The Shape of Words

by ABadPlanWellExecuted [Reviews - 20]

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  • Teen
  • None
  • Angst, Introspection

Author's Notes:
Constructive criticism and critique welcome on this one — feel free, negative opinions OK, and all that. I promise I won’t take offense.

It’s a curious thing, causality.  The possibilities of every microsecond, a spider web of moments, colliding, deflecting, forming probability vertices and bottlenecks of likelihood, or circling back on themselves, cementing fixed points and shunting other streams off into the infinite array of never-weres and might-have-beens. 

And, every now and then, there’s the rare binary–one particular instance that spirals around itself, synchronous timelines never intersecting, and with each possibility equal in weight.  A double helix of time, branching off from a single choice.  Yes-or-no.  On-or-off.  He-loves-me, he-loves-me-not.

In this case, it’s definitely the former.

Against all odds, he gets another chance on that same wind-swept beach, and this time, he says it.  And that’s all it takes. 

“I love you,” he says later against the skin at the back of her knee, and she giggles as she pulls her leg away, ticklish.  “I love you,” as he places kisses up the length of her spine, over the flat plane of her shoulder blade.  “I love you,” whispered into the arch of her neck, the curve of her ear, into every crook and hollow of her body.

 I love you, I love you, I love you. 

It has always been in the background, the instrumental music of their lives.  But now’s the bit with the chorus, and he’ll repeat it as many times as he can.

“I love you, too,” she says as she takes his hand.  As she passes him the eggs.  As she runs with him toward danger.

***

She is sitting on the edge of the jumpseat, going on about their latest adventure.  Bits of alien jungle are still clinging to her jacket, she’s idly brushing them away, and every time she swings her legs, he can spot the mud still caked to the bottom of her trainers.  All around him, her words are flying by fast, so fast.  He loves them, wants to hear them all, but the only thoughts he can keep in his head are amazing, beautiful, mine.

“Would you like to get married?”

It’s out of his mouth before he has a chance to think it over, and it flips her chatter off like a switch.  Her legs stop swinging.  Her eyes drop to the floor.

Yeea-ah, that wasn’t the most romantic of proposals.  He’d understand if she…  Of course, she’d want something a little more…er.

Are his palms sweating?

“Rose…”

“Doctor,” she interrupts, looking up again, with a smile that’s lovely and bright and just a little cracked around the edges.  “Who would we invite?”

Right.  Right.  Because, of course, her family is on the other side of the void.  And the rest of her friends and relations on Earth think she’s dead.  There’s Sarah Jane, but, oh…that sounds a bit awkward.  Mickey, but again with the awkward.  The other him, keeping watch over Donna and Torchwood, well, that's not even an option.  Martha…oh dear.  Well, there’s always…

“…Jack?” he offers for the sake of having at least one name.

They stare at each other for a moment before bursting into laughter. 

“Alright,” he allows between chortles, “maybe not.”

Rose wipes her eyes.  “It’s sort of pointless now, don’t you think?  Pretty sure I already promised you forever.”

“You did,” he agrees.  “I just thought it’d be nice to say it back.”

This time, her smile is slower, fuller, all the broken bits healing back together.  “Then do it.”

“Rose Tyler,” he says, coming to her, cupping that face, holding that smile in his hands.  “I’m yours.  Always.”

“Forever?”

“Forever,” he affirms, and oh, she approves of that, approves and approves and approves, with tongue, even, and it’s amazing how much a thrill it still is, his mouth on hers, his fingers slipping up the back of her shirt to find the clasp of her bra. 

“Now when you say forever,” she says, pulling back and eliciting a groan from him as she interrupts some of his best work, “how long could that be, really?”  She plays with his collar, loosens the knot of his tie.  “I mean, theoretically.  If you got creative with the science.”

Her eyes are bright, her gaze steady, and she’s so much older than she was at nineteen, so much wiser, so much more certain.  She’s serious, and it’s his turn to feel those cracks and fine line fractures heal up as something bright and vivid flutters to life in his chest.  Something like hope.

And so he gets to work, conjuring magic, coaxing miracles out of technology gathered from across time and space.  She draws the line at anything that involves extreme flattening or metal exoskeletons, but other than that, he finds she is surprisingly willing to compromise the little details of her humanity in order to reach his measure of forever.

He is careful, though.  Only the best will do, only the least invasive solution possible is allowed.  Spatio-genetic manipulation coupled with bio-plasma is wrapped like a shield around her telomeres like Teflon, preventing any decay in her DNA.  A trinetic cellular retroshield increases the tensile strength of her skin.  An army of nanogenes marches over her body at his command, specially designed to heal, repair, maintain, protect.  There are increases made to her lung capacity, improved synaptic reactions in her brain, additional safeguards affixed to her liver, and a new synthetic heart of his own design, guaranteed to last millennia, placed lovingly into her chest.  By the time he’s done, she could float exposed in space for a good three minutes with no lasting ill effects.  She could take a bullet to the head and walk away.

(Not that he tells her that.  No point in encouraging her to take unnecessary chances.)

