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a more literal method of compartmentalization

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It begins one week after he brings Rose Tyler aboard. 

 

It’s ridiculous, really, how seamlessly the girl has managed to wedge herself into his life. When he’d asked her along the first time, he was fraught with hesitation and worry even if it hadn’t shown in his tone or on his face. He had, after all, regenerated only a couple of days prior, and most of that time had been spent either unconscious on the grating in a regeneration coma or stumbling blindly about the TARDIS and trying desperately not to lose his grip on reality as he grappled with the new utter silence in his mind.

 

He’d tried to focus on those feelings when he’d closed the door to the TARDIS alone, rather than allow himself to feel even a sliver of disappointment or hurt at the rejection he’d already anticipated from Rose. It had been stupid on so many levels that he could only plead temporary insanity if asked why he had invited her; he had sworn to himself almost immediately upon waking from his coma that he would travel alone and make reparations for his war crimes--with "war crimes" feeling like a euphemism, and wasn't that just reprehensible--until the day when he finally died and would not regenerate. Hardly an acceptable life to bring companions into, let alone an innocent nineteen year old girl with a mum and a boyfriend waiting back home. 

 

And he was hardly anyone she would be interested in traveling with, anyways. He’d seen in the mirror that this wasn’t one of his more endearing faces, and one day’s worth of interactions with her proved that he was every bit as gruff and unpleasant as he deserved to become after what he’d done. She’d made the right choice in staying behind. 

 

But then he’d taken off without her and was immediately been faced with the true reason he’d asked her: because he couldn’t be alone. He must’ve known it on some subconscious level (maybe it was his previous selves clamoring about and brewing up a storm somewhere in there; he’d always wondered, after each regeneration, just how independently each of his selves managed to exist once they’d been reborn as a part of the next man) and it turned out he was right. Because alone, even trying to give back to a universe that he had taken so much from, he was nothing short of a train wreck, barreling into collision after collision without any of the self-control required to stop himself. He visited a string of fixed points, letting the scream of the timelines echo through the gaping void in his mind as he flirted with catastrophe left and right. It was a game he played where he tried to see just how big of a change he could make without unravelling time, tried to see just how up-close and personal he could get with the fire before it burned him. 

 

When he’d asked her the second time, he couldn’t even plead temporary insanity. It was deliberate and desperate and probably still delusional, but she ran to him and he swept her away as quickly as possible before she could change her mind. 

 

And now, one week later, he is still trying to fathom how lucky he’d gotten (and lucky was not a word he ever would have used to describe himself before the Time War, let alone after) in finding Rose. She’d proven to be both everything he’d hoped for and nothing like he expected. What he’d expected was a generally pleasant but undeniably naive girl looking for a bit of adventure and excitement to spice up her boring life, someone who just wanted to see what was out there beyond the prying eyes of her mother and the clingy arms of her useless boyfriend. And while she was undoubtedly all of those things, he never could have anticipated just how much life and love she gave so freely to all in her orbit, and from the moment she crossed the threshold he was helpless to stop himself from greedily absorbing it all like a sponge. In the span of seven measly days, she had seen the end of her planet and held his hand and listened and comforted him as though he hadn’t tried to hurt her with the precise brand of pain that pierced his own hearts, stood up to him several centuries in her past and argued relentlessly to try to save the life of a girl that he ended up getting killed, and looked him dead in the eyes and trusted him to save the world even if it killed her. 

 

It’s the last thought that can’t seem to stop haunting him no matter how much time passes: the undeniable proof of her faith in him, faith that is so disgustingly undeserved that he feels copious amounts of guilt for relishing in it the way that he does. The only thing he can do is try his best to be worthy (he could live one thousand lives and never succeed) and make her happy.

 

He takes her shopping on Fabula Grimme, a planet renowned for being the origin of well over half of Earth’s so-called fairy tales. He tells her all about the history, the culture, and the people and tries not to hold her hand too tightly as they walk through the bustling crowds and rows of cheery market stalls. He also tries not to stare at her wide-eyed expression of absolute delight as she takes in the lilac sky and the alien aromas and the hauntingly beautiful twists in the architecture surrounding them. He fails on both counts.

 

“Can we stop at that one?” she asks excitedly, and he tries not to roll his eyes when he sees her pointing to the crimson stand of a jeweler that is positively teeming with sparkling designs. He supposes he shouldn’t be all that surprised; he had, after all, brought her here on the assumption that most human women enjoyed shopping and that she would therefore enjoy this trip even without the thrill of danger. Perhaps he was even more spot-on with his stereotypes than he’d thought. 

 

“‘Course we can,” he answers since he can’t deny her anything, and he doesn’t have an ounce of regret in his body when she beams up at him and tugs him towards the stall. 

 

She oohs and ahhs over the delicate curves of metal and is enraptured by the shine of alien stones, and he surreptitiously slips a hand into his pocket to make sure his credit stick is still rattling around somewhere in there. It is, and he tells her to pick out something for herself and even her mum if she’d like, and ends up flushing the color of the tent when she throws her arms around him and kisses him on the cheek. 

 

She chats with the vendor as she peruses the merchandise, flirting lightly in the way that he’s coming to understand is just her typical method of interacting with people. He hasn’t yet figured out if it’s intentional or if coming across as flirty is just a side-effect of being an attractive person. And he notices that even as she picks out a positively dazzling rose-hued gemstone that he doesn’t recognize and bracelet chain for her mother and a more modest yet still beautiful Dharlurian ruby necklace for herself, her eyes keep returning to one of the displays at the front. He watches closely as her eyes flicker to the tag--it’s easily one of the most expensive items present, a full parure of matching pieces, and he understands even if he wishes she were comfortable enough with him already to just pick what she truly wants. 

