He wasn’t sure how he’d managed to get himself in this situation, the one where he was watching Mickey and Rose dance lovingly with one another, but he didn't like it. Not one bit.
It was his own doing, he knew that, and he also knew that he had approximately zero rights to be jealous, or pissed off, or even want to go and break them apart right here and now. But the fact was, he was jealous, and he was pissed off, and he was not too far from going over to her himself to tell her it’s him she should be dancing with.
That’s not true, he thought. She very much should be dancing with Mickey. Mickey adored her, and Mickey had never hurt her. Mickey never would.
But it’s still considerably difficult to watch the woman you’re painfully in love with be blind to the fact, dancing in the arms of her boyfriend, broken and shattered because you betrayed her trust on a whim.
It had been over a week since Reinette and he’d had time to think about it, why he did it, and he wasn’t sure he’ll ever know. He supposed he was so done with it all that he momentarily had considered just leaving, trapping himself somewhere as a way of cutting loose. But none of that meant anything because, in his moment of selfishness, he hurt her beyond repair.
But she wasn’t completely broken, for that he was grateful. Her smile now, as he watched her with Mickey, was one he’d seen many times before, only brighter somehow, like she was in the arms of somebody who made her feel like herself, somebody who she entrusted entirely with her heart. Mickey was a dreadful dancer, especially here at a 1960s town hall dance involving an odd mix of disco classics that weren’t yet classics, football anthems, slow love songs and the mid-decade rock and roll, but his goofiness made her giggle, and goodness what a beautiful sight it was.
To be fair to the man, Mickey didn’t half love Rose. He looked at her like he adored her, selflessly - a bit too flirty for the Doctor’s liking, but understandable. Soft gazes, a smile that was a natural reaction to watching her just be her, his movements attuned to hers.
Rose deserved to be loved, and that she was. The trouble was, Mickey didn’t love Rose as much as he did.
He knew he had to move, and now. But recently it seemed, with Rose, he was allowing his daydreams to play out in his mind. He imagined now finishing his lemonade and standing from the table, walking over to her, asking her to dance, holding her in his arms, whispering in her ear he loved her, mapping gentle kisses on her neck as he let them do the talking, let them convince her of his sorrow, how much he’d decided that she could have it, have him, if she still wanted him.
But she wouldn’t want him to. No matter how much he did, he couldn’t walk over to her now because it would make her uncomfortable, because she was still so deeply hurt and he couldn’t hurt her anymore. He wouldn’t.
So, he finished his lemonade, stood from the table, and walked away. Sometimes he liked to make it hurt, to feel it and know that he was at least somewhat trying to repent his unforgivable actions, but there comes a point where it's just too much.
He followed the length of the room, mostly to give himself something else to focus on, but also because it was always worth checking out everywhere they went, even if it was supposed to be a quick nip to 1966 to watch England win the world cup and subsequently attend one of the local town hall parties. He scanned the room, making particular effort to not look in the direction he knew Rose and Mickey were stood, instead checking all other people in the room. And they were indeed normal. Ordinary. He reached the drinks table and picked up another lemonade, quite aware that he didn’t need one.
As he turned back round to face the main crowd, he saw her appear next to him, picking up a glass of coke herself.
“What are you hiding from?”
He smiled at the lightheartedness of her probe. “Not hiding. Looking.”
“Sounds like you.”
He liked that smile of hers, the one that said she knew him. He allowed himself to glance at her and saw it in its entirety; he couldn’t help grin in return. “I’ve seen all this before, someone’s gotta keep watch so you two can enjoy.”
She snickered, taking a sip of her drink. Finishing it, rather — she'd been dancing quite enthusiastically. “Mickey keeps gettin’ annoyed cos his trousers are so high.”
“Still think he should’ve gone with the tartan.”
“You would,” she quipped and nudged him with her elbow. “And I notice you’re not wearin’ any, either.”
“Pinstripes were still quite fetch in the 60s.”
“Fetch? How old are you?”
“Nine hundred,” he stressed, and she scoffed. “I think for nine hundred, my vocabulary is rather hip.”
