Awkward. He wasn’t used to feeling awkward. Well, maybe he was, but not this much.
“I’ll have to put you in here,” Ida had said, opening the door on a small cabin. “With the place getting hit we can’t risk moving you too far away and that limits space.” She must have noticed the looks he’d given Rose and the way the young blonde looked away and blushed slightly because she’d added, “There’s a foldaway bed if you need it.”
“I don’t actually sleep much,” the Doctor had assured her, “so Rose can have this room. I’ll be fine.”
“Suit yourself. We go on night cycle in 30 minutes. Power is shut down except for essentials and everything’s redirected to force shields so we can get our uninterrupted 8 hours. No one’s at their best if they’re sleep deprived.” She’d motioned towards the bulkheads. “All the doors are locked down so if anything does happen the shield can’t cope with, the damage is limited.”
“We’re living underneath a black hole. What did you expect?”
“Oh, I understand that. I’m just surprised anyone can get any sleep knowing at any time you could be, oh, I dunno, blasted down a chasm or something.” He’d raised an eyebrow. “You know, somewhere no one’ll ever come looking for you.”
The reference hadn’t been lost on Ida, she’d just chosen to ignore it. “You get used to it. It’s that or your start hallucinating and believe me, this is NOT the place you want to start doing that.”
“I can imagine.”
She’d checked her watch. “Better get to my cabin or I’ll be sleeping in the corridor again.”
Rose had looked up. “You’ve done that?”
“Got caught up with some work, lost track of the time. Never done it since, though. Goodnight you two. Sleep well.” And with that she’d disappeared through the door, closing it behind her with a loud thunk. The wheel had spun for a few seconds, then there was silence.
Rose and the Doctor had wandered into the room and now they stood there, looking around the small but functional area. A desk and chair in one corner, a basic metal wardrobe with drawers on one side in the other, the bed, which both studiously ignored even though it dominated the room, and a door. Rose investigated and found it led to a small bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower.
“How’d they get water out here?” she wondered.
“I doubt they do,” the Doctor replied and stepped inside, turning the shower on. A humming noise drowned out Rose’s cry of surprise and he scratched at his face. “Vibe shower. Moves the dirt with sonic waves.” He turned around a few times and held his hands out. “Feels a little odd when you’re dressed, though. Mind you, feels pretty strange when you’re not.” He shook out his jacket. “One way to clean a suit, I suppose.” He grinned at her and she laughed.
“Here, let me have a go. I’ve never tried one of these. Heard of ‘em.”
“Oh?” He stepped aside so she could sample the shower for herself and stood, leaning on the wall, arms folded.
“Yeah, they had ‘em in some of the sci fi shows on TV. Makes sense. Always thought they’d be fun.” She turned in the cubicle and then shuddered. “Oh, that feels weird.”
“Told ya,” he grinned back and then averted his eyes quickly. The vibrations were having an effect and Rose looked down to see the cause of his sudden embarrassment. Her nipples were standing to attention and she quickly stepped out and folded her arms.
“Think I’ll do that in private tomorrow,” she asserted and walked back to the bedroom.
“Good idea.” He cleared his throat, rubbing the back of his neck before quickly running his hand through his hair. She’d already moved back to the main room and he followed her.
Rose sat on the bed, bouncing on it experimentally a few times. “Comfortable enough. You sleeping here or on the foldaway?”
“Told you, I don’t sleep that much.”
“Well you can’t sit and watch me all night and the corridor’s uncomfortable.”
He jerked his chin at the desk. “I’ll read a book.”
“Oh? Where you gonna get that from, then?”
He looked around. “Good point. They don’t have much in the way of entertainment in this place, do they?”
“Guess they make their own.” She paused and looked down, suddenly realising the implications of what she’d just said.
“I’ll… I’ll just step outside while you change,” he said gallantly and headed for the door.
“Into what? I didn’t bring anything with me. All my stuff’s back on the TARDIS.” She picked at some fluff on the bed cover. “Wherever that is,” she added, her voice low.
