Outside the Naismith mansion the streets were in chaos as the newly-restored human race scattered in confusion and fear, while the burning shell of Gallifrey filled the sky, horrific as a lurching, reanimated corpse leading the vanguard of Hell.
The Doctor stared up at his ravaged homeworld with a wild expression of grief and desperation. His eyes were wide and white-ringed, his teeth bared, his thin body taut and ready to run — but toward the source of his pain, not away.
"We're too late," he said, his words clipped and anguished. "Jack, I swear I'll burn all the bridges when I'm done, seal off all the channels, I won't allow myself the temptation to do this again . . ."
"Do it," Jack said, rock-steady. The Doctor's last-minute arguments weren't meant to sway Jack, they were for himself alone. As far as Jack was concerned, the decision had been made a long time ago. "I'll be out for a couple of days. Just leave me and get in there."
That earned him the full force of the Doctor's gaze. "I am not abandoning you again, Captain."
Jack glared back defiantly. "Whatever. Just do it, fast."
With a low, wordless growl, the Doctor grabbed the back of Jack's head and pulled the unresisting human in for a kiss.
Rose, her hands clenched so tightly the skin across her knuckles ached, saw nothing at first: just the two men with their mouths locked together in what might be mistaken for passion. Then Jack's hands went to the Doctor's shoulders, not in intimacy but for support. A few seconds later Jack's knees buckled and he began to slide to the ground. Rose sprang forward, trying to break his fall, but his limp, unsupported weight was too much and she couldn't hold him. As his lips broke contact with the Doctor's, a blinding spark of light jumped the gap, a tiny fragment of Jack's eternal life made visible.
I did that to him. Sort of, Rose thought, unable to suppress a shiver as Jack's dead body folded up on itself, air sighing out of his lungs with a noise that was disturbingly sensual. She at least managed to spare his skull a hard impact with the pavement. Too little, too late, maybe, but it would be one less thing for him to heal.
The Doctor made no effort to help her, just stood completely still and stiff-legged, his trainers rooted to the ground. Rose, kneeling next to Jack, looked up, concerned. He said this wouldn't hurt him."
The Doctor was watching her and he didn't seem to be in distress. Instead, he looked . . . hungry, filled with the same ravenous desire as the Master, as if he could eat the whole world, starting with her, and consider it nothing more than a snack. His eyes had gone dark and cold except for the strands and whorls of gold in his irises, which glowed now with their own inner light, visible even in the dim, diffuse red light reflecting from the huge, dying world in the sky. If she'd ever doubted it, she had absolute proof now that he and the Master differed not in nature, but in degree.
He towered over her, radiating the power of a vengeful god, one who could to crack the Earth in half and absorb the energy at its core like a hyena sucking marrow from a bone. But for all that he was still her Doctor, so Rose stood and took his hand, threading her fingers through his. The familiar touch sparked a response and she watched his face change as he recognized her, and, in doing so, remembered who he'd chosen to be. He squeezed her hand gently and she smiled, earning a faint, fond smile in return before he went serious again.
"Stop me," he told her, his voice reverberating with more than its usual split tones, "when it's time."
"Count on it," she said reassuringly. She looked down at Jack's body, sprawled at their feet, "How — " do we carry him? she started to ask, but before she could get the words out, they were inside the mansion.
There was no sense of motion or change, nothing like a transmat or teleport or Jack's vortex manipulator, and Rose blinked stupidly at the big, rich room with its overlay of alien tech and a cluster of Time Lords at the center of it. The Master, ragged and defiant, stood before five people in heavy ceremonial robes, the blinding white light of an open time-space portal behind them.
"I saved you," the Master was shouting, his voice harsh and discordant, close to splitting out into harmonies but still speaking English. "You owe me!" The pale lightning of his hemorrhaging life force snapped and crackled around the fists balled at his sides.
"We owe you nothing," said the man holding the tall, spiral-topped staff, and his voice set Rose's skin crawling in a way even the Master's had not. It was deep and controlled, pleasantly modulated — bordering on the plummy — but it held such cold, gloating cruelty that listening to it was nearly painful. "You were a tool, nothing more, and you have served your purpose. We will not contaminate our ascension with the likes of you."
