A/N: This is based off a prompt (Rose/Eleven, holding hands in the rain) from goreplz for the Cheering Up Meme on LiveJournal. Rose/Eleven isn't a pairing I ever imagined writing, but once the idea for this fic hit me I couldn't shake it. OMG, the angst. Consider yourself warned.
Three times, Rose Tyler dreamed of an impossible man.
She was never sure how he managed to contact her. Perhaps a bit of the Bad Wolf is lending a hand, her Doctor suggested once after she told him about her dreams.
She never doubted for a moment that they were real, though.
The first time she saw him she'd lifted a tentative hand up to his face, tracing the unfamiliar lines of forehead and cheek and jaw. Rounded where she remembered sharpness, Angles where she remembered curves. She'd run a hand through his hair – longer, thinner, lighter – and he'd held her close as she cried for the man he used to be.
She hadn't asked if he still loved her.
To his credit, he hadn't asked her either.
The second time he had seemed weak – indistinct in a way. He'd smiled a tired, ancient smile when she'd asked him what was wrong. "What do you remember, Rose Tyler?" he'd asked in return.
The dream had ended before she'd had a chance to answer.
The third time she'd been dreaming of the beach. Not Bad Wolf Bay, but a grassy bluff overlooking a small, rocky beach cobbled together from her memories. In the manner of dreams she had been chasing after something nebulous one moment only to turn around and find him staring back at her the next.
"Hello," she breathed.
"It's been a long time."
He didn't look directly at her, but instead focused his gaze on the water below. It had been more than twenty years since she'd last dreamed of him, but time moved faster in her universe than it did in his. She wasn't sure if she wanted to know how long it had been for him.
"Rose, I need to ask you a question."
His eyes, she realized with a start, did not hold the fondness she had seen in them the first two time he had visited her dreams. Instead she saw only pain and…fear?
"Anything," she assured him.
"Did I…did I ruin your life?"
Rose was speechless. If it hadn't been for the utterly broken expression he wore she would have thought it was his idea of a joke. He was completely in earnest, though, and she had no doubt that her answer had the power to either bring him back from the brink of whatever crisis had brought this question on, or completely destroy him.
"I…no, of course not. How could you possibly even think that? You were my life – even after Canary Wharf when I was stuck here without you - I never regretted the time we spent traveling together."
"You didn't answer the question, Rose," he said quietly.
"What do you mean? No. You didn't ruin my life. My life…you remember what it was before I met you. It wasn't a bad life, but it was a meaningless one. Nothing I would have done if I'd continued as I was would ever have made a difference to anyone. Meeting you changed all that."
"Yes, I changed things." His eyes, which had been focused on the way her hands moved as she talked suddenly shifted as he looked out to sea. "I change everything. The pieces never go quite back the way they used to after I take you with me."
And then she understood.
"You're not really asking about my life, are you Doctor?"
Puzzled, he glanced back at her.
"This isn't just about me. Who was she? What happened?"
The Doctor didn't answer for a long time. Minutes passed, and they both turned to gaze out on the water, watching the tide come in.
"All of you," he said, so quietly she wondered if she had imagined it. "I ruin all of you. I break your lives apart to fulfill my own selfish desire for companionship, and then I leave you behind to pick up the pieces."
Rose took a deep breath. How could she answer this question on behalf of all the companions the Doctor had ever loved and lost? She knew he loved them the way she knew with unthinking conviction that once the tide rose it would recede again. She also knew that he left them - all of them - in the end. And yes, his presence did cause complications. More than complications, sometimes.
"I suppose it depends on what you mean by 'ruin,' then," she finally responded.
"Rose," he fixed her with a glare so fierce that it frightened her. "I took you from your home when you were nineteen years old. You left with me on a whim. You had no idea what you were getting yourself into, and I was too blinded by my own loneliness to care. Your mother thought you were dead for a year because of me. I almost got you killed more times than I care to think about, and in the end I left you twice on a freezing beach in Norway in an alternate universe without even telling you-" he broke off without finishing the sentence, turning back toward the waves.
Rose took a deep breath. He was right, of course. His presence in her life had caused irreparable damage. It wasn't the only thing he was responsible for, though.
"You forget something, Doctor," she began, taking his hand in hers. "You forget that you give us just as much as you take – more, even. All of time and space, remember?"
His smile was bitter. "It's hardly a fair trade, Rose, for any of you."
"I can only speak for myself, but yes, it was. True, I lost things that I can never get back. Someday I may come to resent that, but I will never be anything but grateful for the fact that because of you I've been able to know my dad. Because of you I have work that means something. Because of you I have a partner in life who I love and who loves me in return. Because of you I have a family, Doctor. I didn't have that before, not like I do now, and that's because of you."
He was silent again, but when she squeezed his hand he squeezed back.
"Are you happy, Rose?" he asked quietly.
"Yes," she answered immediately.
He met her eye again. "What about Martha? What about Donna? Do you suppose I made their lives better?"
"Why don't you ask them yourself? Or," she remembered belatedly what had happened to Donna, what he had been forced to do to her, "at least ask Martha."
"I don't talk to Martha anymore," he said, and she could see she'd hit a sore point. "She…she can contact me if she needs to. If she wants to. But she doesn't – she hasn't – not in a long time."
"And you think it's because you ruined her life?"
"I know it is. The things I put her through…" she could tell he wanted to say more but couldn't bring himself to open up in that way.
"I know, Doctor," she said. "He told me. Not everything, I'm sure, but the major points – the year that never was, what happened to the people she loved then – he told me."
Another self-inflicted wound laid bare between them. Him. The other Doctor. The duplicate. Rose's Doctor.
"You didn't ruin his life either," she said preemptively. "He doesn't hate you. He was angry with you for awhile. Well, we both were, but he doesn't hate you."
He sighed, and she realized that she'd never seen him look so utterly defeated.
"Perhaps that's the problem," he murmured. "You don't hate me even though you should. Even Martha, I suspect, doesn't hate me. She doesn't want me in her life, but she never hated me. Amy-" he broke off.
"Who's Amy?" Rose prodded, hoping that this was the clue she needed to understand why he was undergoing such a massive crisis of conscience.
"She and her husband traveled with me, and they…they lost so much. I took so much from them, Rose. I'm still taking from them, and they don't even realize it. And they don't hate me. They should – more than possibly anyone I've traveled with in a very long time, they should hate me." His eyes brimmed with tears, a sight which shocked Rose as much as it frightened her.
It started to rain, and Rose stepped closer to the Doctor. They watched as the storm turned the gently rising tide into choppy waves that slammed on the beach below. She looked up, and saw that his face was dotted with raindrops. As silence descended between them again, she wondered idly how much control he had over the dream landscape, and if this storm was just his way of camouflaging his tears.
She considered pushing him for details before realizing that it didn't matter. She didn't need to know what he had done, or at least what he thought he'd done. She couldn't give him absolution for another woman's pain.
So instead of speaking she held his hand, and hoped that when he woke he would remember the feel of her fingers gripping his. She couldn't give him what he needed, but she could provide a reminder that with the bad came more good than he could ever know.