The final story in a collection of utterly unrelated Doctor/Rose oneshots I've been writing throughout series three. This is for any of you that I've made cry over the past three months.
Disclaimer: I don't own a thing, and I likely never will.
"I saw you today," Martha tells him, with a slight hesitant edge to her voice that he tries to put down to the fuzzy reception on her phone.
"Future or past?" the Doctor enquires, interest sparked. He flips a few switches on the console before flopping down on the captain's chair and putting his feet up. The slight hum emanating from the console changes in pitch ever so slightly; no doubt the TARDIS' way of telling him that she's not furniture and doesn't wish to be treated as such.
"It can be difficult to tell," he continues, ignoring the humming and kicking his feet further up the console. Martha is silent and, as always, he takes this as encouragement. "What was it? Blue suit? Brown suit? Space suit? Did I look like I'd been experimenting with backcombing? 'Cause I only ever did that when – " The Doctor trails off, and Martha knows that, whatever he'd been about to say, it would have involved her predecessor in one way or another. "Well, back in the old days," he concludes, and Martha wonders what exactly the real old days are to him when he's labelling three years ago as such.
"Oh, I've reached new lows," he tells her, animated once again and sounding positively delighted with himself. "I am actually trying to figure out my own anachronistic timeline using hair." He sniffs affectedly. "This is your fault," he accuses her. "I was never this vain before you left that mirror with the glowy lights behind."
"You were with Rose."
She doesn't think she imagined the hitch in his breathing. A reluctant smile spreads across her face, knowing as she does how much it takes to faze him. In the ensuing silence, she takes her chance to cross to the fridge and inspect its contents, knowing it's probably too much to hope for that Tom might actually have left something edible in there.
"How did you know?" the Doctor asks eventually, voice quieter than she's ever heard it and full of the strangest resigned hope. He seems an entirely different man from the excitable, enthusiastic Time Lord who had been babbling down the phone line at her only seconds ago. Talking about Rose helps him in some indefinable way, Martha knows, but he's still constantly aware of how even keeping her alive with his words can never bring her back.
Martha shrugs on the other end of the line, forgetting that he can't see her as she shoves what she hopes is a curry into the microwave. She hears him fidget impatiently as she takes a moment to press the buttons, neglecting to tell him how she instantly identified the girl.
During her first week or so as an "official" passenger on the TARDIS, she had taken to wandering the halls as the Doctor fiddled with the controls. Just days before she left, she had eventually stumbled across his room and the collection of Rose's possessions scattered throughout it. The room had seemed untouched; unsurprising, really, when she'd so often found him asleep in the library instead of in any actual kind of bed. More than anything else, it had seemed to Martha almost a shrine to the way life had once been for this man.
There certainly had been a religious air to it. Even the dust had practically hummed, alive as it was with the essence of a girl long since gone. On the top of a large, dark chest-of-drawers, in amongst the random items of make-up, jewellery and futuristic gadgets, a cluster of haphazard photographs had smiled and winked out across the room. Ranging from poses in photo booths to acutely bizarre snaps caught unawares in alien worlds, the happiness and adoration plastered across the two beaming faces in every unframed snap had proved difficult to forget.
Eventually, Martha answers the only way she can.
"She was blonde."
Because really, even if she hadn't seen the photographs, that would certainly have given it away.
"Ah," he says, and she wants to believe there's guilt in his voice, but then he changes tack. "I might travel with a hundred blonde women after you, Martha Jones," he tells her sternly, the oddest mix of relief and regret as he lets go of the idea of himself and Rose walking around somewhere in the confines of time, happy and oblivious. "There's – "
For quite possibly the first time in their acquaintance, she interrupts him. "And you had your tongue down her throat."
"Ah," the Doctor says again, but this time there's no mistaking the laughter behind his tone. "Well, thank you for putting it so poetically."
"February 11th, 2008?" he blurts suddenly, though she knows he's had this particular date in the forefront of his mind ever since she mentioned seeing him in her own time. "About…ooh, 3.12pm? Outside Tesco? We were buying milk."
"Um, actually, no," Martha says, and she can just imagine him frowning, stumped and slightly crestfallen that he could be so, as he potters around the controls with the phone stuck between his raised shoulder and his ear. "Your clock's wrong. May 1st, bench in Hyde Park. You were – " She blushes. "Well, I didn't ask."
"Right, yes. Sorry," he says, not even beginning to sound like he means it. That was definitely a chuckle.
"You knew me," she confesses, her words weighted and clear as she finally comes to the purpose of her call.