Locked in their battle of wills, neither the Master nor the Time Lord with whom he was speaking seemed to notice the new arrivals, but two of the others, the ones without their hands covering their faces, certainly did. Even at that distance, Rose could see their expressions of shock. One opened his mouth, as if to cry warning, but the Doctor was faster.
"Still going on about that final solution of yours, Rassilon?" the Doctor said, his tone light and sarcastic. He didn't speak loudly, but his voice filled the entire room.
The Master jumped and spun like a startled cat and then froze, staring at the Doctor with wide eyes. The Time Lord leader — Rassilon — faltered for just a heartsbeat before resuming his air of mocking superiority.
"My Lord Doctor," he said. "How fitting, that we are all gathered here for the end." Rose saw his eyes flicker first to her and then to Jack's body, sprawled on the inlaid marble, as if uncertain what their purpose here might be. There was a hint of distaste in his expression. Humans, always littering up the place, she thought, and suppressed a borderline-hysterical giggle.
"Yes, it is — the end." The Doctor said, going grim. He began walking forward, Rose at his side, her hand still twined in his, anchoring him. "I can't let you do this, I never could. Our species doesn't outweigh the rest of the Universe, all that beauty, all that life. The Universe is so alive. I didn't realize how alive till now . . . but I'm more convinced than ever that I was right."
Rassilon's eyes sparked with cold rage and Rose's spirit quailed. Next to him, the Master's evil and insanity shrank into insignificance. His presence filled the room with a deep, underwater pressure, inescapable and crushing, until just breathing was an effort. She'd felt the Doctor do something similar, conjuring his Time Lord nature and projecting it to influence others, but that had been a pale shadow of this.
The Doctor's hand squeezed hers once, reassuringly, though he never broke his staring match with Rassilon. It gave her courage and she straightened her shoulders, determined to stand proud before the Doctor's enemies.
"You would throw away a billion years of Time Lord civilization?" Rassilon asked, raising his armored hand, the metal articulations hissing and clicking ominously, the metal beginning to glow. From the corners of her eyes, Rose could see the other Time Lords easing away from their leader.
"That's just it, we've had our time," the Doctor replied, seeming unconcerned by Rassilon's clear threat. His expression was fierce, but there was undisguised grief in his voice. The subliminal echoes of it filled the room, and Rassilon's flanking . . . guards? . . . shifted their weight in place, uncertain. "Everything ends, everything dies. Even us."
Rassilon's lip curled. "You've been contaminated by your time spent among lesser species, Doctor," he said, his tone twisting the title into an insult. "But if that's how you feel, so be it. You may die, while the rest of us live." He pointed his gauntleted hand and blue light flared . . . then vanished as leather and metal silently crumbled into dust and sifted to the ground. Rassilon stared in open-mouthed shock at his bare hand.
"What did you do?" he hissed, focusing back on the Doctor.
"Absorbed the full energy of a fixed point in Time and Space," the Doctor responded with blithe good humor and a smile nearly as mad as the Master's. "Pure life force. Freely given, I might add." The smile faded and the Doctor's brows drew down. He didn't need to raise his hand. Everyone in the room, even Rose, could feel the currents of energy gathering and strengthening as the fabric of the Universe itself shifted to obey the Doctor's will.
His expression stunned and then panicked, as if realizing for the first time that he was no longer the greatest Power in the room, Rassilon raised the ornamented staff he held, but before he could follow through with whatever he intended, he froze in place as the air solidified into grasping tendrils that wrapped around him and began to tighten . . .
Horrified, Rose looked at the Doctor's face; it was cold and alien, merciless. "Doctor," she said in an undertone, trying to bring him back to himself. When he didn't react, she started to squeeze his hand, hard, but she stopped when his face changed. He was staring at something past Rassilon's shoulder, and looked as if he'd been stabbed in both hearts at once. Following his gaze, Rose saw that one of the Time Lords with covered faces had dropped her hands and was watching the Doctor, tears making bright tracks down her face, though her features were composed. Some silent communication passed between her and the Doctor; Rose could feel the faint, faint backwash of it, though she had no idea what was said.
