an echo of time
There is something he said to her, just before the burn, in another voice and another skin, but still him, always him. There is something he said to her that she remembers in words, not just in sensations.
"Whatever it takes," he said and time shook with his storm.
And the planet had burned, everything had burned and he had meant to burn with it, but she hadn't let him.
"Whatever it takes," he had said and she understood.
He isn't the only one who can make a choice.
He's leaning against the TARDIS when Rose catches up to him, her face drained and worried eyes seeking his. She's worried for him, he realises, burn the rest of the world. And why it's such a bad, bad idea is that he feels much the same. And he can burn the world.
He's always been good at implementing bad ideas, he thinks.
"Hey," he says, trying to summon a smile. She mirrors his stand, leaning her back against the TARDIS, giving him a sideways look.
"So the Emperor of the Daleks is still alive?"
"They were keeping him prisoner here, like the Dalek Van Statten had?"
Something in him flinches slightly at the memory. He killed her then, to stop the Dalek. Now he has to stop another Dalek. He hopes he doesn't have to kill her again. He's not even sure he can.
"They were, probably. I don't think they are anymore," he says, feeling the quiet as the silence of a grave. No soldiers. "It's no soldier waiting for orders they've captured. This facility goes deep underground. I think he's down there somewhere, rebuilding his ship, looking for a way to bring his race back."
"So we stop him," she suggests, trying a smile that seems more a grimace.
"Yeah," he agrees, feeling a million déjà vu march in his mind. Sometimes, time is a circle and he always crashes back to this point. 900 years is no age and still he feels ancient, old as Gallifrey, as if its burn has brought the ashes of it into him.
The TARDIS is warm against his back, humming in his mind, a tiny lifeline of comfort in an ocean of grief. So much lost, but she's still there.
"You think Jack's down there too?" Rose asks, a voice of loss too.
"I hope not," he replies, not adding the rest. If Jack was down there, he'd be dead now, probably during some heroic attempt. Jack doesn't perhaps know it, but for all the flirts and smiles and charm, he's got heroism underneath, shining through.
"We'll have to save him, if he is," Rose says and he tilts his head to look at her. "I'm thinking - Save the world, save Jack, repair your ship and get me a change of clothes, all in time for tea."
He was always good at finding the heroic ones. He still is.
"Good plan," he says and takes her hand. "Let's do that."
a message from the past
The noise grows as they go deeper down and he knows it for what it is. Something being powered up. A ship, a ship he knows all too well, gaining strength. But it splutters and dies, then powers up again, and he takes a dark delight in knowing he isn't the only one with a battered ship.
His TARDIS isn't just a pretty box. His TARDIS is his ship, the greatest ship of all and it can still push back.
They peek carefully into every room as they pass, most showing signs of disorder, though not outright violence.
Down five floors, they find the first dead body, and Rose leans her face against his chest for a moment, looking distraught. By the time they find the fifth, she just looks grim. None of them are Jack, and he feels just a twinge of guilt over the relief at that. Maybe Jack hasn't be there at all.
Or so he thinks until Rose makes a strangled kind of noise and her hand feels like a claw around his.
Ahead is a guard's post, instruments flickering, and in the window to the hallway, Jack's wristband.
"No," Rose mutters, shaking her head. "Tell me it isn't."
"Wish I could," he says softly, getting out his sonic screwdriver and opening the door. There's surveillance equipment here, he notes, fairly advanced for the decade. He'll have to tinker with that later.
The wristband hums slightly as he drags the sonic screwdriver across, and he can't help but smile. "It's a message!"
"Doctor, Rose," Jack's voice drifts into the silence, "I've tried to locate you, but if you find this message, I will have attempted to rendez-vous with you in Rose's timeline. I've managed to... Borrow a few ship components this base is storing flashing my good looks and I'm leaving this with a... A good friend I made here in case you do show up so you'll know where to find me. Look forward to seeing you. Rose, wear something hot. Doctor - you too."
Rose is beaming stupidly and he realises he is too, and he doesn't care how stupid he looks, lifting her up, feeling her legs straddle him as he kisses her up against the wall possessively, desperately, joyfully.
"Oh, and try not to manhandle each other too much in your joy I'm still alive," Jack's voice comes again, "wait with that until I can enjoy the lovely sight. See you at the bad wolf. Message end."
