She was going to say yes. He could see it in her eyes. He knew that look, and he knew the people that wore it. The curious people. The ones who asked questions because if they didn't care then they might as well be dead.
"This box isn't just a London op, you know," he told her. "Goes anywhere in the universe. Free of charge."
"Don't," her boyfriend begged, clinging to her. "He's an alien, he's--he's a thing!"
Such an enlightened species, really. And standing right in front of him were two such different examples. One of the curious, and one of the deliberately ignorant.
"He's not invited," he remarked, tipping his head at the boyfriend in case there was any doubt. She obviously saw something in him. He didn't know whether that was to her credit or not, but he had long since given up trying to understand what drew people to each other.
"What d'you think?" he prompted. The curious look on her face hadn't faded, and she didn't seem to have heard a thing her boyfriend said. "You could stay here, fill your life with work and food and sleep..."
He glanced at her, and whatever she was thinking, she definitely heard him. "Or," he continued, "you could go--" He paused to shrug, knowing he had her even if it wasn't entirely true. "Anywhere."
"Is it always this dangerous?" she wanted to know.
If it bothered her, she wouldn't have asked. "Yeah," he said simply.
And he did have her, she was about to agree and he would have a curious distraction at his side and if he took her far enough, fast enough, long enough, maybe it would be like the old days again. Maybe this was just another life, just another turn around the cosmos. Maybe he could pretend that he was running instead of drifting.
Then her boyfriend clutched her more tightly and she shook her head and the spell was broken. "Yeah, I can't," she said. "I've got to go and find my mum, and..." She patted the boy fondly. "Someone's got to look after this stupid lump, so..."
It would never be like it was. "Okay," he agreed. He'd never thought he would miss the days of survivors and stowaways, but there it was. "See you around."
He could see the moment he said it that she knew it was a lie. Her expression turned thoughtful and he hesitated, just for a moment. In case she changed her mind.
It was just as well, he told himself as he closed the door. She was young. Most of them had been young. It was a curious age. It didn't last forever, though, and one by one they all grew up. Or died.
Or both, he thought, hands clenching on the console. And no matter what he thought she wanted, at least now he knew she wouldn't. Not because of him.
It was just a tiny skip in time, a matter of decades. Just enough to see. To reassure himself that she grew out of that curiosity. The TARDIS might find someone else, or it might not, but either way she would settle down--maybe with that terrible boyfriend of hers, telling stories to their children about the scary plastic and the magical blue box.
Something had gone wrong, and he knew it before he even stepped outside, but he didn't realize how wrong until he saw a blonde-haired woman too close and staring straight at him with a puzzled expression on her face. The TARDIS was supposed to warn him about that. He couldn't spare a grimace, though, because he recognized that expression.
It seemed that Rose Tyler wouldn't grow out of that curious look any time soon.
The look melted into one of shock and delight and something else he couldn't identify as she came toward him, rushing at him like a blur of brilliant sunshine, and wrapped her arms around him tight. He shrugged to himself and hugged her back, grinning over her shoulder. Not a bad welcome for someone she hadn't seen since she was nineteen.
"My god," she was murmuring in his ear. "I can't believe you. What are you doing here? Where am I? You told me you weren't allowed to cross your own timeline. You said so, but here you are--"
"Hang on a minute," he said, frowning a bit. "What are you on about? I've never been here before."
He should have felt it before now, the dormant sense of familiarity that only belatedly made itself known... the presence of another of his kind. "Not yet you haven't," a strange voice agreed, making him turn. He kept a protective arm around Rose as he came face to face with this impossible intruder.
He knew himself immediately. "What d'you do that for?" he demanded, not bothering to hide his annoyance. "I was here first, so sod off."
"Sorry, mate," the other Time Lord said, not looking sorry at all. "You'll do it yourself."
He snorted. "Well, obviously." He hadn't let go of Rose, but she wasn't complaining so he wasn't going to bother about it. "Don't s'pose you'll tell me why?"
"You've already met me, haven't you," Rose said suddenly. She sounded indignant, which was a tone he had reason to know very well. "This is the night you asked me to come with you! I forgot about all about it!
"And you--" She turned an accusing look on his future self. "You might've warned me!"
"Hold on," he demanded. "What's going on, then?"
"I told you," the other Time Lord insisted, and it took him a moment to understand that he was actually answering Rose. "I did. Late for a meeting with myself, I said. What, d'you think I was kidding?"
"I thought you weren't allowed to do that sort of thing," she retorted.
"Well, but I will," he interrupted, absurdly gratified when she looked at him again instead of at his future self. "And why's that, hmm? If you don't mind me asking?"
"It's obvious, isn't it," the other him put in. "You're looking for Rose. You found her. But you can't have mine, so you'd better go back and get your own."
"I did!" he protested. "That is, I tried. She turned me down."
"She's not one of your strays," his future self pointed out. "She's got her own life. She's got decisions to make, got to weigh the consequences. Got to have more than a heartbeat to say yes or no. Have another go."
"And get it right, yeah?" Rose added. "You've only got a few seconds. I didn't exactly stand around waiting for you to come back."
"Oh, that's nice," he told her, and she grinned at him.
"Well, go on then," the other Time Lord added. A bit impatiently, he thought. But of course they were breaking rules important enough to be exiled for, back in the day.
Okay, he decided, tightening his hold on Rose and giving his future self a smirk. So maybe the old days weren't everything. There was still the rest of time and space, after all.
She wiggled free on her own, which didn't really surprise him, but the empty feeling it left him with did. "Off you go," she told him, giving him that indefinable look again. "Take me to the end of the earth, and all that."
"Ends of the earth," he corrected automatically, and the look she gave him was one of fond amusement. Suddenly uncertain, he repeated, "End of the earth?"
She laughed aloud, literally pushing him in the direction of the TARDIS. "Go," she admonished. "See you in a few seconds."
So he went. But he looked back, briefly, on the threshold of the TARDIS. He saw her hit the other him, saw himself pretend that it hurt, and heard the other Time Lord imitating his own accent. "Oi! What's that for?"
"You left me!" she exclaimed. "Gave up, disappeared, left me behind!"
"Fear of yours, is it?" This time his other self wasn't kidding, and his voice was gentler when he said, "Better hit me again, then."
He closed the door before he could hear anymore. He had a time to change. Soon he was back when he'd started from, and he got it right because there she was, only a few steps away from where he'd left her. Helping her boyfriend along, pausing, turning at the sound of the TARDIS... and there was that curiosity burning in her eyes.
He leaned out, beaming at her, because he already knew what she would say. "By the way," he called, "did I mention it also travels in time?"
A smile lit up her face, and he didn't need any other answer. She turned back to her boyfriend, said something to him, kissed him once, and then she was running, rushing at him like a blur of brilliant sunshine. He stepped aside, she stepped inside, and the TARDIS wrapped around them tight.
She was home. She didn't even know where she was, but she was home. She didn't know where she was, or when she was, or how to change either one. Yet the familiarity, the sense of calm and belonging and normalcy was undeniable as she stared around at the crowds of human people milling in the streets.
She heard the door bang shut behind her. There was a moment then, just a couple of seconds strung together, when she could have started walking and not looked back. She could have disappeared into the foot traffic and he might even have let her go, and she would be just another human again.
"You think it'll last forever," he remarked. "People and cars and concrete... but it won't."
That feeling of belonging disappeared the moment he spoke, so easily that she wondered if it had ever really existed at all. When she listened to him she was a world apart, a person just slightly out of sync with their surroundings, like she was watching it all go by on a monitor, or in a mirror, or out of the back window of a car. As though where and when she was didn't matter so much after all, because it could change as quickly as she stepped through that door.
