Rose and Mickey sit in the kitchen. Silence envelopes them like a storm, Mickey looking across the counter at Rose and Rose somewhere else entirely.
“Hell of a day,” he quips, attempting some humour. But when he doesn’t even get a cursory smile from Rose, he stops trying and sighs into his mug of tea. He swallows and doesn’t look up. “Go to him, Rose,” he says after an undefinable amount of time.
This seems to snap her out of her reverie and she shakes herself back into reality. “What?”
Mickey looks up, can see that she hasn’t — and won’t — touch her tea and that she’s looking completely and utterly resigned. He knows the look of a broken man when he sees one, and he knows when men need to be left on their own. But it must have been half an hour now, at least, and the Doctor has made no appearance. Something needs to change.
“Go to him,” Mickey repeats. “If I know my stuff, he’s gonna need someone right now.”
Rose shrugs dejectedly, slipping down in the chair. “He doesn’t need me. Not any more.”
Mickey snorts and shakes his head. Rose, looking up, frowns at him. “What?” she asks, like he’s just criticised what she’s wearing.
“Obviously not as clued in on him as you think you are.”
It isn’t meant as a criticism, but he can see Rose bristle anyway. He’ll admit, this isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do — tell the woman he loves to go and comfort the man she loves instead — but someone needs to do it.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asks defensively.
“Nothing. But Rose, I mean it. Go talk to him, go ...find out what’s wrong.”
“I know what’s wrong.”
Mickey holds back a groan of contempt. He meets her eye defiantly. “I get it, yeah? You’re upset ‘cause he found a girl that wasn’t you — ”
“I never said — ”
“ — but sometimes it’s not always about how you feel. He needs you now, Rose. He does. Honestly, he does: a man to man won’t cut it. And even if it would, I don’t think he’d appreciate it.”
Rose looks at him now like he holds all her answers, and for a second, Mickey revels in that. Then he lets it go as a fleeting fancy and sips his tea.
“How do you know that?” she asks quietly.
Mickey smiles to himself. “Call it a man’s thing. When something happens to the woman you jump through a mirror for, it takes your best friend to pull you out of that. So, go.”
Roe seems to consider for a few moments. Then she slides out of her chair and Mickey bows his head in acceptance. Then, suddenly, Rose is at his side and she kisses him on the cheek.
“Thank you,” she whispers softly, then turns on her heel to find the Doctor.
He sits for a while, mulling things over in his head. After today, maybe Rose will understand things a little bit more. He smiles, and knows he made the right choice in coming aboard. He finishes his tea alone.
The Doctor is still in the console room, right where she left him. She stands in the doorway, unsure of what to do. He looks so tired, so alone, standing there like the last stone sculpture ever made. She wants to say his name but can’t even manage that. Tears pinprick in her eyes and she closes them, trying to shut out her own emotions because she needs to be unselfish now The Doctor needs her.
She isn’t aware how long she stands in that doorway. It could be a few seconds or a few minutes, or even a few hours. The Doctor doesn’t move. He appears to be stuck, transfixed, with one hand on the console and the other down by his side. She isn’t used to seeing him defeated, and it scares her.
She walks bravely forward into the room.
He turns, surprised, and for a second she sees on his face a glimmer of grief that she didn’t think was possible for this Doctor. In that split second he looks so hurt and lost that she just wants to run to him and sweep him into her arms. But then it’s gone, wiped away by his hands and replaced with a smile they both know isn’t true. This, she realises, hurts.
He realises too.
“Rose,” he says, voice straining with emotion he’s quickly trying to bury away. “I thought you were with Mickey.”
She shrugs and looks to the floor. “I was. But he’s ...thinking ...”
The Doctor frowns and slips his hands into his pockets, ignoring the burning sensation he feels from the letter at his chest. “What about?”
He nods slightly. “Oh.”
Silence descends on them, unwelcome and unbidden. He hates this silence; it’s the sort of silence where he can hear all his thoughts, equally taunting him and teasing him with what could have been. He makes a conscious effort to push it away, to concentrate on the here and now, to hide from Rose what he’s really thinking. Can’t let her in, can’t let her see: there are some things too dangerous for even Rose, and who he is — who he really is — is one of them.
“Doctor,” Rose says quickly, like she’s trying to catch him before he leaves the room, “what happened?”
He shrugs and puffs out his cheeks, letting his gaze dance to his feet. “When?”
“With...” She stumbles, trying to retain eye contact but having to break it every few seconds. She tries again. “With ...Madame de Pompadour.”
“Oh, nothing,” he lies. It is for her own good, he tells himself firmly. She doesn’t need to know that his one chance at a distraction ultimately spelled his downfall. She doesn’t need to know that Reinette — sweet, caring, classy, innocent, daring, beautiful Reinette — broke down his final barriers and that he’s now in very impending danger of going to a place with Rose he’s promised he will never set foot.
Rose frowns, walking towards him, and he manages to keep his face blank with a hint of a smile.
