“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” - Pablo Neruda
The Doctor turned away from the white wall and forced his mind away from the horror of solitude. After all these years, he knew better, had known better, than to trust anyone but himself. This separation was inevitable. He had been willing hours ago to thrust Rose unwilling into the other universe, to force her away from him for her own protection. That had been strangely acceptable. It had been his own choice. He had made that choice for her before and been content with it. Once, she had chosen to shatter the rules and come back for him. When she had, part of him had broken and she had wedged her way into him through that crack. He maintained the illusion of control since then, crowing his authority, making decisions for the world and the worlds and the whole of time and space.
This, this white wall and the emptiness of utter victory, was not his choice. For a moment, he had allowed himself to hope, hold her hand, let her say "forever," and the fall from such a height was more crushing than he had feared.
He walked by the destruction and chaos of the tower without giving it a second glance. A body here, a broken desk there, the smell of burning and death pungent in the air, all meaningless to him. Once, he would have stopped, touched a bloody face, said "I'm so sorry," even felt responsible. He felt so much now and it would burn him to ashes. He said, "I'm so sorry," aloud, and wondered if he was sorry for anyone but himself, and, oh Rose, for her.
Her father had saved her when he could not. He felt a moment of anger that he, striding across worlds, had been made humble by the act of a human. But that had been Rose's father, in a sort, and he expected nothing less of her. The thought of her in the Void made his stomach clench and his hearts pound. His lovely Rose, trapped in a Hell he had surely made for her. Now she would be safe. Safe. He had wanted that for her. Hadn't he? He had made that vow to Jackie and repeated it often enough, but had he really meant it he would have forced her away from him, from chaos, from death. He had never been strong enough to refuse her.
A lone siren wailed outside and he pushed through a door hanging off its hinges to find a stairwell. It was a long way down and he briefly contemplated letting himself fall, breaking apart physically as he was inside. If it would have done any good he might have done so. The curse of the unbreakable, to keep going when everyone else would not. He had been here before and he did not know how he could bear it again.
For a moment the stairwell shimmered in his eyes and was a roiling ball of flame, shattered pieces of his world flaring before his eyes. He cried out and put his hand across his eyes. The vision passed and was replaced by Rose, smiling, lolling in the apple grass with love in her eyes. Then, she screamed his name and was falling into the Void, not saved by Pete this time but through the wall into the space between the universes. It did not happen that way, he thought furiously to himself, she will be safe and loved and have a fantastic life.
He pounded down the stairs relentlessly and out into the air, thick with dust and smoke. He heard a woman sobbing nearby and did not turn to find her. He stumbled forward, wanting only to go home, knowing only that his home was where Rose was and he would never go home again.
I have to say goodbye. He thought of Sarah Jane and her years of waiting for him. He owed more to Rose. No, he wanted more.
In the TARDIS, he began frantically to search for a way. His brilliant mind focused on pure science and for some time, days for some, years for others, he worked tirelessly. He knew enough this time to disallow hope, but he would see her again.
When he did, he was broken again, knowing he had extended hope to her and then snatched it away. The moment broke, and he was alone, again, for what he vowed would be the last time. He let tears stream down his face and didn't say the words. He opened his eyes, let out a little sigh, and knew what he could try to do. The hope, his Rose, would be tucked away on a shelf in his mind like a cherished toy from childhood. He would take it out every once in a while to brush off the dust and open his wound enough to remind him why he did not allow himself the luxury of personal optimism.
The forgetting was what he knew best.