Shock coursed through the Doctor as he stared at the monitor, the pixelated image of the Dalek and Rose burning into his dry, unblinking eyes. Until this moment he had barely begun to grieve, too caught up in the imminent crisis to spare himself the luxury of any emotion but anger. But now joy, sorrow and regret clashed together within him, leaving him speechless. Rose -- alive! But what use was that, when the Dalek would surely kill her in the end anyway? If he'd held back just one more second before hitting the ENTER key, if he'd only known she wouldn't be fast enough to make it through the door...
Wait a minute.
"The woman you love"? Those words from a Dalek, of all creatures in the universe most indifferent to emotion? Where in Rassilon's name had that come from?
No, no, there was no time for this, no time to think of anything except the urgency of saving Rose, saving the Earth, saving the universe, come on, Doctor, get your bloody brain in gear--
He would think about that love business later.
* * *
"What use are emotions," said the Dalek's flat voice from behind Rose, "if you cannot save the woman you love?"
Rose barely heard the words at first: she was too numb, too rigid with dread. The Dalek's gun arm pressed a hot circle into her spine. She could barely raise her head to look into the camera, let alone try to imagine what might be happening on the other side. Then the realization of what the Dalek had said dawned at last within her mind, and her brows pulled together in a frown. Her? The Doctor in love with her? The Dalek had to be off its nut. Oh, she and the Doctor were mates right enough, they enjoyed a bit of a flirt now and then, and she felt sure he liked her at least as much as she liked him, but -- love?
Rose was afraid to move in case the Dalek shot her, but internally she shook her head. She wasn't buying that rubbish for a second, and she felt sure the Doctor wouldn't either. The Dalek was just trying to manipulate them again, that was all. Either that, or one of Van Statten's attempts at torture had been reading the poor thing Mills & Boon novels.
She'd figure it out later.
* * *
The TARDIS was quiet, or as quiet as its aging systems were capable of these days. Even the sound of Rose and Adam's voices as she led him through the corridors (probably in search of the loo, thought the Doctor cynically) had faded away. Now at last alone, he could turn over in his mind all that had just happened in Van Statten's underground complex, try to sort his agonizing jumble of thoughts and emotions into some kind of manageable order.
It was either that, he knew, or go mad.
In the first days after his regeneration, with the horrors of the Time War still fresh in his memory, he'd tried to ignore his feelings, ruthlessly suppress them if need be -- after all, the technique had always worked for him before. But he'd soon learned that without the stabilizing awareness of his fellow Time Lords in the back of his mind, he could no longer maintain the necessary emotional distance. No longer could he skirt the maelstrom, peering curiously into its depths, occasionally dipping a toe in to see what it was like; now he had no choice but to ride the tempest wherever it might take him, sometimes floating easily with the current, at other times struggling with all his might just to keep afloat.
He had nearly drowned, today.
You would make a good Dalek. Those words alone would have given him pain, especially because deep down he feared they might be true. But coupled with what the Dalek had said about Rose...
The woman you love.
Were those words, as the coolly rational part of his mind (an increasingly small part, as he was all too aware) insisted, just another attempt at manipulation? Had the Dalek merely drawn on its newly gained knowledge of human emotion to throw the Doctor off his guard?
Or had it, somehow, analyzed and interpreted the Doctor's behavior more accurately than he'd been willing to admit?
Love. What was love, exactly? He had cared for companions before, regarded them with affection, enjoyed their company as long as they had been willing to share the TARDIS with him; there were even a few with whom he would have said he had a special bond, and others whose departures still pained him. He would not forget them -- any of them. And then, of course, there was Susan, child of a paradox he might never understand, but nevertheless the closest thing to a daughter that he had ever known. If he had ever felt love in the way that humans understood it, surely he had loved her.
But he had the disquieting feeling that the Dalek had not been speaking of that kind of love.
There was, he had to admit, something special about Rose, something that made her different from the companions he'd had before. In the past, he'd taken on passengers chiefly as a favor, knowing all the while that what they really wanted wasn't his company or even the adventures he had to offer, but rather to find a home, a life's work, a place they could settle down. Some of them he'd saved from certain death, so they'd had no choice but to come with him. Others had simply wandered into the TARDIS by accident and wanted nothing more than to get back to where they'd started.
But Rose -- her eyes had shone when he told her his ship traveled in time. She'd already had a taste of life-threatening danger, already confronted a hostile alien being that would have had most of her race gibbering with terror, and yet he'd sensed that it wasn't fear that held her back from coming with him, only a reluctant sense of obligation to her mother and that idiot Mickey. Deep down, she wanted to see the universe, to open herself to all the glories and horrors it contained. For the first time in many years, he had reason to believe he'd found himself not merely a travelling companion, but a kindred spirit -- and the more he saw of Rose's eagerness and optimism, her compassion for those around her and her fierce determination to make things right, the more he'd come to realize that he needed those things. As long as he traveled alone it had been all too tempting to go out in some last spectacular act of heroism and consign himself, like Gallifrey, to oblivion. But by taking Rose with him, he had given himself, at last, a reason to live.
Still, was that love? This hunger for her presence, this need for her approval, the manic delight of showing her new wonders and watching her brown eyes grow wide? Was it love that made him want to touch her, to take her hand again and again to reassure himself of her warmth, her solid reality? When she had emerged from the Wardrobe Room in her sweeping Victorian gown, and the shock of her changed appearance had brought an unguarded "beautiful" to his lips -- had that been love?