 

He pays for her selection without a single glance at the total, practically trying to will away her self-conscious blush as the vendor rings her up. When the gnawing guilt starts to seep into her eyes, he decides he’s had enough.

 

“All the food around this place, there’s gotta be something good to eat here. Think you could scout ahead and pick out a stall for us? Get us a spot in line so that we don’t have to wait quite as long?” he asks casually as the vendor assembles and wraps everything. 

 

“You realize I won’t know what any of it is,” she says, amusement replacing the worry in her eyes, and triumphant satisfaction swells up in his chest.

 

“Nearly all of the stalls here give samples, and besides--trust your nose,” he says seriously, lightly tapping hers, and delights in the flush that graces her cheeks at the touch. “For humans, smell is such a large component of taste that you can rely on it as a pretty good indicator of what foods you’ll like even before you actually try them.” 

 

“Alright,” she concedes, glancing back out at the crowds. “Anything I should avoid? Poisonous to you or I?”

 

He winces, mentally smacking himself for not having thought of that. There are some times when he thinks, with no small amount of heaviness in his hearts, that it’s nothing short of a miracle that he hasn’t gotten every single one of his companions killed. “Now that you mention it, maybe ease up on the samples. You can sample stuff when I join you and can vet the stuff first. Made of tough stuff, me. Stand by what I said about using your nose, though.”

 

“Alright, see you in a ‘mo, then,” she says, and squeezes his hand once before setting off on her own. He’s startled to realize that she’d never once let go of it, even as she browsed around, and waits until she’s a considerable distance away before swiping up the jewelry set she’d been eyeing and placing it in front of the vendor.

 

“This too,” he says shortly, expression daring the man to comment. The vendor wisely keeps his mouth shut, though he can’t seem to resist smiling as he carefully polishes and wraps the gift. The Doctor glances down at it for the first time and feels his blood nearly freeze in his veins as shock settles over him. The necklace is the true centerpiece, a thin and sleek silver chain made up of a nearly unbreakable alloy with a gorgeous set of petracoelum astrellae--sapphire blue stones speckled with glittering silver flecks, giving off the impression of a starry night sky--dangling delicately in the middle, but it’s the earrings that stop the Doctor’s hearts. Because on each one, resting between two tiny petracoelum astrellae, is a Gallifreyan white point star. 

 

How fitting that the girl who is slowly bringing him back to life was so drawn to a remnant of his lost home.

 

Throat tight, he thanks the vendor tersely when everything is wrapped, and shoves the last box deep into his pockets before setting off to find Rose.

 

Later that night when Rose is fast asleep, he turns the gift-wrapped parure box over and over in his hands, once again scowling at his own hasty stupidity. Sure, he’d wanted her to have it, to have anything she could ever want, and sure, he has unlimited credit. But what had he been thinking? That he could just hand an incredibly expensive jewelry set--with personal meaning, even--to a girl he met a week ago? A girl from a planet where giving jewelry like that has meaning and strings and intent attached to it? A girl who, even if he were interested (he’s not) and even if she were interested (she’s definitely not) and even if he allowed himself to have relationships with human companions (he never will), already has a boyfriend?

 

He cannot give her the stupid bloody jewelry set.

 

He scowls as he walks the corridors of the TARDIS, trying to figure out what would be less pathetic: keeping jewelry for a girl that is decidedly not his in his bedroom, or keeping jewelry for a girl that is decidedly not his in his pockets. In the end, the TARDIS solves his problem in the quick and efficient way she handles most things.

 

When he realizes he’s passed the same door and no others three times, he sighs and examines the front of it. To his curious surprise, the engraving is not a picture or an English word (as many are welcomingly marked for the benefit of companions) but a Gallifreyan inscription: arkytior

 

His Old Girl is a great many things, and subtle has never been one of them. 

 

With a wary sigh, he throws open the door and is surprised to see nothing but a sturdy shelf in front of him. A sturdy bookshelf with a cabinet built into it, paneled with thick display glass.

 

He sends a mental thanks to his meddling ship and quickly stores away his rash purchase, wishing he could sweep the encounter from his mind just as easily.

 

**********

 

Only he can’t really forget about it, because he finds himself repeating his mistake only a few weeks later. In less than a month, so much has changed and yet everything stays maddeningly the same.

 

He can admit now that he needs Rose desperately. It’s not just about not being alone, not anymore--the shattering of his hearts in Van Statten’s bunker when he’d thought she’d died had forced him to confront a hard reality. He was utterly, completely hers, even if she never gave him a second glance.

 

Except for that she did, all the time, and it made it that much harder to keep her out of his head every second of the day, even when she wasn’t within his range of sight.

 

They’re on Traxium VIII now, having just stopped a civil war by transforming a would-be violent revolution into a much more peaceful one, and Rose is chatting away with one of the local rebels that had been working with them yesterday. He’s pretty, the Doctor notes with a healthy mix of amusement, irritation, and jealousy.

 

He wanders a bit, glancing into storefronts as he tries to give his companion a few more minutes before forcing her into a farewell. She likes making friends with strangers, and strangers love her, and it really is fine so long as she always returns to him in the end. 

 

He sees it in the third shop he passes: a miniature stained glass creation depicting a phoenix rising after being reborn. He’s struck by the attention to detail, the bright flames of the fire that has shaped the mythical bird, and tries not to think about how she has shaped him into someone new.

 

He purchases it before he has time to second guess himself, and finds it a nice spot on the bookshelf later.

