Author's Note: The Doctor mentioned Susan and her family in Should Old Acquaintances Be Revisited and then it made me wonder if he had ever went back to visit Susan's husband, David, and their children after the Time War. It really made me think about if he did or if he even could and that's how this story came about.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything in relation to Dr. Who.
It's late at night in the TARDIS, at least by Rose's internal clock, and the Doctor is lying on his back while he works on a section underneath the console and Rose assists him.
She attempts to shift herself into a more comfortable position as she has spent the past three hours sitting on the grated floor and passing him tools as needed in the hopes that once the TARDIS repair is complete that they will finally find themselves on their way to Barcelona, the planet, not the city. She has also been trying to figure out a way to broach a sensitive subject that has filled her with great curiosity ever since the Doctor had first mentioned it in passing.
"Just a few more screws to tighten and we're finished, love," declares the Doctor merrily. "Then we'll be on our way to Barcelona!"
Knowing that she'll soon lose his attention to endless babble and distractions once they land on the planet, she summons her courage and takes a deep breath and hopes for the best. "I enjoyed meeting Barbara and Ian, I'm glad that we went to see them."
"So am I," he grunts as he makes his adjustments. "At first, I didn't want to go, to see the changes in them and then have to face them seeing the changes in me."
He slides out from under the console, his face covered in grease and a manic grin. "It turned out to be brilliant though! We'll definitely have to go back and see the baby when he's born."
"He?" utters Rose in surprise. Her nervous smile turns into a slight smirk as she guesses, "So, you've been looking at their timelines then?"
"Well," admits the Doctor with a sheepish expression as he sits up and rubs the back of his neck, "I may have taken the slightest peek. I had to make sure that the wee one was going to be alright, after all. As Barbara said, we're part of his family now."
Deciding that his words would provide as good an opening as any for their conversation, Rose tentatively inquires, "Doctor, speaking of family…I know that you told me that Susan died on Gallifrey, but what about her husband and their children? Have you ever gone back and visited them?"
His smile falters a bit and the gleam in his eyes becomes a little less bright as he stands and moves away from her to grab a cloth to start wiping the grime off of his hands. He doesn't take his eyes off of the cloth as he answers stiltedly, "No…no, I haven't seen them since…the beginning of the Time War."
Rose gnaws at her bottom lip as he continues to avoid her gaze but forges ahead and resumes her line of questioning. "It's just that, you said that Susan had David and the children stay behind on Earth so they'd be safe and…"
"I know what I said, Rose!" he bites out more harshly than he intended and as he catches her shocked gaze, he realizes that he needs to try and calm down. His breathing is harsh as he storms over to the console and begins studying the monitor as he twists various dials and flicks a number of switches.
His gaze never strays from the screen and his voice is low and gruff as he states, "I'm sorry, but you have to understand how painful the subject of Susan and her family is for me." He takes another deep breath and stares at the monitor while he questions, "Why are you asking me about this?"
Rose slowly pushes herself to a standing position and she wrings her hands as she explains, "It's just that you were so happy when we were visiting with Barbara and Ian and then hearing the fondness in your voice when you spoke about Susan's children made me think…"
Her voice trails off at the hard stare that he is leveling at her but she swallows down her nervousness and boldly suggests, "I was thinking that maybe it would be nice to go and visit them?"
The silence is as cold and torturous as the Doctor's expression until he finally rasps, "Nice? You think that it would be nice?" He walks around the console akin to a predator stalking his prey and bearing a hint of The Oncoming Storm as he comes to stand directly in front of her.
He growls, "Do you think it would be nice for me to stand before David and their children and not only tell them that their mother died but also who killed her?"
He steps closer to her and the look in his eyes causes her to recoil in fear. "Nice, Rose Tyler," he hisses scornfully, "isn't exactly the word that I would use to describe that particular scenario."
The silence at the Doctor's response is deafening and the pair are only able to stand and stare at each other, each one feeling at odds at how to proceed.
Voice wavering and eyes bright with unshed tears, Rose whispers, "I was only trying to help. I know how much you miss your family," her words catch in her throat before they break off completely, "and I just thought that…"
She ends her reasoning on a sob and the Doctor's angry countenance instantly falls away to reveal a mask of pain as he draws his wife into his embrace. He holds her tightly while she cries softly and he presses kisses against the top of her head as he rocks her back and forth in an effort to soothe her.
