It was, in the opinions of his past selves, the worst time for another of them to join the group. The Doctor hadn’t quite understood at first why that was, but once everything had been explained and the life bond had been made he was inclined to agree.
Rose was right in the middle of her GCSEs. She’d spent a good two years preparing for them in a full contingency of subjects and they were confident she’d succeed. The trouble was that the shift of the paradigm had occurred at just the wrong moment.
She pretty much ignored his scarf-clad person in favor of of taking her exams; she’d gotten the late May slot and once those were done she still had to finish out the year. Pretty much wiped after the stressful occasion, he finally found time to speak with her without his other selves butting in and waited eagerly on the edge of her bed for her to notice him.
When this went on for longer than he was comfortable with, he coughed. Rose paused in her homework on the floor of her room and let out a tiny sigh, not looking in his direction.
“Need something?” She asked.
“I just... I’d like to get to know you,” he said slowly, standing from the bed to sit slowly in front of her on the floor. “But I get the idea that you don’t like my being here very much.”
“A girl’s supposed to stop believing in imaginary friends when they get older, not collect more of them,” Rose huffed, finally raising her head to pin him in place with her eyes. “That’s when the parents call the doctors and psychologists and such.”
“...Ah.” The Doctor cleared his throat awkwardly and attempted to mentally regroup, focusing on the sixteen year old Tyler girl in front of him when a soft chuckle escaped her mouth. “What’s so funny?”
“‘S just... sometimes I could swear you’re all the same person. Same mannerisms, sometimes.”@ His eyes widened at that and he simulated the affect of inhaling sharply.
“You mean my ah... counterparts never mentioned...”
“Well, we are all the same person. All of us are The Doctor.” He well and truly had her attention now.
“...You what?” She asked weakly. He sighed.
“I can see we’re going to have quite a lot to talk about.”
“So let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Rose breathed about four hours later. She was sitting on her bed in her jimjams with a steaming mug of cocoa, propped up against her pillows. The four Doctors were either sitting on the end of the bed, leaning against her dresser, or propped against the wall. “You’re from another planet, you can die twelve times and have thirteen different bodies, and you-“ here she pointed at the latest addition to her unwitting collection- “are somewhere around seven hundred and fifty years old.”
“Pretty much,” the Doctor muttered, briefly exchanging a glance with his three younger selves.
“You’re also all different versions of the same person, and ghosts. And for reasons you don’t understand, you’ve been tied to me.”
“Well, why me?” She huffed, blowing a stray bit of recently-bleached blonde hair out of her eyes impatiently. “Why would-“ they all stiffened as the door of the flat opened and Jackie walked in. Rose lowered her voice, turned on the radio, and switched to speaking in Gallifreyan. It was quite impressive, actually. She had become incredibly fluent both in speech and in written comprehension. «What’s so special about me?»
“We... don’t know,” Three huffed. He didn’t bother changing language seeing as Jackie couldn’t hear him anyway and it was still easier for Rose to understand the conversation if it were in English. “Now, we told you how all Time Lords come from Gallifrey, but not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords. That time travel is possible. It means we can see time, in very interesting ways, which includes each individual person’s own timeline. There are exceptions to the rule of course, you understand. And your timeline is very, very special.”
«What, mine?» Rose asked, gaping. «I’m just a girl from a Council Estate.»
“You’re also incredibly smart, resourceful, and handling all of this extremely well,” Two pointed out. Rose snorted in response to that and they all frowned at her. “Now don’t give me that. You are. Rose, I may have shown you you had potential, but you’re the one that decided to do something about it.”
“Doctors, do you think we could have a moment?” The Doctor asked. His younger selves protested a bit before conceding, slinking out of the room with annoyance. Rose tracked their departure with confused eyes.
«Why did you want them to leave?» She asked softly. His cobalt blue gaze met hers steadily as he sat cross-cross on the end of her bed.
“Because they know you,” he said simply. “They care for you. I don’t know you, not yet. Any question you want to ask, I’ll answer with pure truth. They might think they’re protecting you and wish to shield you from the truth.”
«Straight answers, no sugar-coating?» she mused, raising an eyebrow before slowly nodding. «Deal.»
