'While there's life, there's hope.'
The Doctor didn't like Rome, in any era.
On his first visit, he concluded that it was a brutal, murderous place, replete with slavery, crimes in the streets and everybody stabbing everyone else in the back. Granted, he had been visiting during Nero's reign. And he had been with Susan at the time, trying to stop her wandering into whatever terrible dangers might seem enticing to a young girl.
But that was neither here nor there.
He had visited a few times since. Although it still was not his favourite spot to travel, he accepted that in spite of its vices, it was a beautiful city with its occasional charms.
As he gazed out across the Capitoline Hill and the Campus Martius, he supposed that was why the TARDIS chose to land them here.
Instead of back in Rose's time, as he had been aiming.
That didn't make him like it any more.
Their misadventures on the planet Velopssi remained fresh in the Doctor's mind and conscience, even if they weren't in Rose's. She had nearly been poisoned to death by an angry local, and he had barely saved her.
The mere thought of that filled him with rage and nausea. If the would-be-murderer's people hadn't already dealt out their brand of justice, he would have gone back and inflicted his own. Village by village until he found the bastard.
The realisation, when he first made it, scared him.
The Doctor hadn't known Rose Tyler three days, and already the protection of one silly little ape child topped his priority list. He could easily explain that away with the usual bit of detached self-analysis. His grief over Gallifrey and his people was causing him to latch on emotionally to the first creature to show him a bit of kindness since the War.
It still unnerved him.
He didn't know if Rose was just naturally prone to getting into trouble, or if his own brand of bad luck was rubbing off on her. Either way, four out of their past five trips nearly ended in her death.
Poison aside, he remained rather selfishly glad that Rose didn't remember the events on Velopssi.
Only because it meant he'd gotten another chance to show her the universe without his putting his foot in it.
So, for Rose's sake he pasted a smile on his face and tugged her out of the console room to see Rome.
'This is brilliant,' the human girl said, eyes eagerly taking in their surroundings. The Doctor led them away from the corner of a vast, off-white chamber with a high vaulted ceiling and simple mosaic patterns on the floor. Rows of columns bordered it on two sides, beyond which an ancient city sprawled proudly. The place in no way resembled the Powell Estate, but she didn't seem to care. 'Where are we?'
'Welcome to the Roman Republic,' the Doctor told her, only peeking slightly at his watch to make sure the TARDIS time had been correct. He didn't quite forgive the ship for their last wrong landing. 'We're about a generation before the start of the First Roman Empire – prime time for fresco painting and political sculptures, chariot racing and the theatre. Even Julius Caesar is alive and well.'
'Oh! So we're going to visit him, then?' Rose asked, excitement rising. Caesar, at least, was a name she appeared familiar with.
'Mm, maybe not today. He's busy in Gaul right now – but remind me to take you some time. Old Jules is a great bloke.'
'Then what's so great about this place?'
'We, Rose Tyler, are going to watch a trial.'
She made a face at that. 'A trial. Like, some kind of celebrity murder scandal.'
'Sort of, yeah.'
'And are we here to save someone from being executed or something?' she perked up.
He raised an eyebrow at her. 'You know, not every trip is about toppling alien invasions or stopping power-hungry dictators. Sometimes, it's about being in a place in time where amazing things are happening.'
'You said it was always dangerous,' she countered.
That had been one of her concerns in the beginning, right? She had been intrigued by the idea of danger – excited even. Except it wasn't the danger that won her over, in the end. All of space wasn't enough for Rose Tyler, but time on the other hand…
He sensed a story there, and he wanted to hear it, but he wouldn't ask. Not yet.
'It's time travel,' he finally said. 'It's always dangerous. One misstep and you can unravel history – remember what I said about Cardiff?'
Did she remember Cardiff? Of course she bloody remembered! It was the last thing she did remember!
'Rewriting time and all that?' she prompted darkly, thinking about how that bit with the Gelth had gone more than a little wrong. The Doctor told her that she'd already called him out on that, but she still felt upset that she didn't recall anything about it. Apparently she'd even been on an alien planet, but just couldn't remember!
