As they walked along the street Rose shifted the plastic bag from hand to hand, moving it to the other the moment the handle twisted, cordlike, and began to cut into the soft skin of her palm. She didn't know why her mother insisted on them buying so much wine – she'd likely fall asleep before they were finished the second chardonnay – but they'd been sent out with a list as long as her forearm and the Doctor's innate fear of crossing Jackie Tyler had made him fill the trolley with several additional bottles of red “just in case”. Now they lugged their spoils back to the estate, keeping up a cracking pace even as Rose's arms began to tire, and her fingers started to go numb at the tips.
'These legs, Rose Tyler, are brilliant,' he was telling her, taking a larger step than necessary to prove just how brilliant they were. 'Look at the bounce! Flexibility, that's what that is. Strong thigh muscles, too. I wonder if I'll be a decent swimmer, this time. Wasn't really before. More of a long-distance running type of man. Do you think these are swimming legs?'
She puffed out a breath, making an annoying strand of hair flutter helplessly before landing back on her face. 'Maybe,' Rose said, slowly, giving them a once over. OK, a twice over, but it wasn't really her fault: in those new trousers of his everything was on display, and his legs happened to go all the way to his bum. 'Look a bit thin to be swimming legs.'
The Doctor turned around, spluttering in disbelief, and walked backwards so he could look at her. 'I'll have you know these legs would be lauded – lauded– on the water planet Aqualeron, and let me tell you, the Aqualeroni are most discerning when it comes to their appendages. Can't even get into the Water-Slide Hemisphere without a nice set of gams.'
'Gams?' She teased, raising an eyebrow. 'Didn't know you were a 1930's private eye.'
'Oh, Rose,' the Doctor breathed, a smirk just about appearing in the corner of his mouth, 'there's so much you don't know about me.'
The sudden rush of heat she felt at his words was embarrassing. He was very good at making her flustered, these days, and seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. Instead of meeting his eyes, she focused on the bag she was holding, preferring translucent green plastic over warm brown eyes; they were just as knowing as when they'd been blue, if not more. With a great deal of concentration, more than was required, she moved the shopping from one hand to the other, shaking her arm to revive it and wincing at the pins and needles that spread along her veins.
When it became apparent that Rose had nothing to say to his comment the Doctor turned around again (she imagined that flicker of disappointment, she must have) and resumed facing the way he was going – probably for the best, all things considered. He fell into step next to her, his hip occasionally bumping hers as he walked jauntily along the pavement.
'So,' he finally said, breaking their sort of companionable silence, 'what is the plan for this evening? I mean, you lot don't really excel at New Year celebrations until the 24th Century, but even now you still put the effort in, I'll give you that.'
She rolled her eyes and dashed forward, opening the door to the stairwell with her free hand. The Doctor slipped through and she followed him, keeping her gaze firmly off his backside. That was the kind of thing you were meant to do, right? Not looking at your best friend's bum as they walked up the stairs, even if they were wearing really, really tight (obnoxiously tight, she corrected) trousers?
'If that's how you feel, you're probably gonna be disappointed,' Rose warned. 'Mum's looking for a quiet night in, I think. She keeps grumblin' that she had “too much excitement” over Christmas.'
'The woman gets attacked by a Christmas tree and thinks she's an action hero,' he muttered. It wasn't nearly as cutting a remark as she expected it to be.
Rose was glad he didn't push her on why she didn't have any big plans. She'd had options: Shareen was going on a pub crawl and had invited her out – well, she'd invited everyone in her phone's address book – and Trisha Delaney was throwing a party a few suburbs over, but neither appealed to her. There was nothing about spending hours shouting small talk over thumping house music whilst she watched her drink for roofies that really struck Rose as “fun”. Explaining to a 900-year-old-alien that she found it hard to relate to her old friends after he took her through time and space would probably be a difficult and pointless conversation, even if she used diagrams and graphs. Her specific 900-year-old-alien had little interest in the tangled mess that made up human interactions and relationships. He was more interested in jam.
'Well,' the Doctor said, tearing her from her thoughts, 'you might as well enlighten me: what does a Jackie-Tyler-Quiet-Night-In look like?'
'Too many glasses of wine,' Rose said, making the bottles in her bag clink together carefully in evidence, 'and board games until fireworks. I've shredded her last three Twister mats, but she may've splurged when Christmas shopping, so watch out, yeah?'
She couldn't see his face, so she had to imagine the look of horror, the one that would have matched the little shudder she saw shake his shoulders. 'I am not playing Twister with your mother – drunk or otherwise.'
