He wakes with a quickened heartbeat and dreamy images in his mind that slip like sand through fingers as soon as he tries to grab them. He wakes to the cocktail of cold sweat, dull fear and sudden relief that always seem to follow a nightmare.
The feeling is far more familiar than the Doctor would like. Sighing, he sits up and scrubs at his face with his hands. He remembers now why he's always hated sleep.
Tonight it was the Time War, he thinks, although beyond that the details are hazy and out-of-reach, already obscured by the veil of wakefulness. It's been three weeks and every night seems to produce more of the same – Daleks or birdcages or white walls or Gallifrey in flames or blondes with bullet wounds or unsustainable metacrises. He's beginning to wish his subconscious at least had the decency to be creative.
Leaning back on his elbows, the Doctor stares around the dark guest bedroom of the Tyler mansion and weighs his options. According to the green numbers beaming at him from the bedside table it's entirely too early for anything but sleep, and the faint circles under his eyes would agree. Still, his pillow seems foreboding and he hasn't yet shaken that bone-deep discomfort, so for the third time this week he tosses his covers aside and rises to pace the halls of the Tyler mansion.
In the dark of the corridors, in the middle of the night, he feels even more like an intruder than he does when the sun's up. Over the years he's grown very used to being the one offering up spare rooms and spare beds; sudden and complete reliance on Pete and Jackie Tyler is a feeling he's not sure he'll ever grow used to. It reminds him of 1969 and of Martha, and this time he hasn't got a TARDIS to offer as compensation.
Beyond that, though, he likes the Tyler mansion. It's vast enough that the walls don't seem quite so imposing, and he doubts Rose's flat would offer the same opportunity for nighttime wandering. He suspects there's an unspoken agreement between the Tyler women, a mother-to-daughter invite for Rose to stay as long as necessary while she deciphers the strange situation she's found herself in. Truthfully, the Doctor doesn't mind; the idea of living in closer quarters with Rose's uncertainty is daunting, and he's not convinced his single heart is up to the challenge.
Almost automatically he pauses at the end of the hallway, his gaze lingering on Rose's closed bedroom door. An increasingly familiar desperation scratches at the inside of his chest and he rakes a hand through his hair.
He understands, he really does. He knows that once again he's thrust her into an impossible situation, left her to try and reconcile feelings and ideas beyond the human realm of experience. It isn't fair to her, and she's trying. He knows, he does.
Still – he misses her.
His musings come to a halt as a different door opens and catches his attention. Silhouetted in the darkness, a small figure makes its way into the hallway, looks both ways and freezes when it discovers it's not alone.
"…Doctor?" calls the sleepy voice of Tony Tyler.
"Mr. Tyler!" the Doctor whispers back, sweeping down the hall to meet the boy halfway. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"
Tony squints up at him through the dark and shrugs. "Shouldn't you?"
The Doctor blinks. "Cheeky," he mutters to himself, then bends down to Tony's eye level. "Yes, but I asked you first." He grins. "And I'm older and wiser so I'm allowed to be out of bed."
"Oh," is all Tony says. He looks over his shoulder, hugging his arms against himself to shield away some imagined chill.
The Doctor is very fond of Tony Tyler. He's curious and clever and capable of being a bit of a brat – precisely how the Doctor imagines Rose must have been, once upon a time. Tony accepts the man in the hallway as the same flesh-and-blood action hero from all Rose's stories, full stop. Tony doesn't find the human warmth of the Doctor's skin strange or send him pointed looks if he says something more Donna than Doctor. Tony probably doesn't dream about beaches and pinstripes, either.
"So then, Mr. Tyler, why are you out of bed?"
Tony's head cranes back around and he shifts uncomfortably. "Had a bad dream," he admits quietly, staring at the carpet.
"Ah," the Doctor says, and feels rather like an idiot. "Well, I know all about those." He sends Tony a sympathetic grin. "What usually happens when you have a bad dream?"
"I get Mum," Tony explains, looking behind him again to the closed door of the master bedroom. "She reads me a story."
"Ah," the Doctor says again, and straightens up. He considers the closed door, the frightening prospect of a sleep-deprived Jackie Tyler, and the overwhelming generosity the family as a whole has extended to the part-alien that has somehow become their responsibility. "Well, no need to wake her if I'm already up! I happen to be a very good storyteller. Among the best in the universe, according to the people of Zaritav 9. Granted, they don't have language as such, but..." He looks down at Tony, Tony looks up at him, and the Doctor gives his most charming smile. "What d'you say?"
