For the sake of Rose, the Doctor has decided they’re to stay in the Powell Estate for a couple of days. He moves the TARDIS out of Jackie’s living room for convenience, parking in the familiar alleyway just down the road. Even he doesn’t feel restless for once, happy to take a couple of days for breathing space. Jackie, perhaps not entirely impressed with the sudden arrival, kits him out on the sofa with a blanket and a pillow. She doesn’t ask questions and nobody tells her: she seems to know anyway.
It is late into the second night. They have already eaten, an awkward affair sat around the table in the kitchen that consisted of the clatter of knives and forks and not much else. The Doctor pretended to like the cooking, Jackie pretended she hadn’t cancelled a date with Howard and Rose pretended that everything was all right.
It’s hours later, after some quiet conversation in the living room, that Jackie finally retires to bed. She wishes them a good night then looks pointedly at Rose, suggesting she could get some sleep. Rose smiles without warmth and nods, and then her mother is gone. The smile fades with every footstep.
Rose lets out a heavy sigh, wiping her damp hands against each other between her knees. She stares at the floor, quiet. So far she has managed to avoid talking about Mickey, but there’s only so long she can hold back her words.
The Doctor, in a seat across the room, sits back in the arm chair and considers her over steepled fingers. He says nothing, simply watches her behind black-rimmed spectacles and waits for something to cool the heavy atmosphere between them.
“D’you reckon I should tell her?” Rose says at last, but she doesn’t look at him.
He clears his throat slowly, a deep frown carved into his features.
“I dunno. Maybe. Probably best she knows, but ...perhaps we should give it a while.”
She lets out a shuddering breath. “Yeah.”
The Doctor, unable to take it any more, pockets his glasses and sits straighter in the seat. “Rose, it was his choice. He’s happy.”
She looks up fiercely, her eyes red with unshed tears and he backs down somewhat sheepishly.
“You can’t say that. You don’t know it. What if he changes his mind, Doctor? What if he wants to come back and he can’t? What if ...what if a Cyberman manages to ...to... ”
She buries her head in her hands, fighting back against the choked sob that takes her. The Doctor is out of his seat in a second, crossing the room and joining her on the sofa. He wraps an arm around her shoulder, pulling her into him slightly and taking a deep breath. He puts his cheek against her head and strokes her arm comfortingly while she struggles with tears.
“He’ll be all right,” he tries, knowing that in reality he has no idea if that’s true. “He’ll be all right.”
“You don’t know that,” she sniffs from his chest.
“I do.” He pulls back and holds her by the shoulders, looking deep into her eyes with honesty. “If there’s one thing I know, Rose, it’s that. Mickey is perfectly capable of defending himself, as well as the Earth. They’ve got a good defender now; he’s not going to let them down.”
She swallows, looking as though she’s about to argue — but then she nods. Tears have stained her perfect cheeks and, without realising, he wipes the bitter trails away with his thumb.
“He’s happy,” the Doctor repeats, at a loss for anything else to say.
Rose shrugs dejectedly. “Maybe.”
It’s better than defying him outright, he supposes. With a sympathetic look he pulls her back into his shoulder again, sighing through his nose as he considers the man he’s never going to see again. He was a good asset to the TARDIS, and a good chap — he ignores the guilt that says they didn’t treat him properly. It seemed so easy to take advantage of him, but it was still wrong. He was selfish in his actions, he knows. After what happened with Reinette ...he wanted Rose all to himself. He still does.
“You’d better get some sleep,” he says after a while, beginning to pull back from Rose. “It’s getting la— ”
“No.” She pulls at him, makes him stay close to her. His eyes flick to her face and her eyes are closed, but there’s definite pain and hurt still there. “Stay with me,” Rose whispers, almost desperately, in a beaten voice. “Please.”
He wants to say no, feels the word a whisper on his breath — but looking at her, feeling her in his arms and the quiver of his hearts at her words, he knows he can’t deny her. He thinks perhaps she literally can’t be on her own, that perhaps she needs to know there is warmth and comfort somewhere in a universe that can, at times, seem very, very cold. So he sheds his jacket, then gathers her into his arms again, shifting them both so that they lie on the sofa, his back pressed against the uncomfortable rest and Rose pressed into him for warmth and comfort.