They reached the top of the stairs and she let him in to the flat. The place was a mess, still. More than the usual clutter that made Rose feel at home, the books and shoes and half-empty biscuit packets. She and her mum never seemed to get around to cleaning up after Christmas until the third or fourth day of the new year; it was like a little bubble of holiday happiness preserved for as long as the tree was up.
Right now there was wrapping paper littering the floor in festive, wrinkled bundles. Gifts were strewn about the place, left on the coffee table, or on the couch as the recipient grew bored and moved on to something else. The Doctor had draped a particularly garish jumper over the bookcase, a gift from Jackie, and her mother's new volume on theoretical physics (“Oh, this is children's stuff, but it'll get you started!”) was propping open the door to the laundry. Around the Christmas tree there was a ring of ornaments, moulted off as the plastic limbs sagged; the tinsel was threadbare and drooping a bit 'round the middle.
Rose thought the place had never looked better.
The kitchen was the neatest of the rooms, with only the plates from breakfast left in the sink. Jackie had enlisted Rose and Mickey to help clean up after their Christmas meal; the Doctor managed to skive off by making loud comments about how clumsy he felt in the new body. He'd been making tea all week in recompense, compelled by a Rose-Tyler-Glare-of-Doom.
Now, Rose dumped her grocery bag on the counter, glad to be free of its weight. Her hands were freezing – the twenty minute walk from the shops had been just long enough for her to regret not wearing gloves. She rubbed them together briskly.
She hadn't managed to raise their temperature much when the Doctor stepped forward. There was a slight hesitancy in the way he glanced at her, but before she could puzzle over it, he said: 'Let me?'
Nodding, she wriggled her fingers at him. His eyebrows drew together seriously, lending the occasion remarkable weight, as he carefully covered her hands with his much larger ones. Usually, his body was cooler than hers, just a few degrees off – it was something about Time Lord biology that never really made sense to her. Right now, though, he felt markedly warmer, like he'd been holding a mug of tea just moments before. It was gorgeous, and she made a happy noise as heat seeped back into her flesh.
With gentle motions he slid his palms across the back of her hands, his thumbs moving to stroke the skin of her wrist that had escaped her jacket's sleeve. Everywhere he touched, warmth followed, chasing away the chill of a cold winter's day. It was probably wrong that it felt that good – he was just helping her thaw, after all – but Rose still couldn't stop herself from shivering in pleasure. His fingers tightened and she flicked her gaze upwards, meeting his eyes.
Honestly, she shouldn't have been surprised that his expression was unfamiliar, not since he'd gone and regenerated. She'd found that there were usually analogues from his old face, though, ones she could remember seeing formed with different eyebrows, a larger mouth; different planes and curves. Now, his eyes were dark and focused on her so intently that she felt transparent in front of him. This was completely new, completely foreign - Rose would definitely have remembered if he'd looked at her this way before, because her lips were dry and she didn't feel cold anymore; she felt blazing hot.
Her reaction made her flounder, suddenly, her body stilling and her eyes going wide as she mentally flailed. It was too much. Far, far too much. It was one thing for her to be attracted to this new Doctor with his cute bum and great hair; she'd been attracted to her old Doctor, too - you don't wear a leather jacket and tell a girl to forget you without piquing her interest. But there'd always been distance between them, enforced, naturally, by the man himself. Whenever she pushed forward, he pulled back. It didn't matter if he'd been watching her all night, following the swirls of fabric of her dress as she danced with courtiers and diplomats, or if she'd surprised him by running her fingers through his bristly hair on her way to the control room: he would retreat into himself, hiding behind a manic grin and eyes too complex to read.
But now, today, he was the one crossing the distance between them. He was the one smoothing his thumbs over her knuckles even though, by itself, the motion wouldn't really warm up her hands. There was no tension in his slight frame – the slope of his shoulders was relaxed, and his cheek was dimple-less, and Rose refused to read into the fact she knew his body language already, not even a week in. He didn't look ready to bolt; there was no cruel remark waiting on his tongue. He hadn't mentioned the TARDIS's engines, or some fantastic place they should visit right now.
He was absolutely fine, standing in her mum's kitchen, stroking her hands and making her skin sing.
Rose blinked, realising she'd been staring at his tie for several minutes, and glanced up at him again. He was looking at her like she was the only person in the entire universe. Now, that was an expression she remembered from the old Doctor. Only, it had never been this overt, and never when they were so close that their shoes were touching.
