He should have known that 10,000 BC was a bad idea but Susan had wanted to see a woolly mammoth and really, he could deny her nothing. Now they were trapped, backed up against a wall with a giant saber-tooth cat creeping toward them, blocking their exit to the TARDIS. Oh, what the other Time Lords would say.
Ian and the Doctor move to stand in front of Susan and Barbara.
“What do we do, Doctor?” Ian whispers. A plan! He always has a plan. These silly humans who travel with him depend on him for a plan.
He had best come up with one, then.
Suddenly the timelines around him shift in a way that they are simply not meant to shift. The air grows strange and heavy and the giant cat freezes, but its giant yellow eyes remain on them. There is a flash of golden light and suddenly standing about ten meters behind the cat is, to his enormous surprise, a girl. A human girl. She is dressed in dark trousers, combat boots, a blue leather jacket, and is carrying the most inexplicable weapon he has ever seen. Really, it looks like it weighs more than she does.
They all watch, breaths held, as the girl blinks. She looks around her slowly, eyes ghosting over the landscape and the TARDIS and then coming to rest on the quartet pinned to the wall by the menacing cat.
“Doctor, who is that?” Barbara asks.
The girl watches with interest, obviously waiting to hear the answer, except her eyes are on Chatterton, of all people. For some reason, this annoys him immensely. It’s as if she expects Ian to answer, as if she expects Ian to be the Doctor.
Well, he has to put a stop to that.
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” he admits, watching the girl carefully, so carefully, along with the cat.
She swings her surprised gaze to him and for the briefest moment he sees amusement cross her face, as if she is filing this incident away for later. He wonders why.
“Who the devil are you, young lady?“ he calls softly. The cat has recovered from its state of frozen fear and them approaching again, crouched low and readying for a pounce.
The mysterious woman merely cocks her head to the side and gives him a small sad smile instead of an answer.
She swings the gun to her back and bends to pick up a rock. Before he can say anything, she takes careful aim and lobs the projectile through the air to hit the monster square in the back of the head. It hisses and turns on her immediately. She jerks her head toward the TARDIS and his companions need no further impetus to take the now-open path to salvation.
The Doctor pushes Susan ahead of him into the TARDIS and turns back to the girl. She has not moved and is watching the TARDIS with wistful intensity, as if the enormous cat closing in on her is of no concern. He cries out for her as the cat pounces, and he is unable to tear his gaze away from her imminent death.
Then, the timelines shift violently and, in another flash of inexplicable gold, she is gone. The cat clumsily falls on nothing, letting out a sharp cry of surprise and whirls on him. He immediately yanks open the TARDIS door and retreats inside.
Now what, in the name of Rassilon, was that?
A gas chamber? Really?
Complete with a handy-dandy countdown-to-your-death timer with big, bright red numbers. Numbers which are dwindling to zero very quickly.
How quaint. How old-fashioned.
He wonders if he can hold off regenerating until the gas is gone. Otherwise, he’ll just keep regenerating and dying over and over again until he has no more lives left.
He falls back against the wall, holding his mop-top head in frustration. There has to be another way out! Yes, he’s exhausted the approximately eighty-four ways he had devised to get out and none of them has worked. Yes, he is very sadly without his recorder, taken from him when they stuffed him away in this room. It would have made this situation much simpler or at least more bearable. Yes, there are ten seconds left until his death...but still! There has to be another way out!
And then, somewhere outside this small room he feels the timelines shift strangely. It feels as though some fixed point in time has just passed and he has missed it, whatever it was. Hopefully it wasn’t important.
The last second ticks away and he holds his breath, intending to let his respiratory bypass do all the work and hopefully wait out the influx of gas. That is plan #85. Instead, the door latch pops and swings open just as a hiss comes from the overhead vent. He ducks from the room, slamming the door behind him and gazes wildly around, searching for the guards that should have been waiting outside.
Instead, over by the computer mainframe he sees two unconscious men and a very calm, smirking young woman in combat boots, dark trousers, a blue leather jacket, and holding a giant gun.
Wait a minute! He knows her! It’s the same girl from 10,000 BC! The saber-tooth tiger girl! So that’s what shifted the timelines. It’s been nearly one hundred years! How can she be here?
She waves at him cheekily with one hand and uses the other to toss him something. It flies through the air directly at his head from across the room and he deftly catches it without thinking.
The monitor screen behind her beeps loudly and the intercom squawks angry voices. They’ve been discovered. She once again jerks her head toward the door before turning back to the computer to tap a few more keys and he turns to run, to the TARDIS and to freedom.
He is almost out the door when he turns back to her and calls, “Who are you?” She rotates back to him slowly, offers him a sad smile, and lightly shakes her head. He frowns but the monitor beeps again and he is forced to run once more.
He is about halfway to the TARDIS when he looks down at the object in his hand.
It is his recorder. How did she...?
The timelines shift, the air shivers, and he knows that she is gone.
The first time she speaks to him, he is aboard an alien spacecraft that is hovering above UNIT headquarters and, of course, is set to self-destruct in about thirty seconds, taking UNIT, the Earth, and the Doctor along with it.
Unless he cuts the right wire.