"…Don't be stupid," the Doctor retorts after the slightest of pauses, all but shutting off his thought processes and refusing to allow himself to acknowledge the implications of such a statement. His tone makes it obvious that he is brushing her words off as the result of a quick glance his past self had happened to thrown her way, a polite good morning or even an, "I'm so sorry my companion and I are blocking the newspaper stand. We shall continue our inappropriate behaviour elsewhere".
"No, you're not listening. You knew me," she repeats defiantly, and a long silence follows in which a wordless Martha makes it very clear that she understands, even if he won't. "You said – "
"Stop it, Martha; that's not funny," he snaps finally, sounding rather like someone had cut off the air supply to one of his lungs.
"Never said it was," she retorts calmly. "You said you'd get like this." She's silent for a moment, listening to him breathe agitatedly as she hovers between the slightest remnant of jealousy and wondering, from his reaction, if she should have told him at all. Then she takes a breath and instructs him to do the one mission she had always dreaded occurring during her time with him: "Find her. Before you send us all mad."
He's already hung up.
Rose is drying her hair, of all things, when she sees him.
At first it's just a flicker of brown, a sign she has long since learnt to ignore, but then she lifts her head up to dry the back and there he is. A tiny but scale reflection in the doorway of her mirror, the expression on his face unfathomable.
The hairdryer drops to the floor, ceasing in its constant production of heat as it shatters. All the air caught in her throat, Rose reaches her fingertips to the glass, brushing away the steam. She blinks once, twice, three times; he's still there, and unless she's being very much misled by wishful thinking, she can feel her key glowing hot beneath her dressing gown.
Trembling fingertips still tracing his face in the reflection, she chokes out the only words she can possibly summon after so many months of being tricked by memory, need and grief: "Are you real?"
She's surprised he heard her at all, her voice is so wracked with suppressed tears. She can't watch him disappear again.
The reflection moves closer and Rose keeps her eyes glued on him in the glass before her, too frozen by fear even to turn around and risk missing the slightest second of his expression. Turning around to check would be to find only empty space, and she can't help but cling to this phantom haunting her heart for every precious second he offers.
She wants to step through like Alice and enter a world where no-one can take him away and her imagination will never falter or fade, but she's positively frozen to the chair. She can do nothing but watch as he crosses her room, his image steadily growing larger. She swears she can hear his soft footfall with every step he takes.
He's right behind her, now, only his pinstriped jacket and untucked shirt visible in the mirror. She watches a hand approach her shoulder, expecting it to fade away any second, to sink through her skin and leave her alone once again. Not real. Never real.
It doesn't, though. Cool and familiar on her shoulder, his hand is as solid as she is. After innumerable seconds of disbelieving, feather-light contact, his grip tightens almost painfully as though he's holding on to her in the way she's so desperate to leap up and cling to him.
She feels suddenly, absurdly shy, and should he duck down to make his face visible in the mirror, she thinks she'd be quite unable to meet his gaze – what if he's changed? What if she has?
He's asking her to turn around, she knows, but she can't. These are the only moments she has in which to indulge in the memory of him. She's desperate to close her eyes, lean back into his touch, but she can't waste a single second. It's been so long, now, and even the dreams have become few and far between, much as she wills him into her mind at night when she can't feel guilty for not living the life she promised.
But then he does it for her, twisting her chair around until she's forced to tear her eyes from the mirror and acknowledge his reality. He meets her half way, kneeling and taking both of her hands, unblinking eyes focused on her own with an intensity and tenderness she'd almost forgotten. Looking away is the last thing on her mind.
She has no breath with which to gasp this time. He's stolen it all away.
"Hello," he says softly, one of his hands coming up to her face. Both of hers fly up, covering his, and her whole body convulses with a sob as she becomes utterly convinced of his reality. She's probably supposed to offer up some sort of verbal greeting in return, but she's quite forgotten how to speak. Her vocal chords feel raw and choked, as though they've never been used, and anyway, what can words matter when he's right here, his cold skin somehow burning into hers with every shaky breath she takes?
Before the tears have chance to fall, he's kissing them away, both of his hands cupping her face now as hers slide to his wrists, the weak pulses there a necessary affirmation. She's sure he's whispering her name over and over as his lips ghost across her skin, but once his mouth comes up to meet hers, she's too far gone to even think about making her ears function properly.
He pulls back all too soon, echoes of him still whispering in her mind, and all of her breath seems to return in a rush.
