CHAPTER EIGHT

The control room was quiet, the central column still, when Rose felt up to wandering. Less than twenty-four hours had passed since her imprisonment and subsequent humiliation, and she was still smarting from the entire ordeal. She stood in the doorway for a minute, hand resting on the wall nearest her. The Tardis’s song hummed along in the back of her head, a warm golden glow of warmth and reassurance. The Doctor was half under the console, his legs sticking out in front of him. Tinkering with something, she supposed. From one universe to another, the Doctor just couldn’t keep his hands off of the Tardis.

Something like amusement flowed from the Tardis to her, leaving Rose wondering not for the first time just how much of her thoughts the ship could read. For that matter — how could this Tardis know her like it did, feel familiar to her like it did? There was no reason for it. Not in this universe. The other Tardis had been special to her since after the Game Station, though the Doctor hadn’t immediately told her why. To be fair, she hadn’t come right out and admitted to him when she started hearing the Tardis, either.

Maybe the Tardis was the Tardis, no matter what universe it was in. Or perhaps something still lingered in her from her little stint with the Time Vortex. Nothing harmful, just residue; like the background radiation she’d picked up traveling from one universe to another. The sort of thing that this Tardis would just recognize instinctively? Hard to say for sure which it was, if either. But those were the only two excuses for the familiarity that Rose could come up with, and they were better than have no reason for it at all.

Rose shifted, leaning against the wall, just watching the Doctor work. Her back was still sore, but she was tired of lying in bed. Lying around for that long was boring and Jack was sleeping.

Sleeping in her bed, she reminded herself. That was one of the reasons, though not the largest by far, that she had gotten up to do a bit of wandering. He had come by to check on her and just talk in general, after she had been sent to bed with the Doctor’s orders to just lie down and get some rest. Jack had gotten the same order, but had decided that he wanted to waste that downtime with her, if she was okay with it.

She had been more than okay with it. Still was. Talking had led to napping together in her bed. Jack had been a perfect gentleman, staying on top of the sheet that she was under, with a blanket pulled over him. There had been flirting, true. Something about if she had wanted to get him in bed with her, all she had to do was ask. To which she’d laughed and informed him quite matter-of-fact that she’d heard that before. Chatting, flirting, and napping. When she’d woken up a few hours later it was to find that her and Jack had gotten closer to one another while they slept, to the point that they were practically cuddling despite the sheets that separated them and the sunburn that stung painfully on both of their bodies.

Everything had changed for her in those moments as she adjusted to the feel of Jack’s body pressed alongside hers, his arm curled over her side, drawing her closer instinctively.

Was it possible to fall for someone when you had, logically, not even known them for an entire week?

The answer was, surprisingly, yes. And she had. Fallen for him, that was. Head over bloody heels. It was partially due to having known her Jack and cared about him, she knew. But there was more to it than that. They had talked a lot while they lay around doing their Doctor-assigned rest and recuperation. Him about his life, her about hers. Talking with him had come so naturally after spending an entire day in the stocks next to each other. And not just for her, either. This Jack had opened up to her more than her own Jack ever had.

It was easy to fall for Jack. Always had been and, as she was finding out, always would be.

The only thing that made it any better, she supposed, was the fact that Jack seemed to like her just as much.

Again, there seemed to be things that translated from one universe to another with no rhyme or reason. Like how friends just clicked, how feelings stayed the same, and how some people were just meant to be with each other.

Funny, she’d thought that if she were going to accidentally lose her heart, it would be to this new Northern Doctor that reminded her so much of the Doctor she’d lost.

Trying to figure all of that out wasn’t what had driven her from her bed, however. There were things that she wanted to tell the Doctor before Jack let something slip or the Doctor himself noticed all on his own. He deserved to hear from her lips about the connection she shared with the Tardis, though she suspected that he wouldn’t be happy about it. True, breaking open the Tardis had happened in the other universe and not to his own precious ship, but that didn’t make the intrusion any less… intrusive.

She pushed off of the wall with a final pet to the Tardis’s walls.

“Doctor?”

He froze under the console, going perfectly still for just an instant before he slid out from beneath it. For one moment the expression on his face was so her Doctor that it took Rose’s breath away.

See, so bloody easy to accidentally lose her heart to him. Maybe she should have insisted that she stay at Torchwood, that he find someway to deal with her being in this timeline other than taking her with him on the Tardis. This was only going to end in heartache for her. Isn’t that what had happened before?