The Doctor's face twisted with pain and Rassilon dropped to the ground, gasping for breath.
"It's done, it's over, it's locked and I'm sorry," the Doctor cried out in anguish. "But, go, just . . . go." As he finished speaking, the piece of machinery behind them exploded spectacularly. Rose ducked out of sheer instinct as fragments of burning debris flew past, but none of them came anywhere near her or the Doctor. The white light of the portal flared and dimmed, not so much as if it were fading but more as if it were retreating down some infinitely long tunnel, then winked out.
Unseen, amid the debris, a walnut-sized diamond flared and vanished at the same time, the last piece of lost Gallifrey departing from the Universe.
Silence filled the room, broken only by the faint musical tinks of superheated metal and glass fragments cooling down and a single, strangled sob from the Doctor's throat.
"Doctor," Rose began again, using her free hand to grip his shoulder and gently turn him to face her.
"I couldn't," he told her, his voice small and rough, mortal-sounding again; his eyes welled up with tears, masking the still-luminous golden patterns in his irises, "I couldn't pick and choose, let some stay and some go. Everyone who was part of the lock had to stay that way, everyone . . ." He broke off and wrapped his arms around her, burying his face against her neck, holding her tight, seeking comfort.
Rose had no idea who the woman had been, but in a way it didn't really matter. What mattered was that he'd had to make the most terrible choice of his life, all over again, while looking right at someone he loved and couldn't save. She hugged him back, aching for his loss.
"Shh," she said, stroking his hair. "You did what you had to. You did the right thing."
"I know," he mumbled into her neck, sniffling. "But it hurts."
Rose couldn't contradict that. "Yeah, it does. Makes you glad you don't have to be a god full-time, doesn't it?"
He made a noise that could have been a laugh or a sob and hugged her more tightly.
The hesitant tapping from across the room at that tense moment would have had Rose jumping half out of her skin if she hadn't had the Doctor's arms around her. At is was, she twitched in place. The Doctor, however, didn't seem surprised. He raised his head just enough from Rose's shoulder to speak clearly, but didn't bother looking around. "Come out, Wilf," he said, and a there was a tiny metallic click that echoed through the room. "And close the door," he added, his voice rising. "It's about to get hot in there."
Rose realized that muffled alarm klaxons were sounding; she'd been so focused on the Doctor she hadn't heard them start. Craning her neck to see over the Doctor's shoulder, she saw Wilf hastily exiting the reactor's control chamber; the lock clicked again as the glass door shut behind him. He must have been in there all along, she realized, trapped. Her attention had been so focused on the grand drama playing out between the Time Lords, she simply hadn't noticed him. He beat us back here after all . . .
"Terrible design," the Doctor sighed, dropping his chin back onto Rose's shoulder as if he were tired, closing his eyes. "The Vinvocci make lovely glass, but their safety systems leave a lot to be desired."
The klaxons peaked and the chamber flared with red light, just before every piece of alien equipment in the room went dead. "That was the reactor going critical," the Doctor told Rose conversationally. "Don't worry. The glass contained all the radiation. And now . . ." a flare of blue light, filling the chamber for a moment, ". . . it's gone." He hadn't so much as opened his eyes. "How'd you end up in there, anyway, Wilf?"
"Well, that young scientist feller, he was pounding on the door, trying to get out so I . . ." Wilf trailed off with an embarrassed half-shrug.
The Doctor sighed. "Yeah, 'course you did," he murmured.
"Doctor!" Wilf cried, his eyes widening, focused on something behind Rose, "He's —"
"Yes, yes, I know," the Doctor said, sounding peevish. He raised his head and glared straight at the Master, who, unnoticed, had been slowly and silently easing towards the door. "Where do you think you're going?" the Doctor asked. The power was back in his voice, echoing through the room like a roll of subliminal thunder.
