Authors: goldy_dollar & _thirty2flavors
Characters/Pairings: Ten II/Rose
Genre: Angst, drama
Warnings: Mentions of suicide in this chapter. The fic also deals with themes of memory loss.
Summary: When the Doctor is injured during an alien attack, he and Rose are left struggling to cope with the aftermath.
Excerpt: Time Lords have this trick, he’d said — but he wasn’t a Time Lord anymore. She’d always known, somewhere in the back of her mind, that when she lost him it would be because he didn’t understand the limitations of his human body. But she’d never thought it would be so early, or quite like this.
Previous parts: Part One, Part Two
He was soaked to the bone and freezing cold by the time he made it back to the flat, but he nudged the door open slowly, half-expecting to be jumped on by Rose at any second. When the door opened and Rose was nowhere to be seen, he let out a slow sigh of relief. He had come back because he was tired and cold, not because he wanted to be subjected to more of her worried hovering. She had good intentions, perhaps, but she made him feel even more helpless than he already did.
He locked the door behind him and stepped into the hallway, hugging his arms to his chest as he tried to warm up. He wanted a hot shower, and maybe some tea. Did he even like tea?
It was only as he started towards the shower that he noticed the heap of towels and clothes sitting on the kitchen table. He took a fluffy blue towel from the top of the pile and pulled it around his shoulders, then stooped to pick up the note that had fluttered to the floor.
Doctor, read the unfamiliar handwriting.
Thought you might want these when you got in. You said you wanted the sofa tonight, so I laid out your pajamas as well. If you get cold tonight there are some extra blankets in the cupboard down the hall. If you want to make coffee or tea there’s plenty in the kitchen, help yourself.
I’ve gone to bed to read. If my light’s still on when you get in and you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.
Hope you had a nice walk. Sleep well.
He eyed the note for a moment once he had finished reading it. It was a compromise, he suspected, between helping him and leaving him be, and he appreciated it. He set it down on the table and tugged the towel tighter, craning his neck to look back over his shoulder. She’d left the kitchen light on for him, but the hallway was dark except for the soft glow from underneath the bedroom door.
Shivering, he picked up the dry clothes and towels and headed for a shower.
Rose’s fingers curled around the edges of the book she wasn’t reading as she listened to the shower run. That meant he was back safe, at least. That was a relief. He’d been gone a long time, and she’d been getting more worried by the minute. It was late and dark and cold, and she had no idea how well he still knew his way around London. If he’d got into trouble--
Sighing, she leaned back against the headboard. He’s not a child, she reprimanded herself. The Doctor would hate to be thought of like that, as though he couldn’t take care of himself and needed constant supervision. He was nine hundred years old and the sole survivor of a powerful race.
She closed her eyes, her stomach clenching anxiously. She’d folded the towels and written the note because she knew he would want his space from her. What he’d read on the Internet had shaken the little faith he’d still had in her, and now she had to tread very carefully or risk him pulling away for good. She needed to give him some degree of control; she had no choice but to wait for him to make the first move.
The pipes clanged in the walls as the water in the shower was turned off. Rose stared at the ceiling, her breath catching when she heard him move past the door a few minutes later. A wave of longing swept through her. She wanted badly to open the door and go see him, but if she was honest with herself she knew it wouldn’t make her feel better. She missed the Doctor. The man in the living room now was not the man she’d lost.
Tossing her book onto the empty space beside her in the bed, Rose dug the heels of her hands into her eyes. She wasn’t going to cry. It seemed like she’d done nothing else for the last two days, and she hated it. It felt as though the gap between them had never been larger. Even when they’d been separated — even when she’d been stuck here, alone, without any promise that she’d ever get back... At least then she’d known he was out there, somewhere, a universe away. Now he was a room away but he wasn’t the same, and she knew that no matter what she did she wouldn’t be able to recreate the man he’d been.
She rolled onto her side and curled up, her back to the door.
