Extraordinary Rose

Disclaimer:Oh. If you recognise it, it's not mine

Author's Note: Here's me thinking I'd have this story finished and uploaded by the end of July! Well erm; that hasn't happened at all! I'm off on holiday tomorrow (no computer access; so it's back to writing with the old pen and scraps of paper) so this is my last update for a while :( Let me know what you think.

The Doctor's reaction was instantaneous. No sooner had the boys ran off, shoving each other with their elbows, he bounded forward towards the little Rose and, as carefully as he could, wiped the excess sherbet from the hollows of her eyes with his thumbs, where it was clinging to her eyelashes and clumped underneath her brow bone.

"Shh, it's alright; they've gone," he said, gently pulling her upright by her shoulders. He wasn't entirely convinced that she could hear him though, as she was getting close to hysterical, scrabbling at her eyes. "No no no, don't rub them," he said firmly, but kindly, removing her hands from her eyes. "You'll make it worse."

The younger Rose however, was quite plainly still terrified and did not stop crying, nor did she stop rubbing frantically at her eyes but really, who could blame her? It was a natural reaction to want to rub her eyes…

Hesitantly, Rose walked forward to join the Doctor and her younger self, although truth be told, she felt quite light-headed. It was bad enough having to experience the incident the first time round, worse still to have to watch it again. She was probably in a mild state of shock, she concluded, moving as if she were walking under water; her legs didn't seem to want to work properly.

She felt the same as she had when Mickey had wanted to see Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and had dragged her along with him; she'd been sat for what, three hours in the cinema, immersed in the fantasy story and so when it had finally finished and she'd left the screen room with pins and needles in her feet, it had been like being brought back down to earth, being brought back to reality.

She'd been lost in epic battles and an impossible love story, and so the prospect of facing a boring London evening, going to the chippie and then settling down to watch Eastenders was frankly, like an annoying wake-up call. She felt exactly the same now; a bit all over the place; seeing the Doctor with her squealing nine-year-old self was disconcerting, as if it defied some sort of law, but then, the Doctor never really liked adhering to laws anyway, at least, not the ones he didn't want to follow.

It looked weird though; watching the Doctor crouching down beside the little Rose in an oddly paternal fashion…ugh. Rose shuddered; the thought making her feel quite nauseous and uneasy, because she was dimly conscious, though a small, stubborn part of her still didn't want to admit to it, that her feelings for the Doctor weren't entirely platonic…

She drifted over to his side, leaving the sanctuary of the thick, old trees in a daze and hovered behind him as he did his best to try and comfort her other self, wiping the slimy green algae tenderly away from her nose and mouth.

"Don't!" he said sharply, catching her hand as Rose stretched it out to remove a clump of the wet, disgusting stuff from the younger Rose's head, where it was sitting like a repulsive tiara.

Rose jerked her hand back as if she had scalded it. She hadn't been about to touch her younger self, of course she hadn't; she wasn't stupid! She was only going to touch the algae; no risk of paradoxes or holes in timelines there…she could remember the sloppy weight of the rank algae sopping into her hair, all over her scalp wishing that she could just shake it off, but it had been everywhere.

Her eyes had been burning, she couldn't see, she was panicking, she was scared, disorientated; dripping in pond water and algae she'd felt as if she were drowning; her head had felt so heavy and leaden, she couldn't think, she couldn't breathe

"I'm not going to touch her," she whispered, shaking her head tensely and flinching backwards, her face pale, eyes aghast. She let a small distance fall between her other self and the Doctor and clapped a hand to her mouth, slowly.

She felt…what was it that she felt? Upset certainly, disgusted and horrified yet very muddled. Memories of being that poor nine-year-old girl were flashing round her head like a roller coaster; one of the really fast, terrifying one that forces your head into the back of your seat and turns your stomach upside-down, yet she could see herself experiencing the emotions from her memories right in front of her. It was like listening to two people giving completely different instructions at the same time; it was hard to follow, hard to know what to do.

In frustration, she closed her eyes, blocking out the Doctor and the other Rose, trying to picture exactly what had happened on this day after the boys had left…

She'd had sherbet in her eyes, and that had hurt. Hurt more than anything she had ever felt; it was all she could think about, all she could concentrate on; the pain in her eyes. Feeling wet and slimy and dirty; she'd howled, of course she'd howled. She'd only been nine years old. Nine, and she'd been attacked like this, by boys, not even teenagers; boys; it didn't bear thinking about; it was atrocious. Galling, even.

But there had been someone with her…hadn't there? She couldn't see; the sherbet had caused her to go temporarily blind; she was unable to open her eyes, so she hadn't seen them, but she'd heard them. There had been a voice; a low, soothing man's voice, but she'd been crying so loud that she hadn't been able to hear what he had been saying. She had felt frightened; terribly, terribly frightened that the boys were going to come back; that they were going to hit her or kick her or take her away.

