Characters/Pairings: Ten2/Rose, an assortment of Tylers, alt!Donna, moar flashback!Ten and Donna
Genre: Humour and angst, with a bit of emphasis on the angst
Spoilers?: Through 4x13
Summary: Tony's eighth birthday party forces the Doctor to consider something he hadn't before: the possibility of children with Rose.
In this chapter: The Doctor does Sudoku, Rose gets angry, and two Donnas have drinks with two Doctors.
Excerpt: “A – a bad thing?” He shook his head and his interest in the top of his drink seemed renewed. “No, of course not, I.. love babies, babies are good, they’re very... very...” He looked helplessly over at the baby at the adjacent table. “...young.”
Author's Note: This part is almost twice as long as the previous chapter, but it doesn't break up well and I feel dumb constantly going back on my projected chapter count, so here you are. As before it's pat of the Gingerbread 'verse. And as with Gingerbread, you can play spot-the-crossover if you like.
Previously: Part One!
The weeks that passed did little to calm the Doctor’s nerves.
Try as he might, he couldn’t shake the constant guilt shadowing him with renewed dedication. He was used to it in a general sense, lingering, the vague, dark and indecipherable knowledge of all he’d done hovering in the corners of his mind. That had been there for centuries and would last, he knew, until the time his single heart finally gave out. It was the newfound acuteness that bothered him, the sudden clarity that drew him backwards, filled his mind with thoughts of the Time War and the ringing silence in his head, of Jenny and the feel of her double pulse slowing to a stop in his arms.
And Rose. Worst of all was the thought of what he would do to her. How could he make a choice for her that wasn’t his to make?
He knew how she’d react -- her face would contort in sympathy and she’d pull her body flush against his in her typical Rose hug. Her compassion would get in the way; she’d think of his grief alone, wouldn’t consider what it meant for her until years later. When she finally understood precisely what his anxieties had cost her, he doubted she’d even mention it, and some day perhaps her love would fade enough that she’d feel the sting of regret.
He’d been left behind on that beach for this very reason, hadn’t he? The TARDIS coral had been Donna’s idea, a safety net borne of her perpetual worry for him; it wasn’t part of the plan. The other Doctor’s intent had been clear: give Rose the fantastic human life that he himself never could.
What use was this Doctor – neither human nor Time Lord – if he couldn’t even do that?
Rose’s pencil had just begun tracing the top curve of a 2 when the Doctor leaned over her from behind, shaking his head.
“Wrong,” he said cheerfully, causing the pencil to pause mid-scribble. “You put a two there now, you won’t be able to finish the horizontal line.”
The pencil-tip stood, frozen in the middle of its 2, and then it fell atop the newspaper as Rose heaved a frustrated sigh. “Don’t you have something to do besides making Sudoku more infuriating than it already is?”
The Doctor gave her a wide smile in retort. “Haven’t you got something to do besides Sudoku?” He reached around her to pick up the fallen pencil, and in a moment the entire grid was complete.
Rose looked unimpressed with his Sudoku prowess. “Yes, actually.” She raised an eyebrow. “Did you know there’s actually quite a lot of red tape involved when people who don’t work for Torchwood get injured while working for Torchwood?”
The Doctor waved his free hand impatiently, his right hand having progressed to the crossword. “It’d help if you lot stopped classifying everything as an injury. Donna’s fine, I spoke to her this morning.” He frowned, his pencil hovering over sixteen across. “What’s eight letters for 'full of meaning'?”
Then he dropped the pencil.
Rose was spared from having to explain that she had no idea by two quick knocks on the door. Jake stuck his head into her office, looked at the pair of them and grinned. “Sorry to interrupt your highly important mid-morning brainteasers, but I thought you might want to know Adeola’s visiting. She’s brought Sam.”
“Oh!” Rose stood right away, forcing the Doctor to straighten out of her way. She smiled at the Doctor and nodded towards the doorway. “C’mon, let’s go say hi.”
