Salt and Sherbet

Disclaimer: Yes! I do actually own 'Daniel Todd', but you're welcome to him. He's not very nice, is he?

Author's Note: Apologies for not updating this in a while, but it's the summer holidays now so I've got much more time for writing and updating, so hopefully this will be nearly finished soon. Let me know what you think, and pretend that S4 never happened; it works, honestly!

Rose could count on one hand the number of times she had ran away and the Doctor hadn't come running after her. There had been that time on Jadlen; a dreary, all-grey planet with black rain, where she and the Doctor found themselves in a spot of trouble for not complying with the compulsory dress code.

"You want us to wear nothing but grey?" the Doctor had protested incredulously, to a mob of furious, umbrella wielding Charlie Chaplin-esque clones who had balked at their colourful attire. Well, Rose's more than the Doctor's. The Doctor had been wearing his usual pinstriped suit and white Converse, whereas Rose had been dressed in jeans, trainers and a red denim jacket. She'd stood out a mile. And a half.

"But we'd look like two elephants trampling around the place!" he'd continued, ignoring the fact that he was making the assembled group of men grow steadily more irate… Anyway, after being rudely prodded and tutted at by a handful of little grey men, who had regarded her with as much distaste as Queen Victoria had back in 1879, Rose and the Doctor had settled for their usual "Right, sorry. Didn't realise. Won't do it again. We'll just be off now then…no? Oh all right then…RUN!" tactic and had legged it back to the TARDIS.

Except Rose ran on her own, not realising the Doctor had been re-captured. So that was one time he hadn't come running after her and…actually no, he had technically tried to run after her but since he'd had his foot clamped the most he had been able to do had been an awkward sort of shuffle, so that didn't really count as a time when he hadn't run after her. Rose couldn't think of another example.

The fact of the matter was that the Doctor never had not ran after her. Yet, Rose still couldn't help but foolishly hope that the Doctor might break the habit of however many lifetimes and for once, not be concerned for the welfare of his companion.

Pigs would fly first; of course, but for the first time ever she didn't want him to come with her. She didn't want him to see this; she was far too ashamed…

She'd faced countless dangers in the time that she'd traveled with the Doctor; been frightened out of her wits more times than she could count. Slitheen, Gelth, Daleks, Clockwork Droids, yet at the appearance of four hard- faced grimy boys she'd completely frozen.

She'd felt heat rise in her cheeks, felt her breath hitch in her chest and a squeeze of nausea in her stomach. That old, horrible snatch of fear that she'd felt as a child, whenever she'd stepped out onto the school playground to find them waiting for her, or whenever she'd been sandwiched between two of them in the dining hall as she'd joined the queue for those who received free school meals, prickled down her back.

For a moment her mouth went very dry and she felt a chill creep over her shoulders and chest. It didn't matter that she was a grown woman in her 20's; that the group of boys wouldn't recognise this pretty, blonde in the denim jacket as being the same little girl they had been tormenting, or that she had a tall, brilliant man Time Lord standing next to her, who would be more than willing to stick up for her till the end of the universe; Rose was still scared.

These boys, they were all exactly the same as she remembered; same haircuts and shifty eyes; same Kappa trainers, school trousers and knocked-off Berghaus jackets with back to front baseball caps.

Just for a moment, she couldn't help but feel like the timid, upset nine year old who used to come home in floods of tears and bury her face in her mum's shoulder after being called names and having her pencil case flushed down the toilet…seeing them, sparked a shiver of self-consciousness and insecurity that she'd forgotten she was capable of feeling.

But not only did they dredge up the ghosts of her childhood anxieties, they also instilled in her a new, fresh alarm. Because if they were buying Sherbet Fountains, it meant that today was the day. She was uneasy because she knew what was going to happen; she knew exactly what those boys were going to do with those Sherbet Fountain's…she had to find herself. Her younger self. Now.

Somewhere close by, nine year old Rose Tyler was walking home from school, probably trying not to cry, unaware that she was about to be cornered by this group of horrible bullies.

Rose knew she would be able to do nothing more than just stand there and watch helplessly, in much the same way as she had once watched her dad be knocked down in the road; timelines were too fragile for her to interfere with; how many times had the Doctor told her that? Yet she had to be there, she had to see; she couldn't explain why exactly, she just…had to.