Then this man, this strange, faceless man that she couldn't see; who was he? Her mum had told her never to talk to strangers, let alone strange men yet here was this new man talking to her…how did she know that he wasn't going to take her away? Who was he? Why should she trust him?

She'd wanted her mum; that's all. Just her mum! She'd wanted her mum to hug her and tell her that she wouldn't let those nasty big boys come near her again, she'd wanted her mum to sit her on her knee and wash the mud and algae of her face and twist her damp hair into neat plaits whilst they watched Art Attack, then Scooby Doo, drinking instant hot chocolate.

And then her mum had been there, hadn't she? She could remember hearing her soft voice, telling her that she was safe and that she didn't have to worry because she was going to take her home and have a nice hot bath with lots of bubbles and Rose had nodded, even whilst whimpering because that was exactly what she wanted and…she'd just been so happy and glad to hear her mum, to know that she was there, even if she couldn't really see her.

She'd smelt the familiar whiff of her mum's perfume hanging in the air and felt safe and secure. Then everything had gone a bit hazy, her mind had gone beautifully blank; she hadn't had to think about anything; she'd felt so relaxed and oddly weightless and experienced a curious, floating sensation as if she were bobbing up and down above the ground, as if someone had picked her up and carried her.

She'd woken up indoors, lying wrapped up in a too-big t-shirt in her neighbours house, her face pressed into the pink, squashy settee. Thankfully, she'd been sponged clean and her eyes, although extremely sore and swollen had been bathed in saline, all traces of sherbet rinsed away. How had she moved from the park to her neighbour's house, though? There was a complete blank, there, and actually, why had she woken up in her neighbour's house in the first place if her mum had been at the park? Why hadn't her mum just taken her home?


"Doctor!" cried Rose, lurching forwards towards him and the other Rose as it finally occurred to her. "Wait!" she pleaded, grabbing a hold of his arm. "She's scared of you! She doesn't know who you are; she doesn't trust you!" she gabbled, her eyes wide and earnest. Oh it made sense now! Of course, it was the Doctor trying to reassure her, but the little Rose didn't know that; she evidently thought that he was a random stranger.

In fact, she did think he was nothing more than a strange man because Rose could remember standing there crying, being confused as to who this man was and just wanting her mum…not him. But it wasn't her mum that she could remember from today, was it? It was…herself. Her older self.

She'd heard her older self and thought it was her mum! Trying to shake off such a scary, off-putting thought; that Rose was turning into her mother, she shot the Doctor an apologetic look and crouched down in front of her younger self.

The Doctor looked from one Rose to the other, looking more than a little hurt and taken aback but nevertheless, held up his hands as if in wordless resignation and shuffled to the side.

"Rose," said Rose tentatively, looking unsurely at the Doctor for encouragement; suddenly, she had no idea what to say, what to do to comfort a little girl. She wasn't her mother, she wasn't instinctively maternal; not really. True, she wasn't trying to comfort just any little girl; she was trying to comfort herself, and she knew that that must be some sort of a bonus; her comforting clearly worked because Rose could remember feeling so much better as soon as her 'mum' had spoken to her, but it just...felt weird.

The Doctor nodded, urging her to continue, gazing at the little Rose with overwhelming concern.

"Rose, sweetheart," tried Rose. The word 'sweetheart' felt strange and alien, tripping from her tongue, as if she were speaking a foreign language because of course, Rose didn't use the term 'sweetheart', but her mum did and little Rose thought she was her mum, so she'd just have to bear with it…

"It's alright, it's ok. I'm here. You're safe, I promise," she said, suddenly fighting an powerful urge to put a gentle hand on each of her shoulders, just like her mum would do.

The Doctor, who had smiled at Rose's use of 'sweetheart' suddenly seemed extremely alarmed and gave Rose a 'What-on-earth-are-you-doing?' sort of look, waggling his eyebrows at her in warning.

"I-she thinks I'm my…err her mum," Rose said to him out of the corner of her mouth, tripping over her pronouns once again.

The Doctor gave a small 'ah' of realisation and nodded, as if to convince himself of something and shot her an appraising look, as if trying to imagine her looking and talking like Jackie. He grimaced; one Jackie Tyler was quite enough to be going along with at the moment, thank you very much.

"You don't have to be worried Rose, honestly. They're not going to come back," Rose told her younger self with false cheer in her voice, looking intently into her face. It had been many years since she'd looked into the mirror and seen this face looking anxiously back at her, thought Rose, itching to wipe a trickle of snot and mucus away from the younger Rose's upper lip.

