Chapter 10: Living
"And I suppose… if it's one last chance to say it…" He paused a moment, eyes locked with hers, his hearts breaking. "Rose Tyler…"
Time was up. It had always been a cruel mistress, but now he cursed the loss of seconds, of minutes, of hours, of days, months and years. The loss of her was a gaping wound, adding to the already yawning loss of Gallifrey.
He left one of his hearts behind, held by Rose Tyler, on a beach in an alternate Norway. And he damned his inability to say the words. To say the one thing that would possibly help. He always had regrets. This, however, was the greatest of them all…
His breath catches in his throat at her words. She stands before him, eyes closed against what he assumes she supposes will be his rejection. It makes him wonder what's happened to her in the two-odd years since she's last seen him. Once upon a time, she never would've doubted him. Never would've doubted that he's telling her anything but the truth. That he loves her. Perhaps Bambera's right. Perhaps she is hurting.
And he can't help but wonder if it's because of him. Because of their separation and those far too short minutes on a Norwegian beach. How is he supposed to act? What is he supposed to say? He's always been a man of action, rather than words. Even though he talks a great deal, he rarely says anything of import.
She doesn't know how he feels. He suspects that that means he's been far more successful in hiding his emotions than he thought.
"Rose," he says softly, brushing his hand against her cheek. "Some things are best said in private. Not to mention where no-one can interrupt. Come with me? I know the old girl would love to see you again."
She opens her eyes and looks at him carefully, as if she's weighing his words. "All right," she says and, after getting permission from the Brigadier, he escorts her out of the room. He tells himself that he doesn't feel Bambera's steely gaze upon him as he goes.
They're silent as they walk, carefully avoiding medical personnel and fallen debris. Part of him wants to fill that silence with words, but he feels that even that might be too much for her. He can only hope that the combination of the TARDIS and what he needs to say will be enough to convince her.
If not, well, at least she'll only be a short hop away with the TARDIS. That can be enough, right? Or so he tells himself.
Some minutes later, it's Rose that breaks the silence as he's about to open the last door between them and his ship. "You hid the TARDIS in a broom cupboard?" she asks, sounding as if she's trying not to laugh.
He shrugs, though he can't fight the grin that crosses his face. "Best place to park. Out of the way, scenic view, all the comforts of home. Provided your home is in a broom cupboard. And you like the smell of cleaning fluid. Which I don't. Does a terrible number on my allergies," he says and gives a comic sneeze.
"You're full of it," she says and there's the laughter.
"Who? Me?" he asks, wide-eyed as he ushers her inside first one door and then the double doors to the TARDIS.
The ship's hum deepens in welcome as he closes the doors behind them. When he turns, he sees that Rose has already crossed the room and is gently touching one of the struts. "Hello, old girl," she says softly and the ship's hum changes in pitch.
"She's missed you, you know," he says, leaning against the doors.
"I've missed her," she replies, smiling as she looks around the room. "It hasn't changed."
It has, he wants to tell her. So very much. However, he keeps his tongue as he lets her spend a few seconds getting reacquainted.
"So what was it you wanted to say?" she asks, turning towards him, keeping one hand on the strut.
Now that he has her full attention, he finds himself fumbling for the words. Anything would do, really, but he feels as if he's lost. How can he convince her to stay? Even if all she wants to do is go?
Rassilon, it never used to be this difficult.
"You thought I pitied you," he finally says, looking intently at her and willing her to believe his words. "I don't pity you. Anything but that. You managed to find your way back to this universe. You've managed to survive – if anything, it's far more than that. You've built yourself a life after leaving your family behind. And that's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant."
She ducks her head slightly, but he can see a flush colour her cheeks. She opens her eyes, but keeps her attention on the lapel of his jacket. "Then why?"
"Why do I want you to come with me?" he asks.
She nods, keeping silent.
He smiles gently. "Fun fairs! It's just like fun fairs. You know, going to a fun fair, riding the rides, seeing the sights and eating as much candy floss as you can possibly eat without getting sick. Well, maybe not so much the last bit. Anyway, where was I?" He pauses, brow furrowed as he considers what he was saying. "Ah, yes, fun fairs. That's the universe, Rose. One great big, giant fun fair with so much to see and do. So much to show. And you know what the best thing is about fun fairs?"
