The Doctor greatly resented the Human concept of night.
It was boring and a great big waste of time. He only needed a couple hours sleep every thirty hours. So, he was usually left with a huge gap of time to himself, where he couldn't really go anywhere or really do anything. There were only so many books he could read in one sitting before getting antsy. There were only so many laps he could swim in the pool before he was sick of all that moving without getting anywhere. There were only so many times he could lecture to the TARDIS' walls before she began ignoring him. There was only so long before he started remembering how very alone he was.
The Doctor had a serious grudge against whatever fool decided the TARDIS needed a night cycle. Unfortunately, that fool would be him.
Obviously, there wasn't any real concept of night in the time vortex. But the Doctor had learned early on when traveling with humans that it was important to keep some semblance of linear time. So about every twenty-four hours, the TARDIS began a night cycle. The lights dimmed. Mechanical noises became hushed. Anyone wandering the corridors was more likely to be led to a bathroom with a large bathtub instead of the swimming pool and karaoke room. The galley would suggest hot chocolate or chamomile tea and outright hide the coffee. Even from him, which was more than a little bit ridiculous. It was the small things, but it helped his companions deal with the more extraordinary demands of his lifestyle.
Often, they needed a break. Sometimes, so did he.
The problem was, when everything around him became quiet, his head was always so very loud.
Rose and Mickey. Space ship. Fifty-first century. Dagmar Cluster. Fireplace. 1727. Reinette. Eighteenth century. France. Mutter's Spiral. Spatial Temporal Hyperlink. Magic door. Time windows. Clockwork Androids. Short range teleport. Madame de Pompador. 1745. Arthur. Repair Droid Seven. Ion storm. 87% failure. A Human heart. Compatible. Command circuit. 1753. Rose. 1758. Versailles. Madame de Pompador. Luck. Stopped. The names of every star. Trapped. The slow path. Fireplace. Reinette. Pick a star. Rose. Five and a half hours. 1764. Six years. Reinette. Missed. Forever.
"Rose," he said as soon as he heard her enter the room. Familiar footsteps on metal grating. Comforting. Terrifying. The Doctor cleared his throat and felt her knee settle against his. Looking down the length of his chest, he could see Rose sitting beside him. She was chewing on the edge of her thumb. Nervous then. And coming to talk to him about it. Not good. He cleared his throat again and tried to remember what he was repairing underneath the TARDIS console. Didn't really matter. He switched on his screwdriver and tried to look busy. "Can't sleep?"
"Mmm." She was still wearing her Wichita Falls tee-shirt and jeans. Her hair had been pulled into a messy ponytail. By the looks of it, she had never went to bed though he'd said goodnight to her four hours ago.
What could she have been doing for four hours, if not sleeping?
Giving Mickey a tour shouldn't have taken her that long. It could've, of course. The TARDIS had more rooms than Versailles but . . . Versailles, yes, definitely not going there. Tour. A tour of the TARDIS shouldn't take that long. Not with Mickey. Unless Rose gave Mickey a different tour than the Doctor had given her. Maybe she never gave him a tour at all but had shown him straight to his room. Or hers. For four hours. Which she'd be perfectly in her rights to do. Mickey was Rose's sort-of boyfriend after all. And the Doctor wasn't a prude, certainly not by 21st century English standards. Didn't necessarily mean he wanted to think about it and them. Though the Doctor was the one that brought Mickey on. What had he been thinking? He and Rose were just fine by themselves. They didn't need Mickey. Or Reinette. But he wasn't thinking about him and Reinette. He was thinking about Mickey and Rose.
"So where is Mickety-Mick?" he asked. "Sleeping it off?" Oh, that sounded rude. And angry. Was he angry? A bit. But why? He looked down at Rose and saw she looked a bit angry too. And sad. Perhaps he shouldn't have insinuated . . . "Long first day, after all," the Doctor explained. There, no insinuations, no hurt feelings, no reason to really talk.
"Yeah." Rose's tone of voice said she was working herself up to something. He really hoped she would lose her nerve because he had some idea of the kinds of things that tone of voice could be talking about and he didn't want to think about any of that. He just wanted to run. But Rose had always been braver than him. And that was scary.
"Looks like it's just you and me," he said, his only hope distraction and use of a shared memory.
"Good." He smiled as, for the moment, it seemed just like old times.
The Doctor imagined that, if he looked down, Rose would be giving that wide, toothy smile that meant everything was going to be okay. He reveled in that smile and often did everything he could to see it. Perhaps some part of him suspected that wasn't how this conversation was going though, because he never looked to make sure it was really there. As long as he didn't look, as long as he didn't think, as long as he didn't remember, the problems didn't exist. Rose would be smiling. Reinette would be dancing. He'd be all right.