He is jammed under the console, sonic screwdriver in his teeth, legs sticking haphazardly out at an awkward angle and, in this familiar position, he is painfully reminded of his dear ship. He’ll get her back, properly. They can’t keep her from him forever. Silly, pompous blowhards.
Anyway, to business.
Red or blue? Why are the wires always red or blue? And, come to think of it, wouldn’t it be better if there was a universal system for these things? Red - everything goes boom. Blue - the Doctor and the Earth live to see another day.
TARDIS blue it is, then, he decides arbitrarily (as arbitrarily as one can decide the fate of an entire planet, especially a planet of which one is rather fond and on which one currently resides). He holds the screwdriver out to sever the wire but is briefly distracted by an odd shiver in the air and the distinctive clomp of boots on metal.
“It’s the other one, actually,” comes a young female voice, a bit muffled from the other side of the console, startling him into inaction.
“How do you know?” he asks, suspicious of the stranger.
“Dead clever, me,” responds the voice, cheekily.
Wait. Young, female, combat boots. Appearing out of nowhere and shifting timelines as if it’s the easiest thing in the universe. Cheeky.
It’s her. He scowls to himself. His own personal little unsolved mystery.
“Plus, from up here, I can see it leading right into the big, threatening ‘self destruct’ button,” she continues, oblivious to his consternation. Or perhaps not.
No time to argue with her. He severs the red wire and holds his breath. The countdown stops and the mechanism turns off. No world-and-Doctor-ending explosion. Well, that’s good, then.
She steps back and lets him disentangle himself from under the console, watching in amusement as he throws his cape back in its proper place over his shoulders. They stand there a moment in silence, merely assessing one another. He’s never seen her this close before.
Her clothing is much the same as it was when he saw her in both his first and second bodies, although today she is wearing jeans instead of dark trousers and the gun is slung low across her back. Her boots are rather worn and her leather jacket bears something that looks suspiciously like a sewn-up bullet hole in the right arm.
“I knew that,” he says.
She raises an eyebrow and says nothing in response.
“Thank you,” he says gruffly, realizing he has never said it before.
“You’re welcome,” she replies, inclining her head gently to the side and giving him a small, tongue-touched smile. The smile is rather entrancing but as he traces the expression up her face he realizes that it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
Her eyes are a deep hazel with flecks of a colour that could only be named gold but it is not the colour or the gold (odd as it is) that strikes him the most. No, what strikes him most is that for such a young human, he sees a massive amount of sadness, of heartbreak, of knowledge, far beyond what a pretty young thing like her should possess, staring back out at him.
It pains him that this somber creature is tangled up in his life. Perhaps the melancholy in her eyes is a result of her entanglement with him, for entangled they seem to be. How else would she keep showing up on the scene, disrupting timelines and saving his bum?
“I ask again...who are you? What is your name? Why do you keep showing up in my life, my lives?” he asks, knowing that he probably will not receive an answer for his troubles. At least she spoke to him this time.
She merely shakes her head at him, as she did in his second life, and the bittersweet smile returns.
“Can’t you stop it? Can’t you get out?” he asks, desperately hoping for both him and her that she can.
(Although, it’s nice to have a defender, a sort of guardian angel, on Earth. Not that he needs her help. Of course not. But then again...)
“Who says I want out?” she asks, steel replacing the sadness in her voice. “I made my choice, Doctor.” There is something in her voice when she says his name. Something that makes him nervous and excited at the same time. The air grows heavy, but still he has received no answers from the mysterious human. She will be gone in a second.
“What choice? When? Who are you?” He shouts a litany of questions at her, hoping she’ll answer even one.
She doesn’t. And then she’s gone.
Well, this is really quite embarrassing.
He is hanging, wrongside up, from a rather high cliff with his scarf caught on a rock, which is probably the only thing keeping him from plummeting the approximately...234.6 meters to his death, if he’s perceiving the distance correctly. Which he is. He tends to be annoying correct about things like that.
He sighs and wishes Sarah Jane would hurry up already. She ran off in the opposite direction when the locals decided that perhaps the two time travelers weren’t actually their long lost gods.
He blames it on the jelly babies. How was he to know they’d think the sweets were actual jellied babies?
Above his head he hears a branch snap and some rocks skitter down on him along with a strange shiver through the air. Finally, Sarah Ja -
Hang on. He knows that shiver.
He carefully raises his head to peer up at the cliff and groans inwardly as a familiar-yet-unfamiliar blonde-rimmed face pops over to smirk at him, eyebrow raised.
“Hello, there,” speaks the voice he hears echo in his dreams. ‘I made my choice, Doctor’ she had said. It’s been quite a long time since he’s heard that voice, seen that face.
“Hello,” he huffs, a bit irritably, elongating the ‘o’. Why does she always have to come along when he’s feeling like an incompetent git?
“Need a hand? Or...a scarf?” she asks, amusement evident in her voice as she assesses the situation.
He doesn’t answer, merely scowls up at her, trying to look dignified (a task which is fairly impossible since this long, gangly body and its mess of curly hair is currently wrongside up, over a cliff). Still, he makes the effort.
With a strength he is fairly certain a human of her size should not possess, she works with him and together they manage to carefully pull him back over the cliff.