“You can honestly look me in the eye and tell me nothing happened?” Her voice is soft, gentle, coaxing him into an answer without any force at all. She isn’t blaming him, isn’t running around the place screaming and shouting that he left her, and for that, he’s proud of her. But she’s clever, too. She’s playing the card that calls his bluff — because she knows he can’t, and won’t, lie to her.
He looks her in the eye. “She died,” he says gravely, voice devoid of anything that could betray his emotion.
The words hit Rose as though they were bricks and he watches as various emotions pass across her face — surprise; sympathy; grief. It seems wrong, somehow, the Rose should grieve when he can avoid it so easily.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers softly, her voice barely audible.
The Doctor shrugs and sniffs, looking away. “Nah. Don’t be. All in the past now, after all, and we’ve got a brand new future ahead of us to explore. What d’you reckon? Cocktails on Riverhill Beach? I tell you, they’re the best thing that planet has to offer.”
Already he is darting around the controls with feigned enthusiasm, hitting a switch here and cranking a lever there. Rose isn’t fooled and her question startles him: partly in itself but partly because Rose has never been one to push before.
“How did she die?”
He slows to a stop and looks up regretfully. He swallows, the air around them feeling thicker than it once did.
“Illness, I think. She ...she got ill... ” He mentally kicks himself for the lack of eloquence in his words and realises, with some degree of shock, what Rose has managed to reduce him to. Intentional or not, he knows there is no going back now. He hasn’t had sufficient time to put walls up yet and already, if he thinks about it too much, he can see Reinette’s face in his mind, hear her voice, feel her hand in his and her lips on his...
He looks to Rose, startled, refusing to lose himself in the memory. He doesn’t want to be thinking these things, doesn’t understand why he feels like this.
And suddenly from nowhere she’s in front of him, gazing up at him gently with a mournful frown, then pulling him to her. He steps forward without fighting back because he doesn’t have the strength to keep doing so any more. She holds him, his head atop hers and her hands on his back. He resignedly acts in kind, slipping his arms around her shoulders as he lets her undeniable warmth and compassion pour from her into him. He gives the floor a hard stare.
And for a moment, he lets himself believe. He takes a breath and closes his eyes and just loses himself. He lets himself believe that where they are, right now, is where they are going to be forever. He lets himself believe in the fantasy he created with Reinette and lets himself believe it was real. He lets himself believe that what he had with Reinette can be recreated with Rose, that he can travel with her on the slow path and meet her at the end together.
He never expected his distraction to turn into such an attainable fantasy, and for a while he almost believed that living it would save him from the real world, and the real monsters he has to deal with every day. The real monsters that come in the form of situations like these, which he both desperately wants to hold on to and push away all at once.
What he wanted so desperately with Reinette, he also wants with Rose. He can’t hide. Not now, not after everything that’s happened. It was easier with the fantasy, with the distraction, because part of him knew it would never be real. But Rose...
Keeping Rose at bay is becoming decidedly more difficult, and he has a feeling it is only going to get worse.
She speaks, breaking through his thoughts like a waking voice through his dreams. “It’s okay to grieve, Doctor.” She smiles, if only slightly. “I may be human, but sometimes I can see stuff you can’t. And if you need to ...I dunno, let her go. It’s okay.”
He opens his eyes and pulls back just enough to look at her, not yet brave enough to lose her comforting touch.
“What makes you think I need to grieve, Rose Tyler?” he asks gently, looking deep into her eyes.
When she says nothing, he hesitates, unsure of what to say next. He is presented with a multitude of answers, but none of them feel quite adequate. He takes a small risk, seemingly insignificant.
“There’s nothing to grieve,” he tells her eventually, and it is said with some sense of honesty.
“You asked her to come with you,” she points out.
He gives her a gentle smile. “I did,” he confirms, tilting his head slightly.
Rose frowns, obviously a little surprised. “You don’t ask ...everyone to come on board.”
“No, that’s true,” he reasons, finding his smile fading. “It would get rather cramped in here if I did that.”
They still stand, arms around each other, discussing this as naturally as though they are discussing London’s weather while in the park.
“You said...” Her voice trails off and she can’t look at him now, having to make do with focusing entirely on her buttons of his suit. He, however, has eyes only for her.
“I said?” he prompts quietly.
Rose sighs in his arms and he can feel it almost as a part of him.
“You said, before ...that everyone you travel with is special, unique. That you only take the best.”
“Right — I still stand by that.” His hands tighten on her slightly.
She looks as though she is about to say something telling; he feels the breath hitch in her throat and the quickening of her heartbeat. But then she shakes her head and looks around them instead.
“Do you really think she’d have liked all this?” Rose wonders. “Not a bit space-age for her?”
Oddly enough, it is this that finally breaks his last barrier. He doesn’t want to dwell on the question, but he finds himself doing so nonetheless. Reinette, he knows, is a special case. What he felt for her even he can’t quite decide: but thinking about her now brings all the memories and feelings rushing right back to him and he stills for a moment, stolen by the memory.
She saw things in him no human has ever been able to see, that not even Time Lords have been allowed to see. But she saw it. She saw all the dangers and grief he carries on his shoulders (or at least what isn’t buried in the pit of his mind) and she understood. She is very like Rose in that way; the fact that neither of them have shown fear scares him a little — because they should be scared. There are good reasons why monsters have nightmares about him.