"One day it's all gone," he said, and he sounded moody now, contemplative. "Even the sky."
She couldn't help looking up, reassuring herself that the sky hadn't turned into something else just because he said it might. But it had, hadn't it? She'd seen for herself the day the sky caught fire and seared the planet beneath, and that ultimate impossibility had made her think that maybe--just maybe--he was right. Maybe anything really could happen.
"My planet's gone."
It was the first thing he'd volunteered about himself since he'd told her he was an alien, and it got her attention. He was staring straight ahead now, not like he was looking at anything in particular, but like he was seeing something in his mind. Something that was just a little off: reflected in a mirror maybe, or seen out the back window of a car.
"Dead," he continued, glancing at her with that same detached expression. "It burned, like the earth. It's just rocks and dust."
He looked away, and she thought he was done until he added quietly, "Before its time."
"What happened?" If she'd thought about it, she wouldn't have expected him to answer, but she didn't and he did.
"There was a war. And we lost." The pain in his voice was so familiar that it surprised her and for a moment she could hear him yelling again, screaming at the Nestene consciousness in the middle of that orange underground hell. I fought in the war, it wasn't my fault! I couldn't save your world; I couldn't save any of them!
"A war with who?"
He didn't answer, and she cleared her throat. Right, like the name would mean anything to her. He was the only one she knew, and that only if knew meant could pick out of a lineup. "What about your people?"
He gave her a brief glance. "I'm a Time Lord."
She just looked at him, because--like the day he had told her shop window dummies wanted to overthrow the human race--she might not believe him but he definitely wasn't boring. And really, if he was kidding her, she would never let him forget it. She was going to call him "Time Lord" for the rest of his life.
"I'm the last of the Time Lords," he added, staring out the back window of that imaginary car again. And she knew he was serious when he said, "They're all gone. I'm the only survivor."
This time she saw him walking down another street, arm in hand, making fun of her as she tried to coax information out of him. And in between the bit about him being the doctor and her being an accident she had sidled up to him and tried to get him to admit that he was really the police. He had denied it with a laugh, but she hadn't forgotten the odd note in his voice when he told her, I'm a long way from home.
"I'm left traveling on my own 'cause there's no one else," he said now, his words overlapping oddly with the ones in her mind.
"There's me," she said impulsively. It sounded weak and inadequate in the face of such loss, but he did like her and she thought it almost made him smile. She tried to smile back.
"You've seen how dangerous it is," he reminded her. "D'you want to go home?"
Ever? What kind of a question was that? Of course she sort of wanted to go home, someday. But standing here on the street with that blue box at her back, the last thing she wanted right now was to be left behind. She hadn't stepped inside with much thought for the future, and he hadn't seemed like the type to check tickets anyway. She'd just assumed that whatever he did, she could do, and when she wanted to go back he'd take her.
What if this was him taking her? What if this was what he did, dazzle and thunder and just this side of dying every day and she was nothing but a human girl trying to keep up with a Time Lord? What if this was her chance to get off and if she said no then the next time she really would die and he would blame himself for that too?
"I dunno," she said at last. How could she answer a question like that? "I want..."
To see you smile again, she thought. I want you to stop looking so serious. Because this isn't the end of the world... we've already done that. This is just the beginning.
It was just the beginning, and she was back on earth for who knew how long and she was hungry. She glanced around, suddenly seeing it in a new light: less familiar, maybe, but infinitely more fleeting. "Can you smell chips?"
She had caught him by surprise once, only once, when she pushed open the cat flap and found him on the other side. But if there had ever been a second time, this was it. He hadn't expected her to say that.
"Yeah," he said after a moment. Then he laughed, like it was the best kind of surprise. "Yeah," he said again.
"I want chips," she informed him, not missing the sudden way he'd relaxed. Just like that he was grinning again, and she didn't have to worry anymore because he would do whatever she said.
"Me too," he agreed decisively.
"Right then," she declared. "Before you get me back in that box, chips it is." Her money was still good, right? What year was it, anyway? Hers? What if it was earlier? Or later?
"And you can pay," she decided aloud.
He shrugged, and she thought he sounded a little too happy when he told her, "No money."
"What sort of date are you?" she demanded, trying not to laugh at his innocent expression. Maybe it was just an act; maybe he wasn't carefree or clever or so caught up in the moment that the rest of his life didn't matter. But right now, this was the face she could pick out of a lineup, and maybe she wasn't ready to hear the things he wasn't ready to tell her.
"Come on then, tightwad," she teased, because she knew he would follow her anyway. "Chips are on me. We've only got five billion years till the shops close."
And so they melted into the crowd, two more people in a sea of human beings, and they bought chips and sat at a little table outside the shop and pretended they weren't feeding the birds, like everyone else. And when he folded a lopsided origami duck out of a paper napkin she laughed at him and asked him if that was meant to be some sort of alien bird or what. He got all offended, of course, and told her that if she could do better then he'd take her to see Christmas. Any time.
Well, a challenge was a challenge, and if there was one thing Jimmy Stone had been good at--which was doubtful--then it had been paper-folding. She wasn't stupid, though, so she got him to promise before she went and made him a proper crane from another napkin. Then she laughed again at his puzzled expression and refused to tell him how she'd done it until he took the last of the chips and held them hostage against her cooperation.
She didn't let him unfold the duck, though. She swiped it while he was gloating over his newly made crane, stuffing it into her pocket and hoping the little paper bird survived the journey. If he noticed, he didn't say anything. But when she went to clear the table, one of her cranes was missing too. She decided not to bother looking for it on the ground.
Later, she pulled the duck out and studied it, thinking about the tacky logo on the wing and the slogan "Britain's Best" scrawled underneath. Distorted by the folds and only half-visible, it was something familiar twisted into a new and barely recognizable configuration. It was a bit of home in a form she'd never seen before.
It was a little like traveling with a strange man in a blue box. One day it was there and one day it was gone, and whatever she saw depended on how she looked at it. She might wake up one morning knowing that she would never go home again--or she might wake up and realize she'd never truly left.
It was his fault, really. She'd asked if she could have another look round the wardrobe, and he'd said, what else is it for? Just a bunch of musty old clothes gathering dust anyway. He'd no use for any of it, and if it made her happy then at least it served a purpose.
She'd asked, if she found something she liked, could she borrow it? And like a fool, he'd gone and told her she could have it. Find something you like, he'd said, and it's yours. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd been in there, not without trying, anyway, and what could she possibly come out with that she shouldn't have?
If he'd admitted it to himself, he was just trying to make up for the death of her friend. Was she planning to make friends like that everywhere they went? He couldn't save them all. He had enough of a time trying to keep her alive, what with her diving headfirst into trouble at the first sign of anything odd.
He should've known she would turn up in the one thing he'd got for someone else. 'Specially seeing as it was pink, soft, and as close to a hoodie as she was going to find outside of her own room. Why did humans have to gravitate toward the familiar?
"Look what I found!" she crowed, spinning around the console to show off her prize. "Is there anything you haven't got in that wardrobe of yours? And how come things always fit?"
She leaned over the opening in the grate to peer down at him. Her blonde hair was loose, hanging in her eyes, almost obscuring her features. Lowering her voice to a stage whisper, she added, "Is it magic?"
He hadn't got the least idea what his face was doing, but she let out a peal of laughter. "No, I s'pose not," she conceded, straightening up and brushing off the front of her spotless pink treasure. "I guess you just like to pick up girls, then."
She twirled away before he could protest. Without that top hovering over him, he finally got it together enough to shout after her. "Oi! What d'you think this is, the London Underground?"
"More like a hostel, really." Her voice drifted around the console to him, and he rolled his eyes. That was just what he needed, her thinking of it as a traveling home.
