New Doctor/Rose Ficlet: STRAWBERRIES
Rated: E for Everybody
Betas: Nope, just a little something I threw together.
Spoilers: AU beyond S4, Journey's End
Summary: This is another tale of the Doctor coming home to Rose.
Disclaimer: I do not have any say, whatsoever, in the making of Doctor Who. This story like all of my stories is completely unauthorized by the BBC or any of its production authorities.
It's cold, but not snowing. Not yet. He stuffs his hands in his trouser pockets, missing his long coat and his Gallifreyan body's temperature controls.
As he waits for Rose to exit the pub, say her good-byes to her coworkers and start for his street corner, the Doctor muses about a tale the Dalai Lama once told him. Or maybe it was Madonna. He was relatively certain it wasn't Margaret Thatcher. And somebody had definitely once told him the story. He hadn't made it up himself, he is sure of that. It was a story about a man hanging from a cliff and surrounded by tigers. Tigers above and tigers below and no escape. The story of his life, as he'd remarked at the time. It seems there was also a mouse, chewing through the vine the hapless man was clinging to for dear life.
“He knew he was about to die,” the Dalai Lama, or possibly Madonna, explained, “Yet, there before him was one perfectly ripe strawberry. And he thought, 'Yes, my life is full of tragedy, tigers above and below, but also, there are strawberries.'”
The other people scatter to their cars in pairs, laughing and nudging one another playfully. For them, this is a strawberry moment. Ephemeral, but sweet. Rose is left alone. She hugs herself against the bitter chill, hunching her parka hood higher as she descends the stairs to the street. She's gained a stone of weight and his brief clear glimpse of her upturned face shows it is nearly devoid of make-up. Not that she'd ever needed false color in his opinion. Unadorned, she's beautiful, first thing in the morning or straight from the shower. He loves the natural condition of her skin. Its peachy glow as pleasing as the fresh velvety texture of it under his fingertips. But this woman is colorless at a distance, a moth, not a butterfly. Her drab, shapeless clothing, down cast gaze, and the lack of spring in her step speak to the truth he's already been told.
Rose is unhappy.
Guilt slices through him and he loses his nerve. He draws back into the shadows as she walks briskly toward him. She keeps her chin tucked into the folds of her scarf and her eyes fixed on the pavement a few steps ahead of her. As she approaches, he can feel his heart pounding. He's not sure he can get used to the sensations of heat and breathlessness that accompany a racing pulse. She passes under a street lamp and he notices her hair. It shines, but is nothing like the sun. She's stopped bleaching it. Months of new growth have left a dividing line between mousy brown and bright blond. Like the rings of an ancient tree speak of droughts and fires, here, her hair tells him, at this point in time, there was unbearable tragedy. Rose has lost something of herself.
No. He can't pretend this is accidental. That shining light was taken from her. He took it when he broke his promise and left her behind at Bad Wolf Bay. Just as Davros took all hope from him, he, in turn, took all hope from Rose. Was it something he could return to her? Or was it like innocence, once lost, forever gone?
There is only one way to find out.
Steeling his resolve, he steps into her path, his chin lifting a little so the light behind her will illuminate his face. Startled, she shies as she glances up from her reverie.
“Hello,” he says, trying to sound casual. But the word breaks over his cresting emotions. He thinks he might cry with the joy of being so close to her again. Holding fast against the flood of his immediate desire to rush into a hug, he tries to speak again but his voice comes out as a mangled squeak. He clears his throat. “Rose?”
She relaxes, believing she recognizes him. “Oh, it's you,” she says, with no trace of welcome or enthusiasm. “Nearly scared the life out of me.” Her disinterested gaze strays beyond him to the intersection as she asks, “What do you want?”
For a moment, he can manage no more than the pronoun. He swallows hard. What does he want? Forgiveness? No. He can't ask her for that. To explain himself? Yes, but...there is more to this. He wants to be happy again, if only for a moment before he is taken by the tigers. He wants what he has always believed he could never have, something fleetingly sweet, perfectly ripe.
“It's late and cold,” she tells him, stepping to one side to move by him. “And I've told you, this is...painful.”
“I know,” he assures her, “It's not...him. It's...” He huffs out a sigh and blurts, “Rose, it's me.”
For a second her eyes flash with the old fire. “I know it's you,” she begins in annoyance. “I can see it's...”
“No, it's me, me,” he says. Stepping forward to seize her wrist, he draws her hand from her coat pocket. She shrinks back a little, pulling into her puffy parka shell, but doesn't tug free of his hold. “Me,” he says again, staring into her eyes, willing her to understand him, as he interlaces their fingers. “The Doctor.”
“You're not...” On the brink of leveling an exasperated scold, she hesitates, searching his face. He sees the faintest glimmer of hope in her eyes. He can tell she is fighting it. She doesn't want to believe. He gives her fingers a squeeze. “Doctor?” she breathes, definitely not convinced of it.
He grins broadly at her. “We switched bodies. The other me and...well...me.”
The furrow between her brows deepens. “You switched?”
“It's what we do, Time Lords. Well, not, commonly, of course, not on a daily basis. Practically never, but in a crisis, in a pinch, when there is a biological necessity. Didn't he tell you?”
“He...we don't... He's been in New York for a year,” she rushes the sentences out, “I knew he was going to try something, try to get back home." Pain seems to steal her breath away and she stops speaking for a moment. A mewling noise escapes her as, blinking and sniffling, she bites down on her lip. Despite these effort, tears spill over her lashes. She wrenches from his grasp to brush angrily at her cheeks with both hands. He reaches for her shoulder, but she ducks away from him. “Don't,” she warns, holding up a palm to ward him off. Then, casting a sidelong glance his way, she says, “I don't understand.”
He opens his mouth to explain everything that's happened to bring him to this spot. But, as his brain arranges all the relevant data into a jumble of reasons why and how he's returned to her, the hurt confusion on her face registers. He shelves his usual barrage of words. Keep it simple, he thinks. Go straight to the point. The process is not important. Rose wanted to know why he was there, his primary motivation. There would, hopefully, be time later to explain about the metacrisis and his out of body experiences.
“I love you,” he says.
“I had to come back,” he says, “Because, I...never said.”
It's as if he's hit the switch on a whole market district full of Christmas illuminations. Rose lights up at her core. Her spine straightens, her eyes sparkle and a smile tugs at the corner of her lips. He sees a mischievous flash of pink tongue tip as her hand flutters toward his.
She breaths out his name, “Doctor?”
The slight lift of inflection and her searching gaze, twists into him and he rushes to reassure her.
“Yes, absolutely, positively, definitely...me,” he burbles inanely, taking hold of her hand again and impulsively lifting it to his lips. “I am so,” he says, between fingertip kisses, “so...so...very sorry.”
Rose's other hand emerges from her coat pocket to clutch at the front of his suit jacket. “It's you,” she says, “Oh, God. It is you. But, how...?”
The miracle holds her transfixed for a fraction of a second, and then her joy is swept aside by a tsunami of anger. She recoils from him with such resolve that he knows sorry isn't going to be good enough. He wishes he'd thought to bring flowers or an engagement ring or...reinforcements. Rose looks like she's about to borrow an idea from her mother and slap him. He can see her fury mounting. It turns her cheeks a blotchy red. Her dark brows pinch together as she grinds her teeth.
“You left me. You promised you never would, and then you just...you just...dumped me on that beach with...a...a project...that...that---” She sputters as she struggles to find the words to adequately express how exasperated she is with him. "I should tell you to go to hell, to get out of my sight and never speak to me again."
“I know. I know,” he says, soothingly, praying she's not seriously considering one of those options. “I deserve it. I was wrong. I was more than wrong...I was a dumbo, foolish, idiotic, and, also...cruel and thoughtless and...and an unforgivable cad and...something even worse than that...pond scum or...Roxac bile. Remember the bilious Roxac that cornered us on...right, never mind. The point is I was wrong. But I, truly, honestly thought he would be better for you. Me...but...not me?”
“Not YOU,” she stresses, through her clenched teeth. Throwing her hands into the air, she starts stalking away from him again, but he follows her like a spaniel. Dogging her heels, he is nearly trampled when she whirls to confront him. “Is that what you think of me, that I cared so little...that I would just...what? Love him? Because...because...he was good enough...close enough...human?”
“No!” he quickly denies it, “No.” But then, he realizes that was exactly what he thought. “Or, yes, partly that. Partly because he was human and could give you a normal life.” Rose growls at the notion and he hurries to placate her before she can start yelling at him again. “But, also, because he really was better than me. Healthier. Because he was new...and...he could express everything he was feeling. And I just thought...I...thought...”
He cringes inwardly. He never exposes himself this way, but she has to be told. “I thought, I didn't really deserve to be here.”
Rose sighs, her shoulders drooping a little as a measure of her anger ebbs away. “That's what he said," she mutters, grudgingly. "Afterward...after you'd...gone.” There's another long pause, while she stares into the distance, gathering her composure. She rakes her fingers through her hair. Dislodged snowflakes melt on her skin. He looks up at the snow gently falling, but says nothing as he waits for her to go on. “It hurt,” she gasps at last, exposing the raw pain of her loss, “And I was...furious. You don't know... I couldn't even look at him without seeing you...without thinking about...”
“I know, he told me...everything.”
“You spoke to him? When?”
“Before we switched. He said you blamed yourself?”
“How could I not? I came all that way to find you...and..." Her hand flutters through the air, batting aside further recrimination. She goes straight to her feelings about all of it. “How could I not think that you didn't want...what I wanted? Everything I did to come back to you. And none of it mattered. To see how unimportant I was.” She grits her teeth against the pain, unshed tears glittering in her eyes. “I thought you needed me.”
“I did. I do.”
“He said, you were confused. That it wasn't about me.” The thought that it might be still seems to sting. She sniffs, knuckling into the corner of one eye to catch a tear. “God, I don't want to cry. I wish I could hate you. Kick you. Or just walk away and never regret...never look back. I wish...”
"Rose, you didn't do anything wrong."
She jabs one finger at his chest. “Too right, I didn't. It was you. You're the one who broke your promise.”
“He said you...loved me.”
“He would know.”
“Would he?” she asks, an open challenge in her lifted chin and petulant lower lip.
“He knew what I was going to say the first time we...parted, didn't he? Isn't that why you...?”
He stops short and silently reminds himself that he's vowed never to ask her about that kiss. Why she did it? What it meant? All that matters is the here and now. Does she still love him? Can she forgive him? Can he be part of her life or does she want him to go?
“Did he tell you he was going to try to find me? What he planned to do?”
Rose shakes her head. “I haven't spoken to him in over a year. But, when he left town, he said he was still sure you would come back to me, someday.”
“Here I am.”
“That's why, I kissed him," she confesses in a rush, as if she's been reading his mind. "When he said, you loved me. He also said...if I kissed him, you would stop...stay....” She gulps against a sob. “He said it was the only way to make you understand.”
“And I do. I understand.”
She grapples with the notion for a moment, and then shrugs. “I don't.”
He closes the distance between them in a few strides. He wants to take her into his arms, but he doesn't dare.
“He's not me,” he says, confirming what she has always known, before going on to explain why that had mattered so much to him. “He's better. He's whole. He's healthy.”
“You're better,” she insists, loyal despite her anger.
“I need you, more,” he says, tipping his head to the side, “Oh, so much more than him. But it took me a long time to realize that. To admit what I wanted. I thought...I wanted to go home.”
“But," she speaks slowly as if struggling to follow his logic, "you didn't?”
“Gallifrey is gone, Rose. Home is...not where I expected it to be. Do you remember when I called to you, burning up the sun? How I asked you to come to me?” Her tiny shrug encourages him and he decides again to wait on the mechanics of it all. “It was like that."
"Yes. It was you, calling me. Well, it was him, knocking. But it was you I wanted to come home to."
"But, then, why did you leave?"
"Davros," he says, simply. "He showed me my true self. The darkness inside of me. What I did to my people, my world...Rose,” Unable to go on, he pinches the bridge of his nose. Closing his eyes against the pain, he wishes he could give up on mentally replaying every bad decision in his life. Maybe in time, with Rose's care, he would forgive himself.
"Doctor, you don't have to explain."
But he does. He lets his hand fall away from his face and opens his eyes. “I killed everyone, everything, I loved. And it never ends, the killing. I can't stop. People die and I just go on and on, saying I'm sorry. I killed Harriet Jones. I turned my friends into weapons. And you...I ruined your life and Donna's. When we left you, something terrible was happening to Donna. I knew I would have to do something...something even worse to save her. I didn't want you to know.”
“She was dying,” Rose says, nodding, "From the metacrisis. Did you take away her memories?”
To his surprise and relief, she steps closer. Her hand rests on his sleeve. “It must have been awful for you, to be alone again.”
Only Rose, he thinks with a singing lift of his spirits, only Rose would think of comforting a monster like him. Donna had punched him, when she returned to her senses, nearly breaking his nose. And quite right she'd been, too. But he couldn't accept Rose's sympathies, not until he'd confessed everything. Some things, it seemed, needed saying.
“Donna died," he states it with brutal frankness, "everything that she'd worked so hard to become, everything that made her who she wanted to be--died. And I did that. Not for her. No! I did it so I wouldn't be alone.” He can tell by her scowl that Rose is having trouble seeing him in this light, accepting him as the villian. “Don't you see? I couldn't bear to watch her die. I wouldn't allow her to choose death. I gave her no choice, because I thought I knew best. And because...I wanted her to always be out there somewhere, waiting. There is so much blood on my hands, Rose.”
“You couldn't take another death?” She really did know him. "Not when you had the power to save her."
“I had the power to keep her body alive,” he corrects, pacing off a few meters of pavement. “But what are we but the sum of our memories?”
“Memories aren't everything,” Rose snaps. “He had your memories.”
“Yes, but I can't have it both ways, can I?” He argues. “I can't pretend a collection of memories is what made the other me...me, and then take Donna's memories away and pretend she's still Donna. One of those assumptions must be wrong.”
“Or they're both wrong.”
“Two wrongs don't make a right?” he says, knowing his grin is a bit lopsided and sad. “And absolute power corrupts absolutely. I'm a walking cliché.”
“Quite right,” she agrees.
Surprised by her teasing tone, he arches a brow at her. He can't believe how this shift in her attitude lifts the weight from his shoulders, but he refuses to let anything go unspoken. Not this time. “I'm the last of my kind, Rose. Given absolute power over time and space, I used that power to arrange the universe to suit me. I shaped Donna's future for her. And I tried to shape your future, too.”
“But, I'm just too stubborn,” Rose says, her slight smile broadening into a smirk. Moving closer, she lifts a hand to his cheek, lightly caressing him as she stares into his eyes. “You thought you were doing the right thing. You said...you thought the other...you...would be better for me?”
“I am a kind and benevolent god, then? Does that make it all okay?”
Rose sobered, chewing her lip a little, before shaking her head. “No. You're a right tosser.”
“No,” he repeats softly. “And...yes.” He smiles at her insult. “But..I...punished myself. I was thoroughly miserable if that's any consolation to you.”
“It's not.” Her fingers clench against his arm, drawing his gaze down to where she has seized his sleeve. This time she's gripping just above his elbow. Her other hand falls from his cheek to his shoulder and she gives him a little shake. “Doctor, the universe does not revolve around you,” she says, as if she is speaking to a child. “You. Are. Not. A god. You've just done everything alone for so long. You started to believe that being alone is the only way to be. It's not.”
“Now, you sound like Wilf,” he says. Seeing the question in her face, he realizes she doesn't recognize the name and adds, “Donna's grandfather?”
“You talked to Donna's grandfather about this? Me?” She starts to shift away from him.
Cold air rushes into the expanding space between them and, instantly bereft, he seeks to recapture her warmth. His hands reach out and take hold of her at the waist.
“Yes. Me and...you. Us. You made quite an impression on him...apparently,” he tells her, before she can move further away from him. “And I didn't so much talk as listen. Every time I opened my mouth, he told me to shut it.”
“That's good advice,” Rose remarks. She gives in to his tugging hands and edges into his personal space until her feet are bracketed by his.
“Rose Tyler...?” he sighs.
“Can I stay?”
She meets his gaze steadily. “Does it need saying?” she asks. He opens his mouth to tell her again that he loves her, but she places her fingers against his lips to silence him. “I know,” she says.
He holds her gaze, wanting to ask for forgiveness. Wanting to explain about dying and how afraid he is of watching her slip away from him into eternal darkness. But she is so perfect in this moment. When her hands fall away from him, he lifts both of his to her face, cradling it. Her skin is cold, but quickly warms under his palms. Sweet youthful Rose, silken soft, so unblemished by time that she inspires a clutching pang at his core. He will not think of her dying, not now. Now she is ripe and alive. They both are. Eyelids fluttering closed, she tilts her head back, presenting her lips for a kiss. His mouth waters, his tongue already tasting the ripe, strawberry sweetness of her. Tigers above. Tigers below. And here before him, one perfect moment to savor.
“You think you have unlimited choices, Doctor, all of time and space,” the Dalai Lama, he doubted it was Madonna, had once told him. “But if we never decide, we have nothing. All there is of forever is the fresh fruit in front of you. You may visit the strawberry again and again. But it isn't yours until you sink your teeth into it.”
All we have of forever...is what we bite into and savor. That sounded like it could be Madonna after all. His pulse hammered out a steady beat.
Want. Need. Have. Take. Live. Kiss. Rose.
His new body delights in anticipation. It craves contact, sending blood racing to vital organs as his fingertips trace along Rose's brows and cheek bones. His thumbs come to rest against her mouth, applying gentle pressure before they slide from the center of her lips to the corners. She sighs, trembling under this tantilizing touch, and a puff of warm breath caresses him. He runs one hand into her hair, a slight tug urging her to come closer. She complies, but makes no move to initiate a kiss. Her arms encircle his waist as their bodies seek to merge despite the layers of clothing between them. She fits him like a glove, she always has.
His fingers tease together a ribbon of her hair. It slithers slick and smooth against the pad of his thumb. He wraps the strands around one knuckle. And then, ever so slowly, he draws the back of his other hand along her jaw. His fingers glide down her neck and around to cup her nape. Tenderness balloons behind his breastbone as his lips near hers. The tide of feeling rises, putting pressure on his throat, squeezing it closed. Love and fear and hope knot together, threatening to choke him and he fights the urge to break away and run, to deny himself what he needs. He knows he doesn't deserve this...this gift from the universe. But it is exactly what he wants. His perfect Rose. He leans in to capture her mouth, making it...her...this moment...his forever.