A/N Here you go. The last chapter. Sorry for the wait, I kept tweaking bits of this and I'm still not quite satisfied but it'll have to do. A very big thanks to Lillian, the-laughingstock, Nanana, flexingrhetoric, ladydeath07, rosenine, Taylor, Freiheit483, and my unnamed guest for the reviews. :)
When she runs out of the room, he can't move. He's frozen in place by her words and her expression, slowly working through them in his head. As he does, the anger turns to guilt and regret, the dark emotions coiling in his gut, uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Though he wants to deny it, it is becoming very clear that he's been on his own for far too long. When did callous disregard for the feelings of others become so commonplace in his life? So she made one little mistake, was it really the end of the bloody universe? It wasn't like his traveling companions hadn't wandered off before. It was one of the most amazing things about the human race – their never-ending curiosity. Their need to seek the whys and wheres and hows of the world. It was why he loved them so much, why he kept saving them from destruction and whisking certain special individuals away to experience all of the wonders of the universe with him.
It was this curiosity combined with unwavering determination and bravery in the face of the unknown that had drawn him to bring Rose Tyler onboard the TARDIS in the first place. He'd encouraged that very behavior, praised it and supported it, and then when it happened to go a little awry he blamed it all on her. When he first met her (and more than once since then), he'd taken her hand and asked her to run with him. And now, somewhere on his ship, she was running from him.
Rose had almost given her life for him – that could have so easily been a gun and not a stunner – and he couldn't even forgive and forget one little mistake.
Somehow, at some point, he'd turned into some sort of monster.
He turned to lean on the console, to take comfort from the familiar hum of his TARDIS, but she was suspiciously quiet. From day one he'd been aware that the heart of the TARDIS had taken a special liking to Rose, but he couldn't remember when his time machine had ever sided with a companion over him. It only intensified the confusing feelings, and he leaned against the physical support for a moment anyway, closing his eyes. For a moment he uncharitably thinks that perhaps he should have left her behind; life would certainly be simpler.
But that is not the answer. The Doctor knows that. Rose brings a light to life on the TARDIS that is unpredictable to him. Her mercy and curiosity and compassion make him better. As much as it goes against his will to think it, to admit it even to himself, he needs Rose Tyler in his life. To remind him that not all things in the world are as terrible and dark as the Time War, and that violence should not ever be anything except a last resort. With this revelation bright and new in his mine, he can suddenly feel the hum of the TARDIS beneath his hands again, as well as the slippery sensations of both a slight shift in time and the rearrangement of space in the time machine. Without asking, he knows that the TARDIS has made his long inward debate mere seconds long, and when the sound of soft sobbing reaches him he realizes she has also moved Rose to where he can easily find her.
In a very brief moment of levity he wonders if the key to a simpler life would be to ditch the sentient spaceship, not the human companion. He doesn't know which presents more tangles in his life.
Mind made up, he darts up the ramp and around, running down the hallway to where he can see Rose. She's slumped to the ground, knees drawn up to her chest and face buried in her arms, shoulders shaking with the force of her emotion. It's clear she tries to stifle the tears when she hears him, but the sight of it has already left a gaping hole in his chest where both of his hearts used to be. "Hey, now," he crouches in front of her, lifting a hand to touch her arm but awkwardly dropping it before it quite reaches. "Don't cry, Rose, please don't," the next words catch in his throat, words he hasn't said to anyone in a capacity like this in an awfully long time, but when she doesn't look up at him he forces them out, hoping that she'll believe him despite the strained tone they end up having. "I'm sorry."
Very slowly, not wanting to crowd her to startle her, he turns and lowers himself to sit on the floor right next to her. Thankfully, the sobbing seems to have stopped, but still she doesn't look at him. Silently, he gazes down at her, at a complete loss for words. After what feels like an eternity, Rose reaches for his hand, sitting up straighter but turning her head the other way, trying to hide her actions as she swipes at her face with a sleeve. He takes her hand, holding tightly to it as if it's a lifeline, and looks away, respecting her clear desire for him not to see her tears. When he looks back down at her, she's staring at her own hand in her lap, and he counts her heartbeats as the silence stretches, a sound that at one point in the last day or so, he thought he'd never hear again.
