The Doctor, his hands buried comfortably in the pockets of his blue jeans, repeatedly rocked back on his heels and forwards again, his canvas trainers making a quiet syncopated squish squish against the moist grass. Rose watched him nervously, unsure, as usual, what to make of such decided silence from a man she had always known to pour out chatter like it was a sport. Yet, in this new form–this part-human form–he was wont to lapse into such behaviours. In these states, he seemed just as oblivious to his own silence as he was to his babbling when he was feeling talkative.
So Rose did not disturb him from his reverie…or meditation…or calculations, or whatever it was that invaded a Time Lord-cum-Human’s mind in such a way to cast him into unaware silence. Rose didn’t let it bother her–she had grown accustomed to contemplation and quiet in the years she had been without him. She had learned to cope with that–the utter, terrifying lack of noise.
The noise was, perhaps, what she had missed the most…the mechanical hum of the TARDIS…the high-pitched buzz of the sonic screwdriver…The Doctor’s incomprehensible babbling about the planet Whogeewhats in the Hullabaloo galaxy…the amalgamation of frustrated grunts and clanking metal from beneath the grating in the control room when he was fixing something or another.
Even as she stood at his side, Rose realised that she would be facing this same form of noiselessness for the rest of her life. Not the Doctor’s present silence, but instead the simple fact that there would be no visiting the Hullabaloo galaxy or fixing some part of the TARDIS or unlocking alien doors with a little buzzing sonic device. There would be no more saving the world or risking their lives.
When he had left her the first time, she had thought she missed the noises of adventure more than anything. But as she stood in silence with her Doctor beneath this odd sky full of zeppelins, she suddenly came to the realisation that she had been wrong. It was him she had missed–and she knew then that it was the little sounds that counted–his sounds. She closed her eyes and smiled as her ears took in his light squish squish-ing .
They had stopped in the middle of their evening walk to observe the storm settled stubbornly on the horizon. It had passed over earlier in the day, leaving the air smelling damp and musty, static-charged with the vestiges of lighting. They made a point to take short walks as often as possible, in an effort to become reacquainted–or acquainted…Rose had purposefully left the designation vague in her mind. It was a good time to talk about nothing…or not talk at all, as the present situation seemed to be.
“Looks like it’s already entering the dissipating stage,” the Doctor said suddenly and cheerfully, as if he had forgotten he had been silent for the last ten minutes. He motioned at the fading storm clouds.
Rose jumped at the sudden noise and looked up at him in curiosity, instantly delighted by the sound of his voice.
“Typical for a single cell storm,” he continued, “but a little pathetic, don’t you think? That’s the funny thing about England…or parallel-England. It’s always raining, but it’s never interesting rain .” His voice transformed into the high-pitched tone he adopted when he was whining. “I’m in the mood for a big, nasty, terrifying storm…like the kind they have on Tetrapyriarbus. There are these giant cloud creatures, Nimbusaurs the Tetraps used to call them, all big and fluffy and floaty.”
He brought his arms out away from his sides and puffed out his cheeks, leaning this way and that in a highly unsuccessful attempt to mimic a Nimbusaur. Rose giggled wildly, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Great majestic beasts…but a smidge on the sensitive side. It’s real easy to make them cry...and if that happens, the whole planet gets plunged into six months or so of monsoon…until someone gives them all enough compliments to make them stop.”
Rose was now laughing uncontrollably, a hand clapped over her mouth in an attempt to stifle her giggles. The Doctor looked at her, his eyes serious.
“Oi! Don’t you be laughing! I don’t understand what’s funny about Nimbusaurs…” he said. “It really is a serious matter. I mean, there’s flooding to deal with…and…and…crops destroyed…and not to mention the poor wounded psyches of the Nimbusaurs…imagine being a depressed floaty cloud beast with nothing to cheer you up except for lots of sky and air pollution.”
Rose laughed again and took the Doctor by the arm. “C’mon, you.”
The Doctor allowed himself to be guided along by Rose for the rest of their walk, and took the opportunity to babble idly about Nimbusaur emotions and then the climate of Tetrapyriarbus, at which point he interrupted himself to explain Tetrap fast-food and make several bad puns about “Tet-wraps” that made Rose groan and make faces.
Eventually, the sky grew dark enough that the first stars glinted their greeting in the sky.
