As I'm sure most of you know, today is Jessa L'Rynn's birthday. Now, she's been generous enough to allow me to take several wonderful journeys with her through the Whoniverse. The most infamous, and the one I'm most grateful to be a part of, is Never Quite Normal. Now, I can never repay her for her friendship or for the wonderful opportunities she has bestowed on me, but I'll do my best to at least entertain her with this offering entitled "Proof". Jessa, I love you, and happy birthday, sweetie.
Oh, and I own none of this, except the fear-monger chemical is, I'm pretty sure, unique to me.
The Doctor was aware that Rose slept but fitfully that night. It was only to be expected; she'd had her face ripped off by the Wire just that afternoon. Still, it wasn't logic that told the Doctor of Rose's restless night. He knew with the certainty of a witness. Every gasp as she awoke, choking down a scream, echoed through the corridor. Every sob sounded like it came from right next to him.
The TARDIS was mad at him, though she couldn't be more angry than he was at himself. She was both comforting and punishing him. Ever fearful sound taunted him with what his own stupidity had so nearly cost him, but still it was a relief to know with every heartbreaking utterance that he hadn't quite lost it yet. He should have, by rights. He'd abandoned her, swanned off and left her vulnerable.
That first night, the Doctor resolutely remained embedded in the bowels of the console room, fiddling and repairing. The next night he spent in the library, pouring over ancient texts, ignoring the slight blurring of his vision. Absently, he would dash fallen tears from the page he was studying, pretending he wasn't affected. The third night he spent in his room, unable to sleep. The fourth night, he paced the corridor, denying his own knowledge that each location was closer to her room than the night before. The fifth night, he stood outside her door.
It was like a campfire horror story. Every night brought him a step closer to her. Truth be told, he was terrified of what he'd find. Would she have finally broken? If there was some sort of damage that hadn't become apparent yet, would she be the empty husk he'd always feared he'd create?
And still, no matter where he haunted, Rose's soft calls of distress were with him. It was all he could hear. Most of the time, not even the TARDIS could get through to him anymore, so she continued the only thing he registered: the nightly sounds of Rose's nightmares. He could almost feel her breath against the nape of his neck. The sixth night, he stood awkwardly just inside the door of her room, looking anywhere but at the bed upon which she rested. When Rose began to wake, he ran.
He couldn't do this.
Rose couldn't do this.
She rose on the sixth morning since her encounter with the Wire in an even more atrocious mood than the preceding few days. Each day, she'd been quick to realize, was worse. This time, she thought she heard the sound of his shoes against the floor fading quickly into the distance.
Great, she thought bitterly, now he's added running from me to his list of new tricks.
The first morning she'd been shaken, uncertain, and in need of one of the Doctor's cure-all embraces. A kind word of a proud grin wouldn't have go amiss either. She'd not gotten any of them.
He wouldn't meet her gaze. He wouldn't even look her in the face. Once the initial shock and hurt from this faded enough for her to think almost clearly, panic set in. Rose had run into the bathroom, terrified of finding he face still gone. She cried when her reflection stared back at her, relieved it was there, hurt and confused by the Doctor's actions.
And then she was angry. She stormed into the consol room and stood, glaring up into his face, as close as she could get to him, daring him to look away. He kept his eyes closed and let her words wash over him. She asked, pleaded, yelled, threatened, begged, and, finally, slapped him. He didn't react, didn't say a word, didn't move a muscle.
Rose had fled then, sobbing bitterly. In the wardrobe room, she had curled up in a patchwork jacked that smelled of him and cried until she fell into an exhausted, dehydrated, and numb sleep.
On the second day, he wouldn't look any closer to her face than her feet. The third day, he wouldn't even look at them. The next day, he wouldn't leave the consol room, his appearance was disheveled and his eyes were sunken. He was retreating into himself, blocking out the pain and blocking out her. Yesterday, he mostly kept his back resolutely to her. And, through all this, neither of them had taken a step out of the TARDIS. They hadn't left the Vortex.
Under typical circumstances, Rose enjoyed the downtime. She would read or swim or sunbathe in the garden. There was a cookbook that she was determined to work her way through, one dish at a time and make the Doctor sample the results. He would tease her if her found her enjoying the luxury of an afternoon nap, join in her activities, and happily accept the morsels she fed to him.
Yes, under typical circumstances, Rose enjoyed the downtime, but then, under typical circumstances, Rose had him.
Without him Rose couldn't do this, and she had only time in which to dwell on what had happened, on what was happening, on what she was determined wouldn't happen any longer.
The Doctor was sitting in the jump seat. He hadn't eaten or showered or changed clothes in days. It had been about three times as long as it should have been since his last sleep cycle. When the Doctor had seen what the Wire had done to his precious Rose, only the driving need to save her had kept his brain from completely shutting down. After he'd gotten her back, elation had held his collapse at bay, but the first sign of damage done to her psyche had brought rushing back the reality of what he'd allowed to befall her.