The Doctor was so good at it now that he didn't even have to move to run away.
"Is it?" she asked. And he recognized that as the sound of it all catching up with him.
"Is it good?" Rose rearranged her seat so that her knee wasn't touching his anymore. Some part of him said distance was good. It had been what he'd been aiming for, after all. He was self-aware enough to realize he'd been pushing her away since Sarah Jane, since he remembered that everyone always left him whether they wanted to or not. He promised Rose he'd never leave her. He never promised she wouldn't leave him. And here it was, already starting, with a knee no longer brushing a knee.
He'd been expecting it, pushing for it. Like yanking off the plaster, he thought getting it over with faster might help it not hurt. Isn't that why he invited along Mickey? Reminding Rose that she never really left her old life behind and was always going back to it. Is that why he became so attached to a woman he knew all her life in less than one of his days? After all, Rose wouldn't leave until she thought the Doctor didn't need her anymore, until she thought he had someone else. Is that all Reinette was? No. That seemed so unfair. To all of them. But did that make it any less true? Sometimes, self-awareness sucked.
"Is what good?" He sounded annoyed. Good, he was annoyed. It was the middle of the TARDIS' night cycle. Rose should be asleep and he should be not-thinking. That's what the TARDIS' night cycle was for! If they weren't going to use it, might as well do away with it all together. They could get so much done without it. They could be saving worlds. They could be seeing sights. They could be having chips. Anything but sitting here talking and thinking while everything fell apart.
"You and me," Rose said.
"Of course, it's good."
"Yeah." He really didn't think this filter needed to be cleaned but he was going to do it anyway. It was his ship. He could do what he wanted. Go anywhere he wanted. Except for when he couldn't. And there he went thinking again. Always thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking.
"I'm not stupid, you know," she said.
"What?" That blindsided him. Did he miss something while he was thinking? He thought back on their conversation and decided that no, Rose was having a completely different conversation than he was. That happened sometimes. It rarely ended well for him. He doubted on a day -or night- like this, he was going to do any better. Brilliant.
"I'm not a dumb blonde," she continued in her non-sequiturs.
"Of course not," he replied. "You're not even a real blonde."
Her silence was swift and eloquent. Ooh, not good.
"Or dumb," he backtracked as quickly as his mouth could move. "You're definitely not dumb. Who told you that you were dumb, Rose? I'd like to have a little chat with him or her or it. Was it one of the repair droids? I knew I shouldn't have left you alone with them. Dissecting people for spare parts? All right, okay, sure I can see that. But insulting their intelligence, too? Now, that is rude. Can't really tell them off now but know what I can do? I can have a word with their inventor. Athena Chatterjee. A brilliant 51st century woman. Incidentally, also neither dumb nor blonde. Just like you. Say the word and we're there."
"I'll never be as smart as you. No one's as smart as you. I know that," Rose said as soon as he paused to take a breath. Sneaky. "I know I'll never be as smart as Sarah Jane. Or Athena Chadgee."
"Chatterjee," he corrected and then winced. He probably should've let that one go.
"Or Madame de Pompador."
That didn't even cause a wince. Instead, his face went to that perfect stillness that he'd trained so hard for back in the Academy. He'd always been so emotional, so easy to read, as a child and learning how to wear a mask was only the first lesson his people taught him in running away.
"Do you want me to leave?" Rose asked and he took a long deep breath through his nose. It felt like a whole galaxy had landed on his chest. He could draw in air but it didn't feel like breathing. He closed his eyes and made a wish. Maybe if he wished on a star; such a human concept. 'Pick a star,' the Doctor heard in his head and memory. He wished this kind of thing would get easier.
"Do you want to leave?" He marveled that he could sound so calm.
"No." Her voice pierced straight through him. He let out his breath in a whoosh. She was trying to sound reasonable and pulled together, when he was pretty sure she was falling apart inside. It was a dead give-away, the fact that her breath hitched like she was in pain.
That was his Rose. Brave. Always so very brave. He admired that about her. He adored that about her. She was always so honest in action and feeling. She was a much better person than he'd ever be.
"I don't. I really don't," she said and her voice only barely cracked. He could hardly fault her for it. It took him hundreds of years to learn how to speak through a broken heart. "But I don't want to stay when you want me to leave. Is that what you want? If it is, I'll go. It's okay. I understand. Things change. You've changed. I've changed. Maybe we've changed, yeah? It's no one's fault. But if that's what's going on, then we need to be honest with each other. I need you to just say it and get it over with. I won't make a fuss. You'll still be my best friend. I'll always be yours."