The Doctor looked from Rose to Jake. “And… who’s Sam, exactly?”
Jake laughed at him, and Rose stared. “Her son? You know, the reason she’s on maternity leave in the first place?”
The Doctor wondered if it was his imagination or if the room had suddenly increased in temperature.
Adeola Martin looked so much like her cousin Martha that the Doctor still found it difficult to be in a room with her. It was different than with Donna, who was Donna Noble regardless of universe – Adeola was another person entirely, wearing a too-familiar face. Back in that first universe, Adeola Oshodi had been killed in the battle at Canary Wharf, and though he knew for all intents and purposes she’d been dead before he’d arrived to pull the metaphorical plug, he couldn’t help feeling guilty.
He’d told the Adeola of Pete’s world about the Earth-saving brilliance of her alternate-universe cousin. Though he’d neglected to mention that he’d put Martha through hell in the process, the cold way Adeola regarded him suggested some sort of cousinly intuition. She’d never offered to introduce him to the Dr. Jones she knew, and the Doctor had never asked.
(And if a letter addressed to Dr. Tom Milligan somehow ended up in Martha Jones’ mailbox – well, the post office wasn’t infallible.)
The fact that at the moment Adeola was standing with a bundle in her arms did not really improve matters. The Doctor couldn’t prove it, but he was fairly certain everyone in London had decided to have children immediately after Tony’s birthday party.
“Oh, he’s adorable!” Rose crooned, peeking in at the tiny face barely visible through the swath of fabric around it. “How old is he now?”
“Almost three months now.” Adeola beamed as she said it in that particular way young mothers do, when the simple fact that their child exists is a feat worthy of utmost pride. “D’you wanna hold him?”
Rose nodded and Adeola went on to elaborate, launching into details like weight and sleeping patterns as Rose, made expert by years as a big sister, took Sam from his mother. The Doctor stopped listening – instead he stared at Rose, vividly aware of every one of his heart’s overly loud lub-dubs.
It was Jake’s elbow connecting with the Doctor’s side that pulled him out of his own head. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor hastily, tearing his eyes away from Rose and resigning himself to the feeling of quiet panic. “Fine.”
She steps out of her room with her housecoat tugged around her, her body paradoxically tired and awake. It’s not night, she knows, not really, but the TARDIS is quiet and as the grating creaks beneath her feet she can’t help but fear she’ll wake someone, even though there’s no one to wake.
She’s wondered before what the Doctor does during the night-that-isn’t, all those hours his friends acquiesce to their bodies’ need for sleep. The TARDIS can’t possibly need that much tinkering. She supposes she’ll find out now, if only she can figure out where to look.
The TARDIS takes pity on her; she collides with the Doctor as she turns her first corner.
“Donna!” he exclaims in surprise as he staggers backwards. His hair is damp and flat, a trickle of water sliding down by his temple and dropping off onto his collar. The blue suit has been switched for brown, his jacket is draped over his arm, and his hands are at his neck, holding each of the loose ends of his tie.
It startles her enough that she blinks, and the first thing she says is “You showered!”
“It does happen,” he agrees, sounding amused.
She looks him up and down again, a smug grin spreading across her lips. “You haven’t done your hair yet.” She raises an eyebrow, entertained. “It’s like seeing a woman without her makeup.”
The Doctor looks at her, looks down at her fluffy housecoat. “You aren’t wearing any makeup.”
He grins and finishes with his tie. “I thought you’d gone to bed.”
The reasons for the late-night wandering creep quietly back into her mind and she nods, her smile fading. “Yeah. Couldn’t sleep.” Suddenly she feels daft, a little kid gone crawling to her mummy. What does she expect him to do, read her a story?
The Doctor nods. There’s a moment of silence, then he starts down the hallway and gestures her to follow. “Come on. I’ll make you a drink.”
