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“I am so sorry about this,” repeated the Doctor for what felt like the tenth time to Rose.

She shot him an understanding smile, but in her exhausted state, it came out more as a grimace. “It’s alright, Doctor,” she said. “Unexpected is sort of what I’ve come to expect.”

He smiled softly at her, but as another shudder rippled through her, he winced. “Come on, let’s lie down,” he said.

“I’m alright,” protested Rose, ignoring his attempts to move her into a more comfortable, horizontal position. “I can stay awake.”

“Morning is still hours away,” he said. “You should rest.”

She thought about protesting again, but she was so exhausted that when he guided her head to his chest, Rose went willingly and closed her eyes. The tiny cot with the threadbare mattress was hardly comfortable, but with her head pillowed on the Doctor’s chest and his arms holding her securely to him, Rose was as warm and comfortable as she could ever remember being in the prison cell of a snowy planet.

It was supposed to have been their first trip after the ordeal of Krop Tor. The full week following their trip to the forsaken planet and the black hole that it orbited had been spent inside the vortex. The Doctor had decided that it was just the perfect time to spring clean the TARDIS and run the 500 year maintenance on her systems. Rose hadn’t argued, mostly because she could tell that the thought of life without the TARDIS had shaken them both. If staying in the TARDIS was what the Doctor wanted to do, Rose wasn’t about to protest.

Of course, things had turned quite dull soon enough, and the Doctor had found a fun destination for them to land. Nestled in the farthest planet of a dwarf star, was the small humanoid colony of Odessa. The planet itself was rather hostile with rough, icy terrain and winds that made it nigh impossible to sustain any sort of structure. The Odessa colony had been built as a symbol of defiance against the planet’s atmosphere by the humanoids two planets over. It was a small colony of only three thousand people, and apart from some flora and fauna, they were the only inhabitants of the planet.

They’d been gracious hosts when the TARDIS had landed not far from their town square. The town itself seemed like it had been painted right out of a Christmas card, with dark gingerbread homes covered in snow, stone paved roads, bright twinkling lights everywhere, and tall, green trees that looked almost identical to douglas firs back on Earth.

“It’s like a town made for Christmas,” Rose had said upon setting her sights on it.

“It’s not Christmas,” the Doctor had declared adamantly. “It only looks like it.”

He had proceeded to tell her how it wasn’t a festive occasion, but just the regular state of the colony. In the harsh environment of the planet, their town was always alight with beauty and light, as a symbol of life prevailing even in the harshest and darkest of lands. There was something utterly hopeful in the town’s aura, and Rose had been enchanted.

The colony itself was surrounded by an atmospheric shield to protect against the worst of the planet’s cold climate, explained the Doctor, while Rose wondered why they hadn’t built more towns if they could be shielded but it had simply come down to the fact that it would cost too much money for the settlers.

They had dressed warmly and taken their time to walk around the town, visiting little shops to buy souvenirs for Jackie back in London, and the bric-a-brac that Rose managed to invariably accumulate for the TARDIS.

“For Christmas,” she had declared once the Doctor had raised an eyebrow at all the bags in her hand.

“It’s not Christmas,” he had said yet again, though a small smile had played on his lips as he’d done it.

When the day had drawn to a close, they’d ended up in a tavern, drinking warm mulled wine and eating what the Doctor had assured her were the equivalent of chips in this part of the universe.

“You should go down to the bridge,” their waitress had told them with a knowing smile. “Weave a dhhaagaa.”

Dhhaagaas in Odessa were woven out of the lianas sold in kiosks near the bridge. It appeared to be an obvious tourist trap at first, until the Doctor had explained the significance of weaving one and tying it to the underside of the bridge.

“It is a way of remembering lost things and being grateful for what we have,” he had said, his eyes fixed on his own hands as they deftly braided the lianas to form a single dhhaagaa. The blue, pink and green colours of the delicate tendrils had looked utterly beautiful as he’d handed it to her.

Rose had suspected that he wasn’t telling her the whole truth about the tradition, but she’d taken it with a smile and tied it under the bridge, next to rows and rows of similar dhhaagaas. It was then that things had gone wrong.