Tony looks skeptical, evidently not convinced that the mythologized man in the hallway knows the first thing about bedtime stories; the Doctor holds out one hand and wiggles his fingers.
Tony eyes the proffered hand, takes a second to consider, then accepts, sliding his small hand into the Doctor's.
The Doctor grins. Gets 'em every time.
"Right then. Allons-y, Tony Tyler!"
Tony has a very impressive collection of storybooks – probably, the Doctor thinks, as a result of being the son of a billionaire. The favourites are easy to spot, worn as they have been even in Tony's few years of life, and already Tony can recite half of them by memory, taking his cues from the brightly illustrated photos rather than the strange black shapes that line the bottoms of the pages. It isn't reading, not really, but it grants Tony the ability to point out when the Doctor's ideas of embellishment veer a little too far from the written text.
One day, the Doctor thinks, he will have to work up the nerve to compliment Jackie on her ability to raise brilliant children.
By the end of the second story – which is, by the Doctor's approximation, some strange parallel-world version of The Giving Tree – Tony has wilted, his entire body sagging to the side, his head lolling against the Doctor's ribs, his eyelids fighting a valiant but futile battle to stay open.
Peering down at him, the Doctor raises an eyebrow and tosses the book onto the bedside table.
"I think it's quite time for you to go back to sleep, Tony Tyler."
At the accusation the boy stirs, shaking his head and protesting as much as his sleepy state will allow him. "Nu-uh," he insists, swiping at his eyes. "Not tired!"
His words are rather belied by the large yawn that follows them.
"Oh, I'd beg to differ," says the Doctor. "And I'm the Doctor, I'm always right, so I think you're out of a leg to stand on, my friend."
Tony looks down at his legs, confused, then turns his over-large and entirely-too-Rose-like brown eyes back on the Doctor. "One more! Please?"
The Doctor resolutely shakes his head. "Oh, no. Your mother will have my head if I keep you up any later."
Tony pouts, his lower lip jutting out just a bit more than it should for complete sincerity. "Please? Just one more, then bed, I promise!"
The Doctor sighs. He's certain there are very strict rules about this in various How-To parenting guides, but then he's never really been one to follow guides, nor has he ever evidently possessed any sort of ability to say no to the Tyler children.
Besides, he's not particularly eager for bed himself.
"Fine," he concedes, with the air of someone who has just made a grievous concession. "One." He shoves his index finger in Tony's face to illustrate his point. "Then it's lights out, and we never speak of this to your mother. Understood?"
Tony nods eagerly, happy to have his way, and crawls to the end of the bed to pick the next book.
The final story is about a boy named Freddy. Freddy is reckless and brave (and a bit daft, by the Doctor's standards), and frequently these traits land him into trouble: he tries to make a zeppelin out of balloons; he paints a lopsided flower on his mother's car as a gift; he nearly loses the family dog, Dot, when he explicitly ignores his father's instruction not to walk her. In the final anecdote, Freddy's ignorance of risk finally becomes an asset when he comes to the defense of his friend and stares down the schoolyard bully.
The Doctor considers it the worst of the three. Tony listens closely, rapt with every detail.
"There we are, then!" the Doctor announces, snapping the book shut. "Now, I believe we had deal? Bed! Scoot!"
As the Doctor adds the book to the beside pile, Tony wriggles out from under his arm and climbs back beneath the covers, apparently sensing the futility of another argument. The Doctor, thankful for the compliance, stands and reaches for the light – only to pause when he notices Tony's suddenly-forlorn expression.
The boy in the bed frowns. "I hate bad dreams," he says decidedly. "They make me feel like a baby."
The Doctor blinks and lets his hand fall from the light switch. "Oi, there's nothing wrong with bad dreams! … Well, yes there is, I suppose, they're not very pleasant, but there's nothing wrong with having them. Everyone does."
"They're for babies." Tony glances at the glossy cover of The True Tale of Freddy Faber. "I bet Freddy doesn't have bad dreams."
The Doctor looks at the smug animated grin of Freddy Faber and arches an eyebrow. "Oh, I don't know. I reckon he does."
Tony does not look convinced.
The Doctor hesitates. He looks from Tony to Freddy and back again, then sighs and resumes his perch on the edge of Tony's bed.
"Would you like to know a secret, Tony Tyler?"