“...and Kelly’s dating this bloke from the office now, it’s bloody ridiculous, it’s a miracle he can breathe, the way she clings to him, honestly, even you two aren't that...” Donna trailed off, eyebrow arched, as she realized she might be better off talking to a brick wall.
The Doctor’s mind was clearly elsewhere, and while that wasn’t particularly rare, he usually at least feigned interest in whatever was going on around him. This time he wasn’t even looking at her; instead he was staring suspiciously at the table next to theirs in the café, where a woman sat with her baby on her lap. Noticing the unwanted attention, the woman scowled; the Doctor, evidently oblivious, merely cringed as the baby gurgled.
With a roll of her eyes, Donna gave him a quick kick in the shin.
That got his attention.
“Ow!” He reached down to rub his shin, his scowl looking more like a pout. “What was that for?”
“Stop staring,” she hissed.
The Doctor glanced guiltily towards the woman and her child. “Sorry.” He turned his attention back to Donna, smiling apologetically. “What were you saying?”
She sighed and waved a hand. “Oh, never mind.” It was the sort of story it felt silly to tell a second time, and nothing put one’s stories in perspective like being friends with the Doctor and Rose. Win a tenner in a Big Brother betting pool, they’d tell you about fighting bloody werewolves in Scotland.
She was still spinning her stir stick around in her coffee when the Doctor spoke, and if asked later, Donna would admit that this was a very good thing, lest she have choked.
“Donna, do you want children?”
“Do I what?” She dropped the stir stick into her coffee and stared at him, eyes wide, as she leaned back in her chair. She gave a short bark of laughter. “Why, is that an offer?”
He shrugged with an innocence she didn’t believe, gazing down at his own coffee as he swirled it around his cup. “Just curious. Do you?”
She snorted, chancing a brief look at the woman with the baby before she pulled her attention back to the top of the Doctor’s head. It was a ridiculous question. “Who the hell do you think I’m going to have kids with?” She folded her arms across her chest, raising one eyebrow. “Not everyone’s got people crossing worlds to be with them, you know.”
He kept his eyes trained on his drink, visibly struggling for an answer. “Well... you could...”
“What? Adopt one with Jake and start a reality show?” She shook her head and grabbed her cup from the table, scowling just a little at the murky liquid. “Does it matter? My biological clock’ll be done ticking long before I’ve got anyone to paint a nursery.”
He lifted his head at that, sympathy on his face that made her insides twist and recoil. “Sorry,” he said softly, “I didn’t mean—“
“It’s fine.” She tossed her hair behind her shoulder and took a drink of her coffee. If there was one thing she couldn’t discuss with the Doctor, it was this. “Now why were you asking?” Realization crept up slowly and her eyes widened. “Oh my God, is this one of your horrible segues? Is Rose—?”
“No!” He said it so suddenly and fervently that Donna jumped, a few drops of coffee splashing over the side of her mug and onto her hand. As she groaned and reached for a napkin, the Doctor carried on. “No, no, no, definitely not. At all. No.”
Donna regarded him suspiciously as she wiped the spill from her hand. “Would that be a bad thing?”
“A – a bad thing?” He shook his head and his interest in the top of his drink seemed renewed. “No, of course not, I... love babies, babies are good, they’re very... very...” He looked helplessly over at the baby at the adjacent table. “...young.”
“Young,” Donna repeated, her eyes wide with incredulity.
“Yep.” And then he gulped back the rest of his coffee in one long swig, a manner that seemed to suggest he wished it were something stronger.
Donna stared. “What’s wrong with you?”
He set the mug back on the table with a clink and licked his lips. “Wrong? Nothing wrong!” He sprung to his feet with the manic sort of energy that Donna envied, grinning at her in that insane way that belied his words. “Sorry to run, just remembered, I’ve got a thing – Torchwood – I’ve got to identify a …thing.” He moved towards the door as he talked, gesturing so grandiosely he nearly hit the lady with the baby in the face. He smiled apologetically as he worked through a maze of chairs and tables. “Nice talking! I’ll see you later!”