He looked at her. She seemed almost as upset as he was. He opened his mouth to utter some platitude, then shut it again. What was there to say? Effectively they were now in exactly the same situation. Both had lost their homes, their families and everything they owned. In addition he’d lost his one ever-reliable travelling companion. Humans and other species came and went but the TARDIS was forever there. To have her absent from his mind…
He shuddered suddenly and Rose frowned. “You all right?”
“I’m always all right.”
“Yeah, you said that before an’ it’s rubbish. Losin’ the TARDIS… that’s like losin’ an arm or a leg to you, isn’t it? I mean, you’re connected to her like part of the circuitry. She’s always in your head.”
He hesitated before drawing a deep breath and nodding. “Something like that. I’ll get used to it.”
“Must be lonely.” He didn’t answer and she watched him for a bit while he stared at his feet and then looked up and pasted a smile on his face, but it never reached his eyes. “What’s it like?”
“Havin’ the TARDIS in your head all the time.”
“She was in yours too.”
“Yeah, but not the same way.” She pulled herself onto the bed, shifting the pillows to get comfortable against the wall that doubled as the headboard. “You’ve been with her for… how long?”
“About seven hundred years, give or take a decade or two.”
“Guarantee’s run out then?”
She was trying to lighten the mood and he appreciated her efforts. He shrugged and sat down on the bed. “Before I got her. She’d been abandoned in a yard and they were going to trash her.”
“But didn’t you say she was sentient?”
“So they were gonna kill her? Bit cold hearted isn’t it?”
“I thought so. That’s why I stole her.”
“Hardly stealing, saving someone from a death sentence,” she mused. “Why were they gonna trash her?”
“Type 40. Out of date and unreliable even back then. The new models were much smoother with lots more safety over-rides. No one wanted her.”
Rose frowned. “That’s really sad. I mean, people get old, you don’t put ‘em down when they get difficult, much as you might want to some times. How can you just kill something because it’s unreliable?”
“A TARDIS is…” He struggled for terms Rose would understand and felt the bed move as she shifted slightly to look at him. He glanced at her and smiled. “It’s a bit different.”
“I got that much.”
He chuckled, albeit half-heartedly. “They sort of imprint themselves on the Time Lord who gets them. Once that person moves on or dies the TARDIS dies itself in a way, so destroying them is a kind of mercy killing.”
“So what happened with yours?”
He stretched out on the bed, his arms behind his head. “She wasn’t too happy when I first came aboard. I remember she tried to chuck me out.”
“Didn’t succeed, though.”
“Obviously. No, it took a while but we came to a mutual understanding. At first it was just me trying to get away from Gallifrey before I got arrested and her not so sure she wanted to end it all. I don’t think she was that keen on her previous owner in the first place and she was having second thoughts about suicide. She didn’t take me far that first trip. Got me far enough away that the authorities couldn’t find us, then sulked.” He laughed, a genuine one this time. “I spent nearly two months on some terrible planet in the back of beyond trying to talk her round.”
Rose moved down the bed, rested on her side and put her arm under her head, wiping her hair out of her face. “How’d you do it?”
He glanced over. “What, persuade her to carry me, you mean?”
“No, got her to dance the Macarena in a grass skirt.” She poked him playfully. “Come on!”
He chuckled at the image and then put his head back, staring at the ceiling. “I tried yelling at her.”
“Oh yeah, I can see that working.”
“She kicked me out. I spent a week sleeping outside and that planet was sub-zero. Eventually I persuaded her to let me back in if only because if she didn’t I was going to end up a Time Lord icicle and she’d be back to square one.”
“Well, after I’d warmed up a bit and got some heavy duty jackets in case she did that to me again, I tried asserting my authority as a Time Lord.”
He nodded. “Back outside. Took nearly two weeks that time. I can tell you, I was heartily sick of that place by the time we left. Haven’t been back since.”
“What was it called?”
“Does it matter?”
“S’pose not. So what did you try next?”
“Reasoning. Had a nice long chat with her.”
“Did that work?”
“Almost. She moved us to a warmer planet then kicked me out.”
