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"Rose…you need rest. And I would be happy to carry you back to your bed again, but to be quite honest I don't know that I can at the moment."
It had been quiet for a little while now. Her sobs had died away and all she could do was cling to the Doctor and wonder what came next. She was tired. She knew that, and he seemed to have picked it up.
She let out a breath, and from it came a small chuckle. "It isn't any wonder—I know what you did, you idiot. You could have let go."
She hadn't figured it out until a while after waking, and even then it had simply sat in the back of mind until now. Now she could feel his head heavy leaning against hers, and his arms around her loosening tiredly, and she knew that stupid stabilizing beam had to have affected him too. Because she hadn't been thinking and she'd grabbed his hand because she was afraid and it had hurt him.
"Didn't really think about it," he mumbled against her hair.
"'Course you didn't. You're you." She sighed. "Come on…I can get up myself now if you can."
There was a wordless grunt of assent, and carefully they stood, keeping hold of each others' arms just in case. The Doctor guided her back to the bed, and she felt like a child as he tucked her back in.
It wasn't something he had done before—this Doctor. For all their hugging and handholding and cheek kissing in the old days, maybe something like this would have been a little too familiar. A little too human. But his human counterpart had done it. He'd turned into a veritable mother hen whenever his wife was ill. Maybe that was why her eyes filled again when the Doctor bent to kiss her forehead before he left.
"Rest," he was saying. "You know where I'll be."
He smiled at her and tried to leave, but she caught his hand. "Don't go."
His face changed. It became troubled and sympathetic, and he knelt by the bed and took a breath. He was at eye level now, when he looked at her, with her head on the pillow. She knew he was going to say no, and she spoke first.
"Just stay until I'm asleep…that's all I want. I'm not ready to be alone."
He squeezed her fingers gently and winced before he looked her in the eyes again. "I'm not him."
"I know that."
"I can take care of you, but I can't replace him." His eyes looked so tired when he said it—so weary. Rose wondered if she looked that awful. She supposed she did. In any case, she wanted to comfort him but she didn't know what to say. It seemed to be the theme of the day, really.
"I know. That's not what I want I just…I don't want to be alone."
He studied her for several long seconds, and finally he nodded silently. He got up—a little unsteady still, she noticed—and he toed off his shoes and loosened his tie and put his suit jacket over the chair he'd had beside the bed. Rose picked up the covers and he slipped under them with her.
"Thanks," she whispered. She laid her head against his chest and he held her. It was strange, hearing two hearts there again instead of just the one. Part of her wanted to imagine it was John holding her, but she couldn't—not with both of them beating in her ear.
Still, it was the Doctor. His double heartbeat was still a fond memory, even if it wasn't one associated with her husband. He was here, and he was holding her. It was more than she could have asked for now. Slowly she relaxed, being lulled to sleep by the soft sound and his gentle hands rubbing her back.
He was whispering, too, sometimes. She was relatively certain he was still apologizing.
The Doctor woke slowly and easily. Normally. It had been a long time since he'd had a good sleep, and the usual waking process gave him plenty enough time to remember the why and the how.
Rose. He stayed with her. She was really here and it wasn't a dream. He was in her bed because she didn't want to be alone. He'd held her until she slept, he thought…but then he could remember nothing more. By the time she drifted off he must have been too close to sleep himself to think of moving elsewhere.
He didn't open his eyes immediately. He nearly did, but then a stroke of panic hit him. For some reason he was afraid she would be angry that he'd stayed—presumptuous, perhaps. He wasn't her husband and he didn't want to hurt her by reminding her too much of him.
Of course he couldn't do anything about having the same face, but…well, damn. He opened his eyes tentatively, hoping she was still asleep and he could leave.
The other side of the bed was empty.
He sat up, afraid something had happened. He didn't know what. He knew she was strong, his Rose, but she'd been so shaken. It wasn't only losing her husband; the fact of the pregnancy was not going to help her emotional stability.
It wasn't going to help his either, but that was neither here nor there at the moment…
The Doctor pushed that bit from his mind. He hurried out into the corridors still sans coat and shoes and with his tie hanging loose. After a few minutes he tracked the smell of tea to the kitchen, and let out a breath when he found Rose there. He padded in with his stocking feet and tried to make it look as if he hadn't been worried and running.
She glanced back at him, smiled a little, and reached for a second mug.
"You actually slept."
"Right…I do that, occasionally."
"I know…but still, either that beam took even more out of you than you let on, or you haven't been sleeping like you should. I know you don't need as much as we humans do, but you've got to sleep sometime."
She came to the table that was between them and handed him one of the two mugs of tea. She gave him that searching look she was so good at. "So which is it?"
"I ahm…" He looked into his tea to avoid her gaze.
"I knew it. You haven't been sleepin' have you?"
"It's just…been difficult recently. That's all. Nothing serious."
"But there's still a reason. Tell me."
He shook his head, tugged a chair out, and sat down to his tea. "I'm fine." His own problems didn't matter now—not with Rose here, in need of his help and his support.
Rose let out a breath and sat down opposite him. It was quiet until she broached the silence with a quiet chuckle.
"It took him forever, you know—to get used to havin' to sleep most nights."
"Yeah?" He had to smile at that, because he knew he could imagine what that might be like for him.
"Yeah! He uhm…he started off just…staying at the mansion with us, you know, so…he was around, right at the beginning. We'd get up in the morning…find him still trying to stay awake or find him nodded off in the strangest places…"
She was smiling but it faltered, and she made a face and hid behind her cup as she sipped at her tea. The Doctor debated weather or not to reach for the hand on the table, and then he did anyway. He covered it with his own.
