She wakes, her head a dizzy mess of dreams. There is no up or down, no right or wrong, no life or death — that sounds like a nursery rhyme from once upon a time, she thinks. Colours she has never seen before, strange feelings, travel... Now she has a headache, too, and that hurts. The light from a breath cannot light her way.
Shaking slightly, Rose recognises the TARDIS. She is safe, at least, even if nothing inside her makes sense.
“...What happened?” she asks uncertainly, not even sure if she’s asking anyone, or why. She knows it is her voice that asks it, but it doesn’t feel like her. It feels tainted and impure, someone else’s voice that she has stolen and used for herself. She glances to the Doctor and frowns. Was he... always there? Just standing there, like that?
He shrugs in return, barely casting her a glance.
“Don’t you remember?” he asks, and she can’t tell if he is incredulous or curious. Or both.
“It’s like...” She fumbles for words — memories — anything. A voice inside her head would do. She wonders if she can hear it. Maybe. Peaceful and serene, it surrounds her if she listens. “...there was this singing.”
She remembers something that isn’t her memory, from years ago. A lullaby to get her to sleep, to somehow let all the troubles of the world drift away into nothing and leave everything unharmed. It reminds her that everything is all right. How can she remember and not know? Memories begin to thicken. There was... want. Need. She needed to... see... something. The words of the song drift back, but distant, like they are being sung over rifts and cracks in space. Like they aren’t hers but somehow connect to everything. Her mind fills with golden light — of a dream from a thousand years ago.
...and the moon sees me...
...The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see...
...God bless the moon...
...and God bless me...
...God bless the somebody I'd like to see...
He looks up and gives a wry smile.
“That’s right — I sang a song and the Daleks ran away.”
Maybe humour is not a strong point so near to regeneration, he thinks. Probably for the best. He couldn’t bear it if Rose were left with a man who couldn’t take life like this seriously. Out of the corner of his eye he sees her stand, but he pretends to concentrate on the controls in front of him as the TARDIS drifts through the vortex. She is crying — practically screaming — inside his head. Her insides have been damaged, tainted, torn out, and he knows it is his fault. Maybe next time he will take better care of her and not take her for granted. Maybe next time he will manage to do things right.
He thinks of Jack and that is his fault, too. Jack... the best conman, flirt and friend a rogue Time Lord could ever ask for. He never did get the ending he deserved. And sweet little Lynda-with-a-Y... he will never see her smile again, never get to tell her what a wonderful spark of humanity she was. He made the world she died for. It makes him sick.
I want to see you become like me... We are the same... The Great Exterminator... Coward or Killer...
Maybe this is deserved, then. Maybe the filth are right.
“I was at home...” She is shaky on her feet, unsure of herself, and the Doctor has to try hard not to focus on her. He knows that if he does, he will rush to her side, and that will spell complications on all sides. She doesn’t need that from him. “No, I was in the TARDIS. There was this light and...” Oh Rassilon. He knew it was too good to be true; he can feel every molecule of blood as it passes through his system. It burns — it all burns. And he along with it. He can see it, even in his hand. “...I can’t remember anything else.”
He remembers everything, sees everything, feels everything. It all feels like death. He knows how this is going to end, even without his second sight. And it hurts all the more because Rose deserves so much better.
“Rose Tyler.” He laughs her name bitterly, giving a smile that is not in the least bit humorous. She can still see the humour in it, though, bless her. He loves her a little bit more for that. “I was gonna take you so many places. Barcelona! Not the city Barcelona,” he explain hurriedly, noting her expression. He knows this will now help in the end, but right now, he has to keep talking because words are all he can give her. They are all he has. If there is silence then everything will drown him. “The planet — you’d love it. Fantastic place, they’ve got dogs with no noses; imagine how many times a day you end up saying that joke. And it’s still funny!”
