She looks up hurriedly from the edge of her bed, stuffing a hand beneath the duvet and breezing a smile as she turns. She reaches to tuck the hair away from her eyes then hovers it there, watching warmly as Jack takes a couple of paces into the room.
The dim, gentle light throws shadows across his face, making his returning smile look slightly gaunt.
“We wondered where you were,” Jack explains, finding an excuse. “We were all having a good time, and then we turn around and you’re gone!”
Rose gives a cursory nod and looks back to her feet again. “I was just here. Thinking. S’all right.”
“Thinking about what?” He eyes the hand still hidden under the duvet and frowns to himself, suddenly fascinated. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” Rose sighs, but her tone implies that it’s everything. Jack approaches cautiously and sits with her on the bed, giving a sympathetic look and reaching a hand to her knee in comfort.
“You can tell me,” he pleads softly.
Rose shakes her head and closes her eyes, lips biting inwards as though she is trying not to cry.
“I Just... I keep hurting him.”
Her voice is defeated and she slumps against Jack, her entire weight falling into him. He removes his hand from her leg, instead putting it around her shoulder. Holding her close, he leans and kisses the crown of her head, then rests his chin there while his thumb draws idle patterns against her arm.
He becomes vaguely aware of her shaking and he closes his eyes, trying to drown out the noise of her tears and make it so that she doesn’t have to cry any more. Even with all the time he has spent on the TARDIS, he has barely seen Rose cry. And it scares him. She is usually so strong and so full of life that seeing her like this is enough to break any man’s heart.
“Who do you keep hurting, sweetheart?” he asks tenderly, shifting slightly on the bed to avoid pins and needles in his foot.
Rose, suddenly aware of just how much of herself she has shown to him, sniffs and pulls away. Her make up is smudged, but neither care.
She gives him a bitter smile, laughs ruefully, then wipes at her eyes.
“S’silly, really. Doesn’t matter.”
She begins to leave the comfort of his arms, but he second hand grabs hers with force. His gaze meets hers and he looks at her with honesty.
“It’s... Mickey...” Rose answers, almost breaking again just by the look he’s giving her. “I keep trying to make up for the fact I’m not there. But it doesn’t matter. ‘E still gets hurt, an’ it’s all my fault, an’ he can’t even come with us. He wanted to, a while ago, but the Doctor wouldn’t let him. Now I don’t even think he wants to anymore.”
“He might be going through a tough time,” Jack offers, for lack of anything better to say. He feels like he is just filling empty space with his words, but he presses on nonetheless. “Could be he’s just reached a point in his life that he likes. It does a lot to someone to uproot everyone they are and live this sort of life.” He chucked her gently under the chin and she smiles bashfully. “You know that.”
“Nah,” Rose counters, shaking her head again. “It’s more than that. I asked him to get my passport ‘cause I wanted to see him. But we didn’t have anything to talk about. S’like we’ve become two different people than we used to be.”
Jack nods wisely, dropping his hand to splay out on the bed behind them as he leans back. “Yeah, that sort of thing happens when you travel in time. I mean, take me — I’ve changed loads since meeting you guys. I used to be all about the con. Now I’m anything but.”
“Yeah. S’pose it’s the Doctor.”
He gives her a soft look, tilting his head. “I suppose it is.”
There is a pause and Rose looks like she has more to say. Jack waits patiently, just watching her, letting his eyes graze the contours of her body. She finally speaks, but can’t quite look at him.
“We were... gonna rent a hotel room.”
Jack’s eyebrows shoot to his forehead, but Rose flusters on without giving him a chance to comment.
“Thought it might be nice to... catch up. But I couldn’t do it, and neither could he. Even before all that stuff with Margaret. And he can’t even move on ‘cause I’ll always come back. How can I do that to him?”
“I’ll tell you how. Because it’s not your responsibility. If he wants to sit around waiting for you, that’s his choice. You’ve moved on, even if he hasn’t, and one day he’ll accept that. Maybe he’s already begun. But you can’t let his faults bring you down.”
“But... I love him,” she protests weakly, sitting slightly back on the bed. She turns to Jack with large, shadowed eyes, her mascara making it looked like she has been punched. “Or — I used to. Once.”