It would be so easy. She was offering him a way out. With a sentence, she'd be packing. With one more stop, she'd be gone. He could imagine her safe and happy forever, somewhere without him. He could do whatever he wanted. He could go anywhere he pleased. Except that he couldn't.
The Doctor was a coward. Always the coward.
"No, Rose." He replaced the filter that really didn't need cleaning. He pushed himself out from underneath the console. Rose moved back, ostensibly to give him room. She pushed hair that had fallen loose from her messy ponytail back behind her ear. She avoided his eyes. She bit the side of her thumb.
"I don't want you to leave," he said
"Then why . . ." She paused and looked up at the ceiling, blinking rapidly though the lights were dim this time of the night. Rose took a deep breath and looked him square in the eye.
A year ago, she never would've done such a thing. She had changed. When he first invited her along, she was far more a child. Now, she was far more a woman. It was like that moment with the fireplace. He'd turned once and Reinette was a child. He turned twice and she was a woman. It was terrifying in so many ways. How many times would the Doctor turn around before he found Rose gone? For the nth time, the Doctor wished he could have saved Reinette, that he could have stopped that mad dash to her inevitable end. The terrible thing, the thing that just filled him up with shame, was that it wasn't about her. It was about him. He wanted to prove that he didn't just move in Time but that he could stop its moving too. How could he explain to Rose that, as much as he loved to see his companions grow strong, there was a selfish part of him that wanted to keep them the way they were forever?
Lonely. Always so very lonely. And so often that made him selfish and stupid and mean.
"Why do you keep pushing me away?" Rose asked.
"I don't-," he stopped himself before her could finish the denial. It'd be insulting to pretend that that wasn't what he'd been doing. Of course he'd been pushing her away and they both knew it. Rose wasn't stupid. True, she didn't understand the mechanics of Time. She was incapable of thinking in six dimensions like he could. She couldn't remember half the things he told her. But she understood things he didn't, sensed when he was trying to hide, and always remembered the things that were important. Definitely not a dumb blonde. Ah, so that's what she meant. Clever girl.
"I don't know," he finally said, which was a lie in itself. He was admitting to one thing while denying the rest. Because it was easier and because he could. Very like himself.
She nodded her head. He sighed with relief and a little bit of disappointment that she'd accept it so easily. Of course, that was also classic-Rose, so patient, so forgiving. Even when he was spouting rubbish excuses that neither one of them believed.
Now it was time for him to make a joke. Then she'd smile with the teasing hint of tongue that always made him reflexively swallow with a dry throat. They'd pretend everything was all right. Because they were both good at always being all right. She'd go back to bed and not sleep. He'd go back to repairs and not think.
And he'd probably do it all again, this pushing-away business. It did seem to be his modus operandi, a habit that he didn't think he had it in him to break. Even though he knew if he kept it up, one day it'd work and she'd leave him. It'd be exactly and not anything like he wanted. In time-traveler's terms, it might as well have already happened since it was so inevitable. Best to get it over with.
He tried to think of a joke but found it nearly impossible when he was in so much pain and so busy hating himself. Why did Rose have to be so lovely and kind and when did she become the face of every good memory the Doctor had since he lost everything else? It was playing unfair, whenever she looked at him, because he'd give anything and do anything to keep her with him forever. He'd even break the laws of Time if he just knew which ones needed breaking.
"I think I know," Rose said and he was surprised. This wasn't according to script. "I know why. And I think you're wrong."
"Me? Wrong?" His voice went high with mock outrage. Really, it was just a poor cover for terror. "Don't you know, Rose? I'm never wrong. Welll, I say, 'never,' but I mean 'almost never.' Extremely rarely. Once in a blue moon, maybe. Strange saying, don't you think? Blue moon." He wrapped his mouth around the words and exaggerated the vowels in a way that would usually make her laugh. She only smiled in a perfunctory way. "Earth really doesn't have a blue moon, so it's strange that you lot would come up with the saying. Now, Proxitalia has a gorgeous, robin's egg blue moon. But they would never say, 'Once in a blue moon.'" He cocked his head to the side. "Probably because that wouldn't mean the same thing there, now would it? On Earth, it means almost never. On Proxitalia, it'd mean every night."
"Stop it!" Rose told him when the Doctor opened his mouth to keep talking. "Stop trying to distract me into forgetting what I want to say, or trying to trick me into doing what you think I'm going to do anyway. That's what you're doing, you know? I'm never quite sure how much you're aware of it when you are, but I am now and so it won't work."