So if it wasn't what he needed, why did he want it so much?
Must be the hair, he decided. He poked the sonic screwdriver back into service and tried not to think about pink tops and blonde hair. Too many people and places gone to start seeing them all in her.
"A luxury hostel," she continued, wandering around the other side of the console now. She'd just walked a circle around the room and wound up right back where she'd started. "With private rooms, and odd lighting, and a front door that never opens in the same place you closed it the night before."
He frowned at the interface above him. "What's wrong with the lighting?"
"I'm going to need some more clothes," she said.
She was learning. Quickly. He flipped off the screwdriver and tilted his head so he could gaze up at her. Leaning back against the console, she was playing idly with one of her sleeves, but she looked around as soon as he stopped. Like she could feel his eyes on her.
"I mean, unless the TARDIS has an overnight laundry service," she added, and this time her laugh sounded a little nervous. "All I've got is what I'm wearing. Even if your spaceship magically cleans it for me everyday, you'll get tired of seeing me in it."
Then she eyed him, and he frowned, because her stare was uncomfortably assessing. Suddenly she was weighing him in her mind, comparing him to some foreign ideal, and he didn't like it. Not human, he wanted to remind her.
"Okay, maybe you won't," she decided. And what was that tone for, anyway? He'd changed his jumper.
"Missing your shopping malls already?" he demanded, stung.
She actually rolled her eyes. "Eighteen sixty nine," she reminded him, like he might have forgotten already. "Christmas! Charles Dickens! What's to miss?"
He relaxed a little, not even realizing it, and beamed up at her. "Right, then," he agreed. "Where to next?"
"I'm just saying, I could use another pair of jeans," she insisted. "And a couple of t-shirts. Something to wear while the laundry's going. That's all."
It wasn't all, he admitted grudgingly, eyeing her in return. She liked her hoodies. She'd found the only thing in the wardrobe that even came close, and it didn't look like she was planning to take it off any time soon. She was willing to go anywhere he could take her, and all she was asking in return was a change of clothes.
He made his decision.
"Take you home," he declared, climbing out from under the interface. "When was it again? 2006?"
It was supposed to be a joke. Yeah, like he'd ever forgot when he picked someone up. Where, okay, there'd been some mixups. But when? Nope. Not a chance. Innate sense of time and all. She didn't seem as happy about that as he thought she should, though.
"What?" He spun time forward just a bit, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. "Just a bit of fun. Course I remember."
"You're taking me home?" she repeated warily.
"Well, they don't make clothes like that just anywhere." He was studying her openly now, ignoring the fact that the top he'd got for Romana's fourth all those years ago hadn't come from any time on Earth. "Pop in, pick up a few things, pop out again. Easy."
"What, like..." She hesitated. "A visit, or something? You can do that?"
"I can do anything," he informed her. "You say the word, and I make it happen."
Not that the TARDIS tended to make visiting anyone easy. The old blue box didn't seem to have a proper respect for the speed of human existence. They might have a bit of a struggle over it, but he would win in the end. He always did.
Nine times out of ten.
She had a carpet. He was taken aback by that, then surprised by his own reaction. Of course she should have a carpet. He didn't have one, but it wasn't like he had a problem with carpet or anything. He'd just never really thought about it. Not since the universe had changed, and all of a sudden simply existing seemed like the most self-indulgent he could do.
It was good that she had a carpet. If she was going to lie on the floor like that, she might as well not get all sore and bruised from the experience. Although why she was lying on the floor when there was a perfectly good bed a meter away, he had no idea. It definitely had better pillows than her pack.
Belatedly, he knocked on the open door. Maybe he should have done that before opening it, but if she was going to dawdle in here after promising to be right back, he thought she might deserve a surprise or two. He hadn't expected to find her curled up on the floor, head propped on her pack with her eyes closed.
She didn't respond to the sound. He did a quick review: packing, catching up with her mum, locked in the cabinet room, stuck at Downing Street, refereeing in the TARDIS, alien party, watching the telly, hiding from her mum, not-explaining herself to the police, accidentally landing in the year 2006. Yup. Definitely more than a day without sleep. Going on thirty-six hours now, in fact.
There should have been a blanket on her bed but there wasn't, so he rescued her crumpled white jacket and shook it out instead, laying it over top of her still form. She didn't stir, even when he cupped her face gently and whispered, "You're very strong, Rose Tyler."
He crouched there, watching her for a time that he didn't bother to count but couldn't help being aware of, before getting to his feet and heading for the door. He didn't get more than a couple of steps when her voice stopped him where he was. "I'm not asleep, you know."
He put on a smile as he turned around. "Well, you do a good impression of it. Lying there on the floor with your eyes closed and all, not responding to noise or compliments or people who try to keep you from catching a chill."
She rolled over, bracing her sleepy head on her hands as she stared up at him. "Would you really have done it?" There was a thoughtful look on her face that he was starting to know, the look that said she was searching for words, for explanations, for answers... her own or his, whichever came first.
"Dunno," he said with a shrug. "Did I say I would? Always do what I say. But if I didn't say I'd do whatever it is that--judging by your grammar--I didn't do, then whether I would have done it or not depends on what it is."
There were times when a sentence like that would earn him a disgusted shake of the head and a muttered, "You're so weird," but this was clearly not going to be one of them. She kept staring at him, and finally she asked, "Would you really have let the Slitheen destroy the earth just because we might have died stopping them?"
"Of course not," he scoffed. He took a moment, gauged her unwavering expression, and decided that she didn't believe him. Good girl. "I'd have let them destroy the earth because you might have died stopping them. Try to pay attention."
She didn't move, but there was no sleep in her eyes now. "I'm not worth the world," she said softly.
"Well," he said, sticking his hands in his pockets. "What d'you know? Turns out Harriet Jones agrees with you. Good thing, that."
"Doctor." Her voice arrested him before he could do more than think about turning away. "I want to hear you say it. Rose Tyler isn't worth the world."
Eventually she would realize that people didn't always get what they wanted. He turned toward the door, only to find that it had closed behind him. He stared stupidly at it for a long moment, aware of her scrambling to her feet and coming over to stand next to him.
He could feel her gaze on him without even looking. Quietly, she prompted, "Say it?"
"Rose Tyler--" He choked on the sentence, shook his head, tried again. Couldn't do it. He turned pleading eyes on her, but there was no forgiveness on her face. "You are the world," he whispered.
"I'm not," she insisted. "Don't make me live with that, 'kay? That the whole world was destroyed because of me?"
He lived with that every day. He wouldn't wish it on her for anything--except maybe her continued companionship. It was selfishness, then? He must have known that all along but refused to face it until now. He wanted her safe and happy and protected at all costs... except the cost of letting her go.
Would he really hurt her to keep her with him?
It was an appalling thought, and she must have seen some of it on his face. "God, I've said something wrong, haven't I," she murmured. "About the war, or your planet, or something."
She buried her face in his shoulder, arms wrapped around him tight before he could even muster a denial. So he just held onto her hard, thinking that maybe if his embrace was strong enough he would never have to let go, and she would be stuck here forever with him. Away from her family, cut off from her friends, torn away from home... broken, just like him.
"You don't have to tell me," she mumbled into his shoulder. "Just forgive me. Please."
"No, Rose." He closed his eyes, holding tighter even as he longed to set her free. "It's you who should forgive me." He'd wanted to lift her up to the stars, and all he'd managed was to drag her down into the darkness with him.
He felt giggles bubbling up inside her as he imprisoned her in the circle of his arms. "Don't be stupid," she murmured. "You've shown me everything, given me more than I knew existed. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Was this enough, then? How could she think this was enough? This brief wander on the currents of time, rootless, dangerous, fleeting as the stars in her eyes. No chance to be anything except everything to him, only ever an observer who left nothing but an empty space in the places where she had been.