Fumbling in her pocket, she brought out a bus ticket, a circular Sex Pistols badge she'd picked up when the Doctor had taken her to one of their concerts in the 70's, a half-empty packet of chewing gum and a clean but crumpled tissue. This she passed to the Doctor, who seemed to cotton on to exactly what she was thinking and dabbed at the younger Rose's nose with it, with no trace of embarrassment splayed across his features.

Instead, his expression was soft; pitying, even as he wiped her face delicately, in the same way as one might handle a freshly hatched baby bird, yet his eyes betrayed his hurt and rising anger.

In spite of himself, the Doctor found himself looking for obvious differences, looking to find ways in which she'd changed over the years, like doing a particularly unusual form of Spot the Difference. There weren't many.

Obviously, her face was smaller and was pale with worry and fright. Her jaw was strong and her cheek bones slightly too wide, as if she were yet to grow into them yet; her eyebrows were lighter than usual; the same colour as her mousy-brown hair, giving her a slightly surprised look, and were yet to be tamed by a precise set of tweezers; they were full and rather wild-looking.

Yet, even though most of her face was mottled with angry brown tidemarks, residue of mucky pond water; pale green snot and pure white, powdery sherbet, there was no denying that she was actually…quite pretty. Not that he held much value over looks; if his companions were beautiful or not, that was by the by, really. He could recognise that Rose was attractive, by human ideals at least, but it was no different to the way that he was able to recognise that she had two eyes, a nose, a mouth and a double circulatory system.

To think though, that one day this scared, bullied little girl would one day become the older, blonder woman standing beside him with the confident smile and heart of gold…that one day this girl crying for her mum would meet a man in a shop basement and save the world; it was…magnificent.

"Mum?" whimpered the little Rose stretching her hands out in front of her with her eyes squeezed shut, feeling for her 'mum.' Her desperate fingers found the Doctor and she gripped the material of his suit jacket tightly. "Mum?" she repeated, stroking the unfamiliar fabric.

"I'm…I'm here," said Rose hesitantly, glancing helplessly at the Doctor, who patted the younger Rose's arm, comfortingly. "And this is the Do- errr, this nice man says he's going to help us home. That's err nice, isn't it? Helping with my shopping…" prattled Rose, with literally no idea of what she was saying or where she was going with it.

She was just cheerfully rabbiting on about anything and everything, just like her mum would do, and hoping that she could get away with it. From what she could remember of today, she hadn't noticed anything odd about what her 'mum' had said, in fact, she hadn't realised up until now that it hadn't been her mum; it had been herself

She shrugged at the Doctor, who was looking at her as if he were fearful for her sanity. Again. "I tell you what I bought today though, Rose. Three for two at Boots; some new bubble bath! Bargain! One strawberry and one errr banana," she improvised, looking sideways at the Doctor for inspiration, who grinned at her choice of fruit.

"Let's get you home, yeah? Run you a lovely bubble bath and get all this stuff off you and then we'll put a video on, eh?"

The younger Rose nodded, her tears subsiding, but only slightly as she lapsed into noisy, wet hiccups that shook her shoulders, as she clung on to the Doctor's suit.

The Doctor looked at the two Roses, his brow furrowed. The younger Rose was almost beside herself; dirty, upset and scared; so hysterical that it was only a matter of time before she was physically sick. The older Rose was deathly white and was shaking nearly as much as her younger self; it was evident that she was far, far more troubled than she thought she was letting on.

He could tell, just by glancing at her, that she was trying to keep herself composed; allowing her younger self to be the priority. It brought a whole new, incomprehensible meaning to the word 'selfless'; because she was putting the little girl first. But that little girl was herself, was Rose; so actually, did that make her selfless or selfish?

The Doctor decided that it was irrelevant; somehow, he had to look after both Roses, and even though it was the younger one who had been attacked and left mud-stained and covered in algae in an empty park, it was the older Rose he was far more concerned about.

Purely because the older Rose was standing right beside him; the London shop girl who had met Queen Victoria, became the Bad Wolf and destroyed a fleet of Daleks, watched the End of the Earth and had been turned into a stone statue in ancient Rome, he knew that the younger Rose would be all right, would grow up to be absolutely brilliant.

But the older Rose…he wasn't sure about. She'd lived through one of the worst, scarring incidents of her life, and had then had to watch it again; what must that have done to her?

He knew how highly she thought of him; how much she believed in him and trusted him because she told him so. Regularly. Even daily. Truth be told, her unshakable faith in him had always scared him a little bit.

Because he wasn't as wonderful as she seemed to think he was; he was an alien; he was a Time Lord; he was 901 years old; he was old and haunted; responsible for the death of his people. He was a killer; he was powerful beyond anything she could ever imagine…he was the Oncoming Storm, and his biggest fear was that one day she would see him as he really was; one day she would see the full force of the storm inside him and would be petrified…of him.