Panicking, she had hurriedly thrust her purse at the Doctor, silently hoping that she had enough money to cover all her spontaneous purchases and had dashed out of the shop, leaving a thoroughly confused Doctor at the counter, like a groom abandoned at the altar on his wedding day. Well, sort of… Nearly.

Now here she was, running, the cuffs of her denim jacket balled into her fists, trying to see past the angry tears that were preventing her from seeing where she was going. Where was she going? Out of old habit she had turned left outside the newsagents and had joined the throng of students from Jericho Street's Primary and Comprehensive moving en masse away from the school buildings, towards the outskirts of the district.

Wiping a sleeve across her damp cheek, Rose squeezed past a group of giggling girls walking arm and arm reciting dialogue from Kenan and Kel and dodged a red Ford parked half-on, half-off the pavement. It took her a couple of seconds before she realised that her feet were taking her in the direction of the park; a large grassy, tree-lined area two streets away from the high street and her old school, with fat, bedraggled ducks bobbing up and down on a murky pond and a small ice-cream van beside the gates.

Her old route home. She'd always cut through the park; it acted as a short-cut to her estate, rather than looping round the main roads, and more importantly, it got her away from the majority of the students walking home in large groups. There was less of a chance for her to be spotted and jeered after.

Until that day. Well, this day in fact. After today the younger Rose would avoid walking through the park at all costs…

Rose was running past the small bakery, which was packed with pushchairs and workers buying over-priced sandwiches, the smell of fresh gingerbread and hot sausage rolls tickling her nostrils, when she heard someone calling her name.


There were quick footfalls behind her, before she felt a strong, familiar hand grip her arm and she was quite roughly pulled round to face, who else? The Doctor.

"Rose," he started in disbelief, sounding vaguely accusatory, going slightly higher than usual. "What…" he faltered, taking in her too-wet eyes and the pained look on her face. His expression turned from mild bewilderment to definite concern.

He held her elbow firmly with one hand, the other coming up to rest just below her right shoulder, forcing her to look at him properly, his dark eyes intense and searching.

"Why are you crying? What's wrong?" he asked quietly, squeezing her elbow gently and ignoring the crowds of students who were complaining loudly because he and Rose were blocking the path. To her mortification, the undisguised worry and concern in his eyes was enough to bring more tears to her eyes. The unspoken extent to which he cared about her was oddly touching.

"Nothing," lied Rose, sniffing and trying to look at anything other than the Doctor. Ah yes, the shiny red and yellow sign hanging over the doorway to the post office on her left would do quite nicely.

Unfortunately, the Doctor could tell when she was lying as easily as Rose could tell the time, and he simply raised his eyebrows at her and gave her a 'Rose-Tyler-do-you-really-think-you-can-hide-anything-from-me' sort of look.

Rose shrugged her arm out of the Doctor's grasp, like a child struggling to wriggle free from a restraining parent.

"I need to go," she told him shakily, her voice sounding more pleading than demanding. "I just…have to I,"

Rose broke off suddenly, staring at something over the Doctor's shoulder, her lips parted in a small 'O' of surprise, her face paling, her eyes glassy and transfixed.

The Doctor craned round, searching for whatever it was that was causing her to look so distressed…that's when he spotted her. Walking by herself; white, patterned socks pulled up to her knees, a dark grey school skirt with wide pleats that was just a fraction too short; a bobbly school jumper bearing the Jericho Street Primary embroidery that was pulled down over her hands.

A pink, square plastic lunchbox decorated with Barbie stickers swung from her left hand, whereas a silver inflatable bag hung over her shoulders. Green, moon-shaped stick-on earrings were pressed to her lobes instead of the usual silver hoops she now wore, and a thick velvet-covered hair band with 'Rose' smudged across it in gold glitter glue was slotted in her hair, above a thick, straight fringe.

Her hair was a mousy brown rather than bottle blonde, but there would be no mistaking who this girl was, even if her name hadn't been written on her hair band. Though they were yet to be outlined with lashings of thick, clumpy mascara, her brown eyes, which were almost as familiar to him as his own, were the same as ever. This little girl was Rose Tyler.

The Doctor gaped, his mouth falling open as he watched the little Rose break away from the other children, walking up the street in dribs and drabs, like salmon, and hurrying along a manky-looking back alley behind a pizza takeaway.

