Sometimes, the Doctor screams in his sleep.
It’s been six months since Rose began travelling with the Doctor. It’s hard to keep track of time, what with travelling through a vortex of it and missing years and occasionally spending nights on planets with forty-two hour days, but according to her jiggery-pokeried mobile, it’s been six months. She’s twenty now, and for some reason that concept is almost a difficult to grasp as the fact that she’s rattling around the Universe in a time machine piloted (and she uses that term loosely) by a nine-hundred-year-old alien.
She tries not to think about it too much. Either of them. It’s not as if she gets much time for introspection, between the running and the magnificence and the intermittent explosions. Instead, she takes each moment as it comes, and cherishes the quiet times when she can.
Now is one of those quiet times, but she’s in no state to cherish much of anything. It’s been two days since Utah and Van Statten and the Dalek, but it’s only now, with Adam gone and no mind-numbing exhaustion to distract her, that it’s all catching up to her. It’s the middle of what generally serves for night on the TARDIS, and she should really be asleep, but instead she’s curled into a miserable ball under her duvet, bawling. By the time she stops her pillow is soaked and her throat is sore and her stomach is aching, and despite the fact that throughout the whole of her emotional breakdown there was a small part of her praying that the Doctor didn’t come find her, she’s just a little disappointed that he didn’t.
She goes to make some tea – just because she wants some, honestly, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Doctor’s uncanny ability to appear in the doorway the moment the tea is ready.
She’s waiting for the water to boil when she hears it. Her ears are already pricked for the sound of bubbling water, but instead she catches a faint sound, just on the edge of hearing. She turns off the stove and pokes her head out into the corridor, listening. She’s not sure why she’s paying so much interest, strange sounds not being an unusual occurrence in the TARDIS, but something about this one is prickling up her spine and tugging at the back of her mind.
There it is again, and this time it’s clear what caught her attention. It isn’t the normal, mechanical/musical/organic sounds of the TARDIS. It’s a voice – a human (or humanoid) voice, moaning in pain.
There’s only one other person on the TARDIS.
She’s running towards the sound before she even has time to properly register the thought, and oh god, theDoctorishurttheDoctorishurtohgodtheDoctorishurt. Nightmare scenarios are flashing through her brain, images of him bleeding and unconscious in front of a piece of smoking machinery, of toothy animals from the depths of the gardens that he has warned her about half-jokingly, of fallen piles of god-knows-what and limbs twisted at strange angles. Please be okay, she thinks desperately as she skids to a halt in front of a plain wooden door. It looks just like all the others, but the tugging at the back of her mind (the TARDIS, she realizes belatedly) seems quite insistent that she stop here. There’s no time for hesitation. She opens the door as quietly as she can and peers inside, every nerve taut. She finds . . . .
An empty bedroom. Nothing smoking or growling or throwing itself at her head. Nothing remotely threatening at all. Just a dark, cool room, sparsely furnished and utterly impersonal, like any one of the many guestrooms that lie dormant around the TARDIS, waiting for someone to arrive and specify the décor. For a moment, she wonders if maybe she has the wrong room.
And then the noise comes again, much closer, a terrible, anguished moan. She jumps and spins towards it, and her breath catches in her throat. The bedroom isn’t empty. Now that her eyes have adjusted to the dark, she can see a lanky figure in the bed in the far corner.
“Doctor?” she says hesitantly, all fight draining out of her and leaving worry and apprehension in its wake. She moves closer when she doesn’t receive a response, but jerks back instinctively as he begins to thrash in his sleep – and he is asleep, she realizes. She didn’t even know that he could sleep – but that’s not important at all, not when he’s twisting and writhing and screaming, and oh god, she needs to wake him up.
“Doctor!” she shouts, but he can’t seem to hear her, trapped inside his head and fighting some invisible foe, and she’s afraid he’s going to accidently hurt her if she tries to shake him awake, and even more afraid that he’s going to hurt himself if he keeps on like this. “Doctor, wake up!” She knows that her voice is just as desperate as she feels, knows that she’s crying, and god, this isn’t working, he just needs to wake up.
He’s settling down a bit now, still twitching a yelling but his movements aren’t quite so violent, and she takes a chance and grabs his shoulder, because she might end up with a bruise or two but there is no way in hell that she’s leaving him like this.
His hand flies to her wrist, trapping it in a painfully tight grip, and his eyes snap open, but they’re wild and unfocused and so full of grief and rage and pain that it takes her a moment to find her voice.
“Doctor, it’s alright,” she says, trying to keep her voice steady but not quite managing it. “It’s me, Rose. You’re dreaming.”
“Rose?” he asks, sitting up. His voice is rough and shaky and it makes her heart hurt, but she smiles wetly in response.
