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Title: Wayward Son - Chapter 21: Point of Know Return

Characters: Jackie Tyler; Ten II; Pete Tyler; Tony Tyler; Rose Tyler; Original Character
Genre: Alternate Universe; Angst; Character Study; Het; Romance
Author's Description: Set mostly in the AU of Pete's World; TenII hits a big snag in his efforts to forge a new life with Rose and finds himself facing an unexpected identify crisis.
Length: WIP
Rating: Teen for slight swearing
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Pete Tyler was seldom a patient man. Few business moguls were, and Pete was no exception. When it came to his family, however, there was no such thing as too much time.

A man of few words, unless hawking his latest business venture to prospective customers or investors, Pete sat quietly with his not-quite daughter listening carefully to fantastical concepts and hypotheses presented by the Doctor. His son, Tony, was the subject; he would understand if it took explanations for the remainder of the day to achieve.

“So, this Tokos and Tau,” Pete queried, “we’re not sure if they’re real or simply a figment of your dream?”

“They felt real,” the Doctor said, rubbing his neck earnestly in discomfort. “Everything about them was in incredible detail, very vivid. Well, if you can describe very white as vivid. But every strand of fur, the texture of it, their eyes… they were as real as you are right now, Pete. Of course, that doesn’t prove anything. Some of the things Tokos told me were pretty unbelievable.”

“Doctor, my definition of believable has altered significantly since the Cybermen arose. My mind’s a bit more open to the impossible.”

“But she claimed to exist both inside and outside of everything we know to exist,” said the Doctor with an incredulous look. “That’s… that’s more like a goddess, not a creature as I know it.”

“To some, you were a god,” Rose pointed out. “I guess it depends on your frame of reference.”

“True, that’s very true,” he said, still troubled.

Hal frowned slightly, her brows knitted in deep thought. “What disturbs me the most,” she said quietly, “is their choice of forms. Why a white wolf and a white lion?”

“Why not a white wolf and a white lion?” asked the Doctor.

Hal took a deep breath, then blew it out. “My people tend to assume favourite forms; forms that have an affinity for their personalities. Alan, Elly’s husband, favours the form of a white lion. Elly herself sometimes assumes the form of a white wolf, although her favoured form is that of a large golden dragon. When Tony first mentioned a white wolf and lion, I thought there was a possibility he might be referring to Elly and Allen.”

Pete gave them a crooked smile. “But the numbers wouldn’t add up, if it was only them. Tokos, the Bad Wolf and Hal make three wolves in total. Tau and Alan are two white lions. It’s obvious that Tony sees Tokos and Tau as two discrete beings. He doesn’t seem to know about, or is ignoring, Elly’s wolf form.”

“But how would he know any of that detail, Pete? I’d not even told the Doctor about Elly and Alan’s shifter forms,” Hal said.

“No, but I did pick it up from our bond,” the Doctor noted. “Perhaps he somehow gleaned that from our minds?”

“Not mine,” sniffed Hal. “Unless he’s a more powerful telepath than even I.”

“Do we know if that’s true or not?” asked Pete.

Hal looked unsure as she turned to Pete. “No, not really. I felt something when I met him, but I didn’t detect telepathic skills, per se. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have them and is innately adept at keeping them hidden, and that’s nearly impossible to do without training. I won’t know unless… “

“Unless you examine him,” Pete finished flatly, giving Hal a laser beam stare.

“Yes, if you want. I wouldn’t hurt him, of course. If he were to resist, I wouldn’t go any further.”

“Is there any other way?” asked Pete.

“Probably not,” interjected the Doctor. “We would need to see what he’s seen, exactly as he saw it, to determine if he’s truly talking about the same beings I encountered in my dream.”

“Then do it,” Pete said with a sigh. “But the conditions are that you not scare him, not endanger him in the slightest, and not divulge any of your activities to Jackie in any way without talkin’ to me first. If she finds out, my goose will be cooked. If you scare him, I’ll be doin’ the cookin’.”

“Oh, Jackie…” moaned the Doctor, rolling his eyes. “She said she wanted to talk to me after I finished with you.”

