The day he almost drops a vial containing an incredibly unstable element he had traded a less than forthright alien emissary an entire case of excellent 18-year scotch for, is his last day at Torchwood.
He manages to catch the vial before it hits the tile, but just barely. Afterwards, his legs are wobbly and he slides to his knees before he keels over. His head is still pounding with the jackhammer pain that caused him to drop the object in the first place. White starbursts burn onto his retinas, disappear into a painful purple haze, and then reappear with an agony that makes him ponder just how bad shoving a sharpened pencil through his eye would feel by comparison. Headaches are something he's had to get used to since becoming mostly human, but he's never felt anything like this.
Seconds or minutes or hours later, the pain lessens and he manages to pull himself together. He is glad Royce has the day off. Glad none of the overenthusiastic techs are in the lab to see him. Glad, most of all, that the vial is still clasped tightly between his fingers. Standing shakily, gripping the table with one arm to support himself, he replaces the small glass tube into its holder, before again slipping to the floor in a whirl of vertigo.
When he finally feels well enough to stand and walk, the first place he goes is to the nearest computer station. Then the printer. Then the lifts. Past Rose's office. Into Pete's. Pete takes his letter of resignation with a frown and a nod, then offers to have one of the staff members drive him home. It's a measure of how terrible he still feels that he accepts.
He feels better after some tea and a little sensory deprivation time in a warm bath with the lights out. He immediately distracts himself by working on the Little Girl. He leaves her door hanging open so that he can track the passage of time by observing the tilt of the sun patterns falling from the study window across the carpeted floor outside. He hears when Rose comes home early, likely having been told by someone of his apparent distress. Her keys jangle loudly in the lock, her purse drops with a dull thud to the welcome mat as she enters, her patent leather flats race down the hallway, her breaths heave as she chases up the gangway to where he is already emerging from beneath the console.
"Are you okay," she gasps, sliding down to join him on the floor grating and likely scraping her knees up in the process.
"I am now," he says, reaching for her hands. They are cold and trembling. The two of them kiss for a while, sitting knee to knee, as if making up for an argument they didn't even have, before she breaks off.
"I'm so sorry I wasn't there! I was in Surrey!! Interviewing prospective janitors, no less. You could've been hurt and I'm out trying to convince facility management that, yes, we do need high security clearance for the people who scrub the toilets." He's not sorry. Knowing that she had been in the building would only have made him even sicker at the thought of how close he'd come to vaporizing her.
He lifts a palm to her cheek. "I'm fine," he lies, "Just a bit of a headache, that's all."
Her eyes go hard. "Pete says you resigned."
His hand slips unconsciously to the back of his neck. He's never managed to curb that annoying gesture of uncertainty. Not even with a new body. "Yeah," he drawls, letting the word ramble around his tongue, "I thought it was safer that way." He looks at her, one eyebrow raised meaningfully, and she gets it. He shouldn't be surprised; she's always known how dangerous his work can be. How dangerous he can be. She's never been a fool. She nods.
"Then I'm quitting too," she says decisively.
He drops his hand to the cold metal flooring. "No need for that," he admonishes. He knows how she loves the job, how she needs the distraction it offers her as much as he needs the Little Girl. "Besides, Pete would go bonkers without you to keep things running for him."
She smiles a little at that, but he can tell she's not convinced. He needs to convince her. He has his reasons for keeping her out of the flat. At least…for a little while longer. "You're the only person I'm worried about," she says shaking her head. "Torchwood can go to the dogs for all I care."
"Bollocks," he replies, and is momentarily pleased at the surprise flitting across her face at his use of profanity. "You love the job and you're needed there and I bloody well can't get up to too much trouble alone for a few hours a day locked inside a London flat." He sees her look darken, as she senses his insincerity. "Plus, you'd just be getting in the way of my tinkering on the Little Girl," he adds quickly.
