This, then, the nature of grief:
Rose Tyler, having saved the world from (can you believe it) an alien invasion after being attacked by plastic monsters and nearly blown up with her job, has just lost her future.
He steps back in the . . . she can't remember what he called it. Starts with "T". The blue box. His expression is strange, not quite neutral.
The noise that she heard earlier that morning turns out to be the blue box disappearing.
She had to say no. She didn't even know him. Sure, he saved her life -- saved it in a way that seemed to involve jeopardizing it an awful lot -- but you don't go off with strangers, even if they seem philanthropic. Gets you into trouble. Trouble is bad.
Anywhere in the Universe . . .
Mickey's arms tighten around her leg.
Suddenly, horribly, her life stretches out in front of her: a life of scrounging for paychecks and looking for a cheap flat just the right distance from/proximity to her mother, of alternately asking Mickey to move in with her and then telling him it won't work out, of being dragged to the pubs to watch matches she doesn't care about with people she can't stand, of mediating squabbles between Suki and Shireen when one of them decides the other's too fat, of listening to the estate's gossip brigade asking who d'you think you are, Rose Tyler, talking about going back to school? Endless rounds of chips and beans on toast and cheap lager and Saturday nights that run into each other and seem to involve staggering home while wiping your boyfriend's puke off your arm while wishing you could afford a cab.
A normal life. Everyone says that's really what they want, deep down.
She's done nothing wrong.
But she's thrown it all away now, so she may as well steer Mickey back in the right direction. "Come on."
She's done nothing wrong, and nothing is her reward.
They've turned around and gone a few steps when she hears something strange. It seems like she's heard it before, only different; like something on the wind, or a murmur that starts at the bottom of your skull --
It gets louder, and they turn around --
"Did I mention it also travels in time?"
This, then, the nature of joy.
The Universe, Rose Tyler learns, is big.
Asteroids are huge. Planets are huger. They spend forty-five minutes in orbit around an unspecified gas giant on the opposite end of the galaxy while he fiddles with the wiring. To pass the time, he rattles off facts and anecdotes about astronomy and the formation of solar systems and the ham sandwich he's just discovered in this loose panel.
She just stares.
The satellite they are currently parked on is the size of Earth's moon. Another moon, riding high in the far left corner of the observation deck, is Earth-sized. The gas giant takes up the entire screen.
She can see storms raging on the surface of the planet, huge angry ochre masses that have been going continuously for hundreds if not thousands of years. She watches as electricity crackles across the surface of the planet and occasionally lashes out at a close and hapless moon. Shadows of the giant's rings freckle the surface of those distant swirling clouds.
"I'm a Time Lord. I'm the last of the Time Lords."
Later there will come explanations -- generally halting, often reluctant, never without pain -- and she will learn, piecemeal, about a race so powerful and old that the Universe didn't know they were there half the time. About how they built ships and bent the fabric of time and space to their whims. About how they held back from the encroaching darkness until it was too late to do anything about it -- strange position to be in for a species that called themselves the Lords of Time.
"There was a war, and we lost."
The Universe, Rose Tyler learns, is really, really big.
The gas giant they are looking at now, some four thousand years and 170 million light-years from the first one he'd ever shown her, is twice as big and has four times as many moons.
In light of the huge swollen star behind it, though, it's just a speck.
She remembers the way the Earth burned, the vastness of the planet dwarfed by the ravenous Sun. She asks the Doctor how much longer this planet has.
"A few more years." He tells her that the planet is by its very nature uninhabitable, that the gravity and wind and cold and poisonous atmosphere would only allow for a rare few forms of life to evolve and that this planet never spawned any. A dead world, about to die.
She feels . . .
She knows that this is happening all the time, all across the Universe. She knows it's nothing new. But --
When she says she feels sad, he doesn't try to talk her out of it, tell her that it's irrational to mourn for some unnamed lifeless ball of gas and wind that was doomed to this fate since the day it formed.
He takes her hand.
"Everything has its time."
She knows, though that's not comforting. "But it's still sad."
He's smiling, though quietly. The light of the red star throws his features into sharp relief, his eyes reduced to two gleaming sparks in the cavernous gullies of his face. "Proves you're still alive."
They all thought she was dead.