 

**********

 

And so it continues: a leather-bound journal with a biometric lock, a set of Glybbian marbles that change color with the holder’s mood (and with much more accuracy than those silly Earth rings), a deck of cards with the Plythian royal crest on them, a not-insubstantial number of fiction works in a variety of alien languages (as well as a couple of first edition Dickens novels because it turns out he’s a sentimental sod, in case the initial jewelry affair hadn’t made that abundantly clear), several more pieces of jewelry ranging from casual charm bracelets to gorgeous necklaces, and even a neo-Victorian gown reminiscent of her Cardiff one (again: sentimental sod) all find their way into what he’s mentally dubbed “the Rose room” (not to be confused with Rose’s actual bedroom). 

 

He tells himself that there’s a good reason for stocking up gifts. Surely someone as daft as he is will need to make a grand apology at some point in time. Or surely he’ll forget about her birthday or Christmas (or, more likely, accidentally land on one of them early) and need a gift on the fly. Or surely she’ll need extensive cheering up at some point, and he’ll be damned if anyone else beats him to bringing a smile back to her face.

 

The “good reasons” aren’t even well-disguised at this point, but he still can’t seem to stop himself.

 

**********

 

After a night filled with not enough breathless dancing and entirely too much flirty American pretty boy, a hand-crafted music box that plays both a Glenn Miller tune and a Gallifreyan lullaby is left on the shelf. He’s not much for drawing the traditional floral patterns or itty bitty ballerinas, but the waves he does manage to carve on the outside of the box are a near-perfect replica of the ones they'd walked under on Woman Wept.

 

**********

 

He thinks he’s probably losing it completely when he makes Blon Fel Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen follow him into a tourist store to buy a snow globe of the Millenium Center. The sales clerk looks at his purchase and then at him as though he’s grown a second head, and the Doctor idly wonders if the store has ever actually managed to sell one of the stupid things. 

 

Either way, it perfectly fills an empty place on the shelves. And if he manages to miraculously insert a carefully painted miniature blue box into it later, no one will ever know.  

 

**********

 

She asks him to change back and both of his hearts break. He’s struck dumb by the strength of the thought that if he could do it, if he could change himself back, he would. For her. 

 

And though he’d regenerate again before ever admitting it to her face, he technically already had changed for her on a couple different levels. He had literally regenerated to save her life, but he’d also begged every cell in his body to remake itself for her. He hadn’t been sure that regenerating cells take requests in such a manner, but it seems to have worked well enough: Rose’s slightly dilated pupils, even filled with suspicion and hurt and fear and distrust, are a dead giveaway that he is at least a little pretty on this go-around. And his accent is like hers, just a bit--enough to make his hearts skip a little at the thought of people hearing them talk and instinctively categorizing them as a pair because they match. 

 

He’s already changed for her, and ironically it went against everything she wanted.

 

He can’t give her what she wants, but his well-worn leather jacket finds its way up onto the last bit of space on the shelf anyways. When the door closes behind him, he resolves to do his damnedest to be a man she’ll love just as much as the first one. 

 

**********

 

The new new shelves that appear match his new new style perfectly, much to the amusement of the new new Doctor. Whereas the initial bookshelf was sleek and utilitarian and efficient, the second one is slender and wooden and, well, pretty. It’s still not overly extravagant, but the feet and corners have decorative carvings and the polish gives the entire thing a rather glowy feel. 

 

The Doctor already has a Christmas present for Rose--a rather fancy camera that he’d procured on one of their shopping excursions a few weeks back. The battery life and photo quality were unparalleled, but he’d especially wanted it because of the additional feature it boasted as a product of a strong telepathic species--it could produce an image straight from memory. Rose, he’d discovered rather early on in their travels, was one of the unusual but not too uncommon humans with the tiniest bit of latent telepathic ability, and he hoped that she could learn to use the feature in time. If nothing else, the camera itself was still rather nice, and it could potentially give him an opportunity to teach her a little bit about telepathy and (if he were really, really lucky) help her practice it a bit. 

 

But even with the perfect opportunity to purchase gifts and actually give them to his precious companion, he still found himself placing his first few items on a brand new shelf in the Rose room. 

 

The locket was rather silly; it was from Earth, her time--only a few blocks away, actually, from a pawn shop that he’d dipped into when he was supposed to be picking up chips. But it was a pale gold and had a dull shine that proudly bore enough light scuff marks to give it well-loved character, and something about it reminded him so strongly of Rose that he had just had to buy it. 

 

And, he thinks as he runs his fingers along the chain while altogether rather pleased with himself, it gives him an opportunity to test out the special feature on his camera for Rose. He flicks the appropriate switches and holds down the button, thinking hard about Christmas Eve dinner earlier that evening. Rose had looked so beautiful through his brand new eyes--reunited with her family and reassured that he was the Doctor, she had practically glowed with happiness in the loving holiday atmosphere. She was absolutely mesmerizing; her eyes sparkled with contentment that he’d missed dearly since his regeneration, her hair mussed by the addition of a pink crepe paper crown in light of the festivities, her smile paradoxically shy and loving with every glance at him.

 

When he opens his eyes, he finds himself staring at a perfect image of his perfect girl. 

 

He swallows hard and folds the edges of the film paper just enough to fit the photo into the locket. No one wears pictures of themselves in their locket, but at this point he can’t fool himself into thinking that the Rose room isn’t, in many ways, more so for him.

 

At least he knows the camera works.

 

**********

 

When he buys the “I heart New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York” T-shirt after their first trip as a new new team, he’s well and truly tempted to actually give it to her this time just so that she can share in his amusement. But they get caught up in Scotland for longer than he expects and then Mickey calls them back to regular old Earth before he ever really musters up the courage, and the T-shirt winds up in the Rose room despite the best of intentions.