“I’ll take care of Jackie,” Pete said firmly. “But I think she was thinkin’ primarily of this bondin’ thing. Explain it to me so that I can head her off.”

The Doctor glanced at Rose and started vigorously rubbing the hair at the back of his head, clearly uncomfortable in discussing the subject in front of Rose. “Weeelll,” he hemmed, staring at the ceiling, “it’s kind of complicated. I mean… There’s so many different levels of bonding, you know. Different purposes, even…”

“I don’t know,” Pete said, crossing his arms and leaning back into his chair. “That’s why I asked you to explain it.”

“Well… there’s…uhm… sibling bonds, and that’s what I have with Hal. And then there’re parental bonds. Those are between parent and young children, at least on Gallifrey it was only with young children. It sort of weakened as the child approached the age of eight, which is why Time Lords entered the Academy at that stage…”

“Stop stallin’, Doctor.”

Clearing his throat at Pete’s mild admonishment, the Doctor met Pete’s gaze. “Some of the most intense bonds in the entire universe are pair-bonds, and telepathic pair-bonds are even more so. There are many differing levels of pair-bonding depending on the individuals, but there are two main types. One is what many refer to as a betrothal bond, or a bond of intent to mate. Betrothal bonds are usually very intense and fairly intimate, during which the couple open their minds to learn as much as they can about the other. At some point it may strengthen to become a full-fledged marriage bond. Once a marriage bond is established, mating is complete and the bonding becomes permanent.”

“No such thing as divorce, then?” chuckled Pete.

“If it exists, it is extremely rare,” chimed in Hal. “I’ve never heard of it happening with a proper bond, and I can’t imagine how it could happen. Bond severance of a truly mated pair would be devastating. The pain or withdrawal that resulted could very well cause the death of one or both. Death of a bond-mate frequently brings on death of the surviving bond-mate, unless there are young children. A parental bond may exert enough of a strong pull to keep a surviving bond-mate going.”

“Does it happen inna ceremony, or somethin’?” Rose asked, intensely curious.

“Most cultures observe some type of ceremony at the inception of a marriage bond,” answered Hal. “For telepaths, it is the only true marriage. A piece of paper means absolutely nothing compared to the merging of minds and cementing of permanent telepathic links.”

The Doctor snorted a laugh. “On Gallifrey, marriage involved an endless pile of paperwork, family members posturing for roles in the wedding party, political favour trading between rival or colluding Houses, and endless arguments about the potential of the soon-to-be-wedded couple’s children. And since most marriages were politically arranged and consisted mostly of pomp and ceremony, pair-bonding fell to the wayside as a social convention. But non-Time Lord Gallifreyans still quietly practiced it. The biological imperative hadn’t been completely bred out of us.”

“Time Lords were a bunch of stuffy, stuck-up, intolerant bureaucrats who looked down on the plebeian classes,” blustered Hal.

“That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?” whinged the Doctor.

Hal rolled her eyes. “You gonna tell me your wife didn’t fit that mould to a T?”

Wife!?! Rose blurted out, shocked.

Hal quickly cast her eyes up to the ceiling, guilt written all over her features.

Oops. You didn’t tell her, I take it… she sent silently.

The Doctor shot her a look that didn’t require telepathy to interpret.

“She’s dead,” he snapped, glaring straight at Hal. “Very, very… dead.” Hal swallowed hard but kept her eyes on the ceiling tiles as if they were the most interesting she’d ever seen.

“We split up when I was late in my first life, when I was a crusty, doddering old man,” the Doctor turned to Rose, still incensed at Hal’s lack of discretion. “I left her and Gallifrey to travel in the TARDIS with my granddaughter, Susan. The last time I saw her, ever so briefly, was during my tenure as Lord President of Gallifrey during my fourth life. She cunningly laid claim to my estates at that time, knowing I wouldn’t fight her. She died when Gallifrey died, well before you were born, Rose. We were never bonded.”

“Oh,” Rose said, obviously relieved. “It’s jus’… ya never told me you were married before.”

“I’m over 900 years-old, Rose. I’ve done and forgotten more things than most people would accomplish in ten lifetimes. But Hal is right. She was a typical Time Lady of her era, and romantic feelings were not something she held in high regard.”

