Already Rose could smell ozone and feel the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stand up in preparation for the jump, as the Torchwood techs powered up the dimension canon.
"One, two --" Mickey said from the controls, his eye meeting hers, dark and full of concern. "Good luck." And then she felt it -- the violent tug just behind her navel as the world flew apart, and the maddening two seconds when she felt like she was nothing and nowhere. The pain was bad, but brief, then BANG! The world reassembled itself again and she was tumbling forward onto firmly packed sand. Clean air flooded into her lungs.
It was night. Bright white stars were sprayed across a black moonless sky, and there was the sound of surf nearby. She stood up, brushed the sand from her face and the knees of her black trousers, and felt for the pack where she kept her precious if cumbersome gear.
Good. Everything present and accounted for. She set the pack down on the sand, took off her blue leather jacket, and stuffed it inside, hoisting it back onto her shoulders.
A wave crashed especially loudly nearby in the dark, its flow spreading almost to her boots before retreating again.
Now that's odd, she thought. She was expecting London. They'd gotten quite good with their aim, her team had; they almost always sent her to the correct universe now, and so close to the right point in the Doctor's timeline that she felt that any jump now could be the right one. The last one.
And then they could be together.
This, though. This was the right universe, she could feel it, but the location couldn't be correct. What would the Doctor be doing here, so far from the glow of civilization? She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen so many stars without actually being in space.
She looked out over the dark ocean and breathed a sigh. It was nice here, wherever "here" was. The air was warm. Humid. There was the fecund smell of jungle in the air, tinged only ever so slightly with the oversweet smell of rot.
"Well," she said to the black sea before her. "Why have I ended up here then?"
Must be an error, she thought. Still, even though she had no idea where she was, something about the place struck her as correct. She knew she should take the Native Universal Resonant Frequency gauge out of her pack and feed it some matter, to be sure. But then again, if this was just a fluke, why waste the time? Better to just jump back.
As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she peered up the beach and noticed what looked like a faint light illuminating the tops of the palm trees a ways up, where jungle met sand, the light spilling over the beach all the way down to the water. She walked towards it, her pace quickening. There was a breeze, and as the languid fronds of the palms moved over the light source it appeared to flicker like a blue candle.
She started to run, her pack bouncing on her back. Could it be, that after all the terrible scenarios she had had to witness, all those bizarre other worlds, that she had finally found her Doctor ... on vacation?? It was too hard to run close to the vegetation's edge where the sand was softer, so she stuck near the surf where it was firm; where she could go faster. Her heart started to pound for reasons that had nothing to do with running.
As she approached the source of the light, she realized she could hear music a little ways away on the sand beyond the edges of its glow. Faintly. Definitely not recorded. It was so dark that she couldn't see anything at first, but she could hear the muted sounds of a guitar being played over the waves. An electric guitar. She stopped.
She stared at the spot where the music was coming from. As her eyes adjusted, she saw the dark silhouette of a man, sitting on what must have been ... an amp? The volume was turned down low.
She had a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach. She stood listening for a few moments, not daring to move. The song sounded familiar, but she couldn't place it at first. He wasn't playing the melody, just the accompaniment. But then it came to her:
"If you are going to the north country fair," she hummed softly, knowing the sound would be swallowed by the surf and that he wouldn't hear her. Very slowly, she walked towards him while he played.
He stopped, was quiet for a moment, then started to play again.
"I can hear you breathing," he said.
Her heart fell. She did not know the voice, but still, it vibrated within her inner ear in a way that felt ... familiar. She couldn't move.
"Well?" he said. "You're a very loud breather, you know. You might want to have that looked at."
She took a few steps closer to him. He resumed playing, the same song as before.
"Look," he said over the music. "I don't know what you want, but I'm not looking for company at the moment. So if you're in deadly peril, or you've contracted some terrible alien illness, or you're ... I don't know, a blood-sucking vampire-mermaid come to invade Mexico from Atlantis VI because you've run out of coconuts, well, honestly, you're going to have to come back tomorrow because I? I am taking the day off."
He kept playing. Rose heard the lyrics in her head, "where the winds hit heavy on the borderline." She stepped closer.
