A cold wind rustled through the trees as the Doctor walked along the paved path. The dark grey sky was dreary and miserable. Thick clouds blocked out the sun, threatening rain, though the first few drops had yet to fall. His well-worn shoes had treaded the path many times. The route was so familiar that he didn’t have to even think about where to go; his mind was on other things.
He took his time walking and wasn’t in a hurry. His hands were stuffed into his pockets of his brown pinstripe suit and his gaze was cast downward on the path in front of him, only glancing up every once and a while to find he was completely alone.
The area was full of thick mature trees. The shade they offered blocked out even more of the grey light. The path branched off several directions into neatly organized rows lined with green grass and dotted with bushes and trees that were beautiful enough to have been a nice garden.
The Doctor barely gave the scenery any notice. His hearts grew heavier with each step that he took. It wasn’t getting any easier to come here. Time hadn’t diminished the pain at all, it only made it worse.
He stepped off of the paved pathway and continued on the grass, walking down the rows until he stopped at the right spot and once again became confronted with the inescapable cold hard reality of what had happened. It didn’t matter how many times he stood here. The faintest glimmer of denial he had was always crushed by the unforgiving sight of the stone before him standing permanent and unyielding. It was enough to steal his breath and stop his hearts.
Slowly and with great difficulty, the Doctor forced his gaze upward, taking in the three largest words written on the stone: Rose Marion Tyler.
The grey words were carved in a black granite headstone along with: forever loved and the years 1986-2006.
Each time he read the words it felt like a punch to the gut, deepening the pain he was already constantly in. He kept thinking back to the prophecy the Beast had said on Krop Tor, the valiant child who would die in battle. While he was never one to believe in prophecies and superstitions part of him had always taken the warning seriously out of fear of losing Rose. He’d already lost too many companions over the centuries and knew what the pain of that loss felt like. He had done everything he could to protect Rose but it hadn’t been enough. He hadn’t been able to save her and now she was lost to him forever.
Rose’s gravestone stood beside her mother and father’s. The Doctor still remembered that day when he took her back in time to see her father. Pete had sacrificed himself to save them from the Reapers that had started killing people at the wedding. For a few hours Rose had been able to get to know her dad. She had held his hand as he lay dying on the street and was able to say goodbye.
While Pete was gone a different version of him existed on a parallel Earth that the Doctor and Rose had met when they became stranded there. Pete had had his own version of Jackie Tyler and the two of them never had any children. When the Cybermen attacked Pete had lost his wife. She’d been converted into one of them; a metal monstrosity stripped of all emotion and humanity, and had died along with the other Cybermen that day. This universe’s Jackie Tyler was alive and well in the parallel universe of Pete’s World. Her grave was empty. It was merely a placeholder to commemorate her death in this universe during the battle of Canary Wharf. And as for Rose…
“Oh, Rose…” the Doctor sighed heavily. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve been there. I should’ve stopped it from happening. I swore to myself and your mom that I would protect you and keep you safe. And I tried, but I failed you. And now…” His voice cracked and he found himself unable to get the words out. Tears filled the corners of his eyes and he blinked them back, vividly remembering what had happened that day.
He’d thought that Rose was safe in the TARDIS while he and Jackie, who was pretending to be Rose, were led around Torchwood One by Yvonne Hartman and her men. Of course he should’ve known better. Time and time again Rose was always one to wander off when he told her not to and he should’ve known that her curiosity would’ve gotten the better of her. They’d been through so much together and he knew how incredibly brave she was. They’d seen a real werewolf in Scotland, faced the Wire, the Beast on Krop Tor, and more. Together they’d been unstoppable, the stuff of legends. They’d faced everything and survived- the Daleks, the Game Station, everything except this. He should’ve seen it coming. The Beast had warned of what was yet to come, but how could he and Rose have known?
So much had happened during the battle of Canary Wharf. The Cybermen had come through the Void. At the same time the Daleks had been unleashed from their prison by a touch of Mickey’s hand on the Dalek’s casing as he stumbled. Rose had been with Mickey. The Doctor had seen her on the screen but the moment the Daleks and the Cybermen had started fighting and attacking the Earth she got lost on the way to him and Jackie. They were supposed to meet up with each other in the lever room and he immediately became worried when she didn’t.