Watching him go, Donna could only wonder what on Earth Rose Tyler subjected herself to every day.
The Doctor stuck his head back around the doorway, still smiling apologetically at the dumbfounded Donna. “And technically you were meant to be back at work eight minutes ago. The clock on the wall here is slow. Bye!”
She leans against the door to the kitchen, watching as he tosses his jacket over a chair and starts rummaging through the cupboards. He settles on a box, chattering away about alien sleep aids, and Donna nods along without listening. The drink looks suspiciously like tea, but Donna knows well that they’re probably leaves from the moon of Endor or something.
She watches the way he moves about the kitchen, talking away without any support from her, all broad gestures and exuberant stories. Watching him now, it’s hard to recall the hopelessness he’d been radiating only hours ago when she’d found him handcuffed in the library. He buries his despair so well that at times it’s hard for even her to see, and she knows she must look weak in comparison. He’s the last of his bloody race and he’s cheerful when he makes tea; she loses a fake family and she can’t even sleep. Distantly, she wonders if anyone was around to make him a drink after the war. She suspects not.
It’s strange, missing something you never really had. It makes her feel useless, weak, and daft, yet she wonders how much harder the alternative would be.
She wipes at her eyes quickly with her thumb, hoping the movement is small enough that he won’t notice.
“Donna?” he asks, full of concern, his hands stilling over the tea..
“I’m fine.” She sniffs and holds her head higher, her arms knitted tightly together. “It’s nothing.” She sniffs again and blinks rapidly to try and clear her vision. “It’s stupid,” she admits, laughing a little, her voice snapping at the end. “They weren’t even real.”
It takes three long strides for him to cross the kitchen and pull her into a hug.
The Doctor shuddered awake, relieved as the dark of the bedroom confirmed what he already knew – he’d been dreaming.
He looked wildly around the room and took a deep breath, one hand gripping the sheet beneath him, trying to anchor himself in the present. The worst part of nightmares was that no amount of willpower in the world seemed to be able to suppress them, even if you had nine hundred years of practice. Death and destruction lurked in his mind’s eye, bodies crumpled on the ground, Rose sobbing, the nauseating knowledge that it was all his fault --
Their TARDIS was big enough now that he could feel her in his mind, scrabbling to soothe him, and he relaxed against the mattress to let that comfort wash through him.
Damn. Had she always been such a light sleeper?
He rolled to his side to face her, frowning apologetically as the bed jostled her. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Bad dream?” When he didn’t answer, she moved a hand to the centre of his chest and frowned. “Your heart’s beating like crazy. What was it about?”
That, he thought, was a question he absolutely could not answer. “It was just a dream, Rose.” He gave her his most charming smile. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s not nothing,” she said, and though she sounded annoyed her hand drifted up to the side of his face, her fingers tracing through his hair. “Can’t you just tell me?”
“It is important,” she finished for him, firm, her fingers freezing in their ministrations. “Don’t tell me it’s not. Something’s been bothering you for ages now. You’re not sleeping, you’re having nightmares again, you go all quiet sometimes for no reason – what is it?”
She waited, and the Doctor was sure if she’d kept her hand on his chest she’d have felt the way his heart seemed to rev even faster. He swallowed and let the smile fall from his face, willing himself to find the words, willing Rose to understand why he couldn’t. The silence stretched on – ten seconds, then twenty, then twenty-five.
Finally, Rose sighed and pulled her hand back.
“Fine,” she said brusquely, and he could see the hurt in her eyes beneath the irritation. “Forget I asked.” With that, she rolled to her side, leaving the Doctor to stare at her back.
He opened his mouth but no sound came out. He reached for her but his hand hovered above her shoulder, unable to close the gap. Sighing silently, he closed his mouth and turned to face the wall.
