“Who the hell are you!?”
“I don’t care who you are, the Time Lord Victorious is wrong!”
The gunshot still echoes like thunder.
It’s his fault. It’s always, always his fault.
His hands flail and grasp at his blankets, pulling them over his chest though he can feel the sweat soaking his forehead and trickling down his back. Like the bundle of fabric and feathers will bring him solace. It’s too hot under the layers but the shivers won’t stop, his muscles almost convulsing with fear, his hands shaking as they fist in the fabric.
A terrible, repetitive tearing noise disrupting the midnight silence of the room only coils the tension in his body tighter and he just wants it to stop. Maybe in peaceful silence he could be still. It takes him a few minutes to realize his throat is on fire, being worn raw simply by breathing, hot moisture collecting around his tightly closed eyes, and he pinpoints the sound. It’s gasping through airways constricted with terror, sobs and incoherent pleas for mercy sharing the air with the dreadful noise, a man being drowned by the air itself. It’s him.
Pulling the blanket up to his face, he covers his mouth, tries to suffocate the sound with force. It’s just barely muffled, though, as he tries to calm his breathing, subdue the shudders in his torso that have control over him.
It’s another one of those nights.
He doesn’t remember falling asleep. Hardly ever sleeps, these days.
A soft, warm hands lands on his cheek.
All the noise stops for an instant as the sensation spreads from his face, hyperventilating slows to bated breath, shaking relaxes to light shivers, his hands still around the covers. He opens his eyes, releasing a few droplets of moisture from their grasp, and she’s there. Her thumb brushing away a tear from his face, fingers tracing soothing circles just over one of his sideburns.
“Rose,” he gasps out, and it’s so much more pathetic and desperate than he meant for it to sound but he can’t believe she’s here with him for a moment.
Her only response is a slow chorus of shushes and reassurances as she inches closer to him from her side of the bed. After holding his breath the panic returns with a vengeance, and he still can’t quite filter oxygen from the air, can’t quite control the tremors in his chest and hands.
He’s always all right, he tells everyone. But with Rose he doesn’t need to lie, she’s the one person that knows him inside and out, his darkest secrets and the most clandestine corners of his mind, and she’s here and it almost makes him more desperate, the emotions slipping from the small measure of control he’d gained in the last few minutes. All the power he’d claimed hours before dissolves as he surrenders himself to her, gives up any authority he ever had to the blessing of her comfort, one he hasn’t earned and doesn’t deserve.
Palm still holding his cheek, he feels more fingers comb through his hair as she draws herself against him, pulling the blanket from around him until there’s nothing between their bodies. She draws circles of reassurance under the thick mess of his hair, damp with sweat, as the sound of her voice filters through his ears, murmurs of hope and encouragement, the first ray of sunshine and blue sky to signal the calming of the storm.
Her chest on his relaxes his lungs until his breathing calms to normal, one leg squirms between two that are frozen on the mattress, easing their paralysis, the soothing touch of her hands quiets his mind, dries his tears. Every point of contact brings relief, a gentle anesthetic that silently remedies his trembling limbs, dulls a pain too intangible for traditional medicine until he’s still beside her.
Her name escapes his lips as his drooping eyelids finally close, shaky breaths dispel the last of his anxiety, the nightmares of his conscience held at bay by her warm embrace.
“’M here, Doctor,” she whispers, and she’s so close he feels the tiny breath of air against his chin. “‘S all right,” she breathes, against his lips now.
He pushes forward, capturing her lips with his own, arms circling around her waist to hold her against him. It’s just a gentle brush, delicate and almost hesitant. She feels so good wrapped around him, petals of warmth and light raining onto the icy darkness consuming him from the inside, but he doesn’t want to take something that isn’t his, abuse his strength and power to manipulate her when she’s giving him so much already.
It’s when she responds, both her hands combing through his hair and lightly scratching his scalp, pulling his bottom lip into her mouth to moisten their kiss, deepen the intimacy, that he loses his last shreds of self-control. Hands wandering down to her hips and under the flimsy fabric of her shirt, seeking out more of her soft skin, his body gently nudging hers over until she’s lying beneath him. What started as a tentative press of lips has become what can only be called devouring, his mouth desperate and insistent on hers, pleading for more of her, more of the taste that makes him forget his mistakes. She tastes like forgiveness.