“What’re you . . .” He trails off, glancing down. His eyes flicker over her pajamas, over his own position in the bed, and finally to his hand, which is still gripping her wrist. He lets go as if he’s been burned and jerks back, looking horrified. “I’ve hurt you.”
“’S alright,” she says, though it does ache a bit. She pulls away and tugs her sleeve down to cover the already-forming bruise, trying to quell the self-condemnation in his eyes.
“No, it’s not; give it here.” He takes her hand and pulls it back to eye-level without waiting for her to cooperate. The lights brighten, presumably on his command, and he pulls back the covers and swings his legs around to sit up properly on the edge of the bed.
There are tear tracks on his face, and she has to resist the urge to wipe them away. She knows he wouldn’t appreciate it. She feels selfish and thick and unbelievably stupid, because he has ten times the right to fall apart that she does. Sure, she let the Dalek out and got all those people killed and almost got killed herself, but he lost his whole planet to that monster and others like it. Of course meeting it again will take its toll; of course he has nightmares.
“What were you thinking, grabbing me like that?” he says suddenly, startling her. “Bloody stupid thing to do,” he continues, with the kind of scorn that he only uses when he’s trying to cover for fear or exhaustion or pain – this time it’s all of the above, probably. “Could’ve done a lot worse than just bruise your wrist.”
“You were havin’ a nightmare,” she says, somewhere between confusion and indignation. He snorts acerbically in response.
“Yeah, I remember that bit, thanks. Didn’t mean you had to go riskin’ life an’ limb to wake me up.”
“I wasn’t ‘risking life and limb’ –” she starts, exasperated at the over-exaggeration, but he cuts her off.
“Yes, you were,” he growls, his hand tightening convulsively around hers, his voice dark and deadly serious. She’s not sure that she can argue with that, not with him sitting there with his eyes stormy and dangerous and just a little bit terrifying, so she changes tact.
“What was I supposed to do, just leave you there?”
“Yes!” he snaps, letting go of her hand and surging up off the bed. He’s on the other side of the room in three strides, and he turns on his heel to face her, his arms folded over his chest. The effect is ruined by the lack of his leather jacket, and instead of seeming intimidating and strong it comes off more defensive and vulnerable.
“You were going to hurt yourself!” she protests angrily.
“Better me than you!” he retorts, and the anger that he’s projecting can’t quite mask the guilt he’s drowning in.
She wants to shout at him, to insist that it wasn’t his fault and he matters too until he believes it. She wants to hug him, to tell him that she cares and lie that it’s all going to be okay. She wants to cry, to say how sorry she is for him and for his planet and for her part in bringing up all those memories.
She falls silent.
Eventually, he sighs and says that she must be exhausted and they had better take care of that wrist. He takes her to the medical bay, and runs the dermal regenerator over the injured joint with exquisite gentleness. He walks her back to her room in silence, and at the doorway he stops. He brushes her hair out of her face, and smiles at her a little bit, and says “Rose Tyler,” with something almost like wonder. It’s a thank you and an apology and a reassurance, and it’s the most either of them will speak of that night. He turns away as she shuts the door, and she knows he’s not going back to bed.
Sometimes, the Doctor screams in his sleep.
Usually, he stays awake.
It’s been three or four – maybe five – months since the Doctor regenerated. They’ve been running faster than ever, and she’s lost track of time. She’s lost track of a lot of things. They’re spinning around the Universe like a whirlwind, all pink and yellow and pinstriped, and it is so, so easy to forget time and home and birthdays. It’s so easy to get caught up in the laughter and the adrenaline and to forget that this man, with his manic grin and his wild hair and his stupid jokes, is the same man who watched everything he ever loved crumble into ashes, who is called the Oncoming Storm and the Bringer of Darkness by the most fearsome creatures in the Universe.
She was reminded today.
Sarah-Jane came as a bit of a shock to her, though looking back she isn’t sure why. He is nine hundred years old, after all. Why shouldn’t he have travelled with other people? She supposes that she assumed he used to travel with other members of his own race, or that any humans he travelled with would have stayed with him until they died, like she intends to do. Either way, she never expected to meet any of them. It’s one thing to know that the Doctor must have had other companions; it’s another thing entirely to meet one in the flesh and find out that he left her.
It’s also another thing to confront him about it, only to have him round on her with that old, familiar anger that used to be as much of a shield to him as his leather jacket, and to see that same pain hiding behind it. To see him step up to a precipice hours later and teeter on the edge of temptation, and she froze then, unprepared for the sheer desperate sorrow that this Doctor so rarely showed, but she should have remembered, she should have known that it was still there underneath . . . .