Every so often, Rose was needed at Vitex for some duty or another. She had very little to do with the company; she appeared in advertisements from time to time, grin plastered on and thumb bent back, and truth be told she was little more than a glorified spokesperson. Torchwood had its lulls and its rushes, and when there were aliens threatening the universe itself there was very little time for Rose to be concerned with health drinks.
Now was a lull, though – a decidedly frustrating one – and after she stepped out of her consultation with the marketing team, she moved quickly toward the accounting department.
The redhead she was looking for was hunched over a desk when Rose arrived, scribbling something on a notepad. Absorbed in whatever she was doing, Donna didn’t look up until Rose reached her desk and tapped on the surface.
“Donna? Can I talk to you?”
Donna’s surprise was brief, and after a glance around the office she shrugged. “All right.”
Rose led her to a hallway, quite despising what she was about to do. When she judged they were a safe distance from the rest of the office and any inquiring ears, she sighed. “Donna, has the Doctor been acting… strange, lately, d’you think?”
Donna arched an eyebrow. “Are we talking ‘strange’ by normal people standards or ‘strange’ by his own separate scale of insanity?”
“You know what I mean, Donna.”
Donna nodded. “He’s been acting a bit off, I suppose. Something wrong?”
It was with a tinge of bitterness that Rose laughed. “Yes. Not that he’ll tell me what, of course.” She ran a hand through her hair in frustration and stopped walking, turning to Donna. “Has he said something to you?”
Donna reeled back instantly, palms up, waving both of her index fingers back and forth. “Oh, no, no, absolutely not. I’m not doing that. I’m not your couples therapist, you two wanna talk, you talk to each other, not through me.”
“I’ve tried! He doesn’t tell me anything!” Rose shook her head and exhaled deeply. “I’m going to strangle him,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Might help,” Donna agreed, nodding.
Rose pinched the bridge of her nose, her eyes squeezing shut. “He’s always been like this,” she conceded, dropping her hand and folding her arms resolutely across her chest. “Always. I knew that, I did, and usually I can figure it out on my own and it doesn’t even matter, but this time I’ve got no idea and it’s driving me mad.”
“Yeah,” Donna said. She shoved her hands into the pockets of her suit jacket and shrugged her shoulders. “Give the strangling a try.”
With a quiet huff of laughter, Rose gazed down the hallway, her focus aimed at nothing in particular. She hated the idea of having to ask Donna if she knew what was wrong with the Doctor, and she hated even more the very real possibility that Donna might know something she did not. She was glad they were close, glad the Doctor got to keep his best friend. She knew how much Donna meant to him. She knew he blamed himself, his very existence, for the inevitable fate of his first Donna Noble. She knew that the biological metacrisis had done a lot of things, and strengthening the Doctor’s tie to Donna had been one of them.
What she didn’t like – and perhaps it was jealousy surfacing again – was the possibility of no longer being the Doctor’s primary confidante. With a man who said so little so infrequently, it was a prestigious position.
She turned her head back and looked Donna in the eye. “Is he talking to you, at least? Is he talking to someone?”
Donna’s smile was tight and impossible for Rose to read. “Look, it’s not like he calls me up so we can have heart-to-hearts while we paint our nails. I don’t know why you think he’s telling me things that he isn’t telling you. You’ll just have to drag it out of him.”
“Yeah,” Rose muttered, smirking at the ground by her shoes. “Like everything else.” She dredged up a smile, knowing that the conversation would get no further. “Sorry, I’ll stop. How’re things?”
Donna started back down the hall and Rose followed. “Not much different than usual, to be honest.” She looked curiously at Rose with an inscrutable expression. “Have you ever thought about having kids?”
It took her by such surprise that Rose laughed. “What? Why?”
“Just wondering,” Donna said. Then, seeming to sense the ineffectuality of this answer, added, “Mum’s been nagging me. Says she wants grandkids while she’s still young enough to lift them. What she really means is she wants a new generation to start bothering.”
