"Escort the ambulance back to UNIT base."
They'd planned a small hop. Based on when she'd last seen the Doctor, they'd estimated one year to place her back with him shortly after she'd been pulled through the void into Pete's world. But the TARDIS had been empty, the first jump where she'd not found him in the control room. Rose rushed out of the TARDIS to check out a commotion nearby, her initial excitement at not recognizing this situation quickly becoming overwhelmed by a sickening feeling that spread as she got closer and recognized the UNIT trucks.
A redheaded woman was walking slowly away from the scene. Rose was talking even before she skidded to a halt beside her. "What happened? What did they find? Sorry, did they find someone?"
The redhead looked like she was in a state of shock, but she stopped and turned to Rose. "I don't know. Um, bloke called the Doctor or something."
Hope swelled and Rose looked around, casting with the bond for the Doctor. "Well, where is he?"
"They took him away. He's dead."
Rose stopped and stared at her. No. It was impossible. Maybe he'd regenerated again, that she could live with especially after meeting more of his past incarnations, but dead? Not possible. She wouldn't believe it.
"I'm sorry. Did you know him?"
Rose turned away from her, her hand absently rubbing her stomach where the Doctor's child slept. Dead?
"I mean, they didn't say his name. It could be any doctor."
"I came so far." And what if it was true? What were her options? Return to Pete's world to raise the baby alone? There was nothing left for her in this universe if the Doctor was dead.
A hand on her arm stopped her from moving any closer. "It could be anyone." But she didn't sound like she believed it.
"What's your name?"
"Donna. And you?"
Something on Donna's shoulder caught her attention, but it seemed just out of sight, like her eyes couldn't focus on it. "Oh, I was just passing by. I shouldn't even be here, this is wrong. It's wrong. This is so wrong. Sorry, what was it? Donna what?"
"Why do you keep looking at my back?"
Rose's eyes darted away. "I'm not."
"Yes, you are. You keep looking behind me. You're doing it now." She strained to see her own back. "What is it? What's there? Has someone put something on my back?"
* * *
This time when Rose arrived, she wrenched herself from Pete's arms as he tried to catch her. "No!"
Curled up on the floor, her arms wrapped around her stomach, Rose bawled. He let her stay there on the launch pad, his only concession to her arrival to call up Dr. Crowell to check her vitals. Dimly, she heard the man report and a brief exchange between him and Pete.
Rose looked up when Pete dismissed him. "No," she said weakly, then coughed to clear her throat. "No. Stay."
A glass of water was put in her hand and she almost rejected it before changing her mind and drinking it. "I'm going back."
"We've talked about --"
She barely recognized her own voice when she spoke again. "I said I'm going back. Something's wrong. He's dead." She ignored Pete's gasp. "But I don't think that's supposed to happen."
"No, Dad, there's something wrong. I don't know what it is, but I need to go back. Because there may be a way to fix this."
"So, you want us to send you back so you can save him from dying?"
"I don't think so." She stood and walked to the computer that controlled the dimension cannon. "Mickey, cross reference the name Donna with the Doctor, across the multiverse."
"The multi - you don't have a last name and you want me to scan every single universe? That could take a while."
"We don't have a choice. I need to know. It seems like present day, though, maybe 2006 give or take five years? That should narrow the search."
Pete came up behind her and touched her arm. "While Mickey is scanning for that name, you're going to rest. You're not hopping again until he's done anyway and if this is really something you feel you need to do --"
He nodded, cupped her elbow and led her out of the room.
* * *
"You're the one. Christmas Eve - I met you in town."
Rose had to remind herself that for Donna it had been a months, not just a few hours. "Donna, isn't it?" she asked, trying to sound casual.
"What was your name?"
She smiled, but didn't answer. "How are you doing? You're looking good." There it was again, that strangeness about Donna's back. "How's things? What have you been up to?"
"You're doing it again."
"Looking behind me. People keep on doing that - looking at my back."
"What sort of people?"
"People in the street. Strangers. I just catch them, sometimes, starting at me, like they're looking at something."
Rose felt her eyes drifting behind Donna again.
"And then I get home and look and there's nothing there." She swiped at something on her back. "See, look, now I'm doing it!"
"What are you doing for Christmas?"
"What am I what?"