Which means it doesn't count, she thought crossly.
The Doctor shifted uncomfortably. 'Exactly. More complicated than I led you to believe, but we were in a bit of a hurry so I couldn't explain the exact mechanics of it. Temporal ins and outs get a bit more complex based on the proportional amount of stress involved, and then you add reanimated corpses to the mix…'
He continued talking, and Rose shook her head.
Normally she would have railed a little more against the Doctor for letting anything muck with her memories. But he had apologised for everything – both what she did and didn't remember – and she sensed he meant it. She let it go. Maybe a little memory was worth losing if it meant he opened up a bit.
'… trick is to know when to unravel, and when to let things happen,' the Doctor finished, not having noticed that Rose's thoughts were elsewhere.
Not wanting him to realise she hadn't been listening, she piped up, 'So what kind of time is this one?'
'The latter, I think – pretty much the beginning of court-room drama as you know it,' he grinned. 'If I'm right, and I usually am, we've landed in the middle of the trial of Marcus Caelius Rufus. He's being defended by his former teacher and current political rival, Marcus Tullius Cicero for having apparently poisoned his ex.'
'Cicero… I know that name…' Rose mused. 'Oh! He's the one with the big nose, right?'
The Doctor gave her an exasperated but amused look. 'No, that would be Cyrano. Cyrano de Bergerac. French, not Italian, and an excellent swordsman, him. Taught me to fence.'
'You mean he was real? I thought he was just a character in a book!'
The Doctor rolled his eyes heavenward and said something about the state of the education system in the United Kingdom in the 21st century under his breath. She didn't catch what it was, but figured it was more unflattering than the usual complaints about the human race.
'Put that down as someone else I'm taking you to meet,' he told her. 'But not right now – right now, let's go watch some real reality drama. Unless…' He trailed off, considering her sideways. 'You want to leave? Considering it's not the end of the world, might be a bit dull for you.'
'Nothing with you is ever dull,' she answered earnestly, linking hands with him as they walked through the echoing columned corridor.
But privately, she still wondered what kind of trouble they would get into this time.
As they strolled, the Doctor started telling her something about the difference between Ionic, Doric and Corinthian columns. Most of it went over her head the way his lecturing sometimes did, but she didn't resent it. Not the way she usually begrudged over-educated people prattling on like they were smarter than her. How many times did students from the nearby uni breeze into the shop, their eyes falling upon her with pity and judgement? Like she was too stupid or lazy to do anything but work in a shop.
While the Doctor liked to show off his brilliance, he also genuinely enjoyed teaching her things for the simple fun of it.
'Hear that?' he blurted, interrupting his lecture and her thoughts. They paused, and she heard the sound of people speaking in the distance wash over her. 'Bet it's this way!'
He quickened his pace, tugging her along with him and she grinned.
He was very much like an eager school boy most of the time. Definitely not a striking, fortyish human with a discernible Northern accent or the sole survivor of a time-travelling alien race.
As they followed the echoing voices, Rose reflected on what she must look like next to him. Nearly nineteen-year-old-shop girl chavving it up with an older man? That's what anyone back home would think looking at her now.
But she wasn't.
She'd saved London from aliens, watched the end of the world and battled gas zombies in a matter of three days.
Possibly four, not entirely sure, she added. If that doesn't change a person…
But it didn't, did it?
Mickey hadn't really been changed by his encounter with the aliens. He'd just been terrified. Of course, he'd been abducted by living plastic and only saved at the last minute, so their experiences differed a bit…
Rose suspected that even if it was Mickey's hand the Doctor grabbed in a dank basement instead of hers, and he told him to forget him, he would have. Mickey would have gone on with his life and would pretend nothing had happened. Probably still was.
But the minute Rose met the Doctor, everything changed. She changed.