“Take a wrong turn getting back to the TARDIS?” she teases gently, smiling at him and sticking her tongue between her teeth. Again, he notices that the smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes, those terrifying hazel eyes that glint with knowledge she shouldn’t have and hardship she shouldn’t have experienced.
She is toying with the ends of his scarf in her hands. He gets the overwhelming feeling she is also toying with his life.
“I could have gotten out of that one myself,” he retorts, tugging the ends of his scarf from her hands and adjusting its length around his neck.
“Then why am I here?” she asks, eyebrow still raised at him.
“I don’t know,” he replies, irritated again. He wishes he knew. “Why are you here?”
“Sometimes somebody’s got to save even my...the Doctor,” she replies easily, blinking up at him with innocence.
What was that? He thinks maybe she just almost referred to him with a possessive pronoun. He narrows his eyes at her. “Who are you?” he asks, with a bit more force than is probably needed. “Answer me.”
“A friend,” she replies simply, taking a step back from him and picking up the weapon she discarded to help him up the cliff. He feels the air begin to shudder, taking on the feeling just before a rainstorm. “You better be off. You’ve got some rescuing to do. They’re planning to sacrifice Sarah Jane and I rather like her.” She offers him one last knowing smile as she backs away.
“What? How do you know that? How do you know her? How do you know me? WHO ARE YOU?” he bellows but the golden aura is surrounding her, depriving him of answers yet again.
“Until next time, Doctor,” she whispers, her voice disappearing on the wind as she fades away in front of him.
The first time she touches him is to grab his hand and command him to run. That seems fitting for their odd relationship, whatever it is.
He is pinned against the wall, being closed in upon by some rather nasty-looking Xenion droids (work of the Master, no doubt), feeling behind him with his left hand for the door out of this warehouse basement, when the air around him shifts unexpectedly and his body jolts as a small, warm, unfamiliar hand materializes in his large, cool one.
He swings his head to the side and finds himself looking into the bemused face of the blonde from his past and, he thinks, his future. “Run!” she yells, grinning at him manically and pulling him out through the now-open door. She drags him down the hall and into the lift, never letting go of his hand.
“Where are we going?” he asks, studying her. No gun this time. She looks a bit thinner and a bit wearier, if he remembers correctly. And he does. He has studied these moments in great detail for years, trying to make some sense of the events.
Right now, he’s trying to make some sense of her laughter. For some reason, she seems to find this whole situation very funny.
“Out of here,” she replies, smiling at him sideways across the lift.
“But the droids...” he starts to complain and her smile turns into a sarcastic expression accompanied by an eye roll that makes him feel as though he may have dribbled on his shirt.
“Taken care of! Building’s about to blow up,” she says, tugging him out of the lift, out the door, and into the street beyond. It’s the middle of the night in a deserted portion of London. Teagan and Turlough are somewhere on the other side of town, enjoying a quiet meal and some ridiculous musical about dancing cats.
“Oh, is it?” he asks, as they dart across the empty street toward his TARDIS.
“Yep!” she says joyfully, popping the ‘p’.
“Where’s your gun?” he pants to her, not used to having anyone besides him set the running pace.
“Left it behind this time,” she replies. “ ‘s not very convenient for running,” she adds, letting that brilliant grin light up her face, this time accompanied by the light of a massive explosion from the droid-filled warehouse. On instinct he grabs her and pushes her against the wall, cradling her head to his chest and putting his body between her and the blast.
It is a few moments before he finally releases her, when the rumbles of the building falling down start to fade away. He pulls slowly away, maintaining his contact with her body and being hypnotized by her wide hazel eyes, now looking up at him.
He is struck again by their utter depth. It is as though she sees him to his very soul, to his very core, through the blue of this life and into the bedrock of his being. That should terrify him; it should drive him away from her, unknown, bewildering creature that she is, but instead it is draws him to her even more, like a moth to a flame.
They both feel the air shift but not like it will when she leaves him. This time it is a shift between them and the suddenly the fiery building isn’t the only thing radiating heat. He notes, scientifically, that her heart rate has increased and he can almost hear the deafening roar of her blood as it pounds through her veins, thinks he can anyway.
He is subconsciously leaning in toward her hypnotizing eyes and her enticing mouth. But he shouldn’t do this. He shouldn’t feel like this. “Who are you?” he whispers, afraid to break the moment by speaking too loud.
He watches as the soul-searching blaze drops from her eyes and is replaced by an anguish so deep and so raw, that it is all he can do to gasp and stagger back from her, unwillingly and unwittingly breaking the moment he so wanted to hold. She closes her eyes, protecting him from the pain but it has been behind his eyelids. That pain will haunt his darkest nightmares for lifetimes to come. He reaches out to grab her hand once more.
“Will I see you again?” he asks, willing her to open her eyes, pulling on the small warm hand in his. He wants to understand. He wants to see her as she seems to see him. Most of all, he wants to erase that visceral ache from her being. He wants to heal her, to save her, to comfort her.
“You know the answer to that,” she says and, eyes still closed, she begins to fade away, golden light and vacillating air replacing her warm presence by his side.
He continues to stare at her dissolving form. For one brief second before she’s gone, she opens her eyes and he shivers as they lock with his.