The Doctor couldn't hold her eyes. There was this strange pressure in his chest that he couldn't quite get a hold on. It was like the feeling he got when he solved a problem and saved a world. It was like when he was moments away from death. It was like running for his life with Rose's hand in his and her laughter in his ears. The fact that he had that feeling right now, sitting on the floor beside the TARDIS' console with Rose sitting cross-legged beside him with fierce eyes that wouldn't look away . . . That was exciting and terrifying.
A little voice in his head kept saying, 'Run.'
Run, run, run.
Another voice said, 'Finally.'
He tensed up and surely would've found some way to run. But Rose reached out and placed her hand on his knee. The Doctor stared at that pale hand on his brown trousers and found he couldn't move. Finally.
"What won't work?" he asked.
"I think you're trying to make me leave because you're afraid. Not of me growing old, though yeah, that's going to be a problem. But I think the real problem is that you're afraid that I'm going to decide I don't want to stay with you, that I want something you can't give me, and I'll leave you when you aren't expecting it."
She paused and he couldn't think of a single thing to say. Her hand squeezed his knee.
"It's not going to happen," Rose said, like he had told her something so terribly stupid that she couldn't even believe she was having to correct him. "It's just not."
"You say that now," the Doctor replied in a whisper. "But I've traveled with so many people that promised me that they would never get tired of this. They all did. True, some of them didn't realize it but they all moved on quickly enough once I was out of the way. And they were all much happier for it, Rose. And I'm not even going to mention the ones that died because of me."
"I'm sorry that happened," she said. "I really am. I'm sorry that you've lost so much. If I could give it back to you, I would." Rose paused and chewed on her bottom lip. Her eyes mapped his face, as if she was trying to predict how what she was going to say would affect him. He wasn't sure what she saw but he braced himself the best he could. "I'm sorry you lost Reinette."
He closed his eyes for a long moment. Not exactly because of her loss but because he had forgotten about her, and what that had to mean about his motivations and about his emotional fidelity. The Doctor had got caught up in Reinette like a good book. She was a momentary escape from reality but at the end, he resented that it couldn't last and was filled with guilt that her whole life would only be one afternoon's diversion for him.
"I am a horrible person, Rose," he told her. She shook her head and grabbed his hand. "No, I mean it. I really am. Truly despicable really. I played with Reinette because it made me feel better. Can you imagine that? I disrupted her entire life again and again and again. I demanded she trust me. I even encouraged her to romanticize me. I saved her life but I also played with it, just because I could. Isn't that terrible? You really should leave me, Rose. Because I could easily do that to you."
Rose's brow furrowed and her hand clenched his. He had upset her. Some part of him was glad because that meant she got the warning. Some part of him died a little because that meant she believed him capable of that.
"Well, you think pretty highly about yourself," Rose said and he was shocked yet again. Apparently, she wasn't upset with worry but with anger. "Firstly, I hate to break this to you, Doctor, but the universe doesn't revolve around you."
The way she said it wasn't meant to hurt him. It wasn't insult. It wasn't a hit exchanged for perceived hit. She gave him a crooked little smile with sad eyes and a serious voice. She really meant to remind him of this.
"Yeah, Reinette was infatuated with you, but she had a whole life outside of you, too. I looked her up in the library as soon as we got back. She was an amazing woman and she lived an amazing life. I'm sure she was better for knowing you, because I think we all are, but you didn't make or break her. She would've loved traveling with you, but her life wasn't wasted just because she didn't. And it's a little bit insulting for you to think otherwise."
"Ah," the Doctor cleared his throat. There was a long pause. "My ego is showing."
Rose grinned at his weak attempt at humor. He tried to smile back.
"And as for me," Rose said, "how dare you think that I'm so delicate and weak-willed that you could just play with me and I'd go along with it. I love traveling with you, Doctor. I love . . ." She stopped talking and he stopped breathing. He had some idea what she might be thinking but it'd just been pointed out to him that he had a huge ego. He had no idea where the conversation was going because Rose had already proven several times tonight that she was still full of surprises. "I love everything about it," Rose finally said and he tried to ignore the disappointed flip of his stomach. He squeezed her hand. She took a deep breath that reminded him of Jackie just before a rant. "But if you think that I'd let any man use me like that, even you, you are seriously mistaken, Doctor. I'm not that kind of woman."
"Right," he said, trying hard to swallow a grin that seemed perhaps a tad bit inappropriate for the conversation. But it was so difficult not to grin like an idiot when Rose got herself all worked up like this. She was gorgeous when lecturing him. It couldn't happen often enough, in his opinion.