"I haven't shown you everything," he said quietly. The stars in her eyes wouldn't last forever, but as long as she wanted them he would give them to her, one after another, until she shone with a light to rival the sun. "Haven't even started."
"Yeah?" She drew away from him with a smile, bright and eager like the first time she had dashed into the TARDIS knowing full well what it did. "I seem to remember someone gloating about plasma fires."
"Can't see plasma fires if you can't keep your eyes open," he pointed out, folding his arms. "Get some sleep. They'll still be burning when you wake up."
"Something always is," she said, grinning insolently at him. "Why waste time sleeping through it?"
"Time," he informed her, "is the one thing you'll never run out of with me."
"Got that right," she declared. "Cause it looks like I'm going to run out of everything else. Clean clothes, patience, tea with my mum..." She gave him a look that might have been more effective if she hadn't added as an afterthought, "Tampons."
"Oi, what do you think this is?" he protested. "The dark ages? We can travel through space and time but we can't do a bit of shopping? How d'you think I stock the kitchen?"
"From what I can tell," she retorted, "you don't stock the kitchen. My mum thinks you eat grass and safety pins--"
"Has she seen the kitchen?" he interrupted, frowning.
"It was just tea!" she exclaimed, clearly exasperated. And yeah, just like a human to get upset about missing tea when his password had launched an air strike that obliterated the building they'd been trapped inside.
"I said you could stay," he reminded her. It made him feel funny, wrong somehow, that he had said it at all, that he had so blatantly manipulated her... that she didn't seem to hold it against him. "It's not my fault you chose plasma fires over shepherd's pie," he added defensively.
"I didn't," she said sternly, staring him down. "I chose you instead of her, and you know it--you asked me to. You asked me to chose between you."
He shifted uncomfortably. "I don't do families," he muttered. "I said so."
"Well, I've got one," she said firmly. "You're more important, yeah? I've told them, I'm telling you now, and you've got to trust me. You let me pick where to go and when but you panic when we see my mum again and all of a sudden it's get in or get off! What's that about?"
"Your mum's scary," he protested, and he knew exactly how weak it sounded. Her mum asked all the things he didn't want to think about. Rose wasn't safe, not with him, maybe not even without him now that they'd met. His companions did tend to develop their own attraction to trouble.
"She's my mum." This statement was delivered as fact, as it had been several times over the course of the last two days, and there was no arguing with it. "She's not going to kidnap me or brainwash me or whatever else it is you're afraid of."
He looked at her for a long moment, but she really didn't see it. "She's going to be right," he said. "That's what I'm afraid of. What if next time there's no steel room, no cupboard to hide in? What if we're separated? What if something happens to me and you're stranded somewhere? I can't keep you safe."
"Neither can she!" she burst out. "I could be hit by a car or something walking down the street! Next time it could be my bus that gets blown to pieces by some git's homemade bomb! London isn't a safe city; you of all people ought to know that!"
She was staring at him, but she closed her eyes briefly and shook her head when he opened his mouth. "Look, yeah, it's dangerous, you said. And I said that's all right with me. Because life is dangerous, 'kay? Hiding in a council flat doesn't mean you don't die. It just means you never live."
He had only ever had two companions who were smarter than he was, and she wasn't one of them. Several of them had been wiser, though, and he was disturbed to think that he might have to count a nineteen-year-old shop girl among their number. What was it about this planet that made him feel like he might have wasted centuries of his life?
A slow smile spread across her face, and only then did he realize he was grinning at her. "You're really quite clever when you put your mind to it," he teased.
"Well, one of us has to be," she replied in kind, and he pretended hurt.
"What's that for then? Because I'm still not doing tea, no matter how much you insult me. Mark my words, I've withstood worse badgering than this. Knew Adric when I was very calm, I did, and the boy drove me up the wall. You've got nothing on him."
"Adric?" she repeated curiously.
"Boy I traveled with for a while," he said. "Wiped out the dinosaurs, whoof, all gone." And he shouldn't have brought it up, because despite everything he'd seen that memory still haunted him. "Smart kid, sad ending. I'll tell you about him sometime."
He didn't know why he said that, but it made her eyes light up. "I'd like that," she said simply.
"Yeah," he said with a snort. "Bet you'd like to hear what happened to all of them. Real cheery stories, they are."
"I really would," she insisted. "Not just what happened, though... how it all started. Where they went with you, what they did. It's not all about the endings, you know."
He looked away, unable to look directly into the sun. "Sorry. Bit focused on them lately."
"Not all endings are bad ones," she said gently. "End of the shop, beginning of you. Lucky me."
He couldn't help but smile a little at the way she put it. "They're not all bad," he felt compelled to admit. "Most of them ended up quite happy, actually." Except the ones he had written out of existence. The few he couldn't protect, and the ones he had intentionally sacrificed.
"There you go then," she was saying, innocent of his thoughts. She didn't quite stifle a yawn. "Knew you had some good stories in you."
"Yeah." He'd met her, after all. "S'pose I do at that."
She smiled at him. "Good." Then she reached out and poked him in the shoulder. Hard. "So you want to tell me what you were doing, telling Mickey he couldn't come with us?"
He flinched back, unfolding his arms to put one hand over his shoulder protectively. "You might have asked," he complained, eyeing her in case she decided on a more forceful attack strategy. "Designated driver, and all that."
She rolled her eyes. "He wouldn't have come! Don't you think I'd have asked you first if there'd been any chance he'd say yes?"
He frowned at her warily. "How d'you mean?"
"I know Mickey," she informed him. "He likes the idea of things more than he likes the things themselves, you know? He wouldn't have come. I just thought it'd be nice to ask him, is all."
"Yeah?" He considered that. "Ah."
"You knew I was going to ask," she realized, studying him. "You were totally ready for it, weren't you."
"Ah, no," he said hastily. "Not as such."
"You didn't call him an idiot once," she said slowly. She was still gazing at him, wearing that pensive and slightly unnerving expression that implied she was somehow recalling events directly from his brain. "You knew he wouldn't come too," she concluded.
He tried not to squirm. "Well, see, it's not so much that I knew," he began.
She was smiling at him, a flirty expression that made him more worried than before. "Was it my ego you were trying to save, or his image?" she wanted to know.
"Oh, right," he said, managing what he hoped was a credible measure of disbelief. "Like I care about your ego."
"But you care about his image?" she suggested, clearly amused and far too persistent for his peace of mind. What was the universe coming to when he couldn't keep a secret from one obnoxious and occasionally charming little human?
"All right, it's like this," he blurted out. "I asked him to come with us, to look after you. He was halfway competent today, and you two... I dunno, you work well together. Thought you might like having a friend along."
"He said no." She said it with certainty and a sort of comprehension that meant he was just confirming something she would have guessed for herself. Or so he told himself. Because as recently as yesterday he'd been capable of lying to her, and he really didn't like to think that was changing so quickly.
Without seeming to realize what she was doing to his perspective, she gave a small shrug. "Should have asked Shareen," she said lightly. "We'd never have gotten rid of her."
"Which one was she, then?" He was as relieved by the change of subject as he was curious, mostly so he'd know whom to avoid in the future. "She at that little gathering of your mum's?"
"I wish," she said, with a laugh that turned into a barely suppressed yawn. "Nah, I'd have introduced you. Tried to phone her mobile, but she must have turned the ringer off or left it somewhere or something."
Well, small favors. "Right then," he said briskly. "Maybe next time." He raised his eyebrows at her knowing expression, but thought it might be safer not to question it.
That didn't stop her from saying, "I've got all the friend I need right here, y'know. And all the looking after I can stand," she added.