And then, she is gone.
“Identification positive. The Doctor. You will be exterminated.” The cold, mechanical voice that has haunted his existence and his nightmares for hundreds of years echoes behind him.
No escape. Nowhere to run.
He whirls around, multi-coloured coat spinning with him, determined to meet his death head on, not with his back turned.
There is a shift, a shiver, and a massive explosion as he turns, while the world suddenly seems to move in slow motion. When he gets all the way around, instead of seeing the expected menacing form of a Time Lord’s mortal enemy, he instead is met with a twisted, smoking pepper pot.
Standing to the side, face harsh and posture grim, is his little blonde saviour.
“So that’s what the gun’s for,” he says, hearts beating wildly from the close call. Or perhaps from seeing her again. Or both.
“Yes. It is,” she replies, her voice hard as flint. Then, she turns to face him. He draws in a breath sharply. She is sporting a nasty looking bruise across the left side of her face, purple and a sickly brown colour mottling her familiar features. Her jacket and boots are looking exceptionally battered as well, the worn leather matching her exhausted appearance.
A little unsure of himself, a feeling not familiar to this confident, bombastic body, he steps forward and gently runs his right hand over the bruise. She flinches, but allows the contact, keeping her eyes from his.
“What happened?” he asks softly, hoping that she’ll answer, hoping that maybe this time he can help her.
“Ah, well, you know. Saving the universe and all that,” she says, still not meeting his eyes. The casual words war with the wry expression he can see on her bruised face.
He gives her a steady look, merely waiting for her to lift her eyes and answer his question. She sighs and gazes back up at him, finally. Strangely, it’s as if she knows that look. Then again, maybe she does. Little does he know, later it will be even more effective when it is accompanied by a leather-coated arm-cross.
“Cyberman,” she admits quietly. He hisses and draws his hand from her. Cybermen?! How dare they. Another enemy of his past that is apparently haunting him throughout his life, will haunt him throughout his lives, endangering his future and his...whatever she is.
“Here? Now? Can I help?” he asks.
“No, no,” she replies. “And no,” she sighs.
Well, he should have known that. She isn’t from here or now. And he’s never been able to help her before.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“I know,” she replies, watching him with that dark, deep, knowledgeable hazel gaze that he has grown to love and to dread. He can’t think of anything else to say and his hands are limp at his sides, unable to decide whether they want to reach for her or push her away.
“Aren’t you going to ask me who I am?” she asks, teasing him again, letting the tense moment drop.
“Are you going to answer me if I do?” he responds in kind.
“Nope,” she says, popping the ‘p’ as he heard her do in his fifth body and grinning at him, the playful-but-sad tongue-in-teeth smile that he feels is specifically made for him.
He remembers everything she said to him in that body. He remembers everything she’s ever said to him. Every look she’s ever given him. Every touch they’ve ever shared.
They are once again at a stand still, neither knowing what to say, merely watching each other as they have before.
“Thank you,” he says finally, knowing that she will soon be gone.
He feels her telepathic presence appearing even before the winds and timelines shift. It’s a warm, inviting feeling he’s never quite experienced before...like walking into the TARDIS, like a warm summer day, like coming home all rolled into one. It frightens him a bit.
He looks around surreptitiously from his hiding spot in the bushes. Where is she? It certainly won’t do for a leather-jacket wearing, futuristic gun-toting girl to appear in the middle of Camelot. Even he might have trouble explaining that one away.
He hears those blasted knights tromping away through the woods to his left, their psyches battering on his. If only he could get past them and back into the castle...
And then she’s there, standing across from him about thirty meters away, hidden in the trees from the marauding knights. She smiles at him and he notes that she looks a bit more tired and that she holds her body as if it is in some pain, but at least the bruise is gone from her face. She is trying to hide these things from him but he is starting to see her just as clearly as she seems to see him.
He feels a sudden pang that she is so far away. He would very much like to touch her again, to hold her hand. That frightens him too.
“MERLIN!” thunders one of the knights and he turns his head, hoping that they won’t come much closer. She looks at him, amusement shining in her eyes and her mind even from this distance.
“Merlin?” she mouths at him or perhaps asks in his mind. He’s not quite sure. It’s hard to tell in this body, even harder to tell with her. He shrugs nonchalantly and gives her a mischievous smile.
He really should focus. A distraction. He needs a distraction. As if reading his mind, she returns his mischievous smile and cocks her giant gun. He tenses.
These are humans, not Daleks. Even if those knights are blundering fools, they don’t deserve to die. Especially not by her hand. Not for him. She isn’t capable of that.
Again sensing his thoughts, her mischievous grin turns into a more serious expression and she shakes her head. She turns from him and fires off into the distance, a massive explosion rocking the forest kilometers away. The knights crow with triumph and charge off toward the sound.
She smiles with satisfaction, turns back to him and raises an eyebrow as if to say ‘It’s also for that’. He ducks his head guiltily, sorry that he doubted her. He feels her acceptance of his apology wash over him and he raises his head again. She has quickly come closer, only about three meters away now. Her jacket looks old, worn and beaten.
