Author's Note: This story started off as a horribly bitter companion piece to Journey's End. But as often occurs with the stories I write, it got away from me a little bit, and by the time I was halfway finished, I realized it wasn't quite as bitter anymore. And neither was I.
Copyright Notice: If I actually owned anything worthwhile do you seriously think I'd be wasting my time writing fanfiction? As a side note, any superficial similarities you may find in this story to the excellent fan video "Nobody Sees" by seduff are not at all coincidental and entirely a result of the fact that I cannot get the damn thing out of my head.
Musical Accompaniment: "Second Best" and "Home"- both by Barenaked Ladies, "When I See You Smile"- Bad English.
Behind Closed Doors
'I'd nothing to do with war: I guarded peace and doorways,'
'And this,' he said, showing his key, 'was my weapon.'
– Ovid, Fasti, I:254-255.
"So what now?"
It had to be said. It had been said, to a certain extent, in the looks they had given one another after the TARDIS disappeared. In the confused and concerned glance that neither could adequately answer, and so both had returned their gaze to the empty beach in silence; dropping the hands that had briefly joined them. It had taken Jackie Tyler, a frustrated and rather chilled Jackie Tyler, to ask it aloud.
Rose turned again to the Doctor. The not-Doctor. The half human-half Time Lord-one hearted-completely lost looking-not Doctor who still, for all his vaunted alien intelligence, did not appear to have the answer. Rose sighed and bit at her lower lip. They were looking to her. They would be looking to her. Ever since she had come to this god-forsaken universe people had been looking to her. Her mum. Mickey. Torchwood. And now him. The Doctor. Sort of.
She did what she always did when people looked to her. She led.
"Call Pete," she said, stuffing her hands with some difficulty into the tight front pockets of her jeans. Her fingers were white and cold from the biting wind of the beach, and she really wanted to discourage any further hand holding. "Get him to find us a room and a taxi, and get us some transportation home."
Home. Jackie nodded and slipped her cell phone out of her pocket, moving off to make her call in relative privacy. She knew where her home was. It was a mansion, on the outskirts of London, England, Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way Galaxy, the Universe. This universe. She knew where to call to find her way back there, too. Rose had a home, but her cell didn't work anymore. And besides, it was a lot harder to track down a little blue box that refused to remain spatially or temporally static. She looked from her mum to…him (she was just going to have to start thinking of him that way…anything else required too much exposition). He was watching her with the same cornered look that told her he was at least as disoriented as she was. Probably more so; at least she knew the ins and outs of this universe already.
Shrugging her shoulders at him with her hands still in her pockets, she moved off towards the black rocks bordering the muddy beach. The tide would be coming in soon, and she didn't want to get her trainers soaked. He followed. She didn't look back to confirm this or strain to hear his footsteps crunching into the semi-solid sand, merely felt the change in the air behind her indicating that a person was there. That a real, solid, heat emitting being was accompanying her on her lonely path. She didn't need to turn around. She could imagine what he looked like. She knew that face as well as her own. It had haunted her dreams, the good as well as the bad. It had replayed in her memories over and over; repeated so often on purpose, lest it be forgotten. And she knew it would be hidden beneath a half-bowed head stacked upon slumped shoulders. Her mind filled in a brown pinstriped suit and a long tan coat swaying in the ocean breeze, even though she knew neither were part of his current wardrobe. Some things were just too ingrained in memory to be eliminated.
Lowering herself to the pockmarked crown of one of the more comfortable appearing rocks, she pulled her knees up to her chin and wrapped her arms about her legs. It was cold here out on the bay. She remembered that from her last visit, and she slipped her fingers underneath the cuff of their opposite sleeves to keep them from freezing off. He came to a halt in front of her and she looked up, confirming her mental impression of him, minus the coat and suit combo.
