Her Empty Arms
“Take me back! Take me back!” She beats her hands against the wall, blonde hair flying as she shakes her head desperately, her forehead scraping against the cold, cursed wall. “Take me back!” She lets out a sob, leaning against as her voice cracks, that damn wall the only thing that keeps her upright.
It’s been over an hour now, and she sits, back against that stupid wall, head resting on her pulled up knees. Her mascara is still a horrid mess, dried and crackly down her face, but she doesn’t have the energy to care. Her mother sits next to her, offering her silent support as always. The gratitude will register later, she’s sure, but at the moment she’s apathetic to everything. Mickey and Pete have gone, promising to be back later. Paperwork, and all that nice Torchwood—she finds it hard not to be bitter, finds it hard not to choke on that ugly proper noun—tidying up, status reports and debriefs and…and…whatever the heck else they had to do. Pete had tried to get them to come with, to show them around, but Rose has flat out refused to leave the room. Pete had tried to argue with her, until she had managed to breathe the phrase “five and half hours”. Mickey had immediately nodded and grabbed Pete and Jake, and nodded at Rose. Jackie, of course, refused to leave her daughter alone.
Oh. There was definitely gratitude to be coming, when she could feel again.
At four and half hours, Jackie has had to get a chair, dragged it to beside her daughter. Rose leaned against her leg and let her eyes close as her mother ran her hand gently through her hair. It almost took away her numbness.
Six and a half hours after having her world slip through her fingers, she is looking at the place where she will---what? Live? Does it count as living if she just exists, wanders the halls like a ghost, treads the floorplan without a spring in her step, without any direction? She walks in, and is sharply reminded of her days at Henriks, when she is bored and has dealt with one too many snooty women with bad perfume, and she’s stuck folding clothes that she can never afford and knowing that she’s stuck, that this is her life and there’s never gonna be anything more.
Pete shows Rose to a room she can have, Jackie and Mickey trailing behind. Rose remembers to thank him, lets herself be held by her mother, but can’t summon the energy to raise her arms. Pete and Jackie go down the hall to set up another room. Mickey draws her into a hug, and for a moment she can let herself almost be comforted, but her head no longer fits comfortably against his chest, the spot she used to occupy is gone, she let it go because she found one that fit her so much better, and she has to stop thinking before the numbness is replaced with pain.
Mickey drops his arms after giving her a squeeze, and pulls back. He opens his mouth to say something, but closes it again. He gives her a weak smile and tells her that he’ll be staying here, sorting things out, if she needs anything, then turns, closing the door behind him.
She locks it.
Rose is glad that Pete doesn’t decorate with the standard white walls. Her room is a nice green, somewhere between olive and forest, with a beige carpet that she imagines she can sink her toes pretty deep into. There’s a decent sized closet, her own bathroom that she hasn’t even stepped foot into but she imagines it’s gonna have a deep tub, and sunlight streams in through the windows.
The bed has a pretty black and cream comforter set, and with a disinterested touch, she can tell it’s posh. Very soft. The kind of soft that you could throw an egg on and it wouldn’t break. There’s a lovely wooden dresser, and some generic but pretty artwork on the walls.
Even through her numbness, she can feel herself starting to hate it.
She stood by the window, ignoring Jackie’s calls and knocks, explaining that she wasn’t hungry in a dull voice. Jackie had knocked once more, but had just said, “Okay, sweetie, I’ll see you in the morning.” Rose could hear the worry in her voice, but really, she just wanted to be alone. No, not alone—but she wanted to be with someone she couldn’t be, and if she couldn’t be where she wanted to be, then she just wanted to not be anywhere. Her eyes watched the sunset, but she didn’t let herself see it. She tried hard not to see anything. The trick was to let yourself see shapes and colors, but never focus on anything. Focusing hurt.
Seeing-not-seeing the stars hurt more, and she turned away from the window with a shuddering breath. Wrapping her arms around herself, she wandered into the bathroom, finally allowing herself to acknowledge her bladder and the stickiness on her face. After taking care of the first one, she built up the courage to look in the mirror while washing her hands.
Her mascara and eye shadow were speared beyond all reason. With that and her still puffy eyes, she looked like she was sporting two shiners. Her face was still pale, but her eyes were bright. Reaching up, she touch one tentatively in the mirror. So bright, even when she felt so hollow inside. She traced it, water trailing on her reflection from her finger. She blinked, and traced the reflection’s tears, tasting salt.
She didn’t think she would sleep, but after cleaning her face and chucking off her shoes, she collapsed onto the bed, not even bothering with the covers. Outside had been hot, and it was almost to the point of uncomfortable in her room, but she couldn’t care less. She laid there and just breathed, in and out, because there was nothing else to do.
She dreamed of poodle skirts and slicked back hair, of mortgages and cupcakes, of brown eyes with just a hint of blue behind them, of clasped hands and butterfly kisses, and the sound of her name, so close in her ear.
She wakes up with clumped eyelashes and sticky cheeks.