Sadly, it's this last argument which ultimately convinces her. He thinks with no little regret how often he must have pushed her away in the past, giving her just such an excuse, that she takes it as a matter of course that he'd rather be with a time machine than with her. He can't really complain about the unfairness of his situation; he has so, so much to atone for. But he's working on it, here in his own personal purgatory where a half-formed, four-dimension straddling tool shed is his only path to a half-promised salvation, and it occurs to him he might as well write his own Divine Comedy. And the following morning his personal Beatrice kisses him haltingly on the cheek, and with a face clouded with worry, heads off to work.
He arranges himself before the console, shoulders straight and hands clasped firmly behind his back. He soon realizes, though, that the position is highly uncomfortable for a prolonged discussion and drags a folding chair over instead. He sits on it backwards, arms curled over the top. After a moment's thought he commands, "Begin recording."
A slight whirr and the blinking of a small green light indicate to him that the camera is running.
"Hello," he begins, out of habit, in English. Reassessing, he continues in his native language. "Current date is…well…not important. Let's just say its been four hundred and thirty-two Earth days since you left Rose and Jackie and myself stranded on a deserted beach in Norway without so much as a cab fare."
"If you're seeing this, it means I managed to get the trans-dimensional transporter program working efficiently. It also means that I managed to convince Rose that her place was back in her original universe with me…well, you. In other words," he lowers his brows for emphasis and looks straight into the dark eye of the recoding device, "You owe me big time." He smiles at his own use of the incongruous human phrase.
"Anyway, I've been here a while now, and in that time a number of things have come to my attention regarding the human condition that I think you should know. It's funny, I've watched humans for centuries, lived among them for decades at a time, but in just over a year I've learned that I…meaning you of course…know next to nothing about them." He leans back, gripping the top of the chair in both fists. "And if you're going to be…well…if Rose does go back, you're going to need to know some of these things."
"So let's get on with it, then," he raises one finger and stares intently at the camera. "Number one - Adrenaline, is very powerful stuff."
It's several hours later when Rose gets home from the Torchwood offices and startles him by stealthily sneaking up behind his seated form, gripping him by the shoulders, and planting a kiss against his neck which manages to be, at the same time, both forceful and yielding. Her actions take him completely by surprise and end up throwing him off track somewhere in between "The Doctor's Piece of Friendly Advice on Humanity" number 136 (going commando is not quite as comfortable with fully descended testicles) and number 137 (blunt force trauma to said descended testicles is decidedly uncomfortable, but nowhere near as incapacitating as Jamie had lead them to believe).
"You keep talkin' like that to the Little Girl and I just might get jealous," Rose murmurs sensually, leaning farther over his shoulder to kiss him fully on the lips. For a number of reasons the Doctor is pleased the translation systems are not yet fully operational.
"Mmmhhhmmm," he mumbles into her lips. It could be taken as agreement or dissension or let's do it right now right here against the console. Rose seems to be in full agreement with the latter interpretation. She tugs on his shirt front and he complies, raising himself from the chair he's been occupying. Turning towards her, he slips one hand around her waist and drags her towards himself. The other tickles up her ribcage, dragging the stretchy material of her blouse along with it until a line of bare skin is exposed across her midriff. Rose's hands fit themselves into the tight back pockets of the jeans she's bought for him, insisting she can't keep having his suits dry cleaned every time he wants to crawl in the Little Girl's oily bowels. He feels her hip bones push sharply into him. She breathes out an expectant sigh, and he takes this as his cue to let lose her mouth from his own. He runs his nose along the delicate curve of her ear, planting a gentle kiss just behind the lobe. Rose hums appreciatively, encouraging him, and he plies his teeth to the same area in a gentle nip. Rose jumps at that, and thrusts her hips even more forcefully against his own.
He turns her then, and steps away from the chair. Glancing over her shoulder, he can still see the solemn eye of the video camera and the little green recording light. In a voice that manages to make even Gallifreyan words drip with unrestrained desire, he says, "End recording."
Rose spends the next hour reminding him exactly how sexy she finds Gallifreyan speech.
