On entering the T.A.R.D.I.S. the rambling began.
“…I set emergency power and atmospheric filtration before we left so all the Traxion gas, smoke and air-born debris has been neutralised but she’s still so weak that I had to shut down all non-essential systems. It was too cold for you yesterday and the oxygen to nitrogen ratio wasn’t exactly human friendly and I won’t even start on the Helmick regulator or the Atriax wheel barrow that’s spiralling 2.367 degrees to the right, no sorry, the left…”
Rose’s brow quirked in amusement and a shy smile graced her lips. She felt nervous and awkward. Why? This was the Doctor, her best friend, a man who had seen her in morning strops, in yellow Lycra on that planet with the weird humidity and pink rain, at her most vulnerable and most brave and still she felt like a school girl on a first date, all clumsy and lanky, sport’s day legs around an older, college jock. The Doctor and jock really shouldn’t be in the same mental train of thought. It was definitely puffing away from the station and heading to heartbreak creak.
“…I mended as much as I could so all spatial and navigational relays are operational, even the kettle should work but the problem is, even when I’ve fixed everything, she doesn’t have the power to run it. I still have no idea what caused the shut down. There was no obvious damage that couldn’t have occurred from accelerated transit or the crash landing. So even if I can extrapolate her power supply there’s no guarantee it won’t just happen again and the first thing to fail would be her shielding. She’d be obliterated if we weren’t close enough to a planetoid for emergency re-materialisation.”
Rose shook off the butterflies and looked around properly. She remembered all those woeful movies her mum would force her to watch on ‘True Movies’. They’d sit and cry from start to finish. She remembers the night she had to run down to the corner shop in her jammies when they ran out of toilet roll having forgot to buy a new box of tissues for their maudlin, movie marathon.
In almost all of those films there would be at least one scene in a hospital room. It would be so white and clinical and the starched, cotton, bed linen would hide a weak, fragile, human body suffocating in wires, bruising I.V. needles, oxygen masks and loomed over by copious machines going ‘bleep’. The poor form seemed more machine than man and as she glanced warily around the T.A.R.D.I.S. the inverse was true. The once manically organised mechanics and systems looked like blood and gore from septic, spurting wounds. Sparks and oil and strange viscous fluids pooled like a human’s life force through the gratings and fool smelling smoke and ash belched from the deep, obscured innards. She was a mess, broken and still breaking and the Doctor’s patch up jobs looked like inefficient band aids hurriedly administered on a foreign war field.
Rose shuddered and held back the cry of disgust and protective fear that threatened to scream from her throat.
“Even if I do travel again, I can’t risk taking you with me. Not that you’d want to come of course. You’ve made that quite clear. But I mean I can’t even take you home, Rose back to your mum and your world and…and not that it really matters now, except it does, why are you leaving me, again?”
Rose’s mind reeled at the sudden shift in conversion and the equality sudden shift in the Doctor’s timeless eyes. Did she really have to have this conversation now in the midst of so much sorrow? She tried to deflect.
“Ohhh, personal pronoun there, that’s a bit self-absorbed ain’t it? Bordering on domestic, I’d say.”
He wasn’t biting which surprised her. It wasn’t like the Doctor to rehash an argument especially one that was potentially emotional and very personal.
“Ok! Why do you want to go home?”
He stood there, arms crossed, in the sickly glow of the Time Rotor that occasionally rumbled and shifted with jarring spasms.
“It’s time.” She sobered with almost stoic statuesque, her frame stolid and stiff.
“It’s time? It’s time? What does that mean, time? Since when do you talk in riddles, Rose?”
“S’not a riddle. S’just my answer.”
He advanced on her, squeezing her personal space. She folded her arms and stood against the oncoming storm.
“It’s not an answer. It’s the avoidance of an answer. Answers come with information and explanations not more questions.”
“Well yeah, you’d know all about that.”
“What does that mean?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I though that was a rhetorical question. Didn’t realise you were just being deliberately fascist…hmmm…thick!”
“Facetious and no, I really want to know?”
His eyes implored her but his mouth sneered in that menacing way his ninth face would sometimes contort when angry and defensive.
“If this is a game…” she stuttered.
“I’m not playing.” His voice was low and dangerous.
Rose puffed out a huge, laboured exhale and braced herself for some truth telling.
“You love to talk, like words are the salt and vinegar of sentences for your tongue and not just for chips. You’re always hungry but that’s because your words are empty. How can a man say so much and say nothing? How can you know so much and be so blind?” she calmed a little. “Some words just need saying s’all.
“You always say, ‘words have power’ and they do, Doctor. They can mean so much and without them you could filibuster for Klom and still feel lonely.”
“You think I choose to be lonely? Then you know nothing of loneliness.”
“Maybe not but I’m learning more every day…Argh! It’s just time.”
There was no point getting angry again and making the situation even more heart-breaking.
“I’m just getting too attached to this life and (you)…I have to leave.”
Rose could see his mind processing the problem like a chemical formula and a conclusion seemed to spark.