Massive airships had descended from the skies, their loud engines disrupting the quiet evening. What had followed next could only be described as an unfortunate series of events. The colony’s law enforcement officials had jumped into defence mode, but the ships and their crews had been heavily armed. They’d been subdued within minutes.

The humanoid-looking invaders were evidently well trained because they had divided off into groups to secure the residences and keep the people inside. Anyone who was out in the open was rounded up and led away to be held inside nearby shops. The Doctor and Rose had rushed forward, and the Doctor had started to address their leader, but she’d neither cared nor wanted to listen. She had fired a bolt of energy from her weapon, sending the Doctor flying backwards.

Rose had screamed and run towards him, but she must have been hit by the same thing, because when she’d regained consciousness, they were both in a prison cell, and the Doctor looked paler and angrier than she had ever seen him.

Even now as she tried to fall asleep, she could feel his arms shaking as he held her.

“Are you still in pain?” asked Rose softly, her eyes closed.

His nose brushed her forehead as he shook his head. “I’m fine,” he said. “The weapon’s strength just surprised me. You, on the other hand...it affects humans of your time quite badly.”

As if to prove his point, another shudder ran through Rose’s body. She did her best to fight it, but the way the Doctor’s arms tightened around her told her that he’d felt exactly how powerful it had been.

“I’m okay,” said Rose, even though her spine felt like it was on fire.

“You’re not,” countered the Doctor. “It will wear off in time, but it’ll be painful in the meantime.”

“I can take it,” said Rose, lifting her head and looking up at him.

His jaw was clenched in anger and his eyes were hard as stone. “You shouldn’t have to,” he said.

“We got a plan?” asked Rose, wanting to distract him. “And who were those people anyway?”

“They’ve been quiet about their intentions,” said the Doctor. “They were organised, efficient, and quick with their guns.”

“To subdue, not to kill, though,” said Rose. “What is it with us and Christmas anyway?”

“It’s not Christmas,” he said, repeating it yet again but she only grinned at him. “It might be an invasion, but it doesn’t fit.”

“How’d you mean?” asked Rose.

“It’d be pointless to invade this planet,” he said. “It’s nothing but snow and ice. This town is the only habitable place here, and there’s nothing else. No trade routes to profit from, no resources to exploit, nothing.”

“Except maybe a hiding place,” said Rose. At the Doctor’s look of surprise, she clarified. “You said it yourself. It’s out of the way and there’s nothing and nobody for light years.”

“Makes it a perfect hiding spot for the nasty sorts,” nodded the Doctor, with a proud smile on his lips. “Brilliant.”

Rose grinned at him, but the moment was ruined when she shivered violently yet again. The Doctor’s smile vanished as a grim look appeared in his eyes. “Sleep,” he said. “I’ll wake you when it’s time to go.”

She wanted to ask him about his plan, but she was so tired that she fell asleep almost immediately. The next thing she knew was the Doctor gently shaking her awake.

Her eyes snapped open, but the Doctor clamped a hand on her mouth to stop her from speaking. She could hear voices outside their cells, and she shook away sleep to listen.

“...no one has followed us,” a male voice said, sounding relieved. “We can move on to Baylor as soon as the sun comes up. Get off this forsaken planet so I can feel my fingers again.”

“What about the people here? They’ve seen our faces, remember?” asked a female voice.

“Kayla has a plan for that,” said the man. “She’s leaving a souvenir in the town square that will explode as soon as we are in orbit.”

Rose looked at the Doctor with a horrified look, but he shook his head to tell her not to say anything yet. He turned her slightly so that her face was buried in his chest, and their captors would think they were either asleep or knocked out when they would come to check on them. Sure enough, Rose heard footsteps getting closer, and she shut her eyes quickly, waiting for them to pass.

Once they had gone, the Doctor released her slowly and tiptoed over to the lock of the cell door. They had evidently not searched him because he still had his sonic screwdriver in his pockets. Rose got to her feet with some difficulty before hobbling over to him as he pointed the sonic screwdriver at the lock on the cell door, which popped open a moment later.

“C’mon,” said the Doctor, grabbing a firm hold of her hand.