She faces away from him, which he thinks is just as well. Without her knowledge his eyes caress her body and he frowns. His arms tighten around her, one beneath her neck and across her chest, the other slipped over her waist. She lies with her hands close to her face and, slowly, they reach for his. He lets her have this comfort — just this once — because every other man in her life has deserted her and she needs to know that she isn’t alone.
Her hair tickles his face, but he doesn’t mind. He even smiles into it, indulging in this fantasy perhaps a little too easily. Without being able to stop himself, he lays a chaste kiss on the back of her head, then pulls her tighter to him still.
“You’re not alone,” he says quietly in the darkness: only the hall light shines in through the doorway.
She moves slightly against him and her hands tighten on his. “I know.”
Whether or not she believes it, it doesn’t stop her voice from sounding so, so tired.
The Doctor, closing his eyes for strength, prepares to embark upon a speech he has rehearsed many times but promised he would never let her hear; but some things are more important than selfishness. It’s dressed up in talk about the alternate world, but he knows that that won’t hide its meaning from her.
“Rose,” he says softly, but is unsure where to take it from there. She stills in his arms, quivering only slightly, and he’s not sure if he’s brave enough to continue speaking. Daleks, Cybermen: those things don’t scare him truly — but a simple human girl who has made herself as part of his life? He doesn’t stand a chance.
“What?” she prompts quietly, squeezing his hand for reassurance. He smiles, just because.
“Rose, I ...That world we saw. It’s another time, another life. Parallels are all over the place, for every decision you make. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of billions. Billions of billions. Each one unique in its own special way.”
“Okay ...” she responds, and he can hear the frown in her voice. He curses himself for not being able to make this clear, for letting his mind be clouded by just how much he cares for this woman.
“There’s only one of me,” he says eventually with a grave tone in his voice.
He breathes into her hair, inhaling the dizzying scent of her shampoo.
“And — there’s only one of you,” he clarifies quickly, not wanting her to feel like he’s pushing her away from him, even though that’s exactly what he should be doing. “Well, only one who’s quite like you. Even if there had been an alternate Rose, she would have been a little bit different. Like Ricky. She’d have been ...I dunno, ‘Mose’, or something.”
He feels Rose laugh a little in his arms, and that’s good. The more smiles he can get out of her, the better.
“So ...what are you trying to say?” she asks eventually once she has stilled, settling slightly into the comfort of his arms.
The Doctor closes his eyes and takes the plunge.
“We’re two very different people in a world that goes on forever.” His hearts are rocketing in his chest and he hopes that Rose can’t feel it; but considering he can feel her heartbeat, in time with his own, he has a suspicion she might. “Our worlds aren’t even the same. Your world should consist of beans on toast, going to work, watching telly, falling asleep and doing it all over again the next day. You shouldn’t even be aware of the dangers of my world.”
He pauses for a moment, hearing nothing but Rose’s breath and the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece. She is giving him space to finish and he appreciates it. After another breath, he continues, despite the dangers of doing so. He promised never to tell her this, yet somehow, the words spill out of his mouth so naturally he can’t seem to stop. Perhaps it is easier to say this when she isn’t looking at him, when he can still be convinced that he’s talking to himself.
“But you are. We’re part of each other’s lives now, Rose, and no matter what happens ...nothing is going to change that. The day I met you, my entire world changed. It shaped to fit you, and now you’re just as much a part of it as ...well, everything else. You are my life, Rose Tyler. So you can never be alone. Not really, not truly — not until our worlds don’t collide any more: and I’m never going to let that happen.”
She is quiet for so long that he wonders if she’s fallen asleep. It gives him time to think, time to worry about saying the words that shouldn’t have been said and regretting them later. He tries not to show that those words are more terrifying to him than anything they’ve just seen in the alternate universe, although he can’t pretend that he wasn’t terrified there, either.
He doesn’t prompt her for an answer because maybe she doesn’t need to say anything. He’s content to just lie with her, surrounded by her warmth and her fingers between his as he just holds her and wishes that he could always allow himself times like these.
“You’re much better at this than I am, Doctor.”