Sarah-Jane stepped to the rescue, and then they were off running again, and a school was blown up and the Universe was saved. Just another day in the life of team TARDIS.
Now Sarah-Jane is gone and Mickey is asleep and Rose is looking for the Doctor. She’s bored and restless and really doesn’t think that she can sleep right now, but more than that she wants to make sure that he’s okay. There’s only one problem with that: he’s nowhere to be found. She’s already tried the console room, the kitchen, his laboratory, and the library. That last one seems promising, with a half-empty teacup and a few books left out on the table, but upon inspection the tea is cold.
Right. So he was in the library, but isn’t anymore. Where does that put him?
Acting on a hunch (and those tend to pan out in the TARDIS, at least if she’s in a good mood) she heads towards the door that used to lead to a dusty storage room. Opening it now, she finds one of the Doctor’s favorite gardens, a lot like Earth but with a spectacular array of alien flowers and a purplish tint to the ‘sky.’ Sending a silent word of thanks to the TARDIS, she steps inside.
She doesn’t call for him right away, glancing around and hoping to see him before he sees her. He’s incredibly difficult to sneak up on, but when she can manage it she loves to catch him in an unguarded moment.
Oh, and this is unguarded all right. She has to hold back a giggle as her eyes land on a gangly, brown figure sprawled out under a tree. He’s sound asleep, his tie undone, his brainy specs hanging off of one ear, a thick tome laying open, spine-up, on his chest. She smiles fondly, wishing that she had her mobile so she could take a picture, but she’s already in her pajamas and her mobile’s back on her bedside table.
God, he looks so young. That’s a silly thing to think, she knows, considering that he’s actually nine hundred years old and even he wasn’t, his body is still about ten years older than hers. Still, it’s true. In his rumpled suit, with his mouth slightly open and all the fine lines that appear when he smiles smoothed out, he looks more like little boy who fell asleep in his Sunday clothes than an ancient Time Lord.
The image is ruined when he twitches suddenly, a frown marring his formerly peaceful face. He jerks again, dislodging the book and his glasses, and lets out a sound somewhere between a sob and a whimper.
“Doctor,” says Rose, crouching at his side in an instant and putting a hand on his shoulder. He doesn’t wake, but his murmurs become discernable.
“No!” he gasps, his voice like broken glass. “No . . . Adric!” The anguished shout echoes through the garden, startling a nearby bird into flight, and Rose redoubles her efforts.
“Doctor!” she repeats, shaking him roughly. He jerks upright with a gasp, and on his face is an expression of such desperate helplessness that she wants to cry.
She doesn’t, though, because she’s stronger than that and he needs her to be calm right now. If she starts crying then he’ll fixate on that, and it’s him who really needs comfort. “Doctor, it’s okay,” she says instead, releasing his shoulder and rubbing his arm in what she hopes is a soothing manner. “It was just a dream.”
He blinks once, twice, and then his eyes focus on her. He looks momentarily confused, as if he was expecting to see someone else, but an instant later his face clears and he’s bounding to his feet, babbling at a million words per minute.
“Rose! What are you doing here? Sorry, stupid question, looking for me, obviously. Mr. Mickey-Mick get settled in alright? I suppose he must have, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Fancy a cup of tea? I made one earlier, but I didn’t quite manage to finish it. Got caught up in a lovely bit of Eluthian poetry and it went cold. The TARDIS keeps things warm for me, usually, but I’ve been spending a lot of time in the library lately and I think she was trying to give me a hint –”
He turns around to look at her and blinks, as if noticing for the first time that she hasn’t moved from beneath the tree.
“Yes?” he asks, doing a fairly good impression of innocent and confused. Not good enough, though. Rose feels like he’s been playing games this whole time, whether for her benefit or his own, sweeping away their shared knowledge of his loss with smiles and flirting and banter. She’s been playing right along, willfully turning a blind eye to the pain that she knows lies just beneath the surface, but it’s time for this to stop. She climbs to her feet, her eyes never once leaving his face, and waits for the brittle grin to falter, crack, then finally slide away completely. When she has his full, sober attention, she speaks.
Pain flashes across his face, and he tries to brush her off. “No one, it’s not –”
“Don’t, Doctor,” she says, softly, walking up to him and touching his arm, just barely, just enough for him to know that she’s there for him. “It is important.” She looks up at him, trying to lay herself bare for him, to be completely open and honest and let him know that he can trust her. She tries to communicate her care – love, whispers a little voice that she’s not quite ready to acknowledge – for him, her trust, even the slight feeling of betrayal that he’s been hiding so much from her and the guilt that she let herself be fooled so easily. “Please.”