A day like today. He had sworn to himself that he would always look after her and yet today he hadn't. Today, for the first time he had done nothing to stop her hurting; he had stood numbly by her side and let her watch; let her watch herself be victimised; let her become terrified by her own memories. What did that say about him?

Pulling on his hair in agitation so that it stood up on end, making him look like he'd been electrocuted he decided that enough was enough. One hurting Rose he could manage but two? Two was unbearable.

"Can I…?" he gestured at the younger Rose, looking up at the older one as if asking her permission, or making sure that he wasn't doing anything against her established memories.

Rose nodded mutely, sniffing and scrubbing at her face with the sleeves of her denim jacket. Not knowing what his intentions were, but agreeing anyway simply because he was the Doctor.

"Keep still," the Doctor murmured to the younger Rose, and as gently as he could, placed his hands on her temples, closing his own eyes as if trying to recall a dream, closing off all his other sense; feeling with just his mind.

The younger Rose's face changed from one etched with fear and intense discomfort to a blank, carefree mask. Giving a small, almost content sigh she fell forwards; flopping like a weighted rag doll against the Doctor's chest.

There was a resolute silence between the time travelers standing at the edge of the pond. It was so quiet that Rose could make out the plink sound of the dirty water moving as it was disturbed by the ducks gliding backwards and forwards, oblivious to the shattering events going on at the side, as well as the steady hum of the traffic trundling through the city center behind her and the faint irritation of 'MmmBop' drifting from an open window of one of the houses in the street running parallel to the park's exit.

"What did you do to her?" asked Rose breathlessly, her eyes wide as saucers, and although she tried, she couldn't quite keep the accusatory tone out of her voice. She had no memory of any events from this point on. Her memory skipped from her 'mum' talking about bubble bath to waking up in her neighbour's house, as if the bits in-between had been erased; a memory bank wiped clean.

"I've just calmed her down," said the Doctor quietly, looking up at her as he held onto the little Rose in a hug, supporting all of her weight against him. "She's gone to sleep. It's her body's natural reaction against the shock…she won't remember anything from now until she comes round."

He stood up slowly, moving the little Rose so that one arm was underneath her knees and the other was supporting her shoulders and gently swiping a wet strand of hair that was sticking to her face with dirt away from her sherbet-caked lids.

"I don't." replied Rose, realising that once again they'd been referring to Rose as if she were a different person, as she stood, pulling down her t-shirt, where it had ridden up slightly and gazing, not at the Doctor and the little Rose, but down into the murky pond.

It mirrored the chaos going on inside her mind perfectly; the water was cloudy, just like her thoughts. It was too dirty to be able to see the bottom, and Rose's thoughts were buzzing around so frantically and were so muddled that she was finding it hard to think straight. She didn't know what to think or what to feel. She was emotionally worn out; she wanted just for the Doctor to lead her back to the TARDIS and to sit in their companionable silence that she so loved, whilst she sorted out the events of the day; separated memory from memory. At the same time though, she wanted nothing more than the warm, cosy scenario she'd just described to her younger self a hot, bubbly bath and to snuggle up on the settee with a favourite film. Pretty Woman would be absolutely perfect, she decided, thinking of last night's conversation with the Doctor as they'd walked back to the TARDIS in the cold night air.

Yet, as she thought about it, she was astonished to find that it wasn't the Doctor she imagined sitting beside her; the chair she was mentally curled up on wasn't the hard, bobbly captain's chair in the TARDIS; it was the soft, squashy settee at home with the fraying headrests. The arm pressed against hers wasn't suit-clad and masculine, but soft; flabbier and female in cotton pyjamas; her mum's arm.

She wanted her mum, she realised, with a soft ache of longing in her tummy. She wanted to curl up with her mum and let herself be folded into a too-tight hug that was warm, soft and fiercely protective. She wanted to be able to smell her mum's perfume and the powdery scent of her foundation and blusher that lingered in Rose's nostrils whenever Jackie kissed her. Her mum smelt of make-up and shampoo, washing powder and tea…

Rose swallowed the painful lump in her throat; willing herself not to start crying again; she'd cried quite enough for one day and if she started now…she'd never stop.

She shook her head to clear the image of a slipper-clad, smiling Jackie Tyler handing her a cup of tea and tapping Rose lightly with the remote to get her to shift along a bit as she settled herself down to watch oooh, Big Brother or 'I'm a celebrity…' and turned to the Doctor, who was watching her carefully.

