Title: Checkmate

Author: SilverAshes

Rating: T

Spoilers: Everything in seasons 1 and 2, and some foreshadowing of/backstory to a certain scene from The Lazarus Experiment in season 3 (kudos and Oracle Cookies if you spot it)

Category: Angst/Romance (oh the cliché, the cliché!)

Summary: But, she realises, it's present tense. It's all wrong. Post 'Girl in the Fireplace'.

Author's Notes: Angst!Fest - missing scene / slightly AU Drose - post 'Girl in the Fireplace'. Yes, because of course this was meant to be a 300 word ramble… bloody plot bunnies keeping me up all night… over several days… and now weeks… and oh look, now it's 3000 words. I blame my muse. Her timing is terrible, as always.

Disclaimer: Don't own them, don't claim to. Lyrical excerpts are from Evermore – Running, Evermore – Unbreakable and Coldplay – Yellow which belong to the respective bands. As far as content goes, if you recognise it, it's not mine – it's property of the BBC and/or RTD. I only wish that DT was mine.

Too many words, too many lies
I can't quite see the truth
When I look into your eyes

'I'm always alright'. The Doctor's eyes are clouded, but he's smiling when he speaks so he thinks she won't know.

But she can pick it in his voice.

Rose stands limply, leaning against the console, anger clouding any rational thoughts that might have lead to anything constructive coming from her mouth. Mickey tries to distract her, to lead her away from the one-man drama that's unfolding in the room before them, but she just shakes him off and hisses a violent dismissal. Defeated, he stalks off down the corridor, seething at both the Doctor for being such a stupid twat and Rose for falling so hard for the stupid twat. And again at the Doctor for being such a stupid twat because he can't see it.

It's an odd situation, now that they're alone. Eye contact isn't quite an option, and the easy camaraderie they usually share has suddenly dried up entirely.

The Doctor stares straight ahead at the monitor in front of him, flicking switches and typing codes as an obvious distraction from the events that have just unfolded. TARDIS has dimmed her lights in respect, and Rose finds that the darkness makes attacking the issue slightly easier. Or so she thinks.

It's always easier when he's not looking her in the eye.

"I'm sorry… about… well, you know." She's blurted it out before she has a chance to think, and realises that perhaps it wasn't the best conversation opener she's ever used. Or the most sympathetic.

"I told you, I'm fine. I'm always fine." He never drops the façade and though it pains her, for a second she wants to believe him because then everything will be alright. But she doesn't and it's not.

"So where to now?" He's continuing on, sweeping it under the carpet as always, all mad hair and sonic screwdriver and button pushing. But this time she won't let that happen. She's like a dog with a bone. Mostly because she cares, she tells herself, and she'd never admit to hurt pride and a broken heart being part of the equation.

"Don't." Her voice is a warning, and he knows it. But he's going to plough on through anyway. The guilt that's eating him from the inside out is not something he can face right now. Not with her, at least.

He turns to her, ready to launch into an interplanetary description of sorts, ready to shift the focus, ready to bound on through time and space- and stops short. He's not actually looking at her, but after all this time he doesn't really need to.

It's there, in the way her fists are slightly clenched inside the pockets of her jeans and she's perched uneasily on her toes. The stance of revolt that she reserves for enemies alone.

After such a length of silence, Rose feels that now might be as good a time as any to get this started. She doesn't want to allow herself a moment to doubt where the conversation might lead. Or what it might end up revealing about them both.

"You can tell me, you know…" she starts. And then the momentum begins to build and she lifts her eyes from the floor as the words cascade down from her mouth. "She musta been something special. 'Coz you're just standing there starin' and you never do that. You think you're okay, but… I can… she meant the world to you, and I wanna know what happened before it eats you up and-"

"She left me a letter." He cuts her off, more harshly than he'd intended, but with enough force, he hopes, for her to just leave it.

It's supposed to be a conversation ender. A letter he doesn't want to talk about should close this particular chapter and they should move on. But Rose has other ideas.

"What does she say?" she asks gently, hoping to prize out some emotion. Some indication that the twin hearts beating in his chest bear some feeling other than the nonchalance he's feeding her at the moment.

"Did." His eyes are dark. "Did say. Reinette's dead, Rose. Satisfied?"

Now he's giving her a name – personalising the subject of their conversation into Reinette. And it's now revealed that that subject is dead.

The tears that suddenly sting Rose's eyes go unaddressed, but her heart breaks all over again. She thought maybe he had been chucked; he had chucked Reinette; he had been exiled by the King; Reinette had been exiled by the Queen… or any number of other fling-ending events had occurred. But death… death was final. Too final. Death was the parting of lovers, and Rose steels herself against that revelation. He's seen more than enough death in his role as the last of a kind. The Curse of the Time Lords is catching up with this regeneration already.