He meets her eyes, just for a moment, returning honesty for honesty, trust for trust. There’s pain there, fresh pain and old pain and pain that was supposed to be healed long ago, ripped open anew. There’s guilt, too, the guilt that used to always be lurking on the edges of an icy-blue gaze; the guilt that is now almost never noticeable, but still undeniably present. Deep, deep down, almost invisible, is the quietly smoldering cinder of rage, ready to be whipped into a blazing inferno the moment a line is crossed. Most of all, though, cold and aching and terrible in a way that she has never been able to see before, there is loneliness.
His eyes slide away again, and the moment is lost.
“He was . . . a friend,” he says, regretful and mournful but not raw. This is an old loss. “Someone who travelled with me.”
“What happened?” she asks gently, because the loss might be old but that doesn’t mean it can’t hurt like yesterday, and seeing as he was just screaming the man’s name in his sleep, it’s obviously something he could do talking about.
“He died,” says the Doctor shortly. “Saving the Earth. A hero, really. And I wasn’t . . .” He trails off and looks distant for a moment, before shaking himself and continuing in a lighter tone that isn’t entirely forced. “Anyway. Do you want that cup of tea, or not?”
“Alright, then,” says Rose with a small smile, getting the message. Topic. Closed. “You can make me a cuppa and tell me all about how you met the Loch Ness Monster.”
“We-ell, it wasn’t really a monster; actually it was just a cyborg being controlled by the Zygons. Now there’s an irritating lot. Shape-shifters, you know, impossible to keep track of . . . .”
Rose follows him to the kitchen, and watches amusedly as he makes the tea and regales her with tales of his exploits in the past (or future, depending on your point of view). She laughs at him when he drops the teapot on his foot, and laughs even harder at the injured look he shoots her, and nearly falls out of her chair with mirth when Mickey wanders in with a disgruntled frown on his face and asks what all the fuss is about. At this final sight the Doctor gives up looking affronted and begins to chuckle himself, and when Mickey rolls his eyes and declares that they’re both nutters, the high-and-mighty Time Lord joins her in her howling laughter.
They keep setting each other off again, and it’s a good five minutes before they both calm down. By that time Rose is gasping for breath and the Doctor has collapsed into the chair across from her and the water from the kettle is in a slowly spreading puddle on the floor, but he’s grinning at her and the darkness is gone from his eyes, at least for the moment, and that’s all that matters.
Afterwards, when the tea is gone and the conversation has faded into a companionable silence, he’s the first to stand. He takes her empty cup from her unresisting hand and places it in the sink with his. Then he takes her hand and tugs her up, ignoring her sleepy protests, and leads her to her room. He stops at the door and smiles at her, not the toothy, manic grin of danger and adrenaline and running, but the soft, warm smile that’s equal parts care (love) and melancholy and that he reserves just for her.
“Thank you,” he says, in a tone that exactly matches his smile. She doesn’t ask what for.
Sometimes, the Doctor screams in his sleep.
When he does, Rose will be there for him. Forever.
It’s been one year since Canary Warf.
Sometimes, the Doctor screams in his sleep.
Sometimes, so does Rose.
It’s been exactly one week since Rose left the man she loves for himself. Well, not exactly, and she’s sure that the human Doctor – not fully human, not even half, he’s quick to point out, more like sixteen-point-two-three percent – could tell her down to the millisecond, but asking him would be too much like acceptance. She’s been staying in the Tyler Mansion with her parents and her brother, and so has he, but in different rooms. She has a flat in London – she is twenty-five, after all – but he would go mad in a confined space like that, and if she left him here on his own it would destroy them both.
So that’s where she is, hovering indecisively and holding him at arm’s length, not ready to pull him closer and not willing to push him away. It strikes her as an interesting role-reversal, and she might have found it funny if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s hurting her and she’s sure it’s hurting him and she’s also sure that no one in two Universes is hurting as much as the Doctor in brown pinstripes, and the last thing she wants is any version of him hurt. She knows that it’s her fault, knows that he would embrace her in an instant, remembers that he did, and if she tries she can almost feel his alien-cool-but-not-Time-Lord-icy lips against hers . . . but she can’t fix it. Not yet, not when her insides are still churning with anger at the Time Lord Doctor for making her choose and anger at herself for letting him make her and anger at the Multiverse for putting all of them in such an impossible situation and just a touch of (completely irrational) anger at the human Doctor for backing off and not giving her a proper reason to be angry at him. Deep down, though, she knows that the anger is just a way for her to avoid the worry.
Worry for both Doctors, because the one that she’s with (in the same house as, at least) is not the same Doctor that she was torn away from at Canary Warf, and not just because he has one heart and warmish skin and sometimes says things like ‘wizard,’ followed quickly by a pained wince. It’s not the blood and anger and revenge either, because the Doctor has always had that, even if the pinstriped one was usually better at hiding it from everyone (including himself).
