Rose stared at the empty expanse of beach, her heart and mind as blank as the sky. In a minute it was all going to start hurting very badly; she could tell from experience.
She still held the . . . Doctor’s hand, the long, fine bones as familiar as ever twined with hers, but his skin was warm to the touch, like a human’s, strange. That warm grip tightened, and a muffled sob made her look up at him in shock.
The Doctor’s face was contorted with grief, so different from this calm control a few seconds before. Bright tears welled up in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks. “Donna,” he said, his voice almost a whimper. “Oh, Donna, I’m so sorry . . .”
“Doctor?” Rose asked hesitantly, distracted from her own pain by such an unexpected display of emotion.
He looked down at her and sniffed, his eyes already red-rimmed. “She can’t stay the way she is. It’ll kill her. He’ll have to take her memories.”
“What?” Rose asked, appalled. Donna had seemed so energized, so joyous . . . “Her memories of today?”
“No,” the Doctor told her. “All of them. At least the ones with me in them. She’ll never know. All the things she’s been and done since she met me, gone forever.”
“Oh my God,” Rose said, horrified. “Isn’t there anything you — he can do?”
“No, nothing,” the Doctor whispered, meeting her eyes in anguish. Still the same deep brown irises, the color only visible in bright sunlight like that of Bad Wolf Bay. “Donna as she’s been will die. The last part of Caan’s prophecy come true. A Dalek never lies.”
On the last words, his voice dropped into harsh, grief-fuelled anger, and she saw the same hot, fresh rage she’d seen in her first Doctor — never in her second, whose anger ran cold and controlled by comparison.
“I’m not sorry,” he told her out of nowhere, as if defending himself against a remark she hadn’t made. She remembered that look, staring down the barrel of a gun at her. All that pain, all those wounds reopened and bleeding freely.
“I am,” she replied, and pulled him into a tight, close hug. He did need her. They both did, but if she could only hold one of them, then that would have to do.
He began to cry again, no Time Lord reservation holding him back now, and Rose joined him as they held each other, rocking slightly for comfort.
Jackie walked a short way down the beach to give them what privacy she could as she dialed Pete on her mobile to arrange for their travel home to London.
Rose and the Doctor stood on the observation deck of Pete Tyler’s private zeppelin, the wind whipping their hair, the night sky above them full of stars. Pete and Jackie were wrapped in each other’s arms back in the cabin; they’d run to meet one another on the tarmac of the airport as joyously as Rose and the Doctor had run to one another back in the other world, without the added complication of Daleks this time.
The Doctor, walking hand in hand with Rose, had chuckled. “Look at that — thought they’d be good for one another.”
“Yeah, worked for them,” Rose had said, heart lifting with a new infusion of hope. She’d glanced sidelong at the Doctor — it still seemed odd to call him that, but he wasn’t, couldn’t be anyone else — and caught him giving her a small smile.
Now, flying through the open air, arms leaning on the railing, sides pressed together for warmth and companionship, Rose dared to be happy for a moment. It seemed a guilty pleasure after all that had happened, but it still made her feel better.
“They seem farther away,” the Doctor said into her ear, voice raised above the wind. “The stars, I mean. It’s odd — things are different now. Not like I remember. This half-human thing is going to take some getting used to.”
“D’you think you will? Get used to it, I mean?” Rose asked.
“I suppose so,” the Doctor replied, wrinkling his nose in thought. “Never done this before — still, not like I have much choice, is it? One heart’s one heart, after all.” He shrugged his shoulder against hers. “And I expect you’ll be giving me pointers.” The last was almost a question, his expression hopeful.
“S’pect I will,” she replied with a smile, bumping her shoulder back at him.
Their first night back in London, they shared Rose’s room in Pete’s mansion. The Doctor was surprised to find she still lived there, but seemed to approve of the setting, exploring everything with catlike curiosity. Looking out across the lawn with the curtain drawn back from the window, he commented, “At least you aren’t in the basement — isn’t that traditional?”
“Oi!” Rose said, throwing a rolled-up sock at him from where she’d been reorganizing to fit in the few things they’d hastily gotten to settle the Doctor for the night. The Doctor rubbed his arm where the sock struck him as if it had hurt and gave her his best sad-puppy eyes, though with a twinkle underneath.
“It never seemed worth getting my own place,” she said. “I was always working at Torchwood, Mum and Pete were happy to have me here, and I just never felt like . . . settling.” That ended up being more, and more serious, information than she’d intended to give, and she looked back down at the socks she was shifting from one drawer to another to re-collect her thoughts.
The Doctor’s crossed the room and rested his hand on her shoulder. “Were you hoping to find a way back?” he asked, voice gentle. “Is that why you never settled?”
