AUTHOR'S NOTE: SO! This is a very... dramatic chapter. It's even a surprise to my beta - the wonderful padfootl0ve - and she didn't know anything about it until I sent it to her.
I hope you don't mind the changes in this chapter or the way it happened. It's a bit choppy, but it's the best I can do and it's more important to do what I can and move on right now than to agonize over it - that's how I ended up taking a long ass break in the first place.
I'm pretty nervous about this one, so definitely let me know what you think! I always appreciate the reviews and your thoughts.
The Doctor's Curiosity
"Rose," the Doctor said quietly, poking his head out from under the grating in the console room. "I have a question."
He'd been making repairs, since that was always when he had his best thoughts, like the idea to take a biologically attracted butterfly net to find the bat that had gotten loose from one of his rooms full of animals.
He'd spent the better part of eight hours down there, considering the same problem that had been bugging him for far too long.
He hadn't gotten any real clue as to what they were, or what happened to them, until a few nights ago when he'd slipped into her mind and saw her die - which he hadn't brought up since she didn't seem to remember that particular nightmare. But he was starting to feel like he had to.
The TARDIS had been completely unhelpful. He'd taken more in-depth scans of his companion without her knowledge, but the TARDIS - angry at the intrusion - had changed the readings to a language he didn't know and refused to translate it. He got the distinct feeling she was still upset with him for that, and he hadn't tried it again, though he did feel vaguely betrayed. It seemed almost as if the TARDIS liked Rose better.
Because the TARDIS didn't usually take an interest in his companions, aside from indifference and, occasionally, a strong dislike. And the only time she really acknowledged them was when he needed help, or she felt like being mischievous.
He was pulled out of his thoughts as Rose replied, looking up from the book she'd been reading. She'd been sitting in the console room with him all day, quietly reading and content just being in the same room, doing their own thing.
"Yeah? What's up?"
"Your eyes are golden," he said.
"That's not a question, Doctor," Rose laughed, closing her book.
"Why… is that?" He suppressed an eye roll at himself.
Rose shrugged. "I don't really know."
"Your mum," he tried. "When you went back to get your things, she asked you about them, too."
It was true. He'd overheard the confused conversation and knew that something was definitely wrong.
His suspicion only furthered when Rose froze, avoiding his gaze. She didn't answer him, so he tried again.
"They were brown when I went back and saw you with Jimmy."
"I've heard of people's eyes changing color over time," she supplied, though he guessed she knew it was a weak deflection.
"Yeah, but that's blue to green, something like that. This is like… human to not human."
She just shrugged, trying very hard not to look at him.
"The other night," he continued against his better judgment. "What was the last nightmare you had before you woke up?"
She thought about it for a second, frowning. "Talking to Jimmy."
"But that wasn't the last," he told her, and she looked confused like she was questioning her own memory. "You can't remember it, can you?"
"No," she sighed. "That happens sometimes. I have these nightmares and I can't remember anything except… except this burning pain in my head."
"I saw it," he told her, and she finally looked up, her eyes wide, as if the thought hadn't occurred to her. "Do you want to know what I saw?"
She hesitated, glancing at the walls before nodding, though she still looked troubled. The TARDIS sent him a wave of disapproval, and something else, like a warning, but he ignored it, focusing on Rose.
"You were in a big, grey room. You looked nearly 23 or 24. There were a bunch of machines set up in a circle, and there were soldiers all over," he watched as she frowned like it sounded familiar but she couldn't place it. "And there were two people, and you smiled at them. Do you remember that?" She didn't answer him, and he kept going regardless. "Someone pressed a button, and… your brain, I think it was being used as a weapon." He was fairly certain of it, in fact, having gone back over what he'd seen in his head. He recognized some of the technology, and the sort of pain he'd felt coming from Rose was nearly unmistakable. "It was like they fried your brain so they could attack someone." He studied her face and missed the flinch as something clicked.
"Doctor," she whispered. He continued, hoping for more recognition.
"Your brain was burning, but your eyes changed in that moment. They went from brown to golden. And then," he frowned. "Then you died."
