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Author's Note: Big thanks to doyle, nos, and elke for encouragement. Originally posted 5 May 2005.
A Little Piece of Home
by Tara LJC O'Shea
The dalek was gone.
Rose had turned her face into the Doctor's shoulder when the glowing sphere had pulsed, and when she turned back, it was gone. There was nothing left but a shaft of sunlight catching dust motes in the air, and shattered concrete.
The Doctor simply stared at the place where it had been, the alien weapon dangling from his slack fingers. Rose flinched as the gun hit the ground with the ring of metal on concrete.
"It's..." he started, but couldn't finish.
She swallowed hard, her eyes burning, and he swam in and out of focus until she blinked the tears away.
"I killed you," he said softly. It took her a moment to realise he meant her, and not the dalek.
"You didn't. I'm right here," she said gently, trying to summon up a reassuring smile. "Not a scratch."
"But that was you. You changed it. You saved yourself. All I did was kill you." The empty look in his eyes frightened her.
"Look at me," Rose reached out to touch his arm. "I'm right here."
He turned to her, as if seeing her for the first time. The emptiness faded, and the despair that took its place was somehow worse. "Rose..."
"I'm right here." Her arms went around him automatically as he buried his face in her neck. He was shaking, and she rubbed his back and just held onto him. She didn't know what else to do. What else she could do.
"I'm sorry, Rose. I'm so sorry," he kept repeating, like a child.
"It's all right," she managed thickly through a throat that felt swollen, tight with sobs she held inside where they could do no more damage. "It's all right. It's over."
He finally pulled back, wiping at his cheeks with his palms. The tears, she decided, were better than the empty, haunted look. "Over," he said with a bitter laugh.
"Let's go home," Rose said gently.
"Home?" he asked, blinking rapidly.
"Yeah. To the TARDIS."
"Home," he repeated, and they left the gun where it was, in the rubble.
She'd waited until the TARDIS console had stopped oscillating before she excused herself to run to the toilet. She was lucky that the TARDIS was cooperating for a change, and the loo had stayed put and she hadn't opened the door to find a garden, or a swimming pool.
As they had made their way back to Level 53, Rose hadn't been able to help noticing that the bodies were gone.
There had been scorch marks on the walls, and the smell of ozone had hung in the stale air, along with the cloying smell of unpleasant things she hadn't wanted to identify as cooked meat. There had been signs of what had happened, of the men and women who had died trying to stop the dalek. Died trying to keep her safe. There were signs, but unless you knew they were there, you would never have seen them.
Americans were efficient, Rose had noticed.
She retched until her stomach ached and there was nothing left to bring up but bile.
Sitting on the cool marble floor, she pressed her hands against it. Felt the heat drain out of them. Felt the bravado drain out of her, as she concentrated on simply breathing. Her hair hung in her face, strands clinging to her cheeks, which she belatedly noticed were wet.
She knew he'd be there when she looked up.
"You were hardly subtle," the Doctor said, wetting a towel at the faucet and pressing it to the back of her neck.
"I'm just... I'll be OK."
She carefully got her feet under her and leaned against the wall, wrapping her arms around her knees. He turned back and filled a glass from the tap. The water was cold and tasted better than the expensive bottled flat water you got in trendy wine bars. She sipped it slowly, eyes screwed tightly shut, willing her stomach to settle.
"Better?" he asked as, towel still in hand, he sat down next to her, legs stretched out in front of him.
"It all just hit me at once. It was the... I could smell the smoke, and—"
"I know," he said, laying a hand on her shoulder. Her eyes filled with tears again. She ducked her head, letting her hair fall forward to hide them, feeling foolish.
He'd been completely un-self-conscious about crying in front of her, earlier. Mickey would have been embarrassed, made up some complete rubbish about dirt in his eyes, whatever. Tried to save face. Jimmy... well, Jimmy never would have cried to begin with. But the Doctor had just wiped his tears away. She wondered if it were only the males of her particular species who lived in mortal terror of being called big girls' blouses.
She felt her cheeks burn, and she took the towel and pressed it to her face.
"You got the pretty boy settled?" the Doctor asked as she tucked damp strands of blonde hair behind her ears.
"He got himself settled. I think he's going to start cataloguing his room."
"You would pick up a train spotter."
"Strays," Rose said with a shaky laugh. "I'm utterly useless when it comes to strays."
"You just like the idea of having him around, so you can feel superior."
Rose flushed guiltily. "He was, like, 'I'm a genius. I have A-levels.' And all I could think was, 'You have no idea.'"
"He has an idea now," the Doctor said, and Rose's smile faltered.
"Yeah," she said softly, closing her eyes and trying not to think of bodies stacked like discarded toys. Not to think of how she had felt when the sizzling bolts of energy had been fired centimetres from her head. Not to think about her hand print glowing on the bronze metal.
"The dalek used you, Rose," the Doctor said softly, and she flinched. "It played on your compassion. It was easy, because it has none. It couldn't conceive of it as anything other than a weakness to be exploited. It wasn't your fault."
"All those people died because of me."
"Not you," he corrected her gently. "You may have freed it, but I'm the genius who woke it up."
She turned to him, saw the set of his jaw, his sight fixed on something she couldn't see, only feel like a chill down her spine.
"You were trying to help," she reminded him, reaching out to touch his shoulder. "We went because of the signal. They were torturing it—"
"Maybe it deserved it," he said quietly. "It massacred hundred of people."