They both stopped to observe them.
“Do you miss them…I mean seeing them all up close?” Rose asked the Doctor hesitantly. His neck was craned upward in the best possible view for celestial wonderment.
“Miss what?” he said absently.
“The stars…planets…supernovas…black holes…all that shoo-la-la…”
He dropped his gaze at the stars and refocused on her. “Welllll…they’re not the stars I’m used to anyway. If there were more things for me to recognise, it might be more tempting.” He smiled half-heartedly.
It was weird seeing him like this. He was her Doctor, for sure, but dressed in halfway normal attire (although there was no way he would part with the trainers). His hair was rightly askew as always, completely untamed. It was hair with a contrariness afforded only by the man (or the clone of the man) who was the saviour of everyone and yet unknown…the man who had killed his world and his life and his happiness to give the universe a fighting chance. This silly, seemingly ordinary, rude-and-not-ginger bloke was living proof that the Doctor had survived, body and soul, the Time War…and worse–utter loneliness. Yet this him–the new him–was so prone to enter inexplicable moods…jumping quickly from joviality to misery and back again, so much like her first Doctor. Maybe the Doctor out there somewhere flying the TARDIS was right; maybe this man was him when they first met; maybe she did need to make him better.
“Doctor…can I ask you a question?” She did not hesitate to interrupt his stargazing a second time. She was ready for answers, whether or not he was ready to give them.
“Hmm?” He looked down at her again, an eyebrow raised with the obvious suspicion that she was about to make him give her meaningful answers to meaningful questions.
“When we were watching the storm, earlier…you were silent for a long time. What was that about, hm? What’s on your mind”
His incredibly mobile eyebrows furrowed as if to say “Yep, there it is, the meaningful question. Do I really have to talk about this now?”
She crossed her arms and looked at him expectantly, her expression replying to his with a firm look of “absolutely, you have to talk about this now.”
He rubbed at the back of his neck. “Wellll…if you must know, Rose Tyler. I’m having a bit of trouble understanding who, exactly, I am.”
Rose set her hand gently against his arm. “You’re the Doctor…although legally, you’re Doctor John Smith…”
The Doctor sighed and pulled on his ear. “Yeah, I’m the Doctor. Just not the Doctor who’s 904 years old and from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation Kasterborous, owner of a clever blue box and a, frankly, quite brilliant overcoat. I’m the Doctor who’s less than a year old with one heart, trapped in a parallel universe with nothing at all to offer.”
Rose batted his arm in irritation.
“Oi! What was that for!?”
“You have plenty to offer. Who else here knows a thing about Nimbusaurs and Tet-wraps? Plus, I don’t know a single person who can do multivariable calculus in his head more easily than he can recite a numbered list.”
“It’s true though. You don’t have to be doing what he does–the old Doctor–saving the universe and the like, to be you.”
He took her hand and coaxed her into walking with him back toward the house. He mused that if he had a task more amazingly complex than walking to do, then he might have an easier time explaining this. Thus, as he talked, he concentrated on designing an algorithm that would provide the stride length of maximum efficiency for meaningful discussions.
“You saw him on that beach, Rose–the old me. You saw him walk back into the TARDIS without you–after having stayed happy, stayed alive, because of some small hope that you would come back to him. And you saw that TARDIS fade into nothingness and you know that even after seeing you accept…and kiss a man who was him and yet would never be him , he still had to let go of Donna, who he could truly call a friend.”
Rose didn’t want to hear any more. “Stop talking about him. Stop thinking about him. He left me on that beach… twice . He wouldn’t tell me he loved me. He wouldn’t take me back. It’s you I love. You without the TARDIS and the selflessness and the two hearts that beat for two completely different things.”
The Doctor was so taken aback by the vehemence with which she discounted the other Doctor that he had to give up on his walking algorithm. He wished it was that easy. He wished he could let it be that easy for her, to let her continue to hate him. “No. Understand this, Rose. Whether or not I was born of a severed hand and an obnoxious ginger temp, I still have his memories and his feelings and thoughts. He’s alone, Rose. In essence, I feel that loneliness. It’s a strange thing, really. He loved you–I loved you for the longest time, Rose. I loved you the minute you began asking me questions about who I was…the minute you wouldn’t just forget me like I told you to. I loved you in that moment because you weren’t just a stupid ape. And most of all, I love you because you’re a clever, beautiful shop girl from South London who invited me to eat chips when all I wanted to do was brood about my dead planet with nothing but my foppish leather jacket for company.”