”Something wrong?” he asked, climbing to his feet. He was across the room and standing in front of her before she could answer, looking down at her with worry written clearly on his face. It took her a moment to realize that he had his sonic screwdriver in his hand and a cable in the other, though the screwdriver was currently angled at her. No doubt taking a reading of some sort to make sure that there wasn’t anything physically wrong with her. “Are you still in pain from the sunburn?”

Well, she was. But that wasn’t the reason for her being up and about.

“No, nothin’ like that. ‘M fine,” she assured him, gently pushing the sonic screwdriver down and away from her. “I just wanted to talk.”

“Ah. Right.” The Doctor looked sheepish as he turned back to the Tardis’ console. Being willing to sometimes show emotion didn’t mean that he was comfortable doing so. That hadn’t changed. The Doctor didn’t slip back underneath the console when he stood by it, though, just leaned against it after he had put down the cable he held. Arms crossed over his chest, he waited. “Well? Was there something specific you wanted to talk about, or ‘s this just a social visit?”

Rose coughed to cover her discomfort, turning away with that gaze to gather her thoughts. She walked slowly down the ramp, his eyes following her as she moved around the room, then to the console.

“Yeah, there’s somethin’ specific,” she said quietly. Why was this so much harder than she’d thought it would be? Wasn’t like she’d done what she did to him or this Tardis. Still, she could well remember the gentle reprimand that had been in her second Doctor’s tone when he had finally gotten around to telling her what she’d done, after too many nights had gone by when she’d woken up from dreams that she couldn’t understand. At that time all she’d been able to think was how her first Doctor would have felt about it. And she had assumed the worst, basing her assumptions on how he had reacted to what she’d done when they’d gone back to see her dad’s death.

She’d never told her second Doctor, but that bit of imagination had haunted her. Thinking about how her first Doctor would have reacted. Maybe it was a valid assumption, maybe it wasn’t. Didn’t really matter, because she’d been sure she’d never know.

But this? This was as close as she would come to finding out how that conversation would have gone.

She cleared her throat and put a hand on the Tardis’s console, letting that warm hum wash through her again.

“’s about some stuff that I didn’t put in the files you read. Back at Torchwood,” she began slowly, stammering a bit. “About how everythin’ ended on the Game Station.”

The Doctor nodded. “I thought that there was something missing from that. Wasn’t going to ask. Figured it was none of my business since it all worked out well in the end.” His eyes searched her face intently, and in a moment that she could only describe as compassion, he asked, “D’you need to tell me whatever this is?”

Sighing, Rose gave him a half-smile. “Yeah. Just in case. Don’t think anythin’ will come of it at this point, but better safe than sorry, right?”

“Sounds like it.” He returned her smile with his own, though it was slightly crooked and didn’t quite reach his eyes. It was clear to Rose that he was picking up on her nervousness, and was worried about whatever it was that she had to say. She swallowed hard and tried to calm herself down. There was no reason that this had to go badly, after all. Completely possible that everything that she’d ever imagined happening wouldn’t, well, happen, right?

“I don’t really remember what all I put in the reports you read,” she said after a long moment spent gathering her thoughts. “So ‘m just goin’ to start at the beginning, all right?”

She waited for the Doctor’s tight nod before beginning, voice not breaking a single time as she described the transmat that had snatched the three of them from the Tardis, then the Game Station and how she’d played and watched people die right in front of her in that barbaric game show.

No, her voice didn’t falter until she started talking about the Daleks. She felt cold all over. It wasn’t just what had happened on the Game Station, though that was enough to cause nightmares all on its own. On top of that she now had the added terror of what had happened at Torchwood Tower. Post-traumatic stress, that was what it was. That’s what the resident psychiatrist at Torchwood had told her in those first weeks after she’d arrived in the alternate universe. The Rose Tyler that had faced down Daleks without flinching didn’t exist right after that. The girl that had gotten in the face of a Dalek and bragged about taking down the Dalek Emperor had been reduced to someone that became jittery at the very mention of those dome-shaped machines.

She had gotten past it. Slowly. Learned to cope with what she had seen and done.

What she had lost.

Dredging up those old hurts was like reopening the wound, though. It was one thing to say that she’d gotten over it, moved past it — quite something else entirely to have the images of what had happened now going through her head. She could remember the terror she’d felt, confronted with the knowledge that what was happening on the Game Station might be it. The end. Nothing more of Rose, nothing more of the Doctor or Jack, or the whole human race.

She watched the Doctor’s face for as long as she could as she told him about the Doctor sending her away, turned her head when she got to the part where she was back with her mum and Mickey because she couldn’t bear to see his face when she started talking about breaking into the Tardis’s heart. Ripping the old girl open so that she could get back to the Doctor that had sent her away.

