He escorts her back to the TARDIS because he is a gentleman ...and because she hasn’t quite managed to learn to walk in those shoes yet. They have both enjoyed the easy stroll back from the party, the setting sun bringing a gentle ambience to their surroundings. They walk back talking of trivialities and the Tommys of this world, both laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
It signifies the end of two long days when the Doctor cranks down a lever to send them fading out of existence.
“What a day, hmm?” he muses as he does so, grinning perfectly at her across the controls. He just can’t help it — seeing those eyes, that smile, that expression: it’s almost too good to be true. “I need more days like this.”
Rose smiles, watching him from her slumped position on the moth-eaten seat. “Everybody lives?” she quotes from a long time ago.
He beams. “Exactly. Everybody lives. Except for the Wire ...and Mr Magpie ...” His smile falters a little.
“You did your best,” Rose tells him quickly, sitting up. “Besides, he was the one selling all the TVs in the first place. He deserved what he got.”
The Doctor studies her carefully. “Do you really think that?”
They look at each other for a long moment, until eventually Rose looks away. “No, Doctor, I don’t,” she admits in a small voice. “I don’t think anyone deserved what that ...that thing did to him.”
He sighs a little, then walks over and nudges her so that she budges up on the seat.
“You’re all right, aren’t you?” he checks, attempting to hide the weight of his words behind a light tone.
“Yeah,” Rose answers with a brief smile, shrugging. “Though, getting my face sucked off ...won’t be remembering that experience any time soon. Might not tell Mum about that one.”
The Doctor’s face drops. “Please, don’t,” he begs, only half-joking. “Jackie wouldn’t rest until my head was strung up on her wall.”
Rose laughs at that mental image and it is a sound so precious — a sound he very nearly lost today — that he memorises it for future reference. He has already burned her features into his mind, wiping clean the blank, haunted flesh that lay there before. He never wants to come that close to losing her again.
“What about you?”
He blinks, not having realised where his mind had wandering. He sits back in the seat, gazing thoughtfully at the central column.
“What about me?” he questions back.
Rose shifts in the seat, looking at him.
“Are you all right?”
“Me?” He tries to pass it off like all the other times and avoids her gaze. “I’m always all right.”
She nods silently, says nothing, and he has a feeling he’s said the wrong thing. Tentatively, he adds, “I’m more all right now than I was before.”
He reaches for her hand, holds it without entwining her fingers. She looks at him, her eyes an odd colour in the light.
“You mean that?” she asks gently.
He smiles inwardly: as if he’d say something like that if it wasn’t true — saying it when it is true is hard enough.
However, in response he squeezes her hand that little bit tighter and gives a soft smile, just for her.
“Yes. I mean that.”
It’s these sorts of times, as they just sit in stillness looking at each other, that he realises the barriers he has put in place are pointless. She is more than capable of getting through to him, and though he keeps fighting for his own protection, these moments make every struggle and thought so insignificant he wonders why he bothers. Everything is so inexplicable and inescapable in terms of Rose, especially as she is all too aware of the power she has over him. Yet she never uses it; she never exploits his weakness for her, and that he appreciates.
In the TARDIS light with her hand in his, it seems less like a weakness than a strength. He can’t even imagine what losing that strength would do to him.
“If ...If reversing the energy fields from the Wire hadn’t worked ...” He lets his eyes rest on here, taking the time to trace the contours of her face: eyelids, cheeks, nose, lips: it’s all there, back where it should belong. Beautiful perfection.
“ ...Then you’d have found another way,” Rose finishes decidedly.
He is vaguely startled, but hides it from his face well. When he speaks, it is in a voice that’s grave with regret.
“You have so much faith in me.”
Rose shrugs, an embarrassed flush burning her cheeks. In this light it makes her ten times more attractive.
“I guess I ...” She tries to pass it off as nothing, but the Doctor knows better. “I — I can’t think of anything better to believe in.”
He nods and swallows, her words meaning more to him than most other declarations he has heard. She believes in him. She believes in him. Oh, he knows she trusts him and has for a long while, but believing in him is something else entirely.
She puts her faith, belief and trust in him and — knowing that now — he knows he wasn’t misguided when he put the same in her, all that time ago. Somehow, he knows her faith in him will keep him stronger and keep his belief in her alive. He trusts that through some divine intervention she will always find a way back to him and — consequently — he will always find the strength to keep saving her. It is an ongoing cycle and a trade he happily accepts.
He has been staring into space for some time, his thoughts so prone to wandering these days. He can’t bring himself to words yet, but he meets her gaze and realises they are much closer on this sofa than he remembers. The space between their bodies is minimal and he has a small suspicion he hasn’t always been leaning like this, arm propped up on the back of the chair and head against his hand . In fact, he has a further — slightly more worrying — suspicion that he has been gazing at Rose the entire time. He still holds her hand, resting the join on his knees.
