The look on Adam's face when he stepped into the TARDIS was better than Rose could have hoped for. "It's...it's bigger on the inside than the outside." He frowned. "Well, that was rather stating the obvious, wasn't it."
Rose grinned. "Don't feel bad. I said exactly the same thing."
"Everyone does," the Doctor said, startling them both. He was doing something with the TARDIS controls; Rose could see Adam's eyes following the Doctor's hands, trying to figure out what all those switches and dials and cranks could possibly do. The Doctor pressed another series of buttons; the central column sprang to life, and Rose caught the Doctor's smirk as Adam jumped back. "Well, that's that, off we go," he said, flipping one last switch. "Rose, you help your new boyfriend find his way around. See if you can find him an empty room. Maybe the one with all the teeth."
Rose rolled her eyes. "Ignore him," she told Adam, who looked slightly greener than when he'd first walked in. "He gets like this sometimes."
"Still standing right here," the Doctor said. "Take him there if you like. I suppose he'd get used to the screaming after a while."
Adam looked more alarmed with each passing second. Rose grabbed his arm and started ushering him towards the door. "C'mon, I'll give you a quick tour. It's not like he's making it seem."
"So...there isn't really a teeth room?"
"You'll feel better once you're settled in," she said, neatly sidestepping the question.
Rose glanced back just before following Adam out of the room and felt the smile fade. She saw how the Doctor's expression had shifted once now that he's thought she'd left, like he'd taken off a mask. "Oh, Rose. They're all dead." Had it really been less than hour since he'd said that? Rose felt like it had been years.
She saw the way he was leaning against the control panel, the way his eyes were lost in shadow, and realized how brittle and forced all of that bravado earlier had been.
She turned back and saw that Adam had stopped as well. "Um..." she said, looking back at the Doctor. "Look, could you give me a minute?" She could feel Adam trying to peer over her shoulder. "Go down the corridor, make two lefts, go down the stairs, then make a right," she said, needing to distract him. "You can get cleaned up, and the wardrobe should be right around there, so you can change if you want. I'll catch right up."
"Two lefts, stairs, then right," Adam muttered as he turned away and Rose slid the door closed behind him. "I hope it wasn't two rights and a left," she said as the TARDIS' ever-changing layout suddenly popped into her head. Well, we'll both find out soon enough.
The console room seemed eerily quiet as she approached the Doctor; she caught herself stepping carefully so she wouldn't make noise. The Doctor hadn't moved, and he didn't even raise his head when she was right next to him. "Doctor?" she said, not sure whether she should touch him or not. "Are you..."
"I don't know," he whispered, the dry rasp of his voice so different from earlier it was as if he were another person.
She shook her head. "Doctor? I don't..."
"What you asked me." His eyes were still trained on the console, and she wished she could know what he was actually seeing. "I don't know what I'm changin' into."
Rose winced. "I didn't really mean that," she said. "I just...you were scaring me."
The Doctor closed his eyes, then it was like a switch turned on: suddenly he was all energy and motion, his hands flying over the TARDIS controls. "I should take you home," he said. "I should take you home right now."
Rose felt the floor lurch under her. "What? Why?"
The Doctor acted as if he didn't hear. The central column started to move, and Rose felt a flood of panic as she realized he might actually mean it. "Wait! Stop, please, I'm sorry, I said I didn't mean it." She pulled his hand away from the controls. "Please, don't..."
He whirled around. "Rose, I killed you," he said, his voice so loud Rose had to force herself not to take a step back. "I killed you," he said again, softer this time.
"You didn't kill me," she said. "I'm fine. I couldn't be standing here if you killed me. You saved me."
He shook his head and turned back to the console, but to Rose's relief he didn't touch the controls. "You saved yourself. I had nothing to do with it. The only thing I did was lock you in with the monster."
"That's not fair," Rose said, putting one hand on his arm. She wished he would look at her. "It's not. You knew what that thing would do if it got out, you were trying to save everyone. That's what you do." He shook his head again. "I always knew it would be dangerous," she said. "I knew it from the very first day."
