"You're bleeding," he says, stating the obvious as usual, unable to stop himself reaching out to touch her.
It's only a little cut, but that's what bothers him the most; that a little scrape can produce so much gore. It sits above Rose's right eyebrow mocking him as Jackie sponges the drying brown blood from her forehead, her motherly flapping and squealing unable to distract him from the mortal truth when it's staring him in the face. The blood has clumped in Rose's hair, and he wonders if his is the same dull red-brown. He knows it won't be long till he finds out.
He's not thought this through.
Before, with his two hearts and his practical immortality, his life had only been stunted by his own misadventure. He could save the word, save the universe, with an impunity that came from knowing that nothing could really hurt him – make him ugly, perhaps, hopefully just make him ginger – but everything's different now. They could be killed at any moment by a hostile alien or knocked down by a Mini Metro, and there's no guarantee that he'll outlive her. He'll leave her, just like he left all the others, and his heart beats faster from the fear of it.
"Are you okay?" she asks him, voice hushed with real concern, and he almost laughs because she's the one that's bleeding yet she's still fussing about him. He can't quite stop his hands from shaking.
"Oh, fine! Tickety-boo in fact!" He manages a smile not quite as large as the one he was hoping for, but the one she sends back is bright and sunny enough that he wishes he could concentrate on that instead of on the blood-stains on her jacket.
"Good," says Pete, who's watching them in that careful way he has, "because I think it's about time you put yourself to good use. We've two openings on the team now."
Jackie stills in her work, and Rose drops her gaze to the floor. The Doctor doesn't need to be slightly psychic to know that one of those vacancies only opened up tonight.
Pete watches him expectantly, and his earlier conversation with Jackie is ringing in his ears.
It's the closest to his old life he's likely to get, and it's the only guaranteed way to keep a better eye on Rose, but there's a fear there that's never been there before. It's all such a risk now. He hates it.
"Count me in," he says, "but I'm not carrying a gun."
Don't need one, thinks his guilty conscience, and he looks to Rose for the reassuring smile that he's sure he'll find there.
He's not been human long enough to understand why she's crying.
"You're not going in unarmed," says Pete, rising from his seat like a man with a universe on his back, "I've got to go break the news to one family tonight. I've no intention of breaking it to my own."
The Doctor smiles lopsidedly, and wonders when the idea of a family started to appeal. Part of him balks in horror at the thought, but mostly he just hopes that he never ends up defrosting a freezer.
"Who was it?" Jackie asks, and the smile falls from the Doctor's face as quickly as it appeared.
"Tim," says Pete, and Rose sniffs miserably.
"Oh," Jackie covers her mouth with her hand in a way that would be theatrical if it weren't so heart-felt, "oh Pete. That poor woman – those poor little children…"
"I know," he says, and he leaves, shoulders slumped in an expression of guilt that the Doctor knows all too well.
The Doctor adds Tim to the list of the ghosts he can't replace.
"What are you doing?"
He looks up, and smiles at how ridiculously familiar the situation is. She stands over him, pink and yellow with a smile playing on her lips, whilst he tinkers with some bit of machinery, using a mallet more than he should, and any moment now he'll jump up as the TARDIS sings and they'll be off to some new horizon. The memory is so vivid that for a moment he forgets it's not real; that it will never happen again.
"I am inventing," he tells her in his most serious voice, "or rather re-inventing."
"On the floor?" she asks, and there's a teasing note to her voice that he hasn't heard in such a long time that his heart skips a beat.
"I will have you know, Miss Tyler," he says, "that I do all my best work at ground level."
"Oh, do you really?" She says, and her eyes twinkle as she sits cross-legged next to him, "Why's that?"
He's been waiting for her to look at him like that since the beach, but now that she is he finds that his throat has dried up, and he's irritated because he's supposed to be better at this now.
"Oh you know," he says, trying to cover his nervousness with false immodesty, "massive brain me, need all the blood supply I can get."
"Bollocks," says Rose, but she's still smiling at him and that's all he wants in this universe, it's really all he's got. "Let's have a look then."
He's pillaged parts from every storage box in Torchwood, and a few from Jackie's microwave, and he's rather proud of what he's achieved, but he finds himself unaccountably nervous about showing her the result.
"Go on," she cajoles, and he gives in because he really can't deny her anything. She's quiet for a moment, "It's a screwdriver." she says, and he can't quite tell from the tone of her voice if she's happy or sad.
He doesn't know if it's too familiar or not familiar enough.
"That's sonic screwdriver," he says, but his face falls slightly as he looks at it. "Well… it's a bit more of a chisel at the moment."
"Work in progress?" Rose asks, and she's smiling again.
"Isn't everything?" he asks, and her laughter allows him to hope.
One month in and the Doctor's starting to feel a little more comfortable with his feet on the ground, and if he spends his dreams under impossible skies with his impossible ship he tries very hard not to let the others know.
