Thorns

by DameRuth [Reviews - 19]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • General, Series

Author's Notes:
The Christmas and New Year's season always puts me in a rather melancholy mood, thinking of absent friends . . . and that gets channeled into stories like this one.

Rose woke with a jolt just in time to save herself from rolling off the edge of the bed. Automatically, she braced against the familiar pressure of an insistent, bony back nudging hers. The Doctor tended to wriggle up to her for warmth and contact while he slept; if she wasn’t careful, he could and would work her right off onto the floor without realizing what he was doing.

Rose sighed and asserted herself, shoving her shoulders and hips against his. He whuffled a sleepy complaint, but eventually gave way. Moving slowly, so as not to wake him (whenever he slept, it was because he really needed to), she managed to shift them more or less back to the center of the bed.

As gently as she could, she rolled over and spooned up against his back, wrapping her arm around his narrow ribs to help snuggle him close. He’d once commented, in his adorably oblivious way, that he was very fond of how comfortably well-padded her front was.

He mumbled again in his sleep, but sounded happier. Rose smiled, and kissed his shoulder blade — just skin over bones, it felt like. He was so thin she couldn’t help worrying about him. He ate prodigiously and was clearly in bouncy good health, but it just didn’t seem right that his skeleton should lie so close to the surface.

She stroked her hand along the soft skin of his hollow belly and slid up so she could nuzzle the nape of his neck. The small, chirpy noise he made earned another smile from her. He gave so much of himself so freely — to everyone he met and the Universe at large — but it wore him down. He could face up to gods, demons, madmen, and whole civilizations without flinching . . . and then, in his sleep, would cuddle up against her like a lost child, always cold, always lonely.

He twitched, dreaming, and she squeezed her arm around him reflexively. It was a difficult job, trying to soothe him by herself. Once, they’d had Jack to help. More often than not, back then, the two humans would be woken up in the night by a Time Lord wriggling between them like an oversized cat. They would respond by wrapping their arms around him and each other, and the three of them would drift off to sleep together.

But those days were gone, and so was Jack. Rose knew Jack was dead — he had to be. Every time she’d asked the Doctor about him, he’d deflected her. Once, when she’d pushed, the Doctor had simply fallen silent and refused to speak for nearly an hour. So she’d gotten the message, and mourned her friend and lover in private. She wished the Doctor would admit what had happened, so he could mourn, too . . . but as it was, the best she could do was accept it in her own mind and try to move on.

Even though the bed still seemed gapingly empty with just the two of them in it.

She’d had no human lovers since Jack (saving a brief and ultimately unsatisfactory reunion with Mickey), and currently felt no interest in that direction. It didn’t seem like anyone else could possibly compare, and she refused to compromise her attachment to the Doctor.

She kissed the back of the Doctor’s neck, letting the untidy mass of his hair tickle her nose. He smelled like the apple grass on New Earth. She’d bought some new shampoo because of that scent and the Doctor liked it, too — well enough to start stealing it regularly in the shower when she wasn’t looking. Amused, she pretended not to notice. She thought the fragrance suited him.

Not that she was very objective. She thought everything suited him. He was alien, old and strange and he could never be her lover . . . but she adored him, craving his presence and his touch as much as he craved hers. They shared that addiction; together, they were whole.

It made the knowledge that she would eventually betray him even harder to bear.

Oh, she’d never leave willingly, but she no longer had any illusions about her own mortality — if clever, capable Jack could die, she certainly could. Whether it would be the sheer, irresistible press of time bearing down on her, or something faster and more brutal, the end was inevitable. In fact, she was betting on the fast option, the way they lived. She hadn’t needed the Beast to tell her she’d probably die in battle. Someday she’d stumble, or her hand would slip, or she wouldn’t duck fast enough. And then he’d be alone, because of her weakness.

Shivering, she hugged the Doctor more tightly, hooking her leg over his. He wasn’t the only one that needed reassurance in the night.

She slid down his body, and turned her head to press her ear between his shoulder blades. His breathing was deep and even, his hearts thumping out their steady, double rhythm, so different from the single beat of her own blood. Rather than soothing her tonight, the sound of his hearts made her chest ache. It reminded her irresistibly of the gulf between them. She could never give him “forever,” no matter how much she wanted to.

The sleeping Doctor squirmed a little in her arms and made a tiny, whimpering noise in the back of his throat. Rose planted another soothing kiss on his skin, feeling guilty. While he kept saying he couldn’t read her mind — he wasn’t really that telepathic, thanks — he did seem to respond subliminally to her moods, especially in this incarnation. Time to stop thinking negatively, and renew the vow she’d made to herself, months ago.

For as long as possible, she was going to live every day with the same crazy, open joy he did; they couldn’t have forever, but what time they had she wanted to be amazing. Fantastic, even. A gift to him, like a bouquet of beautiful flowers . . . never mind the thorns hiding at the bases of the stems.

He was still tense. “Shshsh,” she whispered, barely above a breath. “I’m here.” She rubbed his stomach again, and he sleepily caught her wrist, sliding her hand up and pressing it against his breastbone. He sighed once. Then his breathing resumed its sleeper’s evenness. He had to be out cold, to not so much as mumble back; this version of the Doctor had an even bigger gob than the first one.

She brushed her cheek along the cool flesh of his back, and continued, as much for herself as for him, “I’m never gonna leave you, not while I have a choice. Whatever gets me I’m going down fighting, you can believe that. Fighting with everything I’ve got.”

The fierce words, spoken with absolute conviction, comforted her. She relaxed, and returning sleep blurred the edges of her mind. She inhaled the scent of apple grass and his skin, and added the words she’d never dared while he was awake. “I love you, I really do.”

There was no answer but the steady beat of his hearts and his deep, even breathing. Rose let his presence lull her into a peaceful sleep.

A few seconds after she dropped off completely, the Doctor gave her hand a gentle squeeze where it lay under his, between his hearts. His breathing remained perfectly steady, without the slightest catch, but two thin trails of moisture slipped silently from under his half-parted eyelids.