“Yeah,” she admitted, leaning back against him. “I didn’t do a very good job with that whole getting a fantastic life thing, did I?”
“Can’t say I’m sorry,” the Doctor said rubbing his cheek against her hair. “Can you imagine how awkward it would be, bringing me home to meet your husband? You’d have to get a bigger bed, for starters. And he might snore. I can’t abide snorers.”
Rose laughed. “That wouldn’t be a very happy ending would it?” Then, as sudden pain shot through her, remembering the sad, distant look on the other Doctor’s face, she sighed. “Is this a happy ending?” she said aloud before she could think.
The Doctor slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her closer against him. “Not for everyone,” he said, voice sad and meditative. “Not for Donna. Not for him -- he still misses you, and he always will, on some level." He spoke with real compassion for the other Doctor, and Rose found herself loving him even more for it. "But I think it could be a happy ending for us, if we make it one.”
Rose slid around within his embrace so she could face him. “I’d like it to be,” she told him, and meant it. His expressions were so much more open now — she could read how pleased he was with her words, how much he loved her: her human Doctor. He gave her a faint smile, and his eyes were deep and warm. Not so deep as they’d once been, maybe, but without the distance — that tiny-but-vast unbridgeable gulf — that had always been there, either. She couldn’t help smiling back at him. “D’you think you can learn to handle carpets?”
He raised his eyebrows at her. “Well, I’m standing on one right now and haven’t melted yet, so, I think I can cope.” Then he grinned, his big, toothy delighted grin, and Rose just had to kiss him, effectively ending the conversation.
In the end, they were both a little too shy and awkward to take things to the inevitable conclusion that night, but they did curl up to sleep together in the most literal sense — neither of them wanted to be alone.
In the grey predawn hours, Rose awoke, fuzzy and disoriented until returning memory slammed into her and jerked her into full adrenalin-washed wakefulness. The space next to her was empty, but when she rolled over she breathed a sigh of relief to see a familiar, slender figure silhouetted against the faint light coming through the window. She slipped out of bed and padded over to join him.
He was leaning against the sill, frowning up at the sky. He wore a borrowed t-shirt and slightly baggy sweat pants, the drawstring cinched in tightly above his narrow hips. He looked utterly, disorientingly human, but when he shifted to make room for her, he glanced away from the sky and Rose's skin prickled with goosebumps when she met his gaze. Half-human she reminded herself, not all human.
The extra depth to his eyes, which had always made her feel that, if she looked closely enough, she might see stars and galaxies floating in the depths of his pupils, was reduced, but not gone — nor were the odd wildness, the intensity of focus, or the fundamental restless curiosity that she always associated with his Time Lord nature. He was not, and would never be, entirely safe or normal . . . but that wasn’t a bad thing so far as she was concerned.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Oh, yes, fine, fine, just . . . thinking. Feeling. Still adjusting and all. Mostly to Time. It’s strange — it all seemed to move so much faster. Now, it’s slow. Slower, anyway. I used to think a hundred years was nothing, practically an eyeblink, but now . . . it seems like a lifetime.” He frowned out the window again. “I did this once before, sort of — long story — made myself human for a little while, and it didn’t feel like this, but that wasn’t real. It was just a dream. I never understood what was happening to me, and this time I do. Makes all the difference."
Rose opened her mouth, not quite sure what to say, but he kept going.
“And the world . . . tiny, I would have said, just one planet, one sky, but it seems to have gotten bigger. Bigger on the inside, you could say,” he said, giving her a quick flash of a grin. “I think I could stay quite busy here on this one planet.” He looked back out the window with speculative affection.
“But you’ll still miss it, right?” she said. “The TARDIS, Time and Space . . .?”
“Oh, absolutely — and who knows, maybe I’ll get back out there, someday. But it might be interesting to kick around here for a while, get to know the neighborhood as it were. I’ve always fancied learning to sail — you know, ropes and canvas and salt spray in your face. I’m sure the spray part sounds like more fun than it really is, but I do like the idea . . . And of course there’s Torchwood, no doubt they could use another pair of hands. I hope you don’t have a Yvonne working for you here. Tell me you don’t?”
Rose slipped her arm around his back and rested her hand on his shoulder, feeling warm skin and solid muscle and bone. “Nope. Dodged a bullet there. Harriet Jones is President, though.”
“Ah. Well.” His voice darkened, and she remembered, too late, the fate Harriet had suffered in the other universe. “I have rather more sympathy for Harriet than I once did. I think we would get along well now, she and I.”
Rose kneaded the muscle of his shoulder soothingly, then yawned. “S’ still early. I’m going back to bed. You coming?”
She hadn’t meant it as more than an innocent question, and was unprepared for the evil half-smile she got in response. “Was that a proposition, Rose Tyler?”