At first she's ashamed, seeing her mother break down, hearing the neighbors going on and on about how much they've worried and how often they've called the police. She abandoned them. How heartless. How selfish. How cruel.
Two hours later, aliens invade but it doesn't matter because they're still talking about the match last night or Marla's new hairdo or the new bloke at the grocer's or why Rose is such a horrible and disobedient child to go running off like that, and with an older man? Well, there's precedent. Pass us another drink, love.
She'd only been gone for what, twelve hours?
She's going to kill the Doctor for this. Though maybe she'll get him to take her away from here, first.
Later, they blow up Downing Street.
This ends up being the deciding factor when he calls and tells her it's time to be off. Sure, it's hard to do this to her mother and Mickey, but no one's going to look at her resume now.
This, then, the nature of infatuation:
When she dropped out of school to go and live with a musician, she steadfastly held that love, or lust, or kismet, whatever, would be enough. That they would defy expectations and be going strong forty years down the road, rocking out and inviting envious comment.
She moved out four months later, after getting sick of his excuses and pot-smoking and (she suspected) philandering. She had always believed that love affairs were supposed to burn out slowly and painfully, with residual feeling lingering like an old wound years after the fact.
Whoever said those sort of things never woke up on their birthday to find a dead cat floating in an aquarium full of beer cans.
And of course even after admitting her mistakes and trying to start over, it was too late. Rocker-boy was out of her system for good, but her savings were shot and her academic career compromised.
For all that she flirts and banters, for all that she bats the eyes, for all that she loves -- loves -- playing the bad girl, Rose Tyler is not a hopeless romantic.
And anyway, Adam struck her as a bit dense for a know-it-all.
Space is --
That is --
He shows her a binary star system. He shows her the Horsehead Nebula.
He shows her the Milky Way, pulled back so far that the observation deck is only total blackness with a cluster of silver light burning in the lower right hand corner.
And compared with the hugeness of all these individual huge things before, moons and planets and stars --
She can't stop. She laughs until she cries, and then starts laughing again.
Two months ago, the big thing on her mind was whether or not she'd move out of London.
They get into trouble.
Trouble is good.
This, then, the nature of the Doctor:
He doesn't fit into her idea of the Universe.
Not ex-boyfriend, mate from school, friendly acquaintance, favorite uncle. Not personal guru, roommate, scoutmaster, gay best friend. Not brother, not father, not lover.
Sometimes she thinks he could be any of these. Sometimes she thinks he could be all of these.
Often he scares her.
It is not a question of love. It is a question of keeping that distance, that horrible distance.
There is a reason why she brought Adam along, why she keeps calling Mickey and why she hangs around with the good Captain so much these days. Flirting isn't that addictive.
There is one thing he would never ask, which is why she trusts him so completely and without reservation. If he told her they were going to jump into the heart of a star, she'd be ready. If he told her he was going to shoot her in the head with a harpoon gun, she'd assume he had a plan. If he told her they were going to steal fire from the gods, she'd make sure she knew how to fight an eagle while running. But he'd never ask that one thing.
Because it isn't perfect, and it isn't safe, what they have. It doesn't fall into a neat, tidy, human category.
And it doesn't exist in an idealized state.
She has seen his pettinesses, his alien disaffectedness, his irritability. His impatience with those she loves. His unsubtle jealousy when someone else is the object of her interest. His annoying swings from pop-culture magpie to Big Picture Cosmic Cop the next. His needling of Mickey. His veiled distrust of Jack.
She has seen dead time in those eyes; huge, infinite darknesses. The vastness of long age; the knowledge of a thousand lifetimes. Ancient. The Universe he exists in exceeds the limits of her imagination. He harbors a range of experiences and emotion that she can only imperfectly guess at, and beneath it all lurks the hideous specter of the Time War, festering under his soul.
But he tries to play it down. He tries to be the hero of the day, the smart-aleck, the all-around how-to guy, winnah-and-still-champeen!
She remembers the tender lilt to his voice as he stroked the little flute, long fingers moving deftly, poetically, across its surface; the heart of all gentleness.
"See? You just have to be . . . delicate."
She remembers the quiet in those tones; the sad, distant warmth in his eyes.
"It's a long way from home."
She remembers the spittle flying from his mouth, eyes afire, snarling like a sick dog, the gun aimed at the Dalek. At her.