"We need to get her…I mean me home," said Rose, gesturing as the unconscious girl in the Doctor's arms, and then bending down to pick up the younger Rose's fallen bag; an inflatable silver thing that was much lighter than she remembered. Funny, how things seem so larger and imposing when you're a child…

Rose gave a watery smile as she felt the smooth plastic straps in her hand; it had been years since she'd carried this bag. Whatever had happened to it? She'd left it on a coach during a school trip, probably; that was where most of her forgotten belongings had ended up, but Rose could definitely remember that after today she never used this bag much at all. She'd stuffed it down the gap between the wall and her wardrobe and had done her best to ignore it.

"Yeah, we do," agreed the Doctor. He grinned at her, something occurring to him as she fell into step beside him and together, they skirted round the pond and over to the park gates. "You know," he said pleasantly, seeing her unhappy expression and bravely trying to take her mind off things. "This is the second time I've carried you home, Rose Tyler."

Rose smiled back up at him, but it didn't quite meet her eyes; they remained troubled and downcast; something the Doctor couldn't help but pick up on. It was at times like these when he would have wordlessly taken her hand to comfort her, or pull her into an impromptu hug; circumstances permitting that they were not about to be shot at or arrested or…anything other sort of trouble that they regularly found themselves in. He couldn't, though; the way he was carrying the little Rose meant that he had both hands full; he couldn't even walk close beside her incase the two Roses came into skin contact.

"Last night doesn't count," Rose told him, staring at the ground as they trudged through the park gates and stepped out into the street, where they found themselves only a corner away from the Powell Estate. "Last night you carried me to the TARDIS."

"You're nitpicking," the Doctor chuckled, as they crossed the road.

"Mmh," replied Rose quietly, her tone sullen.

They fell once more into silence; though this time it was more uncomfortable, as if they were walking on shattered glass. The Doctor could tell that Rose was trying not to cry and was painfully aware that he would be able to do nothing whatsoever to comfort her; not like this; not with the younger, unconscious Rose as a literal barrier between them.

Rose, for once just didn't want to talk. She simply didn't want to. She just…what did she want? Ooh, she was too upset to even know herself.

The emergence of a tall, quite ugly-looking block of high-rise flats from behind a paint splattered wall marked their arrival to the Powell Estate, showing that they were only twenty minutes away from Rose's flat. Rose was surprised to find how little the area had changed. Everything looked a little cleaner and more in-tact now than it did in her own time, but it was honestly as if the past however many years simply had not happened. It was just as much of a dump now as it ever had been; burnt-out cars, broken windows, teenagers leaning menacingly against garden walls. The Powell Estate of 1997 looked the same as it did in the future, the only indication that any time had past was the clothes and haircuts worn by the residents, milling about the streets, staring curiously at the Doctor and the Roses.

"Rose?" ventured the Doctor, as they turned into a street that Rose could remember following the Doctor down when they'd first met, demanding to know about the living plastic and exactly who he was. Of course, he'd looked very different then; broader, gruffer with a shaved head, Northern accent and piercing blue eyes.


"Why did you think you were your mum?" he asked hesitantly, cautious not to upset her. "I mean, pretending to be Jackie it…"

"Why would I possibly think it was an older version of myself?" asked Rose stiltedly, frowning up at him. " You don't go around thinking you're talking to yourself; you'd go mental. I dunno…I just, I thought I was my mum." She shrugged. "I remember wishing that my mum was there, and then smelling her perfume and…but it wasn't my mum, it was only me," Rose concluded despondently, looking very subdued.

"Perfume?" repeated the Doctor with a slightly surprised tone, as if he'd never heard of a more peculiar word.

Rose nodded silently, shoving her hands in her denim jacket pockets. She was unsure of whether to tell him or not. She felt…not embarrassed about it as such, but slightly self-conscious, as if admitting to it would be something very private and personal.

But then…this was the Doctor, she told herself, looking sideways at him as they walked, taking in his familiar, handsome profile; the way his mouth was now turned up in a thoughtful sort of way, as if he were deliberating something; his masses of hair ruffling in the breeze, like it had a mind of its own. He was her best friend…why shouldn't she tell him? He wouldn't laugh at her, of course he wouldn't; he wouldn't think she was silly or childish; he would understand unlike anyone else ever could. True, he might also be slightly concerned about her but then, wasn't he concerned already?

"Yeah, I'm wearing my mum's perfume today," Rose told him, throwing caution to the winds and deciding to be honest with him. It wasn't as if she'd lie to him, was it? " I wear it when I miss her…'cause it reminds me of her and…I can pretend she's not so far away," she finished, saying the last sentence so quietly that she was almost inaudible.

She gave him an unsure, almost defiant look as he slowed and turned to look at her properly, as if she was afraid of being rebuked or scorned.