“Well, I think I get the drift,” Pete said to break the uncomfortable silence. “Looks like you three have a lot to talk about. Don’t forget, you have a trip comin’ up. Lot’s of planning to do.” He stood up and opened the door, half expecting for Jackie to fall into the room. Jackie did not disappoint. With a gasp and a shriek, she staggered into the office.

“Jacks!” Pete grinned as he took her by the arm. “Just the person I wanted to see.” He gave the Doctor a glance that conveyed a simple message: Run!

The Doctor wasted no time in slipping past the sputtering Jackie as Pete kept a firm grip on her arm.

“But… but… I need to talk to himself!” Jackie stammered, pointing to the Doctor’s disappearing back. Hal and Rose trotted past her smiling and following the Doctor down the hallway.

“He lives here, Jackie,” smirked Pete. “You can talk to him anytime you want. Let’s sit and have a little discussion about our son,” he said as he shut the door.

The three escapees ran down the hall giggling at their close call and Jackie’s startled expression at being caught eavesdropping.

“Did you see her face?!?” chortled Hal.

“Pete knew she was there,” laughed Rose. “Does it all the time, she does.”

“As does someone else,” the Doctor said more soberly, levelling his gaze on Hal.

“Hey! I can’t help it if you think too loud sometimes,” whinged Hal with a chuckle, a slight blush creeping into her cheeks.

Rose shifted her gaze between the two, all mirth having fled her features. “What’s it like, havin’ somebody in your head all the time? What’s it feel like?”

Hal and the Doctor exchanged glances for a brief second. “I can show you,” Hal told her soberly. “Do you trust me?”

Rose hesitated, clearly uncomfortable about a relative stranger touching her mind. “Why… uhm, I mean… Can’t the Doctor show me? No offense, but it does seem kinda… intimate.” She watched Hal, hoping she hadn’t insulted her, but Hal only smiled understandingly. The Doctor, on the other hand, appeared flustered.

“Weelll… that’s sort of the problem, isn’t it?” he said, rocking on his heels. “I know you so well, Rose. I’m not sure if I can control myself sufficiently for a ‘demo’ sort of experience. It… it could easily become something much more… intense.” The smouldering look in his eyes let Rose know exactly how intense the experience might get. Her breath caught in her throat, robbing her of a proper response while a thousand questions swirled through her.

“If you were to link with the Doctor, you’d probably need an intermediary, Rose,” interrupted Hal, observing how the two were at a loss of words. “I can do that, if you like. If you trust me enough, that is. I promise I wouldn’t look at anything you don’t want me to see.”

Rose nodded. “I think I’d like to try it. There’s so much about the Doctor that I don’t know anythin’ about. “M sorta realising’ that now. ‘M kinda feelin’ left out, if ya know what I mean. But I wanna take it nice an’ slow, yeah?”

She looked up into the Doctor’s eyes. Fixing her with a frank stare out of hooded, meltingly chocolate brown irises, his voice dropped into a seductive lower register.

“Oh, I am absolutely, astoundingly, mind-blowingly good at nice and slow, Rose Tyler,” he drawled.

The timbre of his voice combined with the intensity of his knowing gaze ignited a spark of heat and energy in her core. It spread rapidly outward through her trunk and limbs until her fingertips and toes tingled with an excitement she could barely contain. She felt her breath hitch again; could feel her face begin to blaze and tears prickle her eyes as she tried to break his bold stare. There was something about the way he had formed the words with such intent; how he performed the gentle rolling of the ‘R’ in her name, almost with a Scottish burr that seemed to literally caress her very soul.

She knew, of course, how well versed the Doctor was in the subtle art of seduction. She had seen him use flirtation often in affecting the outcome of many of their traveling adventures. There were few who didn’t fall to his charms, even when they knew with certainty he would never deliver.

And, naturally, it was not the first time he’d put the ‘whammy’ on Rose. He’d frequently practiced his wiles on Rose in the privacy of the TARDIS, always watching her face to see how flustered she would become. She was aware of how it stroked his huge ego to bring her repeatedly on the brink of complete submission, ready to fulfil any desire he might declare, only to dance out of reach as if he hadn’t meant any of it.