"But she… I mean, you…"

"I what, Rose? I've not read it, and I don't plan to anytime soon." He knows he should stop there and then but it's the guilt that's getting to him now. And guilt has never been kind in its choice of words. "She's gone now. Like everyone else. And that's just fine, because it's the way it's always been. And now we're going to stop this and I'm going to choose a button and we're going to go somewhere else and I'm going to hold your hand and we're going to run away from aliens."

There's a stillness in her now that, quite frankly, freaks him out. It's like she's left this plane of existence and her consciousness has become reassembled somewhere else; and not necessarily in the right order.

Inside, she wants to throw something at him. Her first instinct is to pick up the closest object and just hurl it so hard it breaks him into a million pieces. Because then she could fall to her knees and study him from the inside out.

But instead, she's stuck motionless, drowning in a sea of unfathomable depths. He's brushing it off and she hates him for it. The sentences forming in her head are written in poison ink and the pen is nowhere near running dry just yet. She doesn't know if it's anger because he left her damn-well-knowing there was no way back for him and no way out for her. Whether it's jealousy because he dared look at another woman. Or whether it's just her heart breaking because he doesn't trust her enough to tell her the truth. She knows before she opens her mouth that words can never be taken back once they escape but it's like she just can't stop.

"Why can't you just talk? For once in 900 years, can't you just let it out? I'm standing here, right in front of you. Like I always am. And you don't have it in you to see do you?" She's on the verge of hysteria, but by now she's past caring. "Just fucking look. Just for one moment, would you?"

His features contort into something resembling shock, but she's not finished yet.

"Because you left me here. You, riding your bloody white horse, you deserted me. I can't survive alone in space. I can't fly the TARDIS. I don't know how to be you. I've tried, God, so many times. But I just don't know how. I can't even defend myself from the monsters that haunt us. So how the hell do you expect me to defend myself from you?" She's not sure where that last part came from, but doesn't want to dwell because it reveals a fraction too much about herself.

"Five and a half hours, Rose. Five and half hours. That's all you had to wait and you're screaming like it's the end of the world!" Now he sounds downright patronising.

"Isn't it?" She's pushing this too far and she knows it, but the words just won't stop.

"No. It's not. What if I never came back? What if I never found the fireplace? How long would you have waited?" His tone is angry, but subconsciously he's testing her. Testing how deep this runs.

"Forever." Her answer shocks him and silences the reprimand that has been forming on his tongue. It's what he wanted to hear, but now it's been said he wishes he'd never asked in the first place.

There's a faint glint in her eyes are she continues bitterly. "Because I know a small part of what it's like to be you, and I wouldn't just leave you." The words are spoken with such distaste, an obvious reference to and mockery of his recent desertion. "You need-"

He cuts her off mid-flight and launches his own attack. "Don't even pretend to know what I need. You have no idea what it's like to be me. I've seen things you couldn't comprehend, things that would make you break because you're still just a daft little ape. Same as you always were."

And it stings. It really burns that he can be so cruel after all this time has passed between them.

"I've been the Bad Wolf. I've looked into the TARDIS. I've seen all that is and all that was. I understand a tiny part of what you feel everyday because for a fraction of a second I saw all that ever could be. I'm no more human now than you are. You've been alone in that massive head of yours for so long, haven't you?" It's said with such spite that it's not even rhetorical. She's long since lost the restraint that usually keeps her in check and suddenly wants to see him hurt, just to prove he's not made of stone. "Double the heart and half the emotion. Half the feeling. Half the passion. You're right to feel grief if it's the universe that gets wiped out, but when it comes to a single person you can't bring yourself to feel anything, can you?"

"What the hell would you call Gallifrey, then?" His eyes are dark, too dark, and his tone is seething.

"Collateral damage," she spits back, and then regrets it the moment the words leave her lips. She sees his face fall and realises what she's just done.

Understanding dawns and it hurts like hell. "My God, you love her, don't you?"

"You love Mickey, don't you?"


He doesn't know where that came from, and the fact that he's now referenced the fourth player in this strange act reveals a tiny part of his intention all along.

They're stuck now with nowhere to go, unable to move beyond the last round of words.

But, she realises, it's present tense. It's all wrong.

She loved Mickey. A long time ago, before-

"Loved, Doctor. I loved him."

Too late now. She's said it. And it can't be taken back.

That revelation rocks them both, and a strange quiet seems to descend throughout the ship.

"That's why he's here, isn't it?" She speaks softy and she's suddenly deflated, all her anger dissolving in an instant as she begins to comprehend what the Doctor is hiding behind his ancient eyes. "You brought him on board to remind you that you can't-"

"Don't flatter yourself, Rose." His voice is cold. He's angry. Enraged. Furious in the way that this Doctor gets and his predecessor didn't. Because she's hit the nail on the head and it's dangerous for both of them if he admits it.

She realises what he's saying without the need for words and so takes it upon herself to resurrect the situation before they reach an inescapable impasse. "And what about you? Did… do you love her?" It's perhaps not the best road to take at this point, but she's never been one to sidestep the issue. And she needs to know.