The weekends, Rose decides, are for them to spend together; and the Doctor agrees, because while it keeps him from finishing his work on the Little Girl's trans-temporal drive, it does give him a convenient excuse for bowing out of the seemingly endless social functions at the Tyler mansion. It's like when he first came to this universe; each Saturday dawning with the promise of a prosaic, but at least novel, local adventure. He recognizes, now, that they're not keeping busy for his sake, but hers. She's driven, has always been one for letting her actions speak in place of her words, and he can see how her helplessness in the face of his progressing illness has forced her into a state of perpetual motion. So she fills her weeks with Torchwood and her weekends with him. For once in his life, he's the one along for the ride. He finds he rather likes it. Letting Rose lead the way, letting her choose the path, as well as the destination, letting her stumble upon some hole-in-the wall restaurant that isn't in any guidebook, but which serves the best cannoli he's ever tasted.
It's not quite random mode on the TARDIS, but it'll do.
One such weekend, they visit a London park, distinctly lacking in swans, but with a fancy Victorian metal and glass behemoth that housed an arboretum. Stepping beneath the structure's high transparent ceiling is like stepping out onto another world. Sunlight angles strangely through the glass panels, forcing them to squint in order to see. It's disconcerting, given that they're ostensibly indoors. The air is muggy and thick with the scent of loam and living things. It ripples sickeningly in hot waves above dark and waxy leaves, peppering their surroundings with little pockets of seeming unreality and adding to the initial disorientation. Rare orchids hang suspended over the path between the foliage, with little glass magnifiers affixed before them to better display their minuscule parts. They amble, hand in hand, beneath the brightly colored blooms and spidery appendages.
Rose pauses to examine something peaking out of the soil. "This one just looks….wrong." Rose points to a bone white flower resting on top of a tall, skinny stalk that looks like nothing more than a human spinal column.
The Doctor slips his specs from his inner jacket pocket and slides them onto his nose with an authoritative manner. Leaning over, he peers critically at the item in question. "Epipogium aphyllum," he provides, "The Ghost Orchid. Very rare. Supposed to smell like bananas." He leans a little farther forward and inhales deeply. Then crinkling his nose, he pulls his head back with a jerk. "Or not."
Rose shivers, despite the oppressive heat of the hothouse. "It's creepy."
"Nah," the Doctor raises one amused eyebrow at her. "It's just different. Has no chlorophyll of its own, so that's why the color seems off. Has to get it's nutrients from decomposing plant matter."
"What, you mean it eats things? Sucks the life out of 'em?" Rose's whole face scrunches together with her distaste.
The Doctor stands straight and thrusts his hands into his pockets. "Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. I don't see why that should bother you, though; you eat other living things to survive."
Rose holds one hand out to the tiny flower with her palm up, as if to say that the inherent spookiness of the plant speaks for itself. "Yeah, but I'm not a flower."
"Rose," he says, peering at her over the rims of his glasses, "You've met trees. Had whole conversations with them, been vaguely insulted by them, and this bothers you?"
She looks flabbergasted at his response. It was a moment before she closes her mouth and stammers out a reply. "It…it doesn't bother me…it's just…it's…"
"Different," he finishes for her, removing his glasses and replacing them in their pocket. "Not good different or bad different." Admitting defeat at his hands (as per usual) she throws her hands up helplessly and nods her assent, and the two of them continue their aimless wander amongst the vegetation.
Soon another flower catches the Doctor's eye, and with a triumphant cry he pulls Rose along to where she can see it. "Here," he says, "Look at this beauty." He grins his enthusiasm at her.
"It looks like a bug," she notes, not unkindly. It's true. Everything from the bulbous, brown and golden marked labellum, to the nearly translucent wing-like petals spread to either side, to the soft down covering the whole flower like fuzz, resembles a bumblebee.
"And that's where it gets its name." His smile is huge now. "The Bee Orchid. Orphys ap...ap…ap…ap…ap…" What the hell? The Doctor blinks hard and shakes his head. "Ap…ap…ap," he continues, spitting the syllable out like a broken record. He steps away and sucks in a quick breath.
"Doctor?" she asks, concern coloring her features. He shakes his head at her and holds his hand up to ask her to give him a second.