There was a sharp intake of breath, a hiss of displeasure.

”You did what?”

Rose flinched, eyes shutting instinctively at the tone of the Doctor’s voice.

“I had to,” she told him, still unable to meet his eyes. Her voice was soft. There was no way that she could make him understand. This Doctor had never been there. Would never be in that situation, she hoped.

“What happened next?” There was nothing in his voice now to give away what he was thinking or feeling. The Doctor was good at that, whether in this universe or the other. He could shut down just like that. Mask his emotions and not give anything away. How many times had she seen him do just that? Usually not with her, no matter what his incarnation.

Not this time. Not this him>

“I don’t remember m’self,” she admitted honestly. “But the Doctor told me that… I looked into the heart of the Tardis. I took the Vortex into me and went back t’save him.” She laughed bitterly, brokenly. The weight of what she had done still rested heavily on her shoulders at times like these. It wasn’t that she regretted having done what she did, but that didn’t make it any easier to cope with. All the power of time and space had been at her command. Inside of her.

In her head, the Tardis hummed softly, encouragingly. Not for the first time, Rose was happy of her connection to this wonderful, living machine. It was easier to do this with someone at her back, giving her that reassurance. Even if that someone was, in fact, just the Tardis. Without thinking, she stroked the console for a brief moment, giving her a pat of thanks.

“You hear her, don’t you?”

Rose glanced up quickly, meeting the Doctor’s eyes for the first time since she’d started in on the more startling parts of her little tale. There was still nothing there that she could read. Nothing to give away what he was thinking. Maybe he was regretting bringing her along with him now, knowing what she’d done.

“Yeah, I can,” she said. “She’s always in the back of my ‘ead.”

The Doctor nodded, face softening. “Ah, well, that explains a few things then. Like how sometimes it seems like she’s communicatin’ with someone other than me. I know the Captain can’t hear her like that. Never thought that you could.”

Rose gave him a half-smile. “Yeah s’been me the whole time.”

Another nod and then, just like that, the moment was gone. He was back to business-mode. “Go on, then. Finish your story.”

She told him what her Doctor had told her. That she had wiped the Daleks from time and space with a wave of her hand, saving him and everyone else. It was clinical and detached now. Like she was on the outside looking in. Maybe because she couldn’t remember any of it, even to this day. Dreams of golden warmth, broken images, but nothing concrete. There was no emotion behind it because she didn’t know what she had felt, if anything. And maybe there wasn’t anything to be felt. Riding on all of that power, it was possible that she had felt… nothing.

“He took the Vortex from me,” she told the Doctor. “And then he died. Right in front of me. Regenerated, but I didn’t know it ‘cause he’d never explained what would happen. Never told me that his — your — people could do somethin’ like that. I thought I’d lost him.”

Before she knew it, she was telling him about what had happened after the Game Station. About the Sycorax and thinking that the Doctor wasn’t going to be able to save all of them. She told him about going the planet that circled around the black hole, about meeting Queen Victoria.

She didn’t stop talking until her throat grew dry and scratchy, buoyed by the Doctor’s questions and comments with every passing tale of adventure and woe.

She didn’t tell him about that day on the beach in Norway, even when she reached the end of her tales. Didn’t tell him because… he hadn’t the right to know about a moment that was so intrinsically personal and between her and her Doctor.

There was no need to, though, as she found out a moment after she’d stopped speaking, when the Doctor said point-blank, “You loved him.”

Rose blushed, looked away. She turned so that she was facing the console, staring into the glowy-green core of the central column. It was still. They were just floating in the Vortex, waiting for the moment when her and Jack were healed enough to be back to adventuring.

You loved him, three little words that said so much. Like the fact that she hadn’t kept her emotions regarding the Doctor as closely guarded as she would have liked. Now this Doctor knew, and she hadn’t wanted that. Not ever. It would be too hard for him to know, for her to have to be around him day in and day out, knowing that he knew. Embarrassing, really. The last thing she wanted was for him to pity her or look on her like she was stupid for harboring a crush like she’d had.

But there was no denying it now. Not with tears leaking from the corners of her eyes, and the pain in her chest so tight that she could scarcely breathe.

She had loved her Doctor. She had loved him more than she’d ever thought it possible to love another person.

And she missed him so, so very much.

“Yeah,” she said, tears on her cheeks. “I loved ‘im.” She drew in a shaking breath, a solution to everything coming to her in a moment of true clarity. “An’ that’s why I want you to take me home. Take me back to Torchwood.”

END CHAPTER