamie back the way they’d come. He nodded, not bothering to turn his attention back to his companions in favor of scrutinizing over Marion to see what had changed. She was the same, physically speaking. Still barely past the age of twenty - if even that - but her eyes seemed older somehow.

His eyes widened when he registered something he hadn’t before. The Doctor’s primary body had been very weak telepathically; he had barely been able to sustain a ship-pilot connection with his TARDIS much less connect with Susan, who was his blood kin for Rassilon’s sake. But this body, this body was much more capable.

“You’re telepathic,” he exclaimed, startled. Marion arched an eyebrow at him and then shrugged. She began walking along the beach and gestured that he do the same. Grumbling softly to himself he took off his shoes and rolled up the cuffs of his trousers so that they could walk side by side and carry on a conversation. 

“Yep.” 

“That’s not exactly something humans should be capable of,” he commented warily, waiting for her reaction.

“I’m not fully human. Was, once. But something happened, an accident, and I’m a bit different now.”

“What sort of accident would result in you becoming-“ he bit his tongue and sighed. “I’m sorry, my dear. I didn’t intend for this to be the Spanish Inquisition.”

“Nah, been there. Don’t recommend it as a holiday spot.” The glib response made him crack a smile, despite himself. 

“Ah, fellow time traveler then. I was wondering how you’d got here when last I saw you you were in 1963 London, England.” A thought occurred to him. “Are you a Time Agent?” Marion snorted with suppressed laughter at that and shook her head vigorously. 

“Nope. Know one, though. Could flirt his way out of a death sentence. Has done, on occasion, but that’s beside the point.” She grew thoughtful as she looked at him and he wondered what she saw him as. She knew he was a Time Lord, probably assumed he at least was acquainted with the Doctor as he had lied to her about who he was, but what else? A slightly off-kilter academic type or an extremely off-kilter inventor type? Just someone she met in passing as she looked for her friend, or someone she considered friend potential in his own right depending on how many times she met up with him on her journey? 

“You’re staring.” The Doctor startled at her comment as she pulled him from his thoughts and he blushed sheepishly. 

“Sorry, my dear. I just... you’re quite the enigma, you know that?”

“Aww, said the pot to the kettle,” Marion teased. He smiled and relaxed. 

“True.” They turned their attention to the water and the sunset as it broke in long red streaks over the undulating surface and he contemplated the absurdity of what he was about to suggest. “Fancy staying for tea?”

“Love to,” Marion sighed. “But I need to hit the road. Bye, Professor.” The Doctor turned to ask what she meant when there was a bright flash and he realized she was no longer there; he simply gaped at the spot where her footprints abruptly ended in the sand beside him. 

“Who are you!?” He sputtered, understandably shocked before his expression grew ponderous, voice quieter. “Who are you, Marion Prentice, and what do you want with me?” 

 

THREE

The third time he saw her, he was stuck on Earth. He was neck-deep into the inner workings of a particularly useful tracking device for the Brigadier when there was a bright flash in the middle of his lab space. He hit his head on the chassis and muttered a soft string of Venusian curses, rubbing at the spot ruefully as he eased out and gave her a glare of mock-annoyance. 

“Hello, Marion,” he rumbled. It was hard to spot because she had her hands over her mouth to suppress a fit of giggles, but her smile slipped a little bit. Ah, still looking for his future self then. He wondered, suddenly, if it would be better to come clean and tell her who exactly he was, but that thought was quickly pushed to the back of his mind as she wandered over and stuck her head into his project. 

“Hey Professor,” she muttered distractedly, infinitely more interested in the device than him. He was caught between being annoyed and chuffed at that; on the one hand, he was a living, breathing being. On the other, his device really was quite impressive. She then eased away from it to take in her surroundings, snickering at the taped area in the corner that the TARDIS was currently sitting inside of. Her parking space, as it were. “Broken chameleon circuit?”

“Yes,” he said quickly, trying to think up a good reason for it as he was really the only one that never bothered to repair his. “Been having a rash of that problem recently, TARDISes. Haven’t had any luck fixing mine, and I’m hard-pressed at present to get any new parts seeing as I’ve been exiled to Earth for meddling.”

“My friend woulda hated that,” Marion muttered as she wandered the space a bit, noting his current projects and experiments with genuine interest. The Doctor’s expression perfectly reflected the raw irony he’d been presented with on a silver platter.

“Yes, I imagine he would be,” he sighed, tugging slightly at a curl of hair that was irritating the nape of his neck. Marion’s facial features grew nostalgic as she smiled softly and the Doctor wondered what he’d done to deserve that level of fondness in an assistant. He wasn’t exactly a great boss to work for, Jo could attest to that even if she was fond of him in her own strange way, but still. He could be... difficult, even for people who traveled with him. 

Oh, Jo. Benton, Yates. The Brigadier. 

“Will you be staying long?” The Doctor asked. Marion considered for a moment before pulling out a very strange, compact device that looked like a yellow button. She frowned at it and then nodded. 

“For an hour or two, I think. Bloody thing has to recharge.”

“Ah. Well- if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be right back,” he murmured before all but fleeing the lab space. The first thing he did was tell the people in question to refer to him as ‘Professor’ until he said otherwise, the second to secure a visitor’s pass for his unexpected guest so that she wouldn’t be arrested for espionage. The third thing he did was grab a tea tray from the officer’s mess with a fresh pot, two cups, and a small plate of Jammie Dodgers for the pair of them. 

Marion smiled at him and nodded toward the tray.

“That take all that time, really?” 

“Well, this is a restricted workplace,” he retorted amusedly as he tossed her a visitor’s badge. “I needed to make sure you wouldn’t be drawn and quartered.” He set the tray down and fixed her with a look. “And since you pulled your disappearing act the last time we met in the Bahamas, I never got to make good on my offer for tea.”

“I... haven’t been to the Bahamas?” She ventured almost guiltily with a shrug before grabbing a biscuit and mixing her tea to her preference. “Only met the two of you so far.” He stared at her for a few moments, stunned. Despite being a Time Lord and frequently meeting people in the wrong order it hadn’t occurred to him that the same could be true for Marion. She must have caught his dumbstruck expression because she grinned as she took a sip and hummed happily. “Don’t worry, Professor. I’ll be sure to say hello.”

“Much obliged,” he muttered, somewhat flabbergasted and hiding it badly. He spent a good deal of the time they had inspecting her device - which he came to know was called a Dimension Cannon - and asking her questions about it and her relationship with the Doctor. While she was more than willing to answer anything related to the former, the latter was clearly a touchy subject. He gave her his full attention to make it clear that he expected an answer, setting down the ‘hopper’ as she called it on a nearby table and waiting for her answer. 

Marion blushed at the unexpected attention and he raised an eyebrow at the autonomic response. 

“Oh, good friend was he?”

“Still is,” Marion snapped, switching from embarrassed to angry in the span of two micro-seconds. 

“Is he, though?” The Doctor asked, lounging backward in his chair as he put his feet up on the table and took a long draught of his tea. The young woman stood up in one smooth motion; he could have sworn her eyes flashed gold. And she growled, quite literally growled, at him.

Yes, he is. He didn’t leave me, okay? We got separated. There was this, this, tear in the fabric of reality, yeah, and it made the wall between this universe and another extremely unstable. I got sucked to the other one and it sealed back up, but was too cracked for him to bring the TARDIS through.” She swallowed heavily and blinked back tears, hands balling into fists at her sides. “He burnt up a sun to say goodbye just before the final crack shut itself.” 

“...Ah,” the Doctor murmured, taken aback. He didn’t say goodbye to anyone, really. Hurt too much. And there he’d been, perfect excuse not to, and he’d gone to the trouble anyway. Then the rest of what she’d said caught up with him. “Sorry, you were trapped in a parallel universe? How did you get back here?” 

“Nuh uh,” Marion muttered murderously, crossing her arms. “You don’t get to ask any more questions. You lost that privilege with that little comment you made. I uh, I think I’m just gonna leave.” She inhaled sharply and grabbed the yellow button before walking toward the door of the lab. 

“Marion, wait,” he called, scrambling to chase after her. He managed to block her way to the secondary door of the hallway and winced when she glared at him. “That was... uncalled for, on my part. You have to understand, Time Lords aren’t big on attachments.”

“Yeah, I’m well aware,” she muttered. “France taught me all about that, thanks.” He grimaced, thinking of what his future self could possibly have done to elicit that tone in her and coming up with nothing that seemed reasonable for the situation. 

“...I’m not sure I want to know,” he mumbled before fixing her with an apologetic look. This particular body wasn’t too great with getting them out verbally unless Jo threatened him into it, but something seemed to relax in her all the same as she registered his expression. 

“Good, because I... I don’t like to think about it,” she whispered, and he suddenly realized that her voice was thick with the apparently well-practiced suppression of tears. She shook herself slightly and ducked under his outstretched arm, out toward the gate. He let her go without trying to win her back inside, wishing he could find a way to throttle his future self if only he knew which one to wrap his hands around.

When it finally occurred to him to go after her - forty-five minutes later - he worried that it would be too late. But all the same he got into Bessie and drove about the nearby area until he slammed on the brakes (almost hitting a stop sign in his haste to catch her attention). 

“Ms. Prentice!” He shouted, and when he got no sign of recognition sighed. The name was obviously a fake, then. Ah well. “Marion!” This time, her head did whip around. Her eyes widened when she saw him behind the wheel and she tentatively approached.

“This yours?” She asked, eyeing the chassis with a look that could only be described as ‘classic car junkie feeding a guilty addiction.’ 

“Of course,” The Doctor retorted, reaching over to open the passenger door for her. “Care for a ride?” He deflated somewhat as her expression shuttered and sighed. “Marion, scout’s honor I swear to you that I won’t ask any more questions.”

“Gallifrey has the scouts?” She asked curiously as she reluctantly slid into the seat. He flashed a wry grin. 

“No. I would’ve been a good one though, if I do say so myself. Quite good with knots, me.” 

“You think you’re so impressive,” she muttered good-naturedly. 

“That is because my dear, that I am so impressive,” he shot back blithely. Marion’s lax expression electrified in shock as she turned abruptly in the seat to stare at him, mouth slightly agape and incredulous. “What?”

“I- you- Nothing,” she said quickly. Too quickly. Her gaze remained locked on his eyes for longer than he felt comfortable with, but something seemed to have occurred to her and after the tenuous reconciliation they’d managed he wasn’t about to mess it up. Apparently satisfied with something she did or didn’t find in the warm blue depths of his mischievous eyes, she slumped back in her seat and turned her attentions to the environment around them. They made light conversation as he drove, and when it was time for her to go he pulled over to the side of the road and watched in fascination as she pressed the large yellow button hanging around her neck and vanished off the face of the Earth.

 

FOUR

The fourth time he saw her he was in the middle of explaining to Leela why carrying large knives around was, in general, not a good idea. It was just the pair of them at present and they were still trying to find their equilibrium. That was why, when he spotted her further down the road, he abruptly turned his back and had a long conversation with Leela about why she was to call him ‘Professor’ until the strange woman had left. Leela, of course, wasn’t happy with the situation but went along with it. She then made herself scarce against his protests. 

“Hello Marion,” The Doctor said warmly as he lounged against a streetlight. Marion turned to flash him a grin - not a tongue-touched one mind, but a grin nonetheless - and chuckled. 

“Hello Professor,” she returned. Her gaze drifted down to the bag in his hands. “What’s that then?”

“Jelly Babies. Want one?” He asked innocently, plopping one into his mouth. Marion nodded, reaching her hand in and extracting a blue. “Ah, good. For a moment I was worried. The orange are my favorite, you see. If you had thought so too things could have gotten awkward.”

“Yeah? And what does blue tell you about my personality?” She retorted, well aware she had been casually psycho-analyzed after a good few years at Torchwood. To his credit he looked abashed.

“Ah, well. Let’s not get into all that, shall we?” She chuckled softly at that and let him be, casually grabbing at his arm and linking them together as they walked down the pavement. She leaned slightly against his side and he felt a strange clenching vise settle around his hearts, entirely subject to the whims of her interest in him that left him feeling oddly empty when she focused her attentions on something else. 

“So, to what do I owe the pleasure?” He asked too casually to carry it off. Marion smiled. 

“Do you know how hard it is to be able to talk with anyone about anything I’ve seen or done?” She replied. He frowned slightly.

“But you haven’t actually told me anything.”

“Yeah, but I don’t have to. You just get me without me having to explain. It’s... nice.”

“Oh, nice,” he scoffed melodramatically. “Is that all?” She lightly smacked his arm in response and lavished her affections on his scarf, something that made him smile. 