She’d learned to play by his rules; to be the timid mouse to his cagey, capricious cat. But the rules seemed to be changing. This new new new Doctor was so identical in many ways to her previous new new Doctor, and yet so different. He had boldly declared his intentions, but she wasn’t sure if she truly believed him after years of training herself to believe otherwise. And now that he had bonded to Hal, she was discovering that she didn’t know the Doctor nearly as well as she thought.

It galled her, to be honest. After years of being in the closest emotional relationship she’d ever had with a man, after years of risking her life to be at his side, another woman had stepped forward to reach a level of intimacy with the Doctor that she envied. It was her own fault, she knew. She could have claimed that right months ago as soon as their feet touched the sands of Dårlig Ulv Stranden. That did nothing to douse the slow burn of jealousy in her breast. She felt no enmity towards Hal, who obviously didn’t want the Doctor as a mate, but she deeply resented their psychic bond all the same. She wanted it for herself, as much as it frightened her at the same time.

Taking a gulping breath, she broke the spell-binding gaze he held over her and turned to Hal.

“Ok, what do I need t’ do,” she asked with a nervous smile.

Hal and the Doctor exchanged glances again, seemly coming to a consensus without words. Rose felt another twinge of covetous, and tried to tamp it down. At one time she had felt a similar connection to the Doctor, where they had barely needed to glance at one another to arrive at a decision. Now, she was on the outside looking in.

“Probably not a good idea to do that here, with Jackie skulking about,” frowned the Doctor, hands thrust deeply into pockets.

“You’re probably right,” Hal agreed. “Well, you have to take me home anyway. Why don’t we go for lunch together and then over to my place for a little tea?” suggested Hal. “What do you think, Rose?”

It was the Doctor’s turn to give Hal a raised eyebrow, knowing how protective she was of her privacy.

Rose gave her a reserved smile. “Are ya sure? I won’t be a fifth wheel to ya?”

“Wouldn’t ask if I felt that way,” Hal said bluntly. “I’ll go pack my things.”

After Hal brought down her duffle, the three bid their farewells to Pete and Jackie, letting Jackie know that they wouldn’t be returning for lunch. Enveloping Hal into a tight embrace, Jackie told Hal she was always welcomed to the Tyler home.

“I’m so sorry someone had to ruin your first visit, dearie,” Jackie told her. “Join us for dinner again next weekend, ok? You won’t be gettin’ a proper meal when you’re campin’ out for a coupl’a weeks, ya know.”

“Thanks, Jackie, I’d love that,” Hal said sincerely. “Not too many fresh vegetables available at a camp site, so I’d better get my veg in now!”

“Blimey,” groused the Doctor. “Now I’m in for it. I suppose the menu will feature asparagus, sprouts and spinach next week.”

“An’ swedes!” chortled Jackie, causing the Doctor to shudder visibly.

Deciding on fish and chips, they climbed into the little blue hybrid with Rose riding up front with the Doctor. Rose couldn’t keep the huge grin from spreading across her face. The blue hybrid may not have resembled the TARDIS much, but it did feel strangely familiar, as if she and the Doctor were off on an adventure together. Whenever she turned around to talk to Hal, she could sense the Doctor sneaking covert glances at her.

“Eyes front, soldier!” Hal sharply commanded.

“It’s a long walk to your flat from here, back seat driver,” the Doctor snapped churlishly. The two women burst into peals of laughter at the Doctor’s pout, which Hal could see plainly in the rear-view mirror.

“Sorry,” choked Hal. “Not used to riding in the back seat of a vehicle powered by underfed gerbils,” she teased him.

Their lunch continued in a similar manner with the Doctor and Hal trading barbs as they initiated planning for the upcoming field trip. The Doctor and Hal agreed to trade cars later in the week so that Hal could shop for miscellaneous gear and clothing.

“You’re really gonna let ‘im drive your Porsche?” Rose asked, eyes incredulously wide.

Oi, I’m a good driver!” he protested.