"Thank you…for staying with me last night," she sighed. There was a long pause. "So what now?"
"I told you I would take care of you, and that's what I'm going to do," he told her honestly. "I don't know what I can promise you, exactly…" He thought, with a pang, of the people who had told him that he would die. Carmen. Ood Sigma, months before that, when Donna was still with him. "But I will do everything I can to be sure that you're safe—that you're happy again. There is nothing I want more."
The devastation he'd felt for her last night took a sudden new stab at him, and he swallowed hard. "Rose, I'm so sorry. I thought I was giving you your happily ever after, and now—"
He had to stop, and her hand turned up under his and held it. She didn't tell him again that it wasn't his fault, because she'd said it and she probably knew it would do no good to say it again. Maybe it wasn't his fault, but that didn't make it any easier to believe it.
"Anyhow, I'm sure Mickey will want to see you."
"How is he?"
"Fine, as far as I know. Last time I checked, well…you'll see Martha too, more than likely, if I take you to see him."
Her eyes brow went up. "Oh my god, really?"
"Well it makes a certain sort of sense, if you think about it. They'll be married soon enough; already been to the wedding, actually. Couldn't stand the suspense. Don't say anything."
Rose laughed—really laughed—and it was the best sound he'd heard in a day and a half.
It was just what she needed just then, really—her own Cardiff, in her own universe, and Mickey, and chips. He was alone when they knocked on his door and he nearly had a heart attack.
Once he'd gotten over the shock of seeing her and what had happened—the inevitable explanation—he took them down the street to the nearest café, and he paid for the chips and drinks for everyone. He sat close, still protective of her even though it had been a long time since they were a couple. They'd been through so much together it didn't seem strange at all.
The Doctor stayed on the other side of the table, munching his chips and content to let them catch up. Still, Rose was conscious that he was always keeping an eye on her, even of it was just the corner of one.
He was still worried about her, and she couldn't blame him. She was still worried about herself.
She was here. She'd done it. The Doctor was here, and Mickey was here, and Jack and Sarah Jane Smith were still in this universe somewhere. She wasn't alone. She felt so much better than she had alone at home, her husband dead and no hope to speak of.
So why did she still feel empty?
I can take care of you, but I can't replace him.
He'd decided to be clear from the start, then. It was probably best. She needed the time and the space to mourn her husband in any case, but…it was more than just that. The Doctor was worried about her, and he felt guilty for what had happened, she knew, so he was more affectionate even than he had been in the past, but…he was making it clear already that it couldn't be more than that. He would take care of her. Nothing more.
She'd known it would be that way. She'd known, even before she came here. He was still a Time Lord, after all. He would still stay young and the same as she grew old and died. He couldn't spend the rest of his life with her and because he couldn't do that he couldn't admit that he loved her to anyone but himself.
Knowing he did would have to be enough.
"And you can't go back?" Mickey was asking.
She shook her head. "No…they had enough for one trip, and they were barely able to bring me along as it was. It'll be a while before they can do anything like that again. It won't take as long now, because this is the universe they were born in…the energy is more compatible, or something, but even then…they'll never be able to travel as freely as they could once. There are too few of them now. That has something to do with it. They need numbers. It's hard to explain; they didn't exactly tell me all of that. It's more like when I was with 'em I kind of…absorbed it. And now I'm not with them anymore I can't really explain it."
"Huh. I've seen plenty of weird, but that's weird."
"Yeah. You're tellin' me."
Martha met them before they left. Mickey must have messaged her, because she wasn't surprised to see who it was with her boyfriend. She hugged the Doctor, and then she hugged Rose too—a bit more awkwardly, but no less sincerely. She really was a nice girl, Rose thought. Martha was kind, and she was strong-willed. Rose could see why the Doctor had chosen her as a companion.
"Oi, Rose…" Mickey said, before they left. "Listen…if you ever need anything…a place to stay, anything. You can find me, all right? No offense, Doctor, but I don't think she'll want to be draggin' a baby around in the Tardis."
"Hmm? Right…right, none taken."
But he was frowning when they turned away to walk back to the Tardis, and Rose hadn't really known what to say to that so she'd thanked her old friend and they were on their way. The Doctor kept an arm around her shoulders the entire walk back.
When the Tardis door closed behind them she locked her arms around him and he turned to hold her.
"Mickey's right…" she managed after a moment. Whatever this was—whatever there was or wasn't going to be between them now—it couldn't last, could it? Not now. Not when there would be another life for her to care for.
"Who says so? He doesn't have to be."
"You can't stay out of trouble for five minutes says so," Rose protested miserably into his shoulder. "That no way to raise a kid, is it?"
"I think it'd be fun. Why not?"
"You can't be serious. You really think that?"
"I think we don't have to worry about it just yet. There's plenty of time."
"I have to start seeing a doctor soon. A doctor doctor. Don't want the poor thing to come out with two heads or anything like that."
"Two heads could be fun."
"God, shut up."
Th rest of the nervousness came out in a fit of giggles they shared. When he released her the Doctor shoved his hands in his pockets and wandered to the console. He ran an absent hand over it before he suddenly straightened and turned to her with a smile. He rocked back on his heels and grinned.
"So. Rose Tyler. You fancy traveling?"
Rose laughed again from where she'd been rooted to the ramp. She didn't know if it was more relief or if it was really that funny, but it didn't matter because she did. She wanted what he was offering—everything just like the old days, at least for a while. God she wanted it.
She came up the ramp and took the hand he was offering her. "Anywhere."
His face lit up, and for the first time since she'd come back here the sadness behind his eyes had well and truly fled for now.