Rose Tyler respects that distance, though she does not love it. She is not allowed to know everything. And he never asks. Not for that.
He only wants someone to tell him that he's clever, except when he's being stupid. Someone to bicker with. Someone to rescue, and someone to do the rescuing when the plan goes wrong. Someone to play against, and someone to impress. Someone to share manic grins with, someone to dash around with while laughing at the big cosmic joke that the whole damn world is just too blinkered to get. Someone to be his partner-in-crime.
Someone to convey loss to, even if the magnitude escapes them. Someone to comfort. Someone for him to give the gift of wonder. Someone to stand with him while the planet burns and watch in perfect silence.
Only for her hand in his.
It's a good thing that the monsters are always slow.
Unfortunately, they don't always need to be fast.
This, then, the nature of death:
They don't talk for ages after they leave Pete's body on the pavement on that grey and perversely gentle morning in the past.
She knows he's taking her home. Because she can't handle this kind of pain. Because of the damage she's done/could have done to existence. Because of those terrified faces at the wedding, the people he couldn't save. Because of her shortsightedness. Because she betrayed his trust. Because of what she said to him, throwing the shared knowledge of his own pain back at him, saying he treated it like it was his Get Out of Jail Free card.
Because she proved that she really doesn't get it at all, that she had been given a golden ticket and traded it in for a bike that got stolen.
Because she'd gotten him killed.
She's so numb that what's going on doesn't register. There's too much death in her head, too many tears in her throat. Her dad is gone. She watched him die twice. She met him and knew him and loved him, wanted to fill every second of that day with the sound of his voice and the look on his face and now he's gone.
She saw the Doctor, the only constant and real thing in her universe, devoured in one huge swoop. Gone.
Strange that she'd known the Doctor longer than her own father. Strange how that death hurt more. Strange for him to be here now. Strange for her to be losing him again.
He does not take her home.
He takes her to the outer edge of anything and everything. The Milky Way is so far off now that it is only one of a cluster of tiny silver dots interrupting the infinite blackness that surrounds them.
Quiet. Even the TARDIS is running muted. The lights are low, reverent. His voice is even lower.
He tells her about the creation of the Universe, the eruption of time and space and matter. About the aeons and aeons of formlessness and raw energy that slowly became stars and planets and galaxies. About life, in all its varied and beautiful forms, blooming where the Universe became stable.
He tells her about extinction. Entropy. Decay. He tells her about the heat death of the Universe, how one day that is not a day there will be nothing left but background radiation that no eyes will be left to detect.
In this blackness and silence, she is lost. The numbness is so total now, so vast and complete that she can feel the Universe cooling. Ending.
His hand is around hers. The warmth startles her out of her reverie.
In the darkness of the eternal night, only the sparks of his eyes are visible.
His hand tightens around hers. She holds onto it as though she were drowning.
"But," he says, and the lights dance, "not just yet."
If you travel enough, even Cardiff in the early 21rst century can be exciting and alien.
And it's fun. They're the cleverest bastards on the face of the planet. If they were any more clever, they'd have a theme song.
The monster starts playing head games, and Rose suddenly needs to get out of the TARDIS for a bit. She sees that old, distant fear resurface in the Doctor's eyes, though he instantly submerges it. "You'll be all right?"
She's still touched after all this time that he honestly believes she'd just run back home. It annoys her, too. "Hullo? Cardiff. Safest place in the universe, remember?"
Later of course this ends up being untrue, but then with nuclear power plants and time rifts all bets really are off.
She remembers Mickey too late, runs to find only glass and confusion and gas fires. He isn't answering his mobile, but he isn't on any of the injured lists at the hospitals.
The Doctor offers to let her look some more. The graciousness of the offer is obviously killing him.
Rose remembers her very first trip in the TARDIS, with the Doctor prattling on about his being alien and trying to save the world while she was struck by the realization that Mickey was dead or worse. How she accused him of being thoughtless, cold. Non-human bordering on inhuman. And now . . .
Mickey's all right. Better off without her.
This, then, the nature of grief:
Rose Tyler, having saved the world from (can you believe it) no fewer than three invasions, countless alien threats and more bizarre situations than you can shake a sonic screwdriver at, has just lost her future.