Jack gives her one of his most gentle smiles and reaches to brush some hair away from her cheek. Rose doesn’t protest, just watches him with innocent eyes.
“Love changes,” he murmurs gently and his eyes glitter as her beside lamp flickers. She wonders if he is speaking out of experience — there is something like a hollow memory reflected in his voice. “I don’t just mean it changes you, but what you feel for someone you love... it’s never a constant. Like time: always fluctuating as the seconds tick by. It never stays the same, and there will be days you think you’ve gone mad. Other times it’s just like the hum of the TARDIS around us. So maybe what you have with Mickey is a different kind of love to what it used to be. Maybe it’s changed now that you’ve...”
He trails off suddenly, mouth open like there is more to say. His eyes dart to hers warily and suddenly he is sitting up straight again, a grin in place of his serious expression.
It doesn’t fool Rose for a second and she sits up too, intrigued by the tone of voice he used.
“Now that I’ve what?”
His smile fades and he takes a breath, words hovering at her edges of a sigh. After what feels like the longest moment she has ever experienced in the TARDIS, Jack finishes his sentence.
“Maybe it’s changed since meeting the Doctor.”
Without waiting for a response, Jack gets to his feet. Rose follows him and grabs his arm, frowning as she forces him to look at her. Worry floods her — does Jack know? She has to make sure, because if Jack knows, then the Doctor probably knows. And then she will be in a whole new mess.
“Maybe what’s changed?” she pleads, looking up to his eyes gaze.
Jack smiles gently and tenderly removes her hand from his arm. Then he bends his head and kisses her briefly on the cheek. In her ear, he whispers softly, “I think you already know.”
Then he withdraws, circling back around the bed towards the door. Over his shoulder, he casually throws back, “It’s changed for him too, you know.”
And he’s gone.
Rose stares after him, her heart racing. Then, as if the whole TARDIS might implode if she moves too quickly, she sits on the corner of the bed again and reaches for the book she hid under the duvet when Jack found her. Turning a page, she smiles as tears come to her eyes.
Mickey always was very photogenic.
Rose jumps and turns, the fridge door closing as she lets it go. She eyes the Doctor suspiciously — what is it with the men in this ship hovering in doorways when they’re around her? He’s standing there with folded arms, shoulder leaning against the frame for support and an odd expression on his face. It matches his tone, which she can’t quite make out as angry, upset, or gentle. It is a strange combination.
Apparently she has taken too long to respond. He says her name, again, this time unfolding his arms and standing a little straighter.
Rose signifies the milk in her hand. “Want a cuppa? I was just making — ”
“A little bird told me you’ve been upset. Are you all right?”
She blinks at him a moment, then puts the milk on the counter and shakes her head bitterly. “That little bird’s gonna get his neck wrung.” She meets the Doctor’s gaze, then, folding her arms over her chest protectively. “How much’s he told you?”
“Enough for me to come find you. Want to talk about it?”
She sighs petulantly. “Not really.”
“Oh.” He seems a little taken aback at that and Rose has to hold back a frown of contempt. He doesn’t let her in on everything that goes on his mind — why should he know everything of hers?
“It’s not really anything to do with you...” she tries to explain lamely, avoiding his eye contact and gazing down to her shoes.
The reply that comes back is bitter. “Yeah, that helps. Thanks. I feel so much better.”
“It’s not really about you, is it?” she answers back, voice rising a pitch or two. She looks up and meets his gaze with a fierce stare. He’s staring right back at her.
An awkward moment hangs between them as they watch each other. Rose is reminded of Margaret, of the stares that followed her around the room when they were to send her to her death. She looks away.
“I can’t believe Jack told you,” Rose mutters, almost to herself. She is giving the toaster a hard stare, but doesn’t really care. Anything to avoid looking at him right now.
“Why? ‘Cause he’s supposed to stick to the ‘best mate’ rule?”
“Well yeah, now you mention it.” A glance out of the corner of her eye tells her he’s still angry. He is standing with arms folded tightly across his chest, his weight shifted onto his left leg.
“Tough. No secrets in the TARDIS, Rose. No secrets anywhere.”
There is a sneering, patronising challenge in his voice, and she doesn’t like it one bit. She is not a child.
“Oh yeah, who died and made you the king to the universe, then?”