"OK," she mumbles against his lips, his forehead pressed to hers and her hands now clutching his upper arms so tightly that he fears even his binary vascular system won't be able to cope with the loss of circulation. "Definitely not real."
She feels rather than sees him smile, her eyes screwed tight shut as though she's terrified he won't be there should she dare to open them again. Thumbs brush uselessly over her cheeks, wiping away a fraction of the torrent still pouring.
"I am a fool / To weep at what I am glad of," he quotes quietly, shifting slightly as though to stretch his legs out, but Rose bundles him to her, completely unwilling ever to let go again. She's almost falling out of her chair and on top of him as he continues to kneel on the ground, but neither of them can care. She buries her head in his shoulder. If he can ignore the way her tears are soaking through to his skin then she can almost pretend that nothing's changed.
"Is that poetry?" Oh, God. He makes his way across two universes to find her and she's asking if he's quoting poetry. She'd meant to say something along the lines of, I thought I'd never see you again or, you said it was impossible, you great git, but somewhere between her brain and her tongue such coherent statements got utterly lost.
"That's Shakespeare," the Doctor corrects good-naturedly, happily allowing himself to be tugged ever nearer. "Met him not so long ago. Nice bloke. Bit miserable. Oh, I have got so much to tell you, Rose Tyler. You've a lot of catching up to do. But," he begins, waving trivialities aside, and Rose's eyes fly open, the image of him all blurred around the edges. She hiccups softly and he grins. "I believe…we have some unfinished business to attend to."
Rose sniffs, scrambling down off the chair and positively falling on him before burying herself in his arms and holding him so close that she can't see his face anymore. "Don't care," she mumbles into him. "I know. You don't have to say it."
He raises an eyebrow, having forgotten how well she could always read him. "Yeah?"
"Yes." There's no denying the firmness of her answer, muffled as it is by the way she's pressed into his jacket.
The Doctor straightens his knees, half-standing up and pulling her with him in their reluctance to let go. In one swift manoeuvre, probably aided by the fact that Rose's muscles all seem to have turned into mindless jelly, he shifts so that he is sitting on the chair and she, instead of occupying his old position on the floor, can scramble into his lap. She wraps her arms around him blindly, pushing in as close as she can as though she is trying to burrow under his very skin, determined that if anything does snatch him from this world then it's taking her, too.
He responds in kind by pulling her in even tighter until they are a mishmash of body and limb, neither of them quite able to tell who begins here or ends there. He lets out a shuddery breath as she settles down against him, more childlike and vulnerable than he's ever seen her, and is almost afraid that she'll break with the force of his hold.
It's been spinning in her mind ever since he appeared, but only now, wrapped up in him, does Rose have the courage to say it. "How long have we got?" she whispers, trying not to let her voice break and forcing herself to breathe while the question hovers uncertainly in the air above them. She presses her face further into his jacket as though daring the universe to try and take him from her now.
"Forever," the Doctor tells her simply, and he doesn't need to add if you'll take it. The way her body is shaking in indecision between sobbing and laughing is answer enough. She compromises by pressing a kiss through his shirt, and he pretends the gesture doesn't make him shiver.
"I never thought…" Rose begins, clearly recalling his proclamations of the impossible, but she doesn't need to finish the sentence.
"I know." Her three words could apply to so very much, but he understands it all. He can barely believe that he's here himself, let alone that he's not about to fade away once again.
She tries again. "How did you – you know what," she adds, obviously thinking better of it, "I don't think I even wanna know. Least not yet." The Doctor is glad of this amendment. It's taken a long time and a lot of hard work to get here safely, and he's hardly the modest type. "Don't want to take all the magic out of it."
"Quite right," he confirms, soft and proud, both of them instantly transported back to Bad Wolf Bay all that time ago.
When her hand moves to press over his right heart, she is still trembling. "I can't believe you're here," she whispers, her three years without him making such happiness not just overwhelming but difficult to accept. "Really here. I mean, I can touch you again," she marvels, as if it's something brand new despite the way they've been holding each other all this time.
"No images this time," he promises. "Just me."
"And you're not gonna go disappearing on me?"
"I give you my word."
Having composed herself slightly, Rose seems to remember that she's clothed in nothing more than a dressing gown and a pair of fluffy slippers. "I was sort of hoping I'd be wearing more clothes when this happened," she mumbles, mind obviously full of ball-gown related ideals.