She wondered if he would break the silence. He hadn't said anything, yet. Not since he'd whispered in her ear. Whispered words she'd wanted to hear in that voice, coming from those lips, for oh, so long. Words that had sent burning, golden tendrils straight into her chest. Words that she would have given anything, gone any distance, paid any price, to hear the Doctor say.
He didn't speak. Settling himself next to her on the rock, he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands before him, not breaking his gaze with her through any of this. He was waiting for her, she knew. She had led with her mother and he was looking for her to take the lead in this relationship as well. It wasn't something she expected; she wasn't accustomed to deference. Not from him, anyway. She wondered if it was a half-human thing or just regular old fish-out-of-water nervousness. Then realized it had to be the former. The Doctor had never been nervous, even when he was playing the proverbial carp on the sandbank.
"This will take some getting used to," she said, voicing her thoughts aloud. He nods his assent, then breaks his gaze with her to stare out at the inrushing sea; at a spot on the damp sand where just a few minutes previously the most marvelous, most innocuous phone box in two universes had stood. She follows his gaze. The wind howls through the rocks, whistling against their jagged corners. Rose can hear her mum's voice raised in a half shriek of petulant anger over something Pete has said on the phone, and his voice causes her to jump with the closeness of the sound.
"Must be easier than last time, though."
"What?" she asks, unable to keep her annoyance out of her tone. Easier than what, exactly? The last time she'd sat shivering on this beach she'd at least had Mickey and Pete and a four-wheel drive vehicle. She'd at least been able to fool herself into thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Doctor would have finished his sentence, if he'd only had the time.
He doesn't look at her. "No new face, no new voice, no new-new Doctor." He's rationalizing and missing the point, and now he does look at her, for confirmation. His confidence grates her, especially after his reticence of just moments before. He forces her to be the first to speak, but then comes back with self-assured assurances that, surely, it can't be that bad.
It is that bad. It's that bad and worse and she'd been willing to let him slide because she knew he was in shock, just like she was. But if he's going to challenge then he's going to have to know how it is.
"You're not him."
Ouch. That had hurt. She could see it in his eyes. His face might not twitch a muscle in response, but the eyes told the story. She remembers that look from before. Can you change back? Do you want me to? Yeah. Oh. And for the briefest of moments she feels vindicated. She feels right causing him this pain because she's sure as hell going to go through enough of it herself. Feels that this face deserves to look like this, with the eyes gone all dark from a special kind of despair. Feels her cheeks grow warm against the icy air in justified resentment.
And immediately she regrets her actions, because it's true. He's not him. He didn't leave her here again, on a windswept beach. He didn't break his promise. Her mother saves them from any more uncomfortable conversation by striding up, flipping her cell phone closed with an audible snap.
"Right," she begins, noticing the tension shivering in the cold air, "Pete's got us all fixed up. There's a little bed and breakfast in the town up the road with our name on it, a taxi on the way to take us there and three economy class zeppelin tickets to jolly old England waiting for us at the heliport." The two silent figures on the rocks failed to flinch at her announcements. "Care to come out to the road with me and flag down our ride?" Once again, her question was met with a total lack of response. With a put upon sigh, Jackie turned on her heel and stalked away from the two sulking teenagers. Silence reigned a moment longer on the rocks after her departure.
"You should go with her."
"Why don't you go?"
"She's your mum."
"Your point being?"
"She hates me."
"You blame her?"
He unclasped his hands and, with a heavy sigh, pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. "No," he all but moaned from beneath his lowered head, "Not really."
Rose looked at him again. She supposed this was progress. They had managed what amounted to a full conversation without either of them breaking down, leaving without a proper goodbye, or leaping passionately into one another's arms. That seemed to be a record for this beach. Also, Rose noted, she had managed to make it through the entire exchange on rhetorical questions alone. That was a very Doctor-ish thing to do. She knew she had picked up some useful skills flitting about space and time, but she'd never before thought they'd work on him.
He turns to her then, and his darkened eyes hold more than just pervasive sadness. There is a spark of fury there now too, and Rose finds herself simultaneously terrified and mesmerized by its appearance.
