'I got you away from that other time, didn't I?'
'You're mucking this up on purpose, aren't you?'
Rose Tyler was doing that thing again where the corners of her lips pulled up into a grin and the tip of her tongue poked out between her teeth. It was an odd look, beguiling and the faintest bit unseemly, because most humans didn't really smile like that.
The expression was almost canine, more suited to a coyote or a wolf, but somehow it fit her face all the same. Coupled with the warm note in her voice that suggested teasing instead of accusation, it made scowling at her from across the console a bit of a chore. The Doctor's own facial muscles were already rebelliously trying to mirror the grin.
Not intending to give in so easily, though, he crossed his arms and looked down his nose at her in warning.
Apparently he needed to work on his threatening body language because if possible, Rose's distinctive grin only grew wider.
'You'd think having a time machine would mean it'd be impossible for you to be late for anything,' she went on innocently, even as her eyes gleamed.
'And if time were a linear progression of cause and effect, maybe you'd be right in thinking that,' he sniffed. 'But as I'd rather not get into a discussion of temporal physics with you right now – '
'Oh, so now we're blaming temporal physics for your bad driving?'
'Oi! It's got nothing to do with me,' he protested. 'The TARDIS doesn't like landing too close to herself. It's dangerous. Besides, I dunno what you're getting upset about, it's only a day after you left.'
The "it's better than last time" went unspoken.
'Yeah, except I told Mum I'd be back in ten seconds,' Rose pointed out. 'And hold on – if the TARDIS doesn't like landing close to itself, how'd you manage it when you came back for me the first time?'
'Simple – the TARDIS made an exception because we both knew you'd regret your first answer.'
'So what you're saying is the TARDIS wears the trousers in your relationship?'
'Eleven dimensional entities don't wear trousers.'
'Well, trousers or not, I'm glad she came back for me then.'
They beamed at each other for a moment, and the Doctor knew that like him, Rose was reflecting of the night they thwarted an Auton invasion together.
It hadn't been their first meeting – there had been a few false starts and brief encounters beforehand – but that night changed both their lives. He may have sworn off companions following the devastation of the Time War, but there was an earnestness in Rose that had given him pause.
For centuries, it had been his job to help others at his own expense and he had gotten used to them expecting it. It never bothered him before – in fact, he had revelled in it. It was the life he chose for himself after all.
But after the Time War that all changed.
Rose was the first person he had met in a long time who didn't seem to expect him to bleed for her or the universe. If anything, she seemed more concerned with helping him than the other way around.
Not that their friendship was seamless. There had been a few ups and downs in their six day acquaintance, which had nothing to do with several near-death experiences so much as their respective idiosyncrasies.
He despaired of how maddeningly short-sighted and human she could sometimes be, projecting her insecurities and domestic expectations at him even when she tried to hide it. In contrast, and in spite of her implicit offer of friendship, Rose refused to be overwhelmed by the superiority of his species as some of his previous companions had been. It didn't matter to her that he was a Time Lord and had forgotten more about the universe than she would ever learn. If she had a problem with something he did, she made her opinion known.
Though he feigned annoyance about it with her, inwardly he was glad. Being the last of his kind made it far too tempting to bend or break rules now that there was no one left to stop him.
In a few short days, Rose had become the voice of reason in his distressingly empty mind. While a relief, it was also mildly terrifying because for the first time in his life, his well-being – if only the mental aspect – depended wholly on someone else.
The whole situation made him anxious, which in itself was yet another terrifying new sentiment.
'You sure about this?' he asked, hiding that anxiety in resignation and the slightest note of disdain.
''Course I'm sure. I wouldn't've asked if I wasn't.'
'All of time and space…' he cajoled. 'Or if you're so set on a breather, didn't you say you wanted to explore the TARDIS a bit more? That sounds loads more interesting than Earth.'
'Just checking to make sure.'
'I promised. I don't want Mum to worry.'
'Then call her. I topped up your phone for a reason.'
'Yeah, and when I gave her a ring, it was a week before I left so she still figured I'd been murdered in the end,' Rose quipped. 'Besides – you said you'd make it up to me for last time.'