“Ask me anything,” she sighed. “I’ll tell you if I can answer or not.” 

“How did you end up in a parallel world?” The Doctor asked immediately. Marion stiffened slightly, then relaxed. 

“Cybermen,” she said vaguely. “They sorta... I don’t rightly know how to explain it ‘cause I don’t really know what happened, not the technical stuff anyway. Let’s just say there was a tear in the fabric of reality and the Cybermen took advantage of it, and I got pulled into the other universe. Met some interesting people there, if I’ll be honest. Nice people, for the most part. Helped me make my Dimension Cannon.” 

“How long have you been trapped there?” 

“Oh... twelve, thirteen years?” She murmured vaguely. He stopped and eyed her incredulously. “What?”

“You hardly look a day over twenty,” he commented, gaze traveling rapidly up and down as he studied her person with great scrutiny. Marion squirmed slightly under his stare and shrugged. 

“Well... Yeah. Nobody can see why but I just... haven’t really aged since the accident.”

“The one that made you telepathic?”

“Yeah.”

Come to think of it, she didn’t smell... human. The Doctor’s nostrils flared slightly as he identified her chemical and hormonal components. 

“I think you might be some sort of Gallifreyan hybrid,” he murmured thoughtfully, a million other things all centered around the potential possibilities that warranted for his future self and future companion.

“How do you- wait, did you just smell me!?” Marion hissed, looking shocked. He winced before nodding reluctantly, as if he were a child who’d been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar. “Oh. And I smell sorta like a Gallifreyan but not completely like a Gallifreyan, is that it?” 

“In summary.” 

“Oh.” There was a moment of silence as she processed this, and to the Doctor’s surprise she relaxed against his side. He glanced down at her, confused. 

“And that doesn't bother you?”

“Not really.” He couldn’t help it. He stared. 

“What?”

“What? I don’t. Life’s about change.” Marion shrugged. “Granted, most people work their way up a job ladder or get married and have a bunch of kids, but still. Change is just a part of life. I don’t really feel all that different aside from the fact that I’m a bit... superhuman, I guess is the best description, so it hasn’t really affected my life all that much.”

“If you’re sure,” he muttered warily. Marion laughed at his expression.

“Don’t worry, okay? I’m fine.” She glanced down at a mobile phone and sighed. “Look, I have to go. Apparently my best mate just got arrested for something he didn’t do.” She leaned up onto her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. “See ya later, Professor.”

“I... look forward to it, Marion,” the Doctor murmured, hand coming up to touch his face where her lips had touched, hearts thumping wildly with conflicting emotions as she paused in walking away from him to flash a tongue-touched grin. A moment later there was a bright flash and she disappeared. 

 

FIVE

The fifth time he saw her was after they broke apart for air. 

More specifically, the Doctor had been wandering an asteroid bazaar with Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan and had been having a hard time keeping himself from becoming bored. Tegan was chattering about the fashion with Nyssa (who was rarely interested in such things but appeared, on this occasion, to be immensely fascinated) and Adric was darting between the different technical stalls exclaiming about one thing or another and asking about a million questions to the stall owners. In short, he was being entirely ignored by his companions and there wasn’t anything around that caught his interest enough to keep it. 

He turned sharply at a shout, someone feminine it sounded, screaming ‘Doctor.’ It was the only warning he got before there was a blonde humanoid woman slamming him against a nearby brick wall and attempting to snog the life out of him. He pushed her away roughly, startled, and could only gape when he realized who was panting heavily mere inches in front of him. 

“Marion!?” He exclaimed, stunned. Her face split into a wide grin before she nodded vigorously. “How... how do you know who I...”

“I figured it out,” she laughed, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright, and the tip of her tongue poking out between her teeth were all sufficient to distract him. She stepped closer and he hissed softly at her body heat - cooler than a typical human’s he noted but still warmer than his own. Smoothing out the lapels of his coat (which she had rumpled by grabbing in her haste to kiss him) her grin tempered into something softer and more tender. His breath caught at that. 

“Did you?” He murmured. Marion nodded.

“I promised myself that if I ever saw you again I wouldn’t hold back showing you how I felt,” she whispered, suddenly self-conscious as she took a step back and toed the ground with her trainer. “Sorry if that unnerved you.” 

It took a few moments for his kiss-addled brain to catch up with all the implications of their conversation. One, she loved him. Apparently it didn’t matter which body he was in, she still loved him. Two, she’d been separated from him for a good long while and wasn’t aging nearly as fast as she had used to. Thus, she was able to just about match his own lifespan if not surpass it depending on just how much she’d changed in the way he suspected she had. Three, she was trying to find her way back to him and for some reason kept popping up along his time stream rather than hitting the correct location. Four, he had just realized that all of the conflicting emotions he’d developed in his past life that he thought he’d gotten rid of had not only remained but intensified and somewhat resolved themselves in a way that didn’t bode well for his emotional restraint. 

And five, she was waiting to see how he would react to all of this with a look of mounting discomfort and embarrassment. 

He gently reached out and cupped her jaw as he took a step forward to meet her, pressing a soft kiss to her forehead. 

“It didn’t unnerve me,” he reassured her, chuckling slightly as he backed off to the small distance she’d created between them. “Just startled me, is all. I didn’t know who was kissing me and that leaves anyone a tad bit off their game. I’m all caught up now, though. Hello, darling.” 

Marion’s eyes widened slightly in dawning understanding before she had him pressed back against the wall again.

There were two parts of his brain warring with one another. One, which was arching his body as far away from hers as the wall allowed to keep some propriety and had his arms flailing uselessly unsure of what they needed to do to help him get out of the situation, was on equal footing with the other that was more interested in mapping Marion’s teeth in her mouth with his tongue whilst remembering that his hands were supposed to be anchored on either her waist or back, or in her hair. 

She pulled away before he could sort out which part was dominant and the act in and of itself firmly swung the pendulum toward trying to finish his topography of the interior of her mouth. He let out a soft whimper of protest and she laughed, resting her forehead against his. 

“We have an audience,” she whispered, and he remembered himself. 

When he glanced to the side he saw all three of his companions staring at them, jaws on the ground and eyes wide as twin moons. Aside from the general state of shock Adric was sputtering something over and over again, Nyssa looked like she’d just found a rather interesting scientific discovery, and Tegan had an expression that heavily suggested that if she’d known any of the Doctor’s other companions they’d be getting some particularly juicy gossip. 

“...Ah,” he murmured, blushing furiously. 

“You didn’t tell us you had a girlfriend!” Tegan exclaimed suddenly, arms loosely crossing and uncrossing over her chest as if she didn’t know where to put them.

“I don’t,” he replied quickly. Marion stiffened and he winked at her. “Not yet anyway.”

“...What?” Nyssa muttered, trying to keep up. Marion rolled her eyes and thunked the Doctor lightly on the shoulder.

“What he means is, I travel with a future incarnation of him.” She shot him a good-natured glare. “And if that’s the way you’re asking me out I may just say no.” He paled, eyes wide. 

“...You mean we never...”

“What?”

“I never asked you...”

“Oh, not at all. Wanted you to, all the time,” she sighed wistfully, giving him a sympathetic look. “Could tell you wanted to too. But no.” 

“So is she or is she not your girlfriend, then?” Tegan cut in, raising an eyebrow. The Doctor looked at Marion questioningly, head tilted slightly to the side. She shook her head and laughed. 

“Ask me properly and we’ll see,” she teased, tongue catching between her teeth. 

“Is that a suggestion?” He bantered, a slow grin sliding into place to match as he rocked back on his heels and shoved his hands into his pockets. 

“Oh God, please stop flirting,” Tegan groaned. “I’m not sure my brain can handle you flirting.” 

“Rude,” Marion chided with a laugh as the Doctor pouted. She sighed and laced their fingers together as if it were her right to do so, and he wasn’t about to tell her otherwise as he stared at their clasped hands. “Come on then, Doctor. Let them sort some stuff out while we have a chat.” 

“O-okay,” he murmured, letting her drag him off to parts unknown. He blushed furiously as Adric’s confused question and Nyssa’s and Tegan’s responses filtered back to them.

“Is- is that what a date looks like?”

“I- I don’t know exactly. Tegan?”

“Hell if I know.” 

“Well, is it?” Marion asked suddenly. The Doctor’s head whipped round to find that she was close. 

“Is it what?” He murmured, curious. She rolled her eyes. 

“Daft Time Lord,” she muttered. “Is this a date?” He feigned nonchalance as he answered.

“Dunno. Do you want it to be?” She pretended to consider.

“Mm... yeah.”

“Then yes.”

“Okay.”

“Good.”

“Fantastic.”

“Yep.” They exchanged a glance before bursting into laughter. The Doctor abruptly sobered, smiling softly as he watched the curious creature walking beside him. Every once in a while she’d pause and exclaim softly over tiny trinkets in the market stalls, but mostly she was content to just... hold his hand, rest her head against his shoulder, and enjoy the things around them. 

It was oddly quiet and peaceful after the way things had started out, and he was enjoying it. Most of the time she had to leave shortly after they’d met, but she was taking her time right now. She missed him just as much as he missed her when they were apart, most likely. And now that she knew who he was... made all the difference, really. 

“Rose,” she said suddenly, breaking the silence and his train of thought.

“What about them?” He hummed absently, more focused on her scent and trying to commit it to eternal memory. She smelled like vanilla, sunshine, stardust, and time. She was also quietly laughing at him. “What?”

“Not the flower,” she chuckled. “Rose. As in Rose Marion Tyler. ‘s my name. My real name.” The Doctor stopped dead in the middle of the street and swung around so that they were face to face. 

“Thank you for telling me,” he whispered. “It means a lot.” Marion- or rather Rose- shrugged, apparently embarrassed. 

“No real point in using a pseudonym now, is there?” 

“Suppose not,” the Doctor mumbled, a pleased purr rumbling through his chest. The noise surprised him, as he was rarely in a relaxed and euphoric enough state to elicit one. But considering the weight his culture held behind... “Rose?”

“Mm?”

“Do you know... do you know the significance on my planet of telling someone your true name?” He asked tentatively. Rose considered for a few moments before shaking her head. “It um, it- Rose, the only person who’s supposed to know your true name is your Bond Mate,” he explained awkwardly. By the widening of her eyes, she at least got the general meaning of what that title meant if not completely understood what it fully entailed.

“Oh,” she breathed. He nodded, vigorously.

“Yes, ‘oh.’” And then, to ease the sudden nervous tension (he really shouldn’t have said anything, but it was a cultural difference that was definitely important) he asked, “Where did the ‘Prentice’ part come from then if ‘Marion’ is your middle name?”

“My mum’s maiden name,” she explained easily, flashing him a grateful smile. It faded abruptly as the Dimension Cannon chirped in her pocket and she pulled it out with a sigh. 

“Do you have to go right this second?” He asked, immensely crestfallen and not even bothering to hide it. Rose nodded. 

“Sorry. It- I have a team, monitoring for things back in the other universe, and if I don’t make my check-ins they initiate an auto-recall just in case I’m hurt or whatever. Plus side is that it won’t activate unless I’m wearing it, but still.”

“I’ll miss you,” the Doctor blurted out, pleading sky blue eyes meeting her sad whiskey golden-brown ones. Rose stepped close and kissed him softly on the mouth. 

“I’ll miss you too,” she murmured before stepping back again. She slung the button over her head so that it laid on her chest and then flashed a teasing grin at him. “Oh, and Doctor?”

“Yes?”

“I am so definitely your girlfriend.” 

He couldn’t help but smile like a lunatic at that, even as she flashed away and effortlessly took one of his hearts with her.

 

SIX

The sixth time he saw her the space station he and Peri had been on had exploded, and his hearts stopped when he stumbled over her foot sticking out of a pile of rubble. She was unconscious and bleeding badly from a gash on her forehead. As he picked her up he could hear the sound of several bones fracturing just a tiny bit further than they already were, and his dialogue was a muttered litany of curses and apologies as he carried her all the way back to his TARDIS.

Peri was already there, icing a sprained ankle and a killer headache, but she looked up in surprise as the Doctor entered into the infirmary with a complete stranger cradled delicately in his arms. 

“Who’s this?” She asked, not at all surprised when he ignored her in favor of tending to his charge. The full body scanner did its work and he cursed loudly at the results, slowly lowering his head to rest with a solid but soft think against the side of the medical cot. “Know what? Never mind. You’re kinda busy, and she needs help.”

“My girlfriend,” he murmured softly as she reached the door. At that point she froze, mind going blank as she tried to process what she had just heard. 

“...Sorry?” 

“My girlfriend,” the Doctor repeated. “I’ll explain later, Peri. I swear. I just...”