Caught, the Master froze, his eyes wide. No longer in control, he cut an almost pathetic figure: thin, ragged and dirty, fallen incalculably far from the splendor exhibited by the just-banished members of his species. Rose reminded herself of everything he'd done; insane or not, manipulated by his own kind or not, his crimes were still immense. What he'd done to Jack alone, during the Year . . . He didn't deserve her pity, she thought, and almost believed it.
The Master licked his lips and she could see his mad, brilliant mind racing, but the Doctor continued inexorably.
"I forgave you once," he said, and released his hold on Rose, though one hand slipped down to clasp hers as he turned more fully in the Master's direction. "I'm not doing that again." His entire demeanor was one of dangerous calm, like a hurricane's eye with the storm's full fury waiting in the wings.
Genuine fear sparked in the Master's face. "You wouldn't," he said, but the words were uncertain.
Rose's stomach dropped, the Master's fear spreading to her (he knows him, probably better than I do, and if he's scared . . .). She gave the Doctor's hand a firm squeeze, trying to catch his attention, hoping to stop him from doing something he would regret.
"This time," the Doctor concluded, ignoring both of them, "I'm fixing you."
The moment the words were out of the Doctor's mouth, the Master was engulfed in blue-white flame. Through it, Rose could see the Master's body stiffen, his back arching, head thrown back and mouth open as if to scream, though she heard no sound. Even the fire was silent, though it twisted and leapt with intense fury. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone, leaving the Master to fall in a limp heap on the marble floor not far from Jack.
"Is he . . ." Wilf asked, "Did you kill him?" There was a mix of hope and horror in his voice. He had stopped some distance away and seemed uncertain about approaching closer.
"No," the Doctor said, his voice sounding normal again. He gave a small, distracted shake of his head, gazing down on his fallen enemy. "I healed him. Took the Time Lords' signal out of his head for good, cleaned up the damage it left behind and finished his resurrection properly."
"Does that mean he's not evil anymore?" Wilf asked, confused.
"I didn't say that," the Doctor said, with another headshake. "That's still up to him. But this time, any choices he makes will be his own."
Wilf didn't look particularly reassured. He took a few cautious steps towards them, then his eyes widened and his hand went briefly to his mouth in shock. "Oh my God! That's Jack!" He broke into a run, dropping to his knees beside Jack's still form, reaching out to rest a hand on his shoulder. "Is he . . . oh, no!" Wilf would have seen enough dead men in his time to recognize the look, Rose knew.
"Now he's dead," the Doctor admitted, sounding far too cheerful as he began walking in that direction, pulling Rose along as he did so. "But he'll be all right."
That earned a deservedly blank look from Wilf. Of all the times for him to go rude-and-not-ginger . . . ! Rose thought, and plastered a reassuring smile on her face.
"I don't know if Donna told you, but Jack's immortal," she told to Wilf. "He can't die. Well, he can, but he comes back." She resisted an impulse to add, Really, he's only resting. Wilf looked close to being in shock — little wonder, after today's events — and probably wasn't up to the black humor she and the others had cultivated about Jack's condition. Still, Rose's confidence seemed to soothe him; she could see him relax slightly.
"I needed his life force, to stop the Time Lords," the Doctor said, still far too cheerfully matter-of-fact for human comfort. "He let me have it. Blimey, there was a lot." He reached up to rub the back of his neck. "Still plenty left, in fact, even after all that. Fixing him," he nodded at the Master, "that was just a drop in the bucket." He was silent for a moment, then he murmured, "I wonder what else I could fix?"
Rose's insides went to ice at that thoughtful question even as the Doctor's head came up and he looked at her with the beginnings of a wide, joyous grin. "Rose!" he said, his eyes literally glowing. "You could finally have 'forever.' We could, together! I could fix that, easy-peasy. How about it?" He spun her under his arm (her body followed the familiar dance move automatically, saving her from being knocked off balance) and pulled her close, his face bright, happy, hopeful, loving — and utterly mad.
Rose took a deep breath. "Doctor," she said, keeping her voice very, very calm and very, very reasonable, "it's time for you to stop."
