He surprises her when he isn’t in the console room, where he said he would be. She blinks into the empty room, peering around the corner to check that he isn’t just hiding there. There is no sign. With a shrug, Rose heads back down the corridor, following where the path leads her. She has become used to the TARDIS leading her now, her feet somehow knowing where they’re going, even if she has never been there before.
She barely even concentrates on where she is, instead peering anxiously around for him. He has always been around usually, and to think that he might be lost in this ship where she can’t find him — well, that’s almost as bad as being on a vicious alien planet.
She stops in a doorway when she spots him, standing tensed next to a desk as he leafs hurriedly through a book. There are piles of them everywhere, large masses strewn over the tables, papers spilling out of them. Still, the shelves are full to bursting, so perhaps he has a valid excuse for keeping the library in such a state. There are some books bigger than her, and Rose has to wonder what type of alien would write that large. Then again, maybe they are the equivalents of giants. The thought stills her.
He casts her a brief look over his shoulder, but barely registers she is there, gaze intense on the book beneath him again in mere seconds. Frustrated anger that he doesn’t deserve beats through his blood and he sighs, bowing his head for a moment in silent defeat. He has done it again. Manipulated her. And she doesn’t even know it. After today, after all the things he’s said and done, all the people he has put up with and the accusations he has taken, there really is only one reason for it, and it’s that reason that made him do what he did. He is so very cruel he hates himself a little bit. Just that little bit more, and that hurts, because she can do that to him. Make him do it to himself. Of all the things today that he regrets doing and saying, it’s that that haunts him the most. Those stupid words. That telephone call.
He lets out a frustrated noise and slams the cover closed, darting to a pile of books to his right and ripping one out at random. His movement is strong and the pile goes flying, clattering down over the table and onto the floor and spreading papers everywhere.
Rose arches an eyebrow, especially when he growls again and stoops to pick them up.
She folds her arms. “I’m surprised you can find anything in here,” she points out, before sidling over and crouching to help him.
He doesn’t quite look at her when he answers, a little brusquely, “I manage.”
“I could try and alphabetise,” she teases with a smile, knowing that that is precisely what he doesn’t want. He doesn’t step up to it in quite the way she expects him to and she stands, shocked, as he reaches for the large leather-bound book in her hands and looks her right in the eye.
“You can leave your domestics outside, thanks,” he answers, no humour in his voice whatsoever. He yanks the book from her. “And careful with these; they’re valuable.”
He turns away, his back to her, piling them up again. Her eyes are fixed on his shoulders.
“What?” He puts the book down on the table and, perhaps because of its weight, the noise it makes is almost thunderous. Rose looks at the Doctor, astounded. He is guarded, almost angry, yet there is no reason she can see for it happening.
His hand lingers on the table, his knuckles turning white as he grips the corner in his palm. He turns and stares at Rose, his mouth thinned and his face contorted into an unreadable expression. She has seen it only a few times, knows that he is either angry or upset. Or both.
“Do you...?” she starts a little fearfully, because she does not want to offend him more. He folds his arms and looks at her with slightly raised eyebrows, as if she is the source of his irritation. She frowns a little, but lets it go and pushes on. “D’you want me to go?”
He sighs and looks away, down to the books beside him. Truth be told, he doesn’t what he wants. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing here. Working on the TARDIS had proved fruitless and irritating, especially since she kept flashing pictures in his mind of things he didn’t want to be shown. Not then. Not ever. The library seemed the best bet after that, purely because it holds every book that has ever been published — to his knowledge — and surely there must be something in here to quench his thirst.
But everything he picked up bored him, and he soon became frustrated. No piece of literature quite covers what he wants to read, and he only looks because if he doesn’t, he will be left with thoughts and memories that he can not — will not — have.
He is aware that he hasn’t answered, that she’s watching him expectantly. She expects him to say no? The look on her face certainly makes him think so. Perhaps he is being too blunt with her; this is not her fault, after all. Well, not directly.
The Doctor sighs and shakes his head, unfolding his arms and walking past her.
“You can do what you like,” he offers instead, only looking at her through the corner of his eye.
“Well yeah, I know,” Rose shrugs, following him as he walks out of the room ahead of her. He turns on his heel suddenly, looking her right in the eye. She stops, a little taken aback at what she sees. He’s hurting, somewhere deep, and though she only sees it across his face for a second, it is enough. The rest of her sentence hangs in the air as he gazes at her.
“So do,” he finishes, and this is soft, quiet, almost a plea.