They stuck to the shadows, noting that nobody else had been put in the prison, and the two people they had heard talking before were the only ones there. They found them at the end of the hallway, and the Doctor gestured for her to be quiet as he reached into his pocket and drew out a small, bright yellow marble. He rolled it on the floor towards them and pointed his screwdriver at it when it got close. The marble broke with a clink and it hissed as the yellow gas was released from it. Their captors sniffed the air for only a second before they both slumped to the ground in unison, knocked out cold.

“What was that?” asked Rose.

“It’s a sleeping aid,” said the Doctor. “Very primitive as far as these things go, but it makes for excellent escape equipment.”

“How come we never used one of them before then?” asked Rose as they stepped over their sleeping captors.

“I nicked a few from the Sanctuary Base on Krop Tor,” he said. “Ida had them, I think.”

Rose nodded as she tried to keep up with his fast pace, trying very hard not to collapse. They emerged out into the town square and found it deserted. The airships were all still there, and Rose had to assume that the invaders still had the townspeople as hostages in their own homes.

“What are we gonna do?” asked Rose, looking at the Doctor.

“Well, first, we are going to find our way to the TARDIS,” he said, already scouting out the safest route to where she was partially hidden in an alley nearby.

“The TARDIS can find the explosive from scans, right?” asked Rose.

“Yeah, of course,” nodded the Doctor. “Which is what you are going to do.”

“What?”

The Doctor looked at her squarely. “Go to the TARDIS and activate the green row of switches next to the monitor. The monitor will show you the area it scans,” he said, and gave her his screwdriver. “Point the screwdriver at the monitor with this exact setting that I have on, and the scans will focus on the town square. You got all that?”

“Green row of switches, sonic screwdriver to focus on the town square,” repeated Rose, committing it to memory as she took the screwdriver. “Got it. But what are you going to do?”

“I am going to that ship over there,” he said, pointing to the leader’s ship.

“And do what?” asked Rose, looking slightly worried.

“Don’t worry, I don’t plan on getting hit by the blaster again,” he said. “I am just going to do a bit of sabotage, and call in the law enforcement agency from two planets over. There is a very good chance that these people are on the run from them.”

“Be careful, okay?” said Rose.

His eyes softened as he nodded. “You too,” he said.

“Of course,” she said. “Wouldn’t want to ruin Christmas.”

He shook his head with a fond look of exasperation. “It’s not Christmas,” he whisper-yelled at her back as she snuck towards the TARDIS.

She heard, and shot him a cheeky tongue-touched grin over her shoulder. She made it to the TARDIS safely and hurried inside to follow the Doctor’s instructions. The monitor began the scans and when she pointed the sonic screwdriver at it, the scans seemed to grow more focused.

“Come on, come on, find it,” said Rose.

She briefly entertained the notion of running out to help the Doctor with his sabotage plan, but her legs were getting a bit wobbly. With a sigh, she sat down on the jumpseat and kept an eye on the monitor, deciding that she would do more harm than good if she left the TARDIS.

A loud beep from the monitor drew her attention and she saw a blotch of red on the screen. “Oh, but where is that?” she wondered. She was just contemplating touching the scanner to see, when the TARDIS doors opened and the Doctor ran in. “What happened?” she asked.

“Come on,” he said, grinning widely at her.

Rose followed after him and as the two of them stepped out of the TARDIS, they found that people in law enforcement uniforms similar to those on Odessa had rounded up the invaders. “How did they get here so fast?” she wondered.

“They were nearby, hunting for these space criminals,” said the Doctor. “All they needed was a positive confirmation, which I was very happy to give, and they landed within seconds.”

One of the officials with more badges on her chest than others saluted the Doctor sharply, before ordering her team to start taking the invaders off this planet and back to theirs. “I’m Captain Neimah,” she said, walking up to the Doctor and Rose. “You said there was an explosive too?”

“The TARDIS found it, yeah,” said Rose.

“You got my sonic screwdriver?” asked the Doctor.

Rose handed it back to him and he activated it, spinning around in a circle once before taking off running.

“With me, you lot,” said Captain Neimah as she ran after the Doctor with Rose.