"Doctor," she repeated, but he didn't hear her, caught up in telling her what had happened.
"But that wasn't it, no, because this… golden light just wrapped itself around you and held you, and it changed your mind. And then, this is the weird part, everything got tight, and your mind imploded. And it was like your mind was being compressed and changed into something it shouldn't be."
"I don't- I don't understand," Rose sighed, frustrated, as she rubbed her head like she had a headache.
"And there was something else, Rose," the Doctor continued, walking over to her now, speaking quietly. "This song inside your mind. Always there, just locked away."
He could feel more than hear the TARDIS practically screaming at him now, but he ignored it as it barely registered to him. More background noise, like a fly buzzing, unnoticed, in his ear.
"Would you like to hear it?" he asked, raising his hands and motioning to her head. She hesitated, nervous.
"I don't know," she replied quietly. She was scared, and he didn't really blame her. Nothing that he was describing was normal, or human. Something had happened, and it scared not just her, but him, too.
"You deserve to know what's going on inside your brain," he told her firmly, and she nodded warily, still rubbing her head as if she were in pain. He wasn't surprised - she'd been reading in relatively low light for a long time, and it was bound to give her a headache.
He slowly reached for her head, as he'd noticed she would flinch away if he moved too quick - something he had a feeling had to do with the state of her mind, but that wasn't what they were addressing right then. His fingers slowly came to her head and rested on her temples gently, and he fell into her mind. He flinched at the sight of it and shoved down the anger as he considered how it could've happened. It was possible it came from whatever happened when she died - which he still wasn't sure what to think about that - but he doubted it. It looked more like she'd been attacked, ripped apart, and it was all he could do not to drop what he was doing and question her about it.
Too much about her was a mystery - her eyes, her death, her telepathy, her destroyed mind - and he intended to get to the bottom of it.
"Rose? Can you hear me?"
"Yeah," she said softly, out loud. He chuckled and smiled a little.
"Just think it. I'm in your head, I can hear it."
"Oh," she said, this time just in her mind.
"I'm gonna show you the song now, okay?" He felt her nod and held her head so his fingers didn't slip off.
And he let his memory of the song play in her mind.
There were a solid two seconds where nothing happened. It was like everything but him froze, pausing for just a moment.
And then he heard the cloister bells ringing.
Not a half second after that, he was ejected from Rose's mind as something exploded throughout it - something golden and deadly.
In a knee-jerk reaction, he threw himself away from Rose as she fell, screaming in pain. Before he could move back toward her, she began glowing, the same gold as her eyes and her mind was now enveloping her body as she shook and screamed.
Something appeared to the side and he tore his eyes away from his companion to find… himself. A recording.
"...and if something happens, an emergency and she can't tell you herself," he said, looking very serious and very tired. "Darlig Ulv Stranden."
The Doctor's breath left him as he felt his memories shift, new ones emerging from a night he'd forgotten.
He didn't have time to think about it, because he turned back to his companion, whose voice was going raw, and caught her as she fell. He lowered her to the floor, settling her head into his lap. He didn't know what was happening, but the only thing he could think of was her death, her mind imploding, and he knew what he needed to do.
He raised his hands and pressed them to her head again, throwing his entire mind against hers and wrapping himself around her, trying to help the pain as best as he could. It was impossibly bright and he couldn't see much, but he did know one thing - the wall that had held the size of her true mind had been obliterated in this storm.
He felt a connection - a bond - form and he hated himself just a little bit for it, but he knew he had to help her, save her from whatever was happening.
And then, the most curious thing happened.
A figure appeared in her mind and helped him control her pain. It was slowly holding her mind together and shoving him away from it, and he let it.
"I am the Bad Wolf," it said, the voice graceful in the chaotic situation. "And I will protect her and heal her, I will prepare her mind for what is coming, but you must leave."
And he trusted it.
So, he slowly lifted his fingers from her head and looked at her. She was no longer screaming, but she was twitching and gasping. All he could do was hold her while the Bad Wolf held on, preparing her for… whatever this was. He stroked her cheek gently and didn't bother looking up when the TARDIS interface began speaking, using his face, saying only one sentence, giving him what he otherwise would never have understood - at least, not in time.