He wants to lose himself in this moment, in her, until he can’t remember what happened on Mars, until he can’t remember his own name. Wrap himself in a cocoon of Rose and not emerge until he’s washed clean of his sins, a new man forged by her capable hands, one that won’t leave a trail of death and destruction in his wake. His soul cries out for redemption and he holds her ever tighter, knowing he can find it in her arms.
Her hand shifts, tugs at his hair. He misunderstands, his fingers drifting further beneath her shirt until his fingertips trace her breast, hips grinding sloppily against hers until he moans too loudly in her mouth with the rush of pleasure.
She changes her tactic, releasing his hair and pushing at his chest instead, and he withdraws immediately, worried he’s frightened her. The same way he seemed to frighten every person on that deserted snowy street.
“Doctor, tell me what’s wrong,” she whispers. His breath catches in his throat, a loss for words as he stares down at her and really sees her for the first time. Her features are shaded in hues of dark blue, just a hint of greenish light on her left from the hall light filtering through his open door. His sight is enhanced enough that he can see the blush of arousal on her cheeks but her eyes are sad and dark, her eyebrows scrunched in concern, or maybe it’s confusion.
“Rose…” He doesn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t have to know everything, every last detail, to know how bad it is. To know he needs her.
“Please.” It’s so quiet, a human wouldn’t know she spoke at all. “I want to help. You’ve been havin’ these panic attacks almost every night and I need to know what’s goin’ on with you. And… an’ I want to know this isn’t just about — ”
She doesn’t have to finish the sentence; he knows how it will end. He never, ever wants her to feel that way, like he’s taking advantage of her. Just using her to satisfy carnal desires. She is so much more to him than that. Can’t she see that?
“No, it’s not. It’s never just about that with you. Never.” His voice is firm, resolute, doesn’t allow for argument.
“Then tell me.” She matches him in tone but softens the demand with a stroke of her fingers along his cheek.
“I don’t know if I can explain,” he admits, shaking his head as he rolls gently off her to lie facing her on the bed.
“Find a way.” He knows what she means immediately, but is hesitant to put all his demons on display for her: the angel who sends them scattering. Doesn’t understand why she always wants to reel them back in, let them linger just so they can banish them together. He’d so much rather she left him out of it. But he’s helpless to resist her.
He pushes the boundaries between them, settles as close to her as possible on the bed, inviting a different type of intimacy as his forehead comes to rest against hers. He breathes heavily as he closes his eyes, his fingers come to rest on her temples, nerves already making the old symptoms flare up again. But Rose is so eager, threads of her thoughts reaching out to twine with his at the very forefront of her mind, he had only to slip through an open door, and she was there with him, holding him as old wounds were opened again, as his regret washed through them both.
Joan, himself, Davros, Adelaide.
“If the Doctor never visited us, if he’d never chosen this place on a whim, would anyone here have died?”
“It’s not just history. It’s me. I make it happen… 20,000 people.”
“How many more? How many have died in your name?”
“You did this! I name you, forever, the destroyer of worlds!”
The gunshot sounds again, and they both flinch.
“Don’t listen to them. Don’t you ever listen to them!” Rose cries before the onslaught is finished. There’s Astrid and Jenny and the stewardess and Harriet Jones, who knows how many more. And he makes it happen. Everything he does just makes it happen, sends minions of death to collect his dues, a twisted penance to pay the lofty price for his mistakes. The guilt clouds his mind, thick and black and thundering its threat to consume him again, lightning strikes with the images of everyone who has died in his name sending the tremors down his spine again.
“No, stop it!” She’s hit with the full force of the storm, and he thinks she’s seen enough, that she can’t handle it, moves to take it all away. But she stops him, though overwhelmed the tendrils of her mind continue to reach out, a pair of extended hands just within his grasp as he’s falling to the black depths of shame. He takes hold before he can slip away, solidifying this temporary connection as the death toll climbs in his calculating mind.
“Doctor, stop. Don’t you listen to a word they say. Not Davros, not anyone. They’re wrong.” Her fist lands on the chest. It’s less than a punch, really, it’s so light, just some way to convey her frustration in a way her mind’s not used to doing.
“They’re not wrong, Rose. Look at them. Look at their faces. They’re gone. Dead, because of me.” The strength of her light flickers, falters around him.