"I'm not 'sposed to be the danger." He slumped against the console, the lights throwing his face into stark shadow. He drummed his fingers against the console, and Rose didn't like how the corners of his mouth curled up. "It was right, what it said about me."
"What did it say?"
The Doctor's mouth twisted into an imitation of a smile. "It said I would make a good Dalek."
Rose felt her stomach tie into knots. "What? And you believe it? Why, because you wanted to kill it?"
The Doctor laughed, and Rose thought she'd rather face an army of Daleks than ever hear him laugh like that again. "I didn't want to kill it," he said. "I wanted to watch it die. I wanted to hurt it, I wanted to hear it scream. In what way exactly does that make me any different?" He shut his eyes, and Rose could almost see the revulsion crawling across his skin. "There's something wrong with me," he said in a voice so low Rose had to lean forward to catch it. "Something went wrong this time. You were right to ask what I'm changing into, 'cause I have no idea."
"You're nothing like that thing," Rose said. "Nothing. If you were it wouldn't have mattered that I was standing there, because you would've gone right through me. You didn't cross that line. You wouldn't."
"I wanted to," he whispered. He finally looked at her, and oh, it hurt so much to see his eyes look that way. "I wanted to. For just a split second, I..." He let out a long breath and stared into the central column's glow.
"I watched them all burn, Rose," he said, his voice hollow and eyes far away. "I felt it happen, and I couldn't..." He shut his eyes. "Everything I touch gets destroyed. You stay with me and it'll just happen to you, too."
"Enough of that." She took his hand and pressed his palm against her cheek. "Y'see?" She had to will her voice to keep steady; her eyes were burning, but she refused to cry now. Not until she had him talking sense again. "You're touching me right now, and nothing bad's happened."
He shook his head. "Rose, it's not that simple."
"It's the simplest thing there is," she said. He'd stepped closer; his hand was warm against her cheek. "You are never gonna hurt me," she said, hoping the words would hammer into his skull so he'd believe it. "Maybe something bad will happen, I don't know, but I know you won't be the one behind it if it does."
"How?" he said. "How can you know that if I don't?"
"'Cause I know you'll be too busy trying to stop it." She grabbed his free hand in hers. "It's dangerous and it's scary, being here, but that's all right. Something bad could happen at home too, you know. I want to be here. I'm not going anywhere."
He leaned forward so his forehead touched hers; he was close enough now for Rose to feel how badly he was shaking. "Rose," he finally breathed. "I thought it was over. The War. It's not. I'm still back there. I don't know how to end it."
She squeezed his hand. "We'll figure it out," she said. "We'll find the way, the two of us."
He was quiet for a long time; Rose closed her eyes and listened to him breathe. Finally, he let out a long sigh. "The ice is cracking under my feet, Rose, I can feel it. You won't want to be anywhere near when I fall through."
"Don't be stupid," she whispered. "Who'll be there to catch you then?"
His grip on her hand suddenly got very tight. After a moment, though, he let out a soft chuckle, and Rose was relieved to hear him sound almost like himself.
Suddenly she heard someone's throat clear behind her, and she almost jumped out of her skin. She heard the Doctor laugh as she turned to see Adam standing back in the console room doorway. "Um...sorry," he said. "The rooms just sort of led me 'round in a circle." He looked slightly traumatized, then continued, "There are some very strange things back there."
Rose frowned at the Doctor, who had stepped back to the control panel and wasn't even bothering to hide the evil grin on his face. "Oh, and what's that look for?" the Doctor said. "As if it's my fault you make a terrible guide."
"Adam, I am so sorry," she said turning back to him. "Just give me one more minute, all right?"
Adam glanced from her to the Doctor and back again. "All right, just...not too long?"
"Just a minute, I promise." He disappeared back around the corner.
"You and your boyfriends," the Doctor said as he watched Adam leave. "We're gonna have to get one big room for all of them. Put a sign over it, 'Rose's Boyfriends.'"