“Make sure she gets better,” Peri said understandingly before giving the two of them privacy. He went back to resting his head against the bed, taking one of her hands and cradling it between both of his. 

If it weren’t for his impeccable time sense telling him otherwise, the Doctor would swear he’d been sitting there for hours. He hadn’t; it had been less than one, but still. He all but tap-danced when she stirred on the cot, and his grip on her hand tightened. 

“Rose?” He whispered. Her eyes, which were slightly glazed over, cleared. 

“Doctor?” She asked tentatively, the weak hope in her voice breaking his hearts. 

“I’m here darling,” he sighed, moving to sit on the edge of the cot and gently bring her into his lap. She whimpered and curled in against his side, crying, and he muttered soothing tones as he stroked her hair. “Easy. You took quite a bashing, I’m afraid.”

“What happened?”

“There were some Ice Warriors and, uh...”

“You blew up the station didn’t you?”

“In my defense they started it.” 

“Uh huh.” Rose sniffled and moved to sit up so that she could see him better. “Hi.”

“Hello,” he responded gently, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. “I take it by your presence here that you haven’t found the correct version of me yet.” Her eyes went wide and she stared at him.

“Wait- but- so, the Professor is you!?

“Thought we’d already had this conversation, Marion,” he teased before he realized what was going on. “Unless... you haven’t had it yet.”

“What conversation?” She exclaimed, shocked. He could have smacked himself. 

“We had it in my last body. After you tried to snog the life out of me.” 

“I- wait, what!?

“Don’t worry, I enjoyed it,” he assured. When she frowned he got the idea that wasn’t the reassurance she’d been looking for. “Sorry. Ah... I keep forgetting that there’s the potential for us to meet out of order. For instance, right now I’m besotted with you and consider you my girlfriend because you said you were. But for you, the past few times we’ve met I was the Professor and you were Marion.”

“My head hurts,” she muttered.

“Probably your concussion,” he replied brightly. She tossed him a half-hearted glare before rolling her eyes. 

“You’re a real piece of work, you know that?” Rose snapped. “What was that with the UNIT you, anyway? Were you trying to get smacked?”

“I would most certainly have deserved it,” the Doctor sighed. “Look, we have things to talk about, and quite a bit of time to do so. I’d say a few days at least. Your injuries, while not fatal, trended on the severe side and if I don’t tend them now you’ll be dealing with them for months.”

Rose huffed, nodding, and dumped her Dimension Cannon on a nearby table where it could flash and chirp all it wanted but not whisk her off to another universe. 

“Fine,” she said, settling into the pillows with a pointed look on her face. “Start talking.” The Doctor sighed, recognizing when he was in the dog house and resigning himself to that situation. 

«Oh, sure, my past self gets snogged, I get yelled at,» he muttered under his breath in Gallifreyan. «Typical.» When Rose raised an eyebrow he sighed and sat back on the chair he’d pulled up earlier, bringing up her scan results on the nearby monitor and pointing things out to her as he went.

“For starters, your DNA changed into what I like to call Proto-TNA. You’re not human anymore, that much is obvious, but neither are you a Time Lord.” He frowned at the screen. “See, here? Triple-helix protein strands. And it looks like it’s still changing, adapting. Right now I’d say you were a Proto-Gallifreyan. A single heart, no respiratory bypass, but an exceptionally lengthened lifespan and the brain function is... well, your telepathy is only a small fraction of the changes there. You may have noticed that you can read faster, process information more quickly, have perfect recall. Based by the changes you’re still going through, I’d hazard a guess that you might develop a bypass at some point and that developing a time sense is all but a given.”

He sat back with a tired murmur. 

“Rose, I’ve never seen anything like this before. When you say ‘accident,’ there isn’t anything I can think of that would ever do this to you without killing you.” As she opened her mouth to reply he held up a hand and used the other one to pinch the bridge of his nose. “No, don’t. I may not like the fact that I can’t ask you what happened, but I’m aware of the problems it could cause if you do. So please, don’t. The twisting and turning of our causally-looped, linked timelines at present is mess enough without throwing a potential paradox on top of it. I’m simply concerned.”

“I’d do it all over again if I had to,” Rose murmured, grabbing one of his hands and linking their fingers together as she gently made soothing circles in the space between his forefinger and thumb with her own thumb. “But I didn’t think I’d be coming out the other side of it, I’m willing to admit that. But it was worth it. You were worth it.”

“Why, What could possibly cause anything that you would have to...?”

“Daleks,” she said simply. He growled low in his chest. 

 

All in all, Rose spent about half a week on board the TARDIS. She and Peri compared fashion, cultural differences, temporal differences. Somehow, they managed to include the Doctor in those conversations. It helped that he hovered, trailing after her and scrambling to make sure she had help if she struggled with something as she healed. Over the course of her stay he discovered that the TARDIS was overly-fond of her and decided there was no time like the present to show her some of the inner workings of his ship. Rose was fascinated by everything he showed her and proved to be a good listener, explaining after he commented on her prowess at soldering that her best friend had once been a mechanic. 

Things were... nice. He knew that, if she never found him, it would hurt. Knowing she’d tried so hard and had failed, that would probably devastate him beyond imagining. 

But then... then there were things worth getting your hearts broken for.

 

SEVEN

The seventh time he saw her he and Mel were on an ice world, and the waitress had just dumped an entire milkshake on her customer’s head. 

She’d run up to him, all smiles and determination, and he’d barely had time to open his arms and make sure he was properly balanced before she flung herself at him.

“Rose!” He exclaimed, half-admonishing and half-amused. “Careful, dear girl! We almost ended up on the ground!”

“What, no convenient walls this time?” She teased, batting her eyelashes at him. The Doctor smiled and submitted himself to being peppered with light kisses all over his face. “Missed you.

“You just saw me, I shouldn’t wager!” He protested with a soft laugh. Rose drew back so that she could see him properly and grinned, tongue caught between her teeth. 

“Yeah, but which one?” She pointed out. “Just got done seeing your second incarnation, Professor, so-“

“Was that why you looked so happy?” He interjected, intrigued. “Because you knew it was me?” She have a happy nod. 

Then something went wrong - as always - and he was almost in a state of bliss as she accompanied him through his latest misadventure. 

The waitress from earlier, a girl from Perivale in the late twentieth century named Ace, seemed permanently stuck on calling him ‘Professor’ after hearing Rose call him that. Mel wanted to leave and he let her, recognizing it was time, and for a few moments it was just the two of them as Ace left to grab her things to travel with him instead. 

“I blame you for that, you know,” he mock-growled, letting his Scottish accent rumble the words fondly about his mouth before releasing them to be heard. Rose rolled her eyes. 

“Oh, please. She seems nice deep down and I’m sure you can put up with her calling you ‘Professor’ instead of ‘Doctor.’ Didn’t you notice? She nicknames people she likes.”

“Really?” He asked, touched. “She likes me?”

“Mmhmm. Don’t break that trust, yeah?” Rose whispered. He nodded; he’d told her about his suspicions regarding Fenric’s Wolves in private and it spoke wonders that she seemed to know him so well as to predict how he’d handle that if it were true. 

“I’ll try, Rose, but I’m not sure I’ll succeed,” the Doctor admitted. She hugged him tightly and he let his forehead rest against her shoulder. In his current body they about broke even in height, something that hadn’t happened since his first two incarnations, and he found he both lamented and enjoyed it. Lamented because he was no longer at a perfect angle to rest his chin against the top of her head, but enjoyed because it meant he didn’t have to bend down as far to kiss her. 

“Just... make sure that, if you have to... you know, that she knows that you didn’t want to after,” she whispered. He hummed his agreement and kissed her soundly.

They were broken apart by an exclamation of mock, over-dramatic teenage disgust that had Rose laughing and the Doctor indignant. Well. Ace certainly had no problem making herself known.

 

EIGHT 

The eighth time he saw her... well, there was a lot between that and the beginning of the encounter. It was best to start at the beginning, and it was best if Rose told it.

The eighth time she saw him she almost wrote him off as an escaped psych patient. He was barefoot, swaying on said bare feet, and dressed in a nineteenth century outfit that was obvious a somewhat costly costume but a costume nonetheless rather than an actual reproduction or clothing from the actual time period. She had just materialized inside of a hospital on the third floor which, on further examination, proved to be in San Francisco New Years’ Eve of 1999 and she’d hopped into an elevator - why did Americans have to do stuff like that? - and ridden it to the ground floor. A ginger-haired, tired-looking doctor flashed her an exhausted smile as she stepped in with a box that had a gorgeous blue ball gown sticking out of it.

“Love the dress,” Rose complimented, and she smiled softly. 

“Thanks. I was at the opera last night, but since I’m a cardiovascular surgeon I had to leave because I was on call.”

“That sucks. Please tell me you got far enough into it for it to be worth the tickets?”

“Not even close.” 

The doors had been just about to close when he’d joined them in the elevator. His chestnut brown hair fell to his shoulders in a loose cloud of curly catastrophe, a sheen of sweat glistening on his unnaturally pale skin, and sparkling blue eyes kept going in and out of focus as he blinked confusedly up at the ceiling of the elevator. The doctor shot a concerned look at him and shifted to a corner as far from him as possible, but Rose just regarded him curiously. 

“I know you,” he said to the surgeon, and Rose let out a tiny squeak at the smooth, aristocratic English tones his voice gave off. Like honey and a hearth fire. And, despite his obvious illness or whatever it was he was dealing with, he wasn’t bad looking either. The man blinked at her in surprise. “I know you too,” he murmured, searching for something. “You... your name... like a, a folk tale, Robin! No, not Robin, no...”

“Marion?” Rose suggested, arching an eyebrow. He beamed, nodding, before frowning again. 

“No, that’s not right either. Not a folk tale, a flower...”

“Rose,” she giggled, a sneaking suspicion slotting into place in her mind. “Doctor?”

“What?” The surgeon asked before seeming to realize Rose wasn’t talking to her. The man tilted his head slightly, considering. 

“You’re the Doctor, aren’t you?” Rose clarified the question.

“It... sounds familiar, but I don’t, I can’t-“

“How long has it been since you last regenerated?” 

“Eleven hours, two minutes, thirty-seven seconds,” he replied promptly before looking surprised. “Now, how did I know that? Better question, how did you know that?”

“You’re called the Doctor, this is your seventh Regeneration, and it doesn’t look like it’s going smoothly,” Rose soothed, placing a hand on his shoulder and another hand to cup his jaw as he leaned into her touch, eyes fluttering closed. “I’m your girlfriend, Doctor. I think I should know these things, yeah?”

His eyes opened, bright and confused but happy as he grinned at her. The lift - Okay, elevator, weird Americans - dinged and they all stepped out into a parking garage. The Doctor seemed content to follow the surgeon and Rose was content to follow his lead, more amused by things than worried seeing as the first time she’d dealt with a Regeneration the Doctor had told her that his worst one had been - well, the one he was currently going through now. She knew he’d get better eventually, so there was really no need to worry. 

 

It turned out the surgeon’s name was Grace Holloway, and that she’d accidentally killed the Doctor because she was given bad information on his cardiovascular system. Rose explained that she didn’t hold it against her and that, when he remembered, the Doctor wouldn’t either. This led to a discussion about Regeneration and Gallifreyans and a whole bunch of other stuff Rose hadn’t wanted to get into but had had to do anyways. The entire discussion took place over a cup of tea for Rose and an Irish coffee for Grace in the kitchen because her ex boyfriend had taken the majority of the rest of the furniture, and the Doctor meanwhile wandered almost aimlessly about the house indulging in his curious nature. 

Grace took a blood sample from him at one point to confirm what Rose was telling her whilst also taking a listen to his hearts - which left her incredulous, despite the fact that she’d seen the man pull the fractured part of the probe out of his chest and have the wound heal almost immediately after. She’d looked green when Rose explained that he could regenerate entire missing limbs during the first fourteen hours if need be and the Doctor had looked immensely interested in that, pouting when Rose didn’t tell him what had happened despite his best begging face. 

“You’re cute, but no,” had been her final word on the matter. 

It was sunset when Grace pushed away from her microscope and rubbed at her eyes. The Doctor had found a pair of socks and a pair of shoes that had belonged the Brian the Ex and he was experimenting with them much to Rose’s amusement. 

“I need a break,” she muttered before glancing at her impromptu houseguests. “How about I show you guys the San Francisco version of fish and chips?” The Doctor immediately turned to Rose.

“Do I like fish and chips?” He asked. She shrugged.