When the knock on her door came, she’d begun to drift off. The noise jerked her out of that midway daze between sleeping and wakefulness, and it took her a few confused seconds that she’d left her bedroom light on. He must need something, she thought. Sitting up drowsily, she rubbed her eyes. “Come in,” she called.
To her surprise, when the door swung open the Doctor was holding a tray with some tea, milk and sugar. He froze when he saw her, the corner of his mouth tilting down in a frown. “Were you asleep? Your light was on, I thought...”
Rose shook her head. “No, it’s all right, I was just... resting my eyes.” She gave him a weak smile. Her eyes were fixed on the tray of tea. Was it a peace offering?
“Oh,” was all he said. He lingered in the doorway, looking awkwardly down at the tea, before he suddenly seemed to remember why he’d come. “I made tea, if you want some. I was making it for myself and I saw your light from the hallway and I thought...” He shrugged, gesturing with the tea tray as he took a step towards the bed. He swallowed. “‘Course, I couldn’t remember how you take your tea so I just... brought a bit of everything...”
“Thanks,” she said, taking the tray from his hands, and the Doctor looked immediately relieved to no longer be the one speaking. “That’s great.” His hair was still damp from his shower and he’d dressed in his pajamas and Rose could tell he was uncomfortable, even if he was the one who’d initiated the interaction. She folded her legs and set the tray down on the bed, making sure there was enough room for the Doctor to have a seat.
He didn’t sit, though. He stayed where he was, one hand jammed in his trouser pocket, one hand ruffling through his hair. It was a very familiar image, and as Rose stirred the sugar into her tea she tried to decide whether that made her happy or sad.
“So...” he began, casting around for a safe topic of conversation. “What are you reading?” He bent down to pick the book up off the bed, his brows scrunching together as he read the title. “Attack at Area 52?”
Rose’s cheeks went red as he studied the back flap of the jacket. “Yeah, it’s... terrible sci-fi,” she explained, suddenly embarrassed. “We sort of... make fun of them.”
The Doctor made a noncommittal noise and flipped through the book. He raised his eyebrows. “Well, that was rubbish. And the first two hundred pages were filler.”
Rose bit her lip, her stomach doing a nervous flop. The Doctor was still part-Time Lord, then, whether he remembered it or not. How long would it be until he noticed he was different than everyone else, and what would she tell him when he did? “Yeah,” she agreed, eager to change the subject. “Like I said, we sort of...”
“Make fun of it,” the Doctor finished. He tossed the book back on the bed. “Because you work for Torchwood.” He paused. “Because we work for Torchwood.”
“Yeah.” She sipped her tea and gave him a smile. “You’re sort of an expert.”
The Doctor shrugged. “Not anymore.” He scratched the back of his neck. “I should probably look for a new job. A proper one.” He paused again. “One that doesn’t require experience.” He sent her an unconvincing grin, and then his eyes widened and the grin faded away. “I must owe you rent or something.”
Rose blinked. In all her time with the Doctor, he’d never shown more than the barest recognition that life cost money. Finances and bills and taxes were all concepts he seemed to have no inclination towards. The idea of him worrying about the rent was ridiculous.
“It’s fine,” she said, once she got over the initial shock. “Really. Don’t worry about it.” At his look, she added, “I mean... we can sort that out later, once you’re a bit more... settled.”
For a moment he looked like he might argue, and Rose wondered if he was thinking of the tabloids he’d printed out and the headlines that were convinced he was after the Tyler fortune. But the fight seemed to go out of him and he shrugged, looking away from her. “If you say so.”
The difference was immediate. Whatever barrier he’d lowered minutes earlier had been hastily rebuilt. She tightened her grip on her teacup to stop herself from reaching out. “Doctor...” she began, and took a deep breath. “I know it’s hard for you right now. I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel for you, but... I really do want to help.” She swallowed. “I would never do anything to hurt you. I might not get it right all the time but I promise I’m trying to do what’s best for you.”