He finds her staring at him, the gentle expression on her face almost masking the deep depths of her hazel eyes. Once his eyes lock with hers, she covers whatever emotion it was shining out at him and replaces it with the sad, guarded smile. He hates that it is him that causes that sadness whenever he sees her.
“Off you go then,” she says, jerking her head toward the castle. “Camelot awaits,” she adds, grinning at him, a flash of that brilliant smile he’s seen so briefly before, a smile just for him he likes to think.
“Who are you?” he asks, falling into their traditional game even as the air gains a familiar heaviness that he has grown to dread. She doesn’t answer, merely regards him with calm eyes. He didn’t really expect an answer, anyway. She has never given him one.
“When will I see you again?” he asks, desperately surging forward to grab her hand, to have some small contact with her before she is ripped away from him. Again.
“Soon,” she answers, that dark knowledge shining in her eyes. “Too soon.”
And then his hand is empty and she is gone. Again.
“Why are you here? I’m not in any danger,” he says, frowning at the small blonde human that has just interrupted his brief, solitary revery on Earth, appearing out of nowhere on the breath of the wind. There are dark marks under her eyes, from pain or fear or exhaustion; he’s not sure which. They look like his.
“Not physical danger, no,” she replies calmly from her spot about one meter away. He regards her cooly. He’s seen too much lately, is too tired, too jaded to play her riddle game.
“I have to go kill everyone soon,” he says, bluntly.
“I know,” she replies. He knows she does. She’s always known, he thinks. He wants to hate her for it, but he can’t. He is too busy piling up hate for himself to share any for her.
“You’re from my future,” he states.
“Yes,” she answers. Finally, she is giving him some answers. Although he really already figured that one out for himself so it doesn’t count.
“How can I have a future?” he asks, bitterly.
“You survive,” she says, simply.
“Why? Why me?” he asks. She steps forward and takes both of his hands in hers. It is as comforting as it was in his past lives but now he wants to push it away. He doesn’t deserve comfort. He is the Oncoming Storm. The Destroyer.
Of his own people, soon.
“Because you are Time’s Champion,” she says as if she can read his thoughts. She wills him to look her in the eye and in the end he does so because, really he has no choice. “Because you are smart and brave and strong. Because someone has to save the universe. And because that someone is you. I’ve seen you do it a thousand times over.”
“I can’t...” he begins.
“You can,” she interrupts. “And you have and you will,” she continues. He searches her eyes and sees the truth shining in the hazel. The truth and the love, for he knows that’s what it is hidden beneath all the pain or perhaps mingled with the pain.
He crushes her to him fiercely as if holding her will stop time from moving. As if he can stay here like this with her forever. As if she won’t leave him and he won’t have to go destroy everything.
“When will I see you again?” he asks into her hair, so quiet that he can barely hear it himself. His voice sounds so small, so timid, so afraid.
“When you need me,” she answers into his jacket and then the light flares, the timelines shift and she is gone.
“What if I need you now?” he asks the empty air.
He only jumps a few blocks away, trying to decide what to do next. She has to come with him. She has to.
He feels the timelines shift and the air moves around him and he doesn’t have to look up to know she’s there. He keeps his eyes on the ground as her boots come closer. She says nothing and he finally raises his head, knows they don’t have much time.
It’s silly. He’s a Time Lord. He should have as much time as he likes, whenever he likes. Yet it never seems enough with her.
“Who are you?” he asks, more out of habit than hope that she’ll answer.
“You know the answer to that,” she answers, as cryptic as ever, except this time she’s right. He thinks he does know.
He almost froze in that department store basement when he looked into the eyes of the human that belonged to the hand he grabbed. Her body was younger, her face was fuller, her hair a more violent shade of blonde, but it was her. After all these years, it was finally her.
No wonder she thought that business with the Xenion droids was so funny.
“Rose Tyler,” he says softly, examining her features closely. She gives him a tired smile in return and he notes that she looks worse than when he saw her with the sad eyes of his Eighth body. He reaches up to cup the side of her face. The dark circles under her eyes have grown bolder, as if they are now permanent features of her beautiful face.
He gathers her into an embrace and thinks she feels even thinner, more frail. He burned the feeling of her in his arms into his memory the last time, unwilling to let it fade, her words shining bright in the darkness, keeping him strong through the horrors of the Time War.
He burns the memory of this just as deeply, noting how leather on leather feels, where her chin rests on his chest, the way her hair smells to this sensitive nose.
She returns his embrace fiercely as though she is doing the same thing.
“You said no,” he whispers softly, desperately. He hadn’t expected that. When there had been no flicker of recognition from her, when looking into her hazel eyes he saw none of the depth he was so used to, he knew in an instant that this was the time. He could have her beside him all day, every day, not just a too-short glimpse to save his life during a jaunt on Earth and then nothing for the rest of a life. He could ask her questions and she’d actually answer them. He could pay her back his lifes debt, show her amazing things, walk the universe hand in hand with her.
But she had clung to that pathetic lump and shattered his hearts.
“That’s because you left out the most important bit,” she says, pulling back just slightly to look him in the eye, a glimmer of amusement shining amidst all the dark knowledge that gazes back at him masked in hazel.