Something was bothering Rose.
She hadn’t said as much, of course, but it wasn’t difficult to tell. Her greeting that evening was lackluster and the conversation over dinner was strained. She was less talkative than usual, her answers short and often monosyllabic. Even the Doctor’s clever attempt to goad her into a rant about Vitex fell flat. By the time the table was cleared and the dishes in the dishwasher, Rose had settled down on the couch, and the Doctor knew he couldn’t avoid the conversation any longer.
He stood to the side of the sofa, watching as she flipped from television channel to television channel. “Rose, are you all right?”
“Yeah.” She chewed on her thumbnail and stared ahead at the television.
The Doctor was not convinced. “Really?”
“Yeah.” She dropped her hand from her mouth and tucked both feet up on the sofa with her, hiding her arms between her legs and her torso. “I’m fine,” she said, and the emphasis on “fine” was so subtle that it took a moment for his brain to catch it.
Oh, he thought, with a sudden sense of dread.
He hesitated a moment, shoved his hands into his pockets for lack of anywhere else to put them. “Rose,” he began, but she overrode him before he could continue.
“It’s just, do you have any idea what it’s like for me?” The words burst from her with a suddenness that told of a long time subdued. “I know there are all sorts of things you don’t talk about, all sorts of things you’ve never talked about, and that’s just how you’ve always been, but it’s...” She took a deep breath and turned to face him, her eyes wide with frustration and anger and hurt. “Do you know how hard it is for me to watch you struggle with something when I don’t even know what it is? I know how you are, you let these things eat away at you and I hate worrying that you’re going to go off and drown yourself. I want to help you, Doctor, I want to be there for you, but I can’t do that if you won’t let me, and—”
She was rushing the words and the Doctor, stunned at the sudden tumble of things she’d never said before, struggled to keep up. “Sorry, what?” He shook his head, trying to clear it. “Drown myself? Where did you get that?”
Rose stopped. She looked down at her hands and twirled her fingers, looking like she’d been caught saying something she hadn’t meant to let slip. When she spoke again her voice was quiet and controlled, a marked difference from seconds earlier. “In that parallel world,” she said slowly, still staring down to avoid his gaze, “with Donna, you…” She paused and sniffed, taking a deep breath before she went on. “You drowned. With the Racnoss. She wasn’t there to stop you and you drowned.” She lifted her head higher and looked at him straight on. “You didn’t even regenerate.” The anger was back in her voice. “You didn’t even try! You—” She broke off, her shoulders hitching as she struggled to regain composure.
The Doctor felt a cold chill start at the base of his spine and spread upwards to his chest. He’d never known the details of the parallel world that had been created around Donna; she couldn’t remember much to tell him, and in the face of the Earth disappearing and the possibility of Rose returning to him, he’d forgotten what little she’d said. Hearing Rose lay it out for him forced him to make the connection he’d ignored before, and the bare truth of it made him feel utterly exposed.
The Doctor hated feeling exposed.
“I spent so long,” Rose said eventually, her voice soft and thick, “worried about you, on your own, convincing myself you’d be okay, and then the first world I find where you even exist you’ve… you’re…”
“Rose.” She didn’t look at him, and he tried again. “Rose, that wasn’t me.”
She shrugged, back to staring at her fingers. “It could’ve been.” Finally she looked at him, and the glossy sheen in her eyes gave him a painful twinge in his chest. “You need someone, Doctor. You know that as well as I do and you still don’t let people help.”
It was Rose speaking but he’d heard it in a dozen different voices -- pull him out when he’s too stupid to leave, from a woman who would never be more to him than a stranger, sometimes I think you need someone to stop you, from a woman who’d never remember how right she was. Martha hadn’t said it because she’d never needed to; it’d been written on her face all the time they’d traveled, implied every time she’d pulled him back from whatever ledge he’d crawled up onto.
