Disclaimer: Not mine; just borrowing!
You ask me what I thought about
Before we were lovers.
The answer is easy.
Before I met you
I didn't have anything to think about.
She finds him in the garden.
He's sitting on a low stone wall, an open mason jar resting near his hip, watching carefully as Tony runs around the yard chasing fireflies. Rose leans against the sliding glass door to the backyard and smiles, unseen.
"Careful!" the Doctor advises as Tony claps his hands violently in the space a lightning bug had occupied just a few seconds earlier. "You're trying to catch it, not squish it."
"But if I go any slower, I'll never catch one!" Tony protests, stalking an orange glow. "Every time I get close, the light goes out again and I lose it."
"You have to anticipate it. Can't just go running off at the blink. Try to—there we are! Well done!"
Tony trots over to the Doctor with his hands cupped, holding his quarry reverently. "Can I keep it?"
"Weeeeellll. That depends. Do you want to keep it?"
Tony lifts his hands to his eye; takes in the slowly-flashing beauty of the bug. "Yeah," he breathes.
"Do you think it wants to be kept?"
That one's a little bit beyond the seven year old. "Huh?"
"Well, think of it this way. If some giant scooped you up and thought you were just the prettiest thing he'd ever seen, which would you rather he do: keep you in a glass cage, or set you free?"
Tony wrinkles his nose. "I'd wanna go home."
The Doctor takes Tony's closed hands in his and slowly opens them. "The only thing more fun than catching a firefly is letting it go," he says gently. "That way you can visit them every night, here. If you take them home, they'll die."
"But…" Tony protests quietly as his new friend flies away, "what if I took really good care of it? I'd put grass in his jar and poke air holes and everything."
The Doctor shakes his head. "Sometimes, the only way to take care of something is to set it free. Even if you want to keep it more than anything."
Tony raises an eyebrow, suddenly skeptical. "You've had a lot of fireflies?"
Tony bites his lip, a habit eerily reminiscent of his older sister. "But… maybe… maybe you were doing it wrong."
Hidden in the shadows, Rose winces. The Doctor's face goes stonily blank. "Maybe I was," he agrees.
"Tony," Rose calls, "time to come inside, sweetheart."
"No buts, mister. Go see Mum."
Grumbling, he passes by her into the warm light of the mansion. Left in the sudden quiet, Rose wanders over to the Doctor's perch on the wall.
"He forgot this," the Doctor says, picking up the mason jar.
"We'll bring it inside for him later," she says, settling in next to him and reaching for a hand. He pulls away and clenches anxious fists firmly in his lap. Trying not to feel snubbed, she ventures, "That was some life lesson."
"Hmmm," he agrees, looking away.
She leans against him and presses her lips into his shoulder, wishing for the thousandth time that she could see inside that thick skull of his.
"Some fireflies don't want to be let go," she reminds him.
"Oh, I know," he says, and something in his tone sets her off.
"D'you want me to leave?"
He goes very still. "What?" he breathes.
"Because there's nowhere for me to go anymore. The only way anyone's getting lost is if they leave. Are you asking me to go?"
"Sometimes people don't have a choice."
"Sometimes it would be easier for people to make choices if you didn't always make them for them."
"It's the only way to keep them safe!" he hisses, sliding away from her.
She stands up. "Right. That's the moral of the story, isn't it?" she asks, trying not to sound bitter. She turns the mason jar over in her hands. "You can't keep them, because they… what was it. They wither and they die."
"Better that than the alternative!"
She gapes at him, totally unable to follow the thread of this argument. "What are you talking about?"
His eyes flick up to her and away. "Nothing. It's fine, Rose, just… just forget I said anything."
She studies him a moment. "This… isn't about me at all, is it."
A near imperceptible nod of the head.
She sits down again. "Y'know, it'd be easier for me to make you feel better if you'd give me a hint as to what you're upset about," she murmurs, keeping her voice light and teasing. "Is this about… is this about the metacrisis?"
"Rose, I don't…"
"I love you. No matter how many hearts you have. You know that, right?"
"But nothing. You have to start getting used to the idea—and, and maybe I do too—that what happened was for the best, and—"
"But I wasn't the only one affected," he whispers suddenly.
She watches him. "Donna?" she guesses.
His shoulders set.
"Doctor. Don't shut me out. What happened to Donna?"
"After they left, he… he would've had to… she was…" he looks up at her helplessly, his expression a plaintive Can't we just not talk about this?
"He would've had to erase her memories. Every… she made me. The regenerative energy in the hand and just a spark of Donna. And biological events that powerful… they can't go just one way. She got a little dose of Time Lord, when I got a dose of human. And her mind… it can't… wouldn't be able to take the strain."
Rose is very quiet.
"The pressure of all that knowledge—long-dead languages and all that Time—she's not built to cope. No human is. And if he wanted her to live, then the memories would've had to go."
"Just the new stuff, yeah? The you-stuff."
"No, the… all the me-stuff. Every single moment we spent together. All of that traveling. She can't remember a single second. Any one of those memories could trigger the whole thing."
"You didn't." She pauses for a moment, considering that. "You didn't."
"But I would have. It's the only way to save her," he insists in a dead sort of voice. He claps his hands together suddenly, pasting on a smile and false cheer. "And now she can finally have the life I always stopped her from getting. She was a bride from the moment I met her. I just… got in the way."
She remembers cold words of consolation on a windy gray beach. Here you are, he'd said, with a sad, proud smile. Living a life, day after day. The one adventure I can never have.
Things click sickeningly into place.
"When you said goodbye to me," she says slowly, a chill seeping into her voice, "when you said goodbye, I told you that I was working in a shop. That I was back to who I'd been. And you believed me."
"It was a joke. You were meant to laugh, and tell me that I wasn't funny, and then I was going to tell you about Torchwood."
"But do you remember what you said? Good for you. As if—as if it were something to be proud of, forgetting all that I'd done. Do you have any idea how small that made me feel? I had a lot of time to think about it. I… I went back to school for you. I have a doctorate in temporal physics. I needed it, to build the Cannon. And Donna doesn't even remember—? Before I met you, I could never—" Upset, she cuts herself off. Taking a deep breath, she hisses, "How dare you. You arrogant bastard."
"Would you rather I let her die?"
"Yes! I—no, of course not, I don't—"
For a long moment, the garden is silent but for Rose's heavy breathing.
"I didn't make you smart, Rose," he says quietly, head in his hands.
"No," she agrees, "you taught me to think."
He looks up at her then, and the expression on his face is so haunted—so broken—that she feels instantly chastised. She doesn't need to be telling him this. He knows. Of course he knows.
"Oh, Doctor," she murmurs, wrapping her arm around his shoulders. "C'mere."
She pulls him close to her, head against her chest, and feels the tension in his muscles melt away. As tiny drops of wetness seep through her shirt, she rocks him, pressing kisses into the crown of his head.
For the first time in her life, she watches the Doctor cry.