The look on his face gave her a pleasant shiver; half Time Lord or not, there was nothing alien about it. “No,” she said, honestly, “but it could be one if you wanted.”
Later, Rose brushed a bit of hair from the Doctor’s forehead and studied his pensive face. “Penny for your thoughts?”
He’d been looking up at the ceiling, miles away in thought, but refocused on her and blinked, the left lid closing slightly before the right, the same tiny physical quirk he’d always had in this body. “I was wondering if it would be possible to feel survivor’s guilt over yourself, especially if neither one of you actually died.”
Rose understood perfectly.
“Good question. Yeah, I think so. He’s all alone, and he’s lost so much — well, and you have, too, sorry, not trying to be insensitive, but it’s hard to know how to phrase things . . .”
“Oh, he’s lost far more than I have,” the Doctor told her, rolling over to press his body along hers, leaving absolutely no doubt about his meaning. “And you are very far from insensitive.” They kissed, slow and affectionate.
“I love you,” she said when they parted, and tapped the tip of his nose affectionately with a fingertip for emphasis; she very much wanted him to know that she didn’t see him as any sort of inferior copy or substitute.
“Quite right, too,” he told her, “Just as I’m absolutely right in loving you.”
“I just wish . . . “ she trailed off. The Doctor cocked his head questioningly, and she continued, hoping it would come out sounding right. “I still love him, always will; I wish he could know that.”
“Oh, he does, he does, believe me,” the Doctor said. “He’ll know till the end of time — and I can say that for certain because I was there . . . long story. But loving and being loved by you, that’s made such a difference, even when it hurt. And now I won’t have to worry about you, so that’s a plus.”
“Worry about me?” Rose said, surprised. She’d never considered that possibility.
“Yes, worry! I wanted you to be happy, but I knew how you felt. I hoped your family was enough, but I wasn’t sure.” He ran a gentle finger along the side of her face. “Now I’ll know I’m here with you, and that’ll be a comfort.”
Rose shifted so she could wrap an arm around him and hold him close, her ear pressed to the soft, warm, unexpectedly furry skin of his chest. The steady beat of his single heart was reassuring.
It started out as a brief affectionate move, but another thought kept her holding on for longer than she’d intended.
“What’s wrong?” the Doctor murmured against the top of her head, voice vibrating through his ribcage. He rubbed his hand (his fighting hand) up and down her back.
“Donna,” Rose said. The Doctor exhaled long and slow. “Sorry,” she said, “I’m just a bundle of laughs in bed, aren’t I? But I can’t help it. She was so brave, she saved everyone so many times and she’ll never know how special she really is . . .”
“There’s one thing,” the Doctor said, voice slightly thick. “One thing I hope for. Even with her memories taken, there could be . . . echoes left. Impressions. The sort of thing one dreams about, but never remembers in the morning. If at all possible, when I took her conscious memories, I would leave her that. If she lets it, it'll make her stronger, give her confidence. It’s not much, but it’s a place for her to start.”
Rose was silent for a moment, then raised her head from his chest. “This world . . .” she said, with the bright spark of an idea growing in her mind. “We can’t help that world any more, but this is our world, our adventure, our happy ending.”
The Doctor waited, responding to her sudden force with and expression of happily mystified anticipation.
“At Torchwood, I could really use a PA, a secretary,” she said, starting to grin. “And I happen to know of a certain temp agency we could contact . . .”
He answered her grin with his own as he followed her reasoning and understood.
Donna sat very straight in an exceptionally comfortable chair in front of a large desk in a very posh office, trying not to fidget and having a hard time believing that she was in the Vitex Tower at Canary Wharf, being interviewed by famous heiress Rose Tyler.
The only other person in the room was a tall, skinny streak of bacon Donna had never seen before. He was wearing a pinstripe suit, and after being introduced only as “the Doctor,” he’d leaned his skinny bum up against Rose Tyler’s desk and then hopped backwards to sit on it, drawing up his long legs so he could perch there cross-legged, as if that was a perfectly normal use for the furniture.
Donna had an urge to tell him to get his bloody shoes off the polished wooden surface, but bit the impulse back. She was too disconcerted by the situation in general, and it made her uncharacteristically meek. Also, the way the nameless Doctor was grinning at her, and had been the whole time, was more than a little weird. She hoped he wasn’t some kind of perv. That would be all she’d need.
It was all weird, really — Donna had gotten a call out of nowhere from the temp agency, telling her that she’d been specifically requested by Vitex, and that Vitex wanted to interview her ASAP, yesterday if possible. She’d gotten dressed and tidied and out the door as fast as humanly possible, collecting a good-luck hug from Gramps and ignoring her mother’s snide comments along the way. Maybe, if this turned out to be The Job (possibly even with The Husband attached to it), Mum would finally have to eat her words.