As if he'd been waiting for her attention to return to him, the Doctor slowly raised their clasped hands to his mouth. She bit her lip, completely on edge; she had no idea what he was about to do, and at this point anything seemed plausible. Would he kiss them? Bite them? Oh, Christ, what if he sucked her fingers? Rose actually heard herself swallow, something she thought only happened in books (and not even good books. Trashy books).
To her relief – disappointment? - he, instead, created an opening in the cage of his hands. It was just large enough for him to blow in a stream of heated breath on to her fingers. The puff of air tickled, and suddenly the mood was broken; Rose giggled and squirmed away, stealing her hands back from him and shoving them into her pockets.
He moved backwards and smiled that new, silly smile of his – all soft and lovely, and like he had the biggest secret in the world. Rose screwed her hands into fists, trying to stop the tingling on her skin from where he'd touched her.
'Better?' he asked, all innocence.
Now she was sure he was doing it on purpose – no one could look so guileless without being up to something. The thought made her heart race and so she ducked her head and nodded. 'Yeah,' Rose said, then cleared her throat. 'Thanks for that.'
'Oh, it was my pleasure, Rose,' he informed her cheerfully. 'Wouldn't have wanted you to lose a finger or – perish the thought – a thumb. I'm a big fan of the opposable thumb. Utterly brilliant piece of evolutionary flair.'
The Doctor started unpacking the groceries, oblivious, it seemed, to the domestic nature of the act. After recovering from her shock, Rose helped put away the bottles of wine. They'd bought snacks, too, things to nibble on as they waited for midnight to strike. The Doctor had obtained a wide variety of biscuits – everything from chocolate digestives to Jaffa Cakes (despite their dubious status) were represented – but it had been Rose who'd added things like grapes and crackers and cheese to the basket, knowing her mother would be unimpressed with a house full of nothing but sweets.
'Dead useful for all sorts of things, thumbs,' he continued, opening the fridge and placing a block of rather good cheddar on a shelf. 'There's making and operating tools. Hitchhiking. Thumbs up. Thumbs down. Insulting a rival house, but you've got to be careful with the biting part of that, Rose – don't want to get over zealous.' He leaned back against the counter, tongue touching his top lip to aid in the thinking process. She was a big fan of that new quirk; she wondered if there was a way to encourage it without coming across as strange. 'What else is there?'
Rose put a few bottles of white on the bottom rack of the fridge and closed the door. 'Thumb rings,' she suggested, flashing her own beaded ring as evidence. 'Oh, an' mittens! Can't have mittens without thumbs. They'd just sort of... fall off, wouldn't they?'
The Doctor giggled, amused. This whole regeneration business, it seemed to Rose, was a lot like painting over wallpaper; it looked different, covering the wall with a fresh coat and all, but the old pattern seemed to bleed through in places, giving hints of cabbage roses and paisleys. Or, in this case, a wide grin taking up half his face.
He let it melt into a mock-solemn expression as he said: 'You are absolutely correct, Rose Tyler. And who would want to live in a world without mittens?'
Her response was cut off by her mother bursting through the front door, Mickey in tow. They were mid-argument and their voices were loud, bleeding through the thin walls of the flat. Officially, it was a friendly debate, concerning the rules of Monopoly. Unofficially, it was a long running, blood-drawing battle of wills between the pair, and one Rose had been caught in the middle of too many times to count. Though she was sick of the topic, she found herself rather looking forward to the Doctor throwing his opinion into the ring: knowing him, it would be based on some version from the 52nd Century where they were all space-communists and you couldn't own property.
Wordlessly, Rose tipped her head towards the living room and the Doctor followed her out of the kitchen to investigate what all the fuss was about.
'Look, puttin' money under Free Parking makes the game go on forever,' Mickey was saying as he hung up their coats. Jackie bustled through the flat, pausing to peck Rose's cheek on her way to the couch. 'I read the instructions. It's not even in there!' He was getting exasperated, Rose could tell – his voice was heavy and gruff. 'If you give the money back to the bank, we finish up four hours early.'
'You know why they call 'em house rules, Mickey?' Jackie asked. 'It's 'cause when you play Monopoly in my house, you play the way I say you play it.' She crossed her arms and set her best gimlet stare on him. 'An' I say you put the money under Free Parking.'
No one was surprised when the young man folded. 'Fine, have it your way. But don't blame me when you're still playin' the bloody thing at 2 in the morning.' He paused, then added: 'And I'm being the race car.'