"She's going to the park," muttered Rose to herself, scuffing the toe of her trainer against the ground, looking after her younger self in almost helpless trepidation.

"She is or you are?" asked the Doctor unsmilingly, also looking after the lone, retreating figure.

Rose swallowed. 'She' or 'I'? Rose knew her younger self was going to the park because she could remember being her, walking despondently along, desperate to get home before those awful boys found her. But the boys were only in the shop…they would catch up with her any minute.

How many years ago was this? Seven? Eight? Nine? It was all so confusing…trying to remember was like trying to remember bits from a dream, like trying to do a jigsaw with your eyes closed.

Yet she was sure of this, on this day, however many years ago she had been walking along on her own, through smelly back alleys, skirting bins and skips, until she got to the park, where she had ran into her bullies just beside the dense, tree-lined exit, but before she had reached the park she had been running...why? What had made her nine year old self start running?

Then it hit her; realisation dawned on her with as much force as a tidal wave and Rose could remember exactly why she had started to run…because someone had told her to. A very specific someone…

"We are," Rose corrected him distractedly, her eyes still damp, looking wildly around for an alternate route to the park. Familiar shops and blurred faces of teenagers she went to school with, but who were by now probably getting married and starting to have children of their own all mingled together in a flurry of movements and bright colours.

Rose chewed on her lip, looking around the busy street but without really seeing it at all.

She pointed towards a quite ugly looking pebble dashed church at the end of the road.

"We're about two minutes away," she informed him. "We can go up the high street and left at the corner of the church, yeah?"

"Yes but why are we…?" began the Doctor impatiently, evidently at a complete loss as to why a) Rose had ran out of the newsagents, leaving him clutching a carrier bag of sweets and pre-teen magazines like a lemon, and b) why she suddenly had this mad urge to go to the park. Somehow, he didn't think it was because she wanted to feed the ducks…

"In a minute," she muttered aside to him, standing on her tiptoes so she had a better view of her younger self who had almost drifted completely out of sight. Oh, please let this work…

"Rose! Run!" she shouted loudly after the little girl, causing the people around her to stare round at her curiously, as if she'd taken leave of her senses.

Hearing the shout, the younger Rose wheeled around, her eyes darting nervously from side to side to see whom it was who had shouted. Nevertheless, she heeded the anonymous warning and broke into a run; scarpering off like a frightened mouse and vanishing round the corner.

Rose did not have time to see whether her younger self had spotted her or not, because the Doctor grabbed her hand and together, they sprinted full-pelt up the high street, weaving round people, running on and off curbs.

"What are you doing?" he hissed angrily, her hand held tightly in his, jostling each other with their arms as they ran.

"I don't know that it's me," Rose told him breathing heavily as they skidded past a bus stop. "I think it's just a random woman."

The Doctor simply shook his head at her in annoyance, deciding not to reply.

Both the Doctor and Rose evidently decided that mid-run wasn't the best time for a meaningful conversation, and so they ran in an almost preoccupied silence. Rose had a flitting feeling that the Doctor wasn't very happy with her, yet she pushed it to the back of her mind, trying to suppress the sick, tight feeling tying knots in her stomach.

Soon, they left the high street, with its bustling shoppers and student buskers strumming away on worn guitars outside shop windows behind.

The noise of parents telling children to hold their hands, of young women gossiping about the latest sales, the tooting of buses and the general hubbub of activity spilling out onto the street from open cafes and market stalls, all stringed together with the sound of a long-haired, unshaven art student murdering a Beatles song on the street corner, trickled into a gradual quiet as the Doctor and Rose rushed down a narrow side street between the church and the church hall.

It wasn't until they'd crossed the road at the end of the street and pushed through the park gates that they slowed down, the Doctor pulling Rose into a clump of trees to the left of an algae-covered pond.

The Doctor faced her with his hands crammed into his pockets with an expression on his face that was a cross between disappointment and disapproval.

"The last time you interacted with your past self," began the Doctor shortly, in a tone that suggested that he was going to tell her off, like some sort of child.

"She didn't see me!" snapped Rose, surprising even herself with how angry and defensive she sounded.

There was a small silence in which neither of them moved. The Doctor shot Rose a swift, searching look before dropping his gaze to the muddy grass beneath his feet, waiting for her to continue, as he knew she would. It was unusual for her to be quite so angry and wound up. Whatever it was that was wrong, it must be particularly grave if she was this upset…

Rose sighed, letting her shoulders sink and leaned dejectedly against a tree, feeling the rough, flaky hardness of the trunk pressing against her back.