They found the explosive device inside the energy production system in the middle of the town square, rigged to blow up in three hours. Captain Neimah’s team secured the explosive device before she turned around and thanked them once again.

The Doctor and Rose watched as the invaders were taken away and the extra airships were towed away with tractor beams. The crisis was over, the town was in celebration, but all Rose wanted was a warm bath and a soft bed. The Doctor could see how exhausted she was and he wrapped an arm around her shoulder as he led her away.

“Where are we going?” asked Rose, slightly confused. “The TARDIS is that way.”

“We are not going to the TARDIS,” said the Doctor, leading them towards the inn adjoining the tavern that they had visited earlier in the evening.

“Why?”

He didn’t answer because the innkeeper greeted them warmly as they walked in. “Your room is ready, Doctor,” he told them. “Considering what you just did for us, it’s free of cost.”

“Thank you, Ephraim,” grinned the Doctor. “We’ll just go ahead and turn in then.”

Rose watched in amazement as the Doctor led her up the stairs and to the room at the far end of the corridor. He produced the key from his pocket and unlocked the door, nodding at her to go in.

“You planned this,” said Rose, realising that he’d already had the key before they’d come to the inn, and apparently knew the innkeeper by name.

“I did,” he said. “I got us the room when you were in the boutique, buying Jackie that scarf.”

“Oh?” asked Rose.

He scratched the back of his neck nervously and closed the door behind him. “I wanted us to spend some time together,” he said. “Outside the TARDIS,” he clarified when Rose looked confused.

“But why?”

He opened his mouth to say something but they heard gentle singing from outside their room’s window. Rose crossed the cosy-looking room to look out, and saw the town’s square full of people singing as the sun rose and cast a golden glow on the dreary town.

“They do this every morning,” whispered the Doctor, and Rose jumped slightly as she realised that he was right behind her. “It is a way to thank the sun for rising and providing them with warmth and light. It’s why I brought us to Odessa.”

“To hear them sing?” asked Rose softly, mesmerised by the sweet melody of the song.

“Partly, yeah,” said the Doctor, his voice equally soft. “Do you remember the dhhaagaa that we tied to the bridge?”

“Yeah, ‘course,” said Rose, looking away from the window to meet his gaze.

“Do you remember what I said? About it being a way to remember lost things and being grateful for the things we still have?” he asked. At her nod, he smiled gently. “Dhhaagaas, when tied with someone, are meant as a symbol.”

“A symbol of what?” asked Rose, hardly daring to breathe because of the intense way he seemed to be looking at her.

“A symbol of union, of friendship,” he said. “Of love.”

Rose’s lip trembled and she raised her hand to gently cup his cheek. “You wanted me to tie it with you?” she asked, just to be sure.

He nodded slowly and turned his head so his lips brushed her palm. “I did,” he said. “Dhhaagaas also symbolise the beginning of a new bond.”

“New?” asked Rose, her eyes looking at his lips as he tilted his head forward just a little.

“New,” he confirmed, his lips close to hers yet not quite touching.

“Why now?” asked Rose, her eyes falling shut.

“Because we have both lost things,” he said, his lips a hair’s breadth away from hers. “And I am grateful to have you in my life, Rose Tyler. You have seen me through so much, and I only hope to be someone worthy of your love. Worthy of you.”

Rose pulled away, but before the Doctor could do more than look a little shocked, she smiled and stroked her thumb over his sideburn. “I am grateful for you too,” she said. “And you are. Worthy, I mean. I just hope that I am too.”

“You are, Rose,” he said, at once. “I lo-”

Rose pressed her lips to his, silencing his verbal declaration for a far more direct and pleasurable one. The Doctor didn’t protest one bit, just drew her closer and kissed her like a man starved. The singing townspeople continued as the Doctor and Rose took their time learning the feel and taste of their mouths and lips, as pleasured sighs escaped them.

Sunlight streamed through the window, illuminating the two of them as they kissed, and the Doctor broke the kiss to smile at Rose. “Halfway out of the dark,” he said.

“I thought it wasn’t Christmas,” said Rose, with a sly grin.

The Doctor dropped another kiss on her mouth before grinning brightly “As far as I am concerned,” he said. “It absolutely is Christmas.”