Rose joins her mother for breakfast, or would it technically be brunch?, because she knows that she has to eat, even if the food would taste like charcoal and get stuck in her throat. They sit at a small table in the nook (blimey this house is big, all the better to haunt), some part of her brain actually registers that she’s never seen an actual breakfast nook. Jackie hands her oatmeal and gestures to a fruit bowl. Rose eats the oatmeal without really tasting it, although her brain catalogues it as warm and not as lumpy as she is used to. Her mother talks quietly about what’s been going on, about the clean up Pete and Mickey have done, about Pete offering to let them stay for as long as they need (Rose doesn’t notice the slight wonder in her mother’s voice), about how she almost couldn’t get out of the bed, it was so soft. Rose smiles, just barely, at that and squeezes her mother’s hand. “Only the best for you, Mum,” she whispers. Jackie squeezes her hand back, and Rose goes to take her bowl to the sink. She rinses it and decides, maybe she’s not full and should have an apple.
The apples are resting alongside oranges, underneath some bananas, green and yellow and not completely ripe. Taking a shuddering breath, she decides that fruit is a horrid idea, really, and excuse her, mum, but she wants a shower.
It’s not the same mansion she worked as a waitress and dodged Cybermen (she really hates that word, along with “exterminate” and white walls and the feel of something slipping through her fingers) and she’s so grateful. Pete’s new house is smaller—still could be considered a mansion, she supposes, but much smaller. There’s lots for her to explore, and she wants to, finally. It’s been two weeks since she broke a promise, and if she wanders around and sees-not-sees, it won’t bring up a memory, can’t bring up a memory because everything is all new. She thinks she’s getting a little better, she can manage conversation, even feel interested in it, even if she doesn’t start it. And she’s starting to be able to focus on things without having to look away, without feeling her throat stuff up and her fists clench or wrap around her.
This house is alright. There’s a pool with a slide and some jets. There’s a bit of a garden, with flowers and trees and some benches. There’s a real, proper, dining room with an actual grandfather clock (she checks so often to make sure it’s not broken) and a chandelier. There’s a library (she can’t go into it yet, of course not, because there’s too much wrapped up in the smell of books and the sound of his voice as he read aloud). She counts a half dozen or so bedrooms, only two made up and non dusty. She found Pete in what she infers is his office, and apologized for barging in. There’s a giant kitchen, complete with a kitchen island, and she explores every cupboard.
There’s only one locked room, and she makes a guess as to what it can hold. She’s pretty sure she’s right. Everyone has lost someone, but not everyone is able to lock their memories away.
Pete (when she first met him she couldn’t help but slipping up and calling him Dad, but now there’s a distance there they are careful to ignore) runs Torchwood. She never slips and compares him to Yvonne, but she can’t help but reserve judgement. She blames him, she supposes, in some part, but she ignores it. She ignores everything lately, and that’s fine by her. The first few days after arriving here (Pete’s World is whispered into her ear, and makes her that much more resolved to never refer to it as such) he would be gone for hours, almost all day, trying to tie up loose ends. In the last week, he’d been running things as much as he could from his office. An office Jackie lingered in when she wasn’t with Rose. Mickey and Jake and some other woman who introduces herself as Chrissie are in and out a few times a day. Jake offers her a smile and a friendly “Hullo” if he happens to see her. Chrissie just nods. Mickey always takes a few moments to seek her out and leaves her with a hug. Of course, he and Jake usually end up coming back for dinner, but she is grateful regardless.
It’s hard to be a ghost when people seek her out, and she wonders if she wants to be a ghost or not. She ponders it, surrounded by fragrant flowers, and decides that “ghosts” belong on her list of hated things.
It’s been one month and five days, and Rose Tyler has decided that she hates her room. She grabs a painting off the wall and smashes it against the sink with a yell, then rips the covers off the bed with a scream. She beats the pillow against the wall, beats it until it explodes, downy feathers floating around and getting caught in her mouth, so she spits them out angrily, sputtering more curses. She pulls the hangers out of the closet and throws them against the wall, and then rips the drawers from the cupboard and screams angrily when it doesn’t come right away and she hurts her shoulder. She struggles with the second one and it falls to the floor, where she kicks it as hard as she can with the side of her foot.
Jackie and Pete through up the door, and Jackie lets out a small scream when she sees the room. Pete falters in the doorway, but Jackie immediately picks her way across the room and pulls Rose into a hug, one that Rose can finally, finally, return. She clings to her mom, her rage quieting and turning into ugly crying. She is having to bend uncomfortably in this embrace, but she doesn’t care because she can feel, she can feel everything—and it hurts and it’s so unfair and the air is wrong and she can’t breathe, can’t breathe, she broke her promise and it hurts—and Rose lets herself feel again, as her mum strokes her hair and surrounds her with her affordable yet flowery perfume and familiar nonsense whispered firmly against her head.
Rose chokes out, “I’m not a ghost—” and Jackie shushes her lovingly. Pete watches silently, looking at the chaos of a broken heart, and thinks of locked doors, second chances, and a rejection he regretted more than he ever thought he would.
Pete cleans up the room, and for the next few days, Rose was too ashamed to look him in the eyes. She seeks him out three days after her explosion, and finds him eating a sandwich in that little nook she has started growing fond of—bay windows really are amazing—with a folder in front of him.
He looks up as she approaches, and smiles hesitantly. “Jackie’s outside, if you’re looking for her.”
