Step by Gentle Step

The Doctor was leaning against the console watching the doorway to the corridor which she had left through awhile ago, waiting for her to return. When she did, a relieved but small smile came upon his face.

"Thought you'd never come back," he complained softly, his frantic eyes searching hers to see if things were alright between him and her after his earlier...transgression.

Rose pointedly ignored the irony of his statement. "I was only gone half hour," she replied awkwardly.

"Forty-two minutes, actually."

"Well," she shrugged, looking away. "I thought you wouldn't want me around right now."

He scoffed gently in the back of his throat. "Always want you around, Rose Tyler," he said casually, like was an irrefutable fact rather than a meaningful sentiment. He fiddled with a lever on the console. Neither of them looked at each other for a few long moments. Then, the Doctor cleared his throat and murmured, "Rose, I'm...I'm sorry that I left you on that spaceship, I should've...taken you with me, maybe, but I didn't want to strand you there if it turned out we couldn't get back...and then there was Mickey to think about, and...oh, I don't know. But I had to make that decision spur-of-the-moment and - "

"Doctor," Rose interrupted, her brow furrowed. "You don't have to explain yourself to me."

He sighed, and met her gaze steadily. "I just want you to know that I won't...I won't do it again. I mean, unless it's to protect you or something, obviously. But I'll try not to."

"Why?" she asked simply, as she sat down on the jumpseat.

He sniffed nonchalantly and shrugged, before mumbling, "I missed you."

"Oh."

He blinked.

Rose said nothing further.

"That's it?" he demanded.

"What do you want me to say?"

He opened his mouth to reply but nothing came out and he just stared at her wordlessly.

She shifted restlessly in her seat. "Listen, Doctor...are things gonna be...are things gonna be okay between us?"

He frowned at her in confusion. "Well, that depends."

Her expression was filled with anxiety. "On what?"

"On whether you've forgiven me," he replied quickly.

Her eyes widened. "Forgiven you?"

"Yes," he nodded.

If anything she looked even more worried. "Why, what did you...what did you do?" she asked, panic causing her to feel slightly sick. "I didn't think you actually - "

"What?"

She looked at her hands. "When you were with her, you didn't..." she trailed off meaningfully, and risked a small glance up at him.

His eyebrows rose as he realised what she meant. "No, of course not," he replied earnestly.

"Okay," she said, but she still sounded nervous. "But did you want to?"

He let out a bark of surprised laughter, but at her indignant look he sobered and his expression returned to serious. He stepped forward, trying to close the distance between them, literally and emotionally. "Rose, I may have gone through a time window to save her, but that doesn't mean I wanted to – to - well, to do what you're suggesting."

Rose shrugged half-heartedly. "She was beautiful. She was the most 'accomplished' woman I've ever seen. She was amazing. I wouldn't blame you," she murmured.

"You always forget one very important thing about me, Rose Tyler," he said, sitting down next to her. "I'm not human."

"So?" she snorted. "You can still fancy someone. And even high and mighty Time Lords must fall in love now and then."

"Yeah, alright," he agreed, slipping his arm along the jumpseat, not quite touching her shoulders but wanting to, wanting so very much to pull her into his side and hold her there for as long as possible. Forever, maybe. "Perhaps now and then." He heard her heavy sigh and couldn't resist any longer; his hand enclosed around her shoulder, the one furthest from him, and he tugged her against him.

Instinctively and to his great relief, she obligingly rested her head against his chest, her ear placed firmly above his left heart, no doubt wondering why it was thudding so quickly, so loudly. No idea of the effect she had on him.

He couldn't help but bury his nose in the top of her head as he whispered, "I didn't, though. Not with her."

"Hmm?" she prompted for him to elaborate, closing her eyes and wrapping her arm loosely around his waist in a half-cuddle.

"She was a very interesting woman. I was intrigued by her. She thought she knew me, thought she loved me. But I don't need you to forgive me for loving her, because I didn't love her. I need you to forgive me for not finishing what I wanted to say the other night, outside that chip shop. I need you to forgive me for not saying what I always want to say, but don't. I need you to forgive me for kissing her back when she kissed me, not because she was her but because she wasn't you. And mostly I need you to forgive me for always being such a coward."

As he spoke, she went very still, hardly daring to breathe, it seemed. Once he'd apparently finished, she lifted her head to look at him. "Doctor?"

"Yeah?" he exhaled roughly, terribly nervous about what she would say.

"I - " she began; but she was interrupted.

"Rose, where's the nearest - oh. Um, sorry," Mickey muttered as he walked into the console room.

Rose sat up properly and then stood, trying not to blush. She failed.

The Doctor didn't acknowledge Mickey. He didn't actually mean to be rude – this time, anyway – it was just that he felt as if he couldn't take his eyes off of Rose or else she'd run away from him, and their conversation, before she could finish what she was about to say. And he couldn't have that.

