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Written for the Time in Flux Ficathon over on LJ. The goal was to take an assigned episode and rewrite it for a successful romance. I got "The Unquiet Dead". I did it as a two parter, but both parts can work as separate fics. First time posting on FFnet.
Just Like That
Part 1 - The Doctor
Sometime between sending Rose off to the wardrobe room to change and deciding whether he ought to change himself, it hits the Doctor like a speeding locomotive, exactly what it is that's going on here. He, the Last of the Time Lords, the Oncoming Storm, the Destroyer of Worlds, is dating a shop-girl from 21st century London.
A simple human girl.
She's not just a shop-girl, of course, not anymore, not even if she ever was. There's something about her, something unusual and unique, something that's made it impossible for him, even up to this point, to treat her like a regular companion. Hell, he couldn't even call her a companion when he was asked - or led, anyway - into supposedly defining their relationship. He let her storm off in a culture-shocked, offended huff rather than put the limit of "we travel together" on who they were to each other.
He's dating a girl.
It hits him again, and two time lines stand before him. People who don't walk in eternity don't see it and probably can't understand. It's not the enormous, multi-faceted, infinite-option decisions that shine and glow and spawn Universes. It's the little ones, like this one, where two simple choices are all there is, that make whole realities dance to their tunes. It's a time like this, turning right or left, saying yes or no, standing still or running, this is the part where ordinary people take entire fates of creation into their hands.
He is a Time Lord.
He's never actually had this sort of choice, before, not that anyone would believe it. He makes decisions every day and people and planets live and die by them. It would seem to a mortal, outside observer that the kinds of things he does encompass the entire futures of whole star systems. But to him they aren't choices. They're repairs or, to keep more accurate with his chosen title, surgeries he supposes. They're things that have to be done by someone, and so he does them, either because there's no one else, or because the others who could will not. He picks the paths of reality but he is always, inevitably, following a pattern long set down, correcting a snarl in a tapestry that encompasses all of time, to make sure the picture comes out correctly in the end. He can choose the methods and the outcome to some extent, but in the end, his decisions are made based on what has to be and what cannot.
This time, though, the choice is his alone and genuine.
He can keep to his old ways, the harder path and yet the easier one. He can keep her close but at arms' length, watch her dance through his life from the side-lines. He sees a very familiar place blowing up around them, sees laughter and horror and running without stopping. He sees her collect pretty boys and watch him with questioning eyes. He sees her negative answer to a ubiquitous question, sees her father die, sees himself choose time and again to save her when he can, sees her break everything to do the same. He sees her, in the end, weeping into a leather jacket, balled up and broken while he stands, a stranger, at her side. And still she remains, and with him, though he turns then to push her away, to shove her aside before she chains his hearts and he destroys her. She won't be pushed, but he won't pull, and so they orbit and it breaks him anyway. Then he is the one weeping into a jacket, but there's no one by his side, and it kills him a little or, in one possibility, all at once. If he chooses this reality, to keep to a Time Lord's ways, there are ends, after all, many options, many chances, to join his doomed and damned race.
Until this moment, he'd have said he wanted that more than anything.
He can follow her ways, instead. First date with chips and the sharing of secrets, and that would make this their second date. This time line is more complex and hazy, as if it's got only the barest finger hold on reality. It overlaps the other in places, events that are inescapable, but there are different paths through even those. This time line has so many choices, so many chances to go wrong that he can't see if either of them will come out the other side. What scares him more is that he can't even see if it has an other side. In more than one aspect, it looks like they live in this future forever. Sometimes, he sees endings, sees her with a torch over his pyre, sees him jettison her body into the corona of Trihedron, to keep her with his most precious stars forever. He sees children and it terrifies him. They have his eyes, and her smile. The Time Lords would call them abominations, more for their father than their mother. Yet he cannot find it in him to call them anything less than fantastic.
It changes him and everything, but the Universe will come out the same.
The easiest thing, the safest thing, would be to stick to his nature, to follow what he has been taught. It may seem difficult on the surface, to resist her mortal beauty, to never consider her an object of desire, but he is not human and does not have to allow himself to be subjected to the devices of longing. By the same token, he cannot treat her as a father figure would for the simple fact that he has already acknowledged to himself that she is a beautiful and desirable female. That does not mean he cannot play mentor to her youthful enthusiasm. It is a comfortable role, and he can wear it along with the leather jacket and the lunatic grin, because it should fit in the same way, with the ease of familiarity. She will be close to him, she will learn to use that fantastically potent mind of hers, she will find in him someone who respects her for herself. He can try to convince himself that she is a companion, someone there to learn from him and spend time occupying his time until she finds her place in the universe without him.
It's not like he can't love her anyway.
The other option would be so much more complicated. He will have to go back to school, be the student rather than the teacher, learn the human mating rituals that he has watched with amusement bordering on condescension in the past. It can always go painfully wrong, this, because there are things in his past, and possibly things in his future, that are almost too horrible to contemplate. He has told her his world died in War, but hasn't explained that he is the one who turned the key, their ultimate eventuality, their first strike capability and suicide solution. Even if she can accept that he put his world to death to save the Universe, could she accept that it was hardly the first time he executed entire species, that, despite his best intentions, it is unlikely to be the last?