"Rose Tyler is regenerating."
The Doctor froze. Denial slammed into him first, but as he stopped to think about it, he realized it made terrifying sense.
A human mind could never survive looking into the heart of the TARDIS, but if she'd been turned into a Time Lady when it happened - not a Gallifreyan, but a Time Lady, since only they could look into the Time Vortex - then she'd have had a much better chance. Not to mention whatever Bad Wolf was, it was obviously a part of her and could protect her.
But the Doctor had a feeling she wasn't only Time Lord. There was something else to her. Because Time Lords didn't have glowing golden eyes. It had always reminded the Doctor of a story as old as Gallifrey and Time itself of a goddess who held the universe to her hearts and protected it. The story had described her with incredible golden eyes and a changing face, though she always wore a pink dress everywhere she went.
The similarities now were startling.
The Doctor watched the golden light and shook his head. He wouldn't let her regenerate, not right now. Not if he could help, and he knew he could. So he focused on his own body and felt around for the regeneration energy he knew he could access and gripped onto it. He placed his hands on her face and threw it into her. The entire room exploded in the golden light now as her body twitched, and after only a moment, all of the energy in the room funneled back into her, slamming into her body and making her tense as it settled.
And then it was dark.
It was too dark and too quiet, and the Doctor realized he'd been holding his breath as he watched the spectacle. He let it out slowly and lifted his hands from Rose's face as that bond he'd made earlier scraped against his mind, inviting him in.
He stood as his mind began working again, the shock wearing off, and picked up his companion. He took her to a room that he never used - though he really should've. He opened the door with difficulty and walked into the Zero Room, settling her onto a bed that he assumed the TARDIS had put in there for her.
And so he sat on the edge of the bed and waited. He knew it could take days - weeks - to heal, especially since the walls had been broken and since her mind was so damaged, but he was going to wait with her.
He had to.
In the end, it was four days before Rose woke.
She opened her eyes immediately, panicking as she woke because everything felt different. She felt so large and there was so much more inside of her mind that she wasn't sure what to do. She grabbed her head and took in a sharp breath as her brain frantically tried to figure out what was happening.
"Rose," the Doctor gasped, grabbing her hand.
"Doctor." Her voice was shaky and her throat felt scratchy as she spoke.
"Just take a deep breath, okay? You're okay," he promised her, and she did as he said because she absolutely trusted him.
"What happened?" she asked. The confusing size of her mind was overwhelming, and she felt like a small child lost in a crowd. She was thinking too many things at once and she couldn't keep track of any of them. "Doctor, it's so… I can't…"
He leaned forward and grabbed her hand, and she felt something - an itch, and she couldn't help but scratch it because it was so new and she didn't know how to not. As soon as she let the urge to scratch the itch overcome her, she felt a connection open up with the Doctor, and she gasped, her eyes widening. It was like instead of him being in her mind, he was in hers and she was in his, though she didn't know how to process any of it. He looked somewhat startled as well, but he said nothing and just stroked her mind gently with his own. He did that until she eventually calmed enough from the shock and was able to put her thoughts together.
"Doctor, what happened?" She asked again. She felt him struggle with how to explain it before answering.
"What do you remember?"
She paused to think about it. "I remember you asking about my eyes… and then… I don't know. You started telling me… about something…"
"The day you died," he said quietly. "And something happened, Rose. Do you know what it was?"
"My mind is so… large," she answered him.
"You were regenerating."
She froze, taking in a sharp breath. "What?"
"I showed you a song, one that was in your head. It was the song of the Bad Wolf, and it was killing you, so the TARDIS stopped holding your mind back. She was keeping you human, and you changed, at least your biology changed. It was like this gadget that I've got called a chameleon arch. When you died, you changed, and when she brought you back to this universe, she changed you back and buried all of that with some walls, so it looked and felt like your mind was smaller."
