The Doctor had never been so scared. So honestly frightened – not for his own safety. He regenerated – while he had died multiple times in the past, he always survived. His fear was always directed toward the people he cared about, toward his companions – and most notably toward Rose Tyler.
And yet, there he’d been, burning up. Terrified. In so much pain he couldn’t even begin to express it, fighting with the furious sun entity that threatened to overwhelm his very soul. And he’d been frightened for himself, afraid of the pain, afraid of what he might do… afraid to regenerate out of an incarnation that knew Rose. An incarnation that had held her. Had loved her… Afraid that if he regenerated, he would forget her.
Each regeneration is born from the circumstances that surround the previous incarnation’s death. This is something he’d learned over far too many years of life. His ninth incarnation was born out of pain, pain and grief and rage and genocide. But Rose had made him a better man. Rose had taken that pained person, so lost without a home, without a planet, without a people, and had given him something to live for again. And something to die for.
His current regeneration, his tenth, was then born out of his love for her. Born when he’d taken the time vortex from her – the vortex she’d taken upon herself to save him. She had to have known that it wasn’t safe, that it would have killed her – but she did it anyway. She did it for him. And so he gave his life for her and regenerated before her eyes. Became a new man, as it was. A man with different, very nice teeth, and fantastic hair. A man with a completely different style of dress and different mannerisms – but still him. And he still remembers how thrilled he was when she agreed to go with him again, even after he’d changed. To stay with him, to continue to love him. It was one of the happiest moments of any of his lives. And he would have died for her again in a single heartbeat, unafraid.
But he when he’d been in that stasis chamber, living in a paradox of freezing on the outside and exploding on the inside, hearts pounding, feeling his regeneration gene like a tingle across every inch of his skin, knowing it could happen any moment… he’d been terrified. He didn’t want to know what sort of man would be born out of this.. Out of the pain, out of the fear, out of the grief and overwhelming loneliness that was his life without Rose. The man in his mind blew into a monster, the Oncoming Storm personified and given a cloak of loneliness to match his swords of revenge and righteous anger. A frightening creature that he had no desire to become.
Not to mention that whoever he’d become wouldn’t have a hand that was perfectly tailor-made to fit Rose’s anymore.
Martha was with him, but he was only reminded every day that – no matter how insistent and affectionate she was – she was not Rose. She was right – she was the “rebound companion.” And he did find himself berating himself most nights after Martha had went off to her room that he’d been rude to her… But, after all, that was the first thing he’d noticed about this incarnation – rude, and not ginger. But he never apologized to her, seeing it more fit to go on the next day as if nothing happened unless she chose to specifically call him on it. In which case, he’d make exceptions… Like when he’d told her about Gallifrey, describing it in more detail than he ever had to Rose. The pain had still been too fresh when they were together. He wouldn’t have been able to describe it to her without breaking down – and he never wanted her to see that.
He still felt hot, as if he had a fever and was barely beginning to come down from it. He’d lost track of how long he’d been lying there, soaking in icy water that the TARDIS had thoughtfully provided… The fact that it had ice floating in it when he got in, but had felt as if he was applying a fully frozen glacier against his skin testified to how hot he still was. He was still recovering. The tingle of impending regeneration was gone, but the memory lingered. He sank deeper into the water, until it sloshed onto his parched lips, his entire body submerged from the mouth down, eyes closed.
The ship hummed soothingly, engines easily taking them onward to their next destination (most likely Martha’s house so she could have tea with her mum), but time had ceased passing for the Time Lord in the tub. His mind was so caught up in memories of Rose, in thoughts of what it would be like to have her here with him now, that he didn’t even notice when the ship drained and refilled the tub with cold water again.
The first thing he was aware of was a cool cloth being laid on his forehead. “Mm,” he said quietly, lifting enough that his mouth was out from underwater. “Thank you.”
A deliciously familiar, soft laugh. “You’re welcome.”
His eyes snapped open, to find Rose crouching beside the tub, her hand holding the icy cloth to his head. “Rose, I… you.. What?”
She laughed again and made a “shh” motion with her finger over her perfect lips. “No hyperactivity right now, yeah? You’re still hotter than a basket of chips.”