“Oh, my God.”
She pinched the bridge of her nose and giggled; he couldn’t refuse to observe it. He’d seen it countless times by now but it was still magnificent. He eventually pulled his gaze elsewhere, once more taking the room in. He was less irritated by it now, and rather enjoyed the dense flocks of people dancing away in their own merriment, their own smiles that told a thousand stories.
“Where is he, then? Mr. Mickey?”
And there it was again, that silence between them that he heard above the noise of their surroundings.
Words didn’t mean anything to Rose Tyler; she'd heard them all before. He may as well tell her he loved her right here and now but she wouldn’t believe it. He could do just about anything to prove it, but at the end of the day Rose just needed to feel it. She needed to feel his love for her deep down, feel it protecting her heart and keeping it beating steady and sure. But that sort of thing takes time, it takes patience. It’s not easy, but the best you can hope for is to feel it with everything you’ve got and hope that it’s loud enough for them to hear. It all came down to the way he looked at her lovingly when she felt her ugliest, the way he prepared her tea so deliberately next to anybody else’s, the way every touch he gave her was administered with such care and attention that she must surely feel it on some level, that love that he held so strongly by now.
She shuffled her weight and he glanced down - heels of course. He would chuckle at her determination despite her knowing she’d come to regret it, except it didn’t quite feel right to smile right now.
“I found her letter.”
In her moment's hesitation, his hearts sought his deepest fear. He’d left the letter Reinette had written him in his pocket, too hesitant to take it out. He didn’t know why, but he hadn’t given much thought to it. But now that he heard the struggle in Rose’s words he knew his thoughtlessness had once more caused her harm.
“A few days ago, when you asked me to get the sonic screwdriver when we were in Peru," she explained. "I pulled it out by accident. I didn’t read it, of course. But…”
He swallowed. He didn’t want to do this, not again. Please.
“She really did love you, didn’t she?”
The hurt in her voice, the way he could hear the slight frailty in its waiver when she spoke the word ‘love’ was alarming. But it was an odd sensation, like hearing Rose say that word for the first time brought about a sense of meaninglessness.
Love. Up until this point it hadn’t been real, whatever existed between them was something, and something unspoken at that, but it wasn’t love. Love was too familiar, too common; everybody experienced love. He had experienced love. Reinette had experienced love, and he was sure Rose had, too. Whatever he held for Rose, whatever relationship was theirs, it was too extraordinary to be as ordinary as the love felt by others.
“Whatever it was she thought she felt, she was wrong,” he spoke quietly, his eyes continuing to flicker through the crowd without taking in any information. “You can’t know a person for such a short time and call that love.”
He heard her breaths as they hollowed, saw out of the corner of his eye how her chest rose and fell in its struggle to accommodate them.
His hearts sank.
She sighed sadly and finally turned to him when he failed to reply. “To her, she knew you her whole life.”
“Why are we still talking about Reinette?” he begged.
“I just can’t stop comparing myself to her-“
“Then I’m asking you to please stop.”
“I can’t!" she choked. "And I don’t mean ‘comparing’ in terms of class or beauty or whatever. But she spent the rest of her life waiting for you…” she'd started to lose her words; he imagined she was hurting too much to find them again.
“I know, I remember.”
He’d hoped to keep the urgency hidden, but he simply wanted for this to stop. Hearing her voice crack, hearing it buckle under the weight of her sorrow, not being able to comfort her and make it better because it was he who made it so, was agonising.
He had only recently began to realise her hurt stemmed from his feelings rather than his actions. That she was not so broken by his leaving her than she was his leaving her for someone else. She’d said so that night and he’d tried his best to comfort her to tell her he would come back for her, but he’d missed the point. He knew that now. She didn’t want to be assured he would always come back for her, she wanted to be assured he never would leave her in the first place.
He couldn’t keep looking ahead, couldn’t keep avoiding her eyes, and make her feel like he wanted to avoid her.
“Dance with me.”
He uncrossed his arms took a step forward, turning to face her to finally lock eyes with hers. He didn't want to ask again, she’d heard him. But she hadn’t heard him.