She looks at him, finally meeting his gaze. "What?"
"They're so much better with two. You see, a very wise person once told me that travelling the universe is better with two. And she was absolutely, magnificently right," he tells her with a wide grin.
"Oh," she says dully. "So that's it. You jus' want me to come because I'm here."
Undaunted, he continues, "Thing is, it has to be the right two. And you know what?" He holds out his hand to her, palms up. "It always was the right two with us."
She's hesitant, but he's patient, waiting for her to make the first move. When her fingers finally slide over his, he gently wraps his hand around hers. "See? Perfect fit. Always was, wasn't it?"
Rose smiles. "Yeah," she agrees. "How long's it been for you? I mean, since I travelled with you."
His expression sobers slightly. Something tells him that telling her decades isn't what she truly wants to hear. He's learning now, after all these years, how many things can be hidden behind a question. Words can lie. It's what's behind them that counts.
"Oh, I could tell you what it's been like for me since I lost you. Go into how every time I turn a corner in the TARDIS I expect to see you. Or how the scent of freesias makes me think of you. That I can never put my coat on properly because you're the only one who held it for me. Or maybe that I can't go anywhere near the Powell Estates any more because... well, just because. Or that I can't help smiling any time anyone says 'so impressive'. Yeah, I could tell you any of that and more. But that's not what really matters. All that really matters is that nothing's ever fit the same way as this." He holds up their hands and tugs her back into his arms for another hug.
He can't seem to stop himself from touching her. This has always been a particularly tactile regeneration, but this is more than that. He supposes it's because he wants to convince himself that she's really here. Really back. And that, when he closes his eyes and opens them again, he won't find that this has really just been a dream.
He doesn't think he could handle that any better than he has before, which is to say not at all.
"Now that I've got you back, Rose Tyler, I don't want to let you go," he tells her, whispering the words into her hair.
She sighs against him, letting her head rest against his chest and listening to the comforting sound of his heartsbeats. Her earlier doubts seem so nebulous now, so stupid and childish. She knows that she'll never hear him say the words 'I love you', but that's okay.
She knows and that's enough for her.
Rose tightens her embrace, whispering her promise against his chest. "You won't have to."
She thinks she feels him press a kiss against her hair just before he pulls away from the embrace just enough to look her in the eyes. She finds, for the first time since she's ever known him, that his expression is open and his gaze even more so.
She can read every emotion as they cross his face, the way his eyes glance downwards, at her lips, and the way he slowly returns his attention to her eyes. Giving her every chance to say no, to back away, to do anything but this, he slowly leans forward and presses his lips against hers.
His lips taste salty, she thinks, and she realises that that is because of tears. Hers. His. It doesn't matter as their mouths gently move against each other, a gesture of affection and, yes, of love that is as timeless as he.
When the kiss finally breaks, they're both breathless.
"Thank you," he tells her and she can hear everything that he can't say in those two words.
Much as she wishes that she could capture this moment for eternity, she knows that it can't last. Reality is always bound to intrude, the same with her responsibilities. Lifting a hand to rest it against his cheek – it's so strange to realise that she's truly free to do this now, to touch him, to kiss him, to express her affection in the best ways possible. They were always tactile, yes. Hugs, brief kisses against foreheads, holding hands.
This, however, is so much more than that. She knows as well as he that this is just the first step. A new beginning.
"You're welcome," she says, acknowledging his words spoken and unspoken. They share a smile and a comfortable silence for a few minutes, each embroiled in their own thoughts.
She realises that this won't be easy. Can't be easy, really. She's not going into this, returning to him, blinded. She knows what she's in for, what she's up against. She can't expect to be on a fixed schedule, be able to pay the bills on her flat or go to work every day. She could arrive the day before or a week ahead or twelve months ago. There are no guarantees in this life she's choosing and she has to acknowledge that.
There's no running into the TARDIS without looking back for her. Not anymore. That girl's grown up.