His eyes seem to glaze over as he formulates a reply, words being tried and tested and rejected inside his mind as he constructs an acceptable response.

"Yes, I loved her." An outright bloody lie.

"I thought we had something." Too much like a gossip session.

"What do you think?" An unpredictable path to follow.

"I used her, Rose." Too blunt.

But it's the truth. Isn't it?

In the end, he chooses something in the middle, something entirely non-committal. "She was unique."

She can't believe it's happening all over again, but this time she's not going to let it go. She won't let him bullshit her now that they're this far down the path. Because there's something there. Something she needs to understand. Even if she doesn't like it, she needs to hear it.

"Was she?" Her voice is cool, with all the weight of mist sliding into a ravine.

"Don't pretend to be righteous over me, Rose. It doesn't suit you."

He might as well have slapped her in the face. At this point, she's got two distinct choices - run or fight. She's never been one to turn away from a fight for something she believes in, so the decision is made instantly. Stand her ground.

"And blatant ignorance doesn't suit you. She's dead, Doctor. Dead. I met her, only for the briefest of moments, but we knew that we shared something very important." She takes a breath, not quite sure if she should say more but knowing that she must. "You."

He looks stunned for a moment, scrabbling for a hold on the situation as she carries on regardless. "She'd be turning in her grave if she could see you now. If you loved her, really loved her, you'd be falling apart, not moving on and denying that she ever existed. There's no doubt in my mind that she was in love with you. I could see it in her eyes that one time we met. That and her fear of what her future might hold. So give the woman some dignity and damn well answer my question. Do. You. Love. Her?"

It's quite a speech and she feels simultaneously gutted and elated as she finishes. At least now she's laid out the ultimatum in no uncertain terms.

"I-", he starts and then thinks better of it. Best to plan this before things are said that shouldn't be.

But he can see Rose is hurt and angry in equal proportions and that's what this whole charade was intended to avoid. So he might just have to swallow his inhibitions and tell the truth. Tell her the unspeakable. This will make things complicated, but he'll take the risk of complications any day over the risk of her walking out.

Because I'm looking for direction
Through mirrors and reflections
And from where I stand
My only chance is you

"I told myself I loved her."

Nowhere near what she was expecting to hear.

"I used her, and I'm not proud of that fact. I abused her feelings." He stops for breath and turns away from her, busying his hands with the console. "I wanted her as a distraction, in the same way that you were supposed to want Mickey as a distraction. It's cruel, I know. Inhuman, even." He turns back to her and a bitter smirk graces his lips. "But I'm not human, am I?"

"Jesus", she whispers, exhaling in a rush a breath she didn't know she was holding

Was that supposed to be a reminder to her? A warning that they're now on shaky ground inside dangerous territory. A statement of the lengths he'd go to-

"And even now I can't seem to leave us alone."

For the first time since this saga began their eyes meet properly, and Rose looks vaguely confused. She knows how she wants to interpret his last words, but doesn't know if it's how he intended them. And if she is reading him correctly, she wonders what the hell got into her to push so hard for the truth in the first place. Because confessions like this will destroy them both.

His eyes are boring into hers from the other side of the room as he's weighing and judging the terrain on which they now reside. The interpretation of her body language escapes him and he has to bite back the urge to turn and run from the room. She has a strangely twisted half-smile plastered on her lips which disturbs him more than the insistent tappitytap of her doc martins on the mesh platform.

"So… let me get this straight." She knows that she's playing games now, but drawing this out of him in strands seems rightful punishment for his indiscretions. "You've used Reinette… you've used Mickey… you've used Jack… Adam… everyone. Just to make yourself leave us alone."

"Now you put it like that…" His tone is light but his eyes are cold.

"And after all that, what is happening to us?" She's acting sharply inquisitive, but would love to be offensively intrusive.

"You know that this is not allowed, Rose."

"So why are we having this conversation?" She looks angry and confused and he knows she deserves an answer.

"In the end you just get tired." He looks old, unbelievably old, standing there in a battered trench coat.

"Tired of the struggle?"

"Tired of losing everyone that matters to you." His eyes betray his age and he speaks with layered meaning. He's lost more than any person should have to endure and now he's on the verge of losing the one person he's ever truly loved.

"Tired of watching everything turn to dust." She understands and he just nods, appreciation and relief buoying him as he realises that just maybe this isn't the end.

"If you live long enough, Rose, the only certainty left is that you'll end up alone."

"Then you might as well live in the time you've got."

In a silent instant, decisions are made, rules are broken and the space between them unexpectedly dissolves. Her fingers are in his hair and the feeling that engulfs them both is real. It's the kiss on New Earth, except this time she's in control of herself and he's not acting like a wax statue anymore.

Their eyes close to the shadows and for the first time in an eternity it feels like coming home.

Your skin,
Oh yeah your skin and bones,
Turn into something beautiful,
And you know,
For you I'd bleed myself dry,
For you I'd bleed myself dry