He suspected she was referring to skipping out on her mother during their last stopover in twenty-first century London. In his defence, he'd still been working off the adrenaline of preventing yet another alien invasion of Earth. How could anyone have expected him to sit still and chit-chat about new boyfriends and the newest fruit burst muffins at Costa?
Then there had been the dressing down Rose had given him after escaping a holding cell on an alien satellite station in the Horsehead Nebula.
'There's making it up to you, and then there's domestic,' the Doctor protested half-heartedly.
'An apology for being twelve months isn't so much domestic as deserved.'
'To me – not to my mum. You were too busy whinging about her slapping you.'
'Nine hundred years –!'
'Yeah, yeah,' she waved her hand dismissively and headed for the door, and then paused. 'You could, er, come up too…?'
'So you're just going to stay parked here 'til I get back? Mum'll probably ask me to stay the night.'
'You go ahead. I'll be fine here.'
'You sure? I wouldn't want you to get too lonely without me,' she told him with a smile. Her tone was two-thirds joking, and one third serious.
Rose possessed instincts about people. She sensed when they were hurting and something in her basic genetic make-up made her want to fix them.
'Doubt it'll come to that,' he muttered. 'Got some repairs to do on the TARDIS. And it might do to follow up with whatever poor sod stepped in over at UNIT.'
Since a delegation of their experts had been executed during the Slitheen invasion, he was sure they'd be scrambling to stretch their numbers for a while. They might even haul poor Alistair out of retirement.
'Worse comes to worse I can leave you here for a bit and go tie up a few loose ends.'
During a brief trip to the top of Mount Everest, Rose had told the Doctor about how she researched him after their first meeting. Apparently she had seen evidence of him on at least three separate occasions; not his previous incarnations, but this him.
As he didn't have any memory of being at Kennedy's assassination (not the crowd, at any rate), or ever knowing a family by the name of Daniels (he avoided befriending families on principle, even back… before) or posing for a picture before Krakatoa erupted (his second incarnation had been too busy investigating the existence of Primords at the time), it stood to reason he hadn't done it yet.
They were minor time loops, but the potential paradox ignoring them could cause was not something he wanted to deal with. With no one else to keep an eye out for such things any more, it needed to be him.
Besides, it would give Rose some time with her mother and boyfriend. She had made clear to him that both were a non-negotiable part of the Rose Tyler companion package. If he wanted her to stay with him, he needed to make room in his life for her family as well.
It was an effort, and a bit of a distasteful one at that, considering the persons in question, but if it made Rose happy, he would endure it.
Except at the moment, she didn't appear very happy. The grin was gone, and she was frowning at him.
'You're not gonna go off on any adventures without me, are you?' she asked, attempting to sound light-hearted but unable to completely hide the unease in her voice.
It occurred to him that she was afraid he was changing his mind about putting up with her and might leave her behind. Despite having no such intention, he suspected why she might think that. Their still-new friendship had so far been so full of whirlwind activity that he had had little time to learn too much about her, or vice versa.
Which was entirely intentional.
But he had learned some, and that some suggested Rose was used to being left behind.
Her father had left her young – dead, apparently, as the Doctor had found out in passing – and her mother didn't strike him as the most involved parent. Her love for her daughter aside, Jackie Tyler had likely tried to fill the absence of her husband with a string of men who never lingered either.
Then, of course, there were the little bits Rose had let slip herself; the conversation he had overheard in the Italian restaurant the night they defeated the Nestene Consciousness, and her stilted confession to him in the alien holding cell. Jimmy Stone, whoever he was, had done his own part in contributing to Rose's trust issues.
So it made sense that she expected the Doctor to be part of an ongoing pattern in her life.
He fully intended to disabuse her of that notion.
'Not so much adventures as just making a few memorable appearances,' he assured her. 'You won't even notice I'm gone.'
'Oh, no you don't, mister,' she wagged a finger at him. 'What if you show up a decade late instead of a day and I'm too old to travel with you?'
He snorted at the idea – she was still young enough to believe thirty was old.
'I doubt that would happen. Seem to be making a habit of the twenty-first century. You know, once upon a time, I could go decades without even landing on this rock? Since you stepped foot on board we've been here every other day.'
'Suppose that means you need to take me to an alien planet next trip.'
'I've already taken you to an alien planet. Not my fault you don't remember it.'