"Okay," she said, and she did understand him. She felt like she could learn things a million times quicker now, and this wasn't that hard to grasp. "But how do you…"
"Know about all of this?" The Doctor finished for her. "I added some extra precautions for the TARDIS to look out for, and she showed me one to let me remember."
"Rose," the Doctor started cautiously. "There are… things we need to talk about."
"Okay," she replied. The Doctor let go of her hand and she immediately mourned the loss of his calm mind against hers, but she opened her eyes to look at him and saw the conflicted look on his face. "I can still feel you," she gasped, surprised. And she did. She could feel his mind close to her, and hear some things - not really thoughts, but almost. It was so… loud, like it was echoing in a spot that was supposed to be full, but wasn't.
"That's because you're like me now," he answered, glad for the decision since he obviously didn't know how to start. "I told you I could feel the loss of my people in here," he pointed to his head, and understanding flooded her, as well as empathetic grief. She couldn't imagine how awful it would be to have this part of her mind completely empty. "You always will."
"Is that why I can feel your mind, your thoughts next to mine?"
He hesitated. "No. You have to understand, Rose, that you were in extreme pain. I wasn't really sure what was happening, but I knew I could help with the pain, so I… I basically threw my mind against yours, like shielding you from an explosion. And it worked, but it created the beginning of a bond."
"A bond…" she paused, biting her lip as she thought. "What does that mean exactly?"
"Well, we'll be able to hear each other's thoughts if we're touching, for one. A- a normal bond is very… intimate. It's shared between a couple, usually, that want to be bound together for their lives. All of them."
Rose gasped, her eyes widening. "So are we… oh my god, wait, am I gonna live as long as you?"
The Doctor nodded slowly. "Probably longer, since you're just starting out your regenerations. I'm on my ninth. Tenth, technically," he paused. "Actually, it might be my eleventh? I had to give you some regeneration energy so you wouldn't regenerate." He waved the thought away with his hand. "But no, we're not bonded yet."
"But I thought you said-,"
"What we have is called a preliminary bond," he explained. "There are three stages to bonds. Preliminary, practice, and permanent. The first two can be broken," he paused. "But it hurts, and honestly, I don't know if it's a good idea."
"Why?" Rose frowned. She didn't exactly want to break the bond, but she figured he would.
The Doctor didn't answer her for a minute and she was surprised to find she could feel his emotions if she paid attention. He seemed… worried.
"If you're bonded with someone, even the way we are, it adds walls. Protection to your mind. No one could enter it unless they broke the bond between us."
"Is that possible?" Rose wondered, eyes wide.
"Yes, but it can be dangerous if someone else does it. It can damage your mind badly - though if they're breaking our bond for us, then I'd assume they already want to - and in the worst cases, it can kill you."
Rose nodded, filing the information away. "So, you want to keep it to protect our minds?"
"I'm not worried about mine," he replied. "I've had nine hundred years to perfect my mental barriers. But with how absolutely broken your mind is, it would be too easy for someone to come in and tear it apart."
"Okay," Rose nodded as she thought of something else. "What's the difference between each type of bond?"
The Doctor sighed. She wondered briefly at how willing he seemed to provide her with answers but focused on his words. "So I've explained our bond, the preliminary bond. That was typically used to get used to one another's minds. During the second one, the bond is stronger. You don't have to touch to talk mentally or hear each other's thoughts. You just have to be nearby. How close generally depends on the couple and the strength of their bond, their… compatibility. The second one is like… engagement." Rose nodded her understanding. "The third one, however, is more like marriage. It's permanent, and it can't be broken."
"Ever," the Doctor nodded. "Only death - permanent death, that is. It just feels sort of like a gaping hole, not only in your mind but also physically."
"That sounds… horrible," Rose whispered. "Are there any other differences between the second and third?"
"Yes," the Doctor sighed. "The third one, you can be anywhere - in space, not time - and still speak to each other. You could be on earth and your partner on the Rings of Akhaten and you could still hear and feel each other."
The Doctor nodded. "One very important thing about bonds that I haven't mentioned is that you can feel the other person's physical pain."
"With the third one?"