The Doctor’s eyes blaze somewhat as he informs her, “My entire race.” His voice is the sort of level that is even more dangerous than a shout or scream, which Rose might have instead expected from him. She gazes at him, not sure what to say. The knife of guilt twists in her stomach as she realises the impact of the Doctor’s words, and over a few seconds, her expression changes from anger to sympathy.
His eyes glance back to hers and his face relaxes; he’s already pushing those sorts of thoughts away from his mind. But Rose can see it and she is desperate for him not to hide away this time, not to shy away from her. She tilts her head. looking at him meaningfully, then says in her softest voice, “You can trust me.”
He smiles wryly at her, holding her gaze. Maybe she deserves an explanation, after all this time. Maybe he deserves one.
“Yeah, I know. And I do. To the end of the world. But — ” Stepping forward, he puts a hand gently on her arm, just above her elbow, as he stares down into her eyes — “you don’t trust me.”
“I do!” Rose protests, looking hurt and feeling like he is rejecting her. She tries to convince him. “Doctor, you know I do. I... I’d die for you.”
He swallows, his smile shaking on his face. “Don’t say that.”
“But I mean it. I would.”
Rose feels hot tears clench in her chest and sniffs them away. This conversation has turned into something much more than it was meant.
“No,” he counters softly, his voice broken. “You wouldn’t. You’d die for a man you think you know. A man you think you love. But you won’t and don’t — because that man doesn’t exist, Rose Tyler. He might exist up here — ” and he taps her temple gently with his fingers, before drawing back and putting the hand over his hearts — “but he’s not in here. He’s not the man you see.”
“What?” Rose doesn’t believe him, but her voice is gentle. “How can you say that?”
“Cos.” He shrugs like it’s meaningless. “It’s true.”
She looks up to him with large, innocent eyes, and in that one moment, he adores her. “I don’t understand. I can see you. Feel you — how can you tell me that’s not real?”
“I’m a lie,” he says shortly, like it explains everything. The Doctor drops his hand, but does not cease his hold on her gaze. She looks right back, an air of defiance about her. He feels her hand delicately on his wrist, but cannot look away to check it’s really there.
“You’re not,” she tells him firmly.
He doesn’t even smile now. “I am. Everything I stand for, everything you see around you — it’s all lie. And the sooner you learn to accept that, the better.”
“Give me a reason.” Her challenge is well meant, and though her eyes haven’t exactly grown cold, the Doctor can sense that edgy tone in her voice that makes him want to cower. He hates making Rose angry. “’Cause I can’t see one, Doctor, and I don’t think you can either.”
He shakes himself away from her grip and steps away, steps back, making his space his own. He manages to hold her eye contact just long enough to inform her, “There are things in this world that aren’t meant for you, Rose Tyler. And I’m one of them.”
“I don’t... understand.”
The look of melancholy in his eyes intensifies, before he glances to the floor. “No,” the Doctor agrees sadly in a quiet voice. “You wouldn’t. No one does.”
Images of Margaret flash into his mind and he is suddenly back in that restaurant, the silence drowning him as he watches her. He can see the words form on her lips before she has even said them. Only a killer would know that. He damns the truth in that sentence, and even now, it hurts. He has spent his whole life killing, relentlessly. He would do it again, given half the chance. Maybe the next time he’ll be merciful. Or maybe he will make them scream like the rest.
The memory fades, and he shivers, the unpleasant tingle down his spine a reminder of who he has betrayed. He only remembers Rose is there when she speaks.
She echoes words Jack has already said to her this evening, but these are pleading and gentle. She sees him already frozen, like he has turned to marble. He is cold. She wants to go over to him and tell him that it will be all right — but there are some things he just has to do on his own, and this process is one of them. So, patiently, she waits. She will wait an entire universe for her Doctor.
The jacket rustles as he folds his arms over his chest, tucking his hands under his armpits with his thumbs resting in the crooks. He gives the floor a very hard stare, his jaw square, his lips tight, and his eyes flirt with anger as he betrays to Rose just some of the secrets that he has been hiding from the whole world. Except that he isn’t really talking to her, and they both know it.
“I had their lives in my hands...” he begins slowly, uncertainly, like he has been silent for so many years and isn’t sure how to speak. “...And I destroyed ‘em. They trusted me to save them, and I didn’t.”