"Next Christmas. Any plans?"
"I don't know, that's ages away! Nothing much I suppose. Why?"
"Just... I think you should get out. You and your family, don't stay in London, just... leave the city."
"A nice hotel... Christmas break?"
"Can't afford it."
"Well, no, you've got that raffle ticket." That had taken only a few minutes to arrange, Rose was quite proud of it.
"How do you know about that?"
"First prize... luxury weekend break." She couldn't keep the urgency out of her voice, "Use it, Donna Noble."
"Why won't you tell me your name?"
Rose didn't answer as Donna walked around her threateningly.
"I think you should leave me alone."
Donna walked away and Rose let her go, too relieved that the other woman hadn't noticed that Rose had known her last name.
* * *
There they were, standing together beside the TARDIS, the Doctor blessedly alive, and her feet slowed to a halt. The Doctor turned and despite the distance between them she could see the disbelief and hope on his face.
The next few seconds occurred in a blur. She was running towards him and he was sprinting towards her, and then it all went to hell. Rose knelt next to him. It couldn't end like this not after everything she'd done.
Jack took charge and got them into the TARDIS.
"What do we do? There must be some medicine or something."
"Just step back. Rose, do as I say and get back. He's dying and you know what happens next."
"What do you mean? What happens next?"
He lifted his hand, the tell-tale regeneration energy beginning to make it glow. "It's starting."
"Here we go. Good luck, Doctor."
"Would someone please tell me what is going on?"
"When he's dying his body repairs itself. It changes. But you can't!"
"I'm sorry. It's too late. I'm regenerating."
Orange energy exploded from the Doctor's skin. After a few seconds, he directed the energy at something underneath the TARDIS console. The Doctor stopped regenerating and stumbled backwards, breathless - the same man. He darted back to the console.
The stunned silence from the other three people in the TARDIS lasted only a second before Jack's hand slid down to Rose's bulging belly. "Rosie?"
She nodded in the Doctor's direction but didn't say a word.
The Doctor moved away from the console and dropped to his hands and knelt before what looked like a hand in a jar, which was still bubbling and glowing.
"There, now." He blew gently onto the jar, and it calmed down, the glowing and bubbling receding. Doctor smiled, delighted. "You see? Used the regeneration energy to heal myself, but as soon as that was done, I didn't need to change. I didn't want to, why would I?" He tweaked his tie. "Look at me! So, to stop the energy going all the way, I siphoned off the rest into a handy bio-matching receptacle - namely, my hand. My hand, there. My handy spare hand."
He stood and looked at Rose. "Remember? Christmas Day? Sycorax? Lost my hand in a sword fight? That's my hand!"
In the lingering silence, the Doctor looked up at his companions. Jack and Donna were looking at Rose, but Rose was looking at him, one hand placed protectively on her stomach.
She moved forward hesitantly, probing him through their bond. *You're still you?*
*I'm still me.*
Rose brought a hand up to cup his face, his eyes twinkling as she rediscovered the line of his jaw and drew her thumb across the softness of his lips. And then, seemingly without either of them moving, his arms were surrounding her, their lips and tongues crashing together. The Doctor's arms tightened around her and he started to lift her off the ground, stopping when he felt the changes to her body.
"And you, you're brilliant!" he exclaimed, breaking away from her and rubbing his hands along the new curve of her stomach. "How long has it been for you?"
"Five months since we spoke at Bad Wolf Bay. I'm seven months along."
"Seven months? Seven?"
Rose nodded and then smiled a secret smile as he turned his attention to his unborn child. "Hello there, little one." He said it out loud, but Rose knew that was solely for the benefit of the others in the room. "I'm your father."
She saw the awe and wonder rush over his features as their child made contact with him.
"A girl?" he gasped. Rose knew he had been expecting the towheaded boy who had visited him so often. "Cassandra?"
"Cassandra Aurelia Smith. I quite like that: Cassandra Aurelia Smith. Donna! Jack! Come meet my daughter!" He frowned, "On second thought, Jack, not you."
Jack feigned annoyance, but Rose grabbed his hand as well as Donna's and pulled them forward, placing both of their hands near where the Doctor's still rested. She felt the contentment that flowed off of her daughter in response. It lasted only a few seconds.