No, it’s something else, something that she’s fairly certain is affecting the Doctor in the other Universe as well. Some of the flames behind his eyes have been replaced by darkness, and as much she always strove to stop the self-destructive burning inside of him, its absence troubles her now.
It’s not as if she hasn’t changed – three years is a long time (and she suspects it’s been longer for him) – but she remembers the kind of events that changed her, beginning with the Battle of Canary Warf, continuing with every failed mission at Torchwood, and the latest being her physically and emotionally exhausting search for the Doctor. Each one broke her, sometimes a little bit, sometimes a lot, and each one gave her the opportunity to rebuild herself into someone more mature, more competent. A little bit stronger, a little bit smarter. A little bit colder.
But for something, or a series of somethings, to have done that to the Doctor . . . the Doctor is incredibly difficult to break. Actually, she amends, that’s not true. The Doctor is distressingly easy to break, because all his walls are made to keep things in, and he has no shields to keep pain and hurt and guilt out. Every life lost, enemy or innocent, his fault or not, is another chip in his soul. It is true, however, that the Doctor is incredibly difficult to change. He’s so broken already that an extra crack here and there isn’t even going to register. It would take something catastrophic to shatter him even more than has already happened.
Then again, the Doctor attracts catastrophe like a magnet attracts iron. He’s twice as busy as Torchwood, with stakes ten times as high and zero backup if he fails. It’s not surprising that, in the time they’ve been apart, he’s managed to get caught up in something that even he can’t bounce back from.
Not surprising, but still worrying. And that, on top of levels of somewhat irrational anger and guilt, is why Rose is awake and wandering the halls at two in the morning, feeling restless and confined even in a house that’s nearly as big as her whole building back in the Powell Estate. It’s really rather Doctor-ish of her, she thinks, amusing herself.
As soon as the thought crosses her mind, she finds that her feet have carried her to his door. It’s just a coincidence, probably, but it reminds her of being on the TARDIS, and she feels a pang of grief. The Doctor is by far the biggest thing she has missed about her birth Universe, but the telepathic time ship was something she ached for as well. Now, she’ll never see it again . . . and neither will he.
The thought hits her like a slap in the face, and she suddenly feels unspeakably selfish. It’s not enough to smother her hurt and anger and confusion, but it does add another layer of guilt on top. She remembers his devastation when he thought the TARDIS was dead, and after that, when he thought it lost, and she also remembers a conversation from what seems like lifetimes ago . . . .
“Yeah, but stuck with you, that’s not so bad.”
And it’s not, of course it’s not, but it’s just so complicated and confusing and she just needs a bit of time to get her head around the concept of leaving the Time Lord Doctor who could never spend the rest of his life with her to be with the human one who can, and that’s fine, of course it’s fine. . . . She sighs and leans her head against his door.
“I’m sorry,” she murmurs, careful to keep her voice low enough not to wake him. “I know I’m hurting you and I am so, so sorry, but I just need some time to sort my head out, okay?” She doesn’t expect a response, but she closes her eyes and listens, trying to catch the sound of his breathing.
When she does hear it, she wishes she hadn’t. It’s not the slow, even breathing of peaceful slumber. Instead, it’s ragged and irregular, as if . . . as if he’s crying. Her own breath catches in her throat, and she opens the door a crack to peer inside.
He’s still asleep. He’s curled in on himself under the covers, his whole body shaking as he whimpers and sobs. It’s awful and heartbreaking and Rose has to choke back a sob of her own at the sight. She pushes open the door and steps inside, because she might be confused and angry but that’s not his fault, and even if it were she would never stand back and watch anyone hurt like this, least of all the Doctor.
“Doctor?” she says, more hesitant than she has been towards him in years. She swallows hard and tries again. “Doctor.”
No response, save for a particularly violent shudder. She steps forward and bends down to shake him awake. His shoulder is bonier than she remembers.
“C’mon, Doctor; wake up.”
He does – or at least, his eyes open, but there’s no recognition in them. He tries to draw away from her, but he’s tangled in the sheets and only manages to squirm a little as his sobs become discernable words. She doesn’t know what he’s sorry for or who Koschei is, but she does know that whatever he’s seeing isn’t in the here and now, and that she needs to snap him out of it.
“It’s alright, Doctor,” she says, trying very hard to stay calm. She’s never known him to have flashbacks before, but then, she’s never known him to sleep regularly or be sensible about giving people space either. “Doctor, listen to me.” She grips him by both shoulders and forces him to at least look in her direction, though he’s obviously not seeing her. “It’s me, Rose. You’re safe.”
He blinks, his distress turning to confusion, and focuses on her. “Rose?” His voice is small and uncertain, and she has a sudden desire to wrap in a hug and tell him that it’s all going to be alright.