"Rose," he hushes, "Rose, my love, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I know that you only want to help and I appreciate that, I do, but Susan and her family are a part of my life that I try my best not to dwell on." He leans back far enough to gaze down at her apologetically and wipes away the tracks of her tears with his thumbs. "And it's not for the obvious reason."
She stares at him in confusion and with a sigh, he lowers his hands from her face to trail them down her arms and end with both of her hands enclosed in his own.
"I've already tried to visit them Rose," confesses the Doctor with a heavy heart. "I've tried over and over again, each time with failed results."
His grip on her hands tightens as he expounds, "As soon as I had recovered from my eighth regeneration, I set coordinates for 22nd century Earth to go and speak with David and the children about Susan."
The trembling in his grasp is barely noticeable but it's there, along with the tremor in his voice as he recalls the memory. "I was prepared to tell them everything. Not because I felt a need for penance or out of a familial sense of duty, but because they needed to know what happened to Susan. They had that right."
She moves her hands from within his clasp to interlock their fingers together and bring their entwined hands up between them. She presses their hands against her chest and gently questions, "So why weren't you able to go see them?"
He uses their joined hands to tug her closer and he rests his forehead against hers. "I don't know, Rose. I swear, to this very moment in time that I just don't know. Of course I've had trouble reaching my exact destinations before, you know that. But no matter what I've tried, I can't land anywhere near that time period. Every attempt that I've made results in the TARDIS either being hurled back to our previous location or we end up landing somewhere light years or millennia away."
The Doctor slowly pulls away from her and murmurs, "I just don't know why." He stalks off a few paces and tugs on his hair in frustration. "I have tried everything that I know and researched anything that I didn't but to no avail!"
His shoulders slump in defeat as he grieves, "It's just another way that I've failed her… just one more regret that I have to live with for the rest of my lives."
Then appearing more broken than she has ever seen him and speaking in tones more anguished than she has ever known, he reveals his darkest secret. "Do you know the worst thing of all? My greatest shame that I've carried in my hearts these past two lives?" His self-loathing is apparent as he reveals, "I'm almost grateful that Susan didn't survive the war."
Rendered speechless, Rose can only stare at him with widened eyes and shake her head in disbelief. "That way," he croaks, "I never had to tell her what I did…what I became."
Awestruck by the intensity of the raw pain radiating from her husband, Rose watches forlornly as he slowly turns from her and drones in a monotone, almost as if he's unaware that he's still speaking.
He sighs, "Rose, I'm going to lay down for awhile before we head out to Barcelona. I'm suddenly very tired."
She watches him walk down the corridor to their bedroom and it's the hardest thing that she's ever had to do. Rose Tyler isn't the type of woman to simply stand by while the man she loves suffers but in this instance, she has no choice. Their bond is new and strong and at the moment, it is completely overwhelming her with the capacity of his grief.
She is so lost in the sensation of his pain that it takes her a few moments to realize that the TARDIS has been repeatedly chiming and erratically flashing the overhead lights in an effort to capture Rose's attention.
When Rose's mind clears enough to receive the TARDIS' thought projections, she is promptly blown away by the information that is imparted to her. "What?" she gasps in shock. "Are you serious? How could you keep this from him?" demands Rose in angry accusation.
Another chime and dimming of the lights and Rose's features begin to soften in understanding as the TARDIS transmits her response. "Yeah, girl, you're right. He never would have believed you. But I'm worried about the other thing that you told me about. If the two of you couldn't make it happen then what makes you think that I can help?"
A song fills Rose's head in answer and a golden glow resonates in her eyes as comprehension rapidly dawns in her mind. "I see now. So, between the two of us, we should be able to manage it." She gently strokes the TARDIS and soothes, "Poor girl, forced to keep this secret all of this time. It couldn't have been easy on you; I know that you loved Susan as much as the Doctor did."
The TARDIS chimes gently in reply and the lights brighten considerably as Rose instructs, "As soon as he's in a deep enough sleep, you tell me what coordinates to set and whatever else that I need to do to take us there."
Rose gives the console one last reassuring pat before she gazes down the hall with strength and determination that the TARDIS hasn't seen since her human became one with her heart. "Don't worry, girl, we'll take care of this and our Doctor. The time for regrets is over."
To be continued…