After that first, devastated Dalek, the Doctor had sworn he'd never let it occur that his carelessness endangered Rose. And, since then, he'd never been able to so exclusively blame any harm she'd suffered on himself. This time, he knew, it was all on him. He'd willingly driven away from her.
When he realized this, the Doctor was wracked with indecision. He should take her home. She'd be safe there. But that would mean he'd have to leave her, and look how well that had gone. He should keep her firmly by his side. That way, he could always protect her. But he was a magnet for chaos, destruction and danger. That wasn't a safe place for her, either.
Fear slowly overtook the Doctor's brain, paralyzing it one neuron at a time. First, he couldn't look at her face, for fear it would be gone again. Then, his radius of panic spread as he indulged it.
While his need for the comfort of her presence increased, so did his inability to accept it. He had very nearly convinced himself that he had failed in releasing her from the Wire.
After escaping her room that morning as she awoke, terrified of hearing the hollow thumping of her cane on the TARDIS floor…
That was the grandmother's cane.
After fleeing her room, no longer fully cognizant of what, precisely, he feared, the Doctor had retreated into the consol room. He hadn't been able to bring himself to leave it yet. He didn't know why he would want to.
The Doctor sat there, too wrapped up in his own fears to realize that he was shaking. He was too absorbed with terror to register Rose's entrance, or hear her speak to him, feel her reassuring caress against his cheek, or recognize her ask the TARDIS for help.
The TARDIS gripped the Doctor's mind in her immensely powerful, unrelentingly gentle embrace, and he didn't even notice that. The TARDIS keened for the meltdown her Time Lord was suffering, and applied a soft pressure to his brain. In a moment, he was unconscious.
When the darkness fell on him, he couldn't be sure there'd ever been light.
The Doctor awoke 9.73 hours later, with a fuzzy, uncertain grasp on the events of the past few days. Someone had placed a block on most of those memories, and an inspection quickly revealed the tell-tale signs of TARDIS interference. He sent a question out to her but only received a wordless reassurance.
The sleep had reverted some of the Doctor's analytical ability to him. He realized that there was a high concentration of a hormone he secreted when deathly afraid. Slowly, it was being filtered from his system. For whatever reason, he hadn't blocked its passage through the blood-brain barrier as was his normal first response to its release.
The chemical, which the Doctor had taken to thinking of as the fear-monger hormone some regenerations ago, was able to increase the speed of a Time Lord's ability to process information. The only catch was that the increase of sensory input and information could, quite frequently, increase the fear, which caused the production of more of itself to be stimulated in a cascade effect. Soon, the Time Lord was drowning in the stuff, unable to think because of the fear.
If the problem could be solved quickly, the chemical was often times a life saver, but, if not, then it would make what was often the last few hours of life very unhappy, indeed.
The Doctor couldn't remember why he'd failed to block the production of this chaotic little hormone, but he suspected that it had led to some sort of breakdown, if the residuallevels and the evidence of the TARDIS's intervention was anything to go by. Fortunately, in his sleep, enough of it had been metabolized to return him to rationality.
All of this was determined within moments of returning to consciousness. The Doctor opened his eyes. He blinked. He took a deep breath to stave off frustration. He wasn't particularly worried, so he very politely asked the TARDIS why he was blindfolded.
Then, he felt a soft, warm and wonderfully familiar hand settle itself into his, and the Doctor screamed.
Rose jumped in alarm when her touch caused the Doctor to yell out and convulse, curling protectively in on himself. Still, she kept her hand in his, wincing at the strength with which he gripped it.
"What's happening to him?" She shouted, trying not to panic. The TARDIS managed to indicate that her touch had broken the seal placed on his memories by the ship. The two women had intended for them to be released fairly soon, and the TARDIS just hadn't realized how much the simple touch would effect the Doctor. It was rare for the TARDIS to communicate with Rose is such full sentences, and she knew that whatever was bothering the Doctor was also hurting his ship. She thanked the TARDIS aloud and focused on the man that was holding onto her hand as though his survival depended on it.
"Rose?" He asked hollowly, having reigned in his terror somehow.
"I'm here, Doctor." She told him, bringing her other hand up so that she held both of his.
"You were gone." He said unnecessarily. Rose noticed that his tears were soaking into the blindfold. "It stole your face." He whined and then added softly, "our beautiful face." Rose blushed, but pushed the small thrill those words gave her to the back of her mind.
"But you saved me, Doctor. I'm here, and I'm safe because of you." She reassured him.