“Have ya any idea how many times I ended up on me backside when he piloted the TARDIS?” Rose continued. “’S easier to count the number of times I didn’t, actually.”

Hal’s eyes were narrowed as she glared at the Doctor. Before she could recover her voice, he decided to make a pre-emptive strike.

“The TARDIS is designed to be piloted by six Time Lords, Hal. It’s only because of my superior piloting skills that she ended up on her backside and not on the ceiling!”

“Did do, once or twice,” snorted Rose.

“One scratch… one scratch, Doctor…” Hal hissed.

“Not a scratch! Not a single, solitary scratch, I promise!” he said quickly. “She’ll be as pristine and unmarked as they day she rolled off the assembly line. Scout’s honor!”

“Were you ever a Boy Scout?” Hal snorted in derision.

“I’ve… I’ve scouted a few times,” he boldly prevaricated.

“Well, we shall see when we’re out in the middle of nowhere with no utilities, no built-in facilities, and no cheating with your sonic screwdriver.”

“Define ‘cheating’,” prodded the Doctor.

“Starting a fire with the sonic, for instance.”

“That’s cheating?!?” he squeaked in outrage. “I suppose you’ll expect me to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together?!?”

“That’s what Boy Scouts do,” Hal insisted.

“Rubbish,” spat the Doctor. “Haven’t they ever heard of matches?

By now Rose was bent double with loud enough guffaws to cause a few chippie patrons to stare. Tears and mascara were streaking down her cheeks. The Doctor gazed lovingly at her, happy to see her laugh again after so many years of wistfully yearning to hear it. He was also gratified that she appeared to be over her shock from learning he’d had a wife before her.

“Time to go?” asked Hal, anxious to get back home. While not willing to admit it, she missed her sole companion for the last five years. Sid had been her closest friend and confidant, and she seldom spent nights away from him unless on business travel.

Rose was characteristically quiet as they walked up the stairs to Hal’s flat, eyes flicking about as she took in her surroundings. The Doctor watched her reaction, proud of how she remained astutely aware in unfamiliar territory. It was one of the traits he valued the most in his companions; and Rose, a 19 year-old shop girl, had somehow arrived ready-made for the dangerous situations they would find themselves in.

“Sid! I’m home!” called out Hal as she opened the door. Naturally, she didn’t need to do that, since Sid was tied into the security systems. But she liked to treat Sid with respect and always greeted him.

“Good afternoon, Hal,” greeted Sid. “Good afternoon, Doctor,” he said after the Doctor placed his palm on the panel below the security keypad and stepped inside.

“Sid, I have another guest. You may call her Rose,” Hal introduced. She indicated for Rose to place her palm on the flat panel.

“Rose Marion Tyler,” announced Sid as she stepped through. “Handprint stored and identity confirmed with Torchwood employee records. Good afternoon, Rose.”

“Hallo, Sid,” Rose muttered self-consciously, eyes roving about the room looking for a body to go with the voice.

“I’ll start the tea,” Hal said headed into the kitchen. “Make yourselves at home.”

“Is tha’ a computer?” Rose asked Hal, pointing to the ceiling.

“Yeah,” Hal nodded as she and the Doctor grinned. “And he’s actually downstairs and takes up most of the lower floor.”

“That’s brilliant!” said Rose, clearly impressed. She and the Doctor eased themselves onto the sofa as Rose took note of Hal’s large video collection, squinting to read the titles. “Wish my flat was as clean as hers,” whispered Rose.

The Doctor winked. “Wish my car was as clean as hers,” he whispered.

“I wasn’t gonna mention the stench of old rancid chip wrappers in your car. But since you are aware of them…” Hal had returned holding a tea tray laden with a pot, mugs, an assortment of biscuits and a jar of Nutella.

“Oooh, Nutella!” cried the Doctor. “You were holding out on me, Hal. Why didn’t you bring out the Nutella before?”

Hal shrugged after setting down the tray on her coffee table. “Sorry. Must have been distracted by the grovelling and whinging about man-eating heiresses in six-inch stilettos.”

“That was long after tea, mind you,” he pouted.