He bent under her gaze, studying the carpet between his feet. “I know. It’s just... I can’t... it’s hard,” he admitted, quiet and awkward. “To – to let yourself depend on someone when – when you know you’ll lose them.”
Not that it had ever stopped him.
“You’re not gonna lose me.” It was the same confidence she’d always had, a confidence that even now some panicked part of his brain refused to share. She freed her arm from her lap and reached out, moving her hand to the small of his back and nudging him forward. “Doctor,” she said, and he brought himself to meet her eyes, “talk to me.”
He allowed himself a moment’s hesitation, and Rose’s thumb drew half-circles on the curve of his back. Bracing himself for what the admission would cost her, the Doctor swallowed and shifted his own ball and chain to Rose. “I don’t want children.”
Her thumb stopped its pattern and her mouth dropped open in honest confusion. Whatever she might have been expecting, he knew it wasn’t that. “What?”
“I don’t…” The repeat was more difficult, he found, and he swallowed mid-sentence, dropping his gaze back to the floor. “I don’t want children. Not now, not five years from now. I did all that once, ages and ages ago, and I don’t – I can’t—”
The thumb at his back stayed still and though he didn’t dare look up the surprise was clear in her voice. “You don’t want kids? That’s what’s been bothering you?”
The Doctor nodded. Rose dropped her hand from his back and rubbed at her eyes, and the Doctor forced himself to look at her. “Rose, I am so sorry, I really am, it’s not fair to you, I know that, but – after what happened, to them, I...”
He trailed off, the words he refused to say tangling together, a barricade choking off the rest of that sentence. Couldn’t and can’t and won’t stuck like flypaper to loved them and lost them and killed them.
Rose’s stare was back on her hands, her forehead still knitted in surprise and disbelief. “When did I say I wanted children?”
It sounded like a trick question. “Well, you...” He stopped to consider the actual events of the last couple months, one hand scratching the back of his neck. “...didn’t, I suppose, but I just thought –”
“Just thought I would because, what, I’m human and that’s what we do, we dance?” She laughed and looked at him, and the Doctor realized with horror that she sounded, well, angry. She shook her head and uncurled her legs, standing from the sofa in one smooth gesture. “You know you could’ve saved yourself all this trouble if you’d just spoken to me like a normal person or, for once in your life, if you’d just asked what I wanted instead of assuming you know best?”
As he scrounged around for a retort Rose started what could best be described as an angry pace, and the Doctor turned to watch her, mouth ajar. Of all the responses he’d imagined, even the ones he’d deemed unlikely, this bore no resemblance to any of them.
“I didn’t – I just thought – Aunt Caroline – I mean – well – don’t you?”
“I didn’t build a dimension cannon so I could find you and have kids. Look at how we live, Doctor.” She stopped pacing and raised her eyebrows, incredulous and irritated. “We work obscure hours and we’re constantly in danger. We put Donna in danger just because she’s our friend and we attract trouble like two walking bulls-eyes. We’re growing a TARDIS so we can get into trouble on different planets!” Her arms, which had been spread wide for embellishment, fell to her sides. “Where does a child fit into that?”
It was a valid point. “Well, I thought —”
She crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes narrowed with accusation. “You think just because I’m human I want all these things, like they’re some sort of requirement, but you don’t get it—”
“I know!” It came out louder and more desperate than he’d intended, but they argued infrequently and he was worried she might mistake his inability to grasp simple human concepts with an unwillingness to try. “I’m rubbish at all these things, Rose, and I’m trying, but I’m not human.”
“I know,” she said simply, shrugging. “That doesn’t bother me. The only one who’s got a problem with it is you, Doctor.”
He wasn’t sure what to say to that, and his silence gave Rose the chance to carry on.