 

**********

 

If there were ever a time for apology presents, now is the time. 

 

He doesn’t deserve to be forgiven, though, and the very notion of trying to buy her forgiveness disgusts him so much that he thinks rather darkly that he could regenerate himself, technically speaking, and beg his stupid Time Lord cells to try their best to replicate his ninth self. To be the man that never hurt Rose the way he had hurt her earlier today.

 

He’s a coward, plain and simple. He’d looked a little too closely at all of his strings attached and run like the wind, and he’d hurt Rose so systematically and thoroughly with his actions that he found himself praying that she wouldn’t stop traveling with him. There was a time where he’d dared to hope that she’d never leave him, but now…

 

He finds himself in the Rose room not to add anything new, but just to look. To force himself to face what he’s been so scared of: cold, hard evidence of his love for Rose Tyler. Presents and mementos that he’d bought her simply because he could not stop thinking of her, tokens of his affection that he’d practically felt compelled to collect here for her.

 

He's surrounded by proof that he was an absolute idiot of the highest order to think even for a moment that he could deny to himself that he was in love with her. He couldn’t say when it had started (though, a tiny voice inside his brain reminded him, the room itself had appeared only a week after she’d come along), but he was completely and irrevocably devoted to her at this point, and he would force himself to stop running if it killed him. He would never, ever, ever hurt her like this again.

 

A few days later, he does add something: a pair of clockwork hearts with roses engraved on the sides.

 

*********

 

The downward spiral hits him hard and swiftly after that. For all that he’s aware that he’s the luckiest man alive to have Rose at his side (especially after he messed things up between them so spectacularly), the universe seems intent on reminding him just how fleeting her presence in his life can be. They go on adventures and while he loves every second that he spends holding her hand, sometimes all he can see it as is a string of instances where he very nearly loses her: to a permanent existence as an ancient Roman statue, to a parallel life in parallel world where she could have her father, to a face-stealing alien during the queen’s coronation, to a devil and his impossible prison being sucked into a black hole.

 

His time in the Rose room increases tenfold even if he comes in empty-handed more often than not, to a point where the TARDIS eventually takes pity on him and conjures up a rather comfortable armchair in the dead center of the room. He finds himself drifting through the door while she sleeps nearly every night, looking around at what had started as a collection of abandoned gifts for her and ended up being a physical scrapbook of memories for him. He wonders quite often, with trepidation and hints of despair tangling into a knot in his throat, just how much longer he has before he places his last gift on a shelf. He wonders if he’ll know when it’s happening, that whatever’s in his hands will be the last thing that he’ll purchase or make or (in some very rare but justified cases) steal with Rose Tyler on his mind. 

 

He’s desperate to know how long he has, and yet he prays to time itself that he’ll be oblivious when the worst day of this regeneration’s life comes (and it will be this regeneration, he’s utterly doomed to it: he honestly hadn’t expected to regenerate even once in her presence given how relatively young his last body was, though he was eternally glad that the version of him that was born from the Time War hadn’t also had to lose his precious girl. And it was, statistically speaking, extraordinarily unlikely that she would witness another change, so it had to be him). There is no doubt that he’d never make it through the day if he knew what was coming; he’d destroy time itself to stop the storm.

 

The gifts, when he does bring them, start to feel like weights in his pockets, and every item he puts down feels like the movement of a chess piece bringing him closer and closer to the end of the game. He can’t escape the notion that he’s fighting a predestined outcome but he’s helpless but to play everything out to the very last moves--he could no more give up on trying to attain forever with Rose than he could light the whole Earth on fire and leave it to burn.

 

So he makes his moves carefully, tenderly, and places everything down with the reverence of someone leaving offerings for a god at the altar. An ancient Roman vase painted with a likeness of the goddess Fortuna towers above a delicately carved wolf figurine, created by an artisan from a planet of skilled craftsmen remarkably similar to the elves of human fairy tales. A set of Elvis guitar picks that he managed to procure in a slightly morally questionable yet nevertheless thrilling manner are scattered around an absolutely ridiculous ornate diadem that he can practically picture her trying on through bursts of laughter. A “Friends Of The Ood” keychain that he’d purchased with no small measure of guilt (along with a sizable donation from his now frequently-used credit stick) rests upon a beautifully illustrated copy of Little Red Riding Hood that he’d picked up with fond amusement at an old-fashioned bookstore while they’d refueled in Cardiff. 

 

The pieces continue to fall into place, and he tries to tell himself that it feels like adding details to a painting and not like writing the ending to a story.

 

**********

 

As it turns out, he both does and doesn’t know when the day comes. 

 

He can feel the storm approaching them with all the subtlety of a right hook to the face, and he wonders if this is what his enemies feel after they’ve wasted the last chance he gives them. The cold and clear terror of impending doom riddled through with clouds of anxiety and those last straggling tendrils of hope that never quite leave even after it's far, far too late. 

 

He’s off in that he isn’t the one who buys the last thing before he loses her, and maybe that’s what has him so unprepared when the moment finally comes. She purchases the bazoolium for her mother with not a single care in the world, and he’s so used to the pattern of handing her the credit stick and hiding his extra purchases in his pockets that he’s rendered speechless when he looks down to see her holding a present out to him

 

It’s both simple and thoughtful and altogether just like her: a tie made of (and he wonders if she selected this on purpose, if the shopkeeper had told her about the unique qualities of the material) a special Uldari fabric resistant to fire, water, and most types of wear-and-tear. It’s a rusty shade of red similar to this body’s typical clothing color palette and he’s breathless at the thought of wearing something that marks him as hers, even if only to him.