'If you say so,' she deadpanned. 'Anyway, I told you I was signing up with you, and knowing your luck you'd get yourself killed if I wasn't along. You'd better wait for me.'
They both knew that was stretching the truth quite a bit, but the Doctor let it slide. After all, if he was anxious at the thought of not having Rose around to drown out the silence in his head, he could at least assuage her abandonment issues. It was trite, and more than a bit of a human way of looking at things. But as the maddening little primates were all he had left in the universe, there wasn't much of a choice in it.
'S'ppose it couldn't hurt,' he pretended to concede with great effort. 'Always nice to have someone around to say how impressive I am, and all.'
'Yeah, that's not gonna happen.'
'Neither is me visiting your mother.'
'You're going to have to at some point.'
'A point which is very, very far away and possibly non-existent. I can tell these things, you know. Time Lord.'
Rose rolled her eyes. "Just cos she's afraid to come inside the TARDIS? Doesn't mean she won't bang on the doors all day until you come out and she can grill you on whether you're looking out for me.'
'Then I'll dematerialize and go somewhere else.'
The Doctor made the mistake of glancing up at the plaintiff tone in Rose's voice and found himself facing imploring brown eyes. His promise from minutes early came back to his own ears, and he replied, "'Course not."
She beamed at him.
'So you'll come up then?'
'You don't have to stay for tea – just, take it as you proving to her you can get me home on time,' Rose wheedled. 'I mean, if she sees you can do that it'll mean longer times between visits, yeah?'
There was some logic in that, at least.
'Fine,' the Doctor finally grunted. 'But I'm not staying long.'
''Course not,' Rose laughed.
'I mean it,' he insisted. 'Fifteen minutes.' That was all anyone in their right mind should have to take of Jackie Tyler's screeching. He paused, and after a moment of thought added, 'Rickey's not gonna be around, is he? Cos I meant what I said before. Liability.'
Actually, he just didn't want to be around if Mickey changed his mind and decided to tag along to keep an eye on Rose.
There was a reason the Doctor travelled with more females (or relevant locational equivalent thereof) than males over the centuries. Besides being more closed minded, males (or such similar genders) tended towards stubborn notions of over-protectiveness that often got people in trouble. It wasn't a criticism, really, considering he was self-aware enough to know that he reacted the exact same way occasionally.
Very occasionally, considering how much of that primitive behaviour he had trained himself out of.
But the point was, there didn't need to be more of that on the TARDIS than was absolutely necessary. Considering Mickey was more likely to get in a strop and snivel as the world burned, the Doctor was clearly the better choice.
'Mickey is probably at work right now,' Rose said with a roll of her eyes. 'But he might be by later if he and Mum are back to talking to each other. He comes 'round to raid our fridge every few days – least he used to…'
She trailed off, obviously thinking of the year she had lost because of the Doctor's miscalculation.
Guilt over the consequences of that, rather than anything to do with her mother and boyfriend, made him heave a put-upon sigh and throw up his hands dramatically.
'Fine – take me to your leader.'
True to his word, the Doctor only put up with Rose's mother for a quarter of an hour before making his escape. But he was waiting for her in the TARDIS the next morning, all brooding grace and manic grin when she pushed open the door.
'Done with the touchy-feely bit then?' he quipped once it closed behind her, and the familiar hum of the TARDIS shut out the ambient, discordant noises of the city. 'Can the universe continue spinning now that Jackie Tyler's been placated?'
'I had to promise to be back in a week,' Rose replied, ignoring his sarcasm as she tucked the chain with her TARDIS key on it out of sight. She glanced up and noticed his appalled expression, added, 'A week for her. Not for us, obviously.'
'Does she know that?'
'Sort of?' Rose shrugged. 'I don't think she really gets the concept of time machine, just like she doesn't really get that it wasn't a year for me. I mean, I tried to explain it all to her, but… ugh!' She threw up her hands and offered the Doctor an unrepentant smirk. 'She just made me swear not to come back missing a limb or pregnant or looking older than her.'
'There's pills for that sort of thing,' he replied absently. 'And if you do end up with anything important detached, as long as we save the limb, the equipment in the TARDIS medbay can sort it out.'