“Dunno. New body, new rules. We’ll see.” It turned out that he wasn’t fond of chips but liked the fish immensely and that suited Rose just fine because she was a-Okay with a trade. Afterward, they were walking across a park nearby Grace’s home and her curiosity got the better of her.

“You really don’t remember anything?” She pressed. The Doctor shook his head. “And that’s normal with the- What did you call it? Regeneration?”

“Not sure,” he murmured, looking to Rose for advice. She shrugged. 

“Only been through this once before with you and you were catatonic almost the entire time.”

“This is so strange,” Grace sighed. “Well, where are you from then?” Again, he looked at Rose. She giggled. 

“Wow, apparently I know everything around here,” she teased before poking him in the chest. “Try and answer this one, ‘kay? Might help if you’re the one doing that instead of me.” The Doctor nodded, his face scrunching up slightly as he searched his elusive memories for an answer before his expression brightened.

“Gallifrey. I, I’m getting a memory. Sort of hazy, but I call that progress.”

“Good!” Grace exclaimed, smiling and looking somewhat relieved. She wasn’t keen on letting either of these two people stay the night when she didn’t really know who they were, but at the same time she was glad he was making progress. “What is it?”

“I’m, I’m with my father, we’re lying back on the red grass in the foothills surrounding Mount Cadon, it’s a warm summer’s night... the sky... oh, oh!” He was hopping up and down now and Rose was giggling at his exuberance. “A meteor storm! The sky above us was blazing with light! So many colors, purple, green, brilliant yellow!” He stopped bouncing and beamed. “Yes!”

“What?” Grace asked, caught up in his energy. 

“These shoes!” He laughed, tapping his toes and jogging in place before taking off across the park at a full run. “They fit perfectly!” Her expression turned insanely confused and Rose sighed exasperatedly, a tired smile gracing her lips.

“Does this happen a lot?” Grace asked. Rose thought for a moment before smirking. 

“Imagine taking your best friend to get their wisdom teeth pulled and they’re hopped up on Lidocaine,” she chuckled. The surgeon’s expression cleared to one of amused resignment.

Oh.

Yeah.” They started walking slowly after their charge, who got tired of waiting for them to catch up and jogged back to them with a slight huff of impatience. “Nuh uh, don’t you huff at me. ‘s been a long day, thanks very much. I know you’re still bursting with post-Regeneration energy, but neither of us are. Now chill.

“But Rooooose,” he whined. It was obvious he wanted very badly to dash off again, but she caught his fingers in hers and he sighed as he fell into step beside her. Rose got Grace talking a little bit about what she did and they traded job problems, but when they got to a small cluster of trees the Doctor stopped dead. 

“I’m the Doctor,” he whispered softly to himself, and Rose sighed in relief as she saw the fog in his eyes clearing to be replaced by his almost nine hundred years of experience and knowledge. He then smiled, whirled around to drag Rose into an exuberant hug, and proceeded to reenact the V-J Day in Times Square Kiss. 

“Hello to you too Doctor,” Rose teased, smiling a tongue-touched grin as he brought he back up into a standing position. He beamed at her. 

“Hello Rose, darling...” he proceeded to hug her close and plant kisses all over her face, neck, and hair. “Love of my lives...”

“Down boy,” Rose murmured as she inhaled his scent and sighed contentedly. “We’re in public.”

“So?”

“Ooh, you’re flirty in this body.” 

“And I have officially reached the max quota for weird things I can put up with tonight,” Grace sighed good-naturedly as she leaned against a tree and watched them. They both broke apart long enough to grin at her before relearning one another. 

Of course, that was when the Master opened the Eye of Harmony on board the TARDIS. 

~§§~ 

Rose had refrained from speaking and had immediately moved out of the Doctor’s line of sight when she had been told to, lurking around the house as Grace decided she actually had reached her quota and refused to let the Doctor in. So, naturally, he let himself in through the suddenly non-solid sliding glass door. The tree she was sitting in wasn’t particularly comfortable but it was well-screened by its canopy, and she really only had to wait about ten minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Two people got out; one was a teenage boy of Asian descent and the other was a full-grown Caucasian man wearing dark shades over his eyes. 

Rose could practically smell crazy and evil on the guy so she figured that was the Master possessing a very recently-deceased human body. The thought gave her pause. She actually could, while not smell crazy or evil, smell death on his person and the presence of something definitely extraterrestrial. This made her smile ferally. She was beginning to really enjoy her heightened, much-expanded upon senses and the new ones she’d never had before. 

The ambulance pulled out of the drive and Rose hopped down from the tree; she muttered an apology to the owner of the Harley-Davidson parked next door before using her Torchwood ‘borrowing with prejudice’ skills to get it running and took off after them. 

And, wonder of all wonders, she caught up because of an expressway chicken incident. Rose could easily say that such a thing had never occurred to her before but it was definitely happening now, and she was just in time to witness the - rather terrible - attempt on the Doctor’s behalf to steal a motorcycle from a cop. Grace was much better at it, and soon she was chasing after the flashing lights of the Doctor and a screaming Grace. 

He glanced sideways at her and smirked when she pulled up alongside, making a point of revving the handle grips and laughing when she pulled ahead. They wove in between a pair of semi trucks, narrowly avoided a freight train, and accidentally prevented an in-progress carjacking as they followed Grace’s whimpered directions to the Institute. 

Grace frowned at the man checking the invitations. 

“I only have a plus one,” she muttered. “I was intending to bring Brian...”

“I’ve got us covered,” Rose assured. The Doctor made an odd sort of chirping, interested noise and she grinned her special grin for him. “Don’t worry Doctor, I’ll be your Sugar Mama for the evening.” 

He gaped at her as Grace burst out laughing, his ears turning a rather vibrant shade of red as he followed dutifully after her like a confused puppy. 

“But you’re not wearing fancy dress!” Grace protested, at this point too amused and exasperated to care. The trio hid in an alcove at the front of the building as Rose pulled at the hem of her noticeably tight-fitting pastel pink spaghetti strap top and tugged a knee-length dress out of her jeans. She quickly pulled the jeans off and, bundling them into her jacket, tossed the clothing into the storage compartment on her bike. “...You really are prepared for just about anything, aren’t you.” 

“Yep!” Rose said brightly before she noticed the Doctor staring frozen at her. She snapped her fingers under his nose and he jumped. “You okay there Doctor?” 

“I- you- it-“

“I think you broke him,” Grace whispered conspiratorially as they worked their way back to the man ushering people in.

“My legs tend to have that affect on people.”

“I’m right here,” the Doctor hissed petulantly behind them. 

“We know,” both women snarked simultaneously. He grumbled something they didn’t quite catch and they exchanged a grin. 

Grace got in just fine with her invitation. The Doctor peered interestedly over Rose’s shoulder, trying to see what her little billfold identification said, and watched as the man paled before nodding. 

“Sir, Dame, please, step this way,” he stuttered. 

“What does this even say?” The Doctor muttered once they’d got past the ‘guard’. His eyes widened as he stared at Rose incredulous. “This is psychic paper.” 

“Yours. Had it in my pocket when I fell into the other universe.”

“That is... remarkably handy.” 

“Isn’t it just?” 

“‘Sir Doctor of TARDIS and Dame Rose of the Powell Estate’?” The Doctor read aloud, raising an eyebrow as Grace moved to grab some hors d’oeuvres and champagne. Rose grabbed a pair of glasses from a passing tray and handed him one, sipping hers as she batted her eyelashes at him.

“We did get knighted,” she said with a shrug. “Just ‘cause it’s Vicky doesn’t mean it isn’t still valid.” The Doctor suppressed a snort at that by taking a sip of his champagne; Grace came up to them with a worried expression on her face. 

“I can’t see the Master anywhere,” she muttered. “The ambulance was outside, but...” 

“He’s around here somewhere,” the Doctor sighed, his gaze settling on the beryllium atomic clock high on a platform above them. “The sooner we get the piece I need the better.”

“How are we supposed to get that on the back of a bike!?” Grace hissed.

“How much of it do you actually need?” Rose asked calmly. 

“Oh, just a tiny piece of it,” he replied unconcernedly. “Just a tiny processor chip. I need the beryllium in it to help jumpstart the TARDIS’ temporal stabilizing drive.”

“Yeah, there’s a guard,” Grace pointed out, pointing at the stoic individual standing like a statue of Achilles between them and their objective. 

“That man is an immovable force,” Rose muttered. The Doctor hummed in agreement, brow furrowing as he scanned their surroundings looking for an alternative. 

“There’s a back door, looks like,” he observed thoughtfully. “We’d need an ID card to pass but... if I had my Sonic,” he finished wistfully. 

“Dr. Holloway,” a warm voice greeted politely behind them. They all swung around to see a middle to late-aged man with large glasses and a severe receding hairline approaching them.

“Professor Wagg!” Grace greeted, her expression somewhat guilty as she realized they were debating stealing from the man. “These are, uh-“

“Dr. Smith and Captain Prentice,” Rose said smoothly as she shook the man’s hand. She was giving him a wide smile and the Doctor frowned at her slightly as it was obvious she was being a bit flirty. “We’re with Torchwood from London. Lovely place here, wanted to see the potential. We’ve read all about your work with temporal theory as a practice rather than a fringe science, have to say we’re impressed. I wonder if it would be possible to see the clock up close at some point?” Prof. Wagg opened his mouth to reply when Rose continued on. “Not tonight, obviously, but perhaps we could schedule with your office for sometime next week? We’ll be in town for the next month on business.”

“That would be wonderful my dear,” Wagg said, smiling. He then turned to the Doctor and gave him a once-over. “And, what are you a Doctor of exactly?”

“Extraterrestrial studies and technology,” the Doctor said smoothly. 

“Oh, what caused such interest in that?”

“Well, I am half human on my mother’s side,” he offered with a mischievous smile. Rose rolled her eyes and smacked him lightly in the arm as Wagg let out a short bark of laughter, bid them a pleasant evening, and continued on his meet and greet circuit.

“I think you must be,” Grace commented, studying him. Rose snorted.

“You wouldn’t be saying that if you saw him accidentally eat something covered in rat poison and have only a mild case of nausea in response,” she muttered with a glare at her significant other. “Nearly gave me a heart attack, you did.” He shrugged before raising an eyebrow at her.

“While we’re on the subject of causing each other concern, did you have to flirt with the man right in front of me?”

“What, are you jealous?”

“Tiny bit,” the Doctor retorted irritably as his ears reddened. Rose smiled, leaning in against him as she flashed an access card under his nose.

“What, you didn’t want me to grab his key card while he was distracted?”

“Naughty naughty, Rose Tyler,” the Doctor murmured approvingly as he pecked her on the lips and then tugged her toward the door he’d spotted earlier.

“You people are nuts,” Grace sighed as Rose let the card go through the scanner. There was a beep, a green light, and the audible click of the lock disengaging. “Effective, but nuts.” 

They slipped into the restricted hall and went up a short flight of stairs onto the mezzanine, crouching low to avoid being spotted as they approached the clock. The Doctor opened a small panel on the side and pulled out a chip, holding it up for inspection before pocketing it with a grin. He felt the timelines shift as the future changed slightly; without the chip the clock wouldn’t operate, San Francisco would not become the Mean Time, Professor Wagg wouldn’t be world famous. Nothing too serious really, just minor changes in the grand tapestry of the temporal universe, but he tensed as Rose let out a slight gasp to look at her in surprise.

“You felt that?” He asked softly. She nodded, grimacing in confusion rather than discomfort. “...Right... you and I need to have a chat before you leave again.”

“Ya think?” She shot back sarcastically.

“Felt what?” Grace asked, confused. Rose stiffened, head tilting slightly. 

“We need to get out of here,” she muttered, ignoring the question. “Someone’s coming.” 

“Right, back to the hall,” the Doctor murmured, shooting a worried look at his girlfriend. They narrowly avoided an event coordinator walking past toward the clock as they slipped into the hall. Grace let out a soft squeak and backed behind the Doctor and Rose as they came up in front of a row of security guards covered in a filmy white goop. 

“The Master?” She whispered, disgusted. 

“You’re lucky he only got your wrist,” the Doctor muttered. Rose, who had been studying the guards, whipped her head around to stare at him. “What?” 

“You do realize the Master is possessing a dead body, right?” She asked. He nodded. “Have you never seen a horror movie? Ghost movie? Ectoplasm? Ringing any bells?”

“They’re pealing for me,” Grace muttered as she began frantically scrubbing at her wrist. Rose sighed and scanned the hall for a bathroom, nodding to one and pointing. Grace made a beeline for it. “I’ll be right back.” 

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” the Doctor protested weakly as they waited for Grace to reappear. Rose crossed her arms and shook her head slightly. 