Part of her believes this is her cue to go, to leave him to it, to come and find him in an hour so when he’s calmed down from whatever it is that’s bothering him. Another, more stubborn part, just wants to help. It’s this part that drives her to follow him when he turns again, trotting along the hall and down the stairs like everything is perfectly normal. In fact, aware that she is behind him like a sheep to a shepherd, that’s exactly what he pretends.
“So, where d’you want to go next? There’s this wonderful chippy on the edge of St. Galestasia — does this sauce, right, that makes you think you’re walking on air. Bit illegal, come to think of it, but still a hell of a lau— ”
“ — Doctor.”
She has followed him all the way down the steps, her feet thudding heavily on the grated metal as they descended. They are in the same room she retreated to after Gwyneth’s death, the same roaring fire, the same lush carpet, the same rugs on the wall that make the entire room look like it’s made of fabric.
He turns and looks to her, all smiles and twinkles, the warmth of the fire reflected in his smile. Rose stands at the bottom of the stairs falteringly, because though he seems like the Doctor he usually is, she knows that there’s something he isn’t telling her. Oh, there’s lots that he doesn’t tell her, that he keeps to himself — she’s not daft enough to believe that he’ll ever let her in to that. But the fact that he has let his guard down, even for just a second, shows that there is some heavy weight on his heart that is a burden a little too much than he can bear.
Just a little.
He looks at her expectantly, the smile on his face more of a lie than when he said he wouldn’t go looking at that spaceship that crashed into the Thames.
Rose walks towards him slowly, bravely, as she would a lion that isn’t sure whether to trust her. She keeps her eyes on his and with every step she takes, she can see his smile begin to fade. By the time she stands in front of him, it has completely gone and he is just standing there, staring at her, eyes slightly wider than usual, face completely drawn into solemnity.
She swallows, takes his hand. He lets her, hides the breath that has just caught in his chest by letting it out of his nose. She doesn’t notice, instead feeling the warmth of his palm with hers and leading him to the sofa. He doesn’t want to be here, doesn’t want this closeness with her to continue. He cannot allow this, yet somehow, can’t stop himself.
They sit so close together on the sofa it almost kills him not to close the final gap. He gazes at Rose softly, quietly, instead leaving this all up to her. She cannot know what goes on in his head, no matter how close they are.
He has always been close to humans. He blames his father for that, willingly — his father was weak. He had let go of everything that was important, sacrificing what was right and good by law to continue with his daft old life in his daft old ways. He had left, eventually, and his mother had been heartbroken.
The Doctor’s gaze relaxes slightly, unfocuses, and in the dancing light of the flames, if he tilts his head, he wonders Rose looks a little bit like her. He cannot remember much about his mother, only that she was one of the most beautiful women he can remember seeing and that she died when he was young.
They’re all dead now, he supposes, so perhaps it doesn’t matter. Still, even with nothing but the memory locked in his head, what is there to stop him from turning into his father’s son? Something inside him has already begun, and it’s gone so far, he’s not sure he can stop. It was bound to happen, sooner or later — all the time he spends on Earth, interacting with the people, getting close to them, needing them, using them. It’s just... he looks at Rose helplessly, hides his feelings from his face... why does it have to be her? Why is she one of the few people who can look at him like that, completely honestly and openly, and not fear him judging her?
He is superior. He knows he is — sees things, hears things, feels things that she and all the others cannot. Most he has travelled with have known it. They have even accepted it, been astounded by it, even feared it. But never questioned it. He is the Doctor, and he just is, no questions asked.
Or he was; until he met Rose. Now he is changing, can feel it even in this second. Can feel his blood mutate as it hurtles faster and faster around his body, can sense a change in himself, in the way he moves, thinks, breathes. And the reason? Oh, the reason; so many, many reasons.
They all involve Rose. And they’re all four letters long.
“Doctor,” she murmurs quietly, her lips caressing his name in such a sweet, soft tone that he thinks the word was made for only her to forge. He shivers slightly.
Then he blinks and tightens his hand instead of answering, because he feels so lost in thought that bringing himself out of the reverie is somehow more dangerous than sitting here and letting her words wash over him. She has probably come to ask him about Mickey, he reflects. She seemed a little hurt by that when they first came in again, but has said nothing about it. Perhaps this is it. He braces inwardly, preparing to protects the man’s name — well, as much as is tolerable. He proved himself, after all, and he does not want to diminish the hero he is in Rose’s eyes any more than he wants to take the stars from the sky, because it makes her happy and if she’s happy, he doesn’t have to think about her.
Except that he’ll think about her anyway, but it is better to think of her happy than hurt.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to me.”
The words snap him out of his daze and he is suddenly back again, blinking and slipping his hand reluctantly from hers.
He nods, just the once, and gives a small smile. “Okay.”