“They’re dead, okay.” A tear falls between them, one he thinks is hers but will never know for sure. “But it’s not your fault. You didn’t kill ‘em!” Gallifrey and Pompeii perish in a wave of flame and ash around them both, directly by his hand, as his subconscious’ only answer.
“Y’had no choice. You were given an impossible decision, and you chose the greater good. ‘M sorry Doctor, I’m so sorry you had to.” She’s properly crying now, both their cheeks wet with tears, and he might be crying too, he’s too enraptured by her words and the way her mind is curling around his like a warm quilt to be sure. “But you are good. And they’re wrong about you. They’re all wrong, you hear me?”
It’s divine, this grace from her heart swirling through their minds and into the pair of his crashing against his ribs, and he accepts it unquestioningly. He nods as the reality of her forgiveness soaks in, though she has no authority to give it; it’s so insistent, the way her mind presses against his with an unending supply of amnesty to chase away the darkness and regret. It feels so good to give into her, to let what she’s saying be true while she’s with him, to wash the blood from his hands and let the universe take the blame for millions of lost lives. So he doesn’t stop. Mumbles her name as he basks in it, the very, very pleasurable relief rushing through him from the waves of reassurance she sends, slowly overtaking the persistent guilt with acceptance.
It’s more specific than he originally thought, the wisps of her mind she envelops him in. She doesn’t want him to forget these people, to neglect to honor their memory. It’s acceptance she’s after: for him to realize his place in the universe, the title he was born with, gives him the responsibility to defend the universe, and sometimes it is a burden.
“It’s too much. It’s too much, Rose. I don’t know if I can bear the burden anymore.”
“’S alright if you can’t. But Doctor, you’ll never stop travellin’. And that means you’ll never stop runnin’ into trouble.”
“But what happened, the other day…”
“You were tryin’ to help. To save those people. But you can’t go changin’ history. You’re the one who taught me that lesson. Adelaide was right about that one thing. It’s too much power for one person.”
“I know. I was wrong. I’m sorry, Rose. I’m sorry you had to see me like that.”
“I made the same mistake. Sort of.” She chuckles, and he has to chuckle back, imagining her telling his former self that she’s a ‘time lord victorious.’ He’s been too passive in all this, and suddenly he responds to all her comforts, nudging into her mind with immeasurable gratitude that she stayed with him, that she helps him through these dreadful nights. Especially with Donna gone he knows: he needs someone.
“’Course you do, you stupid lump.” Her cheeks lift in a smile against his.
“I love you,” he blurts out, because it feels right. Because he does. Because she stayed. Because she makes him better. Because it does need saying.
“I love you.” It’s so much better when she says it; it makes his hearts flutter.
He kisses her again, and it’s different from before. Instead of urgency, instead of getting lost in the sensations, he’s careful and determined, because he’s not lost anymore: he’s found. It was never him who found her all those years ago in that shop basement; it was the other way around. She saved him then and she saves him now, and he’s going to show her what she means to him. Then, now, forever.
It’s slow, sensual. The way he divests her of her clothes and his hands roam over bare skin with delicate precision and she shivers beneath his fingertips. The way their mouths dance together like they’ve been doing it all their lives, like they have all the time in the world to memorize the texture and taste of their lips. The way she unbuttons his shirt like she’s afraid of tearing it, unwraps him from his pants like he’s an early Christmas present. The way her fingers tangle in his hair and she sighs his name as he leaves a trail of wet kisses and light marks on her chest and neck.
He doesn’t close the bridge between their minds as they make love, as he ties himself to his salvation in the most intimate way he can.
The TARDIS pulls him from slumber too soon. A nagging reminder of Ood Sigma’s invitation to their likely morbid gathering. Something ominous about it. He hopes they won’t mind if he brings Rose along.
He squeezes where she should be wrapped in his arms, but only feels a few thick folds of the duvet on his bed, and it all collapses. He opens his eyes to an empty bed. An empty room. An empty TARDIS. She was never here at all. She’s a thousand worlds away, comforting someone with his face, with half his suffering and twice the blessings. He prays that version of him tells her he loves her every chance he gets.
It was all too real — the taste of her lips, the words from her tongue, the scent on her skin, the heavenly sensations of their minds and bodies joining together. But in sleep his senses lose their acuity, he supposes. Make him susceptible to the ruses of dreams.
It’s only a few minutes before the high of the fantasy fades with the lethargy and his hands fist in the covers again, on the brink of another attack.