"Apifera," he finishes finally. "Family Orchidacea, Order Asparagales, Class Liliopsida, Phylum Tracheophyta, Kingdom Plantae. Grows in a wide range of habitats, from chalk cliffs to Welsh sand dunes to industrial waste grounds. Almost always self pollinated, but in rare occurrences may attract the pollinating interest of bees of the genera Andrena and Eucera. It's this aspect which lead them to evolve their bee-like appearance, as male bees accidentally pollinated the flower's ancestors for generations by mistaken attempts at copulation." He steps further away from her, waving his still outstretched hand, to keep her back. He doesn't know what is going wrong. He has no idea what he's going to say (or do) next. He wants to run away, to keep her from seeing him like this, but he feels frozen to the spot. "Orchids are the largest family of the flowering plants on Earth, you know; over 25,000 accepted species with up to 800 new ones identified every year. Ranging in size from tiny plants with flowers two millimeters across to the Giant Orchid, a two-ton specimen of which was displayed at the 1851 London exhi…ex…ex…ex…."
He remembers that look. Remembers the fear and confusion and distrust. Remembers her clinging to a support girder, half-hiding behind it as much as using it to lean against. Remembers how his mouth ran off unchecked then, too. At least then he hadn't been stuttering like a machine gun.
It's at that very moment when his head explodes.
His knees hit the hard paving stones and send twin bolts of pain rocketing up his legs. It's almost enough to distract him from the blinding agony behind his retinas.
"Doctor!" The normally comforting voice hits him like a sledgehammer to the back of his skull. He presses the heels of his hands against his eyeballs, in a vain attempt to lessen the pounding pressure constricting his brain. He hears her voice again and feels the cold pressure of her fingertips at his temples. The contact is not unwelcome, though it does nothing to ease his predicament. He wants her away from him, from this. He wants to protect her. He's always wanted to protect her. He's never been able to. He wants to beg her to leave him, please, leave him alone until this spasm or whatever it is passes and he can speak without sounding like Porky Pig reading from an encyclopedia. He opens his mouth to tell her, knowing the effort will only cost him more pain.
"Please-" he starts.
He can't remember her name.
Latin names and common names and family names and why, why can he not remember her?! He pulls his hands from his face and looks at her; squints from beneath his throbbing brows and searches for some hint in her golden tresses and hazelnut eyes. Beautiful, he thinks, for the thousandth time, like a perfect bloom. At first just a tiny bud, her raiment all hidden behind a tough exterior, a bristly façade put up to ward off the myriad dangers of the world. But he had shown her even greater dangers, and here she is in full blossom. How had that happened? When had that happened? Had she opened because of or in spite of him? Not his flower any longer, she belongs to the world, to the universe; a rare and precious specimen to be loved and adored by all. Never meant to be kept to just one person; to be tethered to one place, one time, one partner. Never to be secreted in some personal collection, away from the wind and the rain and the true light of day. And he can't take her with him. Not this time.
'Arum, baby's breath, cornflower, dandelion, edelweiss,' he thinks desperately. 'Forget-me-not, oh that's just cruel, gentian, hyacinth-' He gasps for breath and realizes he must be chanting aloud. He wonders if he really has gone just as insane as the surrounding patrons' concerned looks would suggest. She just stares at him, her face stricken and her eyes filling with unshed tears. "Lavender, marigold," he lists, his cheeks crumpling into painful wrinkles with his concentration. Please, please, he silently begs the cosmos, let this torture end soon. "Peony, Queen Anne's lace, rose-ROSE!" The final name is shouted as he reaches for her blouse and clasps her to himself. He buries his nose in her hair and lets her soft scent wash over his senses, drowning the cold, clenching sensation around his heart. 'By any other name,' his mind quotes stupidly at him, 'would smell as sweet.'
Oh, Will, where were you fifteen seconds ago?
"Go Rose," he begs, "Please just go."
