Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks
When I was still travelling with him, I didn’t understand about Rose.
I could see easily enough he’d lost someone. Recently, too; at Canary Wharf? He’d said he’d been there, after all; Adeola died there that day so maybe he’d lost whoever it was then. I’d become something of an unwilling expert by then at recognising the melancholy marking people who’d lost somebody they loved in that unholy mess. And the Doctor had had it in spades.
How could I have understood? The Doctor had been, then, what I’d later realise was his usual enigmatic self, doling out information on some sort of ‘need to know’ basis; and apparently, although I was his travelling companion, I didn’t need to know. Beyond that, I was too close to the situation; I was too desperate for him to notice me for myself. I’d tried as much as possible to ignore the fact I was wilting in some other woman’s shadow. For that was what was happening, and part of me knew it from the start.
But then it wasn’t about me, even then.
He’d mentioned her, just in passing, when the two of us shared a room in Shakespeare’s London; even through my hissy fit (and I know I behaved badly, but I can’t exactly take it back), I could tell every single word of the few he’d said had cost him.
Later, in New New York after facing down the Macra, he’d told me, under duress when I forced it out of him, about how his planet was long gone. But I’d had the feeling there was something else he wasn’t telling me.
Something about her. About Rose.
Whoever she was, and wherever she’d gone, it was obvious to me the Doctor was in love with her. It was so obvious, in fact, I’d often found myself wondering why she’d left him. I’d have done quite a lot at that time to be loved as much as the Doctor loved Rose. But every time I’d tried to get him to talk about it, tried to coax information out of him (how could he live like that, holding so tightly to something so obviously painful?), he withdrew into himself even further.
He’d paste a smile on his face that rarely met his eyes, continue through life at a breakneck, almost suicidal, pace — and expect me to keep up. I managed, more or less, to shove everything down inside and ignore it (one of the first things I learnt from him, in retrospect); but I never stopped aching for him to notice me properly.
Of course, it never happened. By the time he, Jack, and I were at the end of the universe and I overheard him telling Jack how he’d lost her, I’d accepted it as a lost cause and had determined to leave him. My one real regret about that is how it left him completely on his own again; I still don’t think he’s capable of coping with that. He needs someone with him, but that someone couldn’t be me; I’d needed the distance from him at that point to preserve my own sanity.
When I turned my back on the TARDIS and her pilot, I still didn’t understand how losing Rose had affected him.
But for a long time after I left, I refused to let myself think about him. And even though I had a way of contacting him, I wouldn’t let myself use it. Every time I found myself wavering, I asked myself whether I really wanted to return to watching the man I wanted so badly fretting and grieving over someone else. This usually cured me of the wish to see him; at least, temporarily.
When I did finally call him, it took me no time at all to notice he was different. Not so different that he wasn’t the same man I’d known, but he was so much, well, lighter in himself. For that, I figured, he had the red-headed woman he travelled with to thank. Somehow, though, I never felt the same jealousy of the living, breathing Donna Noble that I had of Rose’s ghost. I’d never seen Rose, but she’d had so much influence on my life it felt almost as if I knew her.
I caught myself wondering whether Donna knew about Rose, and realised almost straight away that the Doctor was so unlike the version I’d met it was almost impossible to believe Donna didn’t know. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that; but, then, the jealousy over Rose had gone pretty deep before I’d made myself cop on.
And although my relationship with the Doctor was healthier for the distance I’d forced myself to put between us, I still hadn’t been able to understand about Rose. But, by that time, I’d wanted to understand. It wasn’t until after the Sontaran problem was dealt with and I was trapped inside the TARDIS when I was saying good-bye to the Doctor and Donna. I hadn’t known if I’d ever see Tom again, and it was then I’d begun to really understand.
And even that tiny sliver of experience in being separated from the person I loved for an indeterminate amount of time, and what it felt like to live it, was enough. At last, I was able to empathise with the Doctor about Rose, and could comprehend just how much pain he must have been in when I first met him. After that, it was a short leap to realising how that pain had lead him to act as he had done.
With that understanding, with the knowledge that (however much I had once wanted it) he had never really been mine at all, I was able at last to truly let him go.