He smiled brightly at her. "Yeah, the TARDIS likes you. Even I don't rate a carpet."
She blinked at him, then glanced around the room as though she'd never seen it before. "You don't have a carpet?"
"Don't need one," he informed her. "Don't sleep on the floor."
"Don't sleep at all, you mean," she grumbled, looking sulky and sweet and exhausted all at the same time. "Wish I had half your energy."
He meant to tease her, didn't mean to become so serious, but the words escaped before he could stop them and there was no going back. "I'd give it all to you if I could."
Her expression softened, and the thoughtful tone was back in her voice when she said, "I know."
She just stood there, looking at him, and he wondered what she really knew. He wondered what he really meant. And he was afraid that he might never know before it mattered--that one day something would happen, and he would react without thinking, and he wouldn't even know what he was doing until it was over.
At last she admitted quietly, "That scares me sometimes."
There was only one thing he could say to that, partly because it was true and partly because it was what she wanted to hear: "Me too."
It scared him not because he didn't know how much he would give her, but because he didn't know how much she would take. Because she had a pack full of clothes and a room with a carpet and the rest was up to him. And because maybe the failure would not be doing too little, as he had always supposed, but doing too much.
He didn't think he could tell the difference anymore.
She'd told Adam that finding his own way in the TARDIS was a rite of passage, an initiation, a "welcome to the doctor's way of doing things" sort of experience that she couldn't help him with. She explained in all earnestness that yes she could give him a tour, but there wouldn't be much point. There wasn't anything that would hurt him, probably, and any unlocked door was fair game, so he might as well get started.
She didn't tell him that she thought he was safer on his own than the doctor would be right now, and there was only one of her. She didn't explain that when the doctor got quiet, she got worried. It was possible that there was nothing she could do, but she couldn't let him think she didn't care.
The doctor didn't like it when people were killed. He hated it when people were killed because of him. And god save 'em if she was ever in that second group. Twice now he had been ready to sacrifice the earth to keep that from happening, and this time there'd been no one to take the decision away from him. She couldn't imagine the scene when he'd thought her dead behind that vault bulkhead.
He was awfully quiet right now, and she was very, very worried.
She paused in the doorway when she found him in the console room, not totally surprised that he was in the same position they'd left him in. Back to the outer doors, arms braced against the console, and she thought he might be staring straight through the far wall to the edges of the universe without seeing anything between here and there. She'd seen that look before--the one that asked if it was all worth it and found no satisfactory answer.
"I've been thinking, yeah?" Her words were loud in the unnaturally hushed room. It was like even the TARDIS might be a bit afraid. Afraid to intrude, afraid to step into something she didn't understand, in case the wrong kind of caring broke something that could never properly mend.
The wrong kind of not caring had already broken plenty of things today.
"I've been thinking I should start running," she told him. "Every day, y'know, to get in shape." She wondered if she might find a waterbed in her room later, because once the adrenaline wore off she was going to need something warm and soothing and able to absorb all the tears she could cry.
"But then," she continued, focusing all her concern on him. She might actually be beyond shock, after everything she'd seen. "I think that since I met you, I already do."
That made him turn his head, and she steeled herself against the bleakness in his expression. As before, he sounded subdued and tired, as though all the energy that sustained him had been burned away by the dalek's destruction. "Have you got the answer to your question, then?"
She frowned at his desolate expression, trying to get some sense out of that. "Sorry?"
"What am I changing into?" he said softly. "What have I become?"
He didn't take his eyes off of her as he added, "I have changed, Rose. That's what war does, it changes people. It changes you, and it changes your enemy. It changes everyone."
Now he couldn't look at her anymore and she just stared at him as he muttered, "It makes everyone the same. You, and your enemy, the same. And everyone caught in the middle. You all become the same."
"You don't, though," she protested without thinking. "You don't have to."
"D'you know why everyone died?" he asked. His tone was hollow, and he didn't seem to hear her. "Because we became them, in the end. Can't destroy one without the other."
She took a deep breath, because if he wasn't listening then she was just going to have to do better. He'd never talked about the Time War before, and she'd wondered if he ever would. She'd wondered if she would be ready for it when he did.
She wasn't, of course. But maybe nobody was ever ready for it. Nobody was ever ready for war, right, so maybe talking about it was sort of the same thing. Maybe there were times when you just had to do it and get through it and try to move on.
"It wanted to kill us all," she said at last. "When it got loose, that was its first reaction, yeah? Kill, destroy, conquer."
"I tried to kill it," he mumbled, and she almost rolled her eyes because, well, yeah... But then he added, "As soon as I saw it. Before it ever got loose. It was chained down, locked in, powerless, and what do you think my first reaction was. Kill it."
She thought about that, feeling the echo of fear that she would forever associate with any mention of daleks. "Yeah," she said at last. "I get it. Gut instinct, knee-jerk reaction, you and it both. Destroy each other. You been conditioned; it's not your fault."
"Conditioned to hate," he said bitterly. "Might as well be genetically engineered. Same effect."
She didn't know why he said that, but she didn't think it was true. "It ain't bred into you," she insisted, stepping out of the doorway so it could close behind her and maybe she could get a little closer to him. She wasn't sure that was possible right now, no matter how near she stood, but she had to try.
"When you thought about it, you stopped." She came to a halt right beside him, close enough that his shoulder would bump hers if he turned toward her. "That's what's important."
"What's important," he repeated blankly. Then he slammed his fist down on the console, startling her so badly she flinched, and he shouted, "What's important is that I thought about trapping it in the vault, and I thought about you down there with it, and I went and sealed it up anyway! I thought you were dead! I thought I killed you, Rose!"
"You thought I was out!" she shouted back at him. "You opened that bulkhead the second you saw me in there with it, even though I told you not to, and what in hell's wrong with you! I never thought you could be so stupid! It could have destroyed the whole world and you let it out!"
"I let you out!" His expression was twisted with fury and anguish and there were tears in his eyes as he stood there, yelling at her. He must have knocked her about when he turned and she hadn't even noticed. "I can't... I told you! I can't--"
Her anger burned itself out as quickly as it had flared, because she had told him she wasn't worth the world and he must know it but the struggle was tearing him apart. "You are changing," she said softly. He was staring at her in horror and his eyes were bright and despairing but at least she was reaching him. "You're always changing; that's what people do. Maybe that's what makes us different from daleks, yeah?"
He was still gazing at her, falling into her, and she wasn't sure she knew how to catch him. "That dalek changed," he whispered. "You changed it."
She tried to smile because she didn't know what else to do. "Well, you never know, do you. Maybe someday you'll look back and think I changed you too."
He barely said it loud enough to count as a whisper, but this close there was no way she could have misunderstood him. "Think you already have."
She thought she knew why he didn't smile. "That doesn't make you more like the dalek, you know."
She figured she was right when his expression didn't so much as flicker. "Why not?"
"Cause you're still here," she said quietly. "Cause you're still trying. Cause you don't give up just because... well, because of anything. Ever."
"Just think about it," she added, because he was really listening and no one had made her feel like something she was saying mattered this much in her entire life. "That dalek couldn't handle the idea that it might become something different--something better. But you can't get away from it. Can't leave it alone. Can't stop wanting to be better, no matter what you do."
"Just trying doesn't make everything right," he said. His eyes begged her to tell him he was wrong, that it mattered, that it was worth it after all.
"Neither does giving up," she offered, and he looked away. She reached out to touch his arm on impulse, needing him to know she was here even if he wouldn't see what was right in front of him.
"I don't know what the answer is," she admitted, when he didn't move. "But I know you won't stop looking for it. Not ever."
"I might," he told the console. She could see his gaze shift a little, so he was looking at the space in front of her, but he didn't lift his head enough to meet her eyes. "Without you."