He grins stupidly, his brain not even in contact with his mouth any more. He doesn’t want to be going on about noseless dogs and random planets. He wants to tell her that Barcelona is the planet of dreams, and that he wants to take her there because she deserves it. He wants to say that she is the best, that he will kiss every last bit of time vortex out of her and still go back for more. Except that she can’t even remember the last touch they’ll ever share, the last kiss, the last connection. So what’s the point? He knows this is for the best, one way or another; but it still hurts. His hearts hurt. He can only look at her longingly, knowing it is just a matter of time.
She frowns, confused, the tune of the beautiful song dying away. He is going on about Barcelona and bad jokes, for some reason, and it doesn’t make sense. Nothing make sense. Where was she? Mickey... her Mum... why can’t she remember?
“Then...” she asks carefully, letting none of her troubles show to the Doctor. Maybe she will tell him, one day, but he is acting strange now and it seems like he needs her help. She eyes him almost suspiciously. He seems different, somehow. Changed. Like he knows something she doesn’t. “Why can’t we go?”
“Maybe you will,” he shrugs off-handedly. “And maybe I will. But not like this.”
He sounds like he is taking her home, she realises, and panic floods her. That stupid Emergency Programme springs into her mind: Emergency Programme One means I’m facing an enemy who should never get their hands on this machine... Is this what happens, then? Is this what he’s going to do? She’s done something wrong. She came back, somehow, and has given the TARDIS to the aliens and now he’s taking her home. She won’t let him — it’s not fair!
Except... she thinks again, confused. She knows that isn’t it. Everything about him is all wrong. He’s not angry. He doesn’t seem to be anything. She can’t tell what he is. He’s holding something back from her, and that scares her even more. It terrifies her to the end of the Earth — what’s going on that he can’t tell her about? She has never seen him act like this before. She doesn’t know what to trust within herself — even instinct is telling her to run and never look back. She’ll never run without him by her side, she knows, so why is she even thinking it?
The Doctor is looking at her in that way, that absolutely perfect way that makes her wonder if he can see right into her mind. She gives a look, half a smile and a half a frown.
She responds, “You’re not making any sense!” It’s not like him to keep on like this. They must be in flight, away from... somewhere. The Daleks. There were... No, she can’t even remember that. Just bright light everywhere. Light that was warmth. And now... everything’s all right again. If the danger is gone, can’t they go? She feels sore, like she has been up for hours.
“I might never make sense again.” He grins still, his eyes now completely on her. She stands back a little, startled by what she sees in them. “I might have two heads! Or no head; imagine me with no head.” He points in feigned admonishment. “And don’t say that’s an improvement.”
Rose watches in interest and snorts weakly at his lame joke, unsure as to how to react further. Whatever he’s going on about, she’s going to make sure he takes a long lie down. God knows how long he’s been up on his feet, and maybe he has taken something to the head. He sounds as though he’s planning on... well, she doesn’t know. He sounds as though he’s raving. She takes a step towards him, the decision to take care of him now firmly set in her mind. Everything else can wait. He needs her help.
The Doctor looks down to his body a moment, wincing as another wave of pain strikes. He fights through it, for her sake. “But it’s a bit dodgy, this process,” he explains desperately, looking up again and trying to make her understand with just his eyes. He is pleading silently — she doesn’t get it. “You never know what you’re gonna end up with— ”
He has to bite away his own sentence with a yelp, and he convulses, every muscle in his body tensing as energy that doesn’t belong in him bubbles beneath his skin. He sucks in a breath through gritted teeth and holds out a hand towards Rose, stopping her from coming any closer. It is over in a few seconds and he can see again, the twinge of pain relaxed.
“Doctor!” Rose starts to step towards him, but he stops her.
“Stand back,” he commands, bracing himself as another minor contraction ripples through him.
She is worried and he knows it, but he can’t let her get too close. She cannot come into contact with him when he is in this process. One wrong moment and it could all fall apart. He winces again, clutching his stomach desperately. It won’t do any good, but he has to close his hands around something, if only to stop himself from falling to the ground. Everything about this is wrong. It was never supposed to be this way. And yet... even through all the circumstances, maybe it is for the best. Maybe, finally, he can feel at peace. The Time War is over, thanks to Rose. Beautiful Rose. Perhaps it is fate that she will never stop saving him.