"Well fine then," he said, standing up, shouldering the guitar strap and picking up the amp by a handle. "I see you there, in the dark, you know. Fine. Have this beach if you want. I'll just go somewhere else."
"Who are you, and where did you get that voice?" he asked.
She heard the familiar sound of the sonic screwdriver but saw no light. The blue beacon in the palms intensified, casting a stronger glow over the sand and over them, so that the man standing near to her was visible. He was wearing sunglasses (in the dark!) and dark, close fitting clothes that she couldn't quite make out. She set her pack down on the sand, her hands shaking.
"Heavens, I didn't mean for you to STOP breathing," he said, although his voice no longer sounded casual. "I mean, breathe, by all means, breathe. I was just --"
But he was taking off his sunglasses, and then he looked towards her, his expression stern, but she realized she was still standing in the shadows.
"Oh no," she said. "I think this is a mistake."
He put down the guitar and the amp.
"You're speaking with a stolen voice, which really, isn't very nice. Who are you?"
"Doctor, it's me. Do you know me?"
"No no, don't speak. Don't do that. Don't -- don't -- why are you doing this, whoever you are ? Because this --" he walked towards her, his face looking angry. He was standing right in front of her now. "This," he gestured at her body from head to toe, "this is not the sort of thing that I consider ... funny."
Inside, her heart was falling. With every word from him it was falling.
"Doctor," she said, fighting back tears. "It's me. You know me, don't you." It wasn't a question.
He put his sunglasses back on and touched them near the temple, and the ocean nearby them started to glow. He must have activated some kind of frequency to affect the phosphorescent plankton. It gave them more light, but it was eery. Gold and green. He took the shades off again and put them in an inside jacket pocket. Was he ... wearing a hoodie?
He stepped back from her.
"Oh no," he said. "No no no. This isn't you. I mean, you're not here. So I think you had better explain yourself right now because I am about to get very, very angry. And believe me. That's not something you want to see."
"So you know who I am, then," she said, trying to keep the emotion out of her voice.
"I know who you are pretending to be. The question is, why?"
Rose was uncertain. Was this just some stupid mix-up? Could she have ... found another Time Lord? If the Master had escaped the Time War, maybe it wasn't so crazy to think that someone else had too.
"Is that --" she gestured towards the light in the palms. "Is that a, a TARDIS?"
"Look at you and your big words and your stolen voice. Your stolen face. That's *my* TARDIS, yes," he said.
"Who are you then?" she asked. "What's your name?"
"I'm Doctor John Disco, the one and only, now who the bloody hell are you?"
She couldn't help but laugh.
"It's you, isn't it."
"Yes of course it's me," he said impatiently. "But like I said, I don't know who is pulling this little ... prank ... but I'm not in the mood. So, if you'll excuse me."
He turned to go.
Her mind was going a mile a minute.
"You know who I am then?" She asked. He stopped. "What's my name, Doctor?"
"I haven't said that name in a long time."
He paused, then spoke softly.
She moved towards him.
"No, don't do that --" he started to say, but she had already reached him. She threw her arms around his neck and buried her faced against his ... tee shirt? It didn't matter. It was the Doctor. He smelled right. It felt right in her heart to hug him.
He didn't hug her back. She didn't care.
"It's you, isn't it?" he said, his voice sounding strange. "You are actually here."
"Oh, Doctor," she said. She felt across his shoulders, over the smooth fabric of his blazer and the cotton of the hoodie poking out from underneath. His arms remained at his sides, but there was no tension in him and he didn't push her away.
"Rose Tyler," he said again. "Obviously, I didn't know about this one. One of your jumps. You should have told me."
"How long has it been?" she asked, turning her head to rest her cheek against his chest. She felt him move first one arm and then the other around her back to hold her. Very slowly, he reached one hand up to stroke her hair.
"More than a thousand years," he breathed. She pulled back.
He gently guided her head back against his chest.
"Have you found me, yet?" he asked softly. " I mean, at the right time. When I remember all these ... visits."
"No," she said.
"But you don't remember ..." she began. "Oh. Right. This one hasn't happened yet. I mean, even when I find you at the right time, this is still in your future."
He chuckled softly. "Well, not anymore." He tightened his hold on her.