 

“Saw it and thought of you,” she shrugs, effortlessly using the exact words that he’s been stupidly and cowardly choking back for about two years now. “What do you think?”

 

“Rose Tyler, I love it,” he tells her honestly, time senses tingling as something unidentifiable echoes backwards down the timeline at him. 

 

He finds out later what it was: a horrible inkling of backwards déjà vu (would that just be premonition?) for something had been yet to come. One last moment where she was brave and articulate and everything he was undeserving of while he let his fear run him out of time.

 

**********

 

He was wrong about something else, too: that there could ever be a last time when he gets something with Rose in mind.

 

He’d wondered, when he first lost her, what he’d done wrong--after all, he hadn’t finished filling up the shelves in the Rose room that had appeared with his new regeneration, and he’d assumed that his brilliant timeship had used her eleven-dimensional intelligence (that's how it works, he swears it) to build the shelves perfectly to size. And if that were the case, then he’d lost her even earlier than she had expected, and for days he mourns the lost time with Rose and hates himself for messing up something so phenomenally important. 

 

It’s not until he’s wandering around Shakespearean London while Martha is off bidding farewell to the man himself that he fully understands. He’s already at the counter and rummaging through his pockets for acceptable coins when it hits him, what he’s done, and he nearly blacks out with the overwhelming grief and agony. Rose would have loved the intricately painted tea set even with the little chip at the base of the pot, and here he was, halfway to buying it for a girl that no longer exists in the same universe as he does.

 

The shopkeeper shakes his arm, and he can barely meet the gaze of the man who has clearly asked him more than once if he is okay without getting any form of response. He pays the man in silence, desperate to leave with the tea set before he’s kicked out for being a nutter, and sets off to find Martha and get the hell away from the whole place.

 

**********

 

The tea set finds its way to a nice eye-level spot at the very end of one shelf, and after a moment he leaves the tie she’s given him in one of the cups. He’d worn it, once, and lasted for all of about an hour before the plague of depressingly poetic thoughts about her presence literally choking him forced him to change.

 

He doesn’t need a piece of fabric to remind him that he is hers, anyways.

 

**********

 

More things find a new home in the room—an air freshener from an auto mechanic shop on New Earth that smells like apple grass, a fluffy pink blanket, a strange memory cube from Oedelpa that stores feelings instead of images. 

 

One day he sets down a fob watch engraved with the language of his people, and the guilt he can't shed keeps him away from the room for a while.

 

**********

 

In the end, it’s Donna’s first night aboard that brings him back. She’s snooping, as she has absolutely no trouble admitting straight to his face, and his hearts nearly stop as he sees her open the door that he’s been so carefully avoiding.

 

“Not that one,” he says sharply, and the unexpected edge to his tone actually does manage to stop the stubborn woman right in her tracks.

 

“Why, what’s this one?” she asks curiously, and something about the purse of his lips must give him away.

 

“Ah, her room,” she states, and throws the door wide open. He’s torn somewhere between anger and longing as he glimpses all of the reminders of Rose through the open doorway. 

 

“What kind of bedroom doesn’t have a bed in it?” Donna demands with exasperation, glancing at the teeming shelves curiously. “Don’t tell me she was a manic insomniac just like you probably are.”

 

“No, she could sleep for ages,” he says after a moment, not bothering to deny her rather accurate assessment of him. “There’s no bed because this isn’t her bedroom. She’s never been in this room, it’s…. it’s my room for her,” he says, and he can’t meet Donna’s empathetic gaze.

 

“Sorry,” she says after a long moment, and he shrugs. He is, he realizes, surprisingly not adverse to sharing this with her. If he’s going to drown himself in grief for the rest of time, he supposes there’s no rules that say he needs to do it alone.

 

Better with two, as someone once told him.

 

**********

 

He leaves her a pair of sandals he’d bought in Pompeii from a family who was desperate for money for food. He tipped them generously (and had to explain to them several times that he was, in fact, intentionally overpaying) and tried to push down the sorrow and guilt that came with knowing that these people would be dead the moment Vesuvius erupted. It only increased a hundredfold when he’d eventually realized he was once again the one to push the button or push the lever, so to speak. 

 

**********

 

He gets her dangly earrings from the 20’s and a shawl-like strip of cloth from ancient Egypt (he’d been rather determined to give Donna a better experience than sweaty and cramped tourist buses and sand in all the wrong places; they succeeded in avoiding the first and failed miserably at avoiding the second). At one point he wonders, setting down a set of artsy wooden coasters, if he fits the criteria to be considered a compulsive shopper at this point.

 

**********

 

After the Library, he walks for days through a room full of rose gardens that he’d never known existed on the TARDIS. Donna finds him eventually and coaxes him out with her brilliant balance of fiery snark and gentle compassion, but not before he carefully sonics one of the bushes and pulls away a single rose. She sits with him in the kitchen as he continues to switch settings and buzz the leaves and petals, and waits patiently as he makes a quick stop at a 62nd century botanical lab.

 

She helps him pick the case, too, and even teases him a bit about Rose being the beauty to his beast. He can’t stop thinking about the comparison as he leaves the carefully preserved blossom up on the top of his bookshelf.

 

**********

 

They’re at another multi-cultural bazaar when it happens; he’s just purchased another wolf token (this time a pendant) just to indulge his definitely-not-a-shopping-for-Rose-compulsion. He’s long since given up on trying to stop his hearts from racing whenever he sees a sign of a wolf and now simply embraces the feelings of nostalgic longing with open arms. Ironically, it’s as he’s actually articulating this acceptance in his mind that he finds himself surrounded by “Bad Wolf” on all sides.