"He's not my boyfriend. Will you stop?"
"Does he know he's boyfriend number two yet? Or has poor Ricky been demoted?"
"Doctor!" He smiled at her, his mischievous, I'm-being-very-bad smile, the one that made Rose want to laugh and roll her eyes at the same time. "God, you're like a naughty little boy sometimes," she said, and he didn't deny it. "Look, I'm going to help Adam find..."
"Wait." He shifted to a different control panel and called up a series of complicated schematics on the view screen. After a minute of manipulating the controls, he stepped back and said, "There. Take him..." He paused, thinking for a second. "Down past the first left, then around the corner and past the stairs. Saves you the trouble of wandering around."
"What did you do?" she asked, trying to sneak a look at the screen.
"Never you mind," he answered, waving her off. "Now get movin', before he decides to start without you and gets lost. I'm not putting up with that noise for all eternity."
Rose laughed. "All right, all right, I'm going." Right before she left the console room she glanced back. "You're sure you're all right?"
The Doctor looked up from the view screen. "I'm fine, Rose," he said, locking eyes with her for a moment. "Go."
It wasn't true, of course. The shadows were still there behind his eyes; Rose just took some solace that the shadows had been pushed back enough that they weren't all she could see. He glanced up at her and mouthed the word, "Go," and she finally stepped back into the corridor.
To her relief, Adam was still waiting there; the Doctor hadn't been exaggerating when he'd said someone could wander through the TARDIS forever. "Great news, the Doctor found the perfect place for you," she said, hoping she wasn't lying. Adam looked doubtful, so she grabbed his arm. "Just follow my lead."
At first Rose was pleased with herself all over again that she'd invited Adam along; things with the Doctor had been so emotional her hands were still trembling. She felt like she deserved a good flirt with a cute boy after all that.
Except the flirting wasn't quite as good as she remembered; every time Adam gave her a one-word answer or one of his annoying little shrugs she felt her hackles rise. Rose Tyler wasn't a girl used to being shut down.
They arrived at the room the Doctor had picked out, and Adam did a poor job of hiding his relief when the door opened to reveal a perfectly ordinary bedroom. Rose leaned against the doorframe. "You need any help settling in?"
"No, I think I'm all right," he said absently.
Rose silently counted down from ten. "Look, have I done something wrong?" she asked, being very sure to keep her voice even. She'd rather walk naked into the teeth room than let genius boy know he'd hit her pride.
Adam leaned against the door opposite Rose and sighed; Rose found herself slightly --- if shallowly --- mollified by the way he looked up at her through his lashes. Oh, he's lucky he's so cute.
"No, you didn't do anything wrong," he said. "It's not you at all, you've been brilliant."
"Then..." Rose shifted her position. She hated these conversations; one of the loveliest things about Mickey was that he'd rather be set on fire than ever start one. "Then what's wrong?" Her voice got small. "I thought you liked me."
"I do!" Adam said. "Believe me Rose, I do. You're beautiful, Rose really beautiful," and Rose liked the way he said that. "And you have this amazing life. I mean, I'm on a spaceship. You're the only reason why I'm getting to do any of this, don't think I don't know that."
"So, if you like me..."
"I just don't like wasting my time."
Rose's mouth snapped shut and she felt her cheeks burn. It was almost as if he'd slapped her. She could tell from the look on his face that he knew he had best explain himself, and quickly. "I saw you and the Doctor. It was...intense."
Rose rolled her eyes. "I've already told you, we're not a couple."
"Then what are you?" he asked. Rose didn't know what kind of expression was on her face, but Adam suddenly raised his hands in defense. "I'm not trying to create a problem," he said. "I genuinely want to know."
"We're friends," Rose said, crossing her arms. Adam raised his eyebrows, and Rose elaborated, "Good friends. Very good friends."
"Yes, that I could see."
Rose's temper got the better of her. "You haveno idea how hard all of this today was on him. You don't know either of us well enough to say anything..."