She settles for letting her hands fall into his, and feels an indefinable rush of emotion when he takes them automatically.
“Welcome back,” she says, with a trace of breathless, relieved laughter.
“Where . . . ?” he asks, glancing around the room.
“Mum’s house,” she replies gently. “One of the guest rooms.”
“Oh,” says the Doctor, his face going abruptly blank. Rose’s heart sinks as he pulls away from her to sit with his back turned on the other side of the bed. “Right,” he mutters, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Pete’s World. I’m fine now,” he adds over his shoulder, trying to insert some of his usual joviality into his voice and failing miserably. “Sorry if I woke you.”
“I was already awake,” says Rose, “and you’re not fine.”
He doesn’t reply, so she takes a seat next to him. She pulls his hand out of his lap and interlaces her fingers with his, taking it as a positive sign when he doesn’t resist. He doesn’t look at her, either.
She studies his profile for a moment, taking in the paleness of his skin and the dark circles under his eyes, while she works up the courage to say what needs to be said.
He starts and snaps his head around to look at her, opening his mouth as if to brush off the apology. She squeezes his hand and keeps talking before he can try.
“I am. I’ve been so caught up thinking about myself and the other Doctor that I didn’t even think about how hard this must be for you. It’s a lot to get used to and I’ve been dealing with it by being distant with you and that’s not fair. It’s more than not fair; it’s stupid, because I meant that kiss and I meant what I said on the beach the first time – I do love you. Any you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got big ears or a mole or sideburns, and it definitely doesn’t matter if you’ve only got one heart. I love you, Doctor. And I’m sorry that I haven’t been showing that.”
“It’s not your fault,” says the Doctor. His eyes are fixed on their intertwined hands, and his thumb is brushing along the back of hers in a soft, repetitive movement. She can feel his single, human pulse, and it’s oddly reassuring.
“It is,” she corrects. “It really is. But,” she continues as he opens his mouth to protest, “that’s not what’s important right now.”
“What is important, Rose Tyler?” he asks, in that falsely flippant tone that he uses when he cares about the answer but doesn’t want to admit it.
“You are,” she says seriously. “That wasn’t just a nightmare, was it?”
He flinches, and his thumb stops moving. He’s silent for a long time, long enough that she thinks he may not answer her at all, but then he speaks. A single word, almost a whisper.
“That didn’t used to happen, when we travelled together,” she says carefully, and somewhere between a statement and a question.
“So why is it happening now?” she prompts.
“It’s . . . the TARDIS is gone.” His voice cracks on the last word, and she feels another rush of guilt and worry and sympathetic sorrow. “She’s telepathic, you know.”
“She . . . she used to help. With the memories.” His grip on her hand has tightened until it’s almost painful, but she doesn’t dare move for fear of breaking this rare moment of honesty. “Not all the time. Not even a lot, just . . . enough.”
The unspoken endings to that sentence hover in the air between them and whisper through her ears. Enough that I didn’t drown in them. Enough that, when they were tearing me to pieces, I could hide it. Enough that the nightmares stopped when I woke up. Enough that I could go out and collect new ones.
“Do you think it will get better?” she asks, because even though she wants nothing more than to wrap in her arms and protect him from the Multiverse, that would be neither possible nor useful.
“Maybe. I’m part human now, and humans are adaptable. My mind might learn to build its own shields. But . . . .”
“But it might not,” she finishes for him.
“Right,” she says, and it comes out a lot more detached than she meant it to as her mind tries to absorb this new piece of information. He flinches and begins to draw away from her, but she grips his hand harder and refuses to let go. She brings her other hand up to cup his cheek, and forces him to meet her eyes. His are different than she remembers, though how much of that is his newfound humanity and how much is the years they’ve been apart she doesn’t know. They’re more exhausted and uncertain and lost than she has ever seen them, and she has to fight to keep her voice steady when she asks, “What can I do to help?”
An incomprehensible series of emotions flickers over his face, and his throat works for a moment before he manages to get his words out.
“Don’t leave me,” he whispers, and everything he doesn’t say – I love you; I need you; please, I can’t be alone again – is written all over his face.
“Never,” she promises, and then she finally pulls him into an embrace.
Just like that, his walls crumble, and he’s sobbing again, clinging to her desperately as he shakes and whimpers. She holds him, her own tears streaming down her face as she strokes his hair and murmurs soothingly, trying to let him know that she loves him – this him – and that they’ll get through this. Because they will. Together. She’ll make sure of it.