The Doctor’s first instinct had been to look for her and make sure that she was alright but he hadn’t had time. With each passing second more and more people not only in London but all over the world were dying from the Daleks and the Cybermen. He’d felt conflicted, torn in two, and had to make the difficult decision to close the Void and then look for Rose after, confident that she was strong and independent enough to take care of herself.
He’d expected Jackie to scold him that he should be searching for Rose but it’d seemed that she’d grasped the grim severity of the situation and had understood that the Daleks and the Cybermen needed to be stopped. After that they could look for her together.
Closing the Void was a two person job and the Doctor had needed Jackie’s help. Both of them clung to the gigantic mag clamps and activated the levers, watching the Daleks and the Cybermen get sucked back into the Void, into nothingness. Just before the Void closed forever Jackie had she lost her grip on the lever. At the last second, Pete Tyler had appeared, grabbed Jackie and teleported her back to the other universe, saving her from falling into the Void. With the gap between both worlds permanently closed the Doctor had no way of travelling to Pete’s World to bring Jackie back. She was stranded there forever with Mickey and the alternate Pete, forever separated from Rose. She never got to say goodbye to her daughter.
Knowing that Jackie was alive and well with Pete and Mickey in the other universe brought him at least some small comfort but not enough to erase the pain and guilt that constantly bombarded him. He could never forgive himself for what had happened to Rose. He should’ve looked for her the instant he knew that something was wrong but he’d been forced to make an impossible decision and would have to live with it for the rest of his lives. He closed his eyes, haunted by memories of what had happened…
The Doctor searched for Rose floor by floor, running as fast as he could down the endless maze of identical hallways shouting her name. Everywhere he looked he came across carnage of the battle: shattered windows, broken furniture, and on every floor of the building were the dead bodies of Torchwood employees killed by the Cybermen and the Daleks and still no Rose.
Not everybody he came across was dead. Of the hundreds that had died countless more were injured, some with minor cuts and scrapes to broken bones and other devastating and even life threatening injuries. He wanted to help them but he couldn’t save all of them. The need to find Rose was becoming more and more desperate with every second that passed. Each floor that he checked he was met with the same amount of carnage and heard the same agonized screams of the injured and the dying.
Sweating and breathless, the Doctor ran down the stairs two at a time and flung open the door to the next floor. This one was seemingly deserted and was under construction. Renovation equipment and supplies lined either side of the hallway and most of the offices were covered with floor-to-ceiling translucent plastic sheeting that made it hard to see what was inside.
“Rose?!” he yelled urgently, looking wildly about in all directions, hoping to see her.
A faint cry stopped him in his tracks. His sensitive hearing pinpointed the direction of the sound. He whirled around to face the plastic sheeting and batted it out of the way with his hand, dreading what he would find on the other side.
What he saw inside the room devastated him beyond words. The shock momentarily stunned him. The office he was in was full of machinery and had been retrofitted into a Cyber-conversion unit. The entire room was lined with stainless steel sheet metal. Saws and syringes hung from a mechanical arm hanging from the ceiling. One of the walls had several control panels with buttons and flashing lights. The lighting of the room was a garish red that burned his eyes and didn’t fully distract from the bloodstains on the walls and the floor. Bits of Cybermen machinery, loose wiring, chest plates and mechanical limbs were strewn on the floor and in the midst of it all was Rose.
He didn’t want to hurt her but he had to get her out of the room. His arms delicately wrapped around her and he carried her out into the hall, each one of her pained cries felt like knives stabbing into his hearts. He set her down on the floor and leaned her back against the wall for support. His eyes looked her up and down, taking in her condition all at once.
Rose’s body was half naked. Her clothes and shoes had been removed. She was partially converted into a Cyberman. Usually when the Cybermen upgraded people they cut the brain out and encased it in a cybernetic body made entirely of metal and machinery. But this was something different, something the Doctor had never seen before. He wasn’t sure why they had done it. Maybe the conversion process had been halted before it was complete when all of the Cybermen and the Daleks had been sucked back into the Void.
Half of Rose’s body had been altered and upgraded by Cybermen machinery: her entire left leg, her right arm from the elbow down to her fingers, her upper chest, her left shoulder, and, most depressingly, part of her head which had the distinctive metal bar headpiece.
After everything that had happened to her, the Doctor was surprised that Rose was still conscious and wasn’t crippled by pain. He suspected that it was a combination of adrenaline and the drugs that they had given her.
“Rose?” he asked softly, brushing away a strand of blonde hair that covered her face, hair that was stained with blood. “Can you hear me?”