"Why can't I remember?" Rose finally breaks the silence, and looks up at him, those big brown eyes so very troubled. He doesn't give her lies or platitudes – he's already done enough damage for one day.
"I don't know." A quick intake of breath and the tightening of her hand in his are the only signs of her distress at that statement. "Most likely it's just a stress reaction. Your mind is trying to protect itself." Even as the words leave his mouth, he desperately wants them not to be true. Rose has faced alien invasions with barely a qualm, shown compassion to a Dalek of all things; if this is what her mind has finally decided is enough, he can't even fathom what she might have seen or experienced at the hands of the Ileya. More likely – or what he hopes for, at this point he's not sure he could determine which it is – there is another explanation. "Or you might have hit your head when you fell, or maybe it's a delayed reaction to the stunner."
Again, silence, as she processes his statement. In that way she is so different from him – he's always had the tendency to jabber on or lecture or simply talk while he's working through things, but Rose has always been quieter, usually because she's formulating more specific or helpful questions. She doesn't disappoint him this time, either. While some lesser beings might have proceeded to flip out about why she would be that stressed or panic about the mention of having been the subject of a stun weapon, she simply gets to the heart of the issue.
"Doctor….what did I do?" The fact that she says 'What did I do' and not 'What happened to me' tells him she's still dwelling on his angry accusations. Bugger it, he's still dwelling on his accusations. The fact is, if she doesn't remember, he doesn't know whether she wandered off or not. They could have been waiting right outside the TARDIS to take Rose. If no one else emerged, if they knocked her out, they may have assumed she was the only passenger.
"You were gone when I came out," he finally settles on that, his words measured and careful. "I thought you'd gone on your own, so I followed, but you were gone. Turns out, we were both captured. We didn't land on the planet, but one of its moons. They wanted to sell us to the planet for their scientists." The Doctor stops there, remembering the panic when he found Rose. But she is still looking up at him, waiting for him to finish. "When I found you, you were already in a pretty bad condition. You're more valuable in good health, so you must have been fighting them pretty good." His tone is a bewildered mixture of censure and admiration, as he still doesn't know if he wants to strangle her or kiss her for being so determined to escape on her own. "I was trying to untie you so we could run when they caught up to us. I didn't see them. They were armed. And you…you stepped in front of the gun aimed at me." He frowns again, the sight of her collapsing at his feet fresh enough that the jagged edges of emotion are hard to stand. And – bloody hell – kiss her? Where did that come from? Why these feelings, why now? She was a human, for the love of time. He knew all too well how that ended.
"Is that why you're so upset?" There is understanding in her eyes now. He almost has to look away; with the understanding usually comes the pity. But not with Rose. Compassion, yes, but not pity. Instead he watches in wonder as she gives him a tiny little smile, just barely tinged with regret and squeezes his hand even tighter. "I'm sorry if I wandered off and got kidnapped by aliens. But I'm not sorry that I tried to save your life. All the good you do – you're worth a thousand of a mere human like me."
"Don't say that," he whispers, all of the terrible things he's done – starting with the past few hours and extending back 900 years – at the forefront of his mind. He thinks of the wonderful things she has already done with her short 19 years, and knows that he would never forgive himself if she gave her life for his. That's not how it' supposed to work. What sort of man is he if he can't even keep one pink and yellow human safe in his time machine? One life to protect. Surely, as clever as he is, he can manage that. "I'm less fragile than you are. Nine hundred years old, remember? I think I can worry about me by now." He tries the humor, hoping to lighten her mood, though he won't blame her if she's not ready to forgive him yet. Even to him, it falls a little flat. But she smiles at him again, and he smiles back. It's as if he can't help it, as if her smile is infectious.
"So…we're ok?" She tilts her head when she asks him, her smile fading.
"Yeah. We're ok."