"She was my advisor when I was getting my degree in astrophysics. I was lonely. All my friends had moved on or left and I was feeling… lost. And hopeless. More than I had before. She became my friend and… we were very close." He said the last part very quietly, almost whispering.
Rose realized she'd been holding her breath, and tried to let it out as softly as possible. Her heart was pounding in her ears and she tried to get the rush of adrenaline under control. He was talking. Finally. To her, of all people. The situation felt so delicate she was afraid that the smallest disturbance would ruin it.
"But she had… problems of her own," John continued, so quiet Rose had to lean forward slightly to hear him. "She confided in me. She'd struggled with depression all her life, attended hundreds of hours of counseling for it. You wouldn't expect it, looking at the rest of her life. She had a successful career, a husband, and a daughter. But she was never… happy, it seemed. There was always a shadow over her face." He trailed off.
He was silent for such a long time, Rose wasn't sure he was going to continue. But she'd heard too much not to hear the rest. "What happened?" She tried to make her tone as gentle, as comforting as possible.
"In my third year, she tried to kill herself."
Rose tried to keep from audibly gasping. "Tried?"
"I found her. I wanted to talk to her about something, and when she didn't answer her phone, I thought I'd stop by her place, since I was in the area, and I heard her car running in the garage."
"I broke in and dragged her out of the car and took her to the hospital. She lived. Her family thanked me, she went back into intensive counseling and on medication, and we thought she would be fine. I thought I had saved her."
His eyes were wet and Rose felt her heart go out to him. He looked to be in so much pain she didn't want to imagine what happened next.
"She told me she hated the medications. She took them for her husband and her daughter, she wanted to be 'normal' for them. But she didn't like the way they made her feel. They made her feel like someone else. She began to feel like her depression was something that was just a part of her, something inextricable from herself, that she couldn't truly be who she was without it." He took a deep, shaky breath as tears spilled over his cheeks. "After a year, I guess she couldn't do it anymore. She stopped taking them, but I think she got a lot worse. She talked about holding her family back, feeling trapped in a life that shouldn't be hers. I tried to help her, I swear, I did but–" He stopped, shoulders trembling.
Rose's arm was still around him but she squeezed him tighter, not sure what to say but wanting him to know that she was there. He was sobbing, silently, brokenly. She rubbed his back, his arms, his shoulders. "Shh," she whispered. "Shh, it's okay. It's okay."
"The last time she spoke to me, it was a voicemail. She called me one night while I was asleep and told me some people couldn't be saved, shouldn't be saved. She was the way she was and there was nothing I could do. She said I should've let her die in her car the year before. It wasn't my place to save her."
"The next day she was found dead in her office at the university. She'd stayed late, called me and her family, and shot herself. I saw–" He took another deep breath. "I saw the room after they took away the body. She did it so blood didn't get on on any of her books, but it was all over the windows, running down in horrible, red rivers with bits of her brain–"
He had to stop again and Rose held him tightly, as if she could anchor him to her, remind him she wasn't alone. She kept whispering softly in his ear, "Shh, shh, it's okay. It's okay."
"It's not okay, it's not," John said when he could speak. "I haven't been okay since then. I never went to that office again, couldn't even go to that hall again. I have dreams– I have dreams about that room, and the blood on the window. Sometimes I can see her doing it, I'm standing right there and I see it happen in slow motion. Sometimes– sometimes I'm standing outside the window, and I can only see the flash of the gun and I'm screaming inside but can't force it out. Every time she dies, she dies and I can't stop her, no matter how hard I try. I can't save her. I can never save her."
He began sobbing again, and Rose let him. She held him and rubbed his shoulders and listened to him cry for a long time, until she felt his breathing quiet and his muscles relax. "That's awful, John, just awful. I can't imagine how that feels, but– I'm glad you told me. I am. No one should have to bear that kind of weight alone."
He didn't say anything for the rest of the night, but he gripped her tightly as she held him.
"You're not alone," she whispered, over and over. "I'm right here, you're not alone."
John wasn't sure how long Rose sat with him after he'd told her the Story of Adelaide Brooke, just holding him and whispering soothing phrases into his ear. He wanted it to last forever, dreaded feeling cold emptiness beside him when she finally left.
Eventually, she moved her lips away from his ear and said, "You know what you have to do, don't you?"
He didn't ask what she meant, or give her an answer. He knew.
He told Martha the whole story the next day, more calmly and in fewer words than he'd told Rose, but the whole story.
She listened with a controlled but completely sincere expression, never interrupting, just nodding and taking the occasional note. "Thank you for telling me," she said when he'd finished.
He nodded stiffly, not sure what was coming next.
"John," she said softly, almost tenderly. "How do you feel?"
That was it. That did it for him, and he didn't know why. He began crying, for the second time in twenty-four hours (is this what healing is supposed to feel like?), and couldn't say anything for the next few minutes.
Martha waited patiently, passing him tissues.
"Wretched," he finally said. "Depressed." Then words began pouring out of him and he couldn't stop them. "Relieved. Elated. Hopeful. Overwhelmed. Lonely. Confused. Empty. Full. Afraid."
Martha nodded solemnly. "I understand."
Great, because he didn't.
"At least you're feeling something. It's good that you're feeling all these things, and normal for you to be confused. But we're all here to help you. You're not alone."
John nodded tearfully and took some deep breaths. He repeated to himself, Not alone. Not alone. Not alone. It became a mantra he used when he began to feel overwhelmed with all the things he now had to feel and deal with. Wherever he was, in a session with Clara, in his room, sitting in the courtyard, he would close his eyes and think, Not alone. Not alone. He always heard it in Rose's voice, the soft whisper she'd used the night he told her everything, and eventually she took over his thoughts and the words blurred, Not alone. Not alone. Rose. Rose. Rose. Rose.
