She'd thought it would be dramatic, but it wasn't.
He'd cut himself shaving. She looked at the dark little spot on his jawline, on some level surprised to see that his blood was red, just like hers. He noticed her looking. "What?"
She licked her thumb and reached out to brush it away. "Nicked yourself a bit." Her fingers didn't want to leave his cheek. He didn't look away.
"Clumsy in my old age," he said, trying to smile and not managing it.
At the same moment they stepped toward each other. He straightened up and plucked her hand from his face to hold it to his chest. How long they just stood there looking, she'd never know.
Finally he spoke. "Is it time?"
Time. Imagine the Time Lord asking her about time. But this was a question that only she could answer. She nodded. "Yes, it's time."
She hadn't known his lips would be a little chapped, or that it wouldn't matter.
She'd thought everything would be different, but it wasn't.
He doesn't say the words. She finds that she doesn't need to hear them after all. They travel on, flitting from star to star, popping back to the Powell Estates once in awhile. Bring down another cheap demagogue before tea, just another day at the office. Free some terrorized slaves on a pirate planet, and it's off to Royal Albert Hall to hear Yo Yo Ma. But now, when she holds his hand, his fingers on hers call to her sense memory his fingers on other parts of her body, parts that only he gets to touch now.
He upbraids her for wandering off. She chides him for thinking he's so impressive. He makes fun of her wardrobe. She mocks his TARDIS fixation.
He pulls tortured faces when they visit her mother, but he comes to tea and lets Jackie fuss over him. He is nice to Mickey and she pretends not to notice that he watches her out of the corner of her eye, wondering if this is the trip when she'll tell them.
She hasn't told them because she's pretty sure they know. She doesn't sleep in her old bedroom when she visits anymore. Jackie only asks her why once. She makes excuses about being used to the hum of the TARDIS, and unable to sleep without it, when in truth it's him she's unable to sleep without. Jackie nods her head, and she is extra-nice to him the next day.
She'd thought they'd talk about it a lot, but they don't.
They take a trip to a planet whose name she can't pronounce, a planet of peaceful people and kind-hearted rulers and harmonious prosperity. She waits for him to reveal the dark secret, but it turns out there isn't one. They walk in the marketplace and make idle chatter about their surroundings. She eats something that tastes like ice cream but isn't; he releases her hand and then his arm is around her waist.
They sit in a park and eat some kind of fruit on a stick and she dribbles juice down her top. He laughs and she asks to hear more of his stories. Three years of his stories and he's nowhere near their end. Today she hears about a planet where the custom is to change your identity once a year. Move to a new place, take a new name and a new job, find a new love. She comments that it sounds like his life. He is quiet, and she is sorry.
They do talk about it, while they're talking of other things.
She'd thought that when the words were said it would be a big deal, but it isn't.
They are having breakfast. He is reading something, and she is writing in her journal. He gets up for more coffee; he refills her cup without asking.
She feels him watching her and looks up. "What?"
He sighs. "I just don't think you have any idea."
"Any idea of what?"
"Of how much I love you."
The words are strangely powerless. She knows this already. She's seen it a thousand times. The panic in his eyes when she is in danger, as she frequently is. The relief when they are reunited at the end of an adventure. The sighs that escape him when they make love. She might have wanted to hear it once, but not now. She just nods. "I know that. But it's nice you thought to say so."
"Well, I do like to be thorough."
"Good for you."
"Yes, good for me."
And that is all.
She'd thought that she'd eventually want a declaration, or at least a promise, from him, but the time goes by and she doesn't.
She is waiting for him in a park in San Francisco. He's gone to see someone about something that she's sure made sense when he said it, but it has flown out of her mind, pursued by the scent of the ocean and the blue of the sky. She's happy to wait for him here.
He sits down at her side. "Bloody waste of time."
"Did he have the whatever?"
"Yes, but it was the model 4.5. I've got three of those."
"I'm sorry, darling."
He shrugs. "Nice day for it, anyway." He slides a bit closer. "I've been thinking."
"Wasn't aware you ever stopped."
"I'm tired of living in sin."
"You don't believe in sin."
He holds up a ring. "You up for the job?"
She sighs and pretends to mull it over. "Yeah, all right."
"Hold out your hand." She does. He slides the ring onto her finger. She watches it sparkle in the afternoon sunlight and soon she's looking at it through the prisms in her eyes. He puts another ring in her hand and holds out his own. She slides it onto his finger.
They sit silently for a few moments. "I guess that's done, then," she says.
She turns her head and watches his profile until he meets her eyes. She doesn't know what she'd been planning to say but it all goes away.
