“You all right?”
The question, soft as it is, breaks Rose out of her thoughtful enchantment. She blinks and nods, keeping her eyes on the yellow flames of the fire that burns and crackles in the grate.
“Yeah,” she answers, he voice betraying nothing of what is going on in her mind. “Yeah. I’m fine.”
A thick silence settles between them quickly and the Doctor shuffles forward, creeping down onto the sofa so he sinks into it, like it is trying to swallow him whole. He leans forward a little, peering to his shoes over the tops of his knees. He glances at Rose out of the corner of his eyes, sees her curled up on the sofa with her feet tucked under her. He doesn’t dare give her a proper look, so his gaze is soon back on his toes.
“I tried to save her,” he murmurs after a moment, and he is curious why he is explaining himself, again. Nobody else got explanations. Nobody else made him feel like he has to justify himself. Rose does, though, and he wonders about that, too. Then again, Rose is upset and he doesn’t want to see her subdued and quiet. He wants her back the way she was when she first ran into his ship, with that grin on her face.
Part of him knows why. But he ignores it.
Rose looks at him as the fire dances across his face, then slides a foot out from beneath her to poke him tenderly in the thigh. “I know. I’m not blaming you. ‘S not your fault.”
He tears his eyes away from his feet, finally meeting her gaze with empathy for her. He remembers how she feels, has felt it countless times before, and wishes he could feel it again, now, so that he can share it with her, take the burden from her shoulders and protect her. But the truth is, he has dealt with the death of innocents for far too long, and, much as he cares and tries to avoid it, it stops mattering so much.
This is a first for Rose. So he feels for her, instead.
“It’s not yours either,” he says meaningfully, looking at her in such a way that makes her think he is trying to see into her mind with just his gaze.
She sighs, gazing back into the fire again. He doesn’t take his eyes from her, isn’t really sure why he doesn’t get up and leave. Then again, she has been fantastic today, and leaving her on her own with guilt-ridden thoughts isn’t going to help either of them. He just wishes he knew what to say.
Rose fidgets on the seat, feeling his iron hot eyes burn into her. She does not like that he is so concentrated on her; it is a little unnerving. She keeps looking into the spiralling flames because looking at him right now isn’t that much of an option. She thought she was going to die today. That said, she has often thought she would die with the Doctor. But today is different, because they were together, and they would have died together. He is the last of his species, she remembers with a touch of sadness. His planet is gone, like the Earth, and for some reason, he can’t go back. His people are gone. She has no idea how that feels, can only imagine.
“Doctor?” she asks quietly. She catches a glimpse of him from the corner of her eye and knows he is waiting for her to continue, that she has his full attention. Rose pauses a moment, wondering if asking would be too much. She hopes not. “How... How many people died in the War?”
He takes in a sharp breath that is almost a gasp, but it is let out in a sigh. Shaking his head, he gazes to the floor as he ponders.
“Far too many,” he offers at last, and there is the sort of pain in his voice that implies more than he is saying. Rose doesn’t push it, though. She can sense how difficult this must be for him, especially if he believes himself to be alone.
She drums her fingers absently on her thigh, remembering how tightly he had held on in that basement. It is nice to feel so needed for a change, rather than just... there. For convenience. He wants her, she realises with a little shock. He wants her with him. Her. Not Mickey. Not Gwyneth — and how much of a brave heart had she had? Not anyone else.
“Rose,” the Doctor requests quietly, and she jumps from her thoughts with a curious frown on her face. He has never said her name quite like that before, his tone lowered, his voice almost pleading. She meets his eye and he juts his chin out slightly. When he speaks again, his voice is the quietest she has ever heard it before. “Don’t be afraid to talk to me.”
She is thinking the same thing of him, but feels they are not quite at the right time, yet, for her to say so. Instead, she shakes her head. “I’m not afraid of you.”
This he knows already — today is proof enough. She stood up to him where no one else would, and though he snapped at her with words he wishes he hadn’t said, she had bickered with him because she believed her way, and he believed his, and just because they had a difference of opinion didn’t make her any more or less wrong than him.
He doesn’t force her, however. He was not really sure how to offer in the first place, and now that he has, it is up to her whether she accepts his invitation. He wishes there was someone else she could talk to, but as there’s no one, he would rather it were him than for her to suffer in silence. Choosing not to say anything of his thoughts, he just dips his head into a nod.