"You can't." She said the first thing that came to her mind. "I'll haunt you."
He let out a sound that could've been a laugh, but she thought it was mostly surprise. Still, he pulled himself together enough to say, "Had enough of that, thanks."
This time she did manage to smile, because the ghost of his usual humor was better than nothing. Like the moment outside the TARDIS, though, when he willfully misunderstood her about Adam, it didn't last. "Some of them did die, Rose."
She thought she was meant to know what he was talking about, but she couldn't quite get it clear in her head. "Some of who?"
"The people who've traveled with me," he said, staring into the time rotor. "Some of them did die."
"Adric?" The name was out before she could think about it, and she bit her lip when she saw him close his eyes.
"Adric," he repeated. He didn't move, and she thought he'd gone quiet again until he added, "Katarina."
A woman, she wondered? From where? One of his people? Or someone like her, a girl he'd just sort of picked up along the way?
"Sara," he continued, eyes still closed. "All dead because they were traveling with me."
Two women. Three people dead. Hardly a record, given the mayhem that seemed to constantly crop up in his presence. She supposed he wouldn't thank her for pointing that out right now.
"Leela and Ace," he was muttering. "Dropped 'em off on my planet 'cause they liked it there, and what did it get them? Caught up in a war they never should have seen, dead, along with everyone else. All gone now."
She squeezed his arm instinctively. He didn't move, and her throat closed up when she saw a tear fall from his grief-stricken face. "Even Romana," she heard him whisper. "Even Susan."
She wished she dared to hug him, but this pain was all-encompassing, deep enough that it might swallow her whole if she got any closer. She would risk it, gladly, if she wasn't afraid that being swallowed up also meant being shoved out again after. She settled for putting her free hand over his.
He turned his hand over, fingers twining desperately through hers, and between their linked arms and joined hands she was pulled up against his side anyway so she put her head on his shoulder. "Not me," she murmured. "Still here. You're so stuck with me."
"Can't get rid of you," he choked, and they were the same words she had deliberately avoided just now for fear of reminding him.
"Nah," she said softly. "Cause I've figured it out, y'see. What all those other girls probably knew too."
For a long moment, he didn't ask, and she made up her mind to keep her mouth shut if he stayed quiet. Then, finally, he said, "What's that?"
She smiled a little, tightening her fingers in his. "Safer with you than without you, Doctor."
She couldn't see his expression anymore, on account of her head being on his shoulder, but he didn't sound any happier when he said, "Safer still if you'd never met me."
Even he couldn't change his own past, and maybe his life would be better if he could but times like these she was glad he couldn't. "If I'd never met you," she said, lifting her head to smile up at him, "I'd not have much of a life to lose, now would I?"
He turned his head, looking down at her thoughtfully for a long moment before the echo of a smile finally touched his face. "You could run a bit faster."
She was so relieved that she didn't even bother to protest because really, she did run faster when she wasn't holding a phone to her ear. Instead she teased, "Had a lot of practice, have you?"
"A bit," he allowed, and he gave the oddest impression of wanting to be proud of the fact while still mired in regret. "Not exactly a model Time Lord, me."
She squeezed his hand again and leaned into him playfully, pouncing on this brief lightening of his mood. "They're not all as fit as you, that what you're saying?"
"Not hardly," he said, after the slightest of pauses, and it occurred to her that maybe she shouldn't have used the present tense. "Boring lot, really. You wouldn't have liked them."
"Can't imagine that," she said quietly. Everything about his planet had taken on a slightly mythical quality in her mind. It was an unknowable world where everyone could go any place and any time they felt like, popping in and out in blue boxes, or maybe red ones, or green, while their sonic screwdrivers and fantastic grins got them out of all kinds of trouble.
"No," he agreed. He sounded serious again, but the contemplative tone in his voice was more melancholy than despairing, and that encouraged her. "I can't either, anymore."
She didn't know what to say, so she just took comfort in his closeness, hoping that maybe, in some way, he'd got something from hers too.
"Be careful what you run from, Rose," he murmured.
She looked up in surprise, and she found him watching her. She bit back a quip when she realized he was perfectly serious. He was trying to tell her something now.
"I spent most of my life running from something I'd have given my soul to protect," he said softly. He didn't take his eyes from hers. "And in the end, maybe I did."
"I don't think souls work like that," she told him. She waited, watching for his reaction, and she was satisfied when he blinked.
"You think?" He seemed taken aback. "Cause I'm pretty sure they do."
"I'm pretty sure they don't," she countered.
"Oh, and what are you, an expert on souls now?" He sounded just indignant enough that she felt safe in smiling again, because really, he thought he knew so much.
"Yeah, maybe," she said lightly. "You know what I know about souls? Well, you don't, cause if you did I wouldn't have to tell you."
"Go on then," he said. He pulled the hand she was holding closer to him. "Share your wisdom."
"Wisdom?" She paused, delighted by the concession. "You think I've got wisdom?"
"I think you've got a bad habit of stringing blokes along," he grumbled.
Her grip on his arm loosened, smile fading as she stared at him. "That's not fair."
"What?" The look he gave her was one of surprise, like he didn't know what he'd said.
"I don't string people along." She frowned at him, but his expression didn't change.
"You are, though," he pointed out. He looked bewildered when she let go of his arm and pulled her hand out of his. "What?"
"You don't even like Mickey," she reminded him. "Or Adam! And I never promised them anything, either. I was just being nice, which is a thing that human beings do sometimes, 'kay, so shove off."
"Wait, what's this got to do with them?" He really did look confused. "I thought you were going to explain to me about souls and things."
She stared at him. When they first started out, she might've thrown up her hands in disgust, but she was starting to see that sometimes he just didn't understand. "D'you have any idea what I'm talking about?" she asked at last.
"Well, obviously not." He sounded a bit disgruntled. "If I did, I wouldn't be waiting for you to tell me, yeah?"
She shook her head, trying not to smile. "You're so stupid," she muttered, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye.
He caught her look and lit up, the first grin she'd seen from him since leaving the museum. "Stupid but not soulless, is that it?" And maybe it was just because she was listening for it, but she heard a note of hope underneath his teasing tone.
"Yeah, that's it," she agreed. This time she let herself smile as she turned back to him. "Cause the way I see it, people who've lost their souls don't spend much time worrying about where they've got to."
He seemed to consider that for a moment. "Well, maybe I'm just doing it wrong."
"Maybe I'm catching up to you and you just can't admit it," she teased, sidling closer again. "You can't run forever."
He looked at her and she stopped where she was, halted by the expression on his face. Regret, longing for something that wasn't his home, something he couldn't reach out and touch but wanted nonetheless. Something he hoped might still exist but hadn't seen in a long time.
There was something in his eyes that said, if he could, he'd wait for her.
"Maybe not," he said oddly. Serious, then. Intent. Waiting to see if she understood. "Got a hell of a head start, though."
She didn't understand, so she just smiled at him. "Good thing I'm getting faster every day."
His serious expression dissolved and a real smile took its place, chasing some of the shadows away. "Good thing," he echoed with a nod. "Where to next, then?"
They'd been off in search of proper food when the TARDIS was diverted, and she hadn't given up the idea. "Still fancy something to eat," she prompted. His eyes widened, and she laughed at him. "Yeah, you went and forgot, didn't you? Wouldn't eat at all if I wasn't here!"
"I would do," he defended himself. "Not every five minutes, that's all."
"It's been two days since you set foot in the kitchen!" she exclaimed.
"I was tied up for part of that," he said indignantly. "And you were asleep some, so how d'you know?"
"Smarter than I look," she teased, grinning at him.
"Yes, you are," he agreed. And it might have been insulting, but something about the way he said it made her think it wasn't meant to be.