"If it's any consolation, Rose Tyler, right now, I hate me too."
Rose's brow darkened. "Don't try and tell me you weren't in on it."
"I'm not." He's still angry, and it's making her angry, but it's better than it was before when there was nothing but cold despair. "It's not as though I didn't know what he was thinking, that I didn't realize there was only one way this scenario could play out. But that doesn't mean I liked the idea." He shakes his head, and his wind tousled hair flips unflatteringly into his face. "There couldn't be two of us hanging around in the same universe, I know I've explained that much about paradoxes to you before."
"You don't have to tell me about paradoxes, I wrote the book." And there's the irritation again, clear in her voice. She can't seem to help herself. Bitter much? Yes. All right. But not at him. And it's not as if it isn't true. A short book, mind you, really just a manual. The Torchwood brass had been appreciative, though she couldn't expect any royalties.
"One of us had to go," he sighs. And there's an entire universe in that sigh. All of time and space, the massive playground of existence, swept out of reach.
"So what, you got the short straw then?" He whips around to face her and his eyes are blazing. She's reminded, suddenly, of the fact that he dispatched an entire race of beings just a few hours previously without batting an eyelash. But she's been pushed too, pushed and shoved and cannoned all over the multi-verse. All to be deposited back here on the same stupid beach she stood on three years ago and cried her eyes out, vowing to whatever powers there were in the universe, and to one in particular, that she would find a way out of this personal purgatory. "And me, I get to try out a new title. Rose Tyler, Interdimensional Therapist."
"You didn't seem to mind so much before, what with the kissing and all."
Rose closed her eyes. She could still feel that kiss. Could still feel the remnants of the emotions that had washed over and through her in that moment. Emotions she wasn't entirely certain were 100% her own. It had been real, that kiss. He knew that. Had to know that. Still…
Rose sighed, opening her eyes and bathing him in what she hoped was a somewhat more friendly look. "Would you have left if I hadn't?" She saw the confusion wash over him, the narrowing of the brows that was so adorable when framed by oversized spectacles, but right now just looked pained. She stayed silent while he puzzled it out. These pronouns would be the death of them.
"You mean, would he have left if you hadn't kissed me?" Rose nodded and realization began to light his face. "You ask," he went on, "Knowing that he wouldn't. That I wouldn't. That we could never leave knowing you were alone and unhappy here and that he had to leave, of course, before the rift closed and left everyone stranded in a paradoxically doomed universe and bloody hell you did that on purpose." The Doctor slammed his fist down on the pebbled rock surface. Turning a gaze upon her that was, at the same time baffled, awed and absolutely furious, he spat through gritted teeth. "You used me."
Solemnly, Rose nodded. "So, did you. Use yourself, I mean. So don't go blaming me for doing what's necessary to protect my home universe. It wouldn't have a chance without the Doctor." She looked more kindly at him then, feeling bad for her earlier treatment; for the Doctor's treatment of them both. "And I won't go blaming you," she finished, lamely. He dropped his face back into his hands.
"I've been calling, can't you hear me?" Jackie waddled up on the uneven ground, clearly exasperated. And Rose is suddenly aware of how much her mum had been put through recently. Rose would never have thought she'd leave Tony, not to go chasing after her wayward firstborn. But she'd been there when Rose needed her most. Had always been there, in fact. Which was considerably more than she could say for the majority of people who supposedly cared for her. Rose knew she never gave her mum enough credit for all the things she did, and apparently still had enough decency left to feel guilty about it.
"Sorry mum, no." She pulled a stray lock of hair out of her mouth and said, "Must be the wind."
"Well, the taxi's waitin'. Let's get a move on." Rose stole a glance at her watch.
"Mum," she started, painfully aware that Jackie was not going to like what she had to say next, "Look, can I catch you up?"
"Catch me up? And just where are you runnin' off to? There's only one taxi!"