As the words and their connotations sank in, he remembered something he’d meant to address and needed to understand.
“Why does it make a difference which of us ends this?”
‘Ends this?’ Somewhere in the back of his mind this choice of phrase ricocheted with domesticity and meaning that he felt powerless to understand but it was there like an itch or a secret, bustling like tumbleweeds through the vast chasm of his experience.
“Because if YOU ask ME to go it’s because you don’t…” Rose swallowed and tried again. “You don’t want me around anymore and it’ll feel like it’s my fault, that I did something wrong to make you not…like spending time with me anymore.”
He made to inject but she hastened on.
“But when I say I want to go it’ll never be because I don’t want to be with you. S’just life goes on outside of this strange, wooden box, people move on, absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, it makes it forget.”
“S’too late for that, though I know you’ll forget me. I just need to be young enough to grow accustomed to a different way of life again. To not miss this…you, quite so much. To have somewhere to go before my mates grow up and my mum decides she won’t wait anymore. ‘Cause in here I’ll always be, Rose Tyler, 19, shop girl. That’s where my life stopped for all those that know me and how can I turn up and be, Rose Tyler, 30, unemployed and still have a place in their lives without the memories and bits in between?”
That’s not all of course, that’s just the logical answer but he’s nodding absently and seeming to except it though she can’t, not just yet. Rose trails her fingertips lightly across his cheek and strokes at his side burns, her eyes following her actions until she steals herself to look in his eyes and finds herself begging him for something with her wistful stare.
“When you leave me, Doctor, what do I do?” Even to her own ears she sounds like a frightened child.
“Who says I’d ever leave you? But when you leave me then you live, Rose Tyler. You have a fantastic life.”
“Oh, Rose, have some faith. It’s not me that makes you brilliant, that’s all, Rose Tyler. After all I only take the best.” He offers a small smile.
Rose pulls away from the trance.
“But words, language, are relative.” He smiles at her intelligent deduction with pride.
“A fantastic life for me no longer means what Shareen, Keisha, Mickey or mum would think of as a fantastic life. You take these human companions and make real living mediocre.
“When I was young I used to love fairy tales – believe anything me. Now I know they exist. I’ve lived in the stars, laughed and ran through my wildest dreams and now I believe that anything is possible except the fairy tales biggest lie of all, ‘and they all loved happily ever after’.”
She gazed at him then with such intensity that his hearts thundered in his chest. She seemed on the brink of tears and for once he was struck by the worlds of wisdom and passion in her young eyes.
“I’d stay. I’d stay forever if I could. Wouldn’t worry bout my life out there, that’s just an excuse ’cause you’re not only worth the monsters, Doctor, you’re worth the worthlessness that comes after, that comes with my Aberdeen.” He cringed at the reference.
“I’d stay and I’d settle for being happy now and forsake the ever after. I’d stay that is if I was happy.”
“You’re not happy?” The Doctor looked like he’d taken a visible blow to the inside of his very being before the defences drained back into his glassy stare as the blood drained from his speared hearts.
“Then why would you miss this? Why talk like I’m condemning a prisoner to death row when you’d obviously rather be anywhere but here.”
His words were bitter now as he turned his back on her to hide before slumping into the pilot seat and squaring his shoulders as if to brace howling winds.
“I was happy…”
The Doctor didn’t look at her as she nervously pulled at her sleeve cuffs and walked towards him, coming to stand right in front of him. When his eyes remained downcast, Rose slowly knelt before him and reached to take his hand. He didn’t stop her but simply looked at their joined hands as if they held the answer to life itself.
“…but you changed.” Her tone wasn’t accusatory.
“You’d rather I died on Satellite 5?” He searched her face.
“No, not then. Recently.”
“Sarah-Jane, Reinette…You said you’d never just leave me then poof, you’re gone. The old you was right, yeah? I am a stupid ape. Thought I was special that I was different. My brain knew you were an alien but I still tried to understand you as a man. I thought I knew you but I know nothing.”
“I was always coming back, Rose.” He squeezed her hand in reassurance.
“You are special and you DO know me, so much it scares me sometimes.”
“Yeah” she swiped at a rouge tear. “But I’m not the only special one. Kind’a thought special was exclusive.” She shrugged and the Doctor drew in a long suffering sigh and searched the ceiling for answers.
“Rose, I’m very old. I had lived so many lives when you found me and your life may have just been beginning but mine, mine was ending.”
“I know that now and it shouldn’t matter but it does. I understand and it’s not your fault, it’s not…” She cupped his cheek and smiled. “But you don’t understand what it is to be human. It’s like you have this one, short, brilliant life and you only have time in that short life to really get to know one or two people really well out of the billions out there and you have to choose wisely ’cause they’re the ones you share your life with. That’s what I’ve been doing, investing my short time, my life, in knowing and learning you. You’re special to me Doctor. Humans only have maybe fifteen years to choose people to build their lives around before they’re suddenly running out of time and I choose you. But when you’re gone, I’ll have so little time left to start all over again but that’s…that’s ok.”