He really does think he should leave now, because staying might mean complications on both sides. So he slides a hand along the sofa then climbs to his feet, feeling every muscle and bone in his body stretch and twinge with the movement. He is getting old, he considers with a wry smile.
The Doctor has not gone more than half a step when Rose’s voice makes him turn on his heel to look back to her.
“Doctor, will they...?” She bites back her question and shakes her head, curling her hands defensively into her stomach. A moment’s silence passes, just the crack and snap of the fire darting through the atmosphere. “...Never mind,” she finishes at last. She isn’t even looking at him.
He takes the lining of his pocket, twiddling it between his fingertips. “Tell me,” he pleads softly, and it is mid way between a question and a request.
She takes in an audible breath through her teeth then braves a look to meet his eye. He fights the urge to recoil, instead simply raising both of his eyebrows when he sees her eyes are damp with uncried tears. He wants to think it is just an illusion from the fire, but he isn’t so sure.
“Will they ever remember her? I mean, she was... just a servant girl to the outside world. And... no one’s gonna know what she did. Are they?”
The Doctor blinks gently for a moment or two, his face unreadable, his eyes a mask. There are so many answers he can give, but he isn’t sure which would be adequate and which he may as well throw out of the window. After what feels like far too long comfort, especially as he has just been stood there looking at her, he stretches out his arm towards her. The fingers of his hand are curled downwards, ever so slightly, but the invitation is just as effectual.
“Come with me.”
They are on the bottom floor of the TARDIS, one of the old style sitting rooms, so he leads her up the stairs. They reach the third floor in silence, then the Doctor guides Rose ahead of him, his hand resting in the small of her back while he directs her down the corridor. They take the middle door, make two lefts, then head up another flight of stairs before he reaches where he wants to be.
They are in an observatory. A large telescope sits in the middle of the room, its eye peering out of a glass-domed roof to a night sky above. Stars twinkle down, some brighter than others, and a large moon bathes the room in white water. The Doctor gives Rose a gentle smile, then wanders over to the telescope, leaving her at the door. He looks a little like a ghost, in his slow movements and the eerie light, but she cannot stop watching him all the same because his actions are so precise is it fascinating.
He pulls a small box out from the base of the desk, and when he places it on the surface next to the telescope, something that sounds like marbles rattles inside it. He peers at it for a moment or two, then straightens and beckons Rose over to him. She steps slowly and he moves aside, showing her what’s in the box.
She wasn’t far wrong thinking it was a lot of marbles. It is pretty much all she can see, yet they seem to shimmer slightly in the moonlight.
“One of those,” the Doctor explains in hushed tones, his eyes darting from the box to her, then back, “will have more of an effect on you than the others. It’ll be the one you pick up, the one you’re drawn to. If the right one isn’t in that box, tell me; I’ve got lots of them.”
“What are they?” she asks, eyes twinkling with a taste of sadness.
Looking back to the box, her fingers hover above it as the marbles shine out at her. There is one she can see, just off right from the centre, that has the vaguest of pinky tints down its middle, like it has been bruised. She plucks it from the box and places it in the Doctor’s outstretched palm.
He grins because he feels he can, then dashes over to the telescope. Balancing the marble between his thumb and forefinger, he slips it into a small holder, like a barrel for a gun. Then he looks up and meets Rose’s eye, giving her a reassuring smile.
“Gwyneth, yeah?” he asks, just to be sure, although he already knows.
Rose nods, looking vaguely surprised, and he pushes a button under his thumb. Just a simple button is all it takes and there is a great whooshing sound and a light ‘thunk’. Then silence. The Doctor bounces on his feet before peering through the eye-hole like an excited child.
“Ah, yup, gotcha. Rose, you should come look at this.”
She obeys, and again he moves so that she can see. She bends down, closes one eye and looks through the tube, just as the Doctor tells her to. She sees a bright star, a pink haze around its edge, shining brightly and new in the night sky.
“That’s Gwyneth,” a voice murmurs in her ear and she all but jumps with surprise. Straightening, her entire face lights up.
“Gwyneth from Cardiff?” she asks hopefully.
“Well,” the Doctor shrugs. “More like ‘Gwyneth, Saviour of Angels’, but yeah. This machine here — ” he pats the telescope with the same affection he does with the rest of his ship “ — is an existential part of the TARDIS. It connects to time and space in a different way, lets me put stars in the sky. If you name them, such as you have done, you can stick them anywhere, anywhen you want and everyone who sees it and questions its name will just know. Don’t go thinking I’ve nabbed a piece of her soul, or anything as corny as that.” He pulls a face, to which Rose giggles. “It’s just a star.”