The moment her pain-filled hazel eyes connected with his the Doctor felt the slow burning rage of the Oncoming Storm. The Cybermen had mutilated her body to transform her into one of their own. If he hadn’t sent them and the Daleks back through the Void when he did she would’ve been fully converted.
“I’m right here.” He took her left hand in his, careful not to grip it too hard and cause her more pain.
“It hurts,” Rose moaned softly. She briefly closed her eyes before focusing on the Doctor again.
“I know,” he said sadly.
“Everything hurts. I-” Rose looked down at her body, realizing the full horror of what had been done to her, and let out a choked sob. Her reaction was muted from shock. “I was coming to where you and Mom were when two Cybermen grabbed me and brought me here. I- I don’t remember much. I must’ve blacked out.” She glanced away from the Doctor, looking worried. “Where’s Mom? Is she-”
“She’s alive. Jackie helped me operate the levers and we sucked all of the Daleks and the Cybermen back into the Void. Pete teleported back from the parallel universe and took Jackie with him. Mickey’s there too. They’re all safe and together. You don’t have to worry about them.”
Rose smiled weakly. “Good. I’m glad she’s with Dad and they’re together.”
“Yeah,” the Doctor agreed. He left out that the other universe was permanently sealed and that Rose would never see her mom again because he didn’t want to add to her stress. It would only make the situation worse.
He saw that Rose was unable to sit still and knew that she was in an unimaginable amount of pain that was adding considerable strain to her body. Her breathing was becoming laboured and she was starting to sweat.
“Doctor, can you help me? You can fix this, right? You can get me back to normal?”
Wordlessly, the Doctor took his sonic screwdriver out of his jacket and scanned Rose’s entire body. It was worse than he thought. Much worse.
Rose’s leg, arm and shoulder didn’t have any machinery grafted onto her limbs, they were her limbs. They’d been completely replaced. The plate covering up her chest had tiny wires underneath that snaked out into her vital organs, controlling her heart, lungs and was still continuing to spread to other organs throughout her body even now. There were small implants in her brain that sent out microscopic wires around the individual synapses and neurons. She was being changed from the inside out throughout her body on a microscopic level. Even if he removed the limbs and panels covering the outside of her half naked body and found a way to halt the growth of the implants inside he couldn’t remove the internal components or reverse the damage that had been done.
He put his sonic screwdriver back in his jacket pocket, grappling with how to tell her.
“How bad is it, Doctor?” She saw that he was unable to meet her gaze and put her left hand to his cheek, feeling the warmth of his skin. Her head was starting to ache unbearably. The pain throughout her entire body was getting worse. When he did finally look into her eyes he didn’t have to say anything. She knew.
“There’s nothing I can do,” he said miserably. “The Cyber-conversion is rewriting your biology from the inside out on a cellular microscopic level. Even if I could remove everything I can’t repair the worst of the damage. At this point with the level of pain you’re in your body is too weak to even try. I don’t think you’d survive.”
“You’re saying I’m going to be stuck like this?”
“No.” The Doctor winced. “It’s worse. You’re going to become… like them… a Cyberman.”
“No,” Rose gasped, feeling the grim reality of the Doctor’s words sinking in. She was changing on the inside to become like them. Panic filled her. She didn’t want to become a Cyberman and lose who she was. Would she even have any memories left of her life, her mom or the Doctor? She looked down at her body in disgust before frantically tugging at the grey metal plate that covered the upper part of her chest. “GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!” she cried.
No matter how hard she tugged it wouldn’t come off. For a few moments it felt like she could feel the wiring snaking throughout her insides and into her organs but she was just imagining it. She saw the Doctor’s hands clasp around her wrists and carefully pull not just one hand but both of her hands off of the metal chest plate. She couldn’t feel his hand on her mechanical arm. The limb didn’t have any sensation of touch.
When the Doctor, she and Mickey were in Pete’s World she’d seen what had happened to the people who had been converted into Cybermen, how they lacked all feeling and emotion. She could move her mechanical limbs but she couldn’t feel anything with them. How soon would it be before the same thing happened to her heart and her mind? How much time did she have left?
“I’m so sorry, Rose. I never should’ve brought you here. I should’ve looked for you sooner. I-” His words came tumbling out along with his guilt until she interrupted him, closing her lips around his with a deeply passionate kiss filled with heartfelt longing and pure love. In that instant he knew how much she cared about him.