The Doctor snorts, looking down at her incredulously. "Women! It's always about the clothes," he exclaims in mock-annoyance, his tone much lighter than it always had been during their banter so long ago. Three years apart has made him realise that he no longer has any idea of her boundaries, let alone whether or not she's ready to be teased.
"I know you. Don't pretend you didn't spend three hours picking out that tie," Rose retorts, her grin wide and her body more relaxed, but she doesn't loosen her grip over him for a second. Her eyes, though, he can see, are now resting contentedly shut rather than clamped closed in fear and disbelief. He almost stops himself from kissing the top of her head before asking himself why and finding, for the first time, he has no answer to that question.
"What if I want to say it?" he asks suddenly, getting a mouthful of her hair and noticing absent-mindedly that she still uses the same shampoo. She looks up sharply. She'd forgotten how quickly he could change the subject; the way that he often seemed to be having one conversation on the surface but could be thinking about something else entirely underneath. "Because I do, Rose," he tells her earnestly, eyes flicking back and forth between each of her own as she wonders exactly which way to take that. "So very much."
Taking advantage of her newly raised position and momentary shock, he dips his head and kisses her again, at first so gently that his lips almost seem to be drifting across her own. An eager reciprocator now that the stunned feeling is beginning to wane enough to allow her the use of her limbs, Rose pushes all the grief and loneliness of her time without him aside and kisses back with determination and purpose enough to surprise even him. After spending the last few minutes clinging to him like a lifeline, perhaps it's time she gave him something back. Winding her arms around his neck, she smiles into his mouth even as her tears wash over his cheeks, determined to return nothing but happiness to a man who has felt so very little of such an emotion.
Somewhere in her mind, she's dimly aware of the Doctor taking her hand; locking his fingers with hers just as he used to. And it is this – this simple, wonderful gesture, not the declarations or the clutching or even his return, but this – that shatters her into a million tiny pieces even as his kisses gently sew her heart back together.
Love is an exquisite thing, really. Even if this moment hadn't brought back all the rawness of their separation, she's certain she feels so much for him that she would surely ache this way nonetheless. He's not a fool at all; it's a pain and a weeping she revels in. She never thought hurting could be so beautiful.
"Sometimes," he whispers, "I don't think I'll ever find the words."
"Mummy," the little boy whispers, tugging on his mother's hand in the doorway, "Why Rose cryin'? Is she hurt herself?"
Jackie sniffs, determined not to let her son see she's doing the same. "No, sweetheart. She's crying 'cause she's happy."
At three, he's utterly baffled by this prospect. "We meant to cry when we's happy?" he asks finally, frowning, and Jackie makes a shushing noise as she picks him up and gathers him to her, clinging on to what she has left now that she knows she's about to lose her daughter all over again. Even as they watch, the Doctor seems to be asking her to go with him, eyes fixed on her in rapt, pleading attention, and Rose sobs even more, grinning wider than Jackie remembers her ever being able to before.
"Sometimes, yeah," she tells her son, pressing her face into his hair as she watches the Doctor spring up and pull a dislodged Rose right off her feet, spinning her around the room in unadulterated elation. "I cried when I met your Daddy." He still looks completely bemused, so Jackie just ruffles his hair with her free hand and dishes out the ever-recurring piece of wisdom we all swear we shall never say to our own children: "You'll understand when you're older."
Still spinning, Rose's legs kicking out in all directions and her head buried in the Doctor's shoulder, their delighted laughter fills the too-silent house and Jackie reflects sadly that she hasn't seen her daughter so alive in a long time. Eventually, the Doctor puts her down and she kisses him giddily, turning bright pink even as she does so. Out in the hallway and balanced precariously on Jackie's hip, the little boy buries his head in his mother's shoulder, covering his eyes in shock before craning his neck back once again and peeping through his fingers.
"Whossat man? Why he makin' her cry?"
"That's the Doctor," Jackie admits, slightly shocked at just how relieved she is to finally say those words once again.
The boy's eyes widen and he scrambles in his mother's arms to get a better view. "'S Doctor?" He looks around the room excitedly, eyes deliberately skipping over the embracing couple in the middle, clinging to each other as though they're still dreadfully dizzy from all the spinning. "Where his box?" he asks, slightly disappointed not to see the TARDIS after all his sister's bedtime tales detailing the magnificent machine. Then another thought comes to him, and he clutches his mother in fearful anticipation. "Why's he here, Mummy? Is there aliens? And Rose gonna fight 'em again?"
"No, sweetheart," Jackie answers eventually, stemming the babble of questions, swiping at the tears running down her face with her free hand. "He's here because he's taking her home."