He stared at her, sizing her up. A beat of silence passed, and then he said, “I believe you.”
Rose breathed a sigh of relief.
The Doctor looked away again. “But it’d be nice if I could decide for myself what that was.” Before she could answer he nodded towards the clock on her night table and moved towards the door. “It’s late. You’ll want to get some sleep if you’re going into work tomorrow.”
He stepped into the hallway with barely a wave and shut the door behind him, leaving Rose clutching her tea in stunned silence. How strange it felt, having the Doctor resent her for making choices on his behalf.
The Doctor was still sleeping when Rose made it into the kitchen the next morning. It was rare that he slept longer than her; what constituted a full night’s rest for him would have left her groggy and baggy-eyed. Over the years she’d grown used to waking up to him cooking breakfast or sitting up in bed, glasses on his nose, tapping away at the computer or trying to fiddle with one of his numerous gadgets.
His eyes were closed now, though, and Rose lingered in the doorway to the living room, biting her lip and frowning. He didn’t look terribly comfortable. He was too tall to fit on the sofa properly; one of his arms dangled over the edge, knuckles brushing the carpet. His head was wedged against the arm of the sofa at an awkward angle, and most of his blanket had fallen on the floor.
She had already crossed the room before she caught herself and stepped back, feeling daft. How many times would the Doctor have to make it clear that he wanted his distance from her before the message stuck?
The problem was that he looked so much like the Doctor — especially now, sleeping, when she couldn’t see how he held himself differently, or watched her like she might be the enemy, or how he kept his body angled away from her rather than towards her. It was hard to reconcile who he was now with who she expected him to be, and Rose surprised herself by thinking that it might be much easier for both of them if he had a new face to match the new personality. At least then she wouldn’t have to constantly remind herself that he was no longer who she expected him to be.
She massaged her temples as she stepped back into the kitchen. This wasn’t fair to him, either. He had all sorts of expectations to live up to and no starting point. What did she expect from him, anyway? Did she really think that with the right patience she could mold him back into who he used to be?
She looked over her shoulder, watching him sleep soundly on the sofa. She thought about all the guilt from the Time War he still carried with him, and the countless other things he’d seen and done that he still didn’t dare talk about, things she caught just glimpses of in his eyes sometimes when he’d had a particularly rough day. She thought about all the times she caught him staring at the sky and knew he was missing the TARDIS and resenting the way he was well and truly stuck. Maybe...
Maybe, if nothing else, he was finally free from all that.
Sighing, Rose rubbed her eyes and glanced at her watch. She didn’t particularly feel like going to work, and she knew “my personal life is in shambles because of an alien octopus” was as good a reason as any to call out. But she wanted to speak with Jake, wanted to learn more about the past Squadra victims and get an update on the current ones. And besides — she reckoned the Doctor would appreciate the time to himself.
With one last glance at the Doctor, Rose took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders and braced herself for the worst as she slipped out the front door.
The first thing Rose did when she got to Torchwood was head straight for Jake’s office. She kept her head down as she ducked into the elevator, jabbing the ‘close door’ button with her thumb. Everyone in the building would know what had happened to the Doctor and she had no desire to stand around answering their questions. How’s the Doctor doing? Is everything okay? How are you getting on? Rose doubted she had the patience for those questions, no matter how well-intentioned they were. She walked briskly from the elevator to his office, knocking once on the door.
“Come in,” she heard him call, and she watched his jaw go slack in surprise as she stepped through the door. “Rose! I didn’t expect you back at work so early. Is...?”
His unfinished question hung in the air, and though Rose knew what he was getting at, she ignored it. She shut the door behind her and stepped towards his desk, which was cluttered with papers and documents. A heap of newspapers sat on the floor, the top copy the most recent issue of the Mail; the Squadra attack had made headlines, and there at the side was a picture of her and the Doctor taken at a Vitex event. Rose’s stomach squirmed. She hadn’t even considered the media interest. What if the Doctor ran into a reporter? How disorienting would that be?
