"Are you tired?” The Doctor asked her as he powered up the TARDIS and they left Paris, 1889, behind them. He manoeuvred the TARDIS into a temporal orbit above the Earth, outside of any given point in time, undetectable by the probes and radars and sensors of any era of the planet’s existence, in what Rose thought of as a sort of neutral gear. The view of Earth and its bright moon that had shone down on them so romantically a while ago was spectacular. Rose had never quite gotten over how incredible it was to be looking at it like that without years of training at NASA and a shuttle flight, none of which a girl from a London council estate ever stood a chance of experiencing. It was just one of the beautiful things The Doctor had done for her.
“No,” she said. “I’m not tired. I should be, shouldn’t I? I haven’t slept since we were at Sarah’s house. And since then I’ve been from London to Cumbria to Ireland, vampyre bitten twice, then to Paris. I ought to be worn out. Don’t tell me it’s the Time Lord blood.”
“Good guess,” he grinned. “But I have to warn you, when it wears off you will probably feel like you’ve hit a brick wall and fall asleep on the spot.”
“Just as long as you catch me before I hit the ground, I’ll risk it.”
“That’s my girl.” He smiled at her. “I’m not planning anything too strenuous anyway. But there is one more person from my past I want you to meet.” He turned to the controls and prepared to come out of temporal orbit and into time travel mode.
“Another of your harem?”
“Yes, but very definitely NOT the way you think.”
“I’m only kidding. I know you’re a perfect gentleman, whatever Jack says about the Time Lord sex drive.” She ignored his noises of protest. “You know, Sarah and Jo are terrific. Except for the vampyres meeting them was great. It was like having a pair of aunts who I could ask about all the family secrets. Ace… I’m not so sure about. She’s nice, but way too violent.” The Doctor laughed at that.
“Ace is fantastic,” he told her. “But you’re right about the violence. And I AM glad I haven’t taken you to meet Leela.”
“The Xena clone?” Rose remembered. “Is that really your type?”
“NO!” he assured her quickly. “By the way, hemlines are up in the early 23rd century, and this collar is driving me nuts. The TARDIS knows where it’s going, so what say we go and change.”
He found an exact duplicate of his black pants, jumper and leather jacket combination quickly enough. When it came to clothes he knew what he liked and stuck to it. She was a lot longer trying on different outfits. He was glad to let her have that simple pleasure. He just hoped she didn’t find anything that Leela might have left in there.
His Time Lord libido probably couldn’t have taken much more of a jolt if she had. He tried not to stare too obviously when she emerged in an outfit that was very nearly two wide belts. The cropped top and mini skirt, revealing a lot of shoulder, torso and leg respectively, was a startling contrast to the formal dress she had changed out of.
When he put his hormones under control he reflected that the skimpy outfit, accentuating her petite figure, actually made her look younger than she was. The child molester feeling rose in him again and he pushed it away in order to smile brightly at her. He noticed she was still wearing the pendant. He was touched by that. He thought she might have put it away with the dress.
“So which of your harem owned this little number?” she asked, standing there with her hands on her hips.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I’ve never seen that before. I suspect the TARDIS replenishes the wardrobe according to whoever is looking through it. I seem to recall it once had a lot of sixties gear. And Sarah used to find some interesting stuff in there. Which means, my little cockney sparrow, you thought that little number up for yourself. But that’s ok, because you look fantastic. Even Jack would turn straight for you looking like that.” The thought made them both laugh out loud until the change in engine tone told them the TARDIS was materialising.
“Twenty-third century London?” Rose looked around with undisguised interest. They had landed on the Embankment opposite the Houses of Parliament, which looked little different to how they looked in her day – except Big Ben had been repaired since a Slitheen spacecraft had sliced the top of it in the early 21st century.
“That’s just a museum now,” the Doctor said. “The government meets in the New Millennium Dome. Anyway, this way….” He took her hand and they walked up the embankment to London Bridge. Rose looked in astonishment at the unfamiliar imposed upon the familiar. Most of the buildings were as she remembered them, but the cars, lorries and even the red London buses all hovered a few feet above the road surface and made almost no noise. She looked up and saw that the sky was clear blue, and the air that she had grown up with, at least 60% carcinogenic pollutants, was replaced by fresh, oxygen rich, CLEAN air.