 

He can’t allow himself to hope, but it flourishes within him anyways. 

 

**********

 

He tries to tell himself that seeing her one last time is a more valuable gift than anything else in the world, and he’s not actually lying to himself even if it hurts.

 

He was doomed the moment the Dalek beam hit him. Even if he never could’ve foreseen the creation of the Metacrisis, he understands with a sinking feeling that this was always the only path. The Ood had told him and, as they’d called her, the Doctor Donna. Dalek Caan had seen it. That woman back at the Shadow Proclamation had seen it.

 

He forces himself to let her go as graciously as possible, which is not at all. It’s impossible to not be bitter about losing her to the luckiest incarnation of himself that has ever been born—a man with a human body that would never have to share his consciousness with another one of him—and so he doesn’t even bother attempting to tame it. He lets himself hug her and love her and then he refuses her the words that he’s been desperate to give her every second while she was gone.

 

He forces her hand as hard as he can because she needs to choose the other him. He won’t have the strength to do the right thing if she tries to include him in the decision, won't have the self-restraint to choose her happiness over his.

 

He watches for just a moment as everything he’s ever wanted unfolds before his eyes: him telling her that he loves her and her joyous kiss in response. And then he walks away.

 

It's a gift, he reminds himself, and can’t really bring himself to be grateful.

 

**********

 

He drifts in the Vortex alone for a long time after losing the love of his lives and his best mate on the same day. Both of them would tear his head off if they saw him moping around alone the way he does, but he knows without even glancing at the timelines that nothing short of a regeneration (if even that) will give him the ability to travel with someone else now. There’s no moving forward while he can’t let go of what he’s lost, and it’s something he’s not willing to do until time itself forces him to do so.

 

He allows himself one more indulgence; he’s not sure if it’s giving Rose up or maybe the haunting memory of meeting River Song in that damned Library or maybe some combination of the two, but for just one trip out he does something that he imagines he would’ve done if he were the lucky bastard born from his severed hand. Something that other him probably is doing or has already done, one whole universe away.

 

He’s bought her a lot of jewelry over the years, not that he’s ever really given any of it to her other than a charm bracelet (once) and a nice and sturdy chain for her TARDIS key. He’s never bought her a ring, though, well aware of the human cultural implications of such an act and desperate to keep at least one tiny line between them uncrossed. 

 

It went along with his stupid failure of a “it’ll hurt less if you don’t get as close” plan, and he throws the whole thing out the window and lets himself go ring shopping as the man who has lost everything.

 

There are some aspects to the whole endeavor that nearly drive him around the bend, or at least moreso than he already is: every single jeweler teasingly asks him about “the girl” or “the missus” or “the lucky lady” and he feels like he’s being shoved repeatedly through an emotional wringer as he pastes on a smile and gives vague descriptions of Rose that don’t do her an ounce of justice. He’s also forced to endure a ridiculous amount of completely unnecessary lectures on the types of metals and stones that he’s looking at. He knows more about the materials than some of the store owners and really, he just wants to buy a damned ring without any outside commentary or input, but he forces himself to be polite. He reminds himself of that first trip to Fabula Grimme, where Rose had held his hand and conversed with the merchants and eagerly learned about the products she was buying, and tries to be some semblance of the man she’d always seen in him. 

 

In the end, the memory of that first trip haunts his latest shopping expedition in more ways than one, because the ring he eventually finds looks like it could be a missing piece to that very first set of jewelry that he’d bought her oh so long ago. It’s thin and made of twisting strands of a silver-platinum-titanium alloy that is unique and beautiful and shined so brightly that it nearly looks white, with one sparkling midnight blue strand winding its way through the others. And nestled between the carefully crafted prongs is another stunning white point star. 

 

He purchases the ring immediately, trying to tune out the clerk’s words reciting the legend of some ancient race called the Time Lords and the nearly mythical origins of the extremely rare stone that he’s buying. He nods uncomfortably in probably the wrong places and is out the door as soon as he can manage it, clutching the box to his chest as he returns to the TARDIS. The whole process was hateful and felt a bit like how he's always envisioned therapy.

 

He sits in the Rose room for a long time, eyes drifting from that beautiful first jewelry set to the breathtaking ring in his hands and back again. He’s often imagined coming full circle with Rose Tyler but never like this, never starting and ending heartbroken and alone and still so filled with love that he doesn’t know what to do with the lot of it.

 

This time when he leaves, he locks the door.

 

**********

 

It takes him less than twelve hours to unlock the door again after becoming a new man once more. He’s not sure if it’s becoming a new man or having just visited Rose (even if it was an earlier version) or having let too much time pass, but he can feel the burning need to surround himself in reminders of her coursing through his new new new veins. 

 

In the same way that he was glad his ninth body had not had to lose Rose, he’s glad that his tenth body had not had to marry River. He’s reasonably certain that he would not have been able to go through with it even to stabilize a circular paradox or save a bloody universe. But just as his tenth self had known from the moment he woke that he would be the one to lose his precious girl, he knows now that this body is the one that will have to marry and therefore lie to a girl that isn’t the one that he loves. 

 

At least he’d had Rose with him in his last body, even if it never could’ve been for long enough. This version of him had no such consolation.

 

The moment he enters the room, he sucks in a harsh breath of wonder and that persistent little thread of hope that somehow refuses to die pulls at his chest once again. Because standing tall and proud next to the collections of his previous two bodies is a new set of shelves, empty and designed rather conspicuously like the new console room he’d come back to earlier. 