“Doctor,” she stares, eyes wide, as he bends over his body, emitting a small cry of pain. Fear sweeps through her like a dark cloud at night, shrouding the moon of serenity, “tell me what’s going on.”
He looks up and she almost cries out herself at the expression on his face. He looks lost and alone. Pleading. Desperate. She wants to go to him, so very much, but something almost physical is holding her back. He shouldn’t be alone.
He seems to hesitate for a split second, meeting her eye.
“I absorbed all the energy from the Time Vortex and no one’s meant to do that!” He has the nerve to grin, but it is empty and shallow. It soon fades, like her belief that this will all be all right. Because it isn’t all right. Something is very, very wrong. The Time Vortex... isn’t that the TARDIS? Didn’t he say something, a while ago? Weren’t they connected? Isn’t she the one who tried to get his ship open? So why... why is he saying...?
She doesn’t care if her mouth is open as she watches him, or if she feels the beginnings of tears in her eyes. He is hurting. Something is hurting him and she cannot see it, can only wish that it would leave them alone so that she could go to him, take his hand, and have him lead her away from something she thinks is teetering on the brink of sanity.
Suddenly his smile is gone and he screws up his eyes in pain. When he opens them again, even all ghostly efforts at tranquillity are gone. She is just left with a sinking feeling her stomach as the Doctor swallows and tilts his head slightly, his body at a strange angle as he holds himself away from her.
He sighs and his eyes glisten as he explains. “Every cell in my body is dying.”
And now she stares, eyes hurting, limbs hurting, heart, head and memories all hurting with the sheer weight of his words. “But... can’t you do something?” she blurts out, desperate, pleading. He can’t be serious. He can’t leave her. Not now. Not after everything they’ve been through. How is she supposed to move on if she doesn’t have him to wake up to in the mornings? What of those winter eyes? Of that manic smile? What of his words, his dialect, his accent? He can’t take those from her, not now. Not after everything. It’s just not fair.
And she’ll die before she lets that happen.
“Every cell in my body is dying.”
There is no other way to tell her except the truth. He can see she is hurt — he can pretty well feel it, on top of his own. She looks like she’s on the edge of tears. Maybe he deserves it. He looks at her for as long as he can, stands and waits for the news to sink in. It isn’t fair to expect so much from her so soon, but things are the way they are and it’s out of his power to change it now.
“But...” She stumbles over her words, loud and impatient. She wants from him what he can’t give. “Can’t you do something?”
He gives her a reassuring smile and a half-hearted shrug. “Yeah. I’m doing it now.” She won’t understand regeneration. Perhaps she never will. But even if —
And suddenly his thought process his cut off, just for a second, when a spike of pain travels right the way through him. Through a grimace, the Doctor continues, relentless. He has to keep speaking. She has to know it’s all right. “Time Lords have got this little trick,” he explains, shaking his head slightly. Already he isn’t making enough sense, isn’t giving her what she deserves. “It’s... sort of a way of cheating death. Except...”
Another bolt of pain shoots through him and tingles in his fingertips. But he doesn’t care. He’s beyond caring now, beyond the quickening spasms and erratic breaths. With all the fight he has left, all the memories of what he and Rose have been through and everything they could be, he lets himself look upon her in a new light. In the light he wishes he could see her ever day of his life. Golden. Glowing. Love. He looks into her eyes.
“...It means I’m gonna change.” He tries to smile, but it just turns bitter as he contemplates everything he has lost. He shakes his head instead. “And... I’m not gonna see you again.”
Rose watches in horror, every word of his hitting like he has sliced a knife into her skin. The blade cuts deeper and thicker, her blood pounding to the wound. Her heart aches. She doesn’t understand. He still isn’t making sense — but she’s rooted to the spot, unable to move. She can just watch as he cowers in front of her, fighting so much there is sweat on his brow.
She doesn’t know what it is he’s fighting. He is trying to tell her, but she just can’t take it in. She lost him once... why does he make it sound like she is losing him again? Why is he holding himself away from her, back from her? Why is that look in his eyes so different from what she usually sees there?