"Right," he said quietly, for a second a look of mingled hurt, regret and pity flashed across his face. " You never mentioned that you were bullied," he said softly as they carried on walking.

Rose kicked a stone distractedly, watching it skitter away down the street.

"It just…never came up," she mumbled, sounding absolutely miserable. She was quiet for a second before continuing. "Anyway, it's not important," she said in a falsely bright manner, forcing a smile onto her face.

"Isn't it?" countered the Doctor dryly, not being taken in at all by her light, breezy façade.

"I don't know," she admitted.

The Doctor looked down at the warm, mud-streaked child in his arms, whose dead weight was starting to make his wrists ache slightly, even though she was exceptionally small and spindly for her age, and then back at the woman who he always found by his side; she was only just out of touching distance. If he had been able to reach out to her, his fingertips would have met empty air rather than the roughness of her denim jacket and the warmth of her arm. They were walking much too far apart; there was too much of a gap between them and he didn't like it at all; it made him feel slightly uneasy, like a jigsaw with a piece missing.

Suddenly, his Time Lord senses perked up, like the ears of a wile animal sensing danger; ones that he usually pushed to the back of his mind and tried to ignore. An almighty shiver trickled down his spine and the hairs stood up on the back of his neck; prickly and bristling.

For a time period shorter than a nanosecond; so short that only Time Lords really had the ability to register it, the Doctor felt such an overwhelming, crushing sadness that it seemed to freeze both of his hearts mid-beat and brought hot, rushing tears to his eyes; a powerful, agonising heartbreak that he had not felt since that day he'd watched his planet burn.

It caused his breath to catch in his chest, and he had a brief, vivid image of a cold, white wall stretched on forever in front of him and the irrepressible, terrifying feeling that Rose really, really had gone from his side…

"Rose," he breathed, in frozen fright before he could stop himself, coming to an abrupt halt.

"Yeah?" She looked at him curiously, her dark eyebrows raised in concern.

"I…oh. Never mind," he said hesitantly, the strange image and feeling of sadness vanishing as quickly as it had come. He decided not to dwell on it; seeing Rose very solidly, very definitely beside him. Pale, sad, but oh so Rose.

"What happens now, for you?" he asked, quickly changing the subject. "This you, I mean," he said, looking down at the younger Rose. "Do you have any more trouble with those boys after this?"

Rose too, looked down at her other self, looking at the way her sodden, muddy hair trailed over the Doctor's arm, hanging straight down like a curtain. In fact, the way the Doctor was carrying her younger self reminded her of a scene from one of her favourite Disney films; The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where Quasimodo rescues the unconscious Esmeralda from being burnt at the stake and carries her back to the bell tower.

Except, in Rose's case, the burning stake was the offensive of sherbet and algae and the cathedral was her poky little flat. Not that she was implying that the Doctor was anything like Quasimodo, of course.

"Nah, they keep quiet, actually and leave me alone," said Rose. "I still don't know what made them stop to be honest; they just never came after me after today. Weird, innint?" she mused.

"Mmmh," agreed the Doctor, thoughtfully.

"One of them asked me out, you know?" remembered Rose with a wry smile. "The one with the QPR hat; a couple of years ago. Just a few weeks before I met you, actually."

"What did you tell him?" asked the Doctor, interestedly.

"Well, I was already going out with Mickey, wasn't I?" said Rose , matter-of-factly, looking down at her trainers. For some reason, she always felt embarrassed and uncomfortable when talking about Mickey in front of the Doctor.

"Ah, good old Mr. Mickey," chirped the Doctor fondly.

Rose snorted, a glimmer of a smile curling at the corners of her mouth for the first time since the newsagents.

"It was Mickey who looked out for me after this," she told him. "My mum didn't want me walking home on my own for the first few weeks after today, so Mickey's Gran volunteered him to walk with me. He wasn't happy!" Rose laughed.

"Why not?" asked the Doctor, smiling like a little boy being read a bedtime story.

"Well, we were always friends," she reminded him. "We used to play out in the street with all the other kids from the estate, but I think he drew the line at walking home from school with me. He was in year nine at the time; already at Jericho Street Comprehensive, and I was still at primary school, in year six, so it didn't exactly make him look cool in front of all his mates! He was really grumpy to begin with!"

"But?" prompted the Doctor, realising that, in all the time that she had been traveling with him, he had never once asked Rose how she and Mickey had ended up together, and feeling rather guilty about it.

"He got over it," said Rose simply as they carried on walking again. "We ended up best mates. I used to go round to his Gran's and she'd make us fairy cakes and stuff."

"So, how did you…?"