He wants to question her, to ask what she means but her hands transfer up to his neck, pulling his head down and when her lips meet his, words leave him. They stand there, locked together and, for just a moment, the universe manages to turn without the Doctor.
The air around them begins to shift and she pulls a hand away from his neck to pick up her absurd weapon. His hands tighten on her waist, unwilling to let her go, as if his grip on her will keep her here with him. It won’t work. It never has.
Her hand still on his neck tugs him down again and this time her lips ghost across his ear.
“It also travels in time,” she whispers and brushes her lips across his once more before she fades to golden nothing, leaving him clutching mid-air again.
He has spent the last few years convincing himself that his Rose, the bright, happy, vivacious girl currently millions of miles and thousands of years away with the TARDIS, the girl who has brought him out of the darkness and made him feel alive once again, the girl who grins that tongue touched smile at him with both her mouth and her eyes, isn’t the same as the sad, broken soldier that has jumped through time to save his past lives. She can’t possibly be.
Because if she is, that means the crushing sadness he has seen in her eyes is his fault after all, as he dreaded it would be all those years ago.
It means at some point Rose isn’t with him anymore. And he will never let her go.
He can’t let her go. He won’t.
Except he’s gone and done just that. Done exactly what he promised himself (and her) he would never do. And to top it all off, he’s gotten himself stuck in 18th Century France.
The timelines around him shift and he groans inwardly. Oh brilliant. Perfect timing, as usual.
He keeps his back to her. “For your information, I am most certainly not stuck here. In fact, I’m in the middle of executing a brilliant plan that will get me back to the TARDIS at this very mome-” he pauses as he hears the sound of boots scuffling in pebbles and turns just in time to catch her before she hits the ground.
Her body is limp in his arms and her gun is nowhere to be seen. She looks far worse than he’s ever seen her and he has seen her after some harrowing adventures. “Rose! Wake up! ROSE!” he cries, his voice frantic. He sinks to his knees, lowering her body with his own, checking for her pulse. It beats slowly, even for a one-hearted human.
She opens an eye and he once again is sucked into the fathomless hazel depth, this time clouded by pain and exhaustion. “So, brilliant plan, huh? Just like all those other times?” she whispers to him painfully, still teasing him, offering him a weak version of the smile that he now knows for a fact belongs to him.
He wants to crush her to him, to hold her, to save her just this once. But first he needs to ask her something.
“How did you know when to come find me? When I would need help?” he asks, dreading that he already knows the answer, has known for nearly a year now.
Her eyes flare golden and his hearts drop. In the eerie voice he remembers so well she repeats “All that is, all that was, all that ever could be”. Then the golden light fades away and he sees instead her familiar hazel. She fights to keep her eyes open.
“Bad Wolf,” he says and sees her almost imperceptible nod. “Self-fulfilling paradox. You saved me because you will save me.” She nods again.
“And I love you because I loved you,” she whispers, letting her tears fall. He stares at her, wide-eyed. She does? She has never told him that before. He has never told her, either. Has he? Will he?
“It’s killing you, isn’t it? The jumps. The power,” he says quietly, cradling her body to him, his tears mingling with her own. She reaches up to stroke his face. He hadn’t shaved today. He wishes he had.
He brushes her hair back from her face and lets his hands graze her cheeks, mirroring her position. This isn’t how it’s supposed to end. Not with him on his knees in the painful gravel of a French courtyard right after he’s betrayed her younger self’s trust with a kiss from a courtesan. Not with her in that damn leather jacket that still haunts his dreams, dying because he couldn’t save her with his ninth body and can’t save her now. Not now. Not ever.
“How long are you going to st- ” he begins to ask but she presses her lips to his, silencing his question before he can finish. When she pulls away, he watches her expectantly for the answer they both know she is supposed to give.
She hesitates and looks at him with eyes so filled with pain that he can barely hold her gaze. She can’t be his Rose. His Rose never hesitates to answer that question, the impossible promise of forever always falling easily from her perfect lips.
“Not long enough,” she answers.
The air begins to shift and he cries out and holds her tighter against him but it is no use. She is gone and, to his surprise, so is he.
He finds himself standing with a tear-stained face in the middle of an abandoned bedroom in front of an old fireplace, clutching an unfamiliar letter. A time window back to home.
His dear, sweet Rose has saved him again, giving him an exit, a way back home, back to her younger self, the one he will lose, the one who will become her, for he knows now it will happen, it is only a question of when. The storm is coming. They can't outrun it forever.
He tucks the letter into his jacket and steps through the portal back to the TARDIS.
He returns the console room answering Rose and Mickey’s questions as best he can with his hearts breaking on the inside. She knows something is wrong. She always knows. But how can he possibly face her right now when she just died in his arms? Knowing that it is life with him that has sealed her fate, that in saving him she has doomed herself? Knowing once and for all that he will never be able to save her...never be able to keep her...never be able to give her the life she really deserves?
He pulls out the letter and begins to break the seal but he can’t. He can’t read her final words, her final goodbye. If he doesn’t read it then he can pretend that she is still alive, living her fantastic life and this is a letter to prove it.
A flicker of hope rises in his chest but as he watches the portal fireplace flicker and die, an eerie parallel of her final fragility, it is crushed. He tucks the letter carefully away. She is gone. He watched her die. He cries.