"Wait, so I do find you? Then why -- why aren't I with you? Are you alone?"
He had begun to rock her gently, swaying almost imperceptibly on the sand.
"You know I can't tell you any of that," he said. "After you went to so much trouble, erasing my memories and all. Trying to keep your identity a secret when I hadn't met you yet."
"So where are we now then? The past or the future? Where've I landed?"
"This is Earth," he said, running his fingers lightly through her hair. "And we are on a beach in Mexico. And I'm not sure I know what it means to be in the past or the future anymore. But the date is April 27th, 2004."
"Hang on, that's my eighteenth birthday!"
"Yes," he said.
"And this is Mexico?"
"So, a few thousand miles away, yeah -- I'm celebrating my 18th birthday at the estate?"
"Well you were. Maybe you still are. It's late there. I don't know."
"But for you ... Since we last saw each other ... For you it's been ..."
"A very long time."
"So am I ..." there was a lump in her throat. "Am I ... dead then? I mean, if it's been hundreds of years ..."
He didn't say anything.
"So what happens? Is it all okay? Do I stay with you forever, like I promised? I stay with you forever, don't I?"
She tried to pull away from him, to look him in the face, but he wouldn't let her. He held her tight against him. The plankton was still glowing in the surf.
"I didn't know about this one, this jump," he said."But you should get going."
The idea of moving away from him, of taking her arms from around his neck and walking away felt impossible. But his hands fell to rest on her hipbones and he very gently pushed her away, breaking the contact of their torsos. She took her hands from around his neck, her palms against his chest.
"You're different but you're still you," she said.
He seemed to consider this. "That's good to hear. Now Rose." She felt a twinge as he said her name. "Now listen. You've got to go now."
"I'll see you soon, okay?" she said, feeling tears prick her eyes.
"Yes," he said. "I think so."
"Why can't you tell me ... why are you alone? What happens to us? Are you ... are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Rose."
"But ... you're out here all by yourself, and you're playing Bob Dylan songs, and and ... and when did you learn to play the guitar anyway?"
"Rose. Rose Tyler. I'm glad to have seen you. But I need to ask your permission for something."
"What is it? Anything, Doctor."
"I would be better if you forgot this. In fact, since I didn't know about it, I think you must."
"What do you mean?"
"Tell you what," he said, pulling her against him again. She was trembling, but he felt so steady. "How about I keep this one for both of us? All those times when you protected me by folding my memories away, keeping them safe. All those chance meetings. Now, I think, it is my turn to carry the burden."
"Do you really think it's necessary?"
"Okay. Should I use the memory thing, or --"
"I can do it, if you like. Whatever you prefer."
"You can do it."
He stroked her hair, tucking a strand behind her ear, and then brought his fingers to her temples. He looked down at her and seemed to smile in spite of himself, and she couldn't help but feel her face break into a smile as well. His face was so different, but he looked in that moment like he had that time in the TARDIS, right before she saw him regenerate, after their escape from Satellite Five. Everything about him was different, but the light in his eyes was the same.
He closed his eyes and she closed hers. Then she felt his consciousness brush up against her own. HI, he said, inside her head. HELLO, she said back, giggling, and her heart seized. They stood listening to the surf and the wind in the palms, with his consciousness reaching further into her, resting warmly against her memories like the soft touch of his hand. Lightly. Just a brush, the way he used to brush his thumb against hers.
I LOVE YOU, she said to him, unable to prevent herself from thinking it.
THE STUFF OF LEGENDS he said back, his tone playful, smiling. SO, CAN I TAKE THIS MEMORY, he asked, so gently, more gently than this regeneration seemed capable of saying out loud, I'LL KEEP IT FOR YOU. She breathed out. YES.
She was walking along the sand, ready to be pulled back by the Torchwood team. It was strange that the dimension canon had misfired like this, sending her somewhere random. Uninhabited. It was beautiful though, with phosphorescent plankton tumbling in the waves, and lighting her way as she walked, her footprints sparkling for a moment in the sand before flickering out again.
There was the smell of ozone, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She braced herself for the jump. And away in the darkness, a pair of blue eyes -- that were definitely clear, definitely no tears (or if there were, they were quickly blinked away) -- watched her go.