Rose gives him a disbelieving frown. Well, he can hardly blame her — it is a fairly appalling lie.
“Doctor, I mean it.” She is leaning over before he quite registers, and then her hand is on his knee, a light pressure, but definitely there and he is sure it definitely meaning something that he does not want it to mean. He looks to her, almost desperately; yet he sees nothing but worry and compassion in her eyes. She just wants to help, he realises with a touch of his own curiosity. She sees him hurting — though how, even he isn’t sure — and wants him to talk to her so that she knows why it is he feels this way.
Still, he can’t help noticing that her palm fits his knee perfectly, he fingers curling around his kneecap, her thumb and little finger framing the touch.
Silence hovers between them as Rose hesitates, their gazes locked as one but thoughts still free to roam like a wearied traveller.
She takes her breath then says what has been on her mind ever since they stepped back onto this ship.
“You saved my world, today.”
He goes to speak, but she stops him, hurrying on slightly embarrassedly, blaming the blush in her cheeks on the heat from the fire. “No, really. I mean, that was my family back there. My life. Everyone I cared enough about to get up in the morning and live for. They’d all’ve died, but you couldn’t let that happen. You’d have been willing to die to save them, no questions asked.”
He gives a laugh through his nose that is more contemplative than anything else, turning to gaze distantly into the fire.
“Maybe,” he shrugs, though he knows the answer will always be more than just ‘maybe’. “It wasn’t just your family, Rose,” he says quietly, because at the very least, he can be honest with her. He turns back, gazing at her gently in the dancing light. “The whole world would have gone, blown to smithereens. Your world, like you said. I wasn’t thinking about your family when I told Mickey to hit that button.”
She looks at him, holding his gaze a moment, before answering in a very quiet voice, “Neither was I.”
It shocks him so much for a minute that he just sits there, looking at her. She has a window to continue on, cough nervously, slide her hand from his knee — only for it to be caught again when he puts his palm over her knuckles. Rose stares at him with as much honesty as she dares, then looks down the crack between the cushions of the sofa. “What — what you did...” Her voice is faltering now and the Doctor tilts his head sympathetically, wants to say something to comfort her but knows he cannot interrupt. He squeezes her hand meaningfully. She gains the courage to look up again, her face nothing but a canvas of sincerity. She dips her her slightly, meeting his lowered gaze. “It was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.”
He smiles at her, the sort of smile that is almost a grin but shows no teeth. He is proud of her, and he strokes the back of her hand affectionately with his thumb because she deserves to know. “I wasn’t the only one in that room, Rose.”
She gives a teasing shrug, an over exaggerated sigh. “Yeah, I s’pose Harriet deserves some of the credit, too.”
“Oi,” he chides, smirking and grinning all at once. “Don’t do that. ‘Sides, it wasn’t her idea to hide in that cupboard, was it? We’d all be dead if it wasn’t for that. I think I’ll remember it.”
“What, almost get a girl blown up then steal her idea and take all the credit? Yeah, you’re a real gentleman.”
His grin matches hers and they make to stand at the same time. “D’you think?”
She rolls her eyes, then grabs his hand playfully and yanks him behind her, up the stairs. He groans with feigned irritation, but they both soon laugh by the time they reach the third flight, neither of them quite sure why.
“Come on then, gentleman, come and help me make some dinner.”
The blood on in his face pales considerably, and now Rose has a reason to laugh, she uses it. “Calm down, calm down,” she scoffs teasingly as they round a corner going yet deeper into the TARDIS. “No domestics, all right? You can just sit and watch, make sure the drawers don’t try to eat me like they did last time.”
“Well, you did something wrong then, didn’t you?” he laughs.
“I only tried to make a piece of toast!” Rose protests, her voice a little on shrill as she yanks open the cutlery drawer.
“Rose, how many times do I have to tell you that’s not the toaster?”
“I don’t care. I don’t trust your kitchen.”
“Don’t — don’t trust my kitchen?” He stands, mortified, his grin hidden by an over acted gasp. “Well, I never; and she has the nerve to be calling me cheeky!”
“Who are you talking to?”
A pause, in which the Doctor shakes his head laughingly.
“Not you, obviously.”
“Why not? Scared?”
“Me? Scared? Oh, Rose Tyler, you have no idea what you’re letting yourself in fo— Oi! You stay away from me with that spatula!”
Their bickering, teasing banter fades through the corridors of the TARDIS, laughter that’s nothing but happiness: a welcome sound between the once dreary walls. As the ship hurtles through the vortex of time, hanging omnisciently in the atmosphere of everywhere, there are two people who each believe they have found the best company in the world.
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