Title: Grey Word Count: 1.8k Pairing: Doctor (Twelve) x Rose Summary: The Doctor drops Clara home for a little R&R. The place is right, but the timing is way off. Little does he know, it’s 2006, and Rose Tyler is awaiting pick-up after a visit with her mother. This is one visitor the Doctor did not expect.
“Right, there we are.” The Doctor rests his hands on one of the numerous levers the TARDIS has, and rests his weight against the console.
“Sure it’s the right place this time?” Clara asks, sauntering up to him, a mischievous smile on her face.
“We’ll it’s certainly not Glasgow.”
“Or?” she prompts, in her best teacher-voice, but largely unable to keep the amused smile off her face.
“Or Dublin, or Bristol, or Birmingham,” he finishes begrudgingly. “The universe is a big place, you know. Forgive me if I miss occasionally by a few miles.”
“Try a few hundred.”
“Look,” he says pointedly, tilting the monitor so she can see outside the TARDIS. “Right outside your flat building and everything.”
She’d asked to be dropped off on a Saturday this time – two days of good old fashioned rest and recovery should be enough to recharge her batteries for another alien adventure.
Clara nods and purses her lips, with raised eyebrows to look impressed. “Looks about right. That looks like a new playground, though.” She points to the screen. “Otherwise, same old, same old. I’ll see you tomorrow night, yeah?”
He nods, and watches her go. This whole pickup/drop-off system is new to him, but he’ll get used to it. He misses having someone around all the time, someone to hear his incessant ramblings – or, get up in the middle of the (artificial) night to tell him to shut up. But it’s fine, mostly. A little lonely, but fine.
It occurs to him that he now has time to fix whatever’s making the TARDIS’s aim so off, and quickly clambers underneath the console to examine it. He holds the sonic screwdriver between his teeth as he fiddles with wires and circuits and all manner of other, very complicated scientific things.
He hears the door opening, and assumes it’s just Clara, having left something behind.
“What’d you forget?” he calls, though it’s mostly indecipherable with the sonic screwdriver still stuck between his lips.
“Been redecorating?” a voice asks. It doesn’t sound like Clara.
“Who are you?!” a startled voice says, now directly behind him. He jumps, trying to stand up and whacking his head on the underside of the console. “What’re you doin’ in the TARDIS?” It’s a she, the voice.
“I think the better question is,” he starts off as he begins awkwardly trying to stand up without colliding with something again. “What are you doing in the – ”
He stops dead.
He grips the metal now behind him for support, knuckles white, the sonic screwdriver clambering to the floor.
He knows the voice that is demanding answers of him. He spent countless sleepless nights listening to it ask him questions about the universe’s vast expansiveness, and heard its ringing laugher at even the worst of his jokes. He knows the lips that are twisted into a grimace before him – oh, how he wishes he had known them better. The blonde hair, the bright eyes, and the fire. He knows them all.
Rose Tyler is standing in front of him.
“I—I don’t understand,” he stammers.
“What, that one a bit too complicated for you there, mate?”
“I don’t…I don’t understand,” he repeats, sounding increasingly distraught.
“What’re you doing in the TARDIS?”
“I don’t – what year is it?”
“You answer me!” the Doctor snaps, letting his aptness for bickering get the better of him.
“I asked you first!”
“I asked you second!”
“Blimey, you don’t make it easy, do you?”
He pauses, and scratches his head. “I s’pose not, no. I get that a lot actually.”
Her frown melts away like that, and something clicks. Frustration and hostility become curiosity and wonder. “Doctor?”
Mid-exhalation, his breath catches in his throat, because oh, it’s been so long since he has heard her say that. He feels the sting of approaching tears in his eyes.
“Rose Tyler,” he replies, hardly more than a whisper.
“’s 2006. You dropped me off to see my mum two days ago. Well not you, you. My you. Erm…my – my Doctor.”
“Your Doctor indeed.”
“S’pose that wasn’t two days ago for you, then.” She says it so casually, and he is totally baffled for a second. And then he remembers. It has been two days for her. That’s all, just two days. 48 hours. For him, it’s been lifetimes. Multiple lifetimes.
He’s not a hugging person, this version of him. But he doesn’t care. In an instant, his strong arms wrap around her middle, pulling her close to him. She gasps in surprise, but quickly melts into him, and it makes his hearts soar. And he would be perfectly happy to remain like this forever.
“You’re real,” he whispers into her hair. “You’re real.”
She pulls away, but not fully; his hands still encircle her forearms. “’Course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”
He avoids her gaze, staring at the console.
“Doctor,” she presses. “How long has it been, for you?”
The answer falls from him before he can stop it. “Oh, I’ve lost count of the years. Must have been centuries, now.”