His grin faded and he frowned at her, wrinkling his nose and upper lip in confusion. "What?"
"You said I should tell you when to stop," she told him, in that same gentle voice, holding eye contact. "This is it." She took another, deep, steadying breath, gathering strength (it's wrong and you know it, don't let him tempt you . . . ) then continued, "I don't need to be fixed. I'm not broken, I'm just human."
The Doctor's face went blank, then cycled through a rapid-fire series of expressions that ended with him looking pale and ill, like a man who has narrowly avoided walking off a cliff. But his eyes were sane again, to Rose's great relief.
For the second time, he grabbed her in a tight hug. "Yes. Yes, you are," he said, muffled because his nose and mouth were jammed in her hair again. "Thank you." Moving with abrupt purpose, he released her and moved a few steps away, finally letting go of her hand. He scrubbed at his eyes, then glanced at Jack.
"I wish I could give this back to him, but it doesn't work that way," he said. "Close your eyes. Wilf, you too. Keep them closed — this is going to be bright."
Rose guessed that was an understatement and squeezed her eyes as tightly closed as she could. The flash of light was over in a second (along with a faint prickling sensation on her skin) but it was intense enough to blaze through her eyelids and leave big, watery rainbow blobs in her vision when the Doctor said, "All clear!" and she opened her eyes again.
She squinted at him through the afterimages; he didn't look particularly different, but his eyes were ordinary again, plain human-brown in this light. The room seemed bigger and emptier, too, and sounds were flatter without the subtle augmentation of his powered-up presence.
Wilf was sitting back on his heels next to Jack, blinking rapidly but looking more composed than he had a few minutes ago.
"So now what?" he asked. Rose loved him for that; just about any other sane person would be asking a million questions right now (if they weren't a complete wreck), but Wilf just took it all in and, after a few minutes to absorb it, he kept right on going. She could see where Donna's practical streak came from.
The Doctor ruffled his hair, as if contemplating the exact same question, and then froze with his hand tightening into a fist against his scalp. "D'oh!" he growled. "I could have moved us all back to the TARDIS first." He sounded so chagrined, Rose couldn't help laughing.
"To forgive is human, to err divine?" she teased, and was rewarded with a wide, grateful smile, the kind that made the Doctor's eyes crinkle so beautifully at the corners. She had a feeling they'd all be a while healing up from this adventure, at least on the inside, but just now the humor provided a welcome release. Laugh or scream, as Jack said, some days those are your only choices.
"Something like that," the Doctor agreed. Then he sighed. "I can take Jack. I've done it often enough before. You two take him." He nodded at the Master. "Don't worry, he's down for the count; he won't wake up for several hours. Fortunately, I doubt Naismith's security is going to be back up to snuff any time soon, either."
"Right-ho," Wilf said, but eyed the Master with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Rose knew how he felt but she made the first move, heading over to the Master and hefting up his shoulders. She wrinkled her nose at the sour-vinegar and rancid-carrion reek of him, but was relieved to find he was lighter than she expected. He was shorter than the Doctor but almost as slender in build, and she could feel his starved bones though the fabric of his clothes. She made herself ignore the mixture of revulsion and compassion he awoke in her, and concentrated on practicalities.
"Take his feet," she told Wilf, who nodded and complied, following her lead while the Doctor expertly hefted Jack over his shoulder in a fireman's carry, lifting the bulkier man with relative ease.
"Oh, before I forget, shouldn't leave all this lying around still functional . . ." he said, digging in a pocket and producing the sonic screwdriver. He held it up and keyed it to a piercing whine that sent every piece of alien equipment in the room spitting sparks. Task accomplished, he slipped the screwdriver back into his pocket and bounced on his toes, shifting Jack into a better position. "Who needs godlike powers to set things right?" he observed brightly. "Allons-y!"
"Yes, sir! Glad to," Wilf said with feeling.
"Mais oui!" Rose said, grinning at Wilf as they hefted the Master and followed the Doctor out of the room, leaving behind the dead, shattered dreams of humans and Time Lords alike.