The boy nods.
"I have bad dreams," the Doctor says conspiratorially. "All the time. Had one tonight, actually, that's why I was awake. Same as you."
Tony's eyes are wide and disbelieving, awed and doubtful all at once. "Really?"
"Old and brilliant and dashing and brave and decidedly not a baby? Why yes, I am!" A corner of the Doctor's mouth pulls into a knowing smile. "And so are you." He reaches out to ruffle the boy's hair. "You see? Nothing to be ashamed of. Right?"
Sold on the idea at last, Tony grins back and nods. "Yeah."
Satisfied with a job well done, the Doctor stands and flicks off the light. "Goodnight, Tony."
"G'night," comes the sleepy reply. Then, "Doctor?"
"Does Mum read you stories when you have bad dreams?"
The Doctor snorts. "It would take an even braver man than me to wake your mother in the middle of the night."
Tony doesn't seem to notice the implication. "What about Rose? I bet she would."
Suddenly grateful for the dark, the Doctor smiles sadly and heads for the door. "Goodnight, Tony."
Rose leans back against the wall, her head to the side, her ear against the drywall. If she closes her eyes, she finds she can picture the scene in Tony's bedroom with startling clarity – she can see the Doctor's proud smile, can imagine Tony burrowed into his starred comforter. It's nearly enough to make her peer around the doorway and reveal herself.
Instead she stays fixed, eyes closed and eavesdropping. A weight has settled in her stomach and she feels just a bit sick.
I have bad dreams. All the time.
She shouldn't be surprised. All the things he's seen and done --
She shouldn't be surprised, because she should already know.
The door to Tony's room opens, the Doctor steps out and shuts the door behind him, and then he very nearly trips over Rose. Stumbling, he grabs the wall to retain his balance and looks down at her, eyes wide in surprise.
"Rose!" In his surprise, he forgets to whisper. "What—"
"Shh," she hisses immediately, pressing a finger to her lips and looking meaningfully at the closed door behind him. She pulls herself to her feet, motions for him to follow her and leads him down the hallway.
She pauses outside his room and he passes her to slip through the doorway. He stops after just a few steps and glances back at her. He looks uncertain. It's been a very long time, she thinks, since the Doctor was uncertain around Rose Tyler.
It feels wrong – distinctly, utterly wrong.
It also feels like her fault.
"Shouldn't you be sleeping, too?" He raises his eyebrows. "Does no one in this house actually sleep?"
"Hypocrite," Rose says, and then shrugs. "Woke up and heard voices. Decided to eavesdrop. 'M glad I did."
The Doctor grins. "Well, if you wanted to hear my brilliant interpretation of The True Tales of Freddy Faber you only had to ask."
She snorts. "God, I hate those books. There's about ninety. Videos, too." She runs a hand over her hair, trying to force it to lie flat, and studies the carpet.
She needs to approach this head-on, she thinks. She needs to, because he never will and because this time maybe his silence is her fault. Maybe he would have, this new-new human Doctor with just a dash of Donna, if only she hadn't spent the last three weeks thinking about the original draft.
She sighs and looks up, any trace of a smile gone from her face.
"I didn't know you were having nightmares."
The Doctor stares at her uncomfortably. Whatever he may have told Tony about the universality of nightmares, it's quickly apparent he's not sold on the idea himself.
"Er… surprise?" he jokes. When she doesn't smile, he tries a different approach. "It's not a big deal, Rose."
The problem is, she thinks, he might actually believe that.
"Yes it is," she insists. She studies him closely and tries to hide the worry from her voice when she says, "All the time, you said. What does that mean, every night? Since we got here?"
For once, she hopes for a denial; he drops his eyes and stays quiet instead.
"I'm right, yeah? S'why you look so tired lately."
He shifts, still not meeting her eyes. "Rose—"
"Don't." She hides her face in her hands and shakes her head. "Don't tell me it's fine—"
"But it is—"
"But it's not," she insists and looks up, and this time they meet each other's eyes. "Three weeks and I didn't even…" She trails off, hands on her hips, and glares at the wall. "Why didn't you say anything?"
He scratches the back of his neck, awkward, and she's sure he's calculating his answer to avoid saying what she knows is the truth. Why would I have, Rose, when you've been avoiding me this whole time?
He shrugs. "You've had a lot to think about. I'm a big boy, Rose, I can handle it."
She bites her lip. "That doesn't mean I don't want to hear it."