"No, but I did see the look on his face when he thought you were dead," he pointed out. He sighed. "I'm usually better at explaining myself," he said, and Rose bit back the mental Well, I'd hope so. "I'm not judging, or trying to overstep my bounds. I just want to know what I'm walking into. You and the Doctor have this understanding between you, and I'm trying to determine where I fit in."
Rose studied her shoes, the fight drained out of her. It wasn't fair that he was making it all sound so reasonable. "I suppose you've had a pretty overwhelming day, too."
He laughed. "You could say that. I do like you, Rose. Just...let me find my place in all this before we start anything new, all right?"
Rose cracked a smile. Jackie had always been after her to bring home a gentleman, but she suddenly understood why her mother had never bothered with them herself. She was starting to wonder if they were more trouble than they were worth. "All right," she said. "All right. I guess I should let you get some rest, anyway. You've got a busy first day tomorrow."
Adam's eyes lit up. "Where are we going?"
"When and where. You have to remember both now," she teased, then she shrugged. "And I have no idea, never do. Half the time I'm not even sure he does."
"And you just go along?"
"That's me all around. You'll get used to it."
"I hope so."
"I should go," she said, turning away. "Oh, I'm around the corner and up the stairs, if you need help finding anything."
Adam smiled. "Thanks. I'm sure I will. 'Night, Rose," he said as he closed the door.
Later that night Rose was jarred awake by the sound of her door sliding open. At first she thought it was Adam slinking in to apologize, and told herself that if he thought he was going to get a snog out of her without some heavy groveling he was very mistaken.
It took a second to realize that the step was heavier than Adam's. She immediately put all of her energy into pretending that she'd never woken up at all; the Doctor had never come to her room before, and she sensed that if he knew she was awake he would claim he'd just dropped by to check on her and disappear again.
The way he tried to muffle his steps as he approached told her that she was right. The bed dipped slightly under his weight as he perched on its edge; her arm was dangling off the side, and she felt him gently place it back on the bed and tuck the covers back around her shoulders.
He was quiet for so long Rose felt herself beginning to doze off, but then his soft voice broke the stillness of the room. "Rose Tyler," he said with a low chuckle, and she could picture him shaking his head. She felt calloused fingers brush her hair away from her face; she could smell the leather from his jacket cuff mixed with the scent of his skin.
"Humans. You never do what's best for you. Should've run far away the moment you met me," he said, stroking her hair. "Run right home and forgotten me, just like I told you." He chuckled again. "Not that you ever do as I tell you."
Rose's heart was pounding so hard she couldn't imagine how the Doctor couldn't hear it. She'd never been so happy to have a boy turn her down.
There was something raw and jagged in his voice that he usually worked so hard to hide. It took everything Rose had to not open her eyes and take his hand and tell him everything would be all right, he'd see, to not pull down him beside her and hold him until he believed it.
But that was what she needed, not him. He just needed her there, and she focused on keeping her breathing even. After a few minutes she felt him shift his position, and a moment later she heard his voice close to her ear. "I was fallin' through the day you met me, Rose," he whispered. She felt tears prick at her eyes. "You already caught me." There was a hitch in his breathing, like a quick hesitation, then she felt the soft press of his lips against her forehead. "Thank you."
Rose willed the moment to stretch for eternity. She never knew how to explain things to her mum, to Mickey, to any of them. She saw the way they all looked at her, even Adam, for all that he'd come along: like she'd gone mad, running off in a spaceship with an alien, almost getting killed every other day.
They thought it was the traveling that made it worth it. The new planets, the seeing the past and the future and all of that. And Rose loved it, more than she'd thought she could love anything.
But it wasn't why she stayed. This was why. This moment, just the two of them in the middle of the night, the Doctor's hand stroking her hair. Nothing the universe could throw at them could ever be stronger than that.
Rose counted passing of the minutes by the Doctor's breathing, until finally she drifted back to sleep.
Tomorrow it would start all over again.