A lock of hair has fallen wayward from her bun and, releasing her hand, he instinctively moves to take it between his fingers. Her expression doesn’t change, but he can sense the rise in her heart rate like it is pounding in his own chest.
His knuckles graze her jawline softly, his touch a caress. She looks at him with wide, dark eyes, her attention focused completely on him. He is not even aware if conversation has been passing between them, but the next thing he knows he is leaning towards her, eyelids sinking closed in the heat of desire.
For the breath of a second he pauses, just a little, before he gets too close; he opens his eyes, just enough for them to meet and hold the gaze in hers. He can’t read anything from her, which is rare for him.
His gaze drops slowly and rests on her tempting lips. He feels his body move once more and he tilts his head while wetting his lips with the small tip of his tongue. His breath, hot and slow, mingles with hers ...
...And it’s in that moment he realises what he’s doing. Lips pass lips just as he jerks away, fear rocketing through his hearts. He stands abruptly, his look one of fear — a deer caught in headlights — as he stares down at Rose.
She looks bewildered, and hurt, and confused and he suddenly cannot be in the same room as her.
“Right, yes, er, snooker!” he garbles with a flustered air, too panicked by his actions to even care about what he is saying. “Pool! I know, a good cup of tea. That’s what I need, a cup of tea and a biscuit and a lie down. Good stuff, tea, clears those synapses right up; it’ll sort me out and no more worrying about anything to worry about. I’ll be right as rain. You know, odd expression, that. Since when is rain right? All I ever hear you lot complaining about is the rain, and here you are coming up with sayings that contradict everything you’ve been complaining about! Honestly, I think I might just look it up to prove you wrong ...”
He stumbles backwards, tripping over his own feet, as the words come out in a rush of one breath. Reaching the door he whips around and strides down the corridor. Rose calls for him and she’s probably hurt, but right now he needs to be selfish before he hurts both of them all the more. With quick paces he tries to block out thoughts and feelings as they lay siege to him, concentrating very hard on walking.
It’s only when he reaches the dark sanctuary of his bedroom and sinks down into the bed, that he’s able to put his head in his hands and let out a shuddered, emotional sigh.
He curses in lots of different languages and a variety of ways. Even Jackie would have gone red upon hearing him, but whether it would be out of embarrassment or anger he doesn’t know.
He curses the unknown for putting him in this situation; he curses Rose for nearly being lost to him, for not stopping him, for looking irresistible; but most of all, he curses himself. He’s such an idiot. He’s a careless idiot with his head stuck in the clouds.
Losing control isn’t something he’s used to. He’s usually so in control, of everything, that he doesn’t recognise when it is slipping. He was going to kiss her, for pity’s sake — he did kiss her! And now he sits in his room surrounded by darkness, just wishing it were the same in his mind. But no, there are explosive images of Rose and forbidden fruit and Gallifrey and memories and the sheer fear of letting someone get that close to him. It isn’t right, isn’t fair, isn’t sane. But since when has he been right, and fair, and sane?
He can’t embark down this impossible path with Rose. It’s okay to kiss strangers and it’s even okay to fall in love with them, because they aren’t part of his life and they never will be. It isn’t okay to treat Rose that way; it simply isn’t the case of a quick kiss or heartfelt expressions of love. She is part of him now. She lives and breathes the same life he does and he can’t let her get closer because her fragile human mind will not be able to cope with the sheer magnitude of what he has to deal with; and his fragile Time Lord hearts will not be able to cope with the further heartbreak of watching her wither before his eyes.
Coward, every time.
He knows that his actions were more about knowing he lost her in such an awful way. He is a dangerous man when Rose is taken from him, because without Gallifrey, he literally has nothing else to fight for. Still, that doesn’t excuse him. He is going to have to take extra care around her, to make sure she stays safe. And he knows that good, sweet, innocent Rose will let the matter slide as easily as he will. She’ll sit in silence, too scared and too startled to talk to him.
The Doctor sighs and sits up, his eyes adjusting to the gloom. He’s lost control one too many times for comfort; yet he knows, even only giving in for a split second, that he has allowed himself to go too far to stop. By peering through a crack in the doorway to a life he could have — part of him regretting that he’ll never be able to have it — he knows he can never fully shut the door on it now. It almost terrifies him, the storm of emotional elements that Rose excites in him. He’ll have no real control over his action once he crosses that line.
With a grimace into the darkness, he realises that no matter how much he fights, he is already gone. From here on in, it is just a matter of time.
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