This world, full of monsters, would have killed Reinette quicker. Her death would have been his responsibility, his fault: she was too innocent to know what his world really requires. He would have watched his fantasy wither in front of him and would have been helpless to stop it. He knows it was wrong of him to ask her, but he still wasn’t able to stop himself. Just as he wasn’t able to stop himself asking Rose to come on board.
It seems so long ago now, especially after everything they have been through. No, Reinette would not have been right for this world: she belongs in her own life and her own time. She isn’t Rose.
The Doctor, memories filtering in front of his mind, clears his throat.
“I don’t think this life would have suited her at all.”
Rose, surprised, looks back to him. “Then why did you — ”
“She was an incredible young woman,” he mutters bitterly. “Witty, sarcastic, funny, sexy — you name it. All the men fell for her, one way or another. But this? You and me?” He looks straight into her eyes now, knowing his broken emotions show by the way Rose holds back breath. “It wouldn't have suited her. One can tolerate a world of monsters ... only for so long, Rose. She was an important figure in human history. Her life had meaning. I shouldn’t have ...it was wrong of me to ...”
Rose sees his difficulty and reaches up a hand to whisper across his cheek. He closes his eyes, unable to stop himself.
“It’s okay,” she tells him gently as he tries to frown away his hurt. “Doctor, it’s okay to do what you want to make yourself happy. You don’t always have to follow the rules.”
A bitter chuckle escapes his lips and he keeps his eyes closed, enjoying the feel of her so close to him. She is forgiving of him that he feels he doesn’t quite deserve it.
“You’re so like her,” he muses, almost to himself.
Rose snorts. “Yeah. French courtesan, that’s me, Doctor.” Then suddenly the meaning behind his words hits her and she’s at a loss for what to say. His eyes open and he’s looking into her, burning, but with something else there too.
“She died waiting for me,” the Doctor admits in a hoarse voice. Rose teases her bottom lip with her teeth and he wishes she wouldn’t.
At length, she asks the only question she can.
“When I left her, she was thirty-seven. She spent an entire five years without me, waiting for me to come back to her. She believed I’d be there for her, but ...I wasn’t. I never am, Rose, don’t you get that? I can’t even promise... She’ll never know I was there. She’ll always think I left her, that I just left without looking back. I didn’t mean that to happen, I didn’t mean any of it! She’ll always think... She’ll never know ...”
He breaks off, finding it impossible to continue while tears burn like rum at the back of his throat. He shakes his head, loosening his hold on Rose as he tries to get her to leave him.
“Doctor,” she says firmly, properly taking his face in her hands and looking at him straight in the eye. He has the feeling that if he thinks she’s going to let him get away with leaving things like that, he’s got another thing coming. “If she really was anything like me — she’ll know. She’ll have kept it in her heart and she would have been a better person because of it. Don’t blame yourself for giving her that ...‘cause honestly, Doctor, it’s the best gift in the world.”
Her voice is filled with such raw honesty that the Doctor almost feels like it’s forgiveness and he’s suddenly very, very glad he’s got her. He’s not quite sure what he would do without her words, without her smile, without her forgiveness. He blinks down at the human in such awe that he can’t even form words. He nods slowly, trying to show her by tightening himself around her just how much she means to him.
She lowers her hands from his face and they rest on his chest, one over each heart. Carefully, slowly, while looking directly into her eye for any signs that this isn’t okay, he slides his hands from her back to her waist, pulling her into him. He looks at her with such an honest, open expression that Rose looks like she may cry. They take this moment — for it is so rare to just have silence like this — to simply look at each other, as though they are seeing each other properly for the very first time.
The Doctor takes in a steadying breath, his eyes shining.
“Thank you,” he says earnestly, voice coarse with emotion. “For everything. You’re a better person than I am, Rose Tyler.” She smiles shyly and he deftly reaches to place her hair behind her ear. “And I ...I’m sorry I ...left you.”
She shakes her head, the smile turning bitter-sweet at her lips.
“I know,” she answers, swallowing down a rising a tide of emotion. “I know.”
They dissolve into each other for another hug, the Doctor cradling Rose to him gently while she slips her arms around him once more. He lets himself be with her, the grief of losing Reinette that little bit easier to bear. He will still carry the guilt for a very long while, but perhaps with Rose’s forgiveness it won’t hurt quite so much.
She was everything he wanted in a fantasy, including the fact she was a stranger to him. He was free to kiss her, go to a party with her, dance with her: for a small while he managed to relieve himself of responsibilities and consequences and live the sort of life he never dares to dream about. Part of his guilt is knowing he simply took advantage of her. Her death, he realises, was the universe’s way of stopping him because he couldn’t stop himself; it drew a defining line between fantasy and reality.
He has to live, now, in the real world. Here, with Rose in his arms and the smell of her surrounding him, he decides perhaps — every now and again — it is good to indulge in a little fantasy.
Except that now he has started, he isn’t quite sure if he’s ever going to be able to stop.
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