Rose frowned at the word “heiress.” “Man-eatin’ heiresses?” she asked, staring at the Doctor.

“Oh, yes… “ he said, choosing his words carefully. “Jackie was threatening to fix me up with a bored heiress as a date for the Torchwood party, unless I found someone else to be my plus one. So to avoid that untenable situation, I politely asked Hal…”

“Grovelled...”

“… asked Hal to accompany me,” he said with a warning glare aimed at Hal. “Hal, of course, couldn’t wait to slither around like some pole-dancing strumpet with an unknown loathsome lothario with two inches of pomade in his hair.”

“Oh, I forgot a knife for the Nutella,” said Hal in a mockingly cheerful voice. “Let me go get one from the kitchen!”

“You two are completely barmy,” Rose said with a laugh after Hal disappeared around the corner.

“You have no idea,” he chuckled, tensing as Hal returned with a table knife in her hand.

“Relax!” she barked at him before placing the knife on the tray. “I would never stab you with a table knife, you donut. Too dull and terrible grip on the handle.”

The Doctor turned to Rose, grinning maniacally. “Ready for her to go into your head now?”

Rose had just stuffed half a digestive biscuit smeared with Nutella into her mouth. “Mmmfff!” she laughed, crumbs falling out of her mouth. She took a sip of tea to wash the biscuit down. “Wow, that’s lovely! Never thought of puttin’ Nutella on a digestive before. Brilliant!”

“Love Nutella,” sighed the Doctor. “I’ll eat almost anything smeared with Nutella,” he added wistfully.

Hal rolled her eyes at him. “Including asparagus?”

“I did say ‘almost,’ now didn’t I? That’s an exclusionary adjective that implies asparagus.”

“Ooookay,” drawled Rose. “Before this conversation goes too far, I’m ready.”

Hal smiled and sat on the sofa between the Doctor and Rose. “Budge,” she told the Doctor, to give herself more room between them. She positioned herself so that they were each approximately half an arm’s length from her.

“Now turn to face me a bit,” she instructed. They shifted a quarter turn so that they were gazing at each other over Hal. Tucking her legs under her, Hal wriggled a bit to get comfortable before turning slightly to Rose.

“Rose, understand that what you will be seeing is not exactly real,” Hal said sombrely. “Everything that you see will be generated by our minds. What you see may in fact exist, but it will be an idealized image based on our own perceptions. In other words, if I show you a picture from my mind, it will appear as I view it, regardless of what it may actually look like in reality. Do you understand?”

“I think so,” Rose said.

“You may also experience emotion emanating from one of us. Emotions are similar to imagery. The emotion will be quite real and genuine, but the catalyst for that emotion may not be a fact at all. Just because I may feel guilty about something doesn’t mean that I am, in fact, guilty. I may feel intensely that something is my fault, when it’s clearly not. I may think that something is a fact, when it is not. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, I get that,” Rose nodded.

“Please keep that in mind at all times,” intoned Hal. “Finally, keep in mind that there are no lies in telepathic communication. Misunderstanding may occur, but lying is almost impossible. The emotions and words you hear will be quite real, but not necessarily true. They are absolute for the person speaking them because they are their true thoughts and feelings. But thought is not always reality. I may think the world is flat and truly believe it, but it doesn’t make it true for anyone but myself. So, are you ready?”

Rose nodded, a little pale but fiercely determined. Hal looked to the Doctor, who was extremely pale but equally determined. Bracing herself for the vortex of emotions she knew lay beneath the surface, Hal placed the fingertips of her right hand at Rose’s left temple. She reached out with her left to touch the Doctor’s right temple. She flinched slightly as she buffered the strong emotions of her two companions, closing her eyes to concentrate.

“Empty your thoughts and close your eyes,” she murmured. “I will tell you when to open them again. Just concentrate on your breathing. Try to relax and slow it down.”

Rose tried to think of nothing, focusing on the rasp of her own breath. It seemed unnaturally loud now that she was conscious of it. Her brows furrowed slightly as something brushed across the front of her mind… like a gentle breeze. She suddenly felt heat on her face and an enticing scent seemed to fill her nostrils; something that reminded her of Christmas.

