It was two days before he wanted to see another human being again. He went looking for Rose, soft, brilliant, understanding Rose, and found her waiting for him with a cup of tea. Her eyes were a bit red, and he vaguely wondered why, but at the moment, he was willing to put it down to anything from the early hour, to allergies, to his own bloodshot eyes making everyone else's look as bad as his felt. A dry voice in the back of his mind (one with a suspiciously Northern accent for some reason) suggested that he might want to consider that she was hurt by him or even furious with him. He shoved it away, only to have it point out that he had it coming if she had dunked aspirin in his mug.
He acknowledged this as little as he could and locked the memory voices away. With a sigh, he had a sip of his completely aspirin-free tea. As usual, it was perfect.
Rose looked at him carefully - he could see her trying not to watch him over her own mug. She was chewing on that pink lip again, one of her more distracting habits, though he refused, especially at a time like this, to acknowledge, to himself or anyone else, exactly what was so distracting. "Are you... feeling better?" she asked hesitantly.
He nodded briefly. "No," he said, finally, the first time he had spoken since he had lied to her and told her he was always fine. "She died. It was my fault."
"How?" Rose demanded, horrified. He was, as usual, gratified to note that she didn't draw away from him, even though he'd made such a cold and difficult pronouncement. "I mean, I knew she had died," she added. "How was it your fault?"
"Oh," he said. "How'd you know?"
"After what she told me," Rose said, "there's no way she'd've said no. She was clever, she had to have been smart enough to have seen her chance if you gave it to her."
"Oh." He hadn't taken into consideration that logic was really Rose's strong suit. Not simple, mathematical logic, but creature logic, the complex logic of what people do with the way they feel about things. Of course she had known.
"I'm so sorry," she told him, quietly.
She meant it, too. "What did she tell you?" he asked, with half-hearted curiosity.
She shook her head. "It doesn't matter," she said, softly. "Do you want to talk about her?"
"She was in my head. I read her mind, trying to find out... she read mine back. Only one other person's ever known me that way." He didn't tell her that the one other person was sitting across the table from him, staring at him with wondering - and definitely teary - eyes. "I didn't think about what it would do to her. It didn't occur to me that she could see all the darkness..."
"It's probably not as dark in there as you believe," Rose interrupted.
It was strangely gratifying, for all that it was patently absurd. She'd seen it, though, she would know if anyone did. Not that she remembered, damn it all, but still. "I wouldn't bet on it. But she seemed to agree with you."
"Yeah," she said, and twiddled with her mug in silence, for a minute. "She was beautiful, your Reinette," Rose ventured, finally.
He sighed. "She wasn't mine, she was his. I could have taken her away from that life, but stupid me, I just had to jump through that last bloody window. I put myself into the time line at the worst possible point because I couldn't just go off in the TARDIS and go get her. I'm a Time Lord. I can change time, as long as the events aren't real to me, as long as they're not part of me, or I'm not part of them." He shoved his hands through his hair and looked at her sadly. "It's complicated."
"I understand," she said. And he could see, in her eyes, that she was remembering the reapers, and that she did understand, perfectly well.
"That's why it's my fault. The Time Lord who never has enough time." He let his head drop into his hands and thought about it for a few minutes, quietly absorbing the enormity of what he'd done. He'd broken another promise, and this time, a girl had died who didn't have to do. "'I'm sorry I frightened you, Rose," he added, quietly.
He looked up finally and she nodded. "It's ok, Doctor. You did what you had to do."
"There were a hundred other things I could have done, actually. Maybe. Possibly. I don't know. But I did not plan to leave you and Mickey on that spaceship."
"I know," she said, and he could see, clearly, that she did.
They finished their tea in silence, and then he got up and wandered away. It was only much later, with some further ungentle prodding from the memories, that he wondered why she hadn't raged and raved at him. Anyone else would have done, anyone, from Romana, who could have actually piloted the TARDIS herself, all the way down to Sarah Jane, who usually forgave him almost anything, even Ace, poor child, who was used to his cold plotting and his fundamental ineptitude. Any other human he had ever been around, any of the aliens who had accompanied him, even, would have seen what he had done as a personal insult.
