A Time Lord's Sense of Cruelty
Disclaimer: Not my characters, just my words.
Time doesn't really have a sense of humour. It can't, a force rather than a deity, and the traits ascribed to it saying more about the describer than time itself.
Which is why the Doctor thinking time has a cruel sense of humour the day Rose Tyler stumbled into his life again probably does tell you more about him than it does time.
It is a bright sunny day in a Norwegian town and the Doctor is running from genocidal horned Daleks, otherwise known as 'a spot of fun'.
Or possibly death and failure to save the world. It's always so hard to tell those apart.
"Duck!" a clear voice calls out, and so he veers off to the side instead (never liked taking orders, not even they're better followed. Actually, especially when they're better followed). He has a brief moment to see the grandmother in front of him, the rocket launcher and the massive, massive rocket coming in his general direction.
Then he is flying and landing and glaring up at the sky, feeling most annoyed. He remains there, as a face comes into view and looks down at him, clearly unimpressed.
"An old woman just incapacitated a herd of strangely Viking-esque Daleks – I was going to be awesome, and you completely ruined it by upstaging me," he says.
The old woman just looks at him, and he takes in the grey in her hair, the soft lines on her face, the eyes that time haven't touched at all.
"Rose," he says.
"Doctor," she says. A statement of fact rather than a question, and he wonders what gave it away. The Daleks, the refusal to duck, the general air of brilliance?
"You're old," he observes.
"For a Time Lord, you sure seen constantly surprised at how it works," she says dryly, offering a hand. As he takes it, for a moment he feels slightly younger and she looks so much younger, and it's the Doctor and Rose again.
Then he gets to his feet and feels the age in her bones as she squeezes his hand. She is old. Decades older, not ravaged by time, but touched by it. Time passing, not time travelling.
Rose. Time has a cruel sense of humour, like he had a cruel sense of balance, leaving her with a him that would feel the passing of time too and maybe not curse it happening to her as well.
"What are you doing here?" he asks, then holds up a hand. "Wait, don't tell me – impending collapse of both universes, requiring me to save both."
"No," she says firmly, then takes in his expression. "You're sad about that?"
"Of course I am!"
"Of course you are," she echoes, and then she is letting go of her rocket launcher and hugging him and it's familiar and unfamiliar at once. "I am here to save you. Not that you deserve it, you bastard."
It is rather disconcerting to be hugged and insulted at the same time, he has to admit. Of course, it also seems to be happen a lot, like being snogged and insulted first. Or after. Or both, on very special occasions.
"What did I do?"
She lets go of the embrace so quickly he almost falls over. "What did you do? You left me on a beach in Norway with yourself without as much as asking what I wanted."
She still looks cross the way he remembers, even if the age now seems to make it more authoritative.
"How is he? Me? Him? You and him?"
Her face softens slightly. "He is good. We're good. Forty years married. Forty-five saving the world. Forty-six putting it into danger."
He isn't jealous, he thinks. He really isn't. He travels in all of time and space and saves the world and looks brilliant while at it and he doesn't do normal and forty years of marriage. That isn't him.
That's why he is jealous of it, he'll never admit.
"Sounds like my hand," he says proudly, and the look she gives him either suggests she thinks him tactless or mad or can't make up her mind which. "Why isn't he here?"
"He's saving you from a herd of werecats in Sweden," she says. "Martha is saving you from a pirate mummy. Sarah Jane would have come, but she is with the Brigadier. So Jo is saving you from the grasshopper king instead."
"Right. Right," he says, taking in how the sun seems to catch the last golden in her hair. "Why am I suddenly in need of so much saving?"
"I can't tell you," she says apologetically.
"Explicit orders not to," she informs him. "From you."
"I would never give myself orders and expect to follow them."
"Which is you gave them to me," she says, her smile sudden and young. "You do know yourself."
"So it seems," he says petulantly. "Takes the fun right out of it."