Rose laughed and he grinned in return. “Blimey, imagine if you had to go through this every time you got a used car! The M25 would be littered with people on their knees begging to be taken home!”
“Not to mention the congestion charges in London!”
They were both laughing now and Rose edged slightly closer to him. His tie was askew across his shoulder and she gently picked it up and poked it back inside his jacket. Settling down again she said, “So what did it eventually?”
“I stopped talking and started listening.”
“Must’ve been hard for you,” she said, stifling a giggle. Her tongue lightly brushed her teeth as he looked at her, one eyebrow raised.
“And that worked, did it?”
He shook his head, a tolerant smile on his face and gazed at the ceiling, recalling those days so long ago. “It took another month. I listened to her and then she listened to me. We came to an understanding. We’ve been with each other through thick and thin ever since.” His face fell. “Until now.”
“How do you talk to her?” Rose asked, determined not to let him become maudlin.
He unlocked his fingers from behind his head and tapped his temple. “Telepathic. Not words as such, more images and feelings. We made a connection and shared what had happened to us and we’ve done it ever since. Hard to describe, really. Bright, golden light, emotions... The first time I sensed her properly it was disorientating. Felt like I was spinning into infinity wherever I turned. I seem to recall I ended up on the floor feeling sick.” Rose went quiet and when he looked down he noticed she was frowning. “What?” Her frown intensified as if she was trying to push past some barrier that wouldn’t move. He shifted onto his side. “Rose? What is it?”
She shook her head. “Sometimes I get pictures in my head. Bits an’ pieces. I didn’t know where they came from but listenin’ to you I’m beginnin’ to think they’re from the TARDIS.”
“What sort of images?”
She scrunched up her face, struggling to put it into words and his own brows drew together in sympathy. At last she blew out a breath and sighed. “I can’t explain it. It all started after you changed. Not immediately, but when we got back to the TARDIS after that Sycorax thing I got weird dreams. Nightmares, sometimes.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought it was just everythin’ we’d been through comin’ back to haunt me. Thought if I just settled down a bit they’d stop.”
“And did they?”
She shook her head. “No. Got worse. Sometimes I’d get ‘em when I was awake. Freaked me out, but then somethin’ happened.”
His eyes narrowed and he reached over to gently brush a lock of hair away that had fallen forward again. “What?” he asked, his voice quiet.
“You’re gonna think I’m crazy.” She looked at him and realised he wouldn’t. No matter what she said next he’d accept it as real. The tension left her. “I was asleep havin’ a nightmare. Really bad one. It was about you, the previous you, I mean. We were fightin’ the Daleks an’ they were vaporising right in front of me. I just had to wave my hand an’ they vanished.” He winced but remained silent. “Even the main Dalek ship containing the Emperor -- the whole lot gone just because I thought it gone an’ I could feel this power but it hurt so much. My head felt like it was going to explode; like there was this light inside me, right in the centre of my head that was spreading an’ burnin’ my brain from the inside out. It was tearing me apart but it was beautiful.” She looked at him and shrugged. “I’m not explainin’ it very well, am I?”
“You’re doing just fine.”
“There was power and pain an’ I woke up with that pain still in my head. I couldn’t stop it an’ I thought there was something really bad happenin’ to me.”
“Why didn’t you come and find me?”
“I wanted to. I tried to get out of bed but I couldn’t stand up. I was on my knees on the floor. My head was burning an’ all I could see was this golden light.”
Now he was getting worried. If the time vortex was still inside her there was no telling what damage might yet be caused. He wanted to press her but he didn’t dare reveal anything in case it harmed her more. She had to remember this one on her own.
Her eyes far away, Rose didn’t notice the Doctor’s expression. “I wanted to scream but I didn’t have a voice. It was horrible an’ I was really scared. I didn’t know what to do. I remember begging for it to stop in my mind an’ that’s when it all changed.”
“Oh?” He tried to sound nonchalant although it took considerable effort.
“Suddenly there was this amazing singing and the pain… it didn’t go away exactly, it sort of changed to something just as strong that didn’t hurt. It was…” She fought for words and then seemed to find them, edging towards him in her excitement. “It was as if all of a sudden I felt this amazing rush of emotion. Like the first time you meet someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. Your heart’s thumpin’ an’ there are tingles running all over you, your stomach’s doing somersaults an’ you feel really warm an’ that anythin’ could happen but it doesn’t matter because you’re with that person an’ whatever happens it’ll be all right.” She reached out and placed her hand on his chest. “That feelin’, right there… You can’t stand it but you don’t want it to ever end…” She suddenly seemed to realise the intimacy of the moment and drew back, laughing to cover the embarrassment. “Sorry. S’pose it’s different for Time Lords, but I don’t know how else to describe it.”
He watched her carefully as she rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling, her fingers fiddling with a ring, both hands on her stomach. She was making a conscious effort to keep out of his personal space and he winced inside.
“And that was when the nightmares ended?”
She nodded. “Yep. After that it was images but no pain.”
“And you think the TARDIS caused the nightmares?”
“No!” He smiled. He couldn’t help it. She was apparently horrified he even suggested such a thing. “It was the TARDIS took them away. She looked after me. Least, that’s what it felt like.”
“And you only thought to tell me about this now.” He was struggling to keep the accusation from his tone but it slipped in anyway.
She turned to him. “I thought, since it didn’t hurt anymore everythin’ was all right again. Didn’t want to bother you with my silly nightmares.”
He reached over and stilled her hands on her stomach. “Nothing about you is silly, Rose Tyler, and definitely not this. You should have told me.” He watched her face and realised she was trying not to be hurt by his tone of voice. He modified it quickly and reached over to pull her into his arms. “I don’t ever want you to be in pain. No matter what, you tell me, all right?”
Her head was tucked into his shoulder and he could feel her breath on the side of his neck. He pulled her tighter, determined to prove his sincerity by sheer force if necessary.
“I’ll remember that next time I get a paper cut,” she giggled. He gave a long suffering sigh and she pulled back slightly. “Hey, they hurt!” He rolled his eyes and she snuggled back against him. “Besides, what could you have done? There wasn’t anything physically wrong with me.”
He was silent for a moment, pondering what to tell her. If there was a way out of this hell hole with the TARDIS he’d probably be well advised to keep his mouth shut and let her believe it was all just a nightmare, but now the situation was different. They were trapped and he could no longer feel the TARDIS in his mind. He was alone and he didn’t care for the feeling one bit. Yet here, in his arms, was someone who was rare: someone who had held the time vortex, directed it and not been consumed by the desire for power. Instead she’d surrendered it all to him because she trusted him, believed in him. He needed that and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it. His ninth self had been lonely, wracked with guilt and self doubt. Until today he’d been relatively self-assured, but a huge portion of that assurance, he now realised, resided in his connection to the TARDIS. With her gone he was lost, flailing in the wilderness and fighting not to fall apart. Rose gave him a reason to keep himself together and she was the only person left in the entire universe who had an inkling of what he felt like, what he experienced.
Awkwardness, he decided, was for children. Adults needed to take a different approach.
“Rose,” he said at last.
The way he drew her name out put her on guard. She pulled back and looked at him quizzically. “What?”
“There’s something you ought to know.”
Now she went pale and edged away. “What?” she repeated warily.
“What you felt, what you saw…” He took a deep breath and focussed on her, his face deadly serious. “It wasn’t a nightmare. It was a memory.”
Before she could pull away any further he caught her arm. She was shaking.
She looked at his hand and then back to him. “What do you mean?”
“You took the time vortex into yourself and came back to the Game Station after I sent you away. You used that power to destroy the Daleks… all of them, including the Emperor.” She gasped and he could feel her tremors increase. Quickly, he sat up and gripped her upper arms to steady her. “The vortex was killing you but you controlled it, used it to destroy only those things that threatened us all and then fix what needed fixing. I saw it and I have to say you scared the hell out of me.”
“I scared you?” she whispered.
He nodded. “You were amazing. So much power rushing through you and it would have killed you — burned you from the inside out just like you said. But you know what was even more amazing?” She shook her head. “You gave it all up. You saved everyone, saved me, then gave it all up… for a kiss.”
She stared at him. “You kissed me?”
“I had to take the vortex from you. You didn’t know how to put it back in the TARDIS, but I did. If I didn’t I would have lost you and I couldn’t bear that. Not after everything you’d done.”
“So you kissed me.” He nodded. “And takin’ the vortex into yourself… that was what killed you wasn’t it?”
Another nod. “And I’ve never regretted it once,” he assured her.
“Was that the only way to take it back?”
“I’m sure there are dozens of ways I could have done it, but…”
“So what I felt after the pain… That wasn’t just the TARDIS.”
“No it wasn’t.” He held her firmly. “You were willing to sacrifice yourself to save me. That’s incredible just on its own, but the fact you were willing to give up all that power, give it to me just because you trusted me…” He shook his head, a grin spreading across his face. “Brilliant. You’re an amazing woman, Rose Tyler. Fantastic. Yes, I could have used another way.” He paused and tilted her chin up so he could look in her eyes. “I could, but I didn’t want to.”
He watched her face turn through so many emotions. Confusion, astonishment, perhaps a tinge of anger that he’d not told her this before and then it settled into a look that made his hearts beat a little faster. Slowly she leaned forward, her expression showing hints of nervousness. Even now she was ready for him to pull away.
He ought to. Really he ought to. This was a monumentally bad idea. The age gap made the canyons on Mars look like a scratch in the sand and if he had his TARDIS he’d be pulling away, reminding her of the fact. But here they were, stuck on an impossible planet, reliant on others to get them home if it could be done at all and, once there, he’d be trapped. He could live out his life wandering from place to place, avoiding the one person he could talk to and share with, or he could allow himself the luxury of companionship. It would be a blink of an eye in terms of his lifetime, but was that any reason to walk away? His father hadn’t. He’d known the dangers and the sadness that would follow and still he’d fallen in love with an earth woman and the Doctor was the result. He’d never heard his father express one moment of regret that he’d taken that step despite all the trouble it caused him. The only regret had been his mother’s when she was dying. He could remember her telling his father she was sorry to leave him, sorry to cause him so much pain. Sorry she didn’t have enough love inside her to keep them together forever. He felt a slight prickling behind his eyes, remembering his father sitting by her bedside that night. He’d tapped his temple and told her all her love was up there and she’d always be with him, no matter what.
Somehow she’d sensed what he was feeling. He smiled and leaned into the kiss. To hell with how bad an idea this might be. It was good enough for him.
He wrapped one arm around her and felt her lips soft against his own. He teased them with his tongue until she opened up to him and allowed him inside. Exploring gently, he reached out and took her hand, placing it so her fingers touched his temple. Strictly speaking it wasn’t necessary. He could do this on his own, but he wanted her to be part of it. He placed his own fingers on her cheek and temple, completing the link and before she could pull back he sent his feelings to her. He felt her stiffen in his embrace and he held on, willing her to accept what he offered. After a moment she relaxed and he felt a wash of emotions flood through him. None was a surprise except in its intensity. He’d known she loved him, but even with her willingness to sacrifice herself to save him he’d not appreciated the depth and power of that love until now.
Eventually he pulled away and looked at her. Her eyes were shining and he grinned. “You know,” he said at last, “I thought there were very good reasons why this was a bad idea, but right now I can’t think of one of them.”
“Good,” she whispered, helping to divest him of his jacket before starting on his shirt buttons.
He tugged his tie off, watched her hands spread the material of his shirt exposing his chest to her exploring lips. “Of course, if you can think of any…”
“I won’t,” she assured him, tugging the material from his trousers. “You’ve no idea how long I’ve wanted to do this.” He pulled his arms from the sleeves and tossed the shirt onto the floor.
She reached for her hoodie but he quickly took over, helping her to ease it off. “Oh, I do. You don’t even have to say the words.” He sent the top in the same direction as his shirt. “It’s all in here,” he said, tapping his temple, “and it always will be.”