She grabs a glass of water, not because she’s thirsty but because she needs something to fiddle with, and sits down opposite him, shaking her head. “No, I…I wanted to thank you.” He starts to shake his head, opening his mouth to speak, but she beats him to it. “You saved Mum and I, you let us stay with you, and I completely avoided you and then trashed the room you gave me because—because—” She trailed off, not able to explain that any further. “Mum raised me better than that, and I…just…thank you. For taking care of Mum, especially, but for what you did to help us.” She took a deep breath, keeping her eyes to the table. “I…I would have been sucked into the void if you hadn’t come back, and…” She risked a glance at him, and his eyes were so understanding and he was listening, that she allowed herself to continue. “And I was going to get sucked into the void. And you saved me. I…it hurt.” She swallowed and stared down her cup.
Rose was not prepared for his hand to grasp hers, and she let out a gasp as her eyes met his. He had a tight smile, sad but hopeful. “Don’t be thanking me. You’re the one who saved the day. I think a room for target practice is the least I owe you.” She smiled at him, and squeezed his hand. “We’re all here for you, Rose…I’m here.”
They sat in a comfortable silence for the next several hours.
Picking her next room turned out to be a no brainer. She chose the one at the end of the hall, with the most windows. It had crème walls and a dark gray carpet. Pete gave her his credit card, and Mickey drove her to the best hardware store in town. They wandered the aisles, Mickey pushing the cart as she compared paints, rods, and brushes, occasionally asking for his opinion, more often declaring that his taste was extremely lacking and didn’t he know anything about anything? He would object, loudly, and she would laugh louder, and they would see who would get yelled at more by the employees. (They tied).
Their next stop was a furniture store that was supposed to have the biggest selection, and Mickey wandered off. She didn’t even try to stop him as she wandered the beds, pushing here and patting there, trying to find one that didn’t make her think of a warm body above her, of arms brushing hers as they planned the next day. (Or maybe she did want a bed that brought those memories? She couldn’t even tell anymore).
She finally found one that appeared comfortable enough without being too comfortable, and asked them to deliver it that weekend. She added a dresser and a desk to that order, and then found Mickey. She confirmed she was all done, and he asked her how hungry she was.
Rose got fish and chips, Mickey got a burger, and they split some pastries. Even though the air was off, and the chips weren’t served with vinegar, Rose didn’t have to fake a single smile all day.
Even though they all offered to help, Rose wanted to paint the room herself. It resulted in various parts of her body becoming a lovely shade of blue and more than one paint brush size spot on the carpet from where she couldn’t keep a hold of it, but it was the most productive she’d been in a long time. It was cathartic, too, and she relished the chance to actually control something, for once. She couldn’t even feel guilty about the fact that Pete bought the supplies, since she had made it very clear she would pay him back.
She hung up the new rods with only a little bit of hassle, and loved the feel of her new curtains. While she and Jackie (yes, she had to accept some help) put together her new furniture, the sun shined in, and that made deciding where to place the bed so much simpler.
She didn’t feel so out of this world anymore. This, here, was her own little spot. The color wasn’t quite the right shade, but it was the closest she could get to “TARDIS Blue” and that comforted her. She crawled into her bed and smiled as she got comfortable.
For the first time in two months, she didn’t wake up crying.
Jackie apparently has her own spot in this world too. She’s sharing it with Pete.
Rose discovers this during one midnight snack adventure. She is coming back upstairs, toast in her hand, when she hears giggles from Pete’s room. Very distinct, very familiar, very NOT Pete voiced giggles.
She pauses, her brain stuck somewhere between a grossed out teenager and the daughter who watched the best mum in the whole world get a second chance at love in a staircase. She finally shrugs, but a smile spreads on her face because it’s her Mum and Pete, who is all but her Dad, and she can’t think but they deserve it, especially her Mum.
It’s not until she falls asleep to the memory of stubble across her neck and fingers ghosting along her hips that she realizes how so very, extremely lucky her Mum is. (She’s only one percent bitter and envious though.)
It’s been a long three months, but Rose is starting to be herself again. There’s a piece of her, a giant chunk of her, that she slipped away from, that she broke a promise to, that she can still hear screaming her name, see the wrinkles and horror on his face…
But she keeps going. Doesn’t move on, can’t ever move on, but she grits her teeth in the morning and then smiles, because that’s what he would want. Expects her to keep on fighting, so she does. She smiles and makes conversation and keeps her hand and mind busy, even if it’s just a simple task of cleaning.
She visits Torchwood Headquarters with Mickey and Pete. She studies the history of her new world, and learns how to get around on zeppelin. She explores her new city, learning the path to take, learning about the people and the culture. She keeps an eye out for anything unusual, and if she sees something out of the ordinary, she investigates. She reads the newspaper daily, and begins to reteach herself gymnastics. The days are long and packed.
She tires herself out, because while she’s adjusting and able to breathe without hurting, the nights are just long enough to remember the feel of her hand in his, of hugs and that perfect spot on his shoulder that was made for her head to rest, and the way they played with each others’ hair.
Jackie Tyler is keeping a secret. Pete Tyler is helping her. Rose Tyler is determined to figure out what it is.
If they don’t outright switch the subject when she walks into a room, they fall silent. Sometimes the transitions are better, but most of the time they fumble for a topic. She’s not worried, exactly, just curious and slightly wary. But she trusts them, and if it was something bad, she knows they would tell her. So she lets them have their secret (secrets?).