"You alright?" she asked Mickey, self-consciously tugging on the hem of her t-shirt.

"Yeah," Mickey said slowly, swallowing against the sudden lump in his throat. "I was just, er, wondering where the bathroom's gone. It's disappeared for some reason."

"Oh," Rose giggled. "Yeah, she does that sometimes. Rearranges things. She's probably bored. Use mine if you like."

"Right." He paused. "And where's that?"

"In my room – it's an ensuite."

"And...where's your room?" he asked, feeling like an idiot.

The Doctor smiled a secret smile to himself at the fact that Rose hadn't told Mickey where her bedroom was. He knew now, for definite, that she wasn't expecting to rekindle things with her ex-boyfriend. Thank goodness for that. One less obstacle in the way of – well. His dream scenario.

"I'll show you - " she started to offer.

The Doctor panicked. "No!" he cried out nonsensically. "Uh, I mean – hang on, let me check something on the console screen; I think something's wrong with the TARDIS..." he babbled, jumping up and over to the console.

Rose and Mickey turned to face him, looking confused.

"What's wrong?" Rose asked in concern, stroking the coral briefly before realising she was doing exactly what she and Sarah-Jane had laughed about the Doctor doing. She withdrew her hand, looking at it in bemused shock. She was getting more and more attached to this ship each day she lived here. She kind of loved that, and something in the back of her mind told her the TARDIS did, too.

"I'm not sure," the Doctor mumbled, pressing some random buttons. The TARDIS hummed loudly in annoyance.

"It's alright, you guys fix that or whatever. I'll find it on my own," Mickey said.

But by now, Rose was peering over the Doctor's shoulder, looking at the console screen worriedly, murmuring with him about what it could be. Neither heard Mickey's words, nor his departure from the room.

"Maybe she needs a rest in the vortex for awhile, yeah?" suggested Rose.

"Yeah, maybe," agreed the Doctor.

"Hadn't you better get under the console and I dunno, fix something?" she asked, when he turned around, hands in pockets, and simply looked at her.

"Don't want to upset her even more," he murmured. "I'm sure she'll be fine soon."

"Right. Good." She turned around, saying, "Mickey, I'll - oh. Where'd he go?"

The Doctor looked over to where Mickey had been standing. "Oh." He tugged at his ear sheepishly, actually feeling guilty that he'd made Rose forget about him. "Um. I dunno."

Rose bit her lip. "Maybe I should go find him - "

"He's a big boy, Rose," the Doctor said, his guilt magnifying tenfold as he said it. "I'm sure he can find a toilet on his own."

"Right. Yeah, you're right."

There was an awkward silence for a moment, until they both said, "So!" at exactly the same time. Cue nervous laughter.

"Right, well, I'm knackered. I'm gonna go to bed. I'll, er. I'll see you in the morning," Rose said quietly, turning to walk out of the room.

"What?" he said idiotically. "No, wait, Rose - "

"Look, let's just...I just...I don't want to talk about this right now," she murmured. "Night, Doctor."

He stared after her as she left, a sinking feeling settling in his stomach. If he'd cocked everything up and she left him properly, he didn't know what he'd do. He had to make sure that didn't happen.

He sighed, ruffled his hair nervously, then strode with purpose to follow her. Before he could reach her room, however, he walked past his own bedroom door, which was open slightly. He smiled at the thought that she was inside, probably being nosy and looking for random evidence to use against him in their argument tomorrow, which he was sure he could sense was pending.

But when he entered, he simply found her lying on his bed, staring up at his black, starry ceiling that looked like the night sky and seemed to go upwards forever.

"Sorry," she mumbled, hearing him come in. "I just wanted to look at the stars for a bit."

"I could take you somewhere," he suggested. "Somewhere, anywhere. Earth or Other. We could camp out for the night, look up at the stars for real." He tried a little grin. But she still wasn't looking at him so it was pointless.

"The TARDIS needs to rest in the vortex, remember," she scolded quietly. He was sure she'd worked out that what he'd said about there being something wrong with the TARDIS was a lie. She often read him like a book, even if she probably convinced herself she didn't.

"Right. Yeah." He shifted from foot to foot awkwardly. "Listen, Rose - "

She started to sit up. He dashed over to his bed and sat down next to her.

"Don't go," he murmured, gently holding her wrist to stop her moving too far away from him.

She sighed and laid back down, her head resting on his pillow, her wavy hair fanning out. He smiled, because he knew that his pillow would smell of her, now. Raspberry shampoo and that honey he'd playfully flicked at her that morning during breakfast and Rose.

He let go of her wrist and laid down next to her. "So. There's, um. There's a few more things I want to say, really," he began, but Rose interrupted him, plunging straight in.