She'd nearly been killed by window shop dummies, got burned up by the sun and met Charles Dickens, all of which had been sad and frightening and humbling and –
And she had known in that moment that whatever her life had once been, it was different now. She couldn't just forget all of that – the wonder, the fear, the staggering realisation that the world was oh-so-much bigger than she had ever imagined herself understanding.
She never wanted to go back.
When they had returned to Earth, he had told her how his people were gone and how he was alone now. He had given her a choice to stay home or keep travelling with him. Something within her had clenched at the thought of him leaving and she had the sudden presentiment that there was no way she could just stay behind.
She never would be able to again.
Before the Doctor grabbed her hand and told her to run, she would never have been the type of girl to just leave her family and friends without question.
Now she was.
She wondered if she should call Mickey. She'd called her mother to tell her she'd be late, but hadn't really spared her boyfriend a thought. The notion made her suddenly miss him, but not in a desperate way. More distantly, like a cousin or old friend.
Cor, was I always such a rubbish girlfriend?
No, not always.
She'd gone above and beyond for Jimmy, had put up with so much and given so much more… there had just been nothing left to give after him. It took two years for her to claw back the parts of herself that she'd willingly given, and there hadn't been anything left for Mickey. Nothing beyond what they'd always had since they were kids, anyhow.
It was better than many people got.
He'd always understood that, and they'd never been that kind of besotted and passionate couple. Theirs was the comfortable, complacent relationship of two people who had known each other their entire lives and expected to continue in that way for the rest of them.
At least Mickey did.
Rose wasn't sure she'd ever felt that way, and right now it seemed so far from what she wanted.
In fact, she didn't even recognise herself from three days ago. Or four.
What am I going to do when the Doctor does bring me home? She wondered, sneaking glances at the alien out of the corner of her eye.
What if he decided he'd had enough of her and brought her home and went on with his fantastic life without her? He'd be all alone, and she'd…
What? Go work at the chippy?
The idea absolutely terrified her.
While travelling with the Doctor made her braver, it also made her greatest fear – being trapped on the Estate for the rest of her life – that much more powerful.
Just going to have to make sure he doesn't leave me behind, she decided firmly.
As soon as this trip was over, she'd ask the Doctor to bring her to check in with her mother. Possibly say goodbye to Mickey and Gran and Shireen, too. She'd tell Jackie she'd decided to take a gap year… and then figure out how to explain the travelling-through-time-and-space thing later.
Because suddenly, she saw her entire life stretch out before her, and it was on the TARDIS with the Doctor. The allure of such a life was equal parts the adventures and being around him.
Her world had shifted the night she met him.
Although it was far too early to even consider what that meant to her, she intended to take her new life a day at a time until she could.
But she would also keep herself safe.
The cock-up that had been her experience with Jimmy had taught her an important lesson, not just when it came to romance, but in life. She understood that the more you wanted something, the more you had to hide it from other people. If they figured out how much you wanted it, they would have power over you. And as much as she liked the Doctor, she wouldn't give him that.
Or, at least, she would try not to give him that.
He was intense and alien and when she reflected on it, Mickey had been right. The Doctor could be dangerous. He could be especially dangerous to her.
It had hit her the first time on Platform One when Raffalo asked her where she came from. Rose hadn't been able to answer without explaining him and trying to do that had suddenly underscored the fact that she didn't have any information about him.
A mysterious stranger says he's an alien and instead of running screaming for the hills I hitch a lift with him, she chided herself.
Never mind that this mysterious Doctor might eat people (which she was relieved wasn't the case) or might be some kind of interplanetary slaver specialising in humans. Or any number of horrible other things.
She had simply gone.
She knew nothing about this strange, sad, wonderful alien, but she intuited with a startling flash of insight that her place was beside him.
It was mildly terrifying to be that sure of something, especially considering she had never been absolutely sure of anything in her life.
Rose tightened her grip on the Doctor's hand, and when he shot her questioning look, she only grinned at him.
Terrified or not, she was glad it was the Doctor by her side while she experienced it.