"Brings the fun right into it," she counters, and he looks at her again. For all the age on her, the life in her eyes seem even more apparent. Humans. So little time to live and thus seeming to live it twice as much.
"I'm older," she says softly. "It's called growing up."
"Never liked it," he says dismissively.
"Never tried it, more like."
"You are very annoying."
"Forty-six years of learning it from you," she counters. She has learned well, he has to admit, though it takes centuries to properly hone the craft of being annoying and brilliant and brilliantly annoying and annoyingly brilliant.
"Was it a good life, Rose Tyler?" he asks abruptly.
"It is," she says, no hesitation. But her eyes when she looks at him still hold the faintest look of something lost. "I still sometimes wonder what it would have been like."
"What it had been like?"
"Forever with you. Do you ever think about what..."
"Never," he says. "I never think about what might have been."
"I'm a Time Lord. If I thought about what might have been, I could make it what did happen instead. Too dangerous."
She looks slightly downcast at that, and he takes her hand again, feeling the age of her skin still so young against the years of his life. Forever is still not enough time for a Time Lord. Not even in a fantasy.
"Think about it for me," he tells her sincerely, kissing her forehead. She leans into it, and they stand still for a long time, as he lowers his forehead to rest against hers.
"I better go," she says suddenly, tearing herself away. "We couldn't keep the rift between the universes open too long. Just long enough to do what she asked."
"Yeah. River couldn't be here either."
"River? River? You know River?"
She merely cocks an eyebrow as River would. "She told me to tell you 'spoilers'."
"That woman is a bad girl even when she's not here," he says, and Rose looks at him with a slightly controlled face.
"You like bad girls now?"
"I always liked bad girls," he says. "And bad wolves. Even more when they were being good and saving the world. Or saving me."
She smiles, looking at him with so much affection he beams at her and steps closer.
"That's for leaving me on the beach," she says, and slaps him. "And this is for everything else."
When she kisses him, his cheek still aches, and she puts her hand against it, so very tenderly now. Her kiss isn't tender, all possession and demand and tongue and yes, he rather does like that. He can even close his eyes and not see her age and imagine her Rose, forever Rose, time never touching her.
(Even if he has to admit age has certainly benefited her kissing skills. But then he imagines she's learned from forty-six years of snogging him. He is after all brilliant at it and anyone suggesting otherwise (Amy, River, himself) are clearly lying and riling him up and trying to get him to prove otherwise.)
She breaks the kiss, brushing her nose against his for a heartbeat before pulling back completely. When he opens his eyes, he still sees what he wants to see.
He's good at that.
No age. No passing of time. No suggestion time could possibly hold a power he can't change. Not him. Not a Time Lord.
"Goodbye, Doctor," she says, turning away and walking away briskly.
"Goodbye, Rose Tyler," he says. "Wait, when did I give you orders not to tell me? Rose, do we meet again? Rose!"
"Won't tell you!" she calls back, and even the distance can't hide the merriment in her voice.
"Orders from me again?"
"No!" she calls out, the light of the other universe starting to engulf her. "You made a point of telling me I could have told you and how much it annoyed you that I didn't. So I won't. Can't change the timeline, after all. You told me that."
"You've become very good at being as annoying as me," he says, and she laughs, and her smile is the last thing he sees of her, brighter than even the light of a whole other universe.
He could remember her happily like that.
He won't get to.
Time doesn't really have a sense of cruelty. It can't, a force rather than a deity, and the traits ascribed to it saying more about the describer than time itself.
And so, the day the Eleventh Doctor sees Rose Tyler again-again, on a beach in Norway, hand in hand with a himself a regeneration ago and decades of time touching both, he thinks it all rather cruel.
Of him, to him, to her, of her, of time. He shouldn't have to see it pass. He lords it. It's all rather cruel, to feel jealous of it passing and fear it at the same time.
Of course, time doesn't really have a sense of cruelty. Time Lords do.
And do it well, too.