“I want to dance with you.”
Her lips parted and she took a moment of deliberation before she uncrossed her arms and took his hand.
He could feel her hesitation, but out of self-preservation more than anything, so he kept firm and strong. He didn’t lead them too far into the crowd; he grew impatient with his need to feel her there with him.
She’d held his hand loosely, but they remained connected when he lifted his. Her fingers trembled as they slotted into his more confident ones, curling around hers naturally at the touch, and he was careful not to put too much pressure on her knuckles to bend them to his will. And he so desperately wanted them to bend, for the tips of her fingers to settle into the dips between his own knuckles, for their hands to fit so perfectly together and to never let her go. She must by now be able to feel his hearts, the way they clenched according to her, their release entirely dependent on her solace. How could she not see it? How could she not feel how everything was connected to her: the shortening of his breath at her closeness, the tremble in his hands when she put her trust in him, the aversion in his entire demeanour to her feeling sad. He deliberately slowed their movements, hand gently resting on her waist while his fingers caressed the fabric of her dress.
He felt sick. His stomach turned at the thought of her here, in his arms, so close and yet so very far from him. In fact, he’d never felt her distance more so than right now. He could barely keep himself upright, every time he swallowed he wasn’t sure whether his throat would open back up again, but it was a gamble he so willingly took if it meant she would stay right here with him.
A love like this should never be felt. One where all you want to do is love that person and they reject it. He supposed this was the price to pay for everything he had done in his life, in his miserable and dark days of war and murder now finally coming back to avenge him.
“I know we laid this to rest, but I can’t help myself from thinking about it. All the time.” Her voice quivered, and he could hear how strongly she was fighting back her tears.
He had slowed their movements now so much that he couldn’t be certain they weren’t simply standing there, holding each other, he clinging on to her in every attempt to keep her whole and together after having broken her so thoroughly. He desperately didn't want to probe and ask more, but he thought by the sounds of her tone she wanted him to. And he couldn’t deny her that.
“Tell me what it is that’s still worrying you.”
She hesitated, and in that breath, he knew she did and didn’t want to. He checked he wasn’t gripping on to her so tightly and began to slowly trace his fingers up her back; gently, so as to encourage her to trust him when she had every right not to.
She did, of course she did. Rose gave everybody and everything the benefit of the doubt even when they didn’t deserve it.
“Were you in love with her?”
He knew she was going to ask but hoped she wouldn’t; it meant that she wasn’t entirely certain he couldn’t possibly have been.
She barely flinched; not an exhale of relief nor a resolve to her troubles. He had to catch his sigh and keep his composure, trying with all his might to keep his feet moving.
“Thank you for inviting Mickey along.”
He closed his eyes and tried to swallow but there was nothing, his throat seemingly unable to take anything else in, the only thing he was able to let in was her through his skin, the feel of hers warm against his so cold and tired.
“I honestly don’t know whether I’d have chosen to stay if it weren’t for him.”
She spoke the words so quietly, so nervously that he might not have heard them if they didn't pierce his hearts so fiercely. He couldn’t cope with the thought of her sitting in her room at night, looking at her backpack and considering packing her things, all the arguments she’d had with herself, and adding yet more stress to her already troubled mind. And he’d brought her to a dance, the most human celebration of all with Mickey, to smile and laugh and be home without knowing that she was already toying with the idea.
He was about to lose her, and he’d unknowingly done everything in his power to push her away.
“Do you want to leave?”
His voice was perhaps even more uneven than hers, although he tried his best for it not to be. Once the words had left his lips and he realised how much his voice was seeped in need did he focus on his hearts, beating beneath her ear and he couldn’t let her think that he existed only for her, that he was so in love with her he wasn’t even convinced he could go on without her, so he steadied them, controlled them to beat to his command, not worry her into thinking she needed to stay because he would completely fall apart without her, time and space crumbling with him. It was too much to put on the shoulders of somebody who would only try her best to bear it alone.
“Never,” she sighed eventually, he could almost hear the shattering of her heart as she said it. “And that’s the problem.”