“It’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself. You had to stop the Daleks and the Cybermen and close the Void. You and Mom saved the world together. I never would’ve expected that.”
“Yeah.” The Doctor chuckled softly, picturing Jackie as his dark brown eyes filled with tears. “That was definitely unexpected.”
Rose smiled softly, feeling nothing but love for the Doctor. “You know what? I’m so glad I got to know you. All the people we’ve helped, the places we’ve been to, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. When I first met you, you had lost so much- your planet, your people. You were lost, broken, keeping so much pain and heartbreak inside and you changed. Part of you is still the same. I know you’re the same man even if you get a new face now and then. But you changed. You died and regenerated to save me. I would’ve died back on the Game Station if it wasn’t for you. You sacrificed your life for me and gave us so much extra time together that we wouldn’t have had.”
“That was all you. You changed me, Rose. You made me better, into the man I am today. I never could’ve done everything that we did without you. You’re brilliant. And…” He paused, putting his hand on her cheek and pulling her towards him for another kiss. “If it’s the only time I can say it…Rose Tyler, I love you.”
He poured all of his hearts into those simple three words, letting her feel the boundless love he had for her, letting her truly feel how he felt for the first and last time without holding anything back. He wanted that rush of emotion to fill her, to drive everything else out of her until there was nothing but him and her in the universe and nothing else mattered. He wanted these few precious moments to last forever, knowing that she felt the same way he did, waiting for her to say those three words.
It was like a switch had been flipped. One second she was full of emotion, the next it was gone. Her smile fell, her expression became blank and her eyes- the look in her eyes was what killed the Doctor the most. There was no recognition. She was staring at him blankly, knowing that he was there but not knowing who he was and he knew that she was gone. Everything that made Rose the wonderful, brilliant full-of-life person she was had been erased, overridden by the conversion process. Her memories, her personality, her emotions, her twenty years of life experience were gone in an instant. What made it even more gut wrenching was that she had been moments away from telling him that she loved him for the first time and now she would never get the chance.
All that was left was her broken, mutilated body. Her body was still alive, her lungs inhaling and exhaling, her heart beating and pumping blood throughout her limbs, her synapses firing in her brain, but she was gone. It was worse than death.
Suddenly Rose thrust her right arm out, her movements halting and robotic-like as she scanned him. “SCANS INDICATE BINARY VASCULAR SYSTEM. SPECIES: TIME LORD. YOU ARE NOT COMPATIBLE FOR UPGRADING. YOU WILL BE DELETED.”
Disgust filled the Doctor as the Cyberman spoke. Its voice sounded robotic. Her vocal cords had been upgraded and altered to sound like every other Cyberman. She was a Cyberman. It had taken her over, using her voice and her body like a reanimated corpse.
Now that its programming had taken over and it was fully Cybermen it would stop at nothing to create more of them. Everything it needed to convert the population was in the room beside them. If it got free the Earth would be overrun. He had to destroy the conversion equipment.
He leapt to his feet and ran into the room, once again batting away the plastic sheeting so he could get by. It wasn’t enough to shut down the machines; the equipment had to be completely obliterated so that nothing could be salvaged.
He went over to the control panels on the wall and frantically hit the buttons, trying to deactivate the machinery but the controls weren’t responding. They were locked out. He pried the panelling off of the wall and started ripping out the wiring, hearing the heavy robotic footsteps of the Cyberman booming behind him, approaching closer and closer by the second. He heard it stop and glanced behind him, the garish red lighting of the room making Rose’s body look even more grotesque.
The Doctor barely managed to dodge one laser blast when another came at him. He grabbed one of the metal panels lying on the floor and held it as a shield. The laser beam bounced off and hit the back wall in a shower of sparks. The Cyberman fired again. This time he angled the panel so the laser beam bounced off and hit the wiring in the wall. The hole in the wall caught fire. The entire room was going to explode any second. He had to run!
A high pitched whirring and crackling noise filled the room as the computer circuitry started to overload. He whirled around to face the Cyberman and just managed to dodge more laser fire as it shot at him. One shot bounced off the wall and hit the Doctor’s upper left arm, burning a hold through his sleeve and into his skin. He cried out in pain and kept running out of the room as more laser blasts fired after him.
He was halfway down the hall when the room exploded with a series of deafening booms. The floor beneath him shook and the shockwave of the blast was enough to throw the Doctor off of his feet. He landed hard on his stomach with his arms outstretched in front of him. A massive wall of flames came hurtling down the hall with a roar. Searing hot air and fire exploded outward with pressurized force that rushed over his body and continued past him before rolling upward into a thick cloud of black smoke.