His big, chocolate brown eyes stared at her in disbelief and awe.
“Wow, that’s…Rose…I….I don’t know what to say! You have such a loving, compassionate heart and that I…that you would choose to share that passion and life with a broken, battle scarred alien who spends his life running trying to find someone as genuine and innocent…someone who validates my faith in humanity and life and then I still keep running, running away from what matters. I don’t deserve…” Words catch in his normally loquacious throat and his Adam’s apple bobs for breath.
“The things I’ve seen, Rose. The things I’ve done. If you were to know me, Rose I would drown out that curiosity and spark in such darkness. I run all the time because I have all of Time and I’m scared…silly…alone…I…You become so much more everyday because you’re time’s running out and I love what you’re becoming.”
Rose half laughs and half sobs as she leans up for a hug. Her next words are half muffled in pinstriped strength.
“And I love you for who you are now and always. The fact you don’t change means I’ll never stop trusting you and never stop believing in you but I have to stop travelling with you ’cause all the wonderful things we see and do, even they become routine and their sparkle and meaning vanishes if you don’t have someone to remember them with when they’re over. I’m not so special and someday you’ll leave me too and that’s ok. I know it has to happen but everyone wants their lives to mean something but this life, thousands of light years away from Earth, will mean nothing unless I mean something to someone who can share it.
“I realised something, Doctor. I realised that without my naïve human connection to you, out here in this massive ship, I’m so lonely.”
Rose is crying freely now, the Doctor cradling her face and fruitlessly wiping away tears.
“No! Rose, no! I have dibs on that term and of all the wonders and atrocities I commit in my life, the one thing I could never bare to be responsible for is making someone else lonely, especially not you.”
It’s not enough. She’s so close to him right now and she knows that he cares for her and is proud of her, like a father, but crying, boneless on the floor, she realises she can’t be this dependent on him. He is worth giving up everything for but her heart’s just not strong enough to make that sacrifice not when it will be so broken and empty when it finally emerges from the T.A.R.D.I.S. back on Earth. It had taken so much power to come this far, she can’t back down now. He respects her, cares for her, makes her feel safe, protects her but this new Doctor doesn’t need her anymore, any good soul, any ‘special’ person would do.
She leans back on her ankles, breaking the moment and turns away as she scrubs at her face with a bedraggled sleeve. There’s silence except for a few remaining sobs as she gets herself under control. Eventually she feels ready to turn away completely and stands, slowly turning away and heading for those doors that always had such anticipation and uncertainty. Her future now is so unsure; she feels cast adrift and lost, so out of her depth. Her mind’s spinning as it calculates her situation, what she will do now, until a softly spoken word breaks through.
It was the Doctor. The silence was so solid that she almost forgot he was there like the air had created walls upon walls between them. She turns.
“It needs saying. What you mean to me, Rose. Why you’re special; why I still travel with you – the whole of Gallifrey, Rose.”
He’s still perched on the pilot seat motionless, barely even breathing but he looks at her with such encompassing eyes.
“I don’t understand.” She sees something change in his demeanour, an unusual almost unseen sight of the Doctor opening up, talking, really talking.
“When I first met you through the abrasive, brooding, leather clad thing. I was kind of mysterious and sexy, even if I do say so myself…” he winks at her and she stifles a giggle. “It was also genuine. The universe used to be a vibrant, astounding place, full of sound and adventure and then it burned. Gallifrey, Rose, my home, my people, all I knew, it burned by my hand. Suddenly it was so dark. Technicolor faded to black and white and it was so quiet. All those voices, all that life, ambition, hopes, dreams, love… I felt deaf and blind and yet I alone still existed, so alone. I didn’t want to…continue, Rose.”
He comes to her then. Abashed and ashamed and takes her hands and lowers his gaze to their joined fingers.
“How could I appreciate a sunrise without sight, laughter without hearing and then I met you and you replaced everything that was gone. One human life became my whole world, my reason, my Gallifrey.
“You saved my life, Rose and I know that I have a long way to go to become a man that deserves salvation but you’re my chance. I’ll learn to stand alone again, it’s the curse of the Time Lords but I’m still so unmade. Your eyes, your ears, your love is like a surrogate to my soul. Through you I see and feel and live again. It terrifies me to esteem one person so much because it’s such a risk and everyday I think I’m going to fall until I feel your hand in mine.
“I don’t know how I feel or who I am and I may always be afraid to find out but I know I want you with me. Is that enough for you?”
Damn stupid alien is making her cry again. She smiles and smoothes her hands protectively down his shirt breast and replies in the only way she knows how, the only way they know how, for now – with a joke.
“How could I still feel lonely if I have a hand to hold?”
“You’ll stay?” and the sparkle in back in his eyes.
“I’ll stay.” and she’s launching herself into his waiting arms and laughing that breathless kind of laughter that is so close to tears. When they finally break apart they stand simply smiling until reality seeps slowly back in.
“Oh but the T.A.R.D.I.S., you said…”
“Oh my God!”