Rose breathed deep, focusing her attention on the task at hand. “I need to talk to you. I want to know about the other victims.”
The forced-but-friendly smile Jake had been wearing faded, and he gestured for her to sit down. As Rose sank into the empty chair he leaned forward across the desk, and she could see him choosing his words carefully. “They’ve kept us very busy,” he said eventually. “Some of them have been here practically non-stop — they want help, they want counselling, they want us to fix it. Some of the families don’t trust Torchwood. They’ve gone to specialists, looking for a cure. But the specialists are out of their depth. ” He gave her a strained smile, and Rose noticed that he looked very tired. “We’ve been busy.”
Rose nodded. She’d worked that sort of environment before, the fall-out of an attack that had injured civilians. Torchwood had an entire team of therapists on its payroll, and Torchwood staff weren’t their only patients. She could imagine the strain this was putting on Torchwood’s resources. “Have any...” she began, and then trailed off. “I mean, how are they?”
Truthfully, she wasn’t sure what answer she wanted to hear; would it be better or worse to know that other innocent people were suffering the same way she and the Doctor were?
“None of them have remembered anything,” said Jake sadly, seeming to sense her unfinished question. “Some are managing it better than others.” He looked down, his face sombre. “One of the victims is a single mother. Her daughter’s six.”
Rose stared at her lap as well, feeling cold and guilty for asking. All right, it was definitely worse that other people were suffering the way she was.
It was a minute before Jake broke the silence. “How is he?” He paused, and then added, “How are you?”
She fiddled with the bottom of her shirt. She hesitated, the unwelcome truth sitting like a heavy weight in her chest. Then she said, “He’s not the same.” Her hands shook and she clasped them together. “He’s quieter, colder. Distant.” She smiled sadly at Jake. “I don’t think he likes me very much.”
The sympathy on Jake’s face was tinged with guilt, and Rose remembered with a jolt that it was Jake the Doctor had been trying to save, Jake who had been the Squadra’s intended victim. She stared hard at his desk, hating herself for how much she wished the Doctor had let it be Jake. Time Lords have this trick, he’d said — but he wasn’t a Time Lord anymore. She’d always known, somewhere in the back of her mind, that when she lost him it would be because he didn’t understand the limitations of his human body. But she’d never thought it would be so early, or quite like this.
“He asked me about the rent,” she went on, “wanted to know if he owed me anything.” She raised her eyebrows. “I think the only other time I’ve even heard him say the word ‘rent’ he was talking about the musical.” She swallowed around the lump in her throat. “He read the tabloids about us.” Her laugh was humourless. “He think he’s with me for the money.”
“It hasn’t been that long, Rose,” said Jake gently. “He needs time to adjust, that’s all--”
“No it’s not,” she snapped, the grief quickly replaced by anger. “Everyone keeps saying that, like if we just pretend everything’s fine he’ll wake up one morning and love me like he used to and be the same person he always was. That’s not how this works. I know the Doctor, and I’m telling you, he’s not the same. No amount of time is gonna change that, he’s—” A lump had formed in her throat, but she ignored it. “He’s gone. And it’s not fair to whoever he is now that everyone expects him to be someone he’s not.”
Her shoulders hitched and she turned her head to stare at the wall, pressing her lips together. Jake was silent, and Rose felt the tiniest bit sorry for throwing all of this at him. But it felt good to be honest and say the things she’d been trying not to think.
“I expect him to be someone he’s not,” she admitted after a moment of silence. “He looks the same. I know what happened — I know it’s not his fault — I know he’s not who I want him to be, but then I see him and... I forget.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “It’s hard.”
“Yeah,” said Jake. “I know. Ricky...” He trailed off, and Rose thought his voice, too, sounded suspiciously thick. He cleared his throat and inclined his head in a tiny nod. “It’s hard,” he agreed.