They head to London for a visit. Her mother sees the rings; she says nothing, but later when she is alone with her in the kitchen, she hugs her tightly and whispers in her ear. "Please tell me you're happy."
She nods. "I'm so happy, Mum," she says. What she doesn't say is that she's happy in a way that can't be talked about, she loves him in a way that can't be said out loud, and her life rolls on without comment or description because it doesn't fit inside words, none of it does. She just puts her head on her mother's shoulder, feeling that she's made it smaller by saying even that much; then she sees him watching them through the doorway, and in his eyes she feels it grow too large again, and she says nothing more.
She didn't know that she'd been waiting for him until he showed up on her doorstep.
She doesn't recognize him, but she does. She knows the eyes, the tilt of the head, the hand in the pocket. He is tall and slender with sharp features and blue eyes that remind her of the one she lost. She steps aside to let him in to the flat she keeps in London for those rare times when hers has to go somewhere without her. This is one of those times.
They look at each other in the entryway. "You're finally ginger," she says.
"Good thing, too. It was my last chance."
Her heart stutters and keeps on beating somehow. "Last?" She can't look away from his eyes. She wishes that hers was here, too, but if he were, this one would not be. He's been waiting for a time when she is alone, because what he's come for, hers can never know about. "I've been waiting for you," she whispers.
"I know." He is shaking. She wonders how long she has been dead to him. How long has it been since he saw her? Has he missed her? Did he sit by her side at her own death? When she went, was it her own with her, or one she'd not yet met? She had so many questions that he could not answer. "Please…" he says, raising a hand toward her. "May I?"
She nods, and he enfolds her. His arms are full of a panicky tightness that she's never felt with hers. He clutches her, his hearts are beating fast. He steps away quickly.
"I'm sorry. It's just…been a very long time."
"It's all right." She crossed her arms over her chest, a rudimentary protection that she will need if she's going to handle this. She's promised herself that she would. She owes him. And she wouldn't have it any other way.
"You know why I'm here?"
"I'll understand if you don't want to come."
"Are you sure you want me to?"
He sighs. "Who else could there be?"
She nods. "Where are we going?"
She'd thought that it wouldn't be like watching hers die, but it is.
She holds him in her lap, pressing his bleeding head to her chest, and she sobs without bothering to restrain herself. They are all watching from a discreet distance, these people he's just saved. She'd asked him what was worth his life, for keeps this time. The universe? All of creation? The undoing of the human race?
No. Just a colony of about two hundred people on a remote planet that no one would miss. That was enough. The radiation is melting him from the inside out. He'd gone inside the reactor and now it was all safe again, except that nothing could ever be safe again without him.
He looks up at her with eyes filming over with blood. He touches her face with a peeling, blistered hand. "Three hundred years," he croaks.
She doesn't understand. "What?"
"Three hundred years I waited to see you again." She hopes he will stop before he says too much, and he does.
She can't think of anything to say. Nothing in her mind fits inside words, which isn't a new sensation. "I can't think about a universe without you," she finally says.
He shakes his head. "Don't have to. I am everywhere."
He dies in her arms. She waits for a regeneration. Maybe he'll get a few more. Time off for good behavior. Nothing happens and she weeps into his hair, holding his hand. He is still wearing her ring.
But he is everywhere. At this moment, even as he dies, some version of him is somewhere doing what he does. It will be so tomorrow, and the day after that, and until the end of all things. She thinks of him at the end of Time, sure that he is there, seeing that it all goes off according to plan. She thinks of him at the beginning of Time, watching as the universe that he will guard, shape and guide is born. Of all that has ever existed, he is the only constant, and his death is irrelevant.
He is immortal, in practice if not in theory, and somehow he is hers in a way that she has never understood.
The TARDIS takes her to a planet she doesn't recognize. There is an arch and a funeral pyre. When she arrives the door opens and they come in to carry him out. She recognizes them. She recognizes him.
She drifts outside and they are all there except the last. She stops. Hers is here, and he is looking at her. He is wearing the pinstripes; he stopped wearing them ages ago. There is no ring on his finger. She wonders if she's kissed him yet. She wonders where she thinks he is.
And then…she allows herself a tiny sob. He is here as well, the one she lost, the one she first loved. He is watching her, too. He looks amazed to see her here, the companion of his own death. Is he surprised that she was to become so significant to him? She wants to go to him but a short one with a brolly comes to her then, murmuring to her in a comforting trill. He puts his arm around her and guides her into the circle. There are two she does not recognize. Which one is next for him? Will hers die and become one of them? Will she be there to see it?
They all seem to know her. No one speaks. He is on the pyre, waiting only for the spark. There are torches lighting the circle and it's for her to do, she knows. She walks forward and lights it, her sobs shaking her arm and making the flame dance.