She was around all the time now, and he sometimes wondered who was responsible, whether Martha and Clara were making sure she was there for him, or whether she was there because she wanted to be. He desperately hoped it was the latter. He couldn't bear to be just another patient to her.
She introduced him to Amy one day in the courtyard, a tall, red-haired young woman with a kind face but who could only seem to focus her eyes somewhere to the right of his head and on something very far away.
"Are you the Doctor?" she said, presumably to him.
Rose smiled apologetically, but John didn't mind. "I'm a doctor, Amy, but I don't believe I'm the Doctor."
"No." Amy shook her head "You're not him. He sounds different than you."
"Does he talk to you, then? The Doctor?"
"Oh, yes," Amy said. "I can hear him in my head." She tapped her temple. "Right here." She leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, "They think I'm crazy." She giggled. "But I know he's real."
"Crazy's not so bad," John said.
"Are you crazy, too?"
"A bit, yeah." He smiled sadly at Rose. "They tell me I'm depressed," he said to Amy, as lightly as he could.
Amy frowned. "I'm sorry. Why are you depressed?"
John shrugged and thought about it for a minute. "A lot of bad things happened to me," he said. "And I had a lot of bad thoughts. So many it was hard to think good thoughts."
Amy cocked her head. "You know, the Doctor once told me something."
"Oh yeah? What did he say?"
"He told me once, that in your life there are a lot of good things and a lot of bad things. The good things don't make the bad things go away, but the bad things don't make the good things less good. Are there good things in your life, John?"
John was silent for a long time. Amy kept talking in that strange, disjointed way of hers, but he couldn't listen. Are there good things in your life, John?
Yes, he thought that night, staring at the ceiling from his bed. There were so many good things in his life, when he bothered to count them. The hawthorn tree had lost its flowers, but he still thought it was beautiful. Amy had woken up and could still recover. Donna was engaged now, to a lovely, loyal man named Shaun. Martha and Clara were here, and cared for him. His parents were alive, and loved him, even though they were far away. Donna loved him. Rose… Rose was here. And she was happy.
He was suddenly smiling at the ceiling. I'm happy, he thought, to his own surprise. All those things make me happy.
He told Clara about this breakthrough the next day and she had him make a list, a longer, more detailed list, of all the things that made him happy. He did so, eagerly. The last thing on his list was something he'd almost forgotten about.
"Writing," he said. "I loved writing."
"Could your cousin bring you your computer?" Clara said.
Donna gladly brought him his computer within the week, and he sat down at it that evening to continue the book he'd started before everything went to hell.
Rose came in with his dinner that evening to him staring at a chapter heading and an empty document.
"Everything all right?" she said.
She leaned over his shoulder, breath tickling his hair. "What're you writing there?"
"I… I don't quite know. I'm trying to pick up where I left off. But I can't think how." He turned to her, fear written all over his face. "What if I can't write anymore? What if I can't go back to the way I was?"
"Shh," Rose said. "Come on." She pulled him up from from his chair and sat him down on the bed next to her. He tried not to lose himself in the feel of her hands on his skin or the smell of her hair. "It's okay if you can't be like you were before," she said.
He glanced doubtfully at her.
"It is," she insisted. "Perhaps you're not the same, but I didn't know you then. I know you now." She smiled nervously. "And I like you." She nodded towards the computer. "And if I were you, I wouldn't try to just pick up right where you left off. Maybe you should just begin a new story." She smiled fully at him, and her tongue touched her teeth.
Before he knew what he was doing, he leaned over and kissed her. Her lips were softer than he could've imagined and tasted like strawberry lip gloss. She hesitated at first, but soon leaned into him, put her hand on his shoulder and held him to her. He was pretty sure he could stay like this forever. She was so warm, and it was the nighttime but he felt like he was standing in direct sunlight, just because she was next to him. She made him feel so happy, so alive.
He tried to keep her close when she began to pull away. "Rose–" he began, although he didn't quite know what he wanted to say.
She was still smiling at him, but she shook her head. "Not yet, John. Get better."
"Rose, please." Please don't leave. Please don't break my heart.
"I didn't say no," she said. "I said not yet."
John nodded and let her pull away completely. Not yet, he repeated to himself. Not yet.
The hawthorn tree had lost its leaves when John was released. He refused to move in with Donna. He wanted to be independent, he said. He wanted to be left alone to make a fresh start.
Clara was uneasy about this decision. "I don't want him to become isolated again," she said.
Martha nodded. "Neither do I."
They weren't looking at each other, their eyes were trained on the circular driveway visible from the third floor break room.
"Do you think he'll be okay?" Clara said. She looked away from the window and turned to Martha, who was still staring at the driveway.
Martha didn't answer for a while, then a smile spread across her face.
Clara looked back out the window. John had come outside, in a blue suit that was no longer too loose and wild hair that no longer laid limp across his forehead. An old, deep blue car pulled up in front of him, but it wasn't Donna driving.
Martha smiled wider as Rose got out of the car and ran straight into John's arms. They embraced each other like they would never let each other go, and indeed, they held hands as long as possible, only releasing them when he had to go around to the passenger side.
She glanced over at Clara, watching the scene with wide eyes. "Yeah, I think he'll be okay," she said. "He's not traveling alone."
Thank you to everyone who read/followed/favorited/reviewed, I hope you enjoyed it!
A short list of songs that accompany this story is posted on my profile.
If you liked this Doctor Who AU, check out my other one if you haven't already, The Relative Dimensions of Space.