“You’re so convinced I’m gonna wake up some day wishing I was in a house on the countryside with Mickey and a dog and our two-point-five kids.” He could hear, as she said it, the anger creeping back in around the edges. “You’ve always thought that, haven’t you, that’s why you were always making decisions for me, figuring you knew better than I did what I wanted, sending me home whenever you thought it was best – the Game Station and Torchwood and—”
She stopped abruptly, her mouth clicking shut before she could even begin to form the next word, but the Doctor was very clever, and he knew the end of that sentence.
“And Norway,” he finished for her.
His smile as he said it was a bizarre juxtaposition with the sinking sensation in his chest. He knew, had always known, that if the choice had really, truly been Rose’s, she’d have chosen the double-hearted Doctor she knew over the single-hearted one she thought she didn’t. He’s not you, she’d said, and though she’d changed her mind after a few weeks in London, she’d been reactionary and emotional on that beach and he knew the option she’d have taken if it had been given to her. He couldn’t blame her – she was hardly the only one on the TARDIS that day who’d seen him as a spare part – but it stung nevertheless.
Abashed or embarrassed, Rose looked away.
“It’s all right,” he said, stubbornly keeping the smile in place. “You didn’t build your dimension cannon for this, either, I know that.” His throat was thick as he dropped his gaze back to his feet. “I’m sorry.”
“Stop it.” It was quiet and firm and she shook her head, eyes shut tight. “Stop it, don’t do that, that’s not what I meant.”
“It is,” he told the ground beneath his feet. “But it’s all right, Rose, really, I’m not angry, I underst—”
“Stop. Doctor, look at me.” He didn’t, and she tried again, stronger. “Doctor.”
When he finally looked up she was walking towards him, her arms relaxed at her sides, the faintest hint of a smile on her face. He cleared his throat and tried to come up with some fantastically clever thing to say to counteract everything he’d said in the past quarter-hour, but all he seemed to manage was her name.
“I love you,” she said firmly, stopping just in front of him. “I love the life we live. I don’t need a perfect human life. I don’t need kids. I don’t want kids, I want this, just – this. Us. That’s what the dimension cannon was for.” She paused, and he saw just a hint of her tongue as her grin grew broader. “Well, that and saving the universes.”
It took exactly three-point-five-two for the Doctor to grab her by the waist and pull her to him, leaning down for a kiss that, in retrospect, he’d admit erred a little on the side of desperate. Startled, Rose took another two-point-one seconds for both of her hands to find his hair.
“I love you,” he announced eventually, pulling away long enough to get the phrase out and then turning the brunt of his attention to her neck.
“Yeah,” she said, her head tilting to the side, and then, “I mean it, though. You’ve gotta start telling me things. Not everything – I know you’re not like that, I know you can’t be, but I need to know that you’re all right. Actually all right, I mean.” She relaxed her arms into a loose hug around his shoulders. “Are you?”
Lifting his head from her neck, he nodded. “Yeah.” She raised an eyebrow, and he amended, “Mostly.”
“I’m not gonna change my mind,” she reasoned seriously. “I’m very stubborn.”
“Are you? I hadn’t noticed.”
One of her hands hit him lightly on the back of the head. “Shut up.”
He beamed at her, and though she did her best to glare, she was mostly unsuccessful. She was smiling still as one hand slid around his collar, but as she began to fiddle with the knot on his tie her expression turned somber.
“Was it the war?” was all she asked.
His fingers curled tighter around the fabric of her shirt. “Yeah.”
She regarded him with mournful brown eyes and the sort of compassion that had drawn him to her in the first place. She put her arm back around his shoulders and closed the hug, stretching to rest her chin on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Her hair tickled his cheek and he pulled her tighter, closer, appreciating the solid realness of her, the minor miracle that was her existence. “Yeah.”
She asked nothing else, only held her grip on him and closed her eyes.
It was still unfair, he knew, and as stubborn as she was, he couldn’t be sure that it was something she’d never regret. There was little he could do about that, though, and he supposed he’d have to give her whatever he could.
“There was this one time,” he began, “with Martha and Donna, on this planet called Messaline.”