Then she subsides, looking to the large, bulky telescope in awe.
“So we’ve basically named a star after her?”
“Made a star,” he corrects, good-naturedly. “A star that will always have that name and can be seen from... hold on a mo.” He checks there coordinates of the telescope, then looks up to Rose with a grin in his eyes. “What d’you know? That can be seen from anywhere on Earth, and a couple of other planets in your solar system too. She’ll go down in history, she will. Technically already has.”
Rose smiles shyly to him, reaching up and tucking some stray hair behind her ear. “Thank you, Doctor.”
“Don’t thank me,” he counters, though he is smiling, and his demeanour obviously says that he is proud she is pleased. “Thank Gwyneth. She’s the one who saved us all. If you want, we can make up a whole constellation in memory, when the time comes. A collection of people who’ve given their lives for the Earth. Sound good?”
She knows he is trying to make her feel better for the casualty of an innocent, for the casualties that are yet to come. There will be more who do not deserve it, but who will die because they have to. The Doctor can’t save everyone, she realises, and she is lucky he is trying at all. He could up and leave, ignore the problems of the world. But he doesn’t. He just can’t help but help.
Rose suddenly finds herself thinking of Mickey, and consequently, of her Mum. She never said goodbye, she realises with horror. She just... left. And they could be worried sick. Never mind about the super phone the Doctor has managed for her, though she will be forever touched by his gesture: after the realisation that a girl not much older than herself has just died without warning, she feels guilty and a little homesick without her Mum’s hug for comfort.
The Doctor did ask her to talk to him. Perhaps she should take him up on it.
They are wandering back down the stairs when she asks, and he stops so suddenly in front of her that she almost walks right into him.
“Doctor, can you take me home?”
“Oh.” He turns to look over his shoulder at her, his face pulled into something she cannot read. In the darkness of the corridor, he looks even more like a spectre than he did in the observatory. She shivers slightly at the memory of the Gelth, their ghostly faces still clear in her mind like a fresh wound.
“Okay,” the Doctor says somewhat stiffly, hiding his disappointment well. He remembers the words he spoke to her in Cardiff, words that slipped out of his mouth by accident. It’s a different morality. Get used to it, or go home. All right, so he had wanted to make a point — their morals were different and it mattered. But he doesn’t want her to leave, not in the slightest.
It is force of habit, offering a ludicrous ultimatum like that, to prove something rather than anything else. And now look where it’s got him.
They hit the second floor of the TARDIS and begin the walk to the console room. He walks a little in front of her, not quite being able to look her in the eye yet.
“Er...” he begins awkwardly after a cough, casting her a cursory glance. “Do you want to go... now?”
Rose shrugs and sighs. “Whenever, I guess. ‘S not urgent. Just want to pop by, make sure Mum’s all right, pick up some stuff. We can go any time, yeah?” she grins to him now, and a realisation dawns on him that makes him stop in his tracks. It is not only the realisation that he got it wrong, and that Rose doesn’t want to leave — it is something else.
He is lucky they have reached the console room by this point.
His first assumption had been that she had wanted to leave and that it was his fault for telling her to. And his first reaction had been like he was winded both in the stomach and chest at the same time. This is quickly replaced by the dread of being on his own again, for not having her around to keep the lights in the hall bright, for reaching for someone’s hand to hold and finding just empty space.
Rose, oblivious to all of this, bids him a momentary farewell as she makes her way to the kitchen. The Doctor is left in stunned silence once again. He has become dependant on her. So much so that the thought of life without her would be like living without colour in his vision. He remembers how he felt in that morgue, clinging onto her hand like he was clinging on to life. He could have died today. He can always die, but today is different. Today Rose was with him, would have been with him in his final moment, and she didn’t even care. She just wanted to be together.
Is this it, then? Is this what having a companion is supposed to feel like? Because he has never felt quite like this before, and he hardly wants to go diminishing the meaning of everyone else he’s had in his life. Which means that there must be something about Rose that has changed him. She can be so child-like at times, yet at others, she can seem so old it makes him feel like he is young again. Makes him feel like the universe’s sins aren’t his alone to bear. There is wisdom and age in her eyes, and it scares him, just a little bit.
He shudders, even at the thought. And he vows, silently to himself, that he will never let her know about this power she seemingly has on him.
If he ignores it, maybe it will go away anyway.
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