“Not like this.” He stands a little straighter now, triumphant. Like he is accepting something. Rose feels her face contort as she sniffs back the pounding rhythm in her chest, the great wave of sorrow that has risen and writhes like Neptune himself. He is still watching her, the whole world meaning nothing. “Not with this daft old face. And before I go...”
“Don’t say that,” Rose says quickly, not even caring her voice is broken. This is her Doctor. He is standing there in front of her and he is talking like he’s never going to see her again. Part of her knows it’s true. But she won’t believe it. She can’t believe it. Not the man she loves. Not the man she would die for. He — can’t — just — leave.
But he pushes on, relentless. Because that’s the sort of man he is. And it breaks her heart when she wonders why this feels like goodbye.
“Rose,” he tells her gently, willing her to back down. She does so and he gives a small nod. “Before I go...” He hesitates a moment, the pain suddenly subsiding completely. No aches. No restraints. Just nothing. He knows this is the end. “I just want to tell you...”
Tell her what? She’s his best friend. She’s the world to him. She’s his everything and his reason to destroy the world. She’s his reason to destroy himself. He’s given his life for her, and he’d do it again. So many things, so little time. Fancy that, a Time Lord running out of the one thing he never has. Well, it had to happen sooner or later.
“You were fantastic,” he proclaims, with every meaning of it. A tear splashes down Rose cheek and he can almost feel it on his own. He smiles with pride. “Absolutely fantastic. And d’you know what?”
She shakes her head, not even hiding any more. He breathes out, finally, acceptance flowing through him even as his blood begins to cease. With his last ounce of strength, he looks directly into her eye and grins. His last grin. Just for her.
“So was I.”
It’s in this second, this split nanosecond when the world seems to have stopped around them, that she knows. Her life, in his hands, has come to an end. And he isn’t going to be waiting for her on the other side. He searches her with his eyes and she understands. She understands everything. Understands that this has ended before it’s even begun. That time wasted has punished them both. That words unsaid don’t matter now. That no matter how much she cries, he won’t be coming back. That she can spend the rest of her life running, but it won’t be his hand in hers that leads the way. That time is up.
She has lost him. Before they’ve even begun.
He staggers backwards, his entire body suddenly hit with the full force of fire. Flames lick and burn at his skin. There’s pain. So much pain. Light, golden and bright, but this is different. This hurts. Eyes closed, he can feel every muscle prickle and tingle with the flames that incinerate them. In his mind he can see her. She’s waiting for him, calling to him, saying his name — his real name — over and over again. She surrounds him. She breathes him, lives him, loves him, and he’s given his life, and it’s over, and the pain hits climax and then... then...
Then it fades. It drifts away... somewhere. Gone. He doesn’t know where. At this moment, doesn’t really care, either. He’s alive. Ooh. Aliiiiive. That’s an... odd feeling. So near death. And yet so far. That’s a good thing, he decides.
His eyes spring open. He blinks a few times, shakes his head. Then, with a small shrug, continues from where he was rudely interrupted.
“Right then. There we are. Hello! Okay — Ooh...”
This voice feels weird. Different. Squeaky. Wait, squeaky? What sort of man is squeaky and... wait, that’s new, too. He runs his tongue around his teeth, staring forwards suddenly into nothing.
“Hrm... new teeth. That’s weird...”
Then suddenly, remembering himself, he looks up again and sees Rose. She looks terrified. Well, maybe he can give her that one. It’s not like she wouldn’t be terrified, she doesn’t have a damn clue what’s going on, does she? Silly thing. She can be such a daft young thing.
He’s really going to have to get used to this thought process. It’s... well, bizarre, really. Sort of... chirpy. Strange. Still, he has to press on. There’s time enough for adjustments later.
“So where was I? Oh, that’s right — ” And he grins the grin he knows she has always loved. Thank the worlds for his Rose Tyler. He’s not sure what he’d do without her, really.
The word is mute in her mind, like she has listened to it underwater. There is no sun, sea, wind, air. There’s nothing. He’s left her. He’s dead.
Her whole world falls apart.
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