The Doctor brought her to a taxi rank and put out his hand. Immediately a hover cab zoomed towards them and halted. “Fantastic. You never have to wait for a cab around here.” He helped Rose in first then slid beside her giving the taxi driver the address. The cab moved off at once, rising up to the taxi lane above that of the private vehicles and accelerating.
Rose tried to follow the directions, but beyond the ‘preserved’ centre the London she knew was long gone, replaced by something much cleaner and neater, but somehow disappointingly devoid of character. She thought they were somewhere around Southwark when the taxi came to a halt outside a large white house with a clinically neat lawn in front of it. The cab driver turned to the Doctor and said that the fare was €79 and that he took cash or credit but not psychic paper. The Doctor blushed guiltily and took a wallet from his pocket that appeared to contain currency from every Earth period and country including nineteenth century France, 21st century Ireland and 23rd century England, as well as several credit cards with The Doctor as the unlikely cardholder’s name.
“Psychic paper works as a currency on every planet except Earth,” he complained as they walked up the path. “They seem to have it figured out here.”
“Serves you right, tightwad,” Rose laughed. “But are you going to tell me who we’re visiting here?”
“You’ll understand in a little while. But… Rose… there will be things you will find hard to comprehend here. Please don’t be frightened, and please don’t think badly of me because I never faced up to telling you about this part of my life before now. It was… my own cowardice, not any attempt to deceive you.” He looked at her. She gave him a reassuring smile. He took her hand and squeezed it and stepped up to ring the doorbell. A minute later the door was opened by a woman who Rose judged to be in her late 30s, with short black hair and very pretty dark eyes. Rose felt the psychic connection between her and The Doctor like a jolt in her head. She knew instantly that her name was Susan and he….
She had called him… WHAT?
“Grandfather!” she cried out in ordinary words and embraced him lovingly. “Oh, it’s been so long.”
“Too long,” he said.
“Way too long,” she said and quite unexpectedly she slapped him in the face so hard he reeled back. “Too long! I thought you had to be dead. But all this time you could have… and you never....” Then she embraced him again and kissed the same cheek she had just hit. Rose felt the emotions of both of them swinging between anger and joy, and beneath it, a deep, unbreakable love. “You could have come back,” she said again. “You said you would.”
“I know. I’m sorry for that, my dear, dear Susan.” He held her tightly and returned the kiss she had given him. “My dear child.”
“Oh, what am I doing?” Susan said at last. “Come in. Come into the house… both of you.” The Doctor took hold of Rose’s hand again and she was startled to feel it tremble.
The inside of the house did not look as space age as she expected. Susan seemed to have furnished it with good quality “antiques” of the twentieth century, two big leather sofas, a glass-topped coffee table, dressers and sideboards, a clock, pictures, all quite familiar looking. Only the TV, a wafer thin screen mounted on the wall, and the music system, equally wafer thin, with a rack of micro-cd’s hardly bigger than Rose’s thumbnail, proved that this was the future. Rose took all this in calmly. The other part of it all she was still trying to work out.
“Sit down,” Susan urged them, and they sat on one of the big sofas. She picked up a slender remote control and pressed buttons. A coffee tray rose up from inside the glass table. She poured coffee for them all and sat down opposite them, seemingly lost for words after the emotions had spilled out in their first moments of reunion.
The Doctor seemed equally unable to express himself - a rare thing in itself. The lack of communication was not just verbal. There seemed an awkward barrier between them psychically, too. Rose thought there could be no worse communications breakdown than between two people who could, if they chose, talk to each other telepathically.
As the silence lengthened Susan calmly got up and went into the next room. She came back a few moments later holding a small baby, no more than a few weeks old. The Doctor put down his coffee cup and stared with eyes that seemed suddenly moist.
“Say hello to your great-granddaughter.” Susan placed the child in his arms. Rose looked at her Doctor with new eyes as she saw him cuddle the baby. There WERE tears in his eyes. And when the twin boys, aged, Rose guessed, about eight, ran in from the garden, he gasped out loud. “Boys,” Susan said as they looked at the two visitors shyly but with unmistakeable curiousity. “This is your great grandfather. Give him a hug.”