It has been almost two years and a year that never was since he lost her. Even knowing it would happen did not lessen the utter shock losing her has been to his system. He had come to rely on her like water, like air and teaching himself how to live without her has been almost insurmountable. He is surviving but it has been a long time since he truly lived. He never felt more alive then when he was with her and now everything feels like a half-life, like an imitation of what he once had.
Every day, he still reaches for her hand, expects to see her smile, hear her bright laugh. She promised him forever and forever she will stay, if only held in his hearts and in the letter tucked away in his breast pocket close by them.
Donna has helped a lot. She sees him, understands him better than anyone since Rose. In her fiery temper and no nonsense attitude he sometimes sees Rose. Maybe that’s why.
Donna, who is currently sitting in his captain’s chair painting her toenails. He is standing at the console, eyes closed, lost deep in thoughts and memories when Donna’s shouting brings him back.
“Oi! Spaceman! I was yelling at you!” she says.
“I can hear you, Donna,” he replies with a sigh, reluctant to open his eyes, trying to hold onto the image of Rose there...today in her ridiculously short 1970’s jean skirt. “What?”
“I said, did you feel that? What happened to the air in here? What’d you do over there?” she asks suspiciously.
“The air got all funny for a second. Did you turn on the air conditioning or something?”
He briefly debates explaining to her that the TARDIS has a very complex system of environment stabilizers that do not include anything quite so primitive as “air conditioning” but she would just ignore him anyway. Instead he pinches the bridge of his nose and replies “I’m sure it was nothing, Donna.”
“Don’t you ‘nothing’ me, martian-man. I felt something,” she berates him and he sighs. Then she screams.
He whirls quickly to face her, opening his eyes and follows her shaking finger to a body on the floor of the console room.
A living, breathing body.
A familiar body.
He rushes to her side, ignoring Donna’s insistent questions and gathers her to him. She is alive! Thin, tired-looking and barely breathing but alive! He scoops her up and runs to the MedBay with a speed he never knew he possessed.
He has never worked so quickly before in his entire life. He peels that blasted jacket off her. It has seen far better days, anyway. He hooks her up to machines, checks every inch of her, wracks his brain for every solution in the book. There are a number of things that aren’t quite right and he can’t figure out why.
His hands shake and his knees threaten to give way, afraid every second that he will fail or she will disappear. Her vitals stabilize and still she sleeps but still also, she stays . He collapses in a chair next to her, tightly holding her hand and never letting his eyes drift from her face lest she try to disappear again or he wakes up from what would be the cruelest trick the universe has ever played on him. And he’s had some doozies.
Donna has given up asking him questions which he has steadfastly ignored and is simply keeping vigil with him on the other side of the bed.
What seems like an eternity but is actually four hours later, Donna has fallen asleep in her chair and he feels a small squeeze in his hand. He shoots from his own hard wooden seat, allowing it to fall to the ground with a clatter and waking up Donna.
“Rose?” he whispers, almost afraid that saying her name will cause him to wake up and if this is a dream he never wants to wake up. Donna’s eyes grow wide as she puts the pieces together and they both turn to face the small blonde in the bed.
Her eyes open and he is pulled into the hazel depth, so familiar and yet somehow different from their “final” meeting in that French courtyard. How are they different? He wants to study them, to figure out their secrets but then she speaks and he can’t help but be distracted.
“Hello,” she says. Hearing her voice is like a balm to his soul. Oh, how he missed her.
“Hello,” he replies, falling so quickly into their painfully familiar game.
Her lips are quickly curving into his favorite smile, those lips he remembers so well, that he has kissed twice in each of his last two bodies but at least one of each of them probably doesn’t really count. It’s about time he made one count.
He kisses her finally after all these years, trying desperately to convey everything he can in that simple action: his years of pain and loneliness, his guilt and sorrow, his joy, his happiness, his love.
Eventually he reluctantly releases her, aware from the beeping of a machine that she needs to breathe. She’s breathless but not complaining. At some point Donna has left the room.
He stares at her hungrily. He never thought he’d get to see her again and here she is. It’s too good to be true. Rose looks at him gently and says “It’s time you opened your letter.”
He frowns. How does she know he didn’t open it? And why would she bring that up now? He doesn’t need to read her goodbye to him anymore. She found a way back to him. Unless she’s going to leave him again. He looks up at her with desperate, pleading eyes.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she says, squeezing his hand and leaning up to kiss him lightly. “Read the letter.”
He reluctantly shifts his gaze and his hand from her to pull the letter from his pocket and break the seal. As soon as he has the letter open, he grabs her hand again, afraid that if he lets go too long she’ll fade away as she has done so many times before.
Knew you wouldn’t read this until I made you. Sentimental, you are.
He glances up at her. She is smiling at him again, tongue between her teeth. The sight almost makes his hearts stop, the smile he has held in his hearts all these years, willing himself to think she had been smiling it all along, living a fantastic life, by not reading her letter but never really believing. He couldn't, not really. She died in his arms.
“Coward every time, me,” he says. Her eyes soften and she nudges him with her foot. She makes an playfully impatient gesture with her head and he turns back to the letter.