Rose made an odd noise that fell somewhere in the realm between a giggle and a sob.
“But I could never show how much I loved you. I’m a coward, Rose Tyler. That man who left you on the beach…he’s a bloody coward. He and I both. You call him selfless, and I suppose that’s true in a way, but that’s not why he would never say those three important words to you. He…I was too afraid of becoming attached. I was too afraid to watch you grow old. I didn’t want to bring that light of yours into my life…that fantastic, pink and yellow, Rose Tyler light...just to watch it flicker and fade away. I had already lost too much. I felt like if I never had you, I could never lose you.”
She was crying, tears welling up in mascara-burdened eyelashes. He squeezed her hand.
“I don’t know…maybe if I hadn’t been made…he would’ve broke down and told you he loved you himself. But something tells me he would know he couldn’t bear it…to lose you again, slowly to the pull of time. I know that was the hardest thing he’s ever done, Rose–watch you accept me…leave him for good. Don’t hate him, Rose.” Tears were in his eyes now, and he let them fall slowly, unhindered, down his face, as he had when he had let her go the first time, years ago, at Dårlig Ulv Stranden.
Rose wrapped her arms around him and they cried together beneath stars, that were, for the first time, alien to both of them.
“And who am I, Rose Tyler?” He spoke into the fabric at the shoulder of her jacket. “Part of me has spent my entire life caught helplessly in a struggle of time. I fought desperately to elongate what fleeting moments I had with the people I cared about, and yet I sought to rush through what seemed an infinity of loneliness. And now here I am walking this slow path with you, a mere clone of my former self, staring up at the stars of another universe, with the knowledge that a different me is flying a brilliant blue ship through the great vortex of loneliness known as time. Where, my dear, do I begin?”
Rose pulled away from him then and stared sadly into his dark eyes. “You begin in the present. Here and now. And in a universe somewhere running parallel to here and now–there’s a charming man with a clever blue box who likes to lie and say he doesn’t believe in second chances. But he, of all people in this world and the next, lives a life full of second chances. Ten second chances, to date. Through you, he had the chance to have me…and now he has the chance to move on…and he will. Because he’s fantastic, and God bless his ego, he knows it.”
“You always manage to say just the right thing,” he said, smiling.
“You’re just happy I called you fantastic.”
“Wellll…not exactly me , per se. I’d say new-new-new me is more of a ‘brilliant’”
“Oh, shut up.” She managed to smile and wipe pointlessly at her eyes. “Well, Doctor Brilliant, you begin in the here and now. And here and now is really quite amazing, because you can visit the past any time you want.”
The Doctor cocked his head. “I can? It might be a little complicated without the TARDIS.”
“Not at all. You’ve got a TARDIS, don’t you know?”
“No, I don’t know.” He was clearly confused.
She raised her hand to his temple. “It’s all right in here. In your memory. You can visit the past whenever you like just by remembering. And, by living and loving the present, you can protect our fantastic future.”
“Are you comparing my head to a blue police box?” He looked offended.
She laughed softly. “Nah. Just your memory. I’d say your head was more of a wild-brown-freckled-googly-eyed-alien…”
His expression looked thunderous.
“…sexy-manly-stubbly-brilliant police box…”she amended, smiling at his look of obvious satisfaction.
They were nearly at the house, but since the Doctor was suddenly being complimented, he attempted to slow the pace significantly. “You know,” he said, feeling considerably brighter, “here and now is a pretty good thing. It’s like when I read a book slowly–every word has a special meaning. Even scary words like ‘mortgage’.” He shuddered dramatically. “It was nice to be the skinny bloke in a pinstripe suit lording over time. But, I think it’s come to the point where I can be a skinny bloke in jeans letting time lord over me. In fact, a friend of mine once told me that the only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.”
Rose laughed. “And who told you that?”
“You met Einstein?!”
She smiled, a truly happy Rose Tyler smile…the kind where her tongue poked out between her teeth. “Alright then, Brilliant Doctor John Smith, friend of Einstein, loyal defender of the Present. Let’s go inside.”