All too soon, Hal’s voice drifted to her, but it didn’t seem to come to her ears. It was like she heard her in her head.

“You can open your eyes now.”

Rose opened her eyes and blinked against the bright light. She was outside, and the biggest, widest, bluest sky she had ever seen was before her. In front of her, and on the horizon, thousands of what looked like gigantic evergreen bushes dotted the scenery. Each was about ten to fifteen feet in height, and they were spaced anywhere from twenty to a hundred feet apart. Their branches were longest at the bottom, where they hugged tightly to the ground. A spicy resinous smell emanated from the evergreens in the 30 degree Celsius temperature, heated by a blazing sun high in the West. She could see gently rolling hills and distant mountain peaks all around her.

Looking down at her feet, Rose noticed she was standing in fine beige-coloured sand filled with small debris shed from the trees. Course prairie grass grew sparsely between the bushes, almost as tall as her knees. Standing in the small clearing on either side of her were Hal and the Doctor. She was shocked momentarily to see the Doctor dressed in his brown-pinstripes and trainers, looking exactly as she’d last seen him in Prime.

“Where are we?” she asked Hal, who had a serene smile on her face.

“We’re not too terribly far from our future camping location, about 75 miles from here. Well, it would be if we were in Prime, that is. It’s part of my family’s estate in Arizona, a few miles from the New Mexico border.”

“’S beautiful,” Rose said in admiration. She glanced over to the Doctor, who was standing quietly with his hands in his pockets. He was looking out over the horizon, his hair blowing in the warm breeze, his face unreadable. “Don’t you think it’s beautiful, Doctor?” she asked him.

“Gorgeous,” he replied simply. His expression didn’t change, didn’t seem to really register the natural beauty around him. He seemed to have eyes only for Rose as he looked into her face. He looked so vulnerable, so alone, so forlorn to her; as if the weight of centuries was crushing his spirit down. She could see how much he wanted her, wanted to be near her; but something was holding him back. She turned back to Hal, and looked into the deep blue depths of her eyes, like the inky indigo of a profound ocean. She felt as if she could fall into them and sink fathoms below into the very heart of Hal’s soul and lose herself there.

He is afraid of losing you if you discover the truth of him, she heard Hal’s voice in her head. There is much that you each need to know about the other, and until then you must not form a permanent bond. Convince yourself first that he is who he says he is. Form a strong link so that you may know with certainty that he speaks truly, but go no further. I will keep you both safe so that you do not cross the Point of No Return. If I tell you to stop, you must stop.

Rose nodded silently, and reached out for the Doctor’s hand. Surprised, he searched deeply into her eyes. He smiled when he saw the tip of her tongue peeking out of the corner of her mouth as her eyes crinkled.

“Come on, Doctor! Let’s go explore that hill over there to the North,” she grinned. He linked his hand to hers and started walking northeast toward a rocky prominence a few hundred yards away. It was difficult to get good traction in the sand, so they interlaced their fingers to give each other support.

They crossed a deep, dry arroyo at the base of the hill, the Doctor jumping across first. Rose followed after a running start, almost bowling the Doctor over as he caught her on the far edge. Grinning, they both raced up the steep side of the rocky mound, sliding on loose rounded multi-coloured stones and clumps of sand that cascaded down behind them. Once at the top, some 500 feet higher, they stared in awe at the huge expanse of earth and sky all around them.

Rose nestled into the Doctor’s side. Unthinkingly, he wrapped an arm around her waist and drew her tightly to him as he scanned two mountains to the west. The sun seemed on a course to set between them.

“So, are we really in Hal’s mind?” Rose asked idly.

“Yup,” he answered. “We really are.”

“So, if we were bonded, we could do so somethin’ like this? Show each other things, like memories an’ stuff?”

“Could do, yeah.”

“Oh, an’ why are ya in pinstripes? Is that how Hal sees ya?”

He looked down and frowned slightly. “No, that would be me. I must see myself like this. Hmmm.”

“What about me? What do I look like to you?”

He smiled as he gazed down at her. “You look like Rose Tyler, the one and only,” he answered. His eyes radiated love and admiration so frank that it took her breath away.