"She didn't see me," she repeated, more softly this time with the hint of an apology in her voice, rubbing her hands over her face. "But it was always me," she said, sliding down the trunk so that she was sitting huddled at the base of the tree, her legs folded into her chest.

"This one day after school, when I was about nine; I was only in year six, I was walking home when I heard this woman shout my name, telling me to run…so I did," she mused, pulling up handfuls of grass and letting the thin green blades fall through her fingers.

"It was today; that woman was me," said Rose wonderingly, but she didn't sound very confident; it was as if she were too confused to think properly, as if she were hypothesising; voicing her thoughts to see if they made sense. From the studied frown on her face, it looked like she was mentally trying to solve quadratic equations.

The Doctor looked down at her, towering above her where she sat. If she were to raise her eyes from the ground, which she was studying as if it were the most interesting thing she'd ever seen, she'd be met with nothing more than an eyeful of pinstriped knees.

"Who were you running from?" he asked quietly, crouching down opposite her in the grass, resting his elbows on his knees, his eyes gentle.

Rose glanced up at him in a preoccupied sort of way and then back down at the small pile of grass she was twisting around her fingers.

"The boys in the shop," she told him flatly, her eyes glazed and unseeing, as if the image of the same awful boys was performing a never-ending dance through her head. Cruel and taunting.

"There was this boy called Daniel Todd," she said carefully, her voice wobbling slightly, her hands frantic as she wringed them together in distress. It was as if she didn't trust herself to speak, as if it were too difficult and painful to spit out the words.

"Him and his mates used to…used to bully me," she said tentatively, refusing to look at the Doctor, as if she were admitting to something crude and shameful. "Non-stop. For two years," she croaked, with a bitter smile. "I saw them today and I just…I don't know…I just panicked and ran…I'm sorry."

The Doctor watched, as a lone, silent tear made its way down Rose's cheek and dripped off her chin. She looked…very fragile. Just two days before she'd been immaculately dressed in her best cocktail dress with perfect, porcelain make-up, and they'd laughed and carried on about canapés and cheese and…Clouseau and…the Spice Girls.

Every time he'd looked at her he'd been faced with a gleaming white smile with just the tip of her tongue peeking through and crinkled, happy eyes. Now though, she was dressed in plain black trousers and a purple vintage-style t-shirt underneath her faded denim jacket. Her hair was neither straight nor wavy; just looked messy and unstyled, and her eyelashes were sticking together with tears.

The coating of mascara on her right eye was beginning to smudge; there was faint greyish black tidemarks just under her lower lashes and he could see that her complexion was slightly oily and uneven; her forehead was too greasy and white tinged spots decorated the top of her nose.

She was flawed and imperfect. She was so…Rose. But late night after late night and too-little sleep had finally taken its toll on her; she looked pale and tired; why had he never noticed it before? How had he failed to see how worn-out she had become?

"Don't be," he murmured, shaking his head to dismiss her apology, clenching his jaw. "What did they do?" he asked, in an excruciatingly calm voice. Too calm. It was the voice he used whenever he was trying to keep a hold of his temper.

Rose's head snapped up; she recognised the tone at once and saw that there was a strange, dangerous, protective sort of fire dancing in his eyes. Dancing for her. She shrugged, trying to stay casual but her mouth was trembling.

"Usual stuff," she said in a deadpan voice. "Called me names, threw balls off me in PE; tripped me up in the corridor; put bubblegum in my hair; stuffed used toilet paper in my coat pocket; nicked my homework so I'd get into trouble when I couldn't hand it in…" she trailed off, either unwilling or unable to elaborate any further.

There was a large lump burning at the back of her throat, and there was the too-familiar sensation of more tears prickling at her eyelids, like salty needles.

"Why?" growled the Doctor, glaring at the ground, as if it too had been hurting Rose.

Rose gave a small, hollow laugh; which came out sounding more like a snort that anything else.

"'Cause of where I'm from," she said, with a strain of defiance. "'Cause I live on a council estate and I've got no dad," she continued in mock-horror, unable to stop the bitter sarcasm from dripping over her words. Sometimes, she'd felt as if admitting you were from a single-parent family on a council estate was akin to saying that you were a plague-ridden tramp living in the sewers.