"You heard the man," Rose whispers against his lips, so much joy in her he thinks he can drown in it.
"I was never much good at taking orders," he replies and kisses her again.
He doesn't even much take orders from himself, he reflects, or he'd never have kissed her at all.
"Right," he says after a moment, letting her down on her feet again, and sticking the wristband in his pocket to return to its owner at a later date. "Jack was obviously here before us, before the Dalek or he would've tried something stupidly heroic."
"Instead of us trying it now."
"Exactly!" he says with spirit, and bends over the controls. The screen flicker to life after a little jab by the sonic screwdriver, showing the hallway outside. Another jab, and it's another hallway. Another jab... And it's the ship.
He knows it from the nightmares he calls memories, gleaming darkly in the flickering light of a vast hall. It shows sign of burn and crash, great scrapes across metal, but also signs of repairs. Human handiwork, no doubt, trying to put together a ship that can be the doom of them just because they can. The power flickers on and off, someone trying to get it to work and clearly failing.
Missing a few vital pieces, perhaps.
"Remind me to kiss Jack when we see him again," he says, watching the ship fail to power up once more. "He might have saved us all with his borrowing."
"He took something from the Dalek's ship?"
"Pieces of it might have fallen from the sky over time and they've collected them here. Jack probably delighted in the technology of it. The Emperor is probably less delighted to wake up and find his ship pinched from."
"I'd bet," she replies, her hand warm on his arm as she leans forward to look too. "I hate it when you steal half the biscuit pack while I'm sleeping."
"I get hungry from listening to you snore," he says absentmindedly, and lets his mind go.
a travel in possibilities
If this is a military base properly military, there should be something here to blow up the Emperor. Provided the Emperor is injured and unable to defend himself.
If the Emperor can defend himself, still has his strong protective casing, as the dead bodies in this place point to, any weapons this time has may not do much good.
If he can't use weapons, maybe he can make a bomb strong enough to blow up the whole ship. There's bound to be something he can use in this place.
If he makes a bomb, he'll have to make sure the Emperor doesn't disarm it and that means staying close to.
If he stays close, he dies.
If he dies...
He didn't survive by choice last time, he thinks. Maybe he survived long enough to be able to die now.
Decisions always burn, he thinks, leading Rose back to the TARDIS by her hand, saying nothing as everything in his mind seems to be screaming. They always burn and he's already ashes.
He can't be sure the TARDIS can withstand the blast in the shape she's in. He can't risk killing her, and killing Rose too. He can't be sure the TARDIS gets Rose home in the current state of things either, but he'll just have to hope. It'll be safer than here, at least. It'll be life.
It still burns to let her go.
"What is it?" Rose asks, watching his face, worry in her face. "There's gotta be a way to stop it, right? We're not just swanning off and leaving it?"
"There is a way," he says, feeling 900 years of life and eight kinds of him line up behind him, nodding grimly. Maybe it is time.
"What is it?"
He doesn't reply, merely cups her cheek and feels her skin. "Rose Tyler. You were fantastic, you know that? Absolutely fantastic."
"Doctor, stop it. You make this sound like a goodbye."
No, he thinks, this is a goodbye. And he kisses her because he wants the memory of it, just one more memory of it. She clings to him, her body arching into his, her hands against his neck, not letting him go. He can feel her heartbeats on her lips and the salt of tears not yet cried and he wishes he could be there to let them be cried against his chest.
He loves her. He has to make this decision.
"There is a way," he whispers against her lips. "Might be dangerous. You up for it?"
"Come on then!" he beams, dragging her by the hand into the TARDIS. She beams back at him and he thinks he might already be dead from the pain of it all. "Just hold that one down, warm her up, I'll get the device we need..."
He runs out again, closing the doors, changing his mind in one long eternity, thinking he must have her close for as long as he can, must hold her just one more time and changing it back in time to turn and start up the TARDIS with the sonic screwdriver. The sound of it and the sound of Rose calling from within is almost enough to change his mind again, but he stays still, just watching as the TARDIS fades away.
It's always meant to be like this.
It still hurts, even dead.
He gets to work.
He's sending them away. She knew he would, but Rose does not and Rose is crying, cursing him, watching the recorded message with burning eyes. And she's flying through space to where he ordered her, but her time circuits doesn't work too well, still burning. The time doesn't change. The place does. London, 1963.
And she knows, as she always known, it's time to make a decision now.