"I didn't start seeing him until I was fourteen," said Rose, pre-empting his unfinished question. "We were just friends and I'd never really thought about anything else until…"

Rose cleared her throat, embarrassed. Looking to her left, she noticed that although the Doctor was evidently still listening, he was staring resolutely at the ground as they walked.

"Then, one day he just asked me out and I said 'yeah'. Didn't really think anything of it," said Rose dismissively and shrugging nonchalantly as they cut through an abandoned car park.

"Where did he take you?" asked the Doctor curiously, as if checking that Mickey hadn't taken her anywhere he deemed unsuitable.

For a long time, Rose didn't answer him and they walked in silence, with Rose struggling to get the words round her tongue, wondering how best to say them. For her, at least, they were significant; significant and ironic, yet whether or not they held the same weight for the Doctor was hard to tell.

"He took me for chips," she said at last, with an air of regretful finality, looking the Doctor directly in the eye.

The Doctor, his head snapping up, held her gaze silently, and it was a while before either of them realised that they had stopped walking.

Friends first; the very best of friends. They had spoken every day and had done everything together. They'd sat together, teasing each other over a cup of tea, putting the world to rights. They'd grown steadily closer, until, by the time Rose had realised that she'd loved him it was far too late to do anything about it. And their first date had been chips…

The parallels between the Doctor and Mickey were this time, painfully clear; they'd just happened in a slightly different order.

Like a slap in the face, Rose realised why she found it so difficult to think about Mickey… because she didn't want to face up to the fact that she'd long ago stopped thinking about him as her boyfriend, or to confront the realisation that she simply…didn't love him as much as she loved someone else. A certain banana-enthusiastic Time Lord.

Judging by the enlightened look in the Doctor's eyes and the stubborn way in which neither wanted to speak, nor look away first, the Doctor did at least have some inkling of what she was thinking about.

The unmistakable tension between them was just like it had been on that chilly night so many months ago; half a year at least, when the Doctor had nearly, very nearly come close to speaking about his emotions. The man who kept everything under a mask of enthusiasm, recklessness and charm; who tried to fool the universe with his beaming smile and excitable outbursts had for once, relented and betrayed just how much Rose's human mortality bothered him.

It had scared her; listening to him tell her that he would always live on alone; the irony that he was a Time Lord, that he was one of the most powerful men in the entire universe, yet he couldn't stop those closest to him from dying; Time was one thing that he would always run out of. She knew it was all true, of course she knew. She knew that one day she would die, but she didn't like hearing it one bit; the thought of not being with the Doctor was chilling and unsettling and so she always did her utmost to ignore it.

"You wither and you die," he'd told her, his voice harsh and coarse as they'd stood outside the café, the night air ruffling through Rose's hair. "Imagine watching that happen to someone you…" He hadn't finished his sentence; he'd been utterly unable to, and although she'd prompted him, he'd kept quiet, a suspense-filled awkward silence falling between them. Someone you…what? It felt like that now; Rose was silently begging him to say something, anything at all.

"Good man," said the Doctor finally, sounding vaguely congratulatory, as if Mickey had went up slightly in his estimations. "Not such an idiot then! All the greatest men take their fair women to the chip shop!" he winked at her, looking decidedly perkier. "Did he pay?"

"Yes he did!" exclaimed Rose, quite forgetting their uncomfortable moment mere seconds before in her gravely indignant burst. "'Cause he unlike some people happens to be polite and insisted on paying himself, like a gentleman!"

The Doctor smirked, pleased that even after everything she'd put herself through in the past forty minutes or so, she was at last getting back to her usual self.

"I thought we'd decided last night that I'm very gentlemanly?" said the Doctor, mock offended.

"You'll do," replied Rose, smiling, but her face fell again as they both looked at the little Rose, whose eyes had flickered slightly, as if she had been on the point of waking up, and she remembered what had originally led them into this discussion.

"Yeah; that me's all right now," confirmed Rose in a rather forced manner, getting back on subject and inclining her head towards the sleeping girl.

The Doctor nodded, seemingly satisfied as he looked down at the little Rose fondly for a moment, before his searing gaze fell once more on the older one to his right.

"What about you?" he said pointedly as he looked at her appraisingly. "You, you. Are you all right?"

Rose considered him for a second, sighing and fidgeting with the sleeves of her denim jacket, rolling the cuffs back over her wrists before pulling them back down again.

Honestly? Honestly' no. She wasn't 'all right.' She felt drained and down-in-the-dumps; the same depressive, brooding mood she fell into whenever she and the Doctor returned from some distant planet of outer-reaching city when they hadn't quite been able to save everyone and they'd been forced to watch innocent people die, or when benevolent creatures and people they befriended ended up suffering because of them; because of the mysterious Time Lord and his human companion, and the sheer fact that they'd chosen that particular planet or far-flung settlement to satisfy their curiosity and passing fancies.

