Title: Take Care
Author's Note: Written for Challenge 68 (Photos) at LJ comm then_theres_us. Set sometime just after Journey's End.
He hadn't slept in two days by the time Jackie pulled the car up in front of Rose's apartment building, with the two of them buckled in the back seat like kids, and Rose was watching him like he might evaporate. He wanted to tell her he had no immediate plans to do so, but he thought jokes about him disappearing were maybe off the table for the time being.
"Didn't even have time to cancel your lease," Jackie said, putting the car in park. "All of your things...everything's still inside."
"Oh," Rose said. "Good."
The Doctor climbed out of the car and waited on the sidewalk in his rumpled blue suit, arms crossed tight against his chest. Rose thought it should look wrong, the blue, but it didn't. She thought he should feel like a stranger, wanted him to, even, but he didn't. He felt like-
"I'm glad you're home," Jackie said, and Rose smiled at her in the rear view mirror. "Rose, I know this isn't what you wanted, but-"
Rose looked out through the glass and studied his posture. He very casually pivoted to lean toward the car, listening in. Rose rolled her eyes.
"Thanks for the ride, mum," she said, scooching across the seat to exit on the side of the curb and closing the car door behind her. She returned Jackie's wave and spun to look up at the towering apartment complex. Home sweet home. Or something. The building's automatic doors slid open as she approached, and the Doctor followed her inside, hands shoved deep in his pockets.
"I never said I didn't want this," Rose said, carefully looking straight ahead.
"Okay," he said, and reached out to press the round smooth button, calling the elevator.
When she reemerged from the bedroom, wrapped in a flannel robe that fell to her knees, wet hair piled on top of her head, he was staring at The Wall. Her spacious dining room, sectioned off from the kitchen by a granite island, was largely dominated by newspaper clippings, photos, maps. Locations marked with pink thumbtacks. Places they'd been. Historical events. They were pinned and taped up all the way to the ceiling. There were stacks of files on the dining room table, and the edges of lacy placemats peeked out from underneath.
Rose stopped in the doorway and watched him pull down an old newspaper clipping. Repairs Made to Big Ben After East Wall Crumbles. He looked at her.
"What were you..."
Rose shrugged. "I thought maybe...this universe had a Doctor."
Rose handed him the bundle of clothes in her arms and crossed into the kitchen. "It does now."
He set the yellowing sheet of paper aside and watched her pull a wilting bunch of flowers out of a ceramic vase, shaking the clinging water droplets off into the sink.
"You realize it looks like a serial killer lives in this apartment?" he said, and she glanced up at him from where she'd bent to throw the old flowers away. Behind him, computer printouts and post-it notes rustled on the wall.
"Yeah," she said, after a pause, and laughed.
He turned his attention to the clothes she'd handed him. A large grey crewneck sweatshirt. Blue flannel pajama pants. He gave her a look-raised eyebrows and that hint of a smirk. "Did an old boyfriend leave these behind?"
Rose shook her head, feigning annoyance, but she was smiling. "I don't know what you're implying about my loungewear, but I don't think I like your tone."
He held up his hands, palms forward, peace. "Shower's in the bedroom?"
She nodded and he turned to leave, but she called him back. "Hey."
"Martha's...pretty," she said, and breathed out a self-deprecating little laugh. She looked out the window. "Um. Did-"
"No," he said, and seemed for a moment like he might walk towards her, like he might touch her, but he just smiled awkwardly and left the room.
He looked so small in the giant sweatshirt, and it made her want to gather him into her arms, but she stayed on her side of the kitchen island when he wandered back in, rubbing his damp hair with a towel. She was up to her elbows in soapy water, and for a moment the hollow thunking of cups and bowls in the sink was the only sound. Steam rose from the scalding water. Her face felt hot.
"Are you hungry?" she said.
He nodded and hung the towel over the back of a chair. His hair stood out from his head in every direction. She wondered what it felt like, and then remembered that she already knew.
"I only have popcorn and orange juice," she said, and rinsed off a mug, setting it on a towel to dry. He was watching her, so she smiled. "I left in a bit of a hurry."
They curled up together on the couch, the huge bowl of popcorn between them, two tall glasses of orange juice sweating on the coffee table, and popped in a movie. She tucked her head under his chin and breathed. He smelled like her shampoo. She thought about how she wished he would kiss her, and he did.
Her feet were in his lap, and she was nursing the last of her orange juice. They'd found some biscuits in the cupboard above the fridge and the tin sat open on the table.
"I can't stop thinking about..." he started, but shook his head and stared at the screen. She watched him pretend to watch the movie.
"This is what he wanted," Rose said, and climbed over to sit beside him. She reached out to stroke the fine hair at his temple.
"Oh, Rose," he said. "No it's not."
He fell asleep with his head on her shoulder, and she held perfectly still, turning the sound on the movie down low as it faded to black. She listened to him breathe and swallowed the lump building in her throat.
"I'll take care of you," she whispered, and she tried to ignore it, but the song playing over the credits still made her cry.