"You could've died." He protested. "Could've died and it'd be all my fault." Rose shook her head, realized he couldn't see it, and spoke.
"No, Doctor. I didn't come with you. I confronted someone I knew was very likely dangerous without any kind of back up, without even telling you where I was going." Rose was beginning to get angry. "You don't get to take credit for my actions, Doctor. And you don't get to make my decisions for me." She glared affectionately down at him. "I'm alive and whole despite what that thing did to me because of you. Because you saved me." Rose extricated a hand to gently caress his face. The Doctor flinched at first, then leaned hungrily into the touch.
"How do I know that? How do I know this isn't all imagined?" He muttered darkly. Rose resisted the urge to hit him.
"Well, ultimately, I'll show you." She told him, squeezing his hand comfortingly when he tried to bury his face in his chest. She could imagine his squeezed-tight eyes. "But for now, I'll just prove it to you. Those people…well, and me…when their…our faces were gone, they couldn't do anything, right? Couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't see, couldn't-"
"I know!" The Doctor barked. "I saw that, too, you know? Saw you like that." Rose tenderly brushed an errant lock of hair from his forehead.
"Well, I'm going to prove to you that I can do all of those. Prove that I'm me, all of me, again. When you're ready, you can look, but I'll never force you." Rose's voice was soft and calming; the Doctor nodded warily. Rose beamed down at him even though he could see.
"Thank you." She whispered, squeezing his hands. Then, with a hand in each of his, Rose pulled the Doctor into sitting and then standing.
"Right!" She said briskly. "First order of business. Proof that I, Rose Tyler, have retained the ability to eat.
The Doctor allowed himself to be led into the kitchen. His right hand was in Rose's right hand, and her left snaked around his waist in order to better steer him in his blinded state and help keep him steady. He didn't need this assistance. 900 years in this ship, after all, and he knew it better than the back of his own hand. But he hadn't let her touch him for days, and the Doctor craved this contact with a hunger that far surpassed his need for food, despite how neglected his body had gone in the days following Rose's…incident.
So, he gripped her hand and leant into her side, and if Rose attributed it to the blindfold she'd put on him, he wasn't sure it was wise to disillusion her. He maintained his grip on her hand even after she'd carefully lowered him into his usual chair. It sounded like she was turning away from him, so he grasped her hand tighter, refusing to let her leave. His rational brain told him that she was probably going to get some food, but he didn't care. The fear-monger chemical was no longer affecting him, but that couldn't make everything better like a flip of a switch.
Rose's soft hand smoothed over his tense fingers, across the back of his palm and up his arm to wear his shirt sleeves had been rolled to his elbows. Then it jumped up to caress his cheek.
"It's okay, Doctor. I'm just getting some forks, year? Not going anywhere." She said. The Doctor shook her head, petulantly. He imagined that Rose glanced at the meal she'd laid out. He felt her try to reach for the drawer where the cutlery was housed. When he felt her strain away from him, instinct kicked in. The Doctor wrapped a hand around her waist and hauled her into his lap. Rose squeaked in surprise. He could feel her heart beat rapidly against his crest. Both of his arms enveloped her in a tight embrace and he buried his face in the crook of her neck.
Squirming against him, Rose half-heartedly struggled to be released. The Doctor didn't relent in his hold on her. A word sprang, unbidden, to his lips.
"Mine." He growled against her skin. Almost instantly, Rose relaxed against him He felt her nod.
"Yes, Doctor. I'm yours, your Rose." She whispered. The Doctor froze. Aloud, she said. "Look, I'm not fighting. Can we please eat now?" The Doctor nodded numbly. Rose started to get up, instantly his arms were pinning her to him.
"No. Here." He told her.
Rose was silent for a moment. And then she sagged back, comfortable against him. "Fine. But if you get all messy, it's your own fault." She warned him and then reached for something on the table.
When her gentle, warm fingers pressed a small morsel of toast to his lips, smothered with ham, the Doctor allowed her to feed him. He then chased her fingers with his lips and thoroughly removed the sticky sweetness that had gotten on them. He felt Rose's breathing and heart-rate increase and realized what he had just done.
Crap. He'd crossed a line. He'd crossed several of his lines in the brief time he'd been awake. A brief systems scan of himself almost caused him to curse aloud.
"Doctor?" He could hear the concern in Rose's voice as she twisted around on his lap. The Doctor barely bit back a groan at the feel of her bum rubbing against him.
"Sorry." He said quickly. "Thinking of something else, which is, of course, abominably rude of me. I do apologize. Anyway, back to breakfast."
He could feel Rose staring at him, and knew he was beginning to blush. Finally, she decided not to push the issue and settled back against him. Again, the Doctor's jaw tensed against the feral sound that battled to get out.
Oh, Rose, he thought desperately. I hope you meant it.