She breaks the silence by giving voice to her thoughts. "I need to go back. I can't jus' swan off like I could before, even if you've sorted it with the Brigadier. I've got to give notice for my flat an'…"
He curbs her words by pressing a finger against her lips. "We've got all the time in the world."
She catches his fingers with the hand that had rested against his cheek, pulling them away from her lips. "Sooner it's done, sooner we can leave."
The Doctor looks at her for a long moment before he nods. "Right, then. Cardiff it is. Could probably do with another top-up, anyway."
Releasing her, though she can tell he's reluctant to do so, he hurries to the centre console, flipping switches and twisting knobs. However, before they dematerialise, he pauses. "Well?" he asks, gesturing towards the controls.
She blinks at him, confused. What could he-? Oh. A wide smile crosses her face as she moves to join him. It seems like it's been forever since she's last done this, but the memories come flooding back. The barest brush of a finger there. Touching a button here. A twist of that knob. And a pull of that lever.
The sound of the time rotor's rhythmic pulse fills the room and she smiles, relieved.
"A bit like riding a bike, isn't it?" he asks from just behind her, stepping forward to rest a hand on her shoulder. "Well, a very advanced bike that's nothing like a bike in that it travels through time and space and doesn't have wheels. But, really, just like riding a bike."
She laughs, hard. She finds that she can't remember the last time she laughed like this and decides that she doesn't care. This is what happiness is like. Despite everything that's happened to her. Despite her family being stuck on the other side of the Void and UNIT and everything else. This is happiness. She's happy. Really and truly happy.
"Seriously, you're full of it," she says once she manages to regain control of her laughter, her muscles aching.
"No, I'm not," he replies, using his hand to turn her to face him. "Well, maybe a bit. –Ish. But not really. You try coming up with analogies that fit twenty-first century thinking with Gallifreyan technology."
Gallifreyan. She sobers suddenly, trying to place that word. She's never heard it before, but it sounds familiar. Lyrical, somehow. As if she's heard it in a song. She thinks she understands the context, though. He's given her something that he hasn't before. Another insight into who he is. "Gallifreyan?" she asks, already knowing the answer.
"Yeah," he replies with a nod. "Gallifrey is my homeworld. Well, was." He swallows after the last word and she can see a shadow of the sorrow that he's never truly forgotten.
"'S a lovely name," she says, reaching out to grab his hand.
"Yes. It is," he agrees. "I'll tell you about it some time, if you like."
"I'd like that." She knows that he isn't ready to talk about his homeworld, not just yet, but this is a step that she doubts he would've taken before they were separated. He's reaching out to her, offering her far more than he ever has before.
And that is, to borrow his previous self's favourite phrase, fantastic.
She moves closer to him, leaning against him as they watch the slow movements of the rotor. It doesn't take long to arrive back in Cardiff, but it's long enough to make her wonder about those that followed her. About Martha. About what's happened to him since she last saw him.
"Doctor," she begins and she can feel that she has his complete attention. "What happened to Martha?"
His breath catches in his throat and she regrets ever asking the question. "She found a cause worth dying for," he says softly. "A planet, some ten thousand light-years and a dozen centuries from now. There was this rebellion and… She didn't make it."
"Oh, god," she says, wrapping her arms around him in a tight embrace. "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't've asked…"
"It was a long time ago," he tells her, but something in his voice tells her that he's lying. If anything, it was recent. So very recent. He holds her and she can feel tiny tremors move through him, though he doesn't make a sound.
"I'm sorry," she repeats her earlier words, though they sound hollow. Even so, the sentiment behind them is anything but. She didn't know, yes. But how can that excuse her from causing him so much pain?
He doesn't answer her in words, instead giving her another squeeze. When he releases her moments later, she finds it almost impossible to see that he's upset. It's only because she knows him that she can see the signs. She feels horrible for even mentioning it.
"You didn't know," he says, smiling faintly at her. Before he can say anything else, the pulse of the time rotor increases, signifying that they are materialising.
"Saved by the bell," she whispers and it's only when he shoots her a mixed glance of pain and amusement that she realises what she's said.