She took the baby from him as the two boys approached him. He held out his arms and hugged them, letting them climb on his knee as the shyness dissipated. Rose, looking at him, felt a sudden aching need for the father she had never known. She wasn’t sure if that was her own feelings or something psychic radiating from him as emotions she never knew he had spilled out in huge, hot tears of joy, sorrow and regret all at once.
After a while, Susan sent the boys back out to play again in the back garden that could be seen through big French doors and put the baby back in her day crib. She sat at her grandfather’s side. He took her hands in his.
Rose realised that, for the moment, she was not part of this equation and moved away. She went over to the dresser and looked at the ordinary family photos there. There were pictures of Susan and a man whom she assumed was her husband; pictures of the two boys and a new one of the baby girl. There were other pictures too. One was of Susan as a young girl, standing next to a familiar blue police box with a white haired, elderly man. She looked at Susan and HER Doctor. He was breaking the news about the death of their home planet to her, and now she, also, was crying and saying the names of people she knew who must have died in the disaster.
Susan was Gallifreyan. That much she understood. The old man in that picture was the Doctor in yet another version of himself. Rose understood that, too. At some point in the life of that elderly man he HAD done domestic. He had been a husband, a father, a grandfather. That was the bit he had not been able to tell her about himself.
It was a whopper of a secret, but she had nothing to blame him for. He had not lied to her. She knew from early on that he was much older than he appeared to be. Why wouldn’t he have had a different life once. She looked at the pictures again, trying to take it all in. Then she saw something that REALLY startled her. Not Susan or her grandfather, but a framed autographed picture of….
“Cliff Richard!” She laughed out loud. Susan and the Doctor looked up from their quiet conversation. “But he’s so GAY!” The Doctor laughed at the confused and slightly off-put expression on his granddaughter’s face.
“I have still not worked out whether GAY means the same thing in the 2000’s as it used to do in the 1960s,” he said. To his granddaughter he explained that Rose was born in the 1980s, and to Rose he explained that he and Susan had lived for quite some time in 1960s London. Cliff Richard spanned that generation gap, but Rose’s perception of him and Susan’s were clearly very different.
Susan laughed and admitted that these things DID get confusing. The Doctor looked at her, then back at Rose. And he made a decision.
“I’m going to go kick the ball about with the boys outside. I once had a trial for Preston North End you know. I dare say there is something I can teach them. You girls can have an old chin-wag like you do when us men are out of the way.” He slipped out through the French doors. Susan came beside Rose and they both watched him playing football with his two great-grandsons, who were thrilled to have him join in their game.
“Can you believe him?” Susan said with a smile.
“Not about the Preston North End thing,” Rose answered. “But most of the time… yes.” She looked at Susan. She looked strained. “Are you ok?”
“Hearing about Gallifrey was a shock,” she admitte. “David and I don’t have anything to do with the space programmes or anything like that. I haven’t time travelled since I stopped going around with Grandfather. So I never heard about it. There were a lot of people I used to care about there.”
“I’m sorry, I really am.”
“Thank you.” Susan paused a moment, looking at Rose, trying to take her in. “I thought… when I first saw you… that you were his daughter….”
That could have been a barbed comment about the age gap between Rose and The Doctor, but it wasn’t. Susan had just been trying to understand what had been happening in her grandfather’s life since he left her.
“He told me that he met you in 2005,” she added.
“Yes. He blew up my job and rescued me from an attack of living plastic creatures.”
“That’s grandfather for you. He does that.”
“Its weird you calling him grandfather.” Rose said, cutting back to the main issue. “Him looking like he does…. Young.”
“Yes. I know. If it’s any consolation it feels a bit strange for me, too. But I felt his telepathic pattern. That hasn’t changed. He IS my grandfather as well as your.…” Susan paused uncertainly mid-sentence and looked at Rose.
“What he is to me is kind of hard to pin down,” Rose acknowledged. “He’s my Doctor, and that’s the one thing I am sure of.”
“That’s enough to be going on with. He suggested I show you the family album… so that you understand.” She took a thick leather bound book from the sideboard. On its cover was an inlaid ornate circular design that Rose has seen in the TARDIS.
Susan opened it out. The first picture she looked at was of a man a little younger than her Doctor, but she guessed was the elderly man when he was much younger. With him was a woman who was the image of Susan and a boy of about ten. “My grandmother,” she said. “And my father as a boy.”