“Doctor,” she chided. “If he can possess a dead body and mess with these guards with that... stuff... why couldn’t he possess Grace or at the very least mind control her since she has that stuff on her too?” Dawning comprehension came over his face and she nodded, smiling. “Now you get it.”

“Apparently I need to add some horror movies to my watchlist,” he sighed. Grace came back looking much more relieved, her wrist red from intense scrubbing, but clean. “Right then. The sooner we get out of here the better.”

“I saw a sign for a stairwell earlier,” Rose suggested. “It leads right outside.”

“Excellent. Let’s go.”

“Feeling better?” Rose asked Grace quietly as they followed after the Doctor. She nodded, her smile tight but genuine. “Great.” 

~§§~

Leaving the Institute and getting back to the TARDIS was strangely easy. While they had spotted the Master the Master hadn’t spotted them, and this time Grace sat on the back of Rose’s motorcycle. It was a much smoother ride, for starters. They parked the bikes nearby the gorgeous blue box and the Doctor smiled as he approached the door, frowning suddenly as he banged his forehead on the paneling. 

“Key,” he muttered. 

“Gotcha,” Rose said as she pulled the chain from around her neck and slotted the key into the lock. It wasn’t the correct key, not really, but the TARDIS knew who she was and changed the lock to accommodate. She pushed the doors open, smiled as she swept her arm toward the entry, and then jumped out of the way as a police motorcycle went streaking past into the box. The sound of its sirens faded out as the man got farther in, and the Doctor and Rose exchanged a mischievous glance as the sound faded in. A moment later the motorcycle was off down the street, the man screaming bloody murder about aliens. 

“Bigger on the inside,” Rose said at the exact same moment the Doctor said “Dimensionally Transcendental.” 

“I’ve lost the capacity to be surprised anymore,” Grace sighed tiredly. “Come on, show me your spaceship.”

“She’s called the TARDIS,” Rose said proudly as the Doctor scurried over to the console and began working on his plan. “Time And Relative Dimensions In Space.” 

“Looks kinda... Gothic,” Grace commented, frowning at the interior. “Low-tech?”

“Grace, this is a Type 30 TARDIS Mark III,” The Doctor scoffed. “Everything about the equipment in this room is far beyond human understanding.”

“Oh, but be honest Doctor,” an oily voice said by the door. The Master and a kid named Chang Lee walked through. “Even by our people’s standards this ship is archaic. It was a museum piece long before we were loomed.” 

“Master,” the Doctor said coolly before he ignored the man and went back to his task. A rumbling sounded throughout the ship as the lights dimmed and came back on when he snapped two wires together, and he leaned triumphantly against the console as the Master scowled. “I’ve just closed the Eye of Harmony, prevented the Y2K-Apocalypse, and fixed a broken circuit in my ship all at the same time. What did you do this evening? Possess a few security guards?” 

“The destruction of reality was just a bonus,” The Master growled dismissively. “I was only ever after your remaining regenerations.”

“And you worked for this guy because...?” Rose asked the teenager, crossing her arms and giving her back Jackie Tyler impression. The kid flinched. 

“I thought it was a Highlander thing,” he muttered. “How was I supposed to know he wanted the end of the world?”

“See, this is why we ask questions,” Rose sighed. 

“Who are you, exactly?” The Master asked, turning his attention on the blonde in front of him. “I didn’t see you in my vision earlier. Are you the current companion?”

“Unfortunately no,” the Doctor retorted, sighing dramatically. Rose rolled her eyes but balanced her stance as she eyed the Master warily. 

“No one of concern,” she answered. The smile she got in return was chilling.

“Oh, I somehow highly doubt that.” He turned the smile on Grace, who flinched. “Now, Dr. Holloway, I must say I’m disappointed you washed my gift away.”

“I’d rather not be possessed this evening or any evening, thanks,” Grace snapped. She moved to stand beside Lee, who was looking sick to his stomach as he seemed to realize what was going on. The Doctor and the Master slowly began circling the Console. 

“Let’s see if I can make a lucky guess,” the Master mused. “You wear early 21st century apparel and hold yourself like a soldier. U.N.I.T., maybe? Or another fringe group like it.” He sniffed the air and his reptilian eyes widened. “Oh, and you’re not entirely human are you? You smell... a tiny bit Gallifreyan. You’re an interesting little hybrid, aren’t you?” 

The Doctor growled deep in his chest and the Master let out a soft cackle. 

“Ah, and the dear Doctor seems to be overly-fond of you. What did you do, Doctor? Got tired of feeling alone so you made yourself a little... dance partner?” 

Two seconds later the Master was on the floor, and Rose was shaking out her fist. 

“Don’t ever talk about him like that ever again,” she hissed. The Master’s body arched backward suddenly and a semi-transparent snake-like worm made of that same goop the guards had been covered in shot out of the dead man’s mouth. It reared up and hissed and everyone jumped backward. 

“Please tell me you can’t turn into something like that,” Grace groaned, burying her face in the back of the Doctor’s frock coat. 

“He used a Deathworm Morphant to survive his execution,” the Doctor murmured, looking almost grotesquely fascinated. “They’re quite rare. How did you manage to come by one, I wonder?” He asked, bending down to get a better look. 

“Stole it, probably,” Rose suggested with a frown as she eyed up the creature currently oozing on the TARDIS’ hardwood floor. “Yuck.”

“Quite right,” the Doctor said, amused as he glanced at his significant other. “He’s used all his Regenerations and now wants mine. ‘Yuck’ indeed.” 

“He’s literally the scum on the bottom of my shoe,” Lee muttered, pulling a face as he lifted a sneaker up out of a glop of the goo. “How are we going to stop him now??”

“Broom pan, large Tupperware, and some super glue,” Rose said matter-of-factly. The Doctor snorted as the two humans turned to look at her incredulously.

“You heard the lady,” he said with a smile, crossing over to a panel on the console. A small beam of blue energy shot down out of the ceiling and the Deathworm!Master shrieked and writhed in the light. “Force field. Leaves us plenty of time to get the necessary equipment.” 

“I thought she was joking,” Grace muttered as she went to help get the essentials.

“Me too,” Lee murmured. 

~§§~

The Master had been moved to the room his remains had been placed in prior to the ensuing catastrophe looking decidedly cramped in his makeshift prison (the Tupperware lid had been superglued to the container and then, for good measure, an entire roll of duct tape had sealed the edges) and Grace and Lee had been dropped off just in time (at Rose’s suggestion) for the hospital New Years’ party. The pair had been discussing the nursing program at the local university now that Lee had money; Grace had mentioned that Lee would be good at it. He was empathetic and happened to be a good kid who’d drawn the short stick in the lot. It had given the Doctor an opportunity to return the pilfered costume as well. 

Currently, Rose was sitting up on the roof of the hospital looking out over the city of San Francisco deep in thought. She smiled at the deliberately loud step of a certain Time Lord and turned to see him. He stopped a few feet away from her and turned in a circle. 

“How do I look?” He asked. Rose eyed the navy velvet frock coat, silver embroidered waistcoat, silver silk cravat, tight dark grey breeches, and shiny new knee-high leather hunting boots with an appreciative hum. Everything was period-correct, she knew, and also came from the period in question. He’d trimmed his hair just enough so that it didn’t default into an automatic mess but still fell to his shoulders, and his blue eyes sparkled as she took her time.

“You’ll do,” she finally said with a tongue-touched grin. He rolled his eyes but couldn’t suppress a smile. 

“Cheek.” his smile faltered as he inhaled slightly and hooked his thumbs into the pockets of his waistcoat. “Can I ask you something?”

“Free country,” Rose replied as she gestured to the American flag hanging off of the pole next to the stairwell door in sarcastic emphasis. 

“The Master... made a comment about your physiology...”

“That’s not what happened Doctor,” Rose said sharply. “You didn’t do anything. It was an accident and neither of us could have predicted what happened, okay? Don’t do that to yourself.” He ducked his head and nodded, eyes soft as they found hers.

“I just can’t help but wonder sometimes, the type of person I’ll become,” he sighed. “I’ve changed so much since I left Gallifrey; every once in a while I’ll catch myself seeing what I do now with the eyes and perspective of a past life and hardly recognize myself.”

“I’m different from how I was when we first met... from my perspective,” Rose offered with a shrug. “Changing isn’t always a bad thing. It gives you room to grow as you get older.”

“Speaking of change...”

“I was hoping you’d forgotten about that,” Rose muttered, nose wrinkling as she thought about the tests he would probably want to do. The Doctor smiled at that and tapped her on the nose. 

“Time for that later,” he soothed as he reached inside a small picnic basket and pulled out two champagne flutes and a small assortment of dessert fixings most probably pilfered from the party downstairs. He then pulled an entire blanket out of one of his too-small pockets with a flourish and laid it on the tarmack of the helicopter pad. “But first, I believe it’s Mew Years’ Eve.”

“That it is,” Rose murmured with a smile as she joined him on the blanket and accepted one of the champagne flutes.

 

THESE ARE THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES

The ninth time he saw her he was attempting to get rid of some Autons in a department store. He hadn’t bothered looking to see who he was trying to save, just that he knew he had to, but the moment his fingers laced with hers he knew. 

“Run,” he managed to choke out, pulling her away from impending death. 

“Who’re you then!?” Rose asked, near hysterics. And his hearts shattered. 

Despite his best intentions he hadn’t been able to make himself forget her. In fact, there were some days during the Time War where the only thing that kept him sane, much less alive, was that he knew that, if he could just hang on until it was over, she was waiting for him on the other side. She was his saving grace, his only light in the dark, and she had no idea who he was

They were in the lift, and he’d tossed the arm over his shoulder, and then they were running and he had gotten her outside. 

“I’m the Doctor, by the way,” he said too brightly, too forcibly. “What’s your name?” He needed a reason to be able to call her by her name. He couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t. 

“Rose,” she murmured, now looking warily curious. And oh, oh so young. Biologically, she was only a year or so younger than the last time he had seen her. But mentally, that was a different manner. And this girl was so young compared to the woman he had fallen in love with. 

“Nice to meet ya, Rose! Run for your life!” 

Run for our life. For the one we’ll build together. 

And he made it out alive, singed and scorched every which way possible, but alive. It had been a simple matter to look up where Rose lived. 48 Bucknall House, the Powell Estates, Peckham, London, England. He parked nearby sometime early the next relative morning and stared at his surroundings, intrigued. The way Rose carried herself... he’d have never thought that she’d grown up on a council estate. But she had, and to him any place that had been the foreground for Rose’s childhood might as well have been Buckingham Palace.

It wasn’t until the Doctor got to the door of the flat that he realized he had no actual reason for being there. Not wanting to come off as stalkerish (nice one Doctor, perfect way to get a girl to fall for you, follow her home) he cast about for any excuse he could and then registered some animated plastic. On his Sonic. In her flat. 

He needed a better scan, so he opened the cat flap back up. And the rest was history.

 

He chafed when she asked him what planet he was from, when she got upset because the TARDIS had gotten into her head telepathically. When she didn’t quite trust him in that mortuary. She wasn’t supposed to do that. She was supposed to already know

He didn’t understand what form of cosmic karma he’d gotten on the bad side of that this him, this broken version of him that now more than ever needed understanding, had to be the one to break her in as a companion. Suffer through pretty boys flirting with her (and her flirting back). Have to tell her his life story when all he wanted to do was take a blowtorch to his memories and sear them away. 

It wasn’t until after he met that Dalek, in Utah, that he finally got it. She was there to help him heal, so that he could be the man he had used to be for her one day. 

 

Rose wasn’t anything like the Doctor expected she’d be. She was compassionate, empathetic to the point of verging on empathic, snarky, and witty. She was also quick to anger, had a moral compass possibly even more north-pointing than his despite their views lining up almost into overlap, and was smart. She could talk circles around him, and not even be aware she was doing it. One of the most humble people he’d ever met save for when she was teasing him (though he quickly learned this was because she’d had her self-esteem ripped to shreds by an ex named Jimmy Stone), and oh so entirely, heartsbreakingly, human

If it were possible, he fell a little bit more in love with her every day. 

And then came Captain Jack Harkness, flirt extraordinaire and overall challenge to his goals. To most probably both the Doctor’s and Jack’s surprise she wasn’t interested in the ex-Time Agent unless it was as a platonic friendship. Despite her flirting with him there was a teasing, innocent quality about it that wasn’t able to be mistaken for anything more than friendship.

When Rose called Mickey to bring her passport to Cardiff, the Doctor couldn’t help but turn the sound up on the external scanner and listen in. His hearts clenched when Mickey suggested they get a hotel, and abruptly he turned it off to slump unhappily against the console.