He was even coming to see it that way, himself. He had abandoned Rose, who never abandoned him, who never even let him abandon her, when he thought it was for the best. He had left her, only scant days after telling her that he did, indeed, leave everyone eventually, or they left him, but that he would never leave her. And he hadn't bothered to explain why, on that one, either. She didn't know she was special, unique even. Or maybe she did, but she didn't know why.
Reinette had done what she did because she looked inside him and loved him. Rose, too, had looked inside him, and seen far further than Reinette could have ever done. Every atom of the Daleks' existence, she had said. If she'd seen that, then she'd seen his, too, even the bits he didn't know. And she said, "I want you safe." Then she had called him hers.
Even in godhead, Rose was so very human.
He found himself wandering toward the TV room, to see if she was there, because he wanted to ask her, at long last, how she was.
Outside the door, he stopped, his hearts frozen in his chest. She was arguing, for some reason, with Mickey, and the good offices of the TARDIS meant he could hear every word.
But it wasn't the fact that she was crying as she spoke. It wasn't the fact that her voice was shaking, or her words shouted hoarsely. It was what she said. What she said... that was enough to stop all of time.
"Of course I love him," she shouted. "Even she knew that, dammit all."
"Then why don't you tell him he hurt you?" Mickey demanded, much more calmly than Rose.
"Because he's got enough, Mickey. He's a good man, he's easy to forgive. Like she said, he's worth it."
"Why'd she say all those things to you, anyway?" Mickey continued, his voice annoyed and clipped.
"I don't know. She was... different, Mickey. A princess."
"She knew the right things to say to anyone, apparently," said Mickey, quite resentfully, it sounded, "if she even caught you."
"She was a good person, Mickey, and she tried. It wasn't her fault. The time line can't be altered, you know. She was down in all the history books. I'm sorry she had to die, I really am. And yeah, believe it or not, I wish she had come with us, because he really needs someone who can understand him. He's so alone, like you can't even imagine."
So she wasn't telling Mickey what he'd told her, that he'd screwed up, that Reinette didn't have to die. She was leaving her death to historical fact, because Mickey didn't know that a Time Lord who could control time had lost the battle with it, through his own indelicate whim. Even now, with her lifelong friend, and all her defenses down, she was protecting him.
"You mean alone like when all your family's gone and your girl runs off with another man? Yeah, I understand it, all right."
"Ok, good, you've got the start of it." Rose was crying in earnest now, even as Mickey tried to interrupt and soothe her with half syllables. She ignored him completely. "Now imagine it's every girl. All the girls you ever liked or loved, all the blokes that you've ever made friends with. Only don't just imagine they've gone. Figure some of them now hate you and some of them got old and died while you stayed young, or just died in tragic ways, and some of them never wanted to meet you in the first place and just happened to be stuck with you and are so glad to be rid on you, they wouldn't give you air if you were in a jug now. Figure that you're just going around, trying to be a good person and do the right thing, but every where you go, people keep trying to lock you up or run you off or kill you. Your gran told us what it was like when she was young. Like that, only every where, never safe, no matter what you do." She stopped talking then, and took a deep breath while Mickey stammered at her. "Oh yeah," she added. "And then throw in that you had major - say, plastic surgery. And you look different. And the girl you trusted, the one who got you into that mess in the first place, the first thing she ever says to you when she sees the new you isn't 'thank you' or 'I love you' or even something stupid like 'hi'. It's 'Change back.'" She had shouted that last, shrieked it almost, with the sound of wracking guilt the Doctor found utterly familiar.
"Rose," Mickey mercifully, frantically interrupted. "I'm sorry, Rose, don't cry. I didn't mean to... look, I know you love him, and I'm sorry, and I won't say a thing to him, I promise. I'm not mad at him, I'm not mad at you. Hell, I'm not even mad at her, though I wish I knew why she'd talked to you like that, with all the 'we' stuff. Like he was a plate of biscuits at a tea party for you to pass around. Look, I can't help it if I still wish some times. You're something amazing and special and I was the only one who knew for a long time, so yeah, I resent it some times, but I don't even blame either one of you. Just, please stop yelling. If it's got you that worked up, please talk to someone. If you won't talk to him, call Sarah Jane, your mum, Shireen. Somebody. Talk to the ship if she'll listen. But don't keep it all in like that, or you really will end up just like him, just like your mum said."