She turned the page, and the same man, the boy about sixteen, and the woman now looking older were in another formal family portrait. Another page and the boy was a young man. His father looked just a little older, but his mother was extremely elderly. Rose looked at Susan. “My grandmother was Human. We age differently. Sixty or eighty years is nothing to us. It’s a lifetime to you.”
She turned the page, and the young man and his father were photographed alone. The father looked more tired, and very sad.
“I have the same problem,” Susan explained. “It is actually forty-three years since I stayed here and married David. I am fifty-eight years old even though I look much younger in Earth terms. David is sixty five. I know there will be a time when I will have to go on without him. And our children – the boys share my genes – they are Gallifreyan. But our baby girl is Human. She’ll die long before me or her brothers. We make hard choices for the sake of love.”
Rose looked at the picture again, then at her Doctor, outside, rough-tumbling with the boys.
“So his wife died.” She turned the pages back and looked at the woman as she was when young. “He must have loved her a lot.” As she looked, something caught her eye. Her hand touched the pendant he had given her for her birthday. The Doctor’s long dead wife was wearing the same jewel around her neck. Susan nodded.
“Yes, it was hers, once.”
“He said it was a family heirloom.”I knew it was special. I didn’t realise quite HOW special.”
“He must care a very great deal about you,” Susan said. “To have given you that.”
“He does. Mind you… I think he felt guilty about me getting bitten twice by alien vampyres yesterday. That might have a lot to do with it.”
“No,” Susan smiled. “Alien vampyres, Daleks, they’re all in a days work for him. That was something else.”
“You’ve met Daleks too?” Rose said. “Those things sure get about.”
“They’re the reason we were on Earth in 2164,” Susan explained. “We joined the fight against a Dalek invasion. My David was part of the local resistance. When it was over, I chose to stay here. It was a hard choice. I loved my grandfather. I loved the life we shared since we went away from Gallifrey. But I loved David, too, and if I lived as a Gallifreyan with Grandfather, he’d treat me like a child till I was a hundred and eighty – that’s our coming of age. I wanted to live like a Human. Maybe I’d been on Earth too long. I wanted to be a grown up by Earth standards not a child by our own. Apart from missing grandfather a whole lot, I’ve been happy.”
“And he never visited you before this?” Rose asked, remembering her extreme reaction to him on the doorstep and how thoroughly gobsmacked he was by the children.
“No. That’s him all over. Forty-three years, and he turns up at the door. And the strangest thing… he’s lived so much more in that time. I gave up time travelling. I have lived in the here and now. He has spent nearly 400 years travelling since then. He’s got so many experiences, so many burdens, so many sorrows. No wonder coming here… seeing this…this….”
“Domestic?” Rose supplied the word.
“Yes… domestic. A life that he used to have with my grandmother and my father. A life he might have had if he’d settled here with us instead of going off into space again. Yes… it was a shock to him. Nearly as much as me finding out that we are the last of our kind.”
“That I don’t get. I thought he said he was the last Time Lord. But you….”
“I’m not a Time Lord. That takes over a hundred years of training. I’m a Gallifreyan. We left when I was five. I never even began the disciplines. I have the physiology – two hearts, all of that - and some of the psychic powers. But no training.”
“Oh. I see,” Rose said. “So he is the last.”
Rose seemed about to say something else, but suddenly her face went pale. At the same moment, the Doctor stopped playing with the boys. He looked around and then ran into the house. He had felt the psychic shock as her metabolism finally reverted to Human. As he promised, he was there to catch her when she fell.
“What happened?” Susan asked as he carried her to the sofa and laid her down. She was in a deep, deep sleep, as he expected. He briefly filled his granddaughter in on the happenings of the past few days.
“That explains it.” She looked at Rose, curled up in a near foetal position on the sofa as the Doctor gently caressed her face. “She looks so young… a baby.”
“She’s twenty-one,” the Doctor assured her. “She’s not a child. She’s a Human adult.” But the same guilty feeling had risen in him again as Susan pointed it out and he couldn’t pretend it hadn’t.
“You gave her grandmother’s pendant,” Susan said. “You never even let ME wear that. But you gave it to her. You wouldn’t have done that unless….”
“I want to marry her,” he said.
“Does she know that?” Susan asked.
“No,” he said. “I don’t think she even really knows how deeply I love her.”