Her voice is a laugh and he can’t help smiling.
“Thought you were asleep,” he teases, nudging their hands from side to side slightly. “And ...better at what, exactly?”
“Saying the right thing.” She tries to shrug but it ends up as just snuggling closer to him — he doesn’t mind. “Making me feel better, even when everything’s so ...shit.”
He chuckles into her slightly, unable to help the smile that tugs at his mouth. “You’re far more capable than you think you are,” he tells her honestly, stroking his thumb absently back and forth across her stomach. “It’s not always about saying the right thing at the right time. Sometimes just being there is enough.”
Silence settles on them for a few moments. Then, in a quiet voice, Rose replies, “It’s enough for me — being with you.”
He is reminded painfully of her child-like innocence, and her youth, and her total inability to comprehend the real evils of this world. She isn’t old enough to know that forever isn’t forever, just a frame of mind. He can’t reply in kind, because he promised that he would never lie to her, so instead he just lies in thoughtfulness.
“Quite right, too,” he settles for at last with a smirk. He can imagine the amused frown crossing her face and is delighted when he hears it in her voice.
“You’re a cocky git,” she complains, though it is not without humour. “I s’pose that’s your way of pretending I didn’t just say that.”
“Not at all. Quite the contrary, in fact.” He refrains from adding that simply being with her isn’t enough, because he’s not sure if it’s true.
Rose takes in a long breath and, closing his eyes, he momentarily loses himself in the feel of her, warm and pulsing beneath his hands.
“Who’s gonna be there for Mickey?” she asks quietly.
The Doctor’s eyes flutter open. “He has Jake. He’s got his Gran. Pete will probably stick around, too ...he’s got tons of people. He’ll be fine.”
He sighs a little. “I know what you’re thinking. He doesn’t have you.”
Rose doesn’t answer right away and he wonders just what’s going on in her mind. He waits patiently, because there’s nothing else he can do.
“I don’t think he needs me,” she decides resolutely.
“Maybe not,” the Doctor agrees. “But that won’t stop it hurting.”
“I just ...it’s weird to think I can’t ever see him again. That he’s gone.”
The Doctor really feels for her, squeezing her tightly against him.
“I know,” he whispers into her hair. “He was a good man — he still is a good man. He stayed behind to fight the fight and you know he’s going to be out there, protecting the world one Cyberman at a time.”
Rose smiles ruefully. “Mickey Smith, saving the universe.”
“I always knew he had it in him.”
“Yeah, but I ...I never saw it coming.”
The Doctor sighs and nods his head slightly. “You never do,” he admits. “It’s never something you think about ...‘the end’. And it never really happens in any of the ways you imagine, either.”
“Sound like you’re speaking from experience,” Rose says sadly.
They let the silence envelop them, each lost in their own thoughts. Eventually, Rose yawns loudly and the Doctor smiles to himself.
“Go to sleep, Rose,” he chides gently, kissing her head once more. She settles in his arms, hands tightening around his.
“You’ll still be here when I wake up?” she asks in a hushed whisper, as though she’s not quite sure she’s speaking to anyone there at all.
“Yes,” he replies, smiling softly, “I will.”
“And ...I’m not dreaming?”
The question startles him a moment, and he suppose she means the closeness that they’ve happened to share.
“No,” he confirms. “Not dreaming. At least, I hope not, because I know for a fact that my imagination isn’t this good.”
He lets her consider the words for a few moments before settling himself into a state of comfort. He hasn’t slept for a while and although he will probably lie here for an hour or so while Rose sleeps — simply enjoying her trust in him so — he intends to slip into the realm of dreams eventually. He has a strange feeling that everything will be so much calmer with Rose in his arms.
“Good night, Rose,” he says, feeling their heartbeats settle into the same rhythm.
Unbeknownst to him, she smiles. “Good night, Doctor.”
It is a lazy sun that begins to rise several hours later. As weary beams bathe the room a mass of different colours, light falls upon two sleeping figures on the sofa. They are entwined, entangled, bodies merging together perfectly, like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They sleep precious hours of their life away, each comforted by the warmth of the other in a time of quiet they rarely get.
Both may be alone; but they will always, always, have each other.
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