"Shhhh," she whispers into his shoulder, "I'm not going anywhere." He feels her hand begin to rhythmically caress the ticklish spot between his shoulder blades and realizes that she's trying to comfort him. And no, he'll never understand it. A thousand years could pass and he'll never know why she cared for him like this. After all he's done, after all she knows, after he's kneeled here in this horticultural hell-hole and forgotten her name, she still won't leave him. Would never leave him. Won't ever run, unless it's with his hand in hers.
He recognizes, with a start, that his head is no longer splitting in two. He pushes back and looks down at her. The tears that had threatened never fell. Her cheeks are dry; her eyes tight with concern. Her other hand comes to rest with a casual familiarity over his racing heart.
"You're afraid," she says, her eyes widen with wonder.
"Yes," he replies, and is instantly embarrassed at the tremble in his voice.
"Me too," she admits, then inexplicably smiles. "But that's sort of par for the course."
"Never," he responds, shaking his head in denial. "You, Rose Tyler, have never been scared a day in your life. I can attest to that. Daleks, the Gelth, that…that thing on Krop Tor. Sure you ran, so did I. It's the only logical response to that kind of threat. But afraid? You? Never." He smiles weakly at her, regaining some of his lost composure.
"I was afraid the day you changed. And the day you left me here, the first time." Her look is subdued, thoughtful. "I was afraid that day after we argued, when I couldn't find you. When I thought I'd lost you forever." Her eyes flick to his. "I get scared, Doctor. I'm scared all the time."
Rose takes an indefinite leave of absence from Torchwood after that little incident, and the Doctor takes to filling his journal entries at night after she's drifted to sleep. He still doesn't need much rest himself, and with Rose now joining him in lounging around the flat, there's been a succession of late sleeping mornings to invigorate him throughout the night.
"Number four hundred ninety-six," he drones into the midnight silence that lies like a thick cloud over the carpets of the flat, "Don't ever get Rose roses. She does, in fact, find them to be cliché." He brings his fingers up to pinch at the bridge of his nose, in a vain attempt to lessen the steady throb of pain remaining from an earlier attack that had banished him to the couch with a cold compress for most of the day. "Number four hundred ninety-seven, orchids probably aren't the best idea either."
He burns himself cooking breakfast. Badly. She rushes him to the Torchwood medical facility while he holds a wet dishtowel to his injured hand and grimaces against the pain.
"What were you thinking?!" she shouts exasperatedly. He knows she's not really angry at him, just worried nearly out of her wits. And the truth is, he hadn't been thinking much of anything. Had been thinking very close to nothing. Had only realized he was being burned when the cuff of his jacket started to smolder. They go home with a bucket full of sterile gauze and antibiotic cream. Rose takes over cooking duties.
Not that he has much of an appetite anyway.
He presses his forehead to the rim of the toilet and silently thanks the powers that be for making porcelain cool to the touch. The former contents of his stomach swirl sickeningly in the bowl; the white light of the bathroom pierces through his closed lids and focuses into pinpricks that torture the surface of his brain. He feels a light touch at his shoulder and manages to look around. Rose holds out a tall glass of cool water, and he is so, so thankful.
"It's a gift," he says, later, between bites of salted crackers, "You can't give it back." He holds the flash drive out to her. "Please," he begs, "His gift was the Little Girl, mine's this." 'It's all I have left to give,' he silently wills her to understand.
He sees she's struggling with how to respond. To a certain extent he feels bad for manipulating her like this…again. He's made her feel this way, when she's already vulnerable as a result of the state he's in. She's already feeling guilty; already staring at his paper white face as if she's afraid she'll break him with the wrong words. But it has to be done. It has to be. The alternative is unthinkable.
"I'll think about it," she says, eventually, and he'll take that.
He seizes on the front steps, falls and cracks his head on their sharp concrete edges. He comes around to a vision of paramedics, looking like wraiths in their white coats, bathed in the blue flashing light of the ambulance. "Where's Rose?" he manages to croak out past a throat as dry as the Sahara and a humongous, fur coated tongue. In answer, they ask him questions that make no sense…or perhaps they would make sense if the air would just stop buzzing. Are you allergic to anything? Have you had any episodes before? No, he says, not in this body, and they look at each other and conclude concussion.