Hers comes forward and draws her back. He holds her and it is so familiar that she can let herself wilt. Her first joins them, his hand on her shoulder, and it is too much. She has to turn and bury herself in his arms as she could not do when he died.
They watch the flames leap higher. They stand there for a long time. She wonders how it feels for each of them, watching their own body burn. She looks at each of their faces. Old, young, plain, handsome. Dark, fair, tall, short.
One by one they leave. She hears the TARDIS engines again and again. Only a few remain. Her first pulls back from her and answers the question she's been asking in her head. "I won't remember," he says. "Each time I come back here for this, when I leave it fades away until the next life when I come back again."
"Oh." She meets his eyes and sees in them that he's known her long enough for it to be okay that she kisses him, long and hard. "Will I remember?"
"Yes," hers says from behind her. "Someone ought to remember my death."
"Why not?" He smiles, and she knows that he is too new yet for it to have happened for them.
Another steps up, young and blond and cricket. "I'm to take you home, then?" he says. He has kind eyes. She struggles to remember which one he was. She's seen him in pictures.
She nods and follows him, casting a glance back at hers. Both of them.
She'd thought that it would be hard not to tell him, but it wasn't.
He comes home two days afterwards, hugging her off the ground and excited about the trip he'd taken to a planet whose atmosphere was, sadly, toxic to humans. If he notices the tears in her eyes when she looks at him, he doesn't say anything.
She lies awake for a long time that night. He is actually sleeping beside her for once; usually he waits for her to fall asleep and then gets up to tinker or read. She watches the back of his head and sees his blood on her shirt, feels the life leave his body as she holds him.
She didn't know she'd signed on for this, but it's all right.
She'd thought that actually living her life with him would be difficult, but it isn't.
He calls Jackie his mother-in-law openly now. He puts on an air of irritation, but she knows that he's grown fond of her mother.
She can pilot the TARDIS. Sometimes. With helpful suggestions. She's only gotten them nearly killed three or four times.
They aren't always alone on the ship. The friends who travel with them are no longer his companions, they are their companions. Dr. Flora Unnakrishnan, a professor of comparative religion from the year 2012. They meet her at a conference in Cambridge that had been infiltrated by Antraweroids, who had targeted Flora for genetic recyclization. Ben Stillwater, a leathery trucker they meet at a rest stop in Arizona. They're there to stop a terrorist cell with a nuclear weapon, but find that Ben, having been observing for a few hours, already has the whole thing figured out and that he listens to Kierkegaard and physics textbooks on his truck's CD player. Campbell Millhouse, a spoiled high-school senior from south Florida who winds up stowing away quite by accident. He wants to kill him within ten minutes. It takes her longer. Twenty minutes, perhaps. By the time he leaves, she is thinking up schemes to get him to stay.
And Mickey. About once a year, Mickey gets the wanderlust and decides he wants to come along. He usually lasts a few weeks. Sometimes less.
They don't talk about children. She doesn't feel that pull that other women feel. She doesn't care to explore the issue. He shrugs it off as irrelevant to people like them. She wonders what that means.
They find Jacob in the ruins of an industrial workcamp on a human colony in the Antares cluster. He's only eight and has been forgotten by everyone. They exchange one glance and silently promise each other that he isn't coming along with them, that they'll find him a proper home. Two years later, they are Mum and Dad to him, and when the residual toxins from the war that orphaned him claim his life at twelve, they weep for him and bury him on Earth where Jackie can tend his grave and they can visit him often.
She waits to grow tired. She waits for him to grow tired of her. Instead, what makes her tired is only what she sees. The chaos, the suffering, the helplessness that even he cannot mend. And when she is tired, it is only in him that she finds rest. She knows that he is always tired. She sees the weight upon him and knows that it never gets lighter, but only heavier. She tries to shoulder it with him, but she can't. So she makes herself strong for him to rest against, and she knows she has succeeded by the lightness in his face and his step when she is with him.
She doesn't know when she stopped being a companion. She can't remember what it was like to look at him with awe. She looks back on the youthful fantasies she used to have about him when it was all intoxicating and new and laughs at her own folly. She wishes she could go back and tell her young self not to daydream, because reality was waiting. Stop imagining what he's like in bed, because the reality will far surpass anything you can conjure. Stop wondering if you're different, because you are. Stop hoping that this is what you're meant for, because it is.
You'll know it someday. You'll feel it someday. A thousand times, in a thousand languages, on a thousand different worlds you'll hear it said again as you stand there at his side, holding his hand.
"I'm the Doctor, and this is my wife, Rose."