“Good. Because you KNOW it’s a bad idea, don’t you.”
“Susan.…” His expression was pained. “I knew it would be hard for you to understand that I want to start again.…”
“No, it’s not that. I understand that. It’s a natural feeling. I suppose it’s a lot like I felt when I left you for David. But grandfather, you can’t.”
“I’ve thought it through,” he said. “I’ve thought about nothing else for days. No, I haven’t asked her, because she needed to know about you… about what we really are and what she’d be letting herself in for. But I’m going to. I hoped I would have your blessing, Susan. I hoped we could all be one happy family - you and me – Rose and her mother in her world… it could work.”
“Please.…” He began again. “Susan… please understand.”
“I DO understand,” she answered him. “It's you that isn’t seeing things straight.”
“You don’t need to be jealous, you know.”
“Jealous?” Susan laughed hollowly. “Of what? I grew up, but you still feel the need for teenage company. I am not even going to get into how that looks.”
“Good,” he said stubbornly. “Because how it looks isn’t how it is.”
“Grandfather.…” She stopped and giggled hysterically. “Are we the only race in the universe where granddaughters have to tell their grandfathers the facts of life?” She looked at him. She looked at Rose, sleeping in his arms, unaware of the dilemma surrounding her. She took a deep long breath….
“Chrístõdavõreendiamaendhaertmallõupdracœfiredelunmiancuimhne de Lœngbaerrow!” she said in a commanding voice.
“That’s your name, stupid,” she told him. “You might have forgotten it, but I haven’t. If you won’t take notice of me as your granddaughter, then listen to me as the only person in the universe who REALLY knows who you are.”
The Doctor stared at her, lost for words.
“I believe my grandmother just called you Christo,” she said a little kinder. “But of course I never saw her. She was dead before I was born. And that’s the point. You KNOW how fragile Human women are. And… look at her. Your Rose… she is beautiful, I can understand how much you love her. But… even for a Human she is so small. She couldn’t bear you children. You KNOW how much it takes out of Human women. Carrying a Time Lord’s child would kill her. You know it would. And… that would be murdering her. Whatever else you are, you’re NOT a murderer.”
The Doctor said nothing for a long time. But her words had hit home. He continued to caress Rose’s face, running his fingers through her hair.
“It doesn’t have to be that way. I… I don’t need children. I have you… and your children. At least… if you want me to be around from time to time… like a real grandfather ought to be.”
“You may not need children… but SHE might one day. And if you can’t….”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” he answered, knowing that was a lame and pathetic response to her very important point.
“Well now you have to think about it.”
“I know I want Rose in my life,” he said with absolute certainty in his tone. “I want her to be a part of what little family we have. I want HER family to accept ME as part of her life, and I want to take care of her until her dying day.”
“Then find a way to do that, but not THAT way.” Susan told him. “And… and yes….”
“Yes, I’d like you to be a ‘real’ grandfather. And incidentally you ALWAYS were. I’d like my children to know you, if you’re prepared to stick around and do that. And yes, I’d like to get to know Rose under less stressed out circumstances.”
Susan felt for a moment as if the past forty-three years had never happened. She remembered only too well how it was possible to be angry at her grandfather, to want to rage against him, and yet, at the same time, love him so much she could forgive him anything.
The Doctor felt those conflicting feelings deep in his psyche. He, too, had found it hard to be so angry at somebody he loved so much. He was glad she had given him the opportunity to mend the fences.
“Mending fences is a good idea.” Susan looked at Rose. “Let her sleep a little longer. You go and play with the boys again. They seem to like you. We’ll all have dinner when David gets in. Then maybe we can make a start in that direction.”
“Dinner sounds fine - as long as you cook better than Rose’s mum."
It was very late when The Doctor summoned the TARDIS from the Embankment and re-materialised it on the front lawn of Susan’s home. They had all talked long into the evening after dinner, remembering times long past, sharing news of what had happened to them since. For The Doctor and Susan the parting was a long one. Rose left them alone to say their goodbyes. At last he came inside and shut the door. He dematerialised the TARDIS and put it in temporal orbit above the Earth.
He still had so many thoughts in his head. Most of them concerned Rose, but some concerned the family he had there on 23rd century Earth. He still didn’t do ‘domestic’ but there was a really good reason to break that rule occasionally.
Rose was another. He turned to her and smiled.
“That was unexpected,” she said in answer to a question he hadn’t even asked yet. “Susan is nice – although Cliff Richard? But it’s so weird… you’re her grandfather. You are a GREAT grandfather. And you’re so good at it. I saw you with the kids. But… but it’s weird.”
“Is it too weird?” he asked, the anxiety for her to answer that all important question telling in his voice. “Does it change how you feel about me?”
“No,” she said to his immediate relief. “It should, I suppose. That’s the crazy bit. You are all of that, and at the same time, you are still MY Doctor. And… I still love you. In fact… I think I love you more now that I know so much more about you. I know that you’re a kind, sweet, loving man who cares for his family – who has lost so much and keeps the pain inside him and won’t let anyone touch that part of him… though I think he desperately wants somebody to do that… And I love you.”
“Oh Rose!” She moved close to him. He let her. For all the harsh realities Susan had made him face up to, at that moment he could no more stop what was about to happen than throw himself at the mercy of a Dalek extermination squad.
“My Doctor… I love you.” She put her arms around his neck and pressed her face into his chest so that she could feel those two hearts beating.
“Rose,” he murmured softly. “My Rose. I have so wanted you to say that. Except… Tell me again… and call me by my name.”
“I don’t know your name,” she said. “And nor do you.”
“Chrístõ?” Rose looked at him. Yes, it fitted him. “Ok… Chrístõ… I love you.”
The Doctor smiled. A long buried memory came back to him of another sweet, beautiful Human woman who had called him by that name and loved him by it. But it was Rose who was telling him it now. It was Rose who lifted her face to his and kissed him on the lips. He closed his arms around her and returned the kiss with all the passion that was in his soul.
It felt good. It felt right, just as it had done so many centuries ago when he last risked his hearts on such a gamble. And he wished, as he had never wished before, that he could stop time and live forever in that wonderful moment.
He knew he COULD make it last as long as possible. He could - and did - slow the moment down, stretch it like an elastic band and make it last as long as possible, but he couldn’t stop it passing altogether. At last he had to return to natural time. And when he did he was shocked to see tears on her cheeks.
“I had to know,” she said. “I had to find out if it would feel as good as I wanted it to feel. But.…”
“There’s a ‘but’ in this?” He asked with a sinking feeling. “Rose… please.…” From feeling on top of the world, suddenly he felt as if the ground had been ripped from under him.
“Lois and Clarke.”
“Lois and Clarke. It worked great when she thought he was just a geek in the newspaper office and was in love with Superman. But then the stupid scriptwriters decided that Lois would find out who he was, and they would get married, and have a super-baby – and the show went downhill after that.”
“I thought it was pretty much at the bottom of the hill to begin with,” The Doctor said bitterly. He didn’t need any powers of premonition to know where she was going. And the gut-wrenching thing was that she was right. The things he wanted, to make her his wife, to have her with him, like this, for all of her life, they couldn’t happen. He had known it all along. The warning signs had been there. But he had been too stubborn to see.
“We… me and you… we’re the same,” Rose went on, tearfully. We’re Lois and Clarke. And…. And it’s all downhill from here. We can’t. You have a universe of bad guys and weird entities and Daleks to fight, and you can’t do that and come home for tea with the little wife. And I can’t be with you. Because you would risk your life every time to make sure I was safe, instead of doing what you ought to be doing to make things right.”
“Rose….” He said her name again in a long, deep, hearts-broken sigh.
“It’s all right,” she said, finally. “I can live with it. I… I just wanted to know if we COULD be… if you could be my…. But it’s ok.”
“Oh, Rose!” He was crying too, now. “Oh, my sweetheart. Just… let me kiss you one more time.” She moved closer. He reached out his left arm and curled it around her and pulled her close as he kissed her again. Again he slowed time and let the moment last as long as he could. But as the stretched moment reached the maximum possible limit and he released it slowly, his right hand went to his pocket. He fingered the sonic screwdriver’s controls delicately. He knew the kindest thing would be to take it all back. Erase the memory of it. The easiest would be to go right back to before Jackie’s lasagne – and this time just drink the coffee and not let melancholic thoughts get the better of him. Or before Paris. No, he told himself. She deserved to have Paris. That was her special birthday. And he NEEDED her to know the part Susan played in his past. The point of no return was when they stepped on board the TARDIS half an hour ago.