The Doctor just stared at her – all his loneliness seemed to melt away as his eyes roamed over her face. Her other hand tested the temperature of the water and her fingers lightly brushed his bare shoulder in the process, sending chills through him that had nothing to do with how cold the water was. He’d missed her so much – it was as if one of his hearts had stopped and he was suddenly overwhelmed by the blood rush of it starting up again. “Rose, I…”
“Shh, Doctor.” Rose Tyler smiled, and the Doctor felt himself melt. “Just rest. I know you barely sleep, but you just nearly got yourself cooked and frozen all at once. I’m here. The TARDIS and I will take care of you.”
The Doctor felt his eyes closing. He had so many questions – how did she get there? She was obviously physically there, knew what had happened, and the universes didn’t seem to be imploding, so she had to have found some way he hadn’t been able to figure out… and then her hand slipped under the water, slid over his bare chest, and down to his stomach where she lightly swirled the water, her fingers brushing his skin with almost tickling touches, and every question in his mind shut down at once.
So many times they’d sat together, laughed together, her head on his shoulder, her arm around his stomach, his arm around her… He’d held her when she’d slept after they’d watched her dad die, and she’d held on to him like there was no tomorrow. Only when he’d heard her call his name in her sleep had he realized that watching him get killed by the Reaper had been more traumatic for her than watching her father die. He’d whispered to her as she’d slept until she calmed. He didn’t leave her that night.
In this incarnation, they’d slept in the same bed every night after the impossible planet, after both nearly lost the other – thought they HAD lost each other, multiple times in a matter of a few short hours. Well, she’d slept. He’d watched her sleep and sometimes dozed. And it wasn’t that his manic energy failed him – it was that just lying there, with Rose in his arms, her head on his chest or snuggled up under his chin was so… so… fantastic, that he never felt the need to move.
Now, as he lay there with most of his body submerged in ice water, the feeling of a cool cloth on his forehead, fingers running through his wet hair, and another hand practically rubbing his tummy, he felt that same feeling of… peace. That everything would be alright – it was him, and it was Rose, and together they could do anything. The stuff of legends, that was them. He felt more at peace than he had since that horrible day at Torchwood… or worse, the day of the projection to Bad Wolf Bay.
The memory of that day hit him like a punch in the stomach and his eyes flew open. “Rose, on the beach, I wanted to say-” He stopped, his brow furrowed, and he sat up in the water, shoving himself into a full sit-up so fast that mostly warm water sloshed out of the bath on all sides, to drain away into the TARDIS’ water reclamation system.
No…. No! She was here! She was touching him, making everything better. There was a cloth on his head, a hand in his hair… In the room now, there wasn’t even a hint of her scent. His hearts seemed to sink to somewhere in the pit of his stomach when the realization hit – a dream. He fell asleep. He was dreaming. Rose’s presence, her comforting him, taking care of him… It was a dream.
In her room, Martha reads her book and pretends not to notice when she hears furious shouting echoing through the ship – it’s muffled enough by distance, walls, and the sounds of the TARDIS’ engines themselves that she can’t make out words. But in the time she’s been here (frequent flier privileges and all), she’s heard this kind of thing multiple times… usually in the middle of the ship’s night. She’s used to it – she grew up with enough shouting in her house. But once it quiets down, it’s like she can’t help herself. She puts her book down and pads out into the TARDIS’ hallways, looking for the Doctor.
She found him in the console room, sitting morosely on the jump seat, staring at the time rotor. Her heart felt like it was breaking for him, and yet at the same time, she couldn’t help but feel annoyed. Again, he’s sitting there, mourning that Rose person. It wasn’t like she’d never lost anyone before, but the way he acted.. the way he refused to let her comfort him… She sighed and turned away, leaving him to his mourning. There were times she was reminded of just how alien he was.
The Doctor watched the time rotor, heard Martha’s approach and then her exit. Contrary to her opinion, he was aware of just how many times she came to check on him when he was like this. But he didn’t respond because, ultimately, finally… she wasn’t Rose. And while he did care about her, as he had about every companion he’d had over the years… She wasn’t Rose.
He cradled his hand and rubbed his knuckles slowly, not bothering to make a mental note not to punch a wall when grieving… it had happened too many times already. Noting it was pointless.
Just like imagining that he would turn around one day and see Rose standing behind him. That he would feel her arms around him again… that he would finally get to finish that sentence where she could hear him – but for now, speaking to an empty console room while his ship quietly watched and mourned with him was all he could do.
“Rose Tyler… I love you.”