And just in case, he slips a bracelet around her wrist, telling her it’s to maintain the nanites–so don’t ever take it off, Rose, not ever–and it does help with that, a bit.  What he doesn’t mention is the emergency homing beacon and transmat, so that he can find her anywhere.  So that he can always bring her home. 

There are days when it doesn’t seem like enough, like he could never repay her for everything she’s done, everything she’s given up to stay with him.  He would give her anything she wants, and it never fails to amaze that what she wants most of all is him.  

So he lays himself down as tribute–at her feet, if he’s feeling traditional, or in her bed, which she clearly prefers.  All that he is, all that he has, all that he knows will be hers, maybe has always been hers.  Including a precious secret whispered into her ear.

“Huh.”  She pulls back, looking thoughtful.  “Your name’s nice.”  At his questioning glance, she elaborates with a shrug, “Well, after all this time, I just figured it was something like ‘Eggbert’ or ‘Humperdink’ or something.”

He has just a moment to feel outraged before she flashes a grin, leaping to her feet.  “Ohhhh,” he growls, “you’re going to pay for that.”

“Gotta catch me first,” she yells, already running, and of course he chases her, laughing, laughing, laughing.

They laugh a lot, the two of them.  All across the universe.

They do a lot of good, too.

It never ceases to amaze him how good she is at this world-saving gig–brave and compassionate in equal measure with wisdom supplanting instinct as the years go by, as the faintest of fine lines that not even he can erase mark her face.  She seems impossibly young by day and ancient by candlelight, fascinating, fantastic, and there are times when he doesn't want to lift a finger, just wants to sit back and watch her as she pulls the pieces together, pulls people together.

There are worlds where they grow flowers year-round in her honor.  Worlds in which her name is spoken softly as a blessing over the heads of the newly born, and if people come to him for medicine, they come to her for healing.

He has never been so happy.

***

The sun is shining through the space station window, unobstructed by any celestial body.  It’s direct, overbright, and it takes him a moment to spot her there, standing in front of the glass with her back to him.  Casting a long shadow on the floor behind her.

He walks the length of the room, and it feels like a mile.  Filling the empty space by her side seems like the hardest thing he’s ever done.

They stand together, watching.  Still and silent in the hard light.

She doesn’t look at him when she speaks.  “Twenty-six million, three hundred forty-eight thousand, nine hundred sixty-three.”

He doesn’t answer.

“As of the last census count, of course.”

A remnant of the shattered planet drifts into view, temporarily blocking the sun and throwing her face into shadow. 

He can still taste the blood in his mouth.  “I couldn’t.” 

For the first time, she turns her head to look at him, but her eyes are too much–he looks away, a coward.  He doesn’t need to see her to know what they are both thinking.  Both remembering. 

I could save the world but lose you.

He swallows the blood and the bitterness.  “I couldn’t.  I guess maybe that was the point.”

There’s nothing more to say, and they stand apart, silent in the light of the broken star.

Two weeks later, she leaves him. 

A knap sack slung over one shoulder, she steps off his ship into a crowded marketplace of an alien port city, one single backward glance serving as her goodbye. 

He has expected it, knows her too well by now to think she’d do anything else.  Even so, he can’t resist the temptation–five and a half hours later, he activates the transmat bracelet and…ends up with a letter.  It’s full of all the things they’ve never really needed to say to each other, forgiveness, and useless platitudes.  Heartfelt well-wishes.  A weak joke about how she knew, of course she knew, about the transmat.  And that one bit of truth, penned in a single line beneath her name:

I’d’ve done the same.

He can hardly stand to look at it, shoves it in the deepest, darkest corner of the TARDIS.

Their parting was inevitable, he knows that, has always known that, even if he’d fooled himself into thinking they’d outwitted every law of nature, biology, and time.  But everything that has a beginning has a middle, has an end. He was never meant to keep her forever. 

There is rage for a time, bright hot fury, and then terrible, bitter grief before he can finally acknowledge the truth–she was right to leave.  He let a world burn to keep her; the only remedy left is to sacrifice everything they have to keep the next one safe.  She has given up the veneer of immortality as well–without him to maintain the delicate balance, her state of biological grace will be lost.  And the thing that breaks him is that he’ll never know.  She could live for years, she could die tomorrow, and he’ll never know where she is, if she’s safe, if she’s alone.  If there’s someone to hold her hand, at the end.

But–

That’s just what might-have-been.  There is, of course, another option.  Another future here, full of human life and human joys, oh, he can see it, too–arguments over whose turn it is to do the washing up and dinners with her parents.  Exploration on foreign soil rather than alien planets.  World-saving on a smaller scale, adventure and domesticity kept in balance, the length of forever measured in the steady pulse of a baby’s heartbeat.  Uncle Tony steadying the rope ladder so that his five-year-old niece can climb into their new tree house, both of their chests puffed up with pride at the accomplishment.   Love and joy and grief and laughter, the people she’ll save, the lives she’ll touch, connections, friends, family, humanity–none of it disturbed in this softer universe where she will always be safe, she will always be loved, and she will always be Rose.

He shifts his stance and wonders, in some idle back corner of his brain, how long the sand of Bad Wolf Bay will linger in his trainers.  Opening his mouth, he gives her the answer he must, the answer she deserves.

"Does it need saying?"