'Oh. Good to know,' Rose blinked. Even though she'd woken in the medbay at least once, she hadn't really given much thought to the kind of advanced medical technology that might be on the TARDIS. The Doctor might even have the cure to cancer!
She shook her head, deciding that that particular thought process was bound to get more complicated than she liked. Instead she asked the Doctor, 'So what'd you get up to while I was gone?'
'Not much. Did some repairs on the TARDIS, had a kip, solved the D'Agapeyeff cypher…' he trailed off dismissively. 'We off then?'
'Definitely,' Rose declared, skipping up the ramp to the console. 'Where're we stopping first?'
'Up to you – seeing as how you wouldn't let me go without you, I take it you've somewhere in mind?'
'Somewhere that's not anywhere near London,' Rose decided; so far she'd helped foil three alien invasions in England and one in Wales and was more than a bit sick her own country and time period. 'Somewhere from Clive's photos!'
The Doctor grinned and threw himself into motion, doing whatever it was that he did to fly the time ship. She'd asked him once if he could teach her, and he'd offered her a vague and slightly insulting speech about why humans were incapable of piloting the ship.
'Pilot, Rose, the TARDIS doesn't fly,' he'd sneered at least twice now.
Then he had grudgingly assigned her a few tasks to make her feel helpful but which she felt sure were ultimately useless.
Maybe if she paid attention long enough, some of what he did might make enough sense that she could help. For now she simply contented herself with holding on to the nearest coral strut and trying to keep her balance.
The entire control room swayed and shook. Then, as suddenly as it started, it stopped, and there was the familiar, jaunty chime of a bell.
The Doctor straightened up grandiosely.
'Step outside, it's the twenty-second of November, 1963,' he announced smugly. 'All over the world, Beatlemania is in full swing! The first push-button telephones are being introduced in the United States! And somewhere in London the BBC is preparing to air what will one day be the longest running science-fiction programme in television history.'
'1963?' she remembered the photos from Clyde's basement. 'So we're in America, then?'
'No way! So once we've gotten your pictures done, can we go meet Marilyn Monroe?'
'It'll be another trip. She died a year before this.'
'Right.' She felt a bit stupid for not knowing that, but tried to cover it up by changing the subject. 'So – Sixties? Does that mean I need to dress up again?'
His eyes barely looked her over before he answered, 'Probably, yeah. Trainers and hooded sweatshirts aren't exactly common right now.'
'What about you?'
'What about me?'
'Don't you need to change?'
'Rose Tyler, I'll have you know this look is classic – it blends in everywhere.'
'Yeah, right, I bet you have a perception-whatsit on or something,' she quipped as she headed back to the wardrobe to find something classic of her own.
Once more in the breathtakingly vast wardrobe, Rose paused and tried to decide where to look first. The countless racks didn't seem organised in any specific way. She'd passed it off as blind luck the first time she came in here and found the Victorian dress after a few seconds's casual perusal. It wasn't until returning to find her clothing neatly put away that she'd remembered the way the Doctor treated the ship as if it was alive.
Does that include picking out clothes for people? Rose speculated as she once again wandered aimlessly up the spiral staircase.
As before, it didn't take more than a few minutes before she turned a corner and found a rack of clothing that seemed to be from the Sixties. More amazingly, right within her grasp she found a dress absolutely perfectly geared toward her tastes. A sleeveless, A-line day dress in pale mauve linen. Some sort of flower decoration decorated the front, but even if that was a little on the nose, she liked it.
She didn't waste time, shrugging into the garment and the white go-go boots that came with it. She had no idea what the vogue was in 1963 America, but this dress seemed made for her in the same specific way the black taffeta one had been. It made her hips look larger, giving her a more proportional look than most such dresses did, which was nice. And it came with an off-white wool cape that she didn't think would really be needed in Texas, even in the autumn.
She wondered if the TARDIS picked out the Doctor's clothes and eventually decided probably not. He was so unimaginative, and the frock the TARDIS had chosen for her before had been perfect – both for her own personal tastes and the fashion requirements of the period.
So, it seemed the Doctor's stubbornness overruled the TARDIS choices in some things.
'Not landings, though, I guess,' she murmured to the air.
Was it her imagination, or did the constant hum of the ship sound like laughter?