It's okay, Rose. Don't cry. We're going to find him and save him. Our choice now.
900 years of memory
Building his bomb, he remembers...
A million planets, 900 years, eternities visited and eternities gone. So many people in time. Susan and Barbra and Ian and Steven and Ben and Polly and Jamie and Liz and Jo and Sarah and Leela and Romana and Adric and Tegan and Nyssa and Turlough and Peri and Mel and Ace and Grace and Jack and Rose and so many others, all clinging to his memories and living there. Living with all shapes he's been, their minds still in his like echoes never dying, sometimes growing to a roar and filling him. They're all there now, all he's been, watching him build death.
He's always done what is necessary to protect. He's always taken whatever measures of time he can.
"I'm sorry," he says to himself, all of himself. "You would have done the same."
And in his mind, the first him smiles faintly and the echo grows.
She sings with all her joy, all her memories of him and he hears her, he's here, in this time, he's coming, the old shape of him she remembers, the first shape and even then she did love him, because she was his ship and he was her Doctor.
this, my dear girl? Where have you come from? Your hear him,
Rose? He's coming. He's heard us and he's coming.
Your hear him, Rose? He's coming. He's heard us and he's coming.She sings and time changes.
a last meeting
The Dalek ship is flickering as he watches it in the vast hall, deadly cargo in his hands, a planet screaming in his mind. Last act of the time war and only two players left.
"No point in killing me!" he calls out and the silence is listening. "I die, this bomb falls and goes off. Boom, bang, burn, totally ruin this good jacket."
"You always were the great exterminator," the Dalek voice booms from inside the ship, a million memories come back to that voice.
"You know me, overachiever," he replies. "I see a planet, I must save. Genetic flaw. Bit like me never shutting up. Talking and universe saving, that's me."
"This is how you save it? By killing?"
"Yep," he says brightly. Death for life. All the time in the world, and the Universe still comes down to that.
"Your device will blow up this entire base," the Dalek voice observes after a moment. "I cannot detect your TARDIS. You will die too."
"Yep," he says again and smiles.
One Dalek, one Time Lord, one bomb. End of the time war. Yes.
Closing his eyes, he remembers Rose's face, shining with tears the first time he saw her on a street in London and he loved her already a little bit then, even in 1963 as an old, cranky man...
No. He didn't have this memory before.
Oh, Rose, he thinks. What are you doing? What are you both doing?
He's here, she thinks, and she holds him in song while he watches Rose cry, showing him what she wants, what they both want, what they demand. He doesn't want to. He doesn't understand, but he's never fully understood her. There's no one who does anymore, but he understands a little, and it is enough to love him. He's her Doctor. She's his ship.
Send us back to the bad wolf. I've left the words like breadcrumbs in time. Trace them back. Send us back.
expect me to send you back to danger when someone who sounds like a
young, stupid, suicidal me have sent you here, out of some danger you
won't tell me of? Yes.
Yes.And he grunts and takes Rose's hand and wipes away her tears and she sings as he touches her too, touches them both.
"Young lady, do you wish to go back?"
Yes."Yes," Rose says and the word joins the song.
Helping Rose, helping the TARDIS, sending them both back even not knowing where they'd come from or what the danger really was. Sending them back. Sending them here.
"What the hell did I do?" he says, feeling his mind reel. "What the hell did I go and do?"
He's always been good at implementing bad ideas, he thinks.
The TARDIS is coming, and he throws his bomb as far as he can, hearing the roar of flames as it impacts, the roar of flames coming, growing louder, and so is the song and he staggers under all the noise and he falls, falls, falls.
It burns, so much pain tearing into her, and for a moment, she wants to let go, feeling his depression as her own, the desire to finally, finally have no more pain the strongest wound of all she's suffered, bleeding her.
So easy to let go.
He falls and the TARDIS is around him, materializing around him like an embrace, and he stumbles to the console, making her take off again, but the firestorm is on them and she's burning and she's screaming and he falls into Rose as the ship tilts and they're all falling.
"What did you do!" he hows at Rose, clinging on to her, to life.
"What you made me do!" she rages at him and slaps him. But before he even has time to contemplate his stinging cheek, she's kissing him, and he kisses her back, and her hands are tugging at his sweater and his hands are roaming her body, feeling her arch into his touch and he loves her, he loves her, he loves her even in her stubborn refusal to do what he says and he can't lose her, even if it means letting her go.