 

**********

 

He doesn’t bring new items in quite as often any more, though he does find himself sitting in the armchair nearly every night in a way he hadn’t quite done since when he’d last traveled with Rose. He needs the memories even more now, in an incarnation that had never gotten to meet her, hear her laughter, hold her hand, and he spends many sleepless nights wondering what she’d think of this latest version of him. Or if he’d be different if she were around.

 

Well, he knows he’d be different--happier at the very least. But he wonders at just how much of him would change.

 

The things he does collect for her--an old Venetian masquerade mask, a harmonica-like instrument from an alien flea market, an original Van Gogh painting--make him smile, and he wishes more than anything that he could bring her into the room and watch her pore over everything and answer all of the questions she would undoubtedly have. She’d listen to his stories and laugh at his jokes and he would remember exactly what it was like to hold her hand and feel like the luckiest man alive.

 

**********

 

He doesn’t consciously decide to keep Rose a secret, but he does deliberately wait until the Ponds are asleep or off the ship to make his visits to the Rose room. He doesn’t worry too much about River finding the door because he knows the TARDIS well enough to be confident that she'll hide it.

 

It’s not until an utterly bizarre and harrowing adventure that felt both like an emotional rollercoaster (seemingly receiving a message from a Time Lord, meeting Idris and discovering who she was, fearing for the lives of his companions and mourning the losses of those who had been lured in before him) and a real one (flying a makeshift TARDIS made his admittedly already lacking driving skills about a hundred times worse) that he actually has to worry about the room itself. 

 

“The House deleted all the bedrooms,” he is in the midst of explaining to Amy and Rory when he suddenly finds himself frozen. Distantly he can hear both of his Ponds calling out to him but all he can manage is the briefest telepathic nudge to the TARDIS (Idris, he remembers wistfully), wordlessly begging for the answers that he’s too afraid to ask for. 

 

He nearly kneels at the flood of relief that pours through him when she sends back a reassuring hum, and ignores Amy and Rory entirely as he sprints down the hallways to his beloved room. He realizes with a heavy heart that Rose’s actual bedroom is likely gone, though he can deal with the emotional fallout of that later--for now, he makes his way to the door labeled arkytior and lets himself inside to breathe.

 

**********

 

He doesn’t quite get away with hiding as well after that, especially after his apparently not-so-secret discovery that the TARDIS had saved Rose’s bedroom after all. Both Rose’s room and the Rose room were stored in her matrix as essential rooms like the console room rather than as bedrooms or recreational areas. He’s never loved his sexy meddling timeship more.

 

He grudgingly responds to Amy’s blunt interrogation and Rory’s curious questions. It’s easier than he’d feared; Amelia Pond has been his best friend from the day he first regenerated, and he had been so busy hiding that he’d forgotten how easy it could be to just talk to her. And Rory has always been more understanding and perceptive than his outward demeanor lets on. The two of them may not fully understand the situation, but somehow they always seem to understand him

 

The only stumble comes when Amy pointedly asks about River, and the Doctor expects to feel as though there’s a stone sinking into the depths of his stomach. But as the words start to pour out of him, he surprises even himself (and for the first time in ages, too).

 

“I’ll always feel guilty, I think,” he tells his Ponds honestly. “Her life was never normal because of me, because of her connection to me. No one deserves to spend their whole life living for a man who can’t love them back,” he says shakily, and Amy’s eyes widen a bit at the blunt admission. “But a lot of our time loop--it’s her fault, you know, that a lot of it is locked. I’m not saying that to throw blame or to sound vindictive, but she sealed her own fate the very first time I met her. She told me too much, and in doing so took away my ability to make my own choices and change anything about the timelines.”

 

“Did she do it on purpose?” Amy asks, and he shrugs helplessly. He really doesn’t know; on the one hand, it was becoming plain to him as he progressed through their strange shared timeline that she truly did love him. Would she really have manipulated him that strongly if she loved him that much? But he could never forget her parting words either; she wouldn’t let him rewrite a single moment of their lives, not the versions that she remembered and clearly treasured. She’d wanted to make sure that he lived out his half and never missed a thing. 

 

Even if she did do it on purpose, he’s not sure if he can really fault her even if there’s a small piece of him that will always resent her for the end result. After all, he's not sure that he wouldn't have done the same to protect his timeline with the woman he loves.

 

**********

 

He’s picking out another journal for her when it happens.

 

After centuries of buying miscellaneous trinkets for the same person, he’s bound to get a number of repeats. Earrings are probably the most common; he remembers the large hoops she used to wear all the time and that elegant black waterfall pair that she’d worn when they’d met Dickens, and he has a bit of a soft spot for earrings now whenever he’s shopping with her on his mind. Necklaces, too, because they remind him of her TARDIS chain and that very first time he’d bought something for her. 

 

Journals are another common once, since he’d seen her writing after their adventures way back in his ninth body. With all of time and space at his fingertips, he finds all sorts of nice editions--journals with waterproof binding, journals with color-changing pages, journals with telepathic features similar to the camera he’d given her for their first and only Christmas together. The one he’s looking at now falls into the latter category; if the label is to be believed, it can transfer thoughts into words on paper with just a press of the fingertips.

 

He never gets a chance to find out if it’s true, though, because an all-too-familiar voice stops him first.

 

“There’s a coffee stain on the bottom cover of that one, mate,” echoes in his ears as he whips around to face the girl speaking to him.

 

She’s not really looking at him, her attention devoted to inspecting a set of thick, elegant envelopes with outlines present for intergalactic postage stamps. He takes a bit too long to find his voice, though, because she glances up at him with a slightly confused expression when all he does is stare.