Old women used to wrinkle their noses at her or tut when she and her mum clambered on the bus into town. People would give them a certain look; one that was a mix of pity, distaste and snobbery. They always assumed that her mum had become pregnant at a ridiculously young age, that her father had walked out on them and that her mum was using her child benefits to buy alcohol and drugs. Why though? Why did people always assume? It just…wasn't fair and it certainly wasn't true.

Yes her mum and dad had been young when they'd married, but not too young. Her mum had had her when she was twenty-one and although they'd hadn't had as much money as they would have liked, they'd managed. But then her dad had been killed in a road accident and Jackie had had to move to the Powell Estate to support herself and her one-year-old daughter.

She'd brought Rose up all on her own, and of course there'd been some downsides; there were always a lot of fights in the car park; there were a lot of smashed windows and fireworks put through letterboxes and the lifts always smelt of urine and never worked but…that was just the way things were. Rose was fiercely proud of how well her mum had coped, how she'd always looked after them both and still stayed bubbly and chatty, even when times had been particularly hard.

Her upbringing and family background were what had made Rose the target for bullies, yet she was not about to apologise for it; she wouldn't change it for anything.

The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck and rested his chin on his hand, mulling over his words carefully as he looked at Rose, fidgeting with the grass, her eyes troubled and downcast.

"Rose, even if," he started, but then broke off as Rose looked up at him expectantly, her eyebrows arched, like a child needing to be reassured. "As if it would help," he muttered crossly to himself. Silently and deliberately, he took the blades of grass out of Rose's hands and let them fall to the ground.

Taking Rose's cool hands in both of his he rose to his feet, pulling Rose up with him, who stumbled, before drawing her towards him and wrapping her in a tight hug.

Rose gave a muffled 'oomph!' squeezing her eyes tightly shut and clasping her hands together around his neck as she rested her head against his shoulder, breathing in his familiar Doctor smell. A mix of peppermint, soap, green tea and toffee. Oh and Time. Being a Time Lord, it was only natural to expect that the Doctor would smell of Time…

Rose held onto him tightly, feeling his hands pressed against her back protectively. She felt ridiculously safe and secure. One hug from the Doctor had banished all the niggling worries about destroying the timelines, all her insecurities about once more seeing the boys who had made her life miserable, all the built up dread that had spread through her chest about seeing what she was about to see.

That was all she had needed; a hug; a murmur in her ear that tickled her neck and said that everything would be all right; someone there to hold her hand. It wasn't often that Rose needed reassuring; that her confidence and strength of will failed her, but this time it had, ever so slightly. That was fine, though because she was after all a human, she was so, so human; she had human fears and childhood worries under her infectious smile and chirpy manner and the Doctor innately knew what to do to comfort her. Just because he was the Doctor

"Oi! Tyler!" came a gruff boy's shout from nearby. Rose stiffened upon hearing it and broke off from the Doctor quickly, detaching herself as if he had burnt her.

She looked towards the brown, filthy pond on autopilot. She'd heard the name 'Tyler' and had instinctively jerked her head around. There, standing just a few feet away from Rose and the Doctor where they were hidden amongst the trees, were the boys from the shop, stood with their backs to them.

The leader, the boy Rose had identified as 'Daniel' with the pudding haircut, nasty smirk and sly eyes was close enough so that Rose could read the peeling, felt slogan stretched across the back of his coat.

She had been so preoccupied with her thoughts and with the Doctor that she hadn't noticed their silent, wolfish approach.

Inwardly she cringed, reaching for the Doctor's hand as she looked over Daniel's shoulder and saw a flash of familiar light brown hair and a pink plastic lunchbox.

Rose; shaking and terrified, chewing her lip so hard to keep herself from crying that it bled, being pushed forward by two boys; their hands biting and hurtful around her skinny wrists.

"Where's your mummy, Tyler?" Daniel jeered in a falsely high-pitched sugar coated voice that one might use when talking to a baby. "Are you going to shout for your mummy?"

"She came out in the street in her pyjamas and slippers yesterday!" chipped in the boy on young Rose's left; a chubby, gormless-looking boy with yellowing teeth and a gold stud in his ear. "S'matter Rose? Is your mum too poor to be able to afford clothes?"