“I wish I could offer you a Jelly Baby,” the Doctor sighed. “These conversations go so much better when they start off on the left foot.”
«You mean the right foot.»
“...What’s the difference?”
It’s months later and they’re walking down the street browsing a flea market. Rose had gotten her GSCE scores that morning in the post and, while they weren’t perfect, they’d all been passing grades and the ones she was considering for her A-Levels were all in the high percentile. Jackie had recently taken a third job to pay for the stove to get fixed - though Rose was certain that with the Doctors’ help she could do it herself - and was working in a shop. She’d been on her way to tell her the good news and she’d got... sidetracked.
“How much is it?”
“Twenty quid, love.”
“It’s priceless!” The Doctor crowed, ecstatic. Rose shot him a look as she dutifully handed over the £20 note and wrapped the thin scarf around her neck. It was a feminine version of the one he wore; tassels, length and width proportionate to the body, and even the seven colors and sizes of the irregular stripes was the same.
“He’ll be impossible to work with now,” Three sighed. Two huffed in agreement. Their first incarnation had wandered off to look at some hats without them. “Still, it looks better on you than it does him...”
“Oh, rubbish!” The Doctor argued, flicking the ghostly version of his own scarf over his shoulder and preening it to lay just so.
Rose just shook her head and hid a smile. She’d learned a long time ago not to speak to them in public - something they had also learned not to come to expect thankfully - in the interests of not making people think she was a nutter. Of course, some days she wondered if the jury was truly out on that one...
Over the summer all four Doctors had regaled her with their collective life story. One had started at the very beginning, transferring over to Two, and then to Three, and finally to the latest Doctor, Four. There had been such a wealth of information that it had at first overwhelmed her to get such an infodump all at once, but she truly and deeply appreciated their need to be honest with her and let her know exactly who they were. After all, they’d been with her in some form since she was just sixth months old...
...It seemed only fair they returned the favor.
“Rose, come look at what I’ve found!” One called, catching all of their attention. He pointed excitedly at a gorgeous buffed bronze pocket watch with an intricate design of a galaxy engraved on its surface. Gingerly picking it up, Rose opened the casing and sighed softly at the interior. The hands and gears were entirely exposed inside, the metal scraped and dulled after years of use and a period of poor upkeep, but it was still beautiful and entirely unique.
The inside of the cover had the inscription To Jago, from Litefoot and the Doctor choked on his non-breath when he read it. Rose had, of course, been told about the unlikely private Victorian Investigators and the business with Weng-Chiang, but to actually see proof of their adventures in her hand-
“How much?” She asked the seller, fingers trembling as she set the watch down and closed the case. The young woman gave her a soft, knowing smile and reached out to straighten her scarf.
“Something tells me you know exactly how special that watch is,” she whispered softly. “And both Messrs. Jago and Litefoot would want you to have it.”
“You sure, Ms...”
“Ellie. Ellie Higson. And yes, I’m sure. Most of this stuff at my booth’s just old junk. Heirlooms that I can’t hang on to anymore, but that watch...” she sighed, a wistful expression crossing her face. “I never wanted to put a price on it. Wanted to send it to a home where it would be loved, cherished. Respected. I think I’ve found that in you.”
“Thank you,” Rose whispered, tenderly picking the watch up and sliding it into the safest pocket on her person - an interior one in her jacket. “I will. Treasure it, I mean.”
“I know,” Ellie responded with a smile. Rose gave her one last nod and then walked quickly out of the flea market.
“What do you think happened there?” She asked softly when they’d gotten to a more secluded area.
“Her timelines are unusually long for a human,” Three murmured speculatively. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she knew Jago and Litefoot personally.”
“She seemed to know right off the bat that you knew who they were as soon as she saw your scarf,” Two added. “And they must have talked of the Weng-Chiang business with Ellie, surely. If she was their friend, of course.”
“That watch will demand constant care and upkeep,” One pointed out. “But not to worry my dear. We’ll show you what to do.”
“Good, I was worried,” Rose muttered under her breath, smiling innocently at the biker who tossed her a concerned look as he passed. The Doctor’s deep baritone laugh warmed her chest and her smile widened with genuine mirth.