"It's just…" She couldn't look her mum in the eye saying this, but she couldn't look at him either, and by coincidence she was forced to look out at where the TARDIS had been standing. There was water all around the spot now. Any square impressions it may have left in the soft earth would have long since washed away. Soon there would be several feet of salty tidewater covering it all. "I thought I'd wait about here for a bit."
"Oh, not this again." J ackie threw her hands in the air and rolled her eyes dramatically. Raising one accusing finger, she jabbed it forcefully at his nose. "She did this last time, too, you know. Wouldn't budge, no matter how we tried to get her to move. And in the middle of winter, too." Jackie removed her finger and placed her hands aggressively upon her hips. "And just what, tell me, is the big deal about five and a half hours."
He blinked up at her in surprise. He glanced sideways, briefly, at Rose. "I," he croaked, and cleared his throat. "I once told Rose to always wait five and a half hours."
"And for what, exactly?" Jackie's tone was reaching the critical screeching point.
"For me," he answered, and immediately flinched under the fury of Jackie's wordless scream.
"Look mum," Rose interjected, trying to placate her, "Why don't the two of you just take the taxi, check us in, and send the car back to me in another 5 hours or so, okay?"
"Oh yeah, like I'm gonna take him and leave you out here to freeze."
"Then just go yourself, he can stay with me and we'll both catch you up later." Rose's voice was rising now to match her mum's, and she stood up from her rock to match their heights as well.
"Far be it for me to break into this little love fest, but if you haven't noticed I'm standing right here."
Rose and her mother turned mutually blazing gazes on the man who had dared to interrupt their familial showdown. All three of them were standing now, in the heat of the moment. His eyes shifted quickly between the two women, apparently finding it difficult to meet both their eyes at the same time. It was, strangely enough, Jackie, who backed off first.
"He's right, you know," she said in a much more reasonable tone than any of them had been recently using. "There's no use waiting around when the Doctor's already here."
Rose folded her arms beneath her breasts and turned back to face her mother. Slow and forceful, she enunciated every word. "He's. Not. The. Doctor."
"Yes. He. Is." Both women looked at the man who had once again stepped uninvited into the middle of their argument. He stood with fists clenched at his sides, leaning slightly forward at the waist. His head was cocked slightly off from center, and this time he had no trouble meeting both of their glares at the same time. His own eyes were liquid pools of ebony fire…if such a thing were possible. Dark stars. Rose found herself frozen by his gaze, unable to turn away. Blood pounded through her ears, a rolling crash of surf against a barren beachhead. Rose became uncomfortably aware of a dampness under her arms and between her shoulder blades; Sweat breaking out despite the chill in the air, and cooling almost instantly against her skin. She found herself quivering with the shock of the cold, and something else as well. This, she realized, must be what it feels like to face the oncoming storm.
By contrast, the air around him seemed to shimmer, like waves over pavement in a sweltering summer heat. With a frustrated sniff, he shook his head and looked away, breaking the contact which held them petrified. Somehow, she could still feel his eyes on her. Freezing her. Thrilling her.
"He wouldn't come now, anyway. Not so soon after…" His voice trailed off.
"How can you say that?" She was surprised to hear her own voice; had been unsure that she would be able to speak at all. "How can you know that?"
He didn't look at her this time. His tone was annoyed, reminiscent of her first Doctor's voice when he had once again needed to explain something intuitively obvious to his stupid ape of a companion. A clipped answer that brooked no further questioning, and denied outright any chance for debate. "Because I wouldn't."
He turned on his heel and stalked off towards the roadway. He didn't ask her to follow; didn't turn to look behind, but his last words hung in the air, an open invitation. She didn't quite agree with them, but she couldn't contradict him. Giving a last glance to the now turbid waters, foaming and crashing where once she had stood flanked on both sides by the man she loved more than anything, more than stars and worlds and galaxies, more than her mum and Mickey and the man she almost but not quite thought of as her dad, she fell into step behind him.