"I liked her, you know," Rose murmured. "But I couldn't help but feel so...so small, when she spoke to me. Like...like I was a silly young girl, yeah? And maybe, I dunno, maybe she had a right to be like that, 'cos she was older and more...mature, refined...but when she said to me, 'you and I both know, don't we Rose, that the Doctor is worth the monsters,' I just, I felt so..." She swallowed hard. "Thing is, I thought me and you have something special between us, but she made me realise something, just like Sarah Jane did. I'm not the first, and I'm certainly never gonna be the last."

"Rose - " he tried to interrupt, his voice full of raw emotion.

"'Cos she thought the same thing as I did, yeah? That you and her were special. That's probably how Sarah Jane felt, how countless others have felt and will feel." She took in a deep breath. "Now I've just got to try and get over it."

His brow furrowed deeply. "Get over what?"

"You," she whispered, finally turning her head to face him.

He made a small noise in the back of his throat which sounded his alarm at this. His hand shot across the space between them to grab her hand, and he squeezed it desperately, almost painfully. "Don't you dare," he whispered back, his voice wavering.

She arched an eyebrow and let out a humourless laugh. "That's not fair," she told him sternly, snatching her hand back. "You don't get to do that."

He snatched her hand right back in his, turning onto his side to face her better. "Why don't I?"

"Doctor. Listen to me, right?" She took in another deep breath. "I'm not gonna leave. I'm staying right here. For as long as you want me to."

"I'll always want you. To stay, I mean. I'll always want you to stay," he whispered frantically.

"But I can't keep...I dunno, acting so deluded or whatever. I need to just, concentrate on our friendship. Instead of hoping for more all the time."

He slowly released her hand and turned onto his back again, addressing the fathomless ceiling as he spoke this time. "I'm sorry she made you feel like you did," he said quietly. "But you're so, so wrong if you think there has been or will ever be another person like you in my life."

Rose scoffed gently. "Doctor, stop it."

"No. No. Because you need to understand that I - " He closed his eyes, breathing in deeply. "I look at you, and I can't comprehend what I've ever done to deserve you."

"Doctor," she said, a little more firmly this time, "Please stop it."

"Why?" he asked, bewildered. He opened his eyes and looked at her again.

"Because how the hell am I supposed to get over you if you act like this!" she exclaimed.

"Exactly!" he shouted back. "I feel like I'm losing you right now and I need to confess all these things to make sure I don't! To make sure I never lose you! Because Rose, if you leave me – whether now, or in a hundred years – I will never get over you, don't you see that?"

Her breath caught in her throat and she couldn't reply for a moment. But then, she found some words. And those words hurt him very much because it meant that she still did not believe him.

"If you could have anyone," she said shakily. "Anyone in the whole of time and space...you wouldn't pick me..."

"Of course I would!" he countered passionately. "You don't realise how beautiful you are," he continued, as he shook his head fervently. "How clever and funny and wonderful! How much I..." He swallowed hard. "How much I love you."

A tear slipped out of the corner of her eye and slid down her temple, into her hairline. "Doctor," she whispered.

"I mean it," he insisted, rolling towards her, brushing his knuckles over the apple of her cheek. "You've no idea how long I have wanted to tell you that."

She was quiet for a moment. The Doctor's hearts beat rapidly in his chest in anticipation.

Finally, she whispered, "Really?"

"Really," he smiled, leaning closer. "I love you, Rose Tyler."

She bit her lip hesitantly, watching him lean over her. His mouth coming closer and closer to her own and she didn't know whether to move away or move closer still and then, then she –

Oh, she let him kiss her. How could she not?

She kissed him back, sliding her hands into his hair, pulling him against her. He gently rested his upper body above hers as they leisurely explored each other's mouths with acrobatic tongues. His hand slipped down her side, raising goosebumps on the way to her waist, where he then held on tightly, feeling like she was his anchor to...well, to everything.

Gently and reluctantly, she tore her lips away, both of them breathing in quickly. "Definitely not gonna get over you now," she whispered teasingly.

"That's the plan," he replied, giving her a crooked grin. He stroked her hair back tenderly. "It's late, Rose. Almost two in the morning, your time. You should get some sleep."

"Yeah, I s'pose," she sighed, before yawning widely. He chuckled and she giggled back. "Gonna let go of me, then?" she asked, raising her eyebrows when he didn't loosen his hold on her.

He frowned. "This bed is perfectly comfy, isn't it?" he replied, feigning confusion.

Her mouth curved into a cheeky smile. "You want me to sleep in your bed, Doctor?"

"Weeelll," he began, tucking his face into the side of her neck. His warm breath tickled her skin and she giggled again. "I'd rather like to cuddle you all night."

Her arms wrapped around him in acceptance. "Alright then," she whispered into his ear. She shifted both of them a little, to get more comfortable, then settled into his arms perfectly. "Night, Doctor."

He kissed her jaw softly. "Night, Rose Tyler."