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 his absolution she needs, but her heart is all confused again and if he can forgive her then maybe she can convince herself that the other him can forgive her as well.
Author Notes: I know it's been forever since I updated this story, but real life got in the way. I'll try not to let it happen again.
She sits across from him, the familiar wooden table a gulf between them even though her hand is gripped firmly in his. She’s spent many a night with him at this table, but never a night like this. Most of those evenings were spent in companionable chatter, their nerves too riled up for sleep after another one of their brushes with death. She’d loved those nights with him, coming down from the rush of saving the universe together.
But tonight is different. She hasn’t seen him for years and she’s committed a serious betrayal; she’s left him, even if it’s not the him in front of her, she’s left him all the same, even when she promised not to. That’s not her role in this twisted, long-winded relationship they’ve had that’s spanned regenerations and universes. She wonders if what she’s feeling is anything compared to the guilt he carries. She can barely think of the one she left without feeling like she can’t breathe; she can only imagine what he thought of her when he realized what she’d done. She knows that what she’s done to him is wrong, incomprehensible, and he would have never left her, but then he’s human, something that she no longer is.
She pulls her thoughts away from the man across the void and focuses on the man across the table from her. His eyes are lowered, tracing the grain of the wood. She brushes her fingers against his to get his attention, afraid of what she’ll see when he looks at her, but needing to know. He drags his eyes up to hers and there is hurt and shock but she keeps looking and finally sees understanding and she lets out her breath, long and slow.
“Rose.” He says her name again, like it’s the only thing he knows how to say or maybe it’s the only thing he trusts himself to say. His hands glide over hers, his cool fingers warming her colder ones, comforting her.
“Do you hate me?” she whispers, and she doesn’t know why she cares so much about his answer. It’s not his absolution she needs, but her heart is all confused again and if he can forgive her then maybe she can convince herself that the other him can forgive her as well.
“Of course I don’t hate you,” he says, reaching across the table to take her other hand in his, almost knocking over his mug of tea in the process. “I couldn’t hate you.”
She nods. She understands. She could never hate him either, no matter how many times he pushed her away. And even though she knows that his words mean nothing, that he and the other are no longer the same person, she takes what comfort she can get for now and pushes the guilt under everything else. She knows that she’ll have to deal with it eventually, but she’s relieved to be rid of it for a little while.
She gives his hands a final squeeze then pulls away and takes up her mug of tea. She takes a long sip, her senses flooded with the sharp tang of his particular tea, the one he always made special trips to get when his stock ran low. She could never find anything to match it in the other universe, and she and the other him had missed it dearly. The thought that she is having some while he can’t is almost enough to release the tears that she’s been keeping in check, but she takes another quick mouthful of the hot liquid, letting it burn her tongue before swallowing and she manages to hold it together.
He’s still watching her, holding his own mug of tea. She remembers that he always drank his twice as sweet as hers, four sugars, and the thought still makes her shudder. He stretches his legs out until his left foot rests between hers, just like he used to. “Do you want to talk about something else?” he suggests.
She nods, grateful that he’s not going to push the issue and suspecting that he probably has a lot to deal with as well. “How long has it been for you?” she asks.
“Fifty years,” he says with a little laugh. “Fifty long years.”
“Fifty years is long? For a Time Lord?” she asks, laughing a little herself. This resembles their old banter and even though she promised herself she wouldn’t slip back into it so easily, she finds it drawing her in.
“It was a long time without you,” he says, his voice low and she thinks it’s perhaps the most honest thing he’s ever said to her. Before, he always danced around his feelings, never willing to just out and say it when he could flirt or tease her instead. But this is new and she doesn’t know what to say so she takes another sip of her tea instead.
“I wasn’t sure where I’d end up on your timeline,” she confesses, choosing to ignore his comment for now; she’ll deal with it later, when she has some sort of idea what to say back. “I tried to come out as close as I could to when I left.”
“I thought you weren’t looking for me, though,” he says absently, but she can hear the hurt that tinges his words. His gaze is lost in the depths of his tea.
She sighs. Even though they’ve made a few steps forward since coming onto the Tardis, they’d both said hurtful things, things they never would have said to each other before. “I didn’t say that,” she says, trying not to sound frustrated. “I said that I didn’t come back for you.”