Later, they will discuss other things. They’ll talk about where they’re going to live and if he’s going to work for Torchwood and what they’re going to put on the paperwork seeing as he doesn’t have a proper name. She’ll have to get back to Torchwood herself at some point, and when she’s there maybe she’ll ask their staff psychologist a few oblique questions about flashbacks. Much later, they might even talk about who Koschei is and how the Doctor met Martha and just how long it’s been for him.
For now, though, she’s just holding him. Eventually, he drifts off to sleep, and she tucks him under the duvet and curls up next to him, because there is no way she’s letting him wake up alone. If her parents notice when they arrive at breakfast together the next morning, they don’t say anything. She sleeps with him every night, after that – just sleeps, mostly, except when she wakes to the sound of muffled weeping beside her.
Sometimes, the Doctor screams in his sleep.
Mostly, he cries.
It’s been six months since Rose married the Doctor. Well, about six. She’d have to check the calendar to be sure. The ceremony was really just for show, anyway. It gave them an easy excuse to get rid of unwanted suitors (Rose was young, pretty, wealthy, and famous, and it was amazing how many women were attracted to an eccentric genius with great hair and a hero complex), and they were both sick of everyone asking if they had set a date yet.
Surprisingly, Rose’s mum was not one of the people pushing for them to get married. She said that trying to have a big wedding was asking for trouble. Knowing them, she declared, the Doctor would show up and hour late with his tie undone (he was right on time and perfectly presentable, though by the end of the reception his hair was making its usual bid for autonomy) and there would be an alien invasion halfway through the toasts (there was, sort of, but it was just a graduate student from Sto doing research on alien mating rituals. Nice girl, Astrid Peth.).
Now, they are at the cinema, watching a sci-fi film and annoying the rest of the audience by laughing too much. She’s eating popcorn which she’s sure is even more artificial that the CGI, but she feels she’s earned it, having spent her morning saving the Earth and her afternoon filling out paperwork. The Doctor has already finished his popcorn and is stealing hers, in between complaining about species discrimination and the impractical design of the spaceships. She has no idea how he manages to eat like that and still be so skinny, but supposes that there must be something to that whole karma business after all, because he’s certainly earned a miraculous metabolism and more.
He spent his morning helping her save the Earth and his afternoon being mildly poisoned by a Torchwood scientist who is very clever, somewhat vindictive, and entirely fed up with his lab being rearranged every time his back is turned. The Doctor absently accepted the cup of tea that was placed in front of him, fainted dramatically, then woke up with a nasty headache and spent five hours finding the antidote while Rose looked on unsympathetically (she has told him before that Dr. Adams is irrationally territorial and it’s really best to humor the young chemist).
It is the first time a Torchwood employee has dared retaliate against the slightly destructive and extremely irritating habits of their most brilliant consultant, who also happens to be the boss’s son-in-law. The Doctor told Rose that it was the start of an epic rivalry, or possibly an amazing friendship. Either way, she plans to keep a close eye on the two of them. The last thing she needs is having to explain that the Torchwood labs got blown up in a juvenile power play between two neurotic geniuses, one of whom is her subordinate and the other her husband.
Rose chuckles at a particularly cheesy line of dialogue and reaches for another handful of popcorn. Finding the bag to be empty, she rolls her eyes with fond exasperation and settles for taking the Doctor’s hand and laying her head on his shoulder instead. He cuts off his whispered rant about aerodynamics mid-word, and looks down at her with that pleased, surprised, almost reverent look that he wears from time to time, as if he can’t imagine what he did to deserve her.
Everything, she thinks, nuzzling into his jacket (he still wears the suit when they go out, because of its useful bigger-on-the-inside pockets) with a contented little hum.
It occurs to her, distantly, that they must look a little odd, snuggling like a couple of teenagers while on the screen aliens threaten the future of humanity and suck out people’s brains through their noses (it’s okay, because neither of them have encountered real aliens that do that – well, that do that to humans, anyway. Rose doesn’t think she could stomach stories about aliens in skin suits, and the Doctor flatly refuses to watch anything with genetic-engineering-gone-wrong or giant arachnids, and nobody on this Earth makes films about cyborgs anymore). Rose doesn’t mind looking odd. Everyone they meet who knows their story thinks they’re very strange, and everyone who doesn’t thinks they’re very insane, but that’s alright, because they have Mum and Dad and Tony and Jake and possibly Dr. Adams, if he and the Doctor don’t kill each other.
Most importantly, they have each other.
After the film, they go out for chips. The Doctor mentions their first date and Rose teases him about his old regeneration (it’s been long enough now that they can joke about the grumpy Northerner without Rose feeling like they’re disrespecting the dead or the Doctor feeling raw wounds and blood and anger and revenge), and the Doctor comments innocently on her taste for leather jackets. She’s protesting that not everything in her life revolves around him, thank you very much, and trying to fight her rising blush when the Doctor leans over and whispers in her ear.