Bad Wolf did more then let me jump through time to save your life. It’s changed mine. Changed me. Almost a century passed for me between seeing you as a grumpy old man (and now I know why you never showed me pictures of your past incarnations - although I quite liked the blonde hair - even better than ginger if you ask me) and collapsing in that French courtyard.
He tears his eyes from the letter again. “Rose...what? How? A hundred years? You look the same.” He hearts go out to her again...he's only been without her for two years. She has had to survive with a mere glance of a past body on and off for one hundred years. No wonder she seemed so increasingly sad when he saw her each time.
“Just keep reading,” she says, unhooking herself from machines unconcernedly. He is about to protest but she gives him her best Jackie Tyler impression and commands, “Read.” He obeys.
I’m sorry for the fright it gave you. Opening that portal back to the TARDIS was really hard.
He blanches at her casual dismissal of their parting in France. “ ‘Sorry for the fright’?” he demands, outraged. Was this just another game to her? Another one of her riddles? “I thought you were DEAD. Dead, Rose! You died in my arms. I mourned you. I couldn’t even tell Jack the truth!” he rages, a faint memory from his fourth body of thinking she was toying with his life pops in.
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. But you had to think that. You had to think I was dead. There are things that had to happen without me, things that had to pass before I could find you again.”
“What things?” he demands, now hurt and angry, throwing the letter on the bed, refusing to read another word until she answers him. She has done this on purpose? Put him through years of grief, of mourning, of sorrow when she could have been here? Avoided him except when necessary for ten decades? What happened to her “choice”? What happened to “forever”? He has done many things since he lost her but he could have done them all with her by his side.
At first she doesn’t answer, merely gazes back at him and he is reminded of all those frustrating times in his previous bodies when the enigmatic human girl who would save his life and ensnare his hearts would not answer his questions.
Finally free from all the tubes and wires he so painstakingly administered hours before, she swings her legs over the side of the bed and answers him, a flash of familiar dark knowledge once again filling her eyes.
“You had to meet Martha. You had to reconcile with Jack. You had to save Donna.”
“And I couldn’t have done that with you?” he asks bitterly.
“No,” she answers.
“What else? There’s something you’re not telling me. Don’t forget, Rose Tyler, I know you as well as you know me now. Or at least I thought I did. Now I don’t even know what you are much less who.” The words fly from his mouth, intending to hurt and they hit their mark. She cringes and looks away from him down to her feet which are swinging over the edge of the bed. He is instantly remorseful. He’s finally got her back and they’re fighting? It doesn't matter to him that she has changed. They'll work through it...they always have. But he is hurt and she is not helping.
“The Master,” she says, still staring at her feet.
He hisses. Whatever he had been expecting her to say it was not that. “What about him?” he growls.
She looks back up at him suddenly. “That’s why I couldn’t be here, why you had to think I was dead,” she answers. He nearly collapses as the horrific possibilities come crashing down around him, timelines he never bothered to look at nearly blinding him. She is suddenly on her feet, holding him up, offering her strength to him again.
The things the Master would have done to her...he shudders. The psychopath would have ripped apart both universes to bring Rose back here merely to torture the Doctor if he had thought she was alive. And if he had tried to harness Bad Wolf, whatever it is...
She is right. Of course she is right. She’s always been right.
And now she is running her hands up his spine, soothing away those images before she lets go of him. “Rose, I...” he begins, but she shakes her head and wordlessly hands him the letter again.
I know you’re sorry.
I love you,
He turns to her once more, dropping the letter on the bed again and opening his mouth to speak when the TARDIS jolts and they are both thrown the floor. Rose laughs and the happiness at hearing that familiar sound wells up inside him, banishing the grief and overflowing into a joyous grin that spreads across his face.
“Some things never change, do they?” she says from the floor. He jumps to his feet and pulls her with him out of the MedBay and through the console room. They have more to talk about but now there is adventure to be had and, really, none of it matters as long as she is there by his side.
“Let’s see where the old girl’s taken us!” he exclaims, throwing the TARDIS doors open.
They both draw in a breath at the familiar landscape: Red dirt, rocky outcrops and sting-ray like dragons flying overhead, offering their screeches to the night. They have been here twice before.
“She remembered,” Rose smiles.
“Remembered what?” he asks, although he is certain he knows the answer.
It is where he first asked her the question as a battered soldier in a leather jacket and where she first gave him the answer as a naive young girl in a zip-up hoodie. It is where he last asked her younger self that question before she was torn from him, back when he was a happier man and where she last gave him that answer back when she was simply a girl in love.
“It would seem that when the TARDIS looked into me, we decided that sometimes a promise is meant to be filled,” she responds, slowly turning to face him. He looks into her eyes and suddenly knows what is different about them, those fathomless brown orbs he knows so well.
Gone now is the sadness, the darkness and the pain, replaced with unfiltered love and unadulterated joy. Joy at being alive. Joy at seeing him. Joy at being home once again.
“Weeelll, in that case, Rose Tyler,” he says, lowering his head to hers and once again losing himself in her hazel eyes, his lips centimeters from her own, “how long are you going to stay with me?”
“Forever,” she whispers before closing the gap between them and sealing their promise of a fantastic life. Together.