He shook his head. "With all of them." She blinked. "And with the one we have, you can also feel any extreme emotions - especially if they're being projected."
"So, if I were in extreme danger," Rose started, and the Doctor nodded.
"I'd feel it." He looked at her, his eyes serious. "It's your decision, Rose. I think we should keep it, but if you're uncomfortable with it, we can sever it."
She frowned at him, and he could feel faint surprise coming from her. "Of course I want to keep it," she said, giving him a smile now. "It sounds amazing."
"Okay," he nodded, surprised at how easily she'd accepted it. Though, he realized, she had spent two years with him and, though he was trying very hard not to think about it, she obviously was very much in love with him. "There's more we need to talk about, too. I'd like to get at least some of it out of the way now - I'll have to lock away my memories again within the next day or two."
"Oh," she gasped, her eyes widening. "How long has it been since that happened?"
"Four days," he replied. "It would've been much longer, but I've got this room to heal me after I regenerate, and it helped you quite a bit."
Rose gasped as her mind drifted to Christmas Day, and laughed as an idea formed. She waved off the questioning look her Doctor gave her and he continued.
"We need to talk about your mind," he said softly. "I know you wanted to wait, but it needs to be healed. There are some things that I obviously can't know, so they need to go in a locked room, where they won't slip out and tell me anything. The more that these memories slip out, the harder they'll be to lock away again and the more likely it is that it'll happen again."
Rose shrugged lightly, though she looked nervous. "That's… fine. I just wanted to wait because I didn't want you to see everything with Jimmy."
The Doctor's mouth opened and closed as he realized that it made a lot of sense. And he wasn't particularly excited to see all of those memories, but he'd rather see them and know than let her suffer.
"I can't add the memories I see to the ones that will be locked away in my mind, aside from the ones of us together," he said quietly. "It'd be too much. I'll hide away the reason I know them - it'll be like I just glimpsed it in your mind." Rose nodded a little and he sighed. "I think we should start now. I'm not sure how long this will take."
"Let's stay in here - it'll help with the healing process. It should make things go quicker," he explained. She nodded, and he waved at her to lie down. Once she was comfortable, he moved to sit on the bed, instead of the chair he'd been in and smiled down at her. "If you need a break, just let me know, and we can stop, but you can't break contact in the middle of a memory. It'd be like dropping it into a black hole - you can't ever get it back."
She didn't respond, but he could tell she understood. With a deep breath, he reached his hand out, letting her grab it whenever she felt comfortable, no longer needing to touch her temples. After barely a moment's hesitation, she grabbed it, and they fell into the broken mess of her mind.
In the end, it was the Doctor that needed to take a break instead of Rose. He'd reached a particularly awful memory of Jimmy and felt like he was going to be sick. He'd hastily finished repairing it - though he loathed doing so, he couldn't just destroy memories, even of the trauma she'd endured - and pulled away from her.
She had tears down her face, though they'd been silent, and he could feel the pain radiating off of her and thought back to what he'd said before about being able to feel extreme emotions. The thought occurred to him that he'd probably be able to feel her nightmares now and he aggressively ignored the idea that she'd feel his.
He took some long deep breaths as he pulled himself together. Just when he'd been about to say something, he heard her quiet, shaking voice.
"Some days were worse than others, Doctor," she told him.
"Why didn't you… mention it?" he wondered, thinking back to when she'd told him everything. She sighed, and he could see she was trying to put her thoughts into words, with immense difficulty.
"Because, honestly, I forgot. It's not… it's not like I can recall everything," she winced. "Although, I think maybe I can now."
The Doctor's eyes widened as he realized what she meant. Her human mind had repressed the trauma, but he was showing all of it to her - not only that, but now that her mind was larger, they would stick. "Oh, Rose…" His mind raced, trying to think of a way to fix it, or not make it worse. He couldn't think of anything and his frustration was palpable.
"It's okay, Doctor," she bit her lip lightly. "I'll have to deal with it eventually, anyway." And he hated that. He rubbed his face, sighing deeply, but Rose spoke before he could. "Let's finish this, Doctor. We still have more to do, don't we?"