Could anyone truly love an unrepentant murderer?
Beyond that, he is old and she is young, though neither of them really are that in their species' reckoning. Time Lords his age are still very young for a species that can live millennia, whereas humans her age are already making career decisions and choosing their own paths. Nevertheless, she has never been allowed to choose her own path before, and he was running his planet in his own right long before he ever decided to burn it down before the Universe burned down around them. He's old though, in that he's grown tired of his life and tired of the Universe. He's old because he's survived Ragnarok, and no one's meant to do that. And she's young, too young, because she is an innocent to the evils of the world, too gentle and too pure to subject to the shadows inside him.
He's a storm that rages eternally, and she's only a summer shower in comparison.
Human women want men who will stay in one place, who will love them above everything (or at least claim to do), who will share everything from beds to meals to morning rituals with them. He doesn't sleep unless forced, eats on the run given a choice, and his morning ritual consists of a razor blade to the rather overactive beard he's acquired in this regeneration and making sure he doesn't smell enough to annoy himself. He might be able to love her above everything else, but he won't be able to let her life outweigh the needs of the many. He doesn't know how, not anymore, not even if he ever did. He'll endanger her just by existing with her, because things follow him, and the TARDIS is drawn to trouble, and he can trip over a cataclysm more readily than she can trip over a cobble stone. She'll probably die of loving him, if he lets her.
But she's human, so she'll die, anyway.
She might already love him too much, if her beautifully poetic justification of his lifestyle is any sort of indicator. He can't understand that, but it's obvious to him in this non-moment, the vision of Rose making her choice, time and again, to be with him, to stay with him, to take whatever scraps of love and affection he offers her and cherish them like treasure. It's almost wrong to choose the safer path, almost looks to him like they'll hurt each other time and time again if he doesn't make it clear to her that he won't accept what she offers, or that he will. He could never reject what she is or gives - he's too broken for that and he knows it. She'll give him smiles and laughter and hugs and joy and he'll take every ounce of it, as needy and desperate as an orphaned child without a home.
Anything she offers, he'll want, but there's only one way he'll be able to have it all.
The safer path promises death, quick and tragic and painful, and he's all for it, has been since he set fire to time itself. The other path, this path that's not merely hand-in-hand, but also heart-to-hearts, promises life. There's pain in either choice. She'll make him sad and make him angry in either path. She'll make him smile in either time-line, make him laugh, make him remember who the Doctor is, make him learn, ever so slowly, to forgive himself. In either path, she'll make him hers. But in only one of them, she'll make him happy.
He doesn't believe he deserves to be happy.
He watches the two timelines shift places until she comes into the console room, until his own voice disrupts the ebb and flow. "Blimey," he says, and both lines come into sharp relief. Her words are a tease and a worry at once, and he can sense anxiety and decisions hanging in the air around them. "You look beautiful," he admits, and his choice is already half made for him by his own impulsiveness. The second timeline, the more difficult one, the one he doesn't really think he deserves, starts to pulse and glow and take over everything that's coming.
She starts, slowly, to really smile.
"Considering," he adds, and there's a lurch, and her smile starts to fade like the glowing time-line with the potential forever in it. He wants that smile, has already started to fall so hard for that smile. The Doctor pauses, one more hearts-beat, before everything becomes irrevocable. He can give in to the fact that his species is gone and there's no one to judge him, and he can do everything in his not inconsiderable power to win the heart of a simple human girl. Or he can stay as changeless as he is ageless, go down the path that's only holding her hand and, if all he's seen is really true, lose his hearts to her anyway.
It's a true choice, this one, where, like any mortal man, he can decide.
He stands up from his work and lays the sonic screwdriver aside. "Well, you were already beautiful," he says. The Doctor takes Rose's hand and the entirety of eternity shifts sideways.
"What was that?" Rose asks, looking as stunned as if she actually felt what he did.
"White flag," he replies with a smile, and leans forward to kiss her cheek. She accepts it with a grin that's quickly becoming his favorite sight in any Universe. "Ready for our second date?"
Rose nods without hesitation and he takes her arm to lead her to the doors.
"Just one thing," he adds. "This time's not like yours, yeah? So you're not allowed to go smackin' my bum again while we're here." He grins down at her for the sheer joy of watching her blush that lovely shade. He's got no idea how she could possibly imagine he missed that little stunt. Then, those bright brown eyes start to sparkle pure mischief.
"What about when we're not?"
He looks into those eyes, lost and so lost, knowing full well that he may never find his way clear, and he can't help it, he just can't. She's so beautiful and so special, so fantastic, that it comes up to him and pounces on him just as hard and as fast as his locomotive-like earlier realization. She's got perfect, saucy lips, and they really need to be kissed. So he does, and almost manages to keep it chaste enough, at least chaste enough that his handkerchief can get most of her lippie off him without much trouble. Grinning, because he's already starting to see that promised happiness and can't believe how insanely fantastic it is after all, he holds her close with their foreheads touching and lets his answer breathe across her kiss-damp smile.
"As you wish."