There were footsteps coming toward the door. A single, voiceless command to the TARDIS opened the door onto a different corridor than the one he was standing in, dumbfounded. First of all, how the hell did Rose know? How much did she know? He'd never, ever, ever told her everything that happened on Satellite Five, so how did she know?
And why was she feeling guilty? It was the only time she had ever, ever faltered. And even then... He sighed. That was it. She'd lost her faith in him only for a single instant, but it hurt her.
And now he knew what Reinette had said to her. Mickey made it sound tacky at best, and certainly beneath both of them. But the Doctor knew better. For all that she had been a wonderful girl, Reinette was Madame de Pompadour, a trained courtesan, a King's mistress. She was used to sharing the men she loved with the other women in their lives, the necessary, righteous, correct women in their lives. What had she seen in his mind then, that gave her that impression?
Well, the truth, obviously.
She had known, whether he had wanted her to know or not, that she was a passing fancy in his life, that his love for her was not necessarily because of who she was but because of what she had to offer. It was painful, or would have been, but she was so comfortable in that role, she took her opportunity to try to comfort the other girl involved.
No, not just the other girl. His true consort. May whatever Gods there were have mercy on his blighted soul.
He hadn't told either one of them anything, but Reinette had known, because she had seen it, oh so obviously, a glaring, blazing light in the very forefront of his mind. Rose, unaccustomed to the different morality, utterly uncomprehending of the concept of an acknowledged mistress, an intelligent bedfellow and playmate who would never have her lover's name or truly share his world, could not even guess at what she had been told.
The Doctor knew.
He could never ever acknowledge or let on what he now knew. First of all, he would have to admit that he had been eavesdropping, which would probably infuriate her. But the TARDIS had ways and ways and ways of making him aware of how Rose was doing. At first he had thought the ship abnormally fond of his companion, but time and Satellite Five had made him understand that the way the living ship looked at Rose was a whole separate philosophical concept unto itself.
Then, there was what he had heard, which would be difficult for Rose to deal with without feeling the need to explain it away. Frankly, it was too precious and valuable to him to hear anyone, even Rose, try to put it aside.
Finally, there was the truth, which he would have to admit. In order to explain to Rose what Reinette meant, he would have to explain and, more to the point, deal with what Reinette knew. He would have to stand there and tell her that the uncrowned Queen of France, who had read the mind of an alien stranger, had seen, in the very forefront of the chaotic spiral that was his life, a single being of the star spun wonder. Even all unaware, his mind and heart had turned to her, the woman he had chosen, the brave, beautiful, brilliant woman who had chosen him as well.
Reinette had regarded Rose as the one who belonged to him, the one who shared his life, his world, his name. She hadn't said those things to hurt the younger, more innocent girl. She had said them to acknowledge their separate positions. Reinette had known, when she laid eyes on the 21st century Londoner, that she wasn't dealing with a Council Estate urchin who happened to wander around after him like a trailing suppliant. She was dealing, instead, with an equal, a better, in fact. A Time Lord's bride.
The Doctor let his head slump against the wall and knew exactly how he was going to handle this. He had been right, before: coward, every time.
Rose came down the corridor, a damp cloth to her forehead and a book in her hand. "All right, Rose?" the Doctor asked, exactly as if he didn't know she wasn't.
"All right," she lied, as if she was.
Maybe he couldn't tell her, the Doctor realized. Maybe he would never be able to tell her, would never find the right words, would never find the right chance. But maybe, just maybe, he could show her.
In a mere ten minutes time, he had Rose bundled up in blankets and comfort and cocoa and all of her very favorite things. As he insisted to her, it was the very least he could do. He might be worth the monsters, at least according to Rose and Reinette. To him, however, Rose was worth the monsters, the domestics, the lack of a horse, and even chatting nicely to Mickey while the three of them played a quiet game of rummy.
For all that he would never say it, Rose was worth everything.