And so, with great reluctance and significant guilt, the Doctor agreed, and they resumed the long process.
It took nearly nine hours before the Doctor had finished, pausing every now and then when one of them needed it. He'd tried to move around and not focus on just one part of her life at a time, but it was hard.
The Doctor found himself feeling so much closer to Rose, and she couldn't help but feel the same, if not a little exposed. He'd seen all of her life - her best moments and her worst regrets, and he'd not judged her for any of it.
He didn't say anything when he was done, but rather told her to stay there and left the room in search of tea and a snack. When he returned, she was waiting for him. He set the tray down on the end of the bed for her, and she grabbed a cup happily.
"I'm going to leave the explanation you originally gave me of the attack on your mind, and just lock away the memories of your other timeline," the Doctor explained to her. "It's too suspicious that I know your entire life."
"I was wondering if it would be," Rose nodded. "So what will you remember? Or, I guess, what are you locking away?"
"Everything that was locked before, except for the attack on your mind, as well as those extra memories, like I said," he paused, thinking. "I'm pretty sure that's it, but I'll let you know if that changes. I will have to lock away some memories of what happened, like seeing the Bad Wolf."
"And you said you'll put up walls in my mind so you can't see those things, right?"
The Doctor shook his head a little. "I'm gonna teach you how to do it. It's extremely important to know for any strong telepath. I'll guide and help you, but you'll be doing it."
"Doctor," Rose started, curious. "Why are you being so… open?"
The question startled him, and he thought about it for a moment. "You're like me now," his voice was soft, and she could tell this was somewhat hard for him. "All of my friends, they leave in the end, because they have to. They grow old or die or move on, but you won't. You're a Time Lady, Rose. It's important to teach you everything you need to know. I can't just… treat you like anyone else, because you're not." He paused. "You weren't before, either."
Rose was quiet for a long moment before she gave him a soft smile. "I promised you forever once before, Doctor. And I'll say it again - I'm gonna stay with you forever."
She felt faint surprise, but also happiness from the Doctor, but he didn't respond to her words but rather changed the subject. "Some things can wait until I've modified my memory again, like explaining certain Time Lord things, or- oh," his eyes widened. "I have to teach you Old High Gallifreyan."
"I've always wished I could learn," she told him, a grin lighting up her face.
"You should be able to grasp things much quicker now."
"I think I'll go through the library," Rose decided. "It'd be great to really understand what you're talking about all the time."
"I'll help you," he nodded, and she could tell he was getting excited. "I'll try and explain things if I can, and if you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer."
Rose smiled faintly. "So, was there anything else we needed to talk about that you won't be able to remember?"
The Doctor considered the question for a moment before he paused, something obviously coming to mind. He struggled with whether or not to tell her, she could tell, but he sighed in the end when she just raised an eyebrow at him.
"I don't… I don't think you're only Time Lady," he admitted. "I think there's some Bad Wolf in there, too, and I don't entirely know what that makes you. Just… something more."
Rose bit her lip. "Okay."
"Okay," she repeated, shrugging. "I don't… I don't know. I haven't really felt completely right, completely human since I got back, but it's not like it was the biggest deal with everything that's been going on."
The Doctor stared at her for a moment before nodding. "Alright. There's nothing different in you except for high levels of Atron energy, which makes sense considering how Bad Wolf came to be."
"So, that's it? Nothing else I need to know?"
"Nope," he shook his head. "Now we just need to work on your barriers, and my memory, and we can figure the rest out later."
So, ten minutes later, they set to work, the Doctor showing her how to make doors in her mind and how to put things behind them. She took to it extremely quickly, and the Doctor was surprised. Usually, it took a while for people to get the hang of it, but soon she was building doors and sifting through her memories carefully, placing them out of reach.
All in all, it took about three hours, and by the time they were finished, she was exhausted. He didn't blame her - she'd been through a lot recently, and he knew she'd be even more tired if they hadn't been in the Zero Room.
He told her to get some rest and left her in the room, heading to his bedroom to start the long process of filtering the memories and hiding everything.
It was going to be a long night.