Then she heard “Jackie, here’s the test results”, and she bursts into the room and runs to her mother’s side. The panic is instantaneous, and she can’t breathe because her mom has to be alright, has to be, and Jackie is so confused and Pete steps back as he always does, paper in his hand. Rose is shaking, but Jackie smiled and takes Rose’s hand, placing it on her stomach. It takes a second for Rose to understand, but then she takes in Jackie’s smile and Pete’s blush, and she lets out a gasp, hugging her mum, and then hugging Pete, and then she and Jackie are crying and smiling and it’s a feeling of relief and joy that she didn’t know she could experience again.
That night in her not-quite-but-pretty-close-to-TARDIS-blue room, Rose sleeps and does not dream.
It took her four months, but Rose Tyler has carved out a life in this new world, whether she has wanted to or not. She has a driver’s license and birth certificate now, courtesy of Torchwood Institute, which means she can get a job to pay back Pete for all his generosity. She has family dinners, a movie night with Mickey and Jake and some other Torchwood employees once a week and an exercise schedule she keeps simply to busy herself with. Pete has started to discuss Torchwood with her, and Rose wonders if he is trying to hint at things. She’s eating more and more, and is delighted that at least she didn’t get stuck in a world with nasty food.
She doesn’t dream of brown coats and maniacal smiles, but she doesn’t need to. She can’t forget anything, not really. Not nights on a spaceship, talking to his shoes, the only part of him that’s poking out from under the console. Can’t forget sparks. Sparks resulting from him childishly hitting some button with a mallet, sparks from a computer he melted with his sonic, or her favorite types of sparks, the lights in his eyes as she dragged her fingers through his hair.
Her arms wrap around her stomach as she remembers that she can’t forget that Torchwood tore them apart.
It’s been just over four months. Jackie and Pete have been settling into a hesitant relationship, that Rose watches with a smile. She has dreamed of having her father back, of having a mum and a dad for so, so long now, that watching brings her a peace she didn’t think would be possible.
The three of them fall into a routine that is not so much domestic (she never realized how much she had grown to avoid that word until now) as it is cozy. Rose wakes first and walks in the garden as the sunrises, then turns on the coffee. Pete wakes Jackie when he gets up, but she doesn’t mind walking around in her (much nicer than she’s ever had) robe, so she comes to the kitchen. Rose and Jackie cook breakfast together, and Pete joins them after he’s ready to face the day. He leaves, and Rose averts her eyes to let them say bye, a goofy, not quite sappy look on her face. They tidy up, and then Jackie leaves to get dressed. After that, there’s not a pattern. Some days she’ll wander, sometimes it’s the Tyler girls against the world, walking arm in arm down the street and laughing at fashions. Every day is different but the same, some new lesson or sight to see.
It almost feels like the life she was used to, and it scares her just how much that thought comforts her, that just because she’s on a new adventure, she’ll be okay. It’s not okay, it’s never okay, and she misses her Doctor so much she can’t breathe sometimes.
But she’s becoming okay with it, and one day as she sits under a tree in some park, she realizes why. And she lets out a hollow laugh, because adapting and moving on is just so bloody human. And that pains her, because he’s entirely not human, and yeah, he can jet from star to star, back and forth in time, but he doesn’t forget. Not entirely, and not easily, and how is he, how is he doing? She knows without a doubt he survived, that his plan worked. She knows she felt his hand on that stupid wall, could feels his fingers cool against the top of hers. Was that all the goodbye they were going to get? A stupid phantom touch across universes, after everything they’ve been through? She gets to her feet, wondering why she’s so tired lately, and starts walking home.
Rose wishes desperately she could see Sarah Jane.
She’s been without dreams for awhile now, waking up each morning refreshed but with a lingering sadness, that she doesn’t expect to see him in her dreams anymore. And truthfully, that night is no exception.
Rose, she hears instead. Rose. She’s standing somewhere, and she can hear waves crashing somewhere close, but everything is surrounded by a misty haze. The ground is soft beneath her feet, with a texture she can’t quite figure out.
She closes her eyes, and numbers and words flash behind her lids, too fast for her to remember them, but she can feel them find a place in her head; feel them settle close to her heart.
Rose. She shivers, hearing the yearning and hope in that voice.
Waking up, she says his name for the first time in months. “Doctor…”
She texted Mickey immediately, not caring that it is still dark outside. Then she goes and wakes her mum and Pete, and asks if she can talk to them, and yes it’s pretty important. Brushing her hair away from her face (she’s sure she’s a mess, she hasn’t bothered trimming her hair since she arrived and honestly, it’s the middle of the night), she goes to the kitchen to put tea on for everyone. Jackie stumbles in, complaining about the cold and clutching her robe tighter around her, and they decide to move into Pete’s office. Rose finishes the tea and takes it into the office, where Pete has started a fire. While they wait on Mickey, no one talks, and Rose can’t sit still, just fidgets and keeps going to the window, then the fire, then the chair. Jackie leans into Pete, who wraps an arm around her and kisses the top of her head.
Mickey finally lets himself in—he’s family, really, so why wouldn’t he have a key?—and sits next to Pete, accepting the tea gratefully. Rose sits across from them, picking at her fingernails as she explains her dream, as she tells them how she knows it’s real even though yes, she was asleep and dreaming. She doesn’t dare make eye contact until close to the end, but even though they’ve been silent, she hopes they aren’t thinking she’s silly.