"Do you want to die?"
She saw him look up out of the corner of her eye, but she just kept staring out at the rain. All grim and stormy, she'd said. That's what she'd expected, so that's what he'd gone and found for her. Here on the other side of the earth, almost a thousand years later, they sat under a deserted portico on the edge of a lake and watched the rain fall from a grey and sinister sky.
"What kind of a question is that?" he asked at last. He sounded more concerned than curious, and she wondered if it was possible for a bloke to be too solicitous. He'd been pussyfooting around her ever since they left the church.
She braced her hands on either side of her, fingers pressed white against the bench as she turned her head to look at him. "Do you want to die?" she repeated deliberately. It was a simple enough question.
He tried out a frown and a different tact. "Why d'you ask a thing like that, then?"
'Cause she wanted to know. And she was afraid that the way he wasn't answering was her answer. Anyone else would have said no, right? They would have said no first and asked why after.
"My dad said you knew," she murmured, looking back out at the rain. "He said you knew all along how to fix things."
She heard him scoff. "If I'd known, don't you think I would've done it?"
"All he had to do was die," she said softly. The one thing she would have changed about her life, given the chance. The one thing she did change. "He said you were trying to protect him. You worked it out way back, he said, but you didn't tell anyone."
For a long moment, all she could hear was the harsh patter of rain on the metal roof and the gentler dripping sound as it cascaded to the ground all around them. It was like the whole world was drooping, melting, washing away with the water. Like watching the men she loved disappear from right in front of her.
The doctor's voice was quiet when he finally spoke. "Saw the car when we were checking the doors," he said. "Only one reason it would have been there."
She turned to stare at him. "Why didn't you tell us?"
He just shrugged, like it wasn't really that important. "You didn't ask."
She scrambled to her feet, horrified by his flippant response. "You were going to let the whole world be destroyed because I didn't ask the right question? What sort of power trip is that?"
"Hang on," he said. He blinked, then frowned up at her. "What?"
"You could have fixed everything!" she burst out. "All those people, all that sadness, and you didn't even say anything! You just let us sit there while the earth was being... wiped clean!"
"Let you sit there?" he demanded. He stood up, and underneath his deceptively calm tone she could hear his anger. "Sorry, was dying not good enough for you?"
"Yeah, that was just brilliant, wasn't it," she snapped. "The only person who knows how to fix it and you go and get yourself killed! Fat lot of good that did us!"
"I was trying to buy you time!" he shouted. She didn't even notice when his careful facade disintegrated--she already knew how upset he was, after all. "The TARDIS was on its way; you should have been fine!"
"And who was going to pilot it?" she shot back. A shiver took her at the memory of her cold key, plain and silver and somehow so much more believable than the sight of him being swallowed up by a giant alien. "Me?"
"You could have done!" he retorted. "Enough to get you all safe, you and your mum and dad. The TARDIS isn't stupid; she would have helped you!"
"At the cost of everyone else in the world!" God, how many times had she almost been responsible for the destruction of the human race? Was this really the third time, now?
He just shook his head, suddenly quiet, but not meeting her gaze. "You wanted to be with your dad," he muttered.
"Not like that!" she cried.
This time, maybe for the first time since the flat, all that anger was directed at her. The fury in his blue eyes brought her right back to the brink of tears. "Well maybe you should have thought of that before!"
"Maybe I would have if you'd told me!" she shouted back.
"Told you what?" he demanded. "That your dad was supposed to die? That you mucked up time and there was no one to stop you and so the reapers came to take advantage? I thought I made that pretty clear! In fact, I distinctly recall saying--"
"There was you!" she interrupted, and she knew she was crying and she knew he would listen anyway. "There was you to stop me! There was you, the whole time, knowing what had to be done and not doing it!"
"It wasn't my decision!"
"It was your decision, because no one else even knew we had a choice!" Her face was wet and her throat hurt and god she'd been a wreck all day but here he still was. "If I'd known, I would have made the decision for you!"
He was staring at her, and it took her a moment to see through her tears that his face had gone all sad and trusting. "I know," he said, and the gentleness in his voice made her choke on a sob as she turned away. He didn't try to stop her.
"I would have fixed it," she whispered, fresh tears rolling down her face as she squeezed her eyes shut. "I would have tried to fix it."
"I know you would have," he said from behind her. And maybe it was her imagination, but she thought he sounded almost as sad as he'd looked, all of a sudden. "You did, remember? You always do."
There was a pause, and she lifted her fist to press it against her mouth. She hated today. At least she knew better than to wish she could do it over, now.
"You told me not to open the vault," he was saying, and what did that have to do with anything? Maybe they were both losing it. Maybe they had never had it. Maybe that was how they'd ended up together in the first place.
"You told me to launch that missile before you even knew what it was," he continued. That one took her a minute, because really, there had been more than one missile between then and now. "You've always been ready to give yourself to set things right."
"So why didn't you tell me," she whispered. She unclenched her fist and brushed her hair out of her face, letting out a trembling breath as she tried to pull herself together. At least enough that she could face him again.
His voice hadn't changed when he asked, "What for?"
She whirled on him, angry and hurt and uncontrolled. "So you wouldn't have lost everything trying to keep me and my stupid little family safe!"
He just looked at her, and she couldn't understand what she saw on his face. "If I'd told you how to bring them all back," he said quietly, "you'd have done it. You'd have let your dad die; you'd have lost him all over again. And you'd have blamed me."
His gaze was steady on hers when he added, "Then I would have lost everything."
She was already shaking her head. "I wouldn't have blamed you," she protested, before she even heard the rest of what he said and then it was too late because he was already looking away.
"Couldn't take that chance," he said, smiling out at the rain like that was the end of it and they were fine now. Like he had already said everything that mattered.
"If I'd asked," she said slowly. She lifted a hand to her face and tried to brush some of the tears away, then did the same on the other side. "If I'd said, 'how do we fix this?'" She tried not to sniffle. "Would you have told me?"
His eyes met hers again, reluctantly, unerringly, like he didn't want to look but he couldn't help it. "Would've had to," he muttered, searching her face. "Wouldn't I."
She tried to smile, but she found she couldn't manage it yet. Then, just like at the church, he reached out and laid a tentative hand on her cheek. He was getting more touchy lately, she thought distantly. Like hugging wasn't quite enough anymore, and maybe holding hands never had been.
"Rose," he said quietly. She didn't realize she'd closed her eyes until his voice made her open them. His blue eyes held hers intently. "Don't ever call your family stupid again."
She would never be able to say what made her do it just then, though he would ask often enough. She just thought, suddenly, that she might be the one crying but he was the one who was falling apart. That maybe she held him together more than she had ever realized, and this day had been horrible for him too.
She closed the distance between them and lifted her face to his. All he had to do was straighten up and she wouldn't have been able to reach, but he just stood there, downcast expression fixed on hers as she moved in. She thought she would remember that look forever.
It wasn't even a proper kiss. She just brushed her lips against his, like she did it every day, and he stared at her like she was some new and curious thing he'd never seen before. For a moment she forgot that she'd been crying, that they'd been shouting at each other just a second ago, that she'd ever been doing anything but standing here and smiling at his puzzled expression.
Finally he asked, "What's that for, then?" He sounded not just curious, but vaguely worried too, and for some reason she found that funny. He hadn't even let his hand fall from her cheek, like he'd completely forgotten it was there.
"You looked like you needed it," she told him. And that wasn't what he'd been expecting, because he blinked and actually frowned at her a little.
"Need a lot of things," he countered. His fingers shifted on her skin and she lifted her hand before he could pull his back, covering them up and keeping his hand pressed against her cheek.