“Don’t look now,” he murmurs, his lips brushing her ear very distractingly, “but I think that bloke behind the counter has figured out who we are. He’s hanging on our every word.”
“Maybe he’s just really bored,” suggests Rose softly, once he’s pulled back and she’s recovered her breath.
“Possible,” the Doctor concedes. “Either way . . . what d’you say we give him something to listen to?”
She really, really shouldn’t. She’s a celebrity now, and so is he by association. Anything they say or do here, if the man at the counter really does know who they are, is bound to be in the tabloids tomorrow. She’ll get an earful from the PR people, no doubt (just her, not him, because everyone’s figured out by now that if you want the Doctor to do anything you need to complain to Rose). But he’s wearing that grin, the one that’s part persuading and part inviting and part challenging, the one that says you know you love it and come with me and not scared, are you?
She can never say no to that grin, and he knows it, the bastard. So she grins back, and they have a brief whispered conversation before drawing back and beginning a terribly over-done argument, with the Doctor’s old self cast as Rose’s ex-boyfriend. It’s difficult to keep a straight face when he’s insulting his own ears (complete with hand gestures) and she’s protesting that it gave his face character, and it’s damn near impossible when he starts making fun of his old Northern accent and she retorts (with exaggerated scorn) that at least he was good in the sack.
A few years ago, this would have quickly dissolved into thinly veiled allusions to real problems and they both would have ended up genuinely angry at each other. Now, however, after she storms out dramatically past the gob smacked chippie employee and he follows, they burst into laughter the moment they’re out the door.
“Oh my god,” she gasps breathlessly. “That was terrible.”
“Think he bought it, then?” asks the Doctor cheerfully.
“Think so, yeah. His face . . . and you going on about your ears!” She begins to giggle helplessly again, and he grins, tugging on said appendage.
“I was a bit snippy about that, last time around,” muses the Doctor, with something almost like nostalgia. “Bit snippy about a lot of things, really.”
“And I loved you anyway,” says Rose. It comes out more serious than she intended, and suddenly the whole mood has shifted and he’s staring down at her with big dark eyes that seem to contain a Universe of possibilities, and he’s focused on her with that alien intensity that makes her feel like the most important thing in all of Creation, and then he’s kissing her, and she loves his heart and his mind and his really great hair and everything else about him, but most of all, right at this moment, by god she loves his tongue –
When they make it back to their flat, she amends that there are some other parts of him that aren’t bad either. Nine hundred years of experience probably helps, too.
The next morning, she wakes up before him, and watches him sleep with a small smile on her face. It’s a bit awkward, because he’s sprawled on top of her like a cat on a warm rock, and she has to crane her neck to see his face. His hair is defying gravity, as usual, and she gives in to the temptation to run her fingers through it. He shifts in his sleep, leaning into the touch, and gives a happy little sigh. Her smile widens as a warm feeling blossoms in her stomach. This is how it’s meant to be.
It’s not perfect, of course. Nothing ever is. There’s tension about Torchwood’s methods, and tiffs about who’s being overprotective of whom, and even the occasional over-tired shouting match about stupid things, like her habit of leaving her dirty dishes on the counter and the ridiculous amounts of time he spends on his hair. Somewhere in another Universe is a Time Lord who has lost everything, again, and neither of them can ever quite forget that. Here, in this Universe, is a human-Time Lord meta-crisis who sometimes goes dark and stormy and furious, and other times goes blank and distant and empty. Both are terrifying, but for different reasons. Life is better, now, but eighteen months of happiness and love isn’t enough to erase nine centuries of pain and loss.
It’s not perfect, but it’s good. They go to her mum’s for dinner every couple weeks, and Jackie and the Doctor have a certain fondness between them, though neither of them would ever admit it. Tony is just getting old enough to corrupt, and Rose has to keep a close watch to make sure he doesn’t pick up anything too dangerous. The Doctor swans in and out of Torchwood like he runs the place, but that’s okay, because his father-in-law does and besides that, he still closes more cases than the rest of the Institute put together. He and Rose save the world and go to charity balls and invent alien invasions to get out of going to charity balls (once, they do that one time and the PR people never get over it), and life is good.
The stakes are still high, and sometimes things go wrong, and then there is pain and guilt and old memories and breathless, heartbreaking moments when she jerks awake to the sound of the Doctor’s voice begging and crying to people who aren’t there, who will never be there. Those are the bad nights, though, and they don’t come so often anymore. Mostly, there are nights like tonight, that start with laughter and end with the sheets tangled around them and them tangled around each other as they both drift into peaceful slumber.
Sometimes, the Doctor screams in his sleep.
But only sometimes.