“You mean you couldn’t,” Rose says quietly, edging towards him. She has her own ideas of the Time War and its effects, particularly on the Doctor, and the guilt that he lays down on himself won’t help him.
But then he looks up and she freezes. His eyes are swirling, pleading with her — she has no choice but to listen. His mouth moves, but she isn’t sure if he is aware he is talking. His eyes look so hollow she feels her own begin to sting with tears that aren’t hers, tears she doesn’t deserve but will willingly cry for the Doctor if he seemingly cannot.
“No. I mean I didn’t. I could have; but I didn’t. They were waiting for the call of retreat... it was useless... fire everywhere. The type that rips through the seams of time. Destroys races. Corrupts.” He isn’t talking to her anymore, and she knows that, watches in faint horror as he stares emptily through her. He is a hollow shell of the man who was standing in a kitchen just a few minutes ago. “That’s why your World Wars were so close together — because we were all at war. No escape. Ever wonder about that? Want to know why? Ask the man who lit the match; who made the universe burn. Ask me. I made it happen, the lot of it, and then I didn’t even save the people I made it happen for. All the races who fought by our side suffered when I didn’t give that command. They waited for it, but it never came.”
Rose swallows, her throat itching with tears. “...Why?”
“Because. I’m a coward. I’m a fucking coward — and I thought we could win. I thought I had it in the bag and that it would pass over me with no consequence. They... screamed...” His eyes shine for a moment and he pauses mid sentence, mouth open and breath half way out of his lungs. He is remembering, seeing it played out right in front of his eyes. “They screamed for me... begged me to call them back. Begged me for mercy. I thought they were weak, so I kept going. We could have won another way. Lots of other ways. I told them I’d save them if they trusted me. I was so sure I was right.” For a moment, he becomes whole again and Rose sees her Doctor looking back at her as he finishes. “They all died — all of them — because I didn’t save them. They trusted me with their lives, and I threw them away like it didn’t matter. The brave die; and the cowards survive. I’ve learned since then. But it won’t bring them back. They’ve gone further than even I can reach. And now, I have to carry on. Because no one else will. There’s no one else left.”
“Oh, God,” Rose chokes quietly, bringing a hand to her mouth and blinking away her tears. Her throat feels like something is forcing its way up and she closes her eyes for just a moment. Searing pain ripples across her lashes as she holds her cry in.
The Doctor laughs bitterly. “Far, far from it.”
She cannot take it any more. Opening her eyes and steeling herself, for him, Rose walks over and gathers him in her arms, winding her hands behind his neck and holding him close to her. He is reluctant at first, surprised by her sudden assault — but she persists and within seconds, his arms are around her, his hands splayed on her back and his face buried in her neck.
They hold each other for long moments, the Doctor not caring to admit he does this willingly and Rose too bowled over by his admittance to do much else. Then they are gazing at each other, bodies close and eyes locked on one another.
The Doctor frowns pityingly and removes his hand from her back, cupping her cheek roughly and tracing her eyelid with his thumb.
“Don’t cry,” he murmurs quietly, regret and pleading in his voice. “Not for me. Don’t ever cry — my Rose Tyler.”
He dips his head towards her and places soft lips on her eyelashes, removing all traces of tears as he drifts delicately across from one to the other. Her arms wrap around him tighter, looking for the comfort that he should be seeking as she fades into his hold. He finds his own comfort in a chaste kiss on her mouth, a touch of lips as he whispers breath across her jaw. Then he withdraws, kisses her on the tip of her nose, once on her forehead, and releases her, content in the knowledge she has calmed.
Rose lets him go, lets him slip away from her grip, and opens her eyes. She feels a little flushed, embarrassed by her tears and touched by the Doctor’s attempts at showing her he cares. He gives a small nod, like he is agreeing to a business proposition, then meets her eye for just a second before disappearing out of the kitchen. She stands for a moment, spell-bound, the ghost of him imprinted in her mind. She sees him smiling, sees him taking her hand. Then she sees him fade to the distant realms of memory, his story coming to the front most part and making her want to cry with worry.
If he hurts this much from sharing this little, she wonders how he copes with it when he’s alone.
She doesn’t know that these days, her name is the constant rhythm in the beating of his hearts.
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