He lifted an eyebrow. “Although, I’m pretty sure you’ve grown at least a cup size,” he chuckled with a boyish grin.

Rose looked down at her tightly clinging tee-shirt and laughed. “Always did envy me Mum. I dunno if I wanna leave here now!”

“You’re perfect the way you are, Rose. Please don’t envy anyone. I wouldn’t want you to be anything but yourself, exactly as you are.”

Smile fading, Rose stared at her feet. “I’ve changed, you know. A lot has happened since Canary Wharf. I… I got scars all over my body now. Nothin’ I can do about it. Damaged goods, I am.”

Whirling around, he grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, his face suddenly furious. “Don’t ever say that, Rose! Please… don’t ever, ever say that about yourself!”

“But it’s true,” she said in a small voice, tears welling. “I ain’t the little shop girl ya use’ta know. You never saw my entire body before, so ya don’t know. But you’d be horrified if ya saw it now.”

He crushed her to his body in a tight embrace and cradled the back of her head with one hand. “Stop it,” he whispered in a cracked voice. “Please, Rose. I would never… I can’t… Never, ever would I think such a thing. I don’t care what your body looks like! It’s you that I love, in whatever form you are in. You can’t do this to yourself. You’re breaking my heart.”

Rose knew that it was true, because his feelings suddenly broke through Hal’s barrier and flooded the link, battering her like a gigantic tsunami. She felt as if she were drowning in waves of intense love, undying devotion, excruciating heartache, intractable fear, and a fierce need to protect her from all comers; to protect her even from herself. Her eyes flooded with tears at the force of his emotions for her. Unable to pull him any closer than she already was, crushed against his chest as she was, she reached out in the only way she could.

The Doctor sucked in a deep breath, gasping with rounded eyes as the atrophied link he shared with Rose flared to life. He felt her reaching for him, flailing within the link to connect with him. Like a drowning person who had never had swimming lessons, she couldn’t quite orient herself within his mind. His Time Lord consciousness was too much for her, he knew, but he dove after her consciousness like a lifeguard.

Their minds touched, burning like a supernova ignited. All that he had ever wanted, all that he had ever striven to achieve in his long life, was suddenly within his reach. The urge to merge his consciousness with Rose Tyler’s was irresistible, primal and overwhelming. He slid into her mind and felt the recognition, welcome, love and intense joy that shot through them both. It was nothing like he had ever experienced, nothing he could ever have imagined.

He could sense Hal dampening the link, desperate to get his attention. He swatted at her consciousness in indignation. How dare she interfere?!?

You’re hurting her! Stop now, Doctor! You have to stop! Your Time Lord consciousness is too much!

Somewhere within his mind, he heard Rose whimper. A bolt of fear ran through him at the realisation that he had lost control. He had overwhelmed Rose and would inadvertently kill her if he didn’t withdraw. He knew he could never let her go… not totally… but he could stop his advance and dampen their link to a tolerable level. Quickly, he pulled back slightly and built an impromptu barrier around Rose’s mind to shield her from the bulk of his hefty Time Lord brain. Reinforcing the link between them, he slowly withdrew his mind from hers, giving her a reassuring and loving mental caress along the way.

Almost immediately, he was bereft. He felt Rose’s groan of pain at the separation, and he sent her reassurance that he would return in full. They would be one someday, forever, of that he solemnly promised her with all that he was.

Opening his eyes as they dropped to their knees on the knobby hill, panting with exhaustion, the Doctor gazed down into Rose’s liquid brown eyes. They were filled with love and a promise.

“My Doctor,” she whispered.

Dipping his head down, he sealed their lips in a passionate kiss mixed with their intermingled tears. Deepening the kiss, he swept his tongue between her lips to circle around her tongue in that most primal and ancient battle; tasting her and claiming her as his for the rest of their lives. When neither of them could go another second longer without a breath, he slowly drew back, sucking at her bottom lip as he reluctantly released her.

“My Rose Tyler,” he crooned as he dropped his forehead to press against hers. “My beloved.”

“Forever,” Rose whispered.

“Forever,” he swore.