At times like those they wandered back to the TARDIS in silence; not talking not touching, just allowing themselves to wallow in their own feelings of guilt and self-loathing, to torture themselves about what they could and shouldn't have done before sitting down on opposite sides of the console room, not bothering to change out of their ruined, dirty clothes of to tend to whatever wounds they might have contracted; the hum of the TARDIS slow and mournful; the bleak, faint glow of the walls mirroring their shared mood.

"Rose Tyler! You really are something special, aren't you?" That was what the Doctor had said to her, smiling appreciatively back at her one day; a couple of months before when they'd found themselves in the blistering heat of 22nd century Africa dealing with liquid gold, ancient art and weird mushrooms…At the time she'd just smiled back at him and made some sort of cheeky retort, but sometimes; on days like today she didn't feel special at all.

She felt cold and repulsed by the universe and the inextricable part she played in the defining events that spanned across the galaxy…when even the Doctor couldn't hope to cheer her up.

"Yeah, I'm fine," she lied, lightly; flashing him what she evidently thought was a convincing smile.

The Doctor simply blinked at her; he looked slightly offended, actually.

"No you're not," he said reproachfully, tutting at her as they at last reached Rose's street and she began to gape around like a small child who had never been in an enormous toy shop before; nosing around to see what had changed and what had stayed the same.

"Then why did you ask?" she said defensively, folding her arms across her chest like a displeased teacher and glaring at him as if she thought he were being purposefully stupid.

The Doctor gave her a weak but knowing smile, ignoring the frown on her face that was ironically making her look like the spitting image of her mum.

"Because I knew you'd say it," he said simply, as if it were blindingly obvious. It was to him, at least. Even if Rose was literally falling apart at the seams she would still stubbornly insist that she was as happy as Larry. Or Harry.

Rose simply shook her head at him impatiently, sucking in a deep breath as they neared the bashed-in entrance to her block of flats and holding open the rickety door for him to swan through with the little Rose in his arms, carrying her like a fragile parcel.

Annoyed, she pulled the door closed behind them, wrinkling her nose as the smell of urine, smoke and damp hit her from the bottom of the concrete staircase. It was a familiar smell; one she always associated with home, even though it wasn't a particularly pleasant one, though it had been a while since she'd last experienced it, seeing as she hadn't been home since their return trip from ancient Rome.

Now what a trip that had been, she thought, unable to prevent her cheeks from going slightly pink as she remembered a certain something that the Doctor had given her after she'd changed him back from a stone statue. Not that she'd given it any thought, though. At all. Really. None.

She turned to face the stairs; preparing herself for the long, calve-burning ascent that laid ahead of them up to her flat, but no sooner had she put her muddy trainer on the bottom step she stalled, confused.

"What?" she asked blankly, seeing that the Doctor, who was slightly ahead of her, had stopped walking and was standing frozen, still with the younger Rose in his arms, on the first landing beside the window sill, the pale sun shining through the grimy, water-stained window behind him, illuminating him like some sort of tall, pinstriped apparition staring down at her as if he'd never seen her before.

"What you staring at me for?" she said, an uncertain smile pulling at her mouth as she raised her eyebrows at him. Because he was! For some reason he had turned and was looking at her as if something fantastic had just occurred to him; his face betrayed awe, pride and disbelief.

"I'm not," he managed to get out, shaking his head as if trying to clear his ears of water. "Really, I'm not," he continued apologetically, an amused smile lighting up his face, seeing that she looked mildly self-conscious. "It's just…"

"What?" prompted Rose, nervously patting her wind-tousled hair down and raising a hand to her face, which she knew must be streaked with mascara. She had an extremely strong sense of déjà vu; only last night he'd looked at her in much the same way as they'd sat at that greasy café table, and although she couldn't honestly say that she was displeased about his attentions, she just wished she knew the reasons behind them

"You!" he laughed, tilting his head back; a boyish smile lighting up his face. "Just…you," he said, chuckling as he shifted his gaze to the chipped floor, attempting to straighten his features.

"Yeah?" she said, wondering what on earth he was finding so amusing.

"You're…" he paused, his smile fading slightly as sincerity filled his eyes. "Rose. You're extraordinary," he said very quietly, and very meaningfully; sincerity laden in his voice. A strange, unreadable emotion flooded across his face; one that caused her lips to part in surprise as she stared back at him, taken utterly aback.

"Just…" he shook his head slowly, as if unable to voice anything else. "Really, you are."

He merely looked at her, still with that indefinable emotion; one that was neither wonder nor awe, but a curious mix of both, before swallowing and carrying on up the stairs, the rubber soles of his Converse squeaking alternately.

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