“If it bothers you that much, you should just ask her out,” Jack suggested. The Doctor huffed.

“Not that simple.”

“Looks simple to me.”

“Have you ever heard of a causal loop?” 

And that was how Jack ended up getting all the juicy gossip on the Doctor’s complicated relationship with - quite literally in every sense of the title - the love of his lives. 

When the Heart of the TARDIS opened he was suddenly reminded of the changes Rose’s body had been subjected to. It was the only thing that made sense, really, so as soon as Margaret the Slitheen was no longer an issue he carted his jeopardy-friendly companion to the infirmary and scanned her to kingdom come. Nothing. So, if she hadn’t been exposed to the TARDIS’ Heart to change, what had... 

He shook that train of thought off as Rose inhaled a shaky breath beside him.

“I broke up with Mickey,” she whispered, grasping her elbows in her hands and hugging her arms to her chest. “At least, I think I did. I didn’t actually... but when I went back to look for him he wasn’t there...” she broke down into a sob and he let her collapse against his chest, hearts breaking and dancing at the exact same moment. “I just left him there, Doctor. Didn’t even cross my mind to stay with him just took off for the TARDIS. What does that make me?”

“That makes you... that makes you someone who cares enough about the entire world to make sure it stays safe, even if that means sacrificing your relationship to do it,” he murmured, trying to sound encouraging and positive while she was in the midst of a mental breakdown even though he wanted to start tap-dancing. 

Ooh, maybe not. River-dancing, now that would be better. 

Jack doesn’t understand the sentence ‘leave things well alone.’ He started by simply vanishing on the planets they visited and, when this did not achieve the desired results, he moved on to strategic positioning. This meant that he was take up an entire row of seats on a tour bus by stretching out so that the only option they had was to sit together in the two seats left by the window (which coincidentally usually happened to be showing a brilliant sunrise, sunset, or clear night sky). He would use vernacular that clearly said he expected them to go on a date in his absence and would go to the trouble of making elaborate dinners only to cite exhaustion and retreat to his room. 

In short, the Doctor was getting very, very close to breaking his ‘no killing of innocents’ rule. Not that Jack could be considered innocent in the situation. No, he was close to breaking his ‘don’t strangle the Companions’ rule. Yes, that was the one. 

To his utter delight, however, the only thing he considered a plus out of the rather annoying situation was that Rose seemed embarrassed rather than annoyed. And not in the ‘Please for the love of God stop putting two people who should be friends together’ and more in the ‘shut up I told you the name of my crush in private’ way. That was good. That was... 

Maybe that was just a bit of his ego or vanity talking, but he wanted to be able to claim her as his girlfriend in public again. And, preferably, maybe move past that someday. 

In the back of the Doctor’s mind he had to constantly remind himself that he and Rose had never become more than friends prior to her disappearance. While this was something he would rather skip over, the tenuous twining of their timelines around one another made it all but impossible to alter anything without hanging themselves with the paths their lives were supposed to take. And so he silently suffered, watching other people throw themselves at her, and was only vaguely placated by the fact that as time went on she either outright refused their advancements or looked almost longingly at him when she thought he wasn’t looking. 

Then came Kyoto, Japan, in the fourteenth - or was it fifteenth? - century. They had landed on the edge of the sea and it was one of the most beautiful things they’d ever seen. Rose had taken off her shoes and walked along the beach, the surf washing against her ankles, and the sight of that reminded the Doctor so strongly of their encounter in his second incarnation that it took everything in his power not to snog her into the water right then and there. 

Then came the Daleks, and he knew, somehow he just knew, that this was when it happened. He was going to lose Rose, and she was going to change. 

In the end it was easy to make the decision to send her home in the TARDIS. He’d been so strong up until that moment, and then he’d cracked under the pressure at the last second. But the pain. He didn’t think he’d survive losing her. 

He was all right with dying. It was better than living with broken hearts. And then.

And then, wonder of all wonders, she came back. Came back as Bad Wolf in the form of an avenging, over-protective Time goddess that she’d become by merging with the Heart of the TARDIS. Oh. So that was how she’d changed. Again, it was easy to die. It was him or her, and he had some left to spare. But he wasn’t going to leave without stealing her first kiss from him. His next self could woo and court her all he wished; their first kiss from her perspective would be his. 

He just wished it had occurred to him before he was seconds away from exploding and half-out of his mind with pain that he hadn’t explained Regeneration to her. 

His new body was rail-thin, about an inch taller than his previous form, and his accent was Estuary. It was smooth and light and sounded a tiny bit like Rose. Everything about this body, it seemed, was geared toward catching and maintaining Rose’s interest. Just a tiny bit flirty, energetic and charismatic and fun. It was fun to run around in this body. Not at all broody like his last one had been, just a dash of charm from his eighth self that he remembered her practically swooning over, the boyish enthusiasm of his fifth self and the sassy one-liners of his sixth self. 

Everything he remembered thinking she had liked from his past bodies - all of them - got cherry-picked and shoved into his newest form, the only thought on his mind as he’d regenerated being someone she liked, which meant that the dark broody thing was lurking underneath the surface somewhere waiting to find injustice to draw it out. It was all for her. He had been born out of his love, his sacrifice, for her. 

And this New New Doctor couldn’t bring himself to run any scans, to worry her or make Jackie upset. He knew already, that she was changing. He knew he’d be able to tell by the subtle shift in her hormones and pheromones over the next few... however long he had before he lost her. Make no mistake, he was well aware he hadn’t avoided that. The very act he had taken to avoid it had set them firmly on that path. 

He saved the Earth from the Sycorax and deposed the Prime Minister all in less than ten minutes. New record, really, but he was never one to count such things to begin with because that would be focusing on the negative, the bad, and fixating on that when there was so much of the universe left to explore. 

The first few days on the TARDIS with Rose are awful. The Doctor had never liked having to House-train new companions to his odd life-saving habit of changing his entire person, but with Rose it feels different. He doesn’t want to tolerate it. He can’t. She was supposed to know about Regeneration. To be so completely at ease with it that he could forget he’d never actually told her, as his Ninth self had done. 

This isn’t that. This is constant questioning day and night. This is Rose measuring each word before it leaves her mouth because she doesn’t know how to gauge his new reactions yet. This is catching her staring at him like he’s a perfect stranger or, worse, calling for her in a crowd and she can’t find him for a few moments because she was still habitually looking for blue eyes and leather. This is pain. And it hurts so much he wants to curl up under the floor grating and rot. 

In a fit of desperation, the Doctor looked through the universe for something to remind her that he and his past self are one and the same. He settled on New Earth, and they laid out on the coat Janis Joplin had given him (if ‘given’ implied ‘leant it out without being asked beforehand and should never expect to see it ever again’) and Rose almost waxed poetic about the Apple grass. Things had sort of settled down between them, finally, and he was hoping they could get better.

And then Cassandra had just had to go and kiss him. His body had reacted in the way it was accustomed to when faced with an unexpected Rose Tyler snog, his entire focus centering on what she was doing and trying to remember where to anchor his hands in an appropriate fashion. His mouth had opened anticipating her tongue, and before long he was enjoying the sensation of said tongue charting the ridges and edges of his teeth. It had all but crushed him when he’d discovered Rose had been possessed by Cassandra, and he’d wanted to die of embarrassment when Rose had come to him later saying that she remembered very little from the whole encounter but that that kiss was definitely something she’d retained. 

A lupine wavelength haemovariform in Scotland could sense the Wolf in her. She’d asked, he’d deflected. He just was not ready to tell her what she was changing into in case she blamed him. But they were adjusting, they were still happy. It was all good. Things were progressing nicely even if he felt they were moving a bit slow. 

Sarah Jane had changed things. 

It wasn’t that he had been intentionally keeping things from her. No. He’d gladly tell Rose anything her heart desired, even if it were his name, and if that were the case he would gladly sear it into her soul and make her one with him in the most intimate and complete, ‘till death do you part’ way. He’d also never had a problem where his companions fought over who he liked better. Most of the time they just made fun of him and got along splendidly through the age-old cooperation technique called ‘commiseration.’ 

Apparently, Sarah had had a slight crush on him he’d been entirely oblivious to. And he’d left her alone. In Aberdeen, not Croydon, with nothing but a robot dog that stopped working eventually for company. He deserved all she could throw at him over that one, but instead she took cheap shots at Rose. Rose, who had immediately bristled at Sarah’s tone and gave as good as she got. 

The Doctor had been prepared for Sarah to be upset with him, but he didn’t understand why Rose was too. She’d asked if he was going to dump her somewhere someday and never come back, and he’d promised. He had. 

“No, not to you.” 

And then he’d completely messed it up. Barely stopped himself from saying the ‘L’ word and revealing how much he cared when she only seemed to be just realizing that herself. Promised she could spend the rest of her life with him, hating the lie that they wouldn’t spend the rest of his together when he knew better. 

Mickey had asked to come on board and the Doctor, never one to turn down a curious companion when he saw one, had agreed, only realizing at Rose’s less than enthusiastic agreement that he’d failed some sort of test without even realizing it. 

 

He finally figured out what Rose had meant by ‘France,’ and the insecurity on her face whenever Reinette entered a room was enough to slowly kill him. Reinette had then violated his mind, ruthlessly stepping into his sacred space (the space he reserved only for himself and for Rose if she wanted to accept what little he had to offer) and rummaging carelessly through his memories with the impersonal touch that typified her economic class in that particular era of French social culture. The resulting migraine and sense of vulnerability had made him want to fix things as quickly as possible so that they could leave and never come back. In doing so he’d somehow proven to Rose that she would always come second to someone else, even complete strangers.

“Why her?” She’d asked. He’d misunderstood the question and sat outside her bedroom door that night crying over how things could have gone so wrong. He hated France, he hated that particular royal court and its mistresses especially. 

Because Rose no longer smiled as brightly when she looked at him. There was a small moment of hesitation before she took his hand in hers, and she never initiated it as if it were her right like he’d gotten used to anymore. She didn’t say half the things she clearly thought and Mickey provided the perfect reason to not read out loud on the jumpseat while he did TARDIS repairs anymore. The situation was hopeless, in his opinion, and nothing felt right.

The Doctor somehow made it worse when they got to Pete’s World. His mind had registered ‘parallel universe’ and he’d panicked, afraid that now was when he would lose Rose. No, too soon. Far too soon. He didn’t want to leave with her mad at him. He didn’t think he could survive that. So he’d controlled her every step of the way and she’d rebelled, chafed, at every single attempt with a ferocity that left him stunned. He could see the Wolf in her now, in the way her eyes would faintly flash gold when she got truly angry. The way her scent had begun to change, how she kept up with him more easily on their adventures both physically and mentally, how she had whittled herself down from needing 8-9 hours of sleep each night to be well-rested to 7-8. 

They’d lost Mickey instead, and Rose had cried. He couldn’t bear to see her cry, but when he tried to comfort her she flinched away. That was what had truly broken him. She wanted to be held, but not by him. The Doctor took her to see Jackie. They ended up staying an entire week, moving the TARDIS from the living room into Rose’s old bedroom because she slept inside anyway, unable to cope without the soothing hum of the living ship anymore though she didn’t know why. The Doctor did. Her fledgling telepathic abilities, jumpstarted by Cassandra, needed the TARDIS’ guiding presence during the first few months to develop properly. The Doctor kipped on the sofa the entire week to make a point, though he sincerely doubted based on the reception he got that either one of the two Tyler women understood what he was trying to say. 

I’m available if you need me, he was saying. I’m easy to find. Please seek me out.

She never did. And again he cursed France. 

When she lost her face he was only all-too well reminded that he would lose her permanently someday, but the tightening of the timelines around them that he could feel at the edges of his senses were making that ‘someday’ turn into a ‘soon’ that he wanted to shout at. Rose was smiling and teasing him the entire time they’d been in the 1950s, but the Doctor could tell it was a sort of resigned ‘we’ll only ever be good friends’ way. While he was touched that she felt their friendship was worth more than a crush, he wanted to scream at not being able to tell her that she was wrong. That he wanted more but couldn’t ask because the timelines were already poised to shatter if he slipped up even once. 

That impossible planet nearly pushed him over the edge psychologically and actually managed it physiologically. 

If I destroy the prison, your body is destroyed. Your mind with it. But then you’re clever enough to use this whole systen against me. If I destroy this planet I destroy the gravity field. The rocket. The rocket loses protection, falls into the black hole. I’ll have to sacrifice Rose.” the very thought was enough to send him for the hills, but he didn’t have much choice right now. He let out a soft growl of frustration and then raised an eyebrow, putting on the best show he could, which was actually easy because he’d never been as convicted in something as what he was about to say. 