"Rose, honestly, it's fine, it's – not important."
"But it is!" she cries again, louder this time than is strictly appropriate for the middle of the night. Something prickles behind her eyes. "It is and I shouldn't have to eavesdrop on my baby brother to find out, I should know. I should – I should've asked, I should've known, I…"
She trails off and shakes her head wordlessly. One treacherous tear – then another – slips past her eyelashes and starts its path down her cheek before she can swipe it away. Looking bewildered and more than a little horrified, the Doctor steps towards her and reaches for her arm.
"Rose…" he starts, but she isn't listening.
"All this time," she says quietly, looking straight at him and staring straight past him all at once.
Three weeks, she thinks. Three weeks, and she hadn't noticed. Has she really been paying so little attention to him? Three weeks of waking up frightened and alone in a strange new body, on a foreign planet, in a bed that isn't your own. She remembers her first few months in this house, and she remembers the constant dreams of levers and white walls and outstretched arms and grips that weren't quite tight enough. She remembers the relief of waking up and the terrible blow of realizing her surroundings.
She remembers, and she tries to imagine doing it alone, without Mum, without Mickey, without the man who is nearly her father. Her vision blurs and she tries to swallow down the lump in her throat.
"All this time," she says again, "and I've been so busy thinking about him that I never even…" She takes a shaky breath, blinks away tears and holds his gaze. "I am so sorry."
They move at the same time; she steps forward with a quiet sob and wraps her arms around his waist while he pulls her closer, his chin on the top of her head. She listens to the patter of his heart and for once the single beat seems familiar, relatable and human rather than misplaced.
"It's okay, Rose," comes his voice from above her. "It's not – I never expected you to figure this out quickly."
"'M sorry," she repeats anyway, muffled into his shirt, and she sniffs. He smells the same, she realizes, and wonders why she didn't notice before. "God, I'm so sorry." She wipes at her eyes and leans back enough to smile up at him. "'M here now though. Properly. Mind and everything. No more wandering off." She grips him a little tighter. "Promise."
He beams down at her with the toothy, cheeky smile she's adored since he gave it to her over turkey in the Powell Estate. "Well then, Rose Tyler, welcome back."
"Missed you," she admits, and his grin spreads even wider, relief obvious in his eyes and in the set of his shoulders.
"Missed you, too," he agrees.
She kisses him then, rolling to the tip of her toes and reaching her hands up to tangle them in his hair. It's the first time since the beach – the second time ever, really, body snatchers and Time Vortexes excluded – and this time when they break apart she gets a second to revel in the dazed look on his face.
"I think," he says, squinting one eye in mock concentration, "I rather like this 'you being here' thing."
She bumps his shoulder in weak retaliation, unable to stop a smile. Then a thought strikes her and she tilts her head. "He wouldn't have done that, would he? You wouldn't've. Before." She sees the objection forming and hastens to clarify. "With Tony, I mean, and the reading. You'd've let him get Mum."
The Doctor hesitates, and she wonders if he's considering which answer is true or which answer is the one she wants to hear.
"I… don't know, Rose." He frowns. "Donna, she had these – well, technically speaking they weren't kids, I suppose, they weren't real, just computer simulations, but –" He catches himself babbling and breaks off. "No, I suppose I wouldn't've, no."
She nods, and she thinks about it – really, properly thinks about it, the way she didn't have time to on the beach, the way she hadn't since because of some lingering sense of guilt or regret. She thinks about it, and she decides she'll always love the Time Lord living in a blue box in the universe she used to call home, but she loves this one, too – this impossible man who can read a thousand alien languages or read bedtime stories to her baby brother.
One day, she thinks, she'll have to thank Donna Noble.
"S'nice," she says decisively, nodding. "Good different."
His hundred-watt grin comes back in an instant. "Yeah?"
This time, she answers with another kiss.
He wakes with a quickened heartbeat and dreamy images in his mind that slip like sand through fingers as soon as he tries to grab them. He wakes to the cocktail of cold sweat, dull fear and sudden relief that always seem to follow a nightmare; he wakes to the weight of Rose's arm, limp with sleep, splayed across his chest, and to the tickle of her breath against his neck.
Tonight it was the Time War, he thinks – or maybe Daleks or his teeth falling out or inexplicably arriving at Torchwood in only boxers. Rose shifts her hand in her sleep, her fingers brushing his ribs, and really, he thinks before drifting off again, it hardly matters.