Or was he no better than the Dalek had been, manipulating Rose's vulnerable human emotions to his own ends? He knew, after all, that she liked flirtation, and that she found security and solace in touch. Having learned over the centuries that most women liked to be admired for their appearance, he had planned to make some remark about her Victorian frock even before he saw it -- only surprise had turned the glib compliment into something more genuine. Ultimately, part of him had always known that if he wanted to keep her happy, a certain amount of flattery and indulgence would be necessary. Was it possible that the attraction he felt toward her (and yes, he had to admit, there was an attraction there, or Rose's past relationship with Mickey and her present flirtations with Adam wouldn't have annoyed him half so much as they did) was primarily self-interest?
You would make a good Dalek, said the tinny, remorseless voice in his mind.
The Doctor ran his hands up over his face and gripped his skull with both hands, his eyes closed in silent agony.
What use are emotions, the voice mocked him, if you cannot... love?
* * *
"So there you are," said Rose cheerily to Adam, stopping at the door to the Console Room. "Think you can find your way about, now?"
"Uh -- yeah, I think so. My quarters are back this way, right?" He pointed down the left-hand corridor.
"Other way," lied Rose. After all, it wouldn't do to let Mister A-Levels get too full of himself. "Look, you go on by yourself, I'll just check in on the Doctor and see where we're headed next."
"Okay," said Adam dubiously. Rose tossed him a last, dazzling smile over her shoulder -- bit of a swot maybe, but still, a lovely boy -- before walking through the door and shutting it behind her.
After the comparative brightness of the corridors, it took her eyes a moment to adjust to the dim, green-tinted light before she could make out the shape of the Doctor, huddled over the console with his elbows braced against its sloping surface and both hands clutching his head like he was afraid it was going to fly off. She couldn't see his face.
"You all right, Doctor?" she asked hesitantly. Stupid question, of course he wasn't all right. Oh, Rose, they're all dead, he'd choked out, and the look of naked grief on his face had taken her breath away. The bit of banter they'd exchanged over Adam had made her think he'd be all right, that he was back to his old self again, but really she should have known better.
There was no answer. "Doctor?" she said again, coming closer and laying a tentative hand on his arm.
He snapped upright so suddenly it made her jump, his face hard and his eyes unreadable. "What? Can't a bloke have a think then? Don't tell me your little friend's got himself lost in the TARDIS already."
"No," said Rose. "At least not yet, though I think I've given him a good start. So you were just..." She paused, uncertain. "Thinking?"
"Of course." He moved around the edge of the console, his gaze fixed on the controls. "We're in a holding pattern just now. Where'd you like to go next?"
"Er..." She shrugged, and shoved her hands into her pockets. "I dunno, I'd like to see a bit more of Earth's history, I guess? Or what you'd call history, anyway."
"Fair enough." He reached for the dematerialization lever.
"But I'd like a wash-up and a few hours' sleep first, if you don't mind," Rose interrupted hastily.
"You humans. Always wasting energy." But there was no malice in his tone, and his blue eyes were mild as he waved her off. "Go on, then."
Rose smiled, squeezed his arm, and skipped off. She should have known, she thought as she headed back down the corridor toward the TARDIS's capacious bathroom. The Doctor wasn't like ordinary people: he was too old, he'd seen too much, for that. Of course the destruction of his planet had been hard on him, it'd probably take him years to get over, and meeting the Dalek had naturally brought all his most painful emotions to the surface. But still, he'd be all right.
And she obviously needn't worry about that odd the woman you love thing that the Dalek had said either. The Doctor didn't act a bit like a man in love: in fact he seemed to be treating her just the same way as before. Well, maybe he'd acted a bit jealous when she'd asked if Adam could come with them, but then he'd reacted the same way to Mickey. The Doctor was definitely an Alpha Male, she decided, and didn't relate very well to other men unless they shut up and did what he told them. One look at the way he and Van Statten bristled at each other could have told anyone that much.
No, the Doctor couldn't possibly be in love with her -- that was just silly. Especially since they'd only been together a short time. Besides, how could the Dalek be expected to know about a Time Lord's emotions? It was her DNA it had absorbed, not the Doctor's. No wonder the poor thing had been confused with all those feminine hormones running around its system.
Of course, if Rose were being honest with herself, she couldn't deny that she had thought, once or twice, about what it might be like to take her flirtation with the Doctor to the next level. But for some reason she'd never been able to imagine him with his kit off -- oh, he might change his jumper now and then, but the black jacket and trousers seemed to her somehow like a part of his skin -- so that fantasy hadn't got very far. Probably for the best, she decided. After all, he was an alien, and how many years older than she was? Her mum'd have a fit. Or at least, another fit.
In the meantime, there was Adam. Assuming he hadn't fallen down a gravity well or something, he'd probably like a bit of a wash-up and a rest himself. And then for the next adventure... she could hardly wait to see the look on his face when he stepped out the TARDIS door.
Rose smiled, and cupped her hands around her mouth. "Oi! Adam!"
* * *
The Doctor leaned hard on the console, staring into the glowing face of the monitor screen.
What is love?
But the TARDIS's ruined databanks gave him no answer.
- end -
Unbetaed, so criticisms and suggestions for improvement (and other types of feedback as well, of course!) are gratefully received.