“Except that implies—in this big grand scheme of Gods and Devils—that she’s just a victim. But I’ve seen a lot of this Universe. I’ve seen fake gods and bad gods and demigods and would-be gods. And out of all that, out of that whole pantheon, if I believe in one thing—just one thing—I believe in her.”

I believe in her. Only her. If there’s nothing left, that is what I will die whispering on my lips. 

Wonder of all wonders, he’d lived. The Doctor wasn’t sure, exactly, how that had happened, but it had. Rose, as usual, had saved his life without realizing she’d needed to in the first place, which honestly was just so them it was almost laughable. They’d hugged upon reunion, their faces closer than they’d ever been since the last time he’d seen her future self, and he had been so tempted. Oh, so tempted. 

In fact, his mouth was already set on collision with hers when he’d remembered himself and swiftly redirected the momentum to an almost desperate peck in her hairline, hugging her close. 

“Thought I’d lost you,” he murmured, fighting back tears. 

“Ditto,” Rose gasped, sounding emotional herself. 

They both went to bed that night, exhausted from the entire escapade, and after only a few scant hours the Doctor awoke to the TARDIS amplifying the sound of Rose screaming. Without a second thought he was up on his feet in nothing more than his jimjams running for her room, busting the door open and leaping onto the free side of her bed so that he could pull her into his lap and hold hoer close. 

Eventually, her sobs quieter down until wracking heaves they were eliciting throughout her body had turned into soft, shivering shudders. 

“Let me guess,” he murmured. “The Beast?”

“Mmhmm.” 

They held each other the rest of the night, too scared to actually sleep, and just took comfort from one another. When they saved Elton from the Abzorbaloff and partially managed to resurrect his dead crush into an animated paving stone they’d gone for chips afterward to try and process the weird things they’d just seen.

“Just proves it,” Rose announced, spearing one of her chips on a fork and nibbling on the end as she stared out the window.

“Proves what?” The Doctor asked, in the process of shoving several into his mouth at the same time. Rose glanced over at him and smiled, rolling her eyes. He just raised an eyebrow and waited for her to continue.

“That there’s someone for everyone.” Her voice was suddenly vulnerable and he choked on his chips, swallowing several times before they went down.

“Yeah,” he breathed, and the slightly hooded look of surprise he got in return was one of the most beautiful things ever. 

It turned out that, while Krop Tor had been traumatic for the both of them, it provided some much-needed reflection on both their parts. Instead of worrying over the timelines the Doctor was more inclined to let things progress as they were supposed to, finally realizing that things would happen in due course and there wasn’t much he could do about it. As for Rose, she was much more emotionally honest and open about her feelings toward him. He could see it in the unmasked way she looked at him with adoration, or that he’d hung the stars for her (a look, he was sure, was almost constantly on his face whenever he looked at her). 

The 2012 Olympics had him in a constant state of worry. Not because there was anything overly-dangerous they were facing compared to what they usually got involved in, but because Rose was starting to notice that she was changing. She’d responded in the same manner to the displacement energy in the air, the fine hairs on her arms prickling just as his did. She’d been able to discern different tastes and compounds in the scent it left behind as well even if she wasn’t aware that was what she was doing, and in general her mind was working far more quickly to problem-solve than she was used to, enough that she had made a small comment on it. 

But the real cause for alarm had been a moment where he’d sensed the crimp, the tangle, in the timelines. A Storm was coming. And Rose, Rose had been able to sense it too even if her abilities weren’t nearly as fine-tuned as his were yet. 

 

So they ran. He took her to asteroids, planets, the edges of nebulae and meteor showers. They chased comets and did far more dangerous things like visit her mum, and through it all the Doctor felt a mounting sense of desperation. He had an urgent sense of need to hold on tight to what he had and never let go, but even he could recognize the futility in trying to contend with fixed points in the tapestry of existence. 

How Long Are You Going To Stay With Me?

Forever.

Then came Torchwood, and the battle at Canary Wharf. Then came Daleks and Cybermen, and Pete’s World opened to their own once more. And he lost her to the parallel universe, and he thanked his own universe that Donna was there to pull him out of his thoughts to keep him from drowning. 

He set his scans for any cracks, any tears, in the fabric of reality and waited. He knew she was looking to find her way her way home.

 

NINE

The tenth time he saw her he was alone in his TARDIS avoiding Jackie Tyler as Rose stayed the night for a visit. He knew instantly that it was her, the future version, because she had that navy blue leather jacket on and her hair was shorter. She was a year older in appearance than the version he was currently traveling with though he knew better, and it suddenly took his breath away how precious she was after everything that had happened to him. He was alone, the last of his kind, and had been resigned to the rest of his eternity being spent alone in the sense that no one would just always be there permanently. 

“Rose,” he whispered, throat suddenly closed with emotion. She burst into tears and threw herself at him and the Doctor met her in the middle. They collapsed onto the jumpseat and she immediately snuggled between the interior lining of his jacket and his jumper, half in his lap as she sought as much physical contact as was possible in a desperate cuddle, and he couldn’t stop purring as her Porto-Gallifreyan heat seeped into him. 

“Still looking, then,” he mumbled. Rose just nodded.

“You didn’t forget,” she sobbed. 

“Nope. You were the only thing that got me through the Time War, Rose, something to fight for, to remind me it had an end, and I couldn’t... I couldn’t bring myself to...”

“Less talking,” she demanded, planting her mouth against his. He managed to convey something that sounded vaguely like fervent agreement and only drew away when his bypass had been well-tapped into. He then gaped at her, realizing she wasn’t out of breath either. 

“You’ve developed a bypass,” he muttered, stunned. Rose just nodded and snuggled against him again, smiling blissfully as she heard his hearts thundering against his rib cage. “No, Rose, you don’t understand, when I told you that was a possibility it shouldn’t have taken less than a couple of years. How long since you last saw-“

“When I got back from San Francisco the Cannon developed a fault,” she explained. The Doctor swallowed. “It’s been a little while. Let’s just say I didn’t pass my physical until they’d figured out what was going on with me and leave it at that.”

“What did your mum say?” He asked. Rose rolled her eyes. 

“What did you think she said?” She grumbled. He laughed, despite himself. She growled at him as she was displaced and settled back against his side with grim purpose. “Seriously though. She asked me if I was only doing this because of you. Practically accused me of it.” A sudden, sickening thought occurred to him and he eased out of the snuggle.

“And did you?” Her gaze was clear and resolved.

“I said ‘of course I was.’”

“Rose...”

“I also told her that it was just as much for me as it was for you.” His tone softened as he repeated her name, entire frame sagging with a sort of tired exhaustion one assorts with coming home.

“...Rose...” 

“Can we just... can we watch a movie together? Just curl up together in the media room and forget the rest of the world exists for a couple of hours, like we used to?” The Doctor kissed the top of her head.

“Of course, Love.” 

For the time that she was there they just... cuddled. She leaned against his chest the way she’d always dreamt of doing and he held her the way he’d been aching to ever since they’d met, kissing her gently on the head like he wished he could, allowing himself to express his love for her in the way he hadn’t but had desperately wanted to. 

He started when she brushed her temple against his, the spark of telepathic contact leaving him breathless, and when she did it again he recognized the clear invitation for what it was and simply lost himself in the embrace of her mind as her mental warmth and comfort enveloped him. 

 

TEN

The eleventh time he saw her he was at a sort of gala function with Martha. He was in his tuxedo of doom (which Martha said made him look like James Bond) and things had just gone wrong with Professor Lazarus’ Machine. She was wearing a flirty navy blue dress that ended just above the knee and sent his blood pressure into the stratosphere, and for a few seconds he forgot what he was doing until alarms started blaring all over the place. He fixed the machine and out popped Lazarus looking decades younger; Martha, thankfully, was on top of everything because he was useless right then. 

Rose was on top of everything too it seemed, because she had gone right up to Lazarus and flashed the psychic paper that had been in her pocket when she’d fallen at the man claiming to be from a newspaper. He noted with amusement that she was using the alias ‘Marion Prentice’ again, and while she was doing that he and Martha examined a sample of saliva in a nearby lab. 

~§§~

“I can’t see him,” Martha muttered, eyes scanning the crowd. 

“Can’t be far,” the Doctor murmured, gaze shifting as he searched for someone else. With a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach he realized Rose was nowhere to be seen. “Martha, remember how I told you when we first started traveling that I had a girlfriend?”

“Yeah, Rose,” Martha sighed, scowling slightly. 

“Well, that journalist was her under a pseudonym. I’m guessing she got him alone to try and figure out what his scheme was.”

“Of course she had to be blonde,” the med student snapped. The Doctor stopped walking abruptly, a growl catching in his throat. She took a step back, startled.

“Martha Jones, if you want to keep traveling with me once I and the love of my lives get properly acquainted once again, we need to get one thing perfectly straight,” he said in a deadly serious tone. 

“...What?” 

“I told you I was involved with someone before you’d properly signed on, you knew what you were getting into, and I even told you she would come back someday. If you somehow got it into your head that either of us could be anything more than friends you have no one to blame but yourself. Am I clear?” Martha nodded mutely, looking simultaneously annoyed, ashamed, and apologetic all at the same time. “Good. Now where’s Lazarus got off to?”

“You all right, Marth?” Leo called as the walked past. He shot a speculative look at his sister and then at the Doctor, who had stopped but was pacing impatiently nearby. “Not having a spat with your bloke, are ya?”

“He’s not my bloke, Leo,” Martha snapped, the assumption so soon after being turned down and chastised for fantasizing such a thing hurtful. “Just a friend. Have you seen Lazarus anywhere? The Doctor’s... reporter girlfriend was trying to figure out what his angle was, but we haven’t seen either of them in a little while and we’re honestly a bit worried.”

“That reporter suggested they talk more privately in his office,” Leo replied promptly, eyes wide. At that moment, Martha’s mother sauntered over looking very much like a viper eyeing up her next meal as she sought to get answers out of her daughter and her daughter’s apparent suitor.

“Ah, Doctor-“ she was completely ignored.

“Where’s his office?” The Doctor asked urgently. Leo stared at him, startled. 

“Upstairs, I think. Easy, mate. I’m sure your girlfriend’s just fine.”

“Leo, this is serious,” Martha snapped as the Doctor raced past the group and headed for the lifts. He accidentally knocked Francine’s champagne against her chest in the process.

“So he has a girlfriend then!?” The older woman commented snappily, crossly dabbing at her dress.

“He works at the hospital,” Martha groaned, thinking quickly as to why she’d bring him as a plus one. “Reporters aren’t allowed to bring guests and honestly, who was I going to use my Plus One on anyways? Just doing a favor for a friend. Now, if you don’t mind, I think he might be heading for trouble.”

“What sort of trouble?” Francine asked, catching Martha by the arm as she went to run for the lifts. The girl hesitated before deciding to impart some of the truth as her sister Tish came over to join the fracas.

“Neither of us are 100% sure, but we think something went wrong with Lazarus’ experiment,” Martha began slowly. “He’s acting kinda... off, and ah... the Doctor’s been researching things similar to what Lazarus pulled off, trying to get a master’s thesis done, and... look, I don’t know what’s going on exactly but if my friend’s right then we’re all in big trouble. I just need to find him.” With that, she pulled her arm free and ran after the Doctor.

She found him on the roof, Rose pressed close against his side as they faced a changed Lazarus, and barely had time to register what was going on before the Doctor was shoving her into the stairwell.

~§§~

“Hardly the time to cop a feel,” Rose snapped. The Doctor snorted at that as he wriggled about in the tight space of the machine. He’d sent Rose and Martha to get everyone outside while he distracted Lazarus, and Rose had come back to return his Sonic. Martha had elected to follow her family outdoors to look after her brother’s concussion.

“Nice legs,” he murmured distractedly as he slid as unprovocatively as possible down her body to get at the floor access. He then registered what he’d said and blushed profusely. “I mean, shoes. Nice shoes.”

“Riiiiight,” Rose said sarcastically. He glanced up briefly to see her flashing a tongue-touched grin. “Missed you.”

“Missed you too,” he hummed as he looked back down and focused on the wires. “So, why are you here?”

“Well, I landed in 2007 London a few days ago and heard all about this big party on the telly. The bloke said it would change what it meant to be human, knew that’d draw you in, and here I am. And before you ask I’ve sent a message to Pete’s World saying I got to my target destination so don’t bother bringing me back. I’m home.”

“Yeah?” The Doctor whispered, voice soft. A few moments later he purred as Rose ruffled his hair. Her voice was equally tender.