He also doesn't let them know that Jackie was right, and that he does feel better for the purpose that Torchwood gives him - no matter how dry and obnoxiously simple most of their problems are to solve. The sonic screwdriver in his pocket is a reminder that a storm is always coming; that adventure isn't too far away. It reminds him of who he is, and for the time being that's just enough to keep him sane.
He's denied all knowledge of what happened to the microwave.
He's been proud, too, of how he's settled into domesticity, and although he hides his fondness for sitting down to dinner with them behind a veneer of baffled irritation he knows that Rose, at least, sees through it. Sometimes she touches his hand under the table and smiles at him knowingly. It's then that he knows they're getting somewhere.
All the same, he thinks this might just be too much for him to cope with.
He's up a ladder that leans precariously against one of the entrance hall walls, drawing pins held in his teeth, helping Pete Tyler hang a banner. It's more domestic than defrosting a freezer; he has to really try not to let on how much he hates it.
"Perfect!" crows Jackie from her position as director, and the Doctor and Pete grunt their appreciation in unison before heading back to ground level. Pete descends sensibly, but the Doctor slides down. He'll take his adrenaline fix where he can get it.
"Oh, look at that!"
He covers his scowl with the best grin he can manage as Rose approaches. She's carrying Tony on her hip and pointing at the banner with her free hand. Tony laughs and claps his approval.
"Happy Third Birthday," she reads, and Tony claps his little hands harder with joy.
Sometimes the Doctor wonders what genetic anomaly causes the children of Pete and Jackie Tyler to see such wonder in everything, but then Rose turns to smile at him with her tongue poking between her teeth, and he's just grateful.
It seems rather excessive to hold a garden party for a child who's barely potty trained, and the guests that are arriving seem rather more interested in the buffet and the bar than the red-headed toddler running between them, but Tony seems happy enough. A few more children turn up, cast off by well-dressed parents as they approach the hosts, and Tony soon latches on to them. The Doctor resolves to keep an eye on him all the same. He doesn't want to think of him as lonely.
He looks away from where Tony is digging in a sandpit and turns to Rose and the glass she holds out.
"Don't mind if I do," he says, taking it from her. The smell nearly chokes him.
"What- what is it?" he splutters, holding the glass up to the light and squinting at it.
"It's a banana daiquiri," laughs Rose, as she elbows him gently in the side, "but I'd watch out if I were you. Dad's measures tend to be a bit - generous."
"Please, I can handle it," he smirks, and knocks back half the drink in one go. "Ah."
Rose laughs. She sips her drink with a little more decorum.
Seventy-two minutes and four of Pete's banana daiquiris later the sounds of the party have faded into the background, and he sits under a tree, eyes only for Rose's flushed face and the cocktail umbrella she twiddles between her fingers.
"Umbrellas," he says in his most serious voice, "are for keeping water off you. Not for putting in drinks. You don't see people floating their umbrellas in puddles and drinking from them, do you?"
"No," says Rose, frowning slightly and bringing the umbrella closer to her face, "'spose not. Not really thought about it before."
She smiles shyly at him from behind a curtain of hair.
"Need you for that; asking the questions too surreal for anyone else to think about."
"You should think about it," he nods his surprisingly heavy head, "think about everything Rose Tyler."
She keeps very quiet for a moment, and then twists round to face him, taking one of his hands in both of hers. He quirks an eyebrow at her, but before he can speak, or even react properly to this, the first really unguarded moment since that kiss so long ago, she's begun to speak.
"Do you think – do you think Doctor that sometimes we might be thinking about things too much?"
He tries to speak, and his mind is racing with all the things that she could mean, but he's betrayed again by his body. He just about manages to lift the other eyebrow.
Pete Tyler will suffer for this.
"I've been thinking about him - ," Rose continues, and he's glad that she seems unable to look him in the face because it means she can't see how utterly gormless he must look, "you – the other you I mean – and thinking is he lonely? Can I live this life with you when he's going to be on his own?"
The Doctor's mouth moves but no words come out. Fortunately, she doesn't seem to expect a reply.
"'Cause you're him, and he's you, and if you love me," he wonders if she realises how beautiful she looks when she's blushing, "then he loves me too. Right?"
He manages to nod an affirmative, utterly unsure as to where she's going with this thought, and well aware that this is probably the worst moment to be struck dumb he could possibly have picked.
"But," she says, finally looking him in the eye, "there's nothing I can do about that. Nothing either of us can do. I've decided," a deep breath, and the Doctor thinks he'll struggle to hear her over the sound of his thundering heart, " – I've decided that there's no point all three of us being lonely. That is, if you'll have me."
It takes him a moment to realise that she expects a reply.
"Rose," he manages, and he can't blame the rawness in his throat on Pete's bar-keeping. She watches him carefully, and he swallows hard in an attempt to dislodge the words he so desperately wants to say.
He thinks of all the sunrises he'll never see again. The sound of the universe still rings in his ears, but he's helpless to answer its call. The turn of the Earth makes him nauseous when he knows he can never escape it.
Every moment he hesitates is a moment that they'll never see again.
Actions, he decides, speak louder than words.
It's a long time before they rejoin the party.