"I know. God, I know. But... torture?" Rose shook her head. "Nobody deserves—"
"Maybe it did. Maybe..." He didn't finish the thought, but he didn't have to.
Her mouth went dry. "What are you saying?"
"It was just a soldier, waiting for orders. A drone. Not a strategist. It didn't personally wipe out a race, no. It didn't personally commit genocide. It didn't personally hit the big red button. But the thing is... the thing is, before you touched it, it would have. In a second." He clicked his fingers. "In a heartsbeat."
She tried not to flinch.
"That's what it was born to do," he continued. "That's all it knew. But someone who knows better..."
The grey had descended again, stealing the light from his eyes. It wasn't as bad as it had been, but it was the kind of melancholy Rose recognised. She'd seen it on her mother's face, the times she'd come out into the lounge in the middle of the night and found Jackie sitting on the couch in the dark, a cold cup of tea in front of her, family photos spread out across the coffee table.
Rose frowned. She knew so little about the Time War. When it came down to it, she knew so little about the Doctor. But she understood guilt, and she understood grief. Even if the scale was beyond her, she could recognise and empathise with loss, and tried to choose her next words carefully.
"It said... its purpose, its function was to kill. To destroy. But your instinct is to help. We went there because something needed help. That's what you do. You couldn't have known what was going to happen. You said it yourself—compassion isn't a weakness. All you heard was a cry for help."
"A cry for help," the Doctor repeated, laughing bitterly. "Poor little thing..."
His eyes shone for a second with unshed tears, and he blinked them away.
"When I realised it was helpless, I tried to kill it. I wanted it to suffer. I wanted..."
He leaned back, staring at the ceiling, and she watched his throat work as he swallowed.
"I wanted revenge," he said simply.
"If someone had wiped out my Mum, my planet—my entire race..." She laid her hand atop his gingerly, as if the action might shatter them both. "It'd be a bit like putting a concentration camp survivor in a room with a Nazi and a loaded gun, yeah? I understand. I get it."
He nodded slowly, and took a deep breath which he let out slowly. "Understanding it doesn't make it right."
Rose summoned up a ghost of a smile. "Well, I'd say it makes you 'human,' but..."
He snorted. "You lot think so highly of yourselves."
"Yeah. Well..." She rested her head on his shoulder, suddenly exhausted. The marble floor was cool beneath her, as was the Doctor's hand beneath her palm. "Look at us. The pair of us."
He chuckled. "Hopeless?"
He turned his hand over, lacing his fingers with hers. Then he leaned his head against hers for a second. She glanced up to see his eyes were closed, lashes stuck together. She bit her lip, thinking about how for all his 900 years experience, he still needed looking after. Someone to just sit and hold his hand and remind him he was still alive. That it wasn't a crime to have outlived his world. That he wasn't alone.
She could do that. It was a little thing, after all. A little piece of home, she thought as they sat there, his hand in hers, for a long moment.
"I was thinking... about Adam..."
His eyes flew open.
"Adam?" he repeated, sounding disgusted, and she giggled.
"No... just... is that why you picked me up? Because you like feeling superior?"
"No," he said with a slight frown, as if she were a silly little girl for even thinking it, and for some reason that made her cheeks grow warm.
He glanced down at their joined hands, and his fingers tightened around hers. "We're in this together, you and me. And ignorant isn't the same as stupid. At least ignorance can be outgrown."
"Adam says he was born clever."
The Doctor scowled. "Adam would."
Rose laughed. "You don't like him."
"I've always said you were brighter than you look."
She punched him in the shoulder—hard—and he made a great show of flinching.
"Why did you let him come with us?"
He shrugged. "You wanted him to."
"But Mickey—" Rose began.
"Mickey was different," he said quickly. She waited for him to elaborate, but he didn't.
"So Adam's like... a present?" she asked, still vaguely bewildered.
"More like a pet," he qualified, sounding more like himself. "You'll have to house-train him, of course."
Rose rolled her eyes. "He's not going to wee on the carpet."
"If he does, he's out the door. I don't care if we're in the middle of a plasma storm or a nebula—"
Rose buried her face in his shoulder, laughing. "You're all bluster."
"C'mon, then." He took the glass and towel and set them aside before getting to his feet and offering her a hand up. "We'd best go make sure he hasn't got into anything while we've been hiding in here. The TARDIS is full of delicate materials not fit for pretty young boys who think they understand the complexities of the universe because they've read thick books."
Rose raised an eyebrow as she picked up the glass from where he was just leaving it. "If you understand the complexities of the universe, then how comes the relatively simple concept of rinsing out a glass when you're finished with it eludes you? I'm always finding mugs of tea on the edges of shelves with creatures evolving in them, 'round this place. You're as bad as Mickey."
He looked horrified. "Bite your tongue!"
"You are. If I didn't used to go over there once a week, he'd never have a single clean glass, mug, or plate in the place. Because apparently doing the washing up is too complex for both of you. "
"I don't know about Rickey," he ignored her as she made a face at the resurrection of the misnomer, "but not too complex for me. Too mundane."
"You're above it all, then?"
"Yep." He grinned. She found herself smiling back at him, amazed that she could, after the day they'd had. The shadows were probably still there, but the pain didn't seem as raw as it had an hour earlier.
Her hand in his, they went out to make sure their stray hadn't wandered off and found the swimming pool instead of the wardrobe.