Ceiling tiles overhead came crashing down onto the floor. The fluorescent lighting flickered before shorting out in a shower of sparks. The hallway was dark except for pockets of flames wicking up the walls and flaming debris littering the floor.
Slowly, the Doctor got to his feet, feeling the ache of sore muscles from when he slammed into the floor. He coughed, feeling smoke irritating his lungs. The intense heat of the fire left him a bit singed and scorched. His face and clothes were covered in soot and dust.
Too late he heard footsteps behind him. His eyes widened and he turned around, surprised to see the Cyberman standing there. Somehow it had survived the explosion unscathed. Before he could move, the Doctor felt the Cyberman’s mechanical right arm close around his throat. It lifted him off of the floor with incredible strength and started squeezing.
Instinctively, the Doctor put his hands to his neck, trying to pry off its fingers, but its grip was too strong. His legs dangled freely, kicking out as he choked.
“Rose… please!” he choked, looking into its deadened eyes for even the faintest hint of recognition, but there was nothing. If there was any part of Rose left deep down inside she would’ve fought back and stopped this from happening.
Not taking his eyes off of the Cyberman’s, the Doctor pulled his sonic screwdriver out of his jacket pocket. He quickly adjusted the settings, aimed it at the chest plate on its body and hit the button. The sonic buzzed and emitted a blue light, frying the circuitry that was keeping its body, Rose’s body, alive.
The Cyberman let out a piercing, inhuman robotic scream as its systems overloaded. It released its grip on the Doctor, sending him crashing to the floor. Sparks burst from the mechanical limbs on its body before it collapsed to the floor.
Gasping and wheezing for air, the Doctor inched forwards, dragging himself closer to Rose’s half converted Cyberman body. Now that the screams had stopped all he could hear was the crackling and popping of the fires burning.
“Rose?” he whispered hoarsely, coughing.
She had landed on her side and wasn’t moving. Her eyes were open and staring at nothing. Her expression was blank. Her brain functions had ceased, she wasn’t breathing and her heart stopped. Everything that was Rose, her spirit, her soul, had died the moment the Cyberman programming took over. Now her body was dead too. The Cyberman wouldn’t be able to convert anyone else. The threat, the battle of Canary Wharf, was truly and finally over.
The Doctor cradled Rose’s broken body in his arms and wept, feeling just as broken as she had become.
Months had passed since that tragic day and still the Doctor couldn’t move on, he couldn’t heal. He’d lost many companions over the centuries but this was different. He’d loved Rose and still loved her. Her life had been cut short far too soon, and here she was, her body rotting in the ground six feet beneath where he was standing. When he buried her he removed as much of the Cyberman machinery as he could, hoping to restore her humanity and her soul.
He never got to hear her say the words. She never got to fully express how much she felt about him. He’d always hoped that she’d spend the rest of her life with him. They could’ve had decades together but it wasn’t meant to be. He knew the risks of travelling together and knew that at some point there could’ve been a strong chance that Rose would’ve had to leave, but not like this. He always swore to protect her, putting her life before his own like he did on the Game Station. His strongest instinct was to keep her safe and he’d failed her. She died because of him, because he hadn’t gotten to her sooner, because he hadn’t protected her from the Cybermen.
All these months later, he hadn’t been able to forgive himself and kept obsessively going over what had happened in his mind wishing he could’ve done something, anything, to save her. He was supposed to heal people but he hadn’t been able to reverse the conversion process. Every time he tried to picture her happy smiling face all he saw was what she had become, her deadened eyes, her mechanical limbs. She had died twice- the first time when her mind had been erased, and the second when her heart had stopped beating. The prophecy had come true. Rose Tyler had died at the battle of Canary Wharf.
The guilt of his failure, the ache of his loss had steadily eaten away at him like poison, killing him from the inside, body and soul. It was too much.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been standing on the grass in front of her grave, long enough that a steady rain had fallen from the dark grey sky and soaked through his clothes, drenching his hair. The cold had seeped to his bones but he couldn’t feel it. He was numb to everything except for the pain that filled his hearts.
He traced the name and date engraved on the stone with a finger and then placed a single dark blue rose on top of Rose’s black headstone. “I love you,” he whispered softly, one more time before he turned and left, knowing this wouldn’t be the last time he’d be back.