“Oh.” He leans back in his chair, pops a biscuit in his mouth, chews it in even bites.
She grips her mug tightly. “Don’t give me that, playing all hurt. You left me first, you always left me. He didn’t, never wanted to. Who’d you expect me to choose in the end?”
“I never wanted to leave you.” He pushes back from the table and gets up to pace. “You think that’s what it was, Rose? I got tired of you and sent you away?”
She slams her mug down on the table and some of the hot liquid splatters over the side, warm and sticky on her hands. She shoves her chair back, ready to get up and fight him on this, but then she thinks about his words. Does she really believe that he would do that to her? No, she doesn’t. She knows better, and it’s easier to get angry at him rather than face the truth. His inability to let her choose for herself may be infuriating, but he’s always had the best of intentions when it came to sending her away.
And maybe this is the way it was supposed to work out, finally together after every other option exhausted itself. She lived several years of her life wanting nothing more than just this, to be here with nothing standing between them, and yet she doesn’t feel the overwhelming joy she always thought she’d feel. She only feels a sense of relief, like maybe the universe has finally righted itself and they can get on with their lives.
Her shoulders sag a little. “You’re right,” she says. “I’m sorry.” She doesn’t want to fight with him anymore.
He comes over to stand near her, places a hand on her shoulder. The weight is comforting and she leans her head into him a little, closes her eyes. “You’re tired,” he’s says, half question, half statement.
She nods, her head bumping against the side of his arm. And then he’s pulling her up again, sliding an arm around her so she can rest her weight against him.
“Let’s get you to bed,” he says, clicking the light off behind them as they leave the kitchen. “We can deal with the rest tomorrow, when you’ve got some of your energy back.”
She turns her head into his shoulder. That’s one thing that’s always been a constant, from one Doctor to another to another: he always takes care of her.
They reach her door and she looks at it for a moment, puzzled. “You kept my old room?”
He shifts on his feet, awkward again. “Yeah, well, for a long time, I thought maybe I could get you back. Then, it was just there, and I couldn’t get rid of it. It was the only thing I had left.”
She gives him a small smile of amazement, still not sure what to think of his new honesty thing, then pushes the door open. The room is just like she left it, all pink and pink and pink, the color of a girl who ceased to exist a long time ago, wrapped up like a memory in a ship where time stands still. Maybe it’s time that girl came back, she thinks, looking over at the bed that she’s been wanting ever since she emerged from the void.
He follows her in, but lingers at the door, keeping an eye on her as she sits on the edge of the bed and takes off her shoes. “If you, ah, don’t need anything then, I’ll just…” he trails off, rubbing the back of his neck and leaning his body toward the hallway behind him.
She takes a deep breath, smelling the familiar scent of the perfume she used to wear and flutters her hand over the fabric of her duvet. She can’t believe she’s back, after all these years, everything that’s happened, she’s back where it all began. And he’s here, watching, bouncing on the balls of his feet, and she wonders if it’s nerves or excitement at having her back. It’s a mixture of both, she decides, because he never really was one thing at a time.
Their eyes meet and she sees the tiny little hint of a spark flashing in his gaze. She realizes that no matter what’s happened, no matter what they’ve been through, he’s still happy that she’s here. And she knows that they’ve got a long road ahead of them, issues and feelings and a multitude of everything to deal with, but she’s tired and she can tell that he’s tired, too. She’s only seen him look tired once, on a beach in Norway when he burned up a sun to tell her goodbye. The feeling wells up in her and before she knows it the words are out of her mouth.
“Do you want to join me?” She looks away from him and down to the bed, forces herself not to fidget or babble. She’s put it out there and it’s up to him to answer.
He stops moving, stands still as a statue. His eyes move from her to the bed and back to her again and she’s sure he’s thinking of a list of reasons of why this is a bad idea. The silence stretches out between them like a string that’s been pulled taut, just waiting to snap.
“I’d love to,” he breathes. Then he’s moving, shrugging out of his jacket and loosening his tie and coming to sit next to her on the bed. He kicks off his trainers and lies down, then looks up at her, waiting for her.
She lies down next to him, settles against his body and he wraps his arm around her. She buries her face in the softness of his shirt and the hum of the TARDIS lulls them both to sleep.