Brilliant deduction. Even concussed he has enough sense to be annoyed at their stupidity.
She rides with him in the ambulance, the red inside light gleaming like a heat lamp against her pale features, the siren wailing from what seems like a very long distance away. She holds his hand. "I don't know if I can do this," she says dejectedly.
"You can't stay at home anymore, it's too dangerous."
She looks at him then, and her pupils glow like red candles in the strange light. "Say something to me in Gallifreyan."
He can't help but smile, and really, the head wound doesn't hurt at all. If it had, though, her request would've driven all thoughts of discomfort from his mind. "What do you want me to say?"
"Something comforting. About how everything will be all right."
"But it won't," he explains, unnecessarily. "And saying that won't make it so." She doesn't say anything to that, and he figures there's a reason. It doesn't really require a response anyway, it wasn't a question. He speaks to her then in a way that would make the ambulance driver's head turn in surprise, were the sound of it not drowned out by the siren overhead.
"Beautiful," she says, and she's not looking at him. "What's it mean?"
"I said that everything comes to an end; everything dies."
She turns again to him, and her eyes really are aflame. "And that's supposed to be comforting?!"
He shrugs, or tries to, anyway, from where he is strapped to the stretcher. "It is when you've been around nine hundred years." She closes her eyes and doesn't let tears fall. He asks, "You'll let me just clean up a few loose ends first, with the Little Girl? I can go back for that?" She nods, and even though he knows he's doing it again, catching her off guard at her weakest moments, he can't quite help continuing. "And you'll think about it?"
She opens her eyes. They're wet. "I promise," she says, and in the scarlet glow of the ambulance interior, two tears draw twin tracks of blood down her cheeks.
"Where were we? Right, number six hundred forty-two: Humans like mementos. So, if you're ever moron enough to abandon Rose in some relatively safe foreign universe again, I'd highly suggest letting her have a quick run at her old room first. You've got no idea how attached she is to all those silly photos and shells and whatnot she's got littering the place. You see, they're not just decoration, not just pretty little gewgaws she picked up at the latest space port. They really mean something to her. For example, when I first got here, she had this sextant on her mantle, and yeah, I know, odd right? But it makes sense, see, because the first time she got stuck here she literally had nothing. Just the clothes on her back and a phone that didn't work and a key that opened a lock in a different universe. And she could put pictures of Mickey and her mum and everyone else she cared about up there on her mantle, but she didn't have anything for me or Jack or the TARDIS. So she bought this sextant at an antique shop, paid way too much for it, and hung her TARDIS key off of it. Then she could feel like maybe she was honoring us too. Like anyone who came into her home would know there was someone else out there important to her."
"So yeah," he squirms a little in his seat, "Mementos." He lifts his left hand then, into the view of the camera, and the little gold ring gracing it catches the light with a flicker. "They're kind of comforting. And no, they don't change anything or make you care about anyone more or miss them any less, but sometimes it's just nice to be reminded."
He smiles softly at the memories attached to this silly hunk of metal that weighs so lightly on his fourth finger. "Which brings us to the end of this little video diary, because I doubt I'm going to have much more time to learn anything else of interest, and I wanted to make sure that I stressed the most important thing I've learned last, for effect. So pay attention you, because you're bound to get this one wrong if you try working it out on your own." He stands up and moves in front of the chair, doing his best part-human impression of his old Oncoming Storm look. Crossing his arms, he faces the camera head on, challenging the him that isn't there, that he can't see, that he knows won't listen to him unless he manages to convey with his stance and manner that he is absolutely serious.
"You don't need a piece of paper to show someone you'll always be there for them. You don't need a sparkly trinket to prove your affections. You don't need three little words to convince them that you're no longer the master of your own heart…hearts…whatever. But even still, every once and a while, it's good to hear. It's nice to be reminded." He leans down, his face only inches from the camera's eye, and speaks with all the conviction his pitiful human frame can muster.
"And it bloody damn well needs saying."