“Yeah. Mum, Dad, Tony, Jake, Mickey, they all came through after me. Stopped at Cousin Mo’s and she’s willing to put us up until we can find somewhere else. Pete had the foresight to convert all his money into gold, gems, stuff like that that he can convert back to cash here. Mickey’s outside, actually. Casing the joint because I couldn’t get him in.”

“What, Not Jake?”

“Jake broke his leg trying to prove he was ‘macho’ to this skater kid that’s one of Mo’s neighbors. Spitting mad about it, too.”

“I can imagine,” the Doctor chuckled. They both looked up as the white light turned blue. “Sounds like he’s switched the machine on.”

“...Yeah, I’ve already got my own version of immortality going right now, thanks...” 

“We’re gonna discuss that at length later, believe me,” he grumbled. “Nearly done!”

“I trust you,” she said simply, and let him work in tense but silent peace, for which he was immeasurably grateful. There was a resounding exterior ‘kaboom’ type noise and they waited a few seconds before pulling the door open and peeking outside to see Lazarus, now back in human form and completely naked, lying prone on the floor.

“That was a close one,” he commented, scratching at the back of his neck as he glanced at the machine. “Really shouldn’t take me that long to reverse the polarity. Must be out of pract-“ he didn’t get any further before Rose pulled him forcibly back into the now-useless machine and slammed the door closed, snogging him senseless. “...

 

Meanwhile, out in front of the building, a man tried approaching the Jones family. He was wearing a business suit and had a nasty look about him, so Mickey sent him packing almost immediately. Martha caught his eye and he introduced himself as a friend of the Doctor’s and Rose’s. Judging by the confused looks on the family’s face, he had a long story ahead of him. 

He got started, explaining everything that he could and letting Martha fill in her own bits and pieces, and suffice it to say by the end of it Francine wasn’t happy but she had the Doctor to thank for saving the lives of her children and ex-husband (they were A Positive Blood Type). She sympathized with the loss the Doctor and the Tylers had been put through at Canary Wharf seeing as her niece Adeola had worked there until her death, and of course she had a lot to be thankful for when it came to getting Martha home from the moon. 

“But is it safe?” She pressed. Mickey shook his head.

“Nah. But think about it. Rose’s dad died when he got hit by a car crossing the street. A mate I knew got shot in a bank robbery gone wrong. My own Gran tripped on the stairs and fell, broke her neck. Nothing in life is ever safe, Mrs. Jones. The Doctor does his best to keep the bad things from hurting innocent people, wherever and whenever he goes. If Martha went with him that means he saw something in her. He only takes the best, said so himself on more than one occasion.”

“What did he see?” Martha asked, genuinely curious. Mickey smiled at her. 

“That you’re good, you’re kind, and you’ll always do what you think is right just because,” he explained before turning to include the rest of the Jones family. “Gonna be honest, I hated the bloke at first. Thought he was full of himself, rude, too brainy by half. And you know what? That’s all true, that didn’t change. But I get it now. He blames himself for everything that goes wrong when he thought he could stop it, he cares too much. And he’ll always, always, try and keep his friends safe. In the end it’s our choice whether we go with him or not, and he never tries to convince us either way, but he does the best he can when and where he can. And really, I can’t ask any more of the bloke. Can you?”

“Nuh uh,” Leo laughed, eyes wide. Tish just shook her head, fascinated by his little speech. Francine was looking skeptical, which was to be expected, but to Martha and Mickey’s relief she wasn’t looking murderous, only thoughtful. 

 

“This may be a bit forward, seeing as we’ve only just met, but could I ask you out sometime?” Mickey asked as he and Martha trekked after the Doctor and Rose. They were headed to Southwark Cathedral to stop Lazarus once and for all and the couple had easily outpaced them. 

“I’d like that,” Martha replied with a smile.

~§§~

The Doctor slowly stepped through the doors of the cathedral, Sonic scanning for their quarry, and Rose’s hand clasped tightly in his free one. 

“Do you think he’s in here?” Martha asked softly. They all flinched a tiny bit when the sound echoed through the vaulted room. 

“Where would you go if you were looking for sanctuary?” The Doctor retorted just as quietly with the same enhanced effect. They were halfway down the row of pews when Rose stopped, nostrils flaring slightly as her gaze locked on a velvet-covered alter at the far end. “Rose?”

“I can smell him,” she whispered, nose wrinkling. “Smells weird.”

“Hang on, you can smell him??” Martha hissed incredulously. The Doctor frowned at his favorite once-human before sniffing the air. His eyes widened as he pocketed his Sonic. Of course Rose would be utilizing the full range of her new senses as she got acclimatized to them; he often muted his to keep things more of a surprise.

“She’s right,” he murmured. “He smells like...”

“Like dust,” Rose finished. “Dust and faded decay.”

“You two are so weird,” Mickey muttered. They ignored Martha’s sputtering and advanced toward the altar to find Lazarus clutching an EMT blanket about his otherwise-stark person and shivering violently. 

“I came her before,” he said quietly as they cautiously approached. “A lifetime ago. I thought I was going to die then. In fact, I was sure of it. I sat here, just a child, the sound of planes and bombs outside.”

“The Blitz,” The Doctor summarized flatly though not unsympathetically. Lazarus blinked slowly.

“You’ve read about it.”

“We were there,” Rose corrected softly. This elicited a small, rueful smile.

“You’re too young.” 

“So are you,” the Doctor retorted patiently. This got a soft, if pained, laugh. A cracking noise started and ran through Lazarus’ entire spine as he jerked backward with a grunt of pain. 

“In the morning the fires had died, but I was still alive,” he panted. “I swore I’d never face death like that again.” The Doctor began circling the man slowly, gaze fixed on the vaulted ceiling above them. “So... defenseless. I would arm myself, fight back. Defeat it.”

“That’s what you were trying to do today?” The Doctor asked as he came full circle and stopped next to Rose.

“That’s what I did today.”

“What about the other people who died?”

“That were nothing. I changed the course of history.” Darkness was suddenly face to face with the Oncoming Storm, but the rumble of thunder was drowned out by the heat and howling anger of the Wolf. 

“And they couldn’t have done!?” Rose exclaimed, fists clenching at her sides as her eyes flashed ever so faintly gold. “History’s not something you mess about with like The Game of Life, mate. I should know, I always got a mortgage and six kids playing that rubbish board game.”

“Facing death is part of being human,” The Doctor tempered, placing a hand on his girlfriend’s shoulder. “You can’t change that.” 

“Can’t I?” Lazarus asked softly, a curious and calculating look on his face as he studied Rose. “She’s something different, your girl. I can smell, Doctor, that you’re not even remotely human, but Miss Prentice... or is it Tyler, my dear? You were human once, I suspect.” His eyes went suddenly all pupil and the group of four backed away slightly as he leaned forward. “Before the Wolf.” He reared back again, spine cracking, with a yelp of pain.

“How can you tell that?” The Doctor snapped, upset. “How could you possibly tell that!?”

“Rose isn’t human?” Martha asked. Mickey leaned near her to whisper.

“I’ll explain later.” 

“I have seen beyond the limits of my humanity,” Lazarus said in answer. “I’m more now than I was.” He looked at Rose and smiled softly, ferally. “More than just an ordinary human, as I am sure you can understand.”

“There’s no such thing as an ordinary human,” The Doctor growled, shifting between Rose and Lazarus protectively. 

“He’s gonna change again any minute,” Martha noticed nervously.

“Ya think?” Mickey asked sarcastically. Martha elbowed him in the ribs. 

“If I could get him up in the bell tower somehow...” the Doctor mused, his whisper barely audible over the sounds of Lazarus’ transformation. “I’ve an idea that might work.”

“When you say ‘bell tower,’ yeah, do you mean all the way at the top or just sort of somewhere close to?” Rose asked. 

“All the way up.”

“Fantastic,” Rose sighed exasperatedly.

“So sentimental, Doctor,” Lazarus taunted with a grimacing grin. “Maybe you are older than you look.”

“Old enough to know a longer life isn’t always a better one.”

“Yes, but it must be nice with such pleasant company,” Lazarus all but purred, eyes fixating on Rose again, who recoiled in disgust as the Doctor growled deep in his chest. 

“Lay one finger on her...” Lazarus arched back again, more cracking occurring. 

“I’m going to feed soon,” he murmured breathily. It was less of a warning and more of an ominous declaration.

“I’m not going to let that happen.”

“You haven’t been able to stop me so far.”

“Leave him, Lazarus,” Martha said, stepping forward. She shot a glance at the Doctor and smirked. “He’s old and bitter. Thought you had a taste for fresher meat.”

“Martha, no,” the Doctor warned.

“I like her!” Rose shot over her shoulder as she and Martha raced up the stairs with a snarling, shifting Lazarus behind them.

“Of course you do,” he sighed resignedly. Mickey was snickering at him. “Come on, Mickey. We need to put plan ‘A’ into action.” They began running.

“We actually have one of those?” 

“Yep! Plan Acoustics!” The Doctor exclaimed as he slid onto the bench of the cathedral’s organ and shoved his sonic screwdriver into an aux port or something or other.

Meanwhile, Martha was panting and Rose wasn’t even remotely out of breath. 

“What happens when we get up there?” She rasped. Rose shrugged. She was having an easier time of running and Martha regretted not wearing dress flats like she had. 

“He’ll come up with something. Always does.”

“You trust him that much?”

“We trust each other that much.”

“You know, despite having a crush on him I actually really like you,” Martha muttered as they threw open the door to the rickety wooden balcony at the top of the tower. “I hate that.” Rose laughed in response but went all business as Lazarus burst through the opening behind them. 

“Ladies,” the scorpion-thing Lazarus said in what was probably supposed to be a seductive manner.

“Stay behind me,” Rose ordered as she placed herself between Martha and Lazarus. The med student pushed back right in between her shoulder blades.

“Why? Why not you behind me?” Rose swallowed. 

“Because in some ways I’m a lot like the Doctor.” 

The sound of a loud organ rumbled through the stone below them, making the tower shudder with the vibrations. It was loud enough to cause severe pain to those who heard it, and Lazarus reacted on instinct by swinging his stinger tail. It caught Rose squarely across the temple and she went crashing through the flimsy wooden railing, clinging desperately to the edge by her fingers.

“Rose!” Martha screamed. 

The organ grew louder and louder as the Doctor worked to open up all the pipes and stops, changing the pitch ever higher. Finally, as the stone in the tower began to crack, Lazarus lost his balance on the edge and fell through the opening to the floor far below. As he did so one of his pincher arms clipped Rose’s shoulder, and she fell after. 

~§§~

The Doctor stopped playing as soon as he heard the loud thud, eyes going wide with horror when he spotted Rose’s body lying twisted and broken next to Lazarus’ prone and immobile (and once again human, but now aged) form. A scream tore itself from his lips as he and Mickey raced down the steps toward her, Martha making the longer trek from the bell tower but in a similar state of panic. He started crying as his legs gave out and he dropped to his knees beside her, carefully cradling her head as he brought it into his lap and hunching over so that he could rest his forehead against hers as sobs wracked his body. 

“Doctor!” Martha shouted, skidding to a halt next to a somber but otherwise resigned Mickey. “Oh, God. She’s not- but she can’t be. You just found each other again. Please, tell me she’s not.”

“She’s not,” Mickey said in an even, neutral tone. The Doctor’s head came up sharply as he growled at him, baring his canines with his eyes blazing fire. He met the glare calmly. “She isn’t. This sort of thing happened before, in Pete’s World. She got hit by a lorry that this criminal was trying to make his getaway in. Neck at an awkward angle and everything, and then she just...”

Rose coughed suddenly, golden light softly glowing underneath her skin as a whisp of bright artron energy escaped her lips. The Doctor stared down at her in shock, mouth working uselessly as he tried to form words and failed. 

“She just did that,” Mickey finished with a soft smile. “Near as we can tell, she’s enough like you and enough not like you to regenerate without the actual exploding into a new person thing.”

“Shut up,” Rose rasped good-naturedly before her blurry gaze settled on the Doctor. “Hi.” 

“Hey,” he whispered, broken and thunderstruck and a million other things all at once.

 

THE DOCTOR AND ROSE, IN THE TARDIS, AS IT SHOULD BE

The twelfth time he saw her was when she was walking down the aisle. She was wearing white Gallifreyan robes and he was wearing a burgundy tux. They’d already mated in the way of his people, but this was for her and her people. 

The twelfth time he saw her was when they said their vows and three hearts became one. 

The twelfth time he saw her Jack was throwing cake at somebody and Jackie was in the process of launching herself across the table to throttle him. She was laughing, flower petals caught in her hair, and the Doctor thought he’d never been happier.