Her mum and Mickey are trying to get her to eat. The chips are tasteless. She remembers eating chips with the Doctor after the world ended. How the food had anchored her in the there and then, giving her the ability to write it all off as a bad dream until she was strong enough and well-travelled enough to really consider all the implications of her world burning.
In five billion years, the world still burns.
In an 1860 Christmas, the Gelth still wander.
Somewhere in Utah, there's a Dalek chained in a basement.
And in that horrible and distant future, the Doctor is going to die.
And it's not right.
There was the one thing he never asked for. He, too, respected that distance. Understood its necessity, knew why it existed.
But the other things --
The presence at his side, the needle to his conscience, the banter to his blather, the Bonnie to his Clyde, the sweet to his salty (more like tart to his bitter) --
The hand that held his --
She's seen too much of the Universe to think that it'll end when he does. The Universe is big. Time stretches in all directions and coils in around itself, like a snake eating its own tail. There's too much of everything to stop just because the last Time Lord dies.
But something will be wrong.
It will be the Universe without the Doctor, the one broken but brilliant constant that weaves itself in and out of history and legend for the sake of rainy Sunday afternoons and scabbed knees and cosmic justice; all the little stupid things that become big important things when you do them right and for the proper reasons.
Everything worth fighting for. Everything worth living for.
Worth dying for.
They are talking about pizza shops.
Rose Tyler thinks about a dark, cold place outside space and time.
But not today.
the universe is big and it is killing her. the tardis is trying to tell her not to look, that she can only see things in small pieces at small times, that being mortal she can't withstand this fire any more than a long-dead gas giant withstood the sun
and she can feel the turn of the earth
and the song of the stars
and the hum of the nebulae
and the cooling of the universe
and she affirms it
and she denies it
and she is burning, and the tardis becomes just another submerged voice in her head, echoing with the voices of everything that is and was and shall be --
and the beautiful man hears her
and names her pain as his own
and takes her death into himself
and Rose Tyler is too far gone to remember that the question is not asked, does not need to be asked because the answer was already given --
and the music recedes
and normal entropy triumphs
and in the lining of her mouth, tucked away like a forgotten kiss --
This, then, the nature of endings:
And then, in the best fashion of corny 50's cheesefests, it starts to snow. Families and couples run outside, laughing, slipping down the stairs and tumbling into each other's arms. Bright-eyed children point upwards at shooting stars, wishing for presents they didn't get this year. In light of everything that's happened in the past 72 hours -- the Game Station, Daleks, the Change, the Invasion -- it seems like some kind of crazy benediction, like some goofy but benevolent deity is making a half-assed attempt at saying that everything will be all right.
"This isn't snow; it's ash."
Bang goes that theory, then.
He's standing, legs apart, head cocked, wearing an expression of contemplative quiet that she only partially recognizes, and she can't imagine the Doctor -- the other Doctor -- ever looking quite like that.
Something has healed over. Something that is part of that huge and terrible vastness that she could never understand, even given a thousand lifetimes. And maybe this happened when the light overtook him (what did happen? why can't she remember?) and burned away the old body to give birth to the new, staggering onto the scene like the world's lankiest phoenix.
But she doesn't think so. It healed before that. How, she isn't sure, but she remembers him -- the old him -- standing at the console as she picked herself up off the floor, and he was --
Well, always a little manic; that was how he was. But at peace. With himself, with the War, with the end.
And it's never going to be completely all right, and it will never be perfect. But it's good. It's better than what it had been. And in a Universe that's slowly winding itself down, that's nothing to dismiss.
But it surprises her that he feels he needs to extend the invitation again. Shyly, not in the offhand, brusquely coy way that had demanded immediate action when they'd been standing in this same place, a lifetime ago, with Mickey hanging off her and the smell of melting plastic still lingering.
And Rose Tyler knows it will end.
She knows that it's easy to get lost. She knows that the monsters are sometimes faster than they look. She knows that sometimes she isn't fast enough.
She knows that he has changed. She knows that she has changed, and will continue to do so.
She knows -- and here she feels the turn of the earth, the cold at the edge of the Universe -- that one day, it won't be enough anymore.
But not just yet.
And his hand is still warm.
And he points to the stars.
This, then, the nature of joy.