Once the ship stopped, she headed for the doors, almost surprised when she realises that the Doctor is following her. "You're coming with me?" she asks, surprised.
"I told you," he says, grabbing her hand tightly within his own. "I'm not letting you out of my sight."
She searches his eyes and what she finds there sends a shiver down her spine. He's still afraid, as she suspects he always will be, that she'll leave him. That this isn't what she wants. That she doesn't want to be with him. "It'll be at least a week," she replies, warning him as to what he's up against. "Sorting the flat, my job, my things…"
"I've faced megalomaniacs, Slitheen, Daleks, Cybermen, villains of all shapes and sizes. Including, I might add, a villainous flower. Don't look at me like that, it's true. And it looked like a flower too, only it was plotting to take over… Right. As I was saying. I'm coming. Got it?"
A warm smile crosses her face and she gives into the urge to kiss him. It's soft, a gentle pressure of lips against lips, though even the smallest of kisses has a strong effect on her. Only because it's him. It's her. And she's free to do this now.
"That's good," she says as she pulls away only enough to give her space to talk. "'Cause I don't intend to let you out of my sight either."
Then she withdraws, reaching for his hand as she heads back for the doors, feeling a thrill of pleasure course through her.
She could only hope that this won't take too long. Being this close to him again. Being able to travel the universe again…
She doesn't think it's any wonder that her feet are starting to itch.
Never underestimate the power of red-tape, he thinks. Well, any type of tape, really. Though he thinks that mauve would be a far more apt colour than anything else. While Bambera did her best to smooth the way for Rose's departure, some things couldn't be rushed. Even doing his best impression of an impatient Time Lord – which wasn't much of an impression when it was the truth – had little effect.
Instead of one week, it stretched into two. Now, finally, he's managed to pry her away from the demands of UNIT and sorting out her flat.
She sighs softly, leaning against him as they walk hand-in-hand towards the TARDIS. "Thought that'd never end."
He smiles slightly and remains silent, letting the pleasure of simply existing again fill him. There was a time, not so long ago, that he thought he was doomed. The Lonely God fated to wander Eternity alone.
Good thing that Fate's looking in the opposite direction. "So, Rose Tyler, now that you're free of your life of work, chips, and the telly, what would you like to do first?"
She slows to a stop a few feet from the TARDIS, forcing him to follow her lead. Smiling up at him, he can see a thousand different promises in her eyes. Catching his other hand in her own, her smile deepens. "What do I want to do first?" she asks.
He nods, finding himself lost in her eyes.
"I want to go home," she says and he blinks, confused.
She nods, gesturing with their joined hands to a point just behind him. "The TARDIS," she tells him, letting just the tip of her tongue touch the back of her teeth as she grins.
An echoing grin tugs the corners of his lips upwards as he nods. "Yeah," he says, brushing a thumb over one of her hands, not taking his eyes off her. "Let's go home."
It's only later, after the TARDIS is safely in the Vortex and Rose has gone to fetch tea, that he realises something. For the longest time, he thought the word 'home' didn't apply to anything. It isn't Gallifrey. It isn't even the TARDIS.
No. Rose isn't the only one who's come home.
He looks up as she comes back into the control room, carrying two steaming mugs, and grins.
So has he.
In the shadows, hidden from all but the most trained of watchers, the man known as Jack Harkness watches the TARDIS dematerialise. Two weeks ago, he wouldn't've cared what might happen. He would've marched out from his hiding place, punched the Doctor (probably after kissing him within inches of his multiple lives) and demanded that he be fixed. Demand everything that he wanted and more.
Now he stays hidden. This isn't for the Doctor. No, he's still too angry, too broken for that. This is for Rose. For what he did. An atonement. A bid for absolution.
He doesn't like what he did, but he knows why he did it much as he knows why she left. This is the only forgiveness he can extend to or expect for himself. There'll be other times. Other places.
He'll find them again.
For now, let this be their reunion. The Doctor and Rose, together again.
He'll just continue to wait in the shadows until the time is right.
Good things come to those who wait, he knows.
As always, it's only a matter of time.