Rose Tyler was shorter and less glamorous in person than in the gossip magazines, but compensated by radiating a pleasant warmth that almost enough to help Donna relax. Miss Tyler wasn’t’ dressed in particularly elegant clothing, but then Donna supposed it wasn’t all charity balls and celebrity outings, even for an heiress.
Miss Tyler had a copy of Donna’s CV and references on the desk in front of her, but she hadn’t seemed very interested, giving the papers a quick riffle and complimenting Donna on her typing speed. Then she’d shoved the CV aside, leaned forward intently on her elbows and begun asking Donna all sorts of questions about whether she’d be willing to sign corporate secrecy agreements, and to work odd hours, and, possibly, to travel -- travel!
Donna tried not to look too desperate as she replied in the affirmative to everything. She had to get this job, had to . . .
“Well,” Miss Tyler said, at the end of the questioning. She shot a quick glance at the Doctor, and they shared a grin, as if enjoying a secret, “I think you’re exactly what we’re looking for. If you’re willing, you could start today.”
“Oh, yes!” Donna replied and she only squeaked a little. “What should I do first? Coffee? Tea? I make a wicked cup of tea . . .”
“You do,” the Doctor said, speaking for the first time since he’d been introduced, “but that would be a serious waste of your time.”
Donna gaped at him. He winked back at her, cheeky, but not flirty.
Miss Tyler stepped around to the front of her desk, and the Doctor bounced from his sitting position to land on his feet next to her, gangling and graceful at once. Miss Tyler reached out to take his hand, the motion so natural neither even seemed to notice, and the two of them beamed at Donna. It could have felt creepy, but instead it was welcoming.
“C’mon, then,” Miss Tyler said, gesturing at Donna with her head. “Step into my office.” She began to walk towards a pair of lift doors in one wall of her office (that had impressed Donna mightily when she’d first entered — she’d never worked for anyone with a private lift before).
Donna stood, confused. “But isn’t this your office?”
Miss Tyler looked around the richly-appointed room with a faintly disparaging air. “Nah, this is just for tourists.”
“The real work takes place downstairs,” the Doctor said, still grinning. He dropped the pitch of his voice dramatically. “In the basement.” Then his voice shot back up to its normal range. “Have you ever heard of Torchwood?”
Donna frowned, remembering some odd rumors that she hadn’t paid much attention to. “Isn’t that an urban legend?”
“Nope,” the Doctor told her, popping the “p.” Since Donna still hadn’t moved, he leaned over and took her hand, tugging her to follow him and Miss Tyler. Ordinarily Donna would have been screaming sexual harassment in an instant, but there was nothing to it but a friendly handclasp — and the way the fingers of his other hand were twined with Miss Tyler’s, Donna had the distinct impression the mysterious Doctor wasn’t exactly on the prowl.
Donna followed them hesitantly. Miss Tyler had already punched the lift button, and the lighted numbers were counting up as the car approached.
“But,” she said, “isn’t Torchwood supposed to be secret government ops and flying saucers and things?” Bizarre, mad, impossible things, the stories had said.
The lift bell dinged and the doors opened.
“That’s some of it,” Miss Tyler said. “But there’s a lot more.”
Donna balked. “But I’m just a temp!”
“Not for long,” the Doctor said, giving her hand another friendly tug.
Donna dug in her heels. “Oi! This isn’t some trick, is it?” She couldn’t imagine the purpose of such a trick, but this was all too sudden and strange. She glared at the Doctor, and attempted to appeal to the authority figure in the room. “Miss Tyler . . .”
“Call me Rose. Just come and look, please.” Rose sounded genuinely pleading, and Donna had the mind-blowing realization that the Vitex heiress — someone important — actually cared about what she, Donna Noble, did and wanted.
“It really is worth it,” the Doctor added, arching his eyebrows, and giving Donna a look of combined delight and challenge.
That decided it. Donna Noble was never one to back down from a challenge. She gave the Doctor one last glare, then let herself be drawn into the elevator.
“All right, but if I disappear, or get eaten by a monster from outer space, or anything like that, I’ll have the authorities on you lot so fast it’ll make your head spin.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” the Doctor told her with a suppressed grin that was affectionate rather than mocking. Rose was grinning openly.
The lift began moving, and Donna shook her head, half expecting to wake up. But the elevator and Rose and the Doctor stayed real. This was all really happening.
“I’m just a temp,” she said again, in a small voice, overwhelmed.
“No,” Rose told her firmly. “You’re brilliant.”
The bell dinged again, and the lift doors opened to reveal a whole new world.