"Just 'cause you can't have everything doesn't mean you shouldn't have anything," she said softly.
He stared at her for a long moment, and she stared back while she waited to see what he would do with that. She trusted him more than anyone she'd ever known. Whatever he did, she thought it would be the right thing.
"I have everything," he said at last. His hand slid out from under hers as he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into a fierce hug. And if she hadn't been so close, she never would have heard him whisper, "Sometimes."
"Sometimes?" she murmured, returning the embrace for all she was worth. No matter what he said, she had never, ever used the word insignificant.
"The answer to your question," he said quietly.
It took her a moment, but she got it and if she could have held on any tighter then she would have. "Sometimes, you want to die?" she whispered.
"No." He could hold tighter, apparently, and he did. Not for the first time, she wondered if he could actually squeeze the breath out of her, but his next words drove the question from her mind. "Sometimes I don't want to die."
She closed her eyes, because she should have been cried out after today but she wasn't. A single tear squeezed out from under her eyelids, just one for all the tears she'd never seen him cry. She would hold on as hard as she could and maybe someday she would start to understand.
Until then, the rain just kept on falling, a steady sort of background noise that maybe you got used to after a while.
He didn't watch her go this time, but Jack was pretty sure that was only because he knew he was being watched himself. Without the plaza up on the monitor, they shouldn't have known when she was on her way back either. Eventually the doctor paused, though, looking up in a way Jack had learned to know very quickly: either he'd just remembered something that would mean things exploding in the very near future, or Rose was coming.
The doctor turned his attention back to the console without saying anything. Jack glanced toward the door, but it didn't open. Still, the doctor tended to announce imminent explosions by saying things like, "Never mind," or "Nothing to worry about," so it was probably a safe bet that Rose was right outside.
Several minutes passed before she stepped into the TARDIS, and Jack knew immediately why she'd taken the time. No doubt about it, she'd been crying, and tears lingered in her eyes. He almost grabbed his coat and went after Mickey right then, but the look that passed between her and the doctor gave him pause. They were staring at each other like looking away meant letting go.
He had seen that gaze before. Every day, give or take, and on bad days more than once. Today he hadn't been able to miss it. Today it had been there every time he turned around and probably most of the times he hadn't. Today a single nod had given him permission to hand over the extrapolator, to let the city come to ruin, to destroy the entire planet if it gave Rose a few more minutes of life.
"We're all powered up," the doctor was saying, his eyes never straying far from hers. "We can leave. Opening the rift filled us up with energy. We can go."
Jack looked from her to him, wondering if the man was actually babbling. Not that the doctor didn't tend toward nonsensical at times, and he'd been known to repeat himself, but right now it was almost like... the words weren't important. Like they were just a cover for the silent conversation going between two uncertain pairs of eyes.
The ship's telepathic. For probably the dozenth time since the doctor had announced that, just thrown it out there like it was nothing, Jack couldn't help wondering: was it the only one? A negative answer sure would confirm a lot of his suspicions on the subject.
"If that's all right," the doctor added, the words off-hand and the gaze anything but. They could seriously be writing a novel between the two of them right now.
Rose wasn't too distracted to know that the remark was aimed at her. "Yeah, fine," she murmured. Her permission was given easily, taken for granted: the question and the answer both.
Apparently, it wasn't enough. "How's Mickey?" the doctor asked. He had given up pretending to work. Sort of reassuring, since he'd barely given the console a second glance since Rose had come in.
"He's okay," Rose said carefully. She didn't turn away, but something in her tone made Jack wonder if she expected to rehash the argument that had preceded her calling Mickey in the first place. "He's gone."
"D'you want to go find him?" The doctor, too, looked like he was remembering that fight and didn't want to go anywhere near it right now. "We'll wait."
He finally caught Jack's eye then, but if he wanted backup then he was asking the wrong guy. For one thing, Mickey was boring and not even that good-looking, so he didn't see why they should send Rose after him again if she'd finally given up. And on top of that, he'd been listening to the doctor complain about being stuck here all evening. He certainly wasn't going to invite more of the same without better a better reason than Mickey Smith.
"No need," Rose muttered. "He deserves better."
Jack raised an eyebrow, but this time the doctor didn't answer. "Off we go then," he declared, a little too eagerly. "Always moving on." It was hard to tell whether he was too relieved to question her words, or if he knew exactly what she was implying and just didn't want to deal with it.
Or maybe he knows Rose a little better than you do, Jack reminded himself. Maybe this was standard Rose procedure when dealing with post-Mickey visitations. He didn't know, but he wasn't about to let the doctor out-casual him.
"Next stop," Jack announced, "Raxacoricofallapatorius." With a small smile, he added, "Now, you don't often get to say that."
He had never been there, himself. Not many aliens had, since the Raxacoricofallapatorians liked the rest of the universe well enough but didn't want it coming to see them at home unless it had business there. He had heard stories, though, and of course the doctor had been there. Between the two of them, they had regaled Rose with tales of sects and governments and the strangeness of a place that was essentially constructed out of springboards and waterslides.
She had been extremely put out to learn that they didn't welcome idle passersby. She had pouted and whined and grumbled about planets that were too anti-social for their own good. Jack had watched with interest when she stopped just short of asking the doctor to take them there anyway.
Because the doctor would have. Jack had no illusions about who was really in charge around here. Rose hadn't been kidding when she told him she "delegated," and though he'd never heard her mention it in the doctor's presence, he was pretty sure she knew the power she wielded. So when the doctor told her that Raxacoricofallapatorius didn't welcome casual visitors, she complained and sighed but she let it alone.
Jack wouldn't have, but hey, she wasn't him.
"We'll just pop her in the hatchery," the doctor was saying. "Margaret the Slitheen can live her life again. A second chance!"
"That'd be nice," Rose murmured. Her wistful tone wasn't lost on either of them, and Jack had had about enough of the moping and the evasion and the pretending everything was all right.
"Second chance isn't all it's cracked up to be," he remarked. Because he would know, and look, he was fine while Rose was wallowing. "Not if you don't know what you did the first time. Can't avoid it, can't fix it..."
He didn't miss the warning look the doctor sent his way. "Can only hope this time someone lets you be you."
"And," Rose added, unexpectedly following the conversation, "that 'you' is someone worth being."
Ah, still clever, despite the wallowing. She and the doctor really were two of a kind. He knew there was a reason he liked them.
"It always is," the doctor was saying. And this time Jack saw something else in the warning look that came his way: maybe not warning at all, meaningful, yes, but not a reprimand. "Just get confused sometimes, is all."
Not a reprimand. A reassurance.
A reassurance that the doctor had always been willing to give Rose, but now, possibly not for the first time, he was extending that benediction to Jack. It was a welcome reprieve from years of doubt, and suddenly, ironically, Jack was glad it had been withheld so long. If he hadn't seen how strong the doctor's faith was, he wouldn't have known what a gift there was in this expression of it.
The doctor's voice in the console room was quiet and inevitable, the only truth they knew. "It's not him deserves better, Rose."
Only one person would question a certainty like that. "You would say that," she replied, just as softly.
"Yeah," he agreed. Pointedly. "I would."
"So would I," Jack put in.
Slowly, Rose smiled again. The light in her eyes lit the both of them, and when she clasped her hands together her little sidle looked almost like a skip. "Well then," she began, her tone happier than it had been since she'd returned to the TARDIS.
"Off we go," the doctor offered hopefully.
She finally laughed, shooting Jack a playful look, and she did skip the last step to the console. "Into time!"
He knew an invitation when he saw it, and three voices chorused, "And space!"
Cardiff, early 21st century. The stars were shining and the wind was coming from the east as a mysterious blue box disappeared from the middle of Millennium Square. In these stones, horizons sing: creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration.