Everything around them was much brighter and more cheerful than the Doctor had remembered. That's what Rose did to him, just walking along a simple street and being in her presence. Passing looks from cat people were returned with a welcoming smile, inviting people to ask about his Rose or anything at all. She made everything better.
Behind it all, though, underneath the light fluffy surface, he knew that while they still wore collars, there would be little they could do to stay together if these people wanted them apart badly enough.
As they walked, the Doctor kept making eye contact with Rose and squeezing her hand, craving communication. She seemed to be just as joyous as he was, and it didn't seem to even matter that they were still enslaved. At one point, Rose pinched at his shirt, obviously wondering how he'd gotten better clothing. The Doctor pointed to Icha and patted his shoulder while wielding his best smug expression, reminding Rose that Icha had said he'd had good behaviour. Rose arched an eyebrow at him and crossed her arms in mock jealousy.
While waiting at the crossing, the Doctor found it within himself to remember and dropped to a crouch. Rose looked down at him, confused, and he pulled her down with him by the hand to wait behind Icha. Rose's eyebrows went up, and he replied with a shrug and pointed up at their slaver.
When they had ascended the hill and turned onto the mansion's drive, and the Doctor looked sidelong at Rose to catch her reaction. She looked over the grounds with wonder, and the Doctor felt a misplaced sense of pride. The TARDIS was infinitely more magnificent, but at the moment, this was the best he could offer her, even though it wasn't even really his. As they strode under the trellised archway with the spade-shaped leaves, the Doctor remembered how he had felt the first time he had been here, alone with Icha. He had been enveloped in such sadness and so much worry for Rose, aching to share the beauty of this place with her. Now he could share it with her. He had thought it so important at the time, but the event paled in comparison with just knowing she was alive and with him again.
Icha stepped up to the door as it read her identity, and the doors swung open. Knowing his place, the Doctor held the door and ushered Rose inside, closing it behind her.
In the Doctor's excitement, he hadn't even thought to check on Icha's control of Rose's collar. While Icha fussed with her handbag at the little table by the stairs, he saw she now held a remote with two buttons. She must have gotten it switched in the shoppe.
The Doctor chastised himself for dropping his guard. What if during the transfer of remotes he had missed an opportunity to seize control?
"Now, Marwari," Icha said, warning clear in her voice, "you've asked a lot of me, and I expect you're smart enough to know it." The Doctor stood at attention beside Rose, preparing for a lecture. Icha finished with her purse and held it between her hands, studying him and Rose severely. "I know how pets can be, but I know you understand me." She focused on the Doctor. "You keep her without child, or face the consequences. I don't wish to spay her, and I don't think you want that, either. Don't give me cause."
The Doctor felt his cheeks redden but nodded obediently, biting back an "I wouldn't dream of it".
Icha seemed satisfied. "Good boy. Now go get her washed up. I don't want the smell of that shoppe on my cushions." She waved them off.
They were dismissed. The Doctor fought a losing battle with a grin that tugged at the corners of his mouth. Eager to be alone so they could talk, he did his best to not appear too eager as he marched off, leading the way through the archway into the lounging room. Rose was enthralled by the room with its many pillows and high dome ceiling. The Doctor continued on through the right hall, Rose keeping pace with him despite her wonder.
It was all the Doctor could do to keep his mouth shut until they reached the bath. Once inside, he turned to Rose and gave her a winning smile of pure excitement to match her own.
"Rose!" The Doctor engulfed her in a hug, squeezing her to him. "You all right?"
"Yeah. Oh Doctor, I was so afraid!" Rose seemed to be attempting to get even closer, as if he weren't already crushing the breath out of her.
"Me, too," he admitted after a moment. He buried his nose in her hair and pulled in a deep breath, then murmured, "My Rose."
There was an extended silence as the pair just held each other, content to be together. Then the Doctor pulled away, just enough to not let go, and looked intently into her eyes. "What happened to you? Why did it take you so long to reach the shoppe?"
Rose pursed her generous lips as she thought back. "I woke up in this lorry, yeah? I think one of the men that captured us had plans of his own for me. His sister's a breeder or something. He and some other bloke were arguing about it."
The Doctor nodded, following her story. "Yeah, but that was days ago. Two weeks past!"
Now Rose nodded. "I was travelin' for maybe two days. I guess he couldn't keep me for whatever reason. We arrived at the shoppe, and I've been there since."
The Doctor winced in heavy disappointment. "Ooh, you must've just missed me. I was there but a day before Icha picked me out."
Rose's lips curled in mischief, her eyes bright and laughing. "'Picked you out'? Listen to you, going native. Anyway, I don't blame her. Who wouldn't want you?" The Doctor grinned widely despite himself. He'd missed her teasing. Rose sighed. "I'm good now, though, aren't I? I've got you."
Pressing his lips tight, the Doctor showed his agreement in another squeeze, this time circling her lower and noting how her exposed belly gave way against him in a rather pleasing way. Impulse seized him and he lifted Rose clear of the pebbled floor. Rose squealed in delight.
"Shh, shh, shh!" the Doctor scolded as he set her back down, but he failed to suppress a giggle. He thought of Rose being all alone in the pet shoppe, then suddenly he pushed her to arms length again. "Hold on, did you see Eli?"
Rose's expression fell, but she nodded. "I asked her about you. She said you wouldn't... accept her advances."
"Yeah." His gaze fell away in thought. "She's just a girl. Poor thing probably doesn't even know what freedom is."
Something akin to regret tainted her features, but it was so brief the Doctor couldn't be sure. Rose didn't give him a chance to ask about it.
"I talked to her about freedom, though," Rose said.
The Doctor peered at her curiously. "Oh?"
"I asked her if she'd like to make her own choices in life, that she doesn't have to listen to the cats anymore. She said it's impossible, 'cause she'd get zapped if she disobeyed. I told her I'm used to impossible, an' that I'd help her get out if she wanted to."
The Doctor beamed helplessly. "Brilliant. You're brilliant, Rose. Good girl!"
Rose only smiled a little at the compliment. "There was someone else there, too."
She nodded. "Came in just yesterday. Had spikey skin," Rose wiggled her fingers at her temple, "and funny little red ridges around his eyes and on his cheekbones."
The slave's description made the Doctor suddenly uneasy. Very uneasy.
He racked his brain for the reference, and with the name of the species came memory of its fearsome characteristics.
"Vemenor," he breathed, his voice coming out distressed. Panic overwhelmed the Doctor, and he gripped Rose's arms fiercely. "Rose! Did he hurt you?"
"No," Rose assured him immediately, confused. "Why would you think he did? What is he, Doctor?"
"Vemenor," the Doctor spat out, this time with much more distaste. "Extremely aggressive, strong. A dying species, no longer able to reproduce within their own race. I can see them being favored for manual labor, as long as they're kept in line."
"How d'ya mean, 'within their own race'?"
"Like I said, their species is dying off. At this point in the Vemenor timeline, in its weak throes of death, their aggression stems from desperation. They lash out, their genetics screaming at them to survive as a whole. They're mostly males now, having managed to adapt to females of other species, retaining most of their own base pairs from generation to generation. Any female progeny are discarded as worthless, as they haven't been capable of bearing children of their own for centuries. In the years to come, they'll succeed less and less as their genome thins out. Eventually, without enough of their original DNA, reproduction even with other species will stop entirely."
"That's horrible." Rose swallowed, pained. She paused. "You'd think with so much interaction with other races, their children growing up under mothers from different cultures, they wouldn't be so hard to get along with. They would learn to trust other species to help them."
The Doctor winced inwardly. He was hoping he hadn't needed to go into detail. "Yes, well... problem is, the mothers don't exactly survive."
Rose looked shocked. "What, the kid growing up? Their dads beat their mums or something?"
He sighed. "Childbirth."
Rose's brows drew together. "None of them live?"
He shook his head, feeling pity for a species he barely knew. "Their spiked skin. None but Vemenor females are able to withstand bearing them."
Rose's mouth dropped open. "They're born that way?" The Doctor didn't bother to nod. "Can't they operate, like do C-sections?"
"Of course, yes," the Doctor said in annoyance. He didn't want to talk about it anymore. "If they know what's coming and the males aren't around, they can get help before it's too late. The infants are not often accepted by their mothers. Sure, there are a few raised well, but the vast majority are not."
Rose sighed, apparently picking up on his mood and calmed her tone. "Can't technology do something for them? Without hurting other races?"
"Oh, they've tried here and there, but their genes are just too weak to work with." The Doctor took a deep breath, calming himself. Rose cared and was just curious. "They've regressed to the point where they no longer hold the level of technology themselves. For the most part, they don't trust others." He could see Rose's mind was racing, and he sighed. "There's nothing to be done, Rose. It's their time."
The Doctor just watched her for a minute as she thought. He was about to ask what was on her mind when she spoke quietly.
"What if it had happened to me?"
It took a moment for the Doctor to follow where Rose was coming from. So that was why she was on about it. Hadn't she said the Vemenor hadn't hurt her? He hated to even think of it and swallowed at a lump in his throat as he regarded her seriously. "But it didn't."
"But what if it had?" she insisted.
He frowned at her, his brow furrowing. "It didn't, that's what matters. If we run into another Vemenor, I'll protect you."
"But you weren't there, Doctor." Rose grew more adamant. "What if he had attacked me?"
The Doctor's blood chilled. Her obsession with the past was suspicious. Perhaps she was just emotional from their separation and was overreacting. He would try to calm her. "If it had happened? And I wasn't there?" He paused. "I'd do whatever is necessary, now, to save your life. I'd never let it grow to hurt you."
Rose stared into his eyes. "You mean like... with chemicals?"
The Doctor drew in a steadying breath. She was really starting to scare him. She had said she hadn't been attacked. Had she lied so as not to worry him? "If it came to that."
"What would you use? Do you have access to it, here?" she pressed.
"Rose-" he hissed, stopping himself. She was forcing him to dwell on a very unpleasant subject, to actually visualise having to react to an attack on her, and now the Doctor was growing angry.
What would he use? Rose had said the Vemenor was in the shoppe only yesterday. Did he have the supplies here to cook up something strong enough that would leave Rose unhurt? Steroids were out of the question, but if it had just been yesterday...
"We're slaves, Doctor. We can't just pop out to the shoppes and get what you need-"
"You have me," he replied simply, biting back his annoyance. "Here with you, now. That's all you need."
"Doctor, I don't see how-"
"You don't..." he steadied his voice through gritted teeth, "You don't need to see how, Rose. Just know that you'd be taken care of."
Rose's eyes flashed. She stepped closer, rising to the challenge. "Common response, coming from just another bloke. It wouldn't be happening to you, would it? You say you'll fix it, or that you'll be there through it, but when it comes to it-"
The Doctor stared at her, feeling hurt. Where was this coming from? "Is that how it is, then? I'm just another bloke to you?" he snarled, suddenly vicious. He moved even closer, just inches from her face. "How can you say it wouldn't be happening to me? You expect me to just stand by and let it kill you? I wouldn't let some stupid Vemenor's stink of existence affect you, this backward planet and its outrageous slave system be damned. I'd kill it with my own blood if I had to! All right?"
"All right!" Rose railed back. She paused, then softened. "Wait, wha'?"
Rose had gotten the best of him. The Doctor closed his eyes. He hadn't meant to lose it like he had, hadn't meant to go into detail, and Rose had worked it out of him. "I'd kill it," the Doctor seethed, his affection for Rose starting to seep through his anger's wake and into his eyes. "His seed with mine."
Rose was shocked silent. Her face then coloured as the implications seemed to catch up with her.
He tore his eyes away from her. "Anyway..."
She nodded. "Yeah."
After a moment, Rose recovered and squinted doubtfully at him.
When she didn't relent, the Doctor took a step back, trying to calm himself with another deep breath and bit out, "Vemenor may be adaptive, but their genetics are a far cry from mine." He watched for a reaction, but she only shifted her gaze to stare off somewhere behind him. "Satisfied?" he added critically.
He was expecting her to nod, but she didn't.
"Rose, why?" You need to tell me if something happened." His anger was replaced with sincere concern, and he took her face in his hands, forcing her to look at him with her deep, honey eyes. "Tell me. Now, before it's too late. You don't need to lie to me, Rose, after all we've been through. I promise I'll do what I can-"
"It's not me," Rose blurted out, too loudly. She sniffled and quieted, almost to a whisper. "It's Eli."
The Doctor stared into her eyes, stunned, as it sank in. He had been so concerned for Rose, he hadn't even considered, blind to other possibilities.
"She-" Rose started, struggling with the terror of her memories as her expression became more pained, having come out with it. Her eyes blinked more frequently as tears started to form. "She must've known about Vemenor aggression. I think she provoked him on purpose, wanting to be pregnant that badly." Rose dropped her gaze, trying to collect herself. "She must not have known of the consequences."
The Doctor shut his eyes and drew Rose into a comforting hug. He waited until her breathing evened out and continued to just hold her. He didn't know what to say.
Eli was just a girl-an innocent slave, and he couldn't do anything to help her.
"They took her somewhere," Rose muffled into his shoulder. "Some place for breeders, I dunno."
"Come on," the Doctor loosened his arms from around her and prodded softly, encouraging Rose further into the bathing room with a hand to her back. "Let's get you cleaned up and out there before Icha thinks we're doing more than just washing up."