"Good thing you're not that kind of man."
"I'm not?" he asked.
"Oh no," she said, like he was trying to tell her round was square. "Definitely not."
"Wellll," he drew out the word, desperately attempting to think of something suave to say when all his mouth wanted to do was smile.
"Know how I know?" she asked. "Go on, ask me."
"How do you know, Rose Tyler?"
"Because I'd never make this promise to a horrible man or a terrible man who only uses people or hurts people or whatever ridiculous thing you think you are. I'd only ever make this promise to you."
He waited, staring into her deep eyes, but she was waiting, too. He broke first, like her smile told him she knew he would. She knew him so well and he wondered when that happened. It wasn't something quantifiable, like Reinette's suddenly knowing everything he had done. No, it was something small and indefinable, like a shared look and thought. The Doctor wiggled his eyebrows at her and drawled, "The class is waiting. What promise?"
"I'm never going to leave you," she promised him. "I'm never going to wake up one morning and decide that I want to be anywhere else but with you. I'm never going to decide I'll be happier somewhere else because I won't ever be. I'm never going to run away because you're afraid, okay? So you get that through your thick head. Stop being afraid. Because I'm going to stay with you."
"How long?" He hated the way his voice shook just the barest bit. Did she even hear it, he wondered. It didn't matter. He did. The Doctor knew how much her answer meant to him and what that meant about them. He wondered when that happened, too. Something told him it was a long time ago and he was only just now catching on.
"Forever." She raised her hand to his cheek. Her fingers were so warm that he leaned into them without thinking. Her touch was so good that he was already thinking about how terrible it was that eventually she'd have to pull back.
Her eyes narrowed. Shared thoughts again, he realized. That could get him in trouble.
"So stop trying to push me away, okay?" She tapped him gently on the cheek with her open hand, a ridiculous shadow of a Jackie-slap.
"Oi!" He pretended to be in pain and rubbed at his cheek with her hand in his.
"It's just a waste of time. And it's getting annoying," Rose continued. "So, you promise?"
"Promise to just tell me if you're sick of me and want me gone."
He made another outraged sound at the thought of that, far more genuine than the one he gave at her pretend-slap.
"And if you don't want me gone, you'll just accept that I want to be here, with you, and I'm not going anywhere, so it's just you being all insecure and mean trying to make me do something when I don't want to."
Somehow, during all of this, Rose had gotten closer. He wasn't exactly sure how because he didn't remember moving and he didn't remember her moving. But he still held her palm against his cheek and they clasped their other hands on top of his thigh. She now had her legs tucked around his. Her knee was not only pressed against his but sat on top of it. With a twist here and lift there, she could be in his lap. He considered three different ways he could make it happen. He considered four that she could do to the same end.
Rose cleared her throat and raised her eyebrows pointedly.
"I promise," he said. Really, there was nothing else for it. The Doctor didn't consider because it was less a thought than a necessity, like breathing. If he had thought about it, he guessed there really was only one way about it. The Doctor leaned forward and kissed Rose because she had promised him forever and he had promised to believe her.
For a moment, she froze and he almost pulled back, expecting rejection. The next moment, she was kissing him back. It was like time-travel. Natural. Divine. Everywhere. Nowhere. Choice. Fate. A moment. Forever.
Neither of them could ever pull away from it. But in the end, it just seemed to change into something else. Lips on lips moved to shared breath, moved to lips against cheek, moved to cheek to cheek. A kiss turned into an embrace. Rose was in his lap and he had no idea how that happened though he could think in six dimensions. He was sure Rose could explain it to him later.
"It's in the middle of the night cycle," he said and he could almost hear her thinking. Good. It was now her turn to deal with non-sequiturs. Though he was happy to pretend that whole dumb-blonde business never happened. Of course, the Doctor knew he wasn't lucky enough for her to have actually forgotten it.
"Yeah," Rose replied. "So?"
"You should be asleep."
He waited for her to start pulling away. He even prepared himself for it. The Doctor wasn't sure what they'd make of the conversation and kiss in the morning but he was sure it started with an awkward letting go. Instead, she pulled herself tighter against him, tucking her head into his shoulder, as if she dared him to try and dislodge her from her place.
"You aren't going?" he asked.
"Comfortable here," she replied. "And the night's too long."
"So you're staying?"
She nodded against his shoulder. "I'm staying as long as we both want me here."
The Doctor was sure that could be forever, but was too much of a coward to say so. Instead, he held her close, rubbed his nose in her strawberry scented hair, and reveled in the feeling of her breath syncopating with his.
The night wasn't long enough.