Risking a glance at her mum, she is encouraged by the look on her face. All three of them have been thinking, she can tell, but not that she’s silly. She finishes up her tale with “And if I had a map, I just…I know where to go...”
Silence falls after her last syllable, and she waits, biting her lip, for someone to speak.
Surprisingly, it’s Pete. “Well then, let’s get a map.”
She lunges forward and throws her arms around him, and he holds her tight, a surprised puff of air escaping from him. Jackie’s laughing and Mickey’s smirking. “You believe me then?”
The three of them look at each other, and then at her. Mickey puts a hand on her shoulder and squeezes. “ He’s the Doctor. What wouldn’t we believe?”
Things move fast after that. Pete and Rose consult a map, and she somehow figures out the path, listening to her gut, and letting him know a rough path. Then he goes to get dressed while Mickey takes care of arranging a leave of absence from Torchwood for them. Rose leaves him talking on the phone and goes upstairs to get dressed. She walks into her room to find Jackie sitting on her bed, head bowed but back straight. Rose sits next to her and drops her head onto her shoulder.
Jackie starts with “You’ll be going with him.” Rose nods, causing Jackie to sigh and lift a hand to Rose’s hair. “I suppose I was waiting for this day.”
“I made my choice a long time ago.”
Jackie stands at that and leaves the room, and Rose feels scared for a second, a little kid who’s mother just left them with monsters under the bed.
Shaking it off, because she is Rose Tyler and she will not break, she stands and goes to her dresser to pick out clothes. She has barely opened the first drawer when her mum walks back in, clutching a duffle bag that is a mirror image of one that is a universe away, tucked against the wall of a bedroom in a little blue box.
Jackie Tyler offers it to her and says, “I wouldn’t expect anything less from my daughter.”
They are packed into the front seat of a jeep, luggage occupying the spacious back, and Rose Tyler looks out the window with something she hasn’t felt in a long time. Pete is driving, Jackie is cuddling against him, and Mickey acts as navigator to avoid watching them interact. They toss around stories about anything and everything, but they still don’t talk about the reason they are going unless it’s to ask a question about which turn to take. They drive for hours, until they have to stop at a hotel and get some sleep. It’s only a brief stop, but while they sleep, Rose crosses her arms, hugging herself and wishing it was someone else.
After four hours, they are back on the road, and Rose can feel her stomach twisting with anticipation. She doesn’t dare smile, doesn’t dare speak too often, because she feels she might be sick if she does. Mickey notices from where he’s in the back—he’s too big to fit comfortably he complained— and he squeezes her shoulder gently and offers her a confident smile. She smiles back weakly and wishes that she could be so calm.
As they cross the border, she can feel hope, feel it like a bubble in her throat, just waiting to burst into laughter, into the grin that he always brings out when he’s around, a tongue caught between teeth and a small shake of her head, just for him.
The hope grows, but so does the fear.
They stop the car and pile out, and her heart beats that word out, so she speeds up. Run, Run, Run. She doesn’t run fast, but her heart does. She stops when she feels the déjà vu, stops and waits, because that’s all she can do. She’s here, she’s here and she doesn’t see him, she’s here and…
She hears the sound of the TARDIS to her left, and she turns her head before she really recognizes it.
He’s there, he’s there and see through, but he’s there.
“Where are you?” He shouldn’t be see through.
His voice alone makes her take a step towards him. “Inside the TARDIS. There's one tiny little gap in the Universe left, just about to close, and it takes a lot of power to send this projection. I'm in orbit around a super nova. I'm burning up a sun just to say goodbye.”
He’s burning up a sun to say---to say goodbye. He’s saying goodbye but he looks like—
“—You look like a ghost.” She hates ghosts.
A second later he is solid in front of her, and she moves towards him automatically. Four months, and now he’s…
“Can I tou—” But even as she’s lifting her hand he’s shaking his head.
“I’m still just an image.” His next words are softer in volume, but she feels them down to her bones. “No touch.”
“C…Can’t you come through properly?”
His eyebrows draw together. “The whole thing would fracture. Two universes would collapse.”
She’s only joking when she says “So?”. At least, she thinks she is. She honestly can’t tell at this moment, her mind is still stuck on “goodbye” and “no touch”. He smiles like he thinks she joked, at least, and she can see that hint of white from his teeth and she has to look away to compose herself.
“Where are we? Where did the gap come out?” He looks around, takes in the beach and the waves. She wonders if he’s trying to avoid her eyes, and then feels bad for being harsh.
“Norway.” She spouts off the geography, because if she can keep talking, she can hold it together and not break down. He’s surprised by the name and leans closer and that makes it so much harder. No touch. “It’s Norwegian for Bad.” She shakes her head, remembering what she read on the tour guide they picked up when they stopped for fuel. “This translates as ‘Bad Wolf Bay’”. And then they laugh together, a small breathless chuckle, but she can’t do it. Her voice shakes as she asks “How long do we got?”
“About two minutes” he says softly, and she loses her composure, but she’s trying, she’s gotta try. Two minutes is not enough to say four months of I missed you and I need you and how are you how long has it been for you Doctor, why goodbye?
There’s too much in her brain, so she just blurts out “I can’t think of what to say.” He does that chuckle-laugh again, looking down and then back at her and oh, his eyes are so red. He sees her notice and looks behind her.