A heavy silence settled between them. Rose waited until the tightness in her throat had passed and her eyes had stopped burning, then she turned back to Jake and said, very calmly, “I want to see the reports on the attack at the turn of the century.”
Hesitant, he looked down at his desk. “Well...”
She could see him stalling, trying to dream up some reason she shouldn’t. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “‘Well’ what? Why shouldn’t I?”
Jake sat back in his chair, rubbing the back of his neck. “I just think... given the circumstances...”
“Given the circumstances I should already have a copy in my hands, thanks.”
He looked apologetic. “I’m just not sure it’s going to make you feel any better.”
“You told me they all got on with their lives.”
“Most of them did,” said Jake, still reluctant. “But I never said it was easy, Rose, and... like I said, it depends on the person, on the family, on the situation...”
Rose only raised her eyebrows, holding her hand out expectantly. Jake sighed, and with a defeated sigh he reached into his desk and pulled out a folder, handing it to her. He looked at his watch, frowning. “I’ve got to go; I’m meeting one of the families in the lobby in five minutes. You can stay here if you want.” He gestured back towards his desk. “Most of the papers here are related to the attack.”
Rose’s fingers tightened around the folder she was holding, the paper curling in her grip. “Yeah.” She nodded. “Thanks.”
Jake squeezed her shoulder on his way to the door.
Once she heard the lock click behind her, Rose leaned her head back, closing her eyes and letting out a long sigh. She didn’t know what she was hoping to find in the report. Hope? Proof that other people had been where she was and made it through? They hadn’t been, couldn’t have been. It was like Jake had said — it depended on the person, and on the family, and...
Well, she doubted there’d been any part-human Time Lords hanging around at the turn of the century.
Deciding the report wouldn’t be any easier to read no matter how long she waited, Rose pulled her chair up to Jake’s desk and set down the folder. Taking a deep breath, she opened the report and started to read.
The first section, the incident report, she managed to read with a detached interest. It was the aftermath that interested her, and it was the aftermath that made her stomach do sympathetic flip-flops. Eight people had fallen victim to the Squadra over a hundred years ago, among them a Torchwood employee. Each of the eight had their own section in the report, filled with details of who they’d been before the accident. Jobs held, family relations, friends, personality, hobbies, interests — scraps pieced together based on information from those who claimed to be closest to them. There were testimonials from family and friends and from the victims themselves, stretching months and sometimes years after the attack. What Jake had said was true — it depended on the person, on their situation, on the support available to them. But she could not ignore the niggling fact that there was one similarity between all the reports she was reading: people changed.
Descriptions of the victim before the Squadra didn’t match who they became after the attack. Relationships changed. One man, described by his wife as cold and irritable before the attack, became kinder, more appreciative; their marriage, according to her testimonial twelve months later, had never been better. A second couple, on the other hand, called off their wedding — the groom-to-be said his fiancee had become too bossy, too demanding.
With each report she read, Rose’s heart grew heavier, and her fingers seemed to tremble as she turned the pages. Every word confirmed what she already knew but didn’t want to admit or accept: the Doctor was gone, and she would have to figure out how she felt about the bloke who’d taken his place.
The last profile in the report was that of the Torchwood employee. She froze as she looked at the biographical information on the first page, her mouth falling ajar in horror. He’d died less than a year after the Squadra attack, single and childless, at the age of thirty-one. The cause of death listed was suicide.
She read through the rest of the report with a quickened heartbeat. Vern Gabel had been working for Torchwood almost ten years, and though he’d been friendly with his colleagues, they’d described him as aloof and awkward, not a people person. An only child, he was estranged from his father and had lost his mother when he was seventeen. He had difficulty making friends, the report said, and was married to the job. The attack had taken taken that from him, and though the report detailed his coworkers’ concern and numerous visits to therapists, he’d been found dead in his apartment only eight months later.
Rose stood abruptly after finishing the report, shaking all over. For a moment she was stock still, unsure what to do, trying and failing to take deep, calming breaths. She ran her trembling hand through her hair, looking around Jake’s office as though she might miraculously find the answers on the walls.
She was just turning to leave when the door opened, and Jake stepped back in, looking concerned. “Back,” he said redundantly, giving her a half-smile. “How are—”
“Carried on, you said,” she snapped. “You said the other victims carried on. You said they were fine.”
Jake looked alarmed. He stepped back as she approached him, palms raised. “I said ‘most’—”
“What about the bloke who offed himself?” Her voice was trembling, and some far-away rational part of her realized she was being harsh, directing her anger at the nearest convenient person. “The Torchwood employee? Is that what you consider ‘carrying on’?”
“I didn’t want to worry you,” he explained hastily, “and I knew the Doctor wouldn’t—”
“Don’t tell me what you think he would and would not do!” Rose hissed, and Jake flinched. She had a fleeting memory of running down a London street on Christmas Day, finding Donna Noble, and being too late to catch a glimpse of the body being hauled into the ambulance. She narrowed her eyes, scowling fiercely at Jake. “You should have told me.”
She ignored him, wrenching the door open. “I’m going home,” she announced, and it wasn’t until the elevator doors closed that she realized her eyes were watering again.
It was still raining when Rose got back to their flat. She was shivering, her fingers numb, as she slid the key in the lock and swung the door open. Pushing her way inside, her eyes swept over the flat, heart sinking with part relief and part despair when she didn’t find the Doctor.
The Doctor. If she could even call him that anymore.
The bitterness of the thought surprised her. But it was true, wasn’t it? Whomever he was now — he wasn’t the Doctor, not the man she remembered. He wasn’t that mad alien who had saved her from shop window dummies and taken her on the best adventure of her life.
She unzipped her wet jacket and threw it into the corner before moving into the kitchen, pulling out a chair and dropping down onto it. There, she propped her chin up on her hands, staring blankly around her. Evening was beginning to set in, darkening the corners of the flat, but she didn’t move to turn on a light.
Closing her eyes, she drew in a ragged breath and then scrubbed a hand over her face. Tears welled up in her eyes, but she swallowed them back. She’d done enough crying. Now... now it was time to be honest with herself.
The Doctor was gone and he’d left behind a new bloke who sounded and looked and smelled like him. He was a bloke who needed her help, but he didn’t love her. Rose wasn’t even sure he particularly liked her.
Oh, she could wait — she could do like her mum said and wait for him to adjust and see if maybe he learned to love her again. But was it fair for him? He didn’t share the Doctor’s memories — he didn’t even share the Doctor’s personality. How could she expect him to love her like he used to?
The realization hit her hard and she buried her face in her hands, fingers wiping furiously at her eyes. But if she was being honest with herself, she had to admit that she wasn’t sure she loved this version of the Doctor. She cared for him, yes. She wanted to be there for him as he adjusted to his new life. But love him?
Her heart broke as she realized the answer. No, she didn’t. Not this version of him.
Some of the knots in her stomach seemed to unwind as the realization swept through her. It felt like something of a relief to finally admit it to herself. They were no longer the Doctor and Rose, but two strangers who barely knew each other. It wasn’t fair to either of them to expect that they could carry on with the relationship they had before the Squadra attack.
At the sound of the doorknob turning, Rose sat up straighter in the kitchen chair, hands falling down to her lap. She squinted as the Doctor came into view, nearly banging onto the corner table. Swearing under his breath, he fumbled around for the light-switch.
Rose squinted as light flooded the flat. The Doctor ran one hand through his hair in such an uncanny imitation of his former self that Rose felt a stir of hope. But the hope died as she got a good look at him. She had never seen him dressed so casually. He was wearing a pair of jeans that Jackie had bought soon after he’d arrived on their world (and quickly shoved into the back of the wardrobe) and a shirt. Gone was his jacket and trousers, his normal suit and tie.
Rose swallowed past the lump in her throat and said, “Hi.”
He started and turned around, summoning up a hasty smile. “Hello yourself,” he said. “You were sitting in the dark.”
Rose didn’t answer. Her eyes had caught on something — he was holding a small white piece of paper, about the size of a business card. When he saw her looking, he hastily shoved it in the back pocket of his jeans.
“What’s that?” she said.
He looked anywhere but at her. “It’s... nothing. Just a bit of paper. Unimportant.”
“Right,” Rose said slowly. “Where were you?” Then, realizing how accusatory she sounded, she added, “I was worried.”
There was a long pause and then the Doctor sighed, his whole body seeming to deflate. His footsteps heavy, he came into the kitchen and carefully took a seat at the table across from her. “There’s a pub down the road. I noticed it when I went out last night.”
“Patty’s,” said Rose. She leaned back in her chair. “God, you went to a pub. That’s so....”
“Unlike me?” the Doctor finished with a grim smile. “I’ve no idea what that is anymore. What’s wrong with a little experimenting?”
“That phone number you hid in your back pocket,” Rose found herself retorting, “is that also an experiment?”
The Doctor flushed, but he didn’t deny it. “Yes.”
Their gazes met across the table and Rose turned away first, her face warm. Wasn’t this what she wanted for him? He was beginning to adjust — he was finding out for himself what he wanted and what he didn’t. And didn’t the Doctor deserve something like this after the life he’d had? A chance to start over. A blank slate--free from the burden of the Time War and his missing link with the TARDIS. What right did she have to get in the way of that?
Summoning her courage, she met his eyes and said, “I’m glad.”
He blinked in surprise. “Really?”
“Yeah.” She released a nervous laugh. “I’m not saying it’s easy for me, but I want... I want you to be happy.”
Her words seemed to break some of the tension in the room and he visibly relaxed. “It’s just a phone number,” he said, his eyes still on hers. “It doesn’t have to mean—”
“It’s okay, Doctor,” she said. “Really. Maybe one day we can still....” she trailed off. “But this — us — right now, it’s not working, is it?”
He sighed heavily. “No.”
Rose nodded mechanically. She had expected the answer, but hearing him actually say it brought on a fresh wave of pain and loss. “So,” she said, trying to keep her voice light, “what’s her name?”
The Doctor hesitated, watching her like he wasn’t sure whether this was some sort of trick. “Robin,” he finally said.
“Oh,” said Rose. “That’s a... weird name.” She wanted to ask more—was she pretty? Was she smart? Had she read about them in the tabloids? What was her policy on dating aliens, even part-human ones? Instead she shifted her gaze to the table, letting the seconds tick by between them.
The Doctor broke the heavy silence. “I ordered a drink--except I didn’t have any money. Robin paid.”
He’d had no money. Of all the stupid ways to meet someone.... She swallowed thickly. “I had to pay for our first date, too.” The Doctor mustered up a ghost of a smile, but before he could say anything, she pressed forward. “I’m going to move in with my mum.” He opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off. “For a little while at least—until I can get a new flat. In the meantime, I’m going to make sure that you’re looked after, yeah? I’ll pay for rent, clothes, food... anything. Anything you want.”
“Rose—” he said, sounding frustrated. “I can’t just take your money.”
“Well, tough,” said Rose. “What else are you gonna live on? Just how much job experience to put on your CV did the Squadra leave you with?”
He looked away, swallowing hard. “I can find something.”
“You’ve got to work on figuring out who you are first,” Rose said. Her mind flashed back to the earlier Squadra victims. She couldn’t let that happen to the Doctor. “And if it helps...” she hesitated, “think of it as something I need to do. For... you. Him.” Her voice softened. “Who you used to be.”
Her eyes flicked over to his and he gave a terse nod. “Thank you.”
“It’s the least I can do,” Rose whispered.
Heavy silence fell between them again and Rose twisted her hands together in her lap. Her heart pounded in her chest and her mouth felt dry and chapped. Was this really how it would end between them? All that history, everything they went through to find each other again, and it was going to end like this?
She couldn’t keep sitting at this table with him. She knew he needed space, that she had to take some time for herself to grieve for the Doctor and start to move on. But a part of her felt like she was giving up on him, on them. Is that what the Doctor would really want?
Feeling shaky, she pushed herself to her feet.
“I’m going to go pack,” she said without looking at him.
Rose emerged from the bedroom with one duffel bag slung over one arm. It held enough clothes for a week along with some of Torchwood’s more sensitive documents. She would have to come back for the rest of her things another time.
She heard the news flick off when she rounded the corner and the Doctor jumped to his feet from the sofa, giving her a look she couldn’t quite read.
“Let me help you with that.”
He took the duffel bag before Rose could protest and slung it over his shoulder, giving her a sad smile. He stood in so close to her that Rose fought the urge to close her eyes and breathe him in.
That was why she had to do this. How could she properly help him if she kept expecting him to be someone he wasn’t?
“I left you my mum’s telephone number in the bedroom along with a credit and debit card,” she said shakily. “Promise me that you’ll call if you need anything?”
The Doctor reluctantly nodded. Then, surprising her, he reached out and brushed her cheek with the pads of his fingers before slipping one lock of hair behind her ear. “You don’t have to go,” he said quietly. “This is your home — your pictures and your furniture and your memories and...” he was speaking very rapidly now, like he was barely aware of what he was saying, “and I’ve just come in and mucked it all up, haven’t I?” He paused. “I’ve ruined your life.”
“Doctor...” she whispered. She grabbed his hand and then said fiercely, “That was the Squadra. That wasn’t your fault.”
But he looked scared and a little bit desperate. He gripped her hand tightly. “What am I going to do, Rose? What am I supposed to do with my life?”
Rose sucked in a shaky breath. Unable to stop herself, she dropped his hand and then wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him tightly. She heard the duffel bag drop to the ground behind him and was surprised when he hugged her back.
“It’s gonna be okay,” she said softly. “You can do anything, be anything. You’ve got an entire world out there and nothing is stopping you from being amazing. And I’m just a phone call away.”
“Right,” he said after a moment, loosening his hold on her. “Thanks.”
Rose pulled away, forcing a smile. “And you’ve got Robin,” she said. “That’s a good start.”
“Yeah. I guess,” he said dully. “I barely know her.”
“And she just met you,” Rose said. Taking a deep breath, she added in a soft voice, “She’s not going to be expecting you to be someone you’re not, is she?”
“No,” the Doctor admitted, matching her quiet tone. Clearing his throat, he bent down and picked up the duffel bag, slinging it over his shoulder. “Can I... I’ll walk you to the door.”
They walked in silence, the short hallway seeming to stretch on forever. Rose’s eyes were burning by the time they reached the door. Again she wondered if she was really doing the right thing. Was she doing the best thing for him, giving him some space? Or was she doing it out of self-preservation—because seeing the Doctor’s face and hearing his voice every day when he was gone was simply too much for her to bear?
She fumbled with the lock with shaking hands, but when she turned to look at the Doctor, he was staring off into space, a dazed look in his eyes.
“My taxi will be waiting,” she whispered.
“Right,” he said hoarsely, still looking dazed. He handed over her duffel bag and mustered up a strained smile. “Well, bye then.”
Bye then. He said it so simply--like she was only a stranger that had come into his life for a few days and was now leaving it again.
It was only a few years ago that he had burned up a sun just to say good-bye.
Rose hoisted the duffel bag over her shoulder and returned his strained smile. “Bye,” she responded.
The door closed with a soft click behind her.
Continue to part 4