 

“Just wanted to warn you,” she says with a frown, something odd and slightly broken rising in her eyes when she notices how hungrily he’s drinking in every one of her features, each line of her face. The Doctor can’t see his own expression, but as the faintest traces of recognition creep into her gaze, he wonders if he looks the same way he did after they encountered the Wire.

 

“Doctor?” she whispers cautiously, fearfully, and he makes a single affirmative noise in his throat before awkwardly stepping forwards and into her hesitantly opening arms. 

 

“Rose Tyler,” he breathes out shakily, and suddenly her hold on him is as tight as a vice, and he feels like he’s floating.

 

**********

 

He wonders if there are rules for this kind of thing, if there are questions he can’t ask or things he can’t say. She married someone else, a long time ago, but that someone else was also him, more or less (and in some ways, both more and less all at once), but he still wasn't sure if that gave him the right to talk about it.

 

He married someone that is decidedly not her, after all, and the last thing he wants to do is talk about that. 

 

They do, though--talk about everything, that is. She starts them off because she always does, tells him about her life with his double and what it was like watching little Tony grow up and what it was like finding out she would also watch him grow old and die. His hearts break a little at that, at her rediscovery of Bad Wolf, and he wonders for the millionth time whether he made the wrong choice that day--he’d always assumed it was her happiness in exchange for his pain, but here she is telling him that she’d endured pain of her own as well. The jury will probably always be out on that one. 

 

It’s awkward and uncomfortable and tense between them sometimes, and he loves every second of it just because she’s there. It’s taken him centuries but he finally understands what it means to treasure every moment, even the bad ones, because he knows just what it’s like to miss her so badly that it’s almost physically painful to not have her next to him. The last him had Rose and then lost her, but this him had been born craving memories and chasing dreams without ever getting a single moment of satisfaction. 

 

She’s surprisingly okay with the existence of River, and it takes him longer than he cares to admit to realize that it’s because she’d had a small forever to accept it. He had, after all, met River before the creation of the Metacrisis, so she’d probably known that his Time Lord self would marry her before he’d even regenerated into the man who would actually have to do it. She isn’t any happier about the situation than he is happy about the time they spent apart, but it’s not some insurmountable obstacle between them the way he had feared it could be.

 

Life moves on, and he lets himself be reborn again (not literally yet, thankfully) with her by his side.

 

**********

 

They start out again slowly. 

 

At first it drives him insane; it’s like forcing a dehydrated man to drink using a shot glass when he finally finds a source of water. But he learns to appreciate it, to take his time with her in a way he’d never had the opportunity to before. Even when he’d first met her, there had always been the tick of a timer running through each of their interactions, the unavoidable shadow of the knowledge that her time in his life would be limited. 

 

But now she’s here and the infernal ticking is gone and it’s in his hands, now, that forever that she once promised, and he vows not to waste it like he’d in many ways wasted his first chance with her. 

 

They relearn each other, the subtle shifts in personalities and the influx of new memories acquired after spending centuries apart. She has an appreciation for dark humor that he’s certain wasn’t there before, and he’s a bit more blunt and direct than either of her first two Doctors had ever been, and he marvels at how some days with her can feel both like a blind date and a five hundredth anniversary all at once. 

 

There are, of course, things that haven’t changed. He’s still a sorry excuse for a pilot and she still attracts danger on an unbelievable scale, and their hands still fit together like two adjoining pieces of a puzzle. And for the first few months, he’s still hiding that damned room from her because he’s not really sure how to bring the whole thing up.

 

Naturally, Rose inadvertently solves the problem herself. He wonders if she’ll ever stop doing that: fixing him and his daft old life. If there will ever come a day when her mere existence doesn’t snap all of his loose ends right back into place. He hopes not. 

 

They’re going out to dinner again, and he’s reasonably certain he’s actually landed on the same date as their reservation this time--he’s mislanded three dates in a row now, and even though she laughs and they have a great time no matter the "when" and the "where" he is utterly determined to get something right for once. He’s got a good feeling about this date as well, and his excitement only grows when he sees her step out into the console room.

 

She’s as beautiful now as the day they’d met, and just looking at her fills up something inside of him that he hadn’t known was empty. Her hair falls in loose curls around her shoulders and her sapphire gown has a light layer of sparkle to it that seems to catch the light whenever she shifts her weight. She’s taken to wearing less makeup than her teenage self had and as a result constantly makes self-deprecating jokes about her current age, but her face is still the single most breathtaking thing he’s ever laid eyes upon.

 

“You look,” he begins, before shaking his head and giving up. “There aren’t words,” he says instead, and smiles at the pleased blush that dusts her cheeks.

 

“And you look very dashing,” she comments, and he lets out a breath he wasn’t aware he was holding as she playfully inspects him from head to toe. 

 

“I pass, then?” he teases, and she pretends to consider it before leaning up to kiss his cheek.

 

“You’ll do,” she says, and leans on him a little to adjust her heels. “I will say I’m a bit worried about whatever we’re walking into, though. For whatever reason, the Old Girl has decided to hide all of the jewelry.”

 

His sudden bark of laughter echoes through the console room, loud and bright, and she fondly looks at him like he’s a bit mad. 

 

“It’s not about where we’ve landed, it’s that she’s meddling again,” he explains.

 

“By not helping me get ready?” she asks in amusement, and he shakes his head and takes her hand, pulling her back into the corridor with a gentle tug. 

 

“Missing jewelry, you said?” he grins down at her. “Rose Tyler, I believe I’ve got just the thing.”