“Still got Mister Mickey, then?” She knows he’s trying to hint at the way she’s not alone, but it doesn’t help because she knows she’s not alone, she’s not alone but he is, he will be, and she can’t even TOUCH him.
“There’s five of us now. Mum, Dad, Mickey…and the baby.” She knows he was a father once, and she doesn’t want to remind him of it when he’s so damn alone, but she says it anyways because they only have two minutes and she can’t hold anything back.
Her Doctor’s face is something she’ll never forget in that moment, scared and hopeful and shocked and wondrous at the same time, and he whispers, “You’re not…?”
She freezes that moment in time, looks up at him and lets herself live a lifetime in that second, imagines herself with a little brown haired baby, smart as a whip, much more clever than her, with a kilowatt grin and a sheepish expression when chubby toddler fingers dip straight into the jam. Her Doctor and her singing lullabies to a cranky, fussy wailing half human, half Time Lord infant.
She savors that second, lets it melt into her soul, and then lets it go.
“No,” she says, laughing a bit because even on what is already shaping up to be the worst day of her life, she is still so happy for her parents. “It’s Mum.” He smiles and glances over to her mother, who he has always bickered with but who she knows he cares for. “She’s three months gone. More Tylers on the way.”
He turns those brown eyes back to her, and his eyebrows get that shape that means he’s worried about her. “And what about you? Are you--”
She talks over him, because if he asks her if she’s okay, she’ll have to be honest. “Yeah, I’m back working at the shop.”
He nods, and she can tell he’s put on the fake smile reserved for when he’s trying to find the bright side. “Oh, good for you.”
She can’t help it, she’s Rose and he’s the Doctor, and he’s being stupid. “Oh, shut up.” He does, listening to her. “No, I'm not. There's still a Torchwood on this planet. It's open for business. I think I know a thing or two about aliens.” And she hates how her voice cracks and how she has to work hard to force the words out. But it’s worth it when she sees his trademark grin. He can’t fake that grin.
He’s grinning and he’s proud. “Rose Tyler, Defender of the Earth.”
He had to go and say her name, say it in that tone. She can’t speak, just soaks in the sight of him, jaw clenching to keeps from crying. He watches her for a moment, but when she has to take a shuddering breath, he speaks again and looks away. “You’re dead, officially, back home.” She looks away, an impossible planet and strange marks fresh in her mind, but he keeps talking so she forces herself to calm down. “So many people died that day and you've gone missing. You're on a list of the dead.” Her hand covers her mouth as she tries to hold herself together, and his voice changes from his i-have-bad-news-I’m-sorry-I’m-so-sorry tone to his I’m-always-alright-please-let-me-help-you-things-will-be-okay tone. “ Here you are, living a life day after day.” But he looks at her, and his voice is so sad, so resigned as he finishes with. “The one adventure I can never have.”
She hates herself, because she can’t stop crying, and she doesn’t want to make this harder on her Doctor, so she covers her eyes, trying to push the tears back in, but it doesn’t work. So she drops her hands and forces herself to look him in the eyes and ask the hardest questions. It takes her two tries, but she manages. “Am I ever gonna see you again?”
He waits for her to look at him again before he says two words that make her heart shatter into the sand. “You can’t.” The way his mouth twists after saying it, she knows how much it cost him, and wonders how long he looked for a way before he came to that conclusion.
“What are you going to do?” She wonders if the TARDIS translates heartbreak and desperation, because she could barely understand herself.
He always understand her. “Oh, I've got the Tardis. Same old life, last of the Time Lords.”
“On your own?” And she doesn’t even know what she means by that, because she thinks of forevers and conversations outside of cafes at night, of replacements and a hand to hold and…
He nods, letting his eyes trace the tears down her face, and she gathers what little poise she has because she has to say it, he has to hear the words before she can’t ever see him again. “I…” and then she bends over, because it hurts so much, and he lets her, and only the thought of how badly watching her cry and not being able to do anything is hurting him lets her gain control. “I love you.” She manages to get it out, but just barely.
He takes in a deep breath, and something in his eyes lighten. “Quite right, too” he says with a soft but tight smile. She can’t speak anymore, but she tries to gain control, but only manages a weak smile. Something in his manner shifts, and then he seems to just let go. “And I suppose…” Neither of them look away, because this is too important, and his control is slipping, she can hear it in his voice. “If it’s my last chance to say it…” He pauses, and he looks so lost and scared and innocent that she can’t breathe. “Rose Tyler—”
Rose Tyler. Rose Tyler, he named her before he disappeared. He disappeared and no touch, goodbye, quite right too. He was gone and she was here and she would never see him again and he would be alone until he wasn’t, and she love him and oh god she couldn’t breathe.
She could hear her mum running towards her as soon as she turned, and she ran (the feel of his hand in hers as they ran) and her mother’s perfume couldn’t even get past all the pain.
She cried herself to sleep and slept the entire way back to London.
The next week was a blur. It was worse than when she got pulled away, because now, now there was no hope. The Doctor had said it was impossible. He would have tried, she knows he would have tried everything he could think of.
The guilt was the worse. He had come to terms with losing her, had tried to send her away to keep her safe, to part on his terms. Terms and conditions of leaving a companion: Make sure they are safe. Make sure they are surrounded by a support group. Make sure they can’t come back and yell at you and let you get your hopes up because they wither and die and they always leave.