There was a mild tittering at this, as if he had told an excellent sort of joke, but Rose herself could feel anger rising in her chest and pursed her lips, clenching her jaw until it started to ache.

The most frustrating thing was that she couldn't intervene, she couldn't do or say anything to defend her younger self; she just had to watch uselessly. She glanced across at the Doctor, and saw that he was watching the children in front of him like a hawk, his mouth growing steadily thinner with each jibe and insult against Rose and Jackie.

"She don't wear no clothes though, do she?" scorned a pale, wiry boy wearing a blue wooly QPR hat. "My mum says that Jackie Tyler dresses like an old tart 'cause it's the only way she can pay for her TV license!"

More jeers and unkind laughter.

"My Nan says that Jackie's 'ad more boyfriends than she's 'ad hot dinners!" added another boy. "Says that she ain't nothin' more than a dozy slapper sponging off the government!"

There was yet more raucous laughter, before it splintered off and Rose realised that it was because someone else had spoken. A shaky, female voice, bleating like an injured lamb.

"What's that, Tyler? What you saying?" spat Daniel menacingly swaggering forwards and bending down in an intimidating way so that he was almost nose to nose with the younger Rose.

"My mum's not a slapper!" repeated the young Rose bravely, shaking like a leaf in front of her tormentors but nevertheless determined to defend her mum. This was the Rose he knew.

Amongst the trees, the Doctor gave Rose a small half-smile, impressed and proud that even at that age, surrounded by boys so much bigger than her, she was still looking out for her mum. Rose blinked back at him, seriously.

Unconsciously, she had mouthed the words 'My mum's not a slapper,' at the same time as her younger self had said them, because she could remember the words falling from her lips, remember being unable to hold her tongue, regardless of how nervous she felt, remembered feeling an unyielding urge to stop these awful boys from being nasty about her beloved mum.

But that had been a mistake…all those years ago; she should never have spoken. If anything she had made everything ten times worse for herself. The group of boys had howled with laughter at Rose's pitiful whimper and had gone to great lengths to show their favourite victim that, as far as they were concerned, they were right and Rose was very, very wrong.

Rose knew what was going to happen, knew exactly how the boys were going to react because she could remember, she'd been here before. She'd been that small, little Rose with the wrinkly white socks and mousy brown hair. It was like reading the last chapter of a book first, like knowing the ending before she'd read the full story.

"I don't want to watch," she mumbled to the Doctor, still holding his hand but angling her body away so that she was facing the splintered, broken brown fence that ran around the perimeter of the park rather than watch her younger self being bullied.

She studied the fence as an archaeologist may regard a freshly-dug relic, reading the graffiti that was scrawled all over it in white spray paint, even counting the rotten slats of wood; anything to keep her mind off what was going on behind her. Though, even if she could not see, she could still hear.

Her ears prickled as she heard an ominous splash after lots of boyish sniggering and cajoling, yet she didn't turn around. She didn't need to; she knew that her lunchbox had been snatched from the young Rose's grasp and flung into the middle of the pond amid loud cheers and whoops.

It had taken her completely by surprise. One minute she had been craning tearfully up at Daniel, biting on the inside of her cheek after she'd attempted to speak up for her mum, the next, she'd just felt the hard plastic handle of her lunchbox being wrenched from her sweaty hand and had watched dumbfounded, her eyes wide as it had bobbed up and down on the surface for a few seconds, like a cork, before sinking, leaving a gap in the algae like punctured rice paper.

She heard the Doctor give a sharp intake of breath when there came a loud SPLAT from behind her, followed by hysterical laughter and a loud, high-pitched shriek. As much as she wanted to close her eyes and clamp her hands over her ears, she couldn't help but turn around this time.

It was like watching a horror film, where one part of you wants to shrink behind a cushion, afraid to find out whatever gory, violent monster is hiding in waiting, yet the other part of you, in spite of your tremour wants to watch in horrified fascination. She couldn't stop herself from turning to face the scene, like watching the aftermath of a car crash.

The younger Rose crouched down with her hands covered over her head in instinctive foetus position, wailing as handful after handful of sloppy green algae was pelted relentlessly off her head and body. The boys had decided to use her as target practice, throwing the green mushy algae as clowns would throw cream pies at a circus. Rose was the ultimate, helpless prey. The prime example of someone to make fun of…

Beside her, the Doctor shifted in agitation, as if he wanted to do nothing more than to stride over and scoop the little girl up out of harm's way, yet he knew better than Rose that he could not. Still, to be forced to do nothing but watch as someone he deeply cared about was attacked and mistreated was extremely hard.

It was taking up all of his self-restraint to stay hidden beneath the leafy canopy of the trees overhead, even though this was Rose before he had met her, even though he knew that Rose was perfectly safe by his side, if a little shaken.

Rose could not tear her eyes away from the brutal, disgusting sight. To be watching from the sidelines, to be seeing it from a new, different perspective was strange, like watching yourself on a video camera. You recognise that the person on screen is you, and you can remember being in the position of that person on screen, yet you're also aware of yourself as being entirely separate.

She watched as the young, brown haired girl flailed about on the muddy grass, shrieking and sobbing, actually pleading with the boys to stop, but she could remember the feel of the icy-cold, slimy algae hitting her face with a wet thwack, remember the stagnant musty odour as clumps of it got splattered over her mouth and nose, like foul jelly.

They'd shoved it down the neck of her jumper too; great big dripping clods of algae forced down her back, freezing her as it slithered down, seeping through her clothes. It had been the most repulsive sensation she'd ever felt; slimy and cold and congealing.

The four boys guffawed and high-fived at their crying, shaking conquest on the ground, huddled up like a kicked puppy, but Rose herself felt sick; sick and revolted at what she was seeing, even though she had been the one to experience it all those years ago, watching it played out in front of her made it seem so much more real and harrowing. How could anyone deserve this? What on earth had been going through the minds of those boys? Did they find it funny? Did it make them feel powerful?

She looked at the Doctor, standing as if frozen, never taking his eyes of the younger Rose, his mouth set into a grim, unforgiving line, his face much paler than usual. His stare was so dark that his eyes had turned almost black; they were troubled and full of compressed emotion; anger, pity and loathing.

He looked sideways at Rose, as if checking to see that she was still there, convincing himself that she was all right, and the look he gave her was so powerful and intense that she almost quailed under its strength. It was a look of pride, bitter passion, loyalty and sheer protectiveness, as if he were afraid that he was about to lose her. The Oncoming Storm in his eyes made her feel, just for one moment that she was the most important thing in his universe, and she felt such a tingle of electricity flow between them that she couldn't help but jerk towards him, resting a shaking hand on his chest, feeling the double heartbeat beneath her fingers.

The Doctor said nothing, but merely pulled Rose closer to him so that they were standing with their arms pressed tightly together, before adjusting their handhold. Briefly, he let go of her hand, before feeling for her fingers and interlacing them with his own.

Rose stared silently down at their joined hands; they were clasped together so tightly that she couldn't tell which fingers were the Doctor's and which were her own; they were like corresponding pieces of a jigsaw; holding his hand felt warm and fuzzy and comforting, in much the same way as being wrapped around him in a piggy-back had felt the night before.

"They haven't finished," Rose said softly, as the Doctor made to move forwards, seeing that the group of boys stepped back from little Rose.

Rose could remember seeing her own bruised knees swimming into focus before her as she opened her eyes tentatively; the algae offensive having stopped, before white-hot pain seared across her lids, blinding her instantly as Daniel rummaged in his pocket and tipped an entire Sherbet Fountain over her head, the sherbet clumping together in her hair and sticking like bad dandruff. He ripped the top twist off the second Sherbet Fountain with his teeth before pouring it into her blood-shot eyes, rubbing it in roughly with cruel, dirty knuckles.

The agony of the white powder dissolving in her eyes was venomous; it was corrosive and acidic; worse than getting soapsuds in your eyes, worse even than chilli powder, and Rose found that her own eyes were hopelessly streaming as she watched herself clamp her small hands over her burning eyes, rubbing them fruitlessly and howling. Great, heaving sobs that shook her little body at such a high pitch and loud volume that both Rose and the Doctor flinched at the noise, as did the group of boys.

Apparently panicked and worried that Rose's painful screams would attract the attention of the passers-by in the street and get them into trouble, they backed off slowly, staring at what they had done before breaking into a cowardly run, leaving a dirty, crying Rose in a heap on the ground like discarded baggage; drenched in pond water and crying tears of salt and sherbet.

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