“What are you doing?” she asked him, pulling back from the kiss.
“I’m….” he began. “I’m….”
“I’ve seen that bit in the Superman films, too,” she said. “Don’t you dare try to take this back. Even if we can’t…. I still want to remember the most fabulous kiss I’ve ever had. Don’t you dare take that moment away.”
He dropped the sonic screwdriver. It rolled away under the console. He kissed her deeply, and as they experienced the beautiful moment again he did something else, instead. He didn’t take the memory away, but he reached into her thoughts and blurred them a little, taking away the extremes of passion and pain, taking the things that had worried her so much about something so very simple as a kiss he thought they had both earned.
He held her in his arms as the kiss ended and her body went limp. She slipped into a gentle sleep. He kicked at a panel in the TARDIS wall until a cabin bed slid out. He laid her down on it and held her hand for a long moment. Then he bent over her and kissed her one more time.
“Sleep well, my Rose,” he whispered.
He walked over to the TARDIS console and pressed buttons to set the time and space co-ordinates for tea at Jackie’s house, back in the twenty-first century. Twice he had to brush away tears that were blurring his vision. Pull yourself together, he told himself. He debated using the memory eraser on himself. He actually pointed the sonic screwdriver at his forehead, but he was afraid it would do more than blur the edges of the memory.
He wanted to remember all of it. He wanted the beautiful parts of it, dancing the night away with her in his arms, the touch of her hands on his face, the feel of her body pressed against him, the smell of her hair, the joy of being in love. He wanted all of that, if he could only do without the pain of it all.
He held onto the console tightly, took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He let his two hearts slow right down, his brain to clear of all thoughts, all feelings, all desires and wants, his muscles to relax so that, if somebody had touched him at that moment he would probably have collapsed like jelly. It was like a spiritual bath, washing away the cares of the past few days, not erasing them from his memory, but making them feel more distant, less sharp, less painful. Yet another experience he had learnt to live with.
Rose stirred on the bunk. He opened his eyes. He felt his heart and lungs kick back into action on the instant. “Hello, sleepyhead. You fell asleep the moment we got in here. I guess your body clock just had to readjust itself.”
“No, I didn’t,” she answered him. “I fell asleep while we were snogging. You did it, you coward. You didn’t want to cope with the complications of being a great-granddad with a girlfriend my age.”
“Something like that,” he said. He wondered if she remembered it was HER who had raised the problems. “I’m just not used to this sort of thing. Too long since I snogged anyone other than Captain Jack.”
“I hope I was better than him,” she said.
“Miles better, but don’t tell him. It would break his heart.”
“So… are we… did we decide… are we an item, or not?”
“We’re… taking it slowly,” he answered. “Until I get into the swing of it again and you’re absolutely certain you want to be an old man’s pretty young thing.”
“I can live with that,” she decided.
“Good,” The Doctor smiled warmly at her. “Anyway, you woke just in time. We’ll be at your mum’s house in a few minutes.”
“Why are we going to mum’s?” she asked. It was only a few days since they were last there and usually they stayed away at LEAST a month before she could persuade him to let her touch base with all the familiar things he took her away from.
“For your birthday,” he said. “Doesn’t seem fair that your mum should miss your twenty-first. You get two birthdays for the price of one. But I’m going to use one of those credit cards and take you both out. It’s only three days since we had Jackie’s lasagne. I’m not a bad enough person to deserve a replay of that so soon.”
“You’re doing that, for me?” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you.” He smiled and tried to resist drawing her into one of those passionate kisses of earlier. They were taking it slowly, he reminded himself. “But if we’re going out with my mum, just you behave. I know what she’s like - ALWAYS flirting with my boyfriends.”
He grinned again and for the first time didn’t dispute the idea that he was her boyfriend. That was step one on that slow path, at least.
“You are NOT,” she told him, misreading the grin completely. “I repeat... NOT…. Going to cop off with my mum. Slow or not, I want you as a boyfriend, not as my stepdad.”
“Don’t worry,” he grinned. “Despite the evidence of the past few days, the occasional inedible lasagne is as domestic as I get. Go on, get your coat. April in Britain is a bit too cold for that outfit.”