And she knew, she had seen it. When the Daleks and Cybermen were getting pulled in, they had grinned at each other and his eyes were shining. He had finally, finally, let down all his guards and walls and reserves, had let her get as close as possible, and she had gone and left him.
She had given him her love and he had accepted it (quite right, too). She had promised him forever, and he had begun to believe it. Now he had a spaceship with too many empty rooms and a duffle bag of memories, and she had a key on a necklace and the feel of his fingers entwined with hers.
Two days after they returned, Rose woke up, went for a walk in the garden, and made breakfast for her parents. She made plans to exercise with Jackie later that afternoon. She drank the orange juice but food was harder to choke down. Her stomach felt weird, but she supposed that was to be expected. She asked Pete flat out if she could work for Torchwood. He asked if he had been that obvious. They all laughed, and she looked her family.
“I’m so glad you’re here.”
She went up to her room because the effort it took to be social, even with those she loved, drained her. She would have to ease into life, again. But oh, it hurt. It really hurt.
Was heartbreak suppose to hurt this much?
Her pants felt too tight, so she unsnapped them and wriggled out. But then she noticed the blood for the first time.
She stepped out of her pants, starting to feel the panic underneath her confusion. She didn’t know what was going on, but she knew it was bad.
The stomach pain came back, and suddenly she found herself gasping. She stumbled to the door.
In the span of just over four months, Rose Tyler had lost a lot. She had lost the privilege of being an only child, lost the title of “raised by a single mom”. She had lost her house in Powell Estates, lost all her childhood souvenirs. She had lost all her money and all her clothes. She had lost the man she loved more than anything, lost the ability to live life as she wanted, lost her independence and her circle of friends. She had even, technically, lost her life, lost her life on a world she lost.
She had also lost a baby.
She didn’t speak to anyone. Jackie answered the questions for her, Pete filled out the forms. She lifted her arms, a puppet to be turned this way and that as they poked and prodded and used big words that she didn’t have the energy to decipher.
Mickey came by, but she ignored him. She ignored everyone. She let the doctors and nurses do their things, but she didn’t respond. Jackie tried to keep up a running dialogue, but Rose turned away in the middle of a sentence, and Jackie let herself trail off.
She spoke only once, days after it had happened.
“Why?” she asked the doctor.
The doctor, a lovely woman with soft hands, inhaled softly and listed some reasons, but concluded with, “The results aren’t back from the lab, so we can’t know for sure.”
Chromosomal abnormalities (Alien genes). Environmental toxins (Void stuff. Background radiation). Paternal factors (risks rise with age).
Rose let out a harsh laugh, and the doctor cleared her throat and excused herself.
She was discharged with a clean bill of health, but she couldn’t bring herself to say thank you to anyone.
In the two minutes they had left to say goodbye, she had lied to him, and hadn’t even known it.
She thought of that split second where she entertained the possibility of having his baby, of being a mother, and bit her lip.
She would have loved it.
Rose Tyler was clever, and brilliant, and bloody fantastic, but she was also just a human who had lost too much.
She curled up in her bed and cried, because the blue wasn’t the right shade, and her bed wasn’t supposed to be hers but be theirs, and because he wasn’t supposed to be alone, and she had promised him forever, and she hated ghosts and white walls and she had her family and she had Mickey but she didn’t have him and he was all she ever wanted.
He opens the door to the TARDIS and she follows him in. He tosses his jacket onto his usual resting branch, and goes to the control panel while she closes and locks the door behind her. She limps past him to sit down, groaning as she pulls her shoes off. “I remember why I wear flats as often as possible.”
“Aw, c’mon Rose! You’re the one who wanted to dress up for the coronation!”
“Coronation? Uhm, listen, mate, but we were supposed to see Elvis, remember?”
He flaps one hand at her, the other busy with something or other. “Either way, you wanted to dress up.”
She snorts. “And you’re the one who landed us smack dab in the middle of the wrong place, right time for trouble.”
He beams at her. “Yeah, and you like that.”
She rolls her eyes and unbuckles her shoes, sliding them off her aching feet. “Adventure is different from trouble, yeah?” She picks up the shoes and waggles them at him, grinning. “These are not the right shoes for faceless street wandering, you know what I mean?”
He crosses the distance between them in seconds. “That’s not funny, Rose.”
Blinking, she grins up at him. “Would you say you are not amused?”
He rolls his eyes but kneels down. “Very much not amused.” He trails a finger across her brow, down past her eye, over her cheek and ends up cradling her face with his hand. She nuzzles his hand and he sighs, makes to take his hand away, but she grabs it, keeping it in place even as she places a kiss to his palm. He tries again to pull away, but she makes a small sound of protest, and his lips quirk upwards and he gives in.
He brings his other hand to her face, holding it gently as he leans forward and presses a kiss to her forehead. She sighs in contentment and closes her eyes when he leans his brow against hers.
“They pulled the blanket off and I…” his breath is warm against her mouth, and it takes her a second to process the words. “They said you were just left in the street, and I was so, so angry, Rose.” His fingers twitch against her hair, and she squeezes his hand gently. “And then, when I saw your face in that telly, calling for me…”He shudders, and she opens her eyes, ready to speak, but he shakes his head. “Don’t. It’s not okay, it’s not…” He gets that look in his eye, the one that precedes him pulling away, and she doesn’t want him to, not tonight, not yet.