Her heart rate speeds, and she wonders what could have happened to tear them apart, but she reconsiders: humans grow old and die, he said it himself. Maybe that’s what happened to her. Maybe.
“Yeah, I can tell,” she jokes instead, reaching out and touching his face. His eyes flutter shut when her skin meets his – not from pleasure, but from the desire to absorb the memory as clearly as possible. “You’ve gotten old. You’ve got…lines. And you’re all…grey.” She fingers a grey curl and smiles, if a little sadly. Her digits trace the lines etched by time into his skin. “Never thought I’d see you go grey before me. Mum started really early – been bleachin’ ‘em for years, she has.”
He laughs at the thought of Jackie. And then he feels sad, because he never did see her go grey. He never saw her youthful face grow withered with time. Maybe it’s for the better, he tries to tell himself – it might help him remember her in a certain way. But it’s no use, the thought alone only tells him that he was robbed of time with her. He only hopes his metacrisis double is seeing it all play out.
“Still just as handsome, mind you.”
There’s a silence, and they’re all wrapped up in each other, his hands still on her arms, and hers still resting on his cheeks. And his eyes are the same. Old or young, he carries the same weight around with him, the same shadow of regret and of things long lost. It had always been what made her know that, no matter how young he appeared on the outside, he was not a young man. This new face, to her, carries a truth with it. A face weathered as the universe itself is weathered. But a beautiful one all the same, because stars still shine, and things move on.
“Doctor, can I ask you something?” she asks, after a long time, taking a step back.
“I know what you’re going to ask me.”
“You can’t predict the future that well,” she teases.
He sighs. “Very well, ask away. But no promises.”
She sucks in her lips, forming a straight, thin line with her mouth. “So how come you’re a Scot now?”
He smiles, and then delivers her a proper answer, because she deserves that if nothing else. “I don’t know…it sort’ve just came out that way.”
“Out of what?” she asks, confused.
“Out of a dinosaur, actually.”
She seems satisfied, but he can’t help thinking she isn’t done.
“That’s not really what you wanted to ask me, is it?”
She looks guilty. “No.”
“Well, there’s no point in neither of us knowing, now, is there?”
She smiles. “Do I –”
“I’m not talking about your future. Fixed timelines…complicated stuff, Rose.”
“You can answer this one.”
“No, I can’t, I really can’t! You wouldn’t under—”
“Do I ever tell you?” she spits out before he can stop her. It hangs in the air for a while before he says anything at all.
“Tell me? Tell me what?”
Her gaze falls to his lips, and then back to his eyes. He knows what she means.
“Oh.” He straightens his suit self-consciously. “Yes. Yes, you…uh, tell me.”
She almost laughs, it’s so absurd. “Do you tell me back?”
He feels a pang of guilt, and obviously it’s clear that he does because her face falls.
“Rose, it’s not –”
“I shouldn’t tell you.”
Please, Doctor. For me.”
And of course he can’t resist her asking. Of course it’s everything he ought to do, after how he left things. Or, how he was going to leave things, depending on whose perspective is examined.
“All of time and space…” he whispers, his voice failing him. “And time ran out.”
A thousand questions flood her head, but she says nothing. She will find out when it is time. And, if she’s learned nothing else, the future can always be changed. But this is his future, and his present.
“So who’s Clara?”
His eyes go wide. “Blimey – Clara! She’s eight years away from home! We’ve gotta go find her, we’ve – ” They’re almost halfway out the door before he realises he’s grabbed her hand to take her with him. He looks apologetic. “Old habits, I suppose.”
“Very old habits.”
And all of a sudden he is sad again, because she is there and he can’t take her with him and the door is the next place she will inevitably go.
“I better be getting back before my Doctor comes back and finds me missing.”
He nods, not able to manage much else. Goodbye the first time was hard enough. And the second. Third time’s the charm, they say. The carefree teenager on New Year’s Eve hurt every bit as much.
“Do me a favour,” he finally says, “and don’t tell past me what happened. Last thing I need is to accidentally create a paradox.”
“Yeah,” she agrees. “See you later.”
“Not ‘goodbye’?” he questions.
“You hate goodbyes.”
“Wonder why,” he remarks drily. But he pulls her close again, and ever so gently kisses her forehead. He knows it can’t be more than that – this is a stranger’s face to her.
She opens the TARDIS’s rickety door and looks back over her shoulder before stepping out into the world.
“Rose?” he calls. “Just for future reference, even though I didn’t get to tell you – ”
“Doctor, it’s okay, really.”
“But I did, Rose. I…I do.”
She grins, and in her youthfulness, she turns, and runs towards the estate, back to her Doctor, her TARDIS, and the destiny that awaits her. And he does. Oh, how he does. How he hopes she knows that when the time comes – and when it runs out.