Title: Only Fingerlengths
Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who and it's probably just as well that I don't because it'd be nothing but hugs and hair ruffling for the foreseeable future.
Spoilers: Um, if you haven't seen Journey's End, this might ruin it for you. A bit.
Summary: It's not like she came back here looking for him; she just didn't know where else to go.
It’s not like she came back here looking for him; she just didn’t know where else to go. She had to get out of that universe, as far away from everything that was deteriorating while she could only watch. That universe was spinning around her, twisting out of control, and she couldn’t move, couldn’t hang on, so she had to leave. She doesn’t regret the decision she made, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
He’s here now though, and she doesn’t know what to do with him any more than he knows what to do with her. She never imagined they could be this uncomfortable with each other, but he’s hurt her one too many times for her to fall back into that platonic ease that once fuelled their exchanges.
Not to mention what he’s said. It’s just like the bastard to make light of what was the worst day of her life, twice over. She wants nothing more than to slap him, but that would just let him know how much he’s hurt her and she can’t do that. She’s already revealed too much too soon, laid her cards out on the table in a neat little row to facilitate his reading, and just like him, she can’t take back what she’s said. But then, they were always that way with each other: blurting out what they shouldn’t say and keeping secret what they should.
She is tired, so tired. She forgot what travelling through the void does to her body. It’s like jet-lag, only about a million times worse. Combine that with the guilt she’s feeling over what she’s done and all she wants is a dark room and cold sheets and the forgetting that comes with a long sleep. She wavers, her head struggling to stay upright, but his shoulder is right there, inviting and familiar and it takes all her strength not to succumb.
He must sense her unsteadiness because he pulls her to him, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and tucking her head into his chest before she can argue. The fabric of his coat scrapes against her cheek just like it always did and she breathes him in, remembering when she used to do this almost every day. She breathes in again; he still smells sweet and spicy, like burnt sugar and aftershave and a fire burning down to its last embers. It’s so soothing she could cry, but she holds it in and settles for closing her eyes for a few moments.
She feels herself begin to drift off, but he speaks, tugging her back to wakefulness and everything she’s wanting to avoid.
“Rose?” His voice is soft, tentative. He’s handling her carefully, tiptoeing around her like she might go off at any moment.
“Mmm,” she mumbles against his coat, her response a question and a warning all in one.
“I try to talk to her and she says ‘mmm.’ Not so good for the old ego, that,” he murmurs to himself. His breath drifts across her hair and she shivers. He is so much like him and so much not that she has to stop her brain before it gets stuck on a cycle of confusion; she’s got enough going on right now without having to suss out the puzzle of his identities. She’s been doing it for almost twenty years and that’s long enough.
“Are we going to sit out here all day?” he asks, and she chokes on a laugh. He was always energy and movement, unable to sit still for more than a moment and she’s glad that some things never change.
She pulls back and feels the chilly air set into her skin once again. He’s not warm, but he’s certainly warmer than London in winter and she immediately misses the measure of heat he offered. She looks into his eyes. All the annoyance she saw in them earlier is gone. Oh, he’s full of questions still, questions he will make her answer before it’s all over, but he’s no longer irritated with her, with what she’s done. At least not yet. She only hopes that he will understand when he knows the whole story. She couldn’t handle it if he condemned her for what she’s done.
“Well, are we?” he asks again, impatient, and she realizes she hasn’t spoken.
She shakes her head, and then he’s tugging her to her feet. Two hours pressed against cold concrete has not been good for her legs and she feels numb and unsteady on her feet. He reaches out his hands to support her. His hands are on her shoulders for a second, then he’s pulling her closer, enveloping her in his arms and pressing her body to his. Her arms want to go around him, but she wills them to stay at her sides. She’s not ready for this yet.
“Rose Tyler,” he whispers, his tone full of awe, and she can read his mind. He’s thinking that everything is stitched up and she’s ready to race off on another one of their adventures like nothing ever happened and no time has passed. He’s moving too fast for her, blazing a trail that she’s not sure she wants to follow and she has to slow him down, at least throw a few hurdles in his path.
“I didn’t come back for you, you know,” she says quietly. She wants her words to sting, vindication for what he said to her, and she is not disappointed.
He stiffens against her but doesn’t let go and she inwardly commends him for his tenacity. “I know,” he says, his mouth close to her ear. He holds onto her for a few moments more, pushing the breath from her lungs, but she doesn’t mind the pressure. He lets go of her, taking a few steps back, ducking his head so that he can look in her eyes. “Do you want to go back to the TARDIS?”
She almost laughs at his choice of words, as though she’s only been gone for a couple of days rather than years, like she was visiting her mum instead of living in another dimension. She meets his eyes, sees the fear and the hope that she won’t make this difficult, that she’ll give in to just this one thing, let one thing between them be the way it used to be. “Okay,” she says with a slight nod of her head.
“Okay,” he says, giving his own, more definitive, nod.
She follows him as he makes his way toward the blue box, and despite everything else that she’s feeling, she can’t help the little thrill that runs through her at returning to the one place where she unequivocally felt at home.
A few steps from the TARDIS he stops and she almost runs into him. He turns, fixing her with the serious look he gave her earlier, the kind that says he will entertain no arguments. “This isn’t over, Rose. We are going to talk about what’s happening to you.”
She stands there for a moment, letting his words roll around in her head. It's not like she planned to lie to him, and she always knew they were going to talk about all those questions he has, but she gives it a moment before she answers, lets him have this one more thing. She needs answer from him as well, and she knows that she'll have a lot better chance of getting them if she lets him think that he's in charge. After she feels a sufficient amount of time has passed, she nods and follows him through the wooden door.