She closes the tiny gap and kisses him. It’s soft, almost chaste, a comfort and an offer that she will always give. An offer he always refuses. They’ve kissed before, but tonight is one of those different nights, where it means more and therefore they do less. She always offers, and he always refuses after a moment of temptation.
But that moment has passed, apparently, because where he normally pulls away, he instead leans in, tilts her head back and kisses her back. She makes a happy noise—feels him smile against her lips—and lets one hand play with his shoulders and tie and the other play with the back of his neck and the hair that is still slicked back.
He pulls away from her lips and kisses her nose, her cheeks, her chin, her eyes, and she begins to realize just how much seeing her with no face affected him. “Doctor—” She thinks she should talk to him instead, but he shushes her with a harder kisses, and she melts against him. One hand goes around her waist, the other explores her hair.
It is the first time the Doctor does not pull away, and the first time Rose Tyler knows beyond a shadow of a doubt how much he cares about her.
She has never been more disappointed to wake up.
She can’t find the energy to get out of bed anymore, but she drags herself to the bathroom, to the kitchen to force down food that gets caught in her throat and settles in her stomach, all lumpy and wrong. She mumbles one word answers to people only when she can’t answer with a nod or a shake of her head. The worried looks they carry on their countenance only makes her more tired, because she knows she should feel guilty, but she just can’t.
Rose is dead, technically, in her other world. The Doctor never existed in her new world.
And the life growing inside of her never had a chance to live.
Her arms are too empty, so she curls into herself on her bed, but she has no tears.
She’s so tired.
Her door slams open a week and a half after she gets home. She sits up straight, completely shocked and releasing a little gasp, as a blonde haired intruder in a black jacket comes barreling in.
“Hullo!” Jake says as he half sits half sprawls on the foot of her bed. She stares at him, suddenly acutely aware of how badly tangled her hair is, and the fact that she’s not in pajamas because she only took her bra off before bed last night. He’s talking about something, but he’s speaking so fast that she can’t keep up.
“—What? What are you doing here?”
He raises an eyebrow. “Talking to you.”
“….Why?” She doesn’t say that everyone is always talking to her, asking if she’s alright or what can they do or does she want to talk about anything. It’s annoying and she’s such an ingrate and she just doesn’t have the energy to care.
“Because it seems everyone is always talking about you, talking around you, but not talking to you.” He shrugs and sits up. “Mickey told me that you don’t even want people around anymore, and I figured I might know something about that.”
She doesn’t say that he knows nothing, but maybe something on her face does, because he looks down and sighs. “I was stuck in a car with Mickey only hours after my boyfriend died.” Rose leans forward unconsciously and he looks up with a sad smile. “They looked exactly alike. Down to the little curve of the ear. But they weren’t, were they? Laugh’s just a little off, head tilts to the left when he’s confused rather than to the right, and that split second where you’ve forgotten you’ve lost something comes crashing into you and it hurts.” He pauses for a moment, shifts his leg to get more comfortable. “And you don’t want Jackie to hug you. Or Pete. And definitely not Mickey, because you love them, you do, but their touches are wrong.” He looks at her, tilts his head. “And you feel guilty because they love you, but their hugs just make everything worse.”
She breaks down crying, nodding because he’s right and she never even realized it, and he’s right and she’s relieved because she’s not a horrible person.
He grins and crawls over to her. “On the other hand, I’ve never hugged you before so it’ll completely wrong and guilt free.” She cracks a smile as his arms come around her, awkward and unfamiliar and completely wrong. “….Don’t think I’m insulting you, but you need a shower.” She chuckles and leans further into him.
Rose sits on a bench, surrounded by flowers and stars. A book of constellations is open next to her, and she has a cup of tea, courtesy of her Mum, who is starting to glow like the moon, cradled in her hands.
She went shopping with Jackie today, and bought some books. She registered for a university, and they went shopping for new clothes, because neither of them can fit the same things as when they first came here half a year ago. Jackie had some beautiful new, baby bump flattering tops.
Rose has a new dark blue leather jacket. She had tried it on and it had fit like a glove—you’ll keeping changing…you even look like him—and it had fit her so perfectly that she knew the fact that it was on sale was a sign.
This universe doesn’t have a Doctor.
She sips her tea and attempts to relearn new constellations (all of them just a bit differently named, some of the stars just a tad out of where she used to know they were). For the first time in awhile, her mind is abuzz with thoughts of the future. There’s shops and chips and jostling for the best couch seat for the movie, there’s teaming up with Jake to tease Mickey, and there’s quiet moments with Mickey discussing Chrissie and her new beau. The future holds Torchwood, and scheduling classes and homework because she’s clever and fantastic and brilliant and she’s always wanted to go back.
She thinks of a better way of living your life, that you don’t just give up, you make a stand, you say no, you have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else runs away, of eating breakfast with Pete and Jackie, neutral green paint and drawing a family tree, some strange woman, walking on a planet, of leather jackets and 3D glasses, of baby bumps and doctors.
This universe doesn’t have a Doctor, but it has Rose Tyler, and she is going to have an absolutely fantastic life.