But she never lets go and he clings on.
She hurts and it's so easy to let go. No more time. No more pain. No more death. Just let go, falling as a rock in the ocean that is time, all the way to the bottom and rest.
But they are in her, her Doctor and his Rose, and she loves. Her decision and she makes it.
She holds on.
Skin to skin, he savours the sight of Rose: hair unkempt and laced with light; lips parted as her body adjusts to his; cheeks flaming where his cheek has scraped hers in another kiss; fingertips against his chest feeling two beats; the hollow at her neck where he can kiss the pulse that makes her alive; perspiration across her forehead that strands of hair cling to; her body's rhythm matching his even for all their differences; her eyes meeting his with so much love it's almost a pain because he knows, he always knows.
The measure of time always runs out.
The fall becomes flight.
a message for the future
He sits and listens to the TARDIS humming as she's soaking up the energy of Cardiff's time rift, the little song left of what was once the full symphony of Gallifrey. If he closes his eyes, he can hear the echoes of it still, see the sky.
"I know, old girl," he says softly, feeling the console under his fingers. "Good thing we have each other and Rose."
Rose. Sleeping now, as she's deserved after everything. He nearly lost her and she nearly lost him too. He's already made one plan in case something happens to him and her life is in danger. But perhaps he better plan for another, especially now that she knows his first plan and fill find some holes in its logic, as always.
He hates that and loves her for it still.
No more time war. The Emperor of the Dalek burned and his ship didn't, sent back in time by his other self (he has to remember to have a stern talk with himself about that later) to save him this time, but there'll always be a next time.
One more message to make then, just in case.
"This is post-regeneration protocol one. Rose, if you're hearing this message, I've died. And that's okay, because we Time Lords have this little way of cheating death. You've probably already seen it or you're about to. It's a bit like getting a new model of the same brand of car, really. Problem is, I never get to test-drive it first.
"Now, it's gonna take some getting used to and I'm sorry. Moan and cry and scream at me, I'm sure I won't mind. And if I do, tell me to shut it. I can't promise you I'll be more handsome. I can't promise you it'll be the same. But Rose - I can promise I'll remember.
"Go easy on me, yeah? Do that for me. Oh - and keep an eye on what I wear. If it's too embarrassing, burn the wardrobe. It's been..."
He tries to think of a word he can use - an honour, a pleasure, great, wonderful, an utter delight, the trip of a lifetime - and the only one that comes to mind is one he's used far too often. But maybe she'll see what's behind it anyway.
"It's been fantastic. See you around, Rose Tyler."
It really has been, he thinks. Pain and loss and stupid decisions, and it really has been. And they haven't run out of time yet. More adventures to have. They'll have to stay in Cardiff in 1963 for a little while at least, while he repairs the TARDIS, and he still has to think of a very good explanation to Rose for how an old, white-haired man in London in 1963 could use the TARDIS. Maybe if he kisses her enough, she'll forget to ask.
And then, time waits and Jack is probably in trouble somewhere and there's always a planet to save.
Maybe not a bad life after all.
When he hears steps a little later, he smiles and keeps his eyes closed, feeling Rose's presence and the faint small of the lavender soap she seems to have grown fond of.
"I thought you were sleeping," he says. "Bed bugs nibble too much?"
"Nah. It's not a bad bed. Nice pillows, even if they smell of jelly babies. It's just better with two."
Opening his eyes, he sees her beaming at him and he beams back.
"You're just saying that because I'm the best you've ever had."
She laughs when he lifts her up, laughs when he swings her around, laughs when he laughs, and only stop when he kisses her, her arms warm around his neck.
It feels strangely like life, he thinks.
a life still
Sometimes, in the sentience that is the TARDIS, she thinks about life. Human life, Gallifreyan life, her life. So many differences. He's her Doctor, but even she doesn't fully understand or know him. There's no one left who does now and he mourns Gallifrey too.
There's life, she thinks, and there's what can fill it. There are no words to capture it, but sometimes she borrows the human term of love. He uses it, her Doctor. He loves her and he loves Rose and he loves a million planets he always tries to save and she, she knows love is another word for those who live in time and always, always try to categorize what they feel. Love, affection, care, devotion, fondness, infatuation, romance; all the little words that run out against the measures of time.
She doesn't need them.
She feels them all.