Because I couldn't quite resist the temptation,
there is a bit of Ten/Rose shippiness in this epilogue. It's not
necessary for the rest of the story, but, well, temptation called
:) Thank you to everyone who reviewed. I'm so glad that you've enjoyed this story! - Gillian
Epilogue: Final Words
"And in his final words I found an ace
that I could keep."
-The Gambler, Kenny Rogers
It was good to be home, she decided as she patted one of the white roundels of the TARDIS. The comforting hum of the time-ship rumbled through the console room and she smiled. Familiar, comfortable, home. Definitely more of a home than Perivale had ever been.
And that was despite everything that had happened. Between her and the Professor. Between his manipulations, her angst, and whatever messes they found themselves in. It was home. This was home. Right here. Right now.
She knew, of course she knew, that someday she'd leave him. Or he'd leave her. It was inevitable. But something in the other Doctor's eyes, something of the desperation in his embrace, worried her. He hadn't said a word, but he didn't have to. She could see it.
Something was wrong. Or would be wrong. Something in the future would cause that desperation, that need, that damage. She didn't know when it'd happen, but she suspected it would. And she knew that she wasn't there when it happened.
All from his embrace.
The comforting surroundings of the TARDIS suddenly lost their comfort as a chill crept up her spine. Something was coming. Not now. Not yet. But it was coming.
She couldn't keep it in. She couldn't not talk about it. "Professor," she began before she paused, searching for the right words to continue.
"Mmm? Yes, Ace?" he asked absently as he flipped switches and turned knobs on the console.
"The other you. The future you. He seemed…different." No. That wasn't the right word.
He gave her his full attention and she was stunned by that heady regard. Every time he did that, she felt as if she were the most important thing in the universe. As if he'd shoved to the side all the other considerations of his position as Time's Champion, as the Doctor, just to listen to her. "Because of Rose?" he asked.
No. Yes. Maybe. The future Doctor and Rose were obviously close. Almost to the point where she felt uncomfortable simply thinking about it. But, no. She shook her head. "No. Not really. Yeah, a bit. But not all of it. He hugged me, Professor. And something in it just..." Her voice trailed off as she shook her head, defeated by the loss of the right words.
He approached her and his blue eyes seemed sad as they filled her vision. "We aren't meant to know the future, Ace," he said as he lifted two fingers to touch her left temple.
She blinked and shook her head in an almost futile attempt to clear the cobwebs. "Professor?" she asked, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Were we talking about something?"
He looked at her from across the console – Wasn't he next to her earlier? No. Impossible – and grinned. "We're always talking about something, Ace. Tea, your penchant for explosives, and holidays."
"Holidays?" she asked.
"Oh, yes. Holidays. Thought we could do with a nice holiday. Somewhere tropical, nice beaches, good food, good company, and no megalomaniacs with aspirations of ruining the day," he announced, twisting a knob with extra gusto.
She grinned. A holiday. For them? Well, it couldn't be worse than the last place they'd been. Which was... "Doctor, where were we? Today?"
"Today?" A flicker of confusion darted across his face. "Oh, another planet, but it wasn't that memorable. Maybe. Can't quite remember. Anyway. Holiday! Let's try...Corbais. 5050 should do the trick."
"A holiday?" she asked. "You mean it, right? A real holiday?"
He did his best to look hurt. "Of course I meant it. A holiday. Promise. I think we both need a break. Read a good book, get a tan, try the local cuisine – and their version of ice cream is fabulous – and do nothing strenuous for at least a few days. Sound like a plan?"
She grinned. "It sounds…wicked."
That it'd turn out that the Corbaisians were being invaded by the Sontarans and their holiday would be cancelled never crossed her mind.
This was her life. Another day. Another planet. Another gamble.
Just her, the Professor, and a hefty dose of Nitro-Nine.
And that, she decided with a grin as she joined him by the console, was what made it perfect.
He was looking at her again. Ever since they'd returned to the TARDIS, he'd been looking. Something in his expression was different, more intense. Shades of his former self – and she wasn't thinking of his short, annoying, Scottish version.
No. He wasn't looking at her. Couldn't be. There were things to do, places to go, tea to drink.
Oh god. She had been spending too much time with him.
No. She wouldn't think about it. She wouldn't think about his brown eyes boring into her, or that look on his face. They were home.
Yes. That was what was important. They'd saved the day and saved the planet. And they were home in time for tea.
She fought the urge to thump her head against one of the columns in the console room. No. She wouldn't think like him either.
Another adventure over. Another day where they'd won. And she'd got a chance to see what he was like before he ever was her Doctor. She found his previous version annoying, but he was still recognisably the Doctor. Just not her Doctor. She shook her head. She could give herself a headache just thinking about it.
And he was still looking at her.
She couldn't stand it anymore. "What?"
He blinked owlishly at her. "What what?"
Oh no. He wasn't getting away with asking a question as an answer. "You've been looking at me." The ghost of Cassandra's voice whispered in her mind, And you like it. She firmly suppressed that thought.
"I have?" he asked, running his hand through his hair. His expression grew sheepish. "Oh. Maybe I have. Sorry."
"'S okay, but, Doctor…are you all right? I mean, with seeing Ace an' your past self an' all." She met his gaze, hoping that he wouldn't look away.
He didn't and for a moment she could see behind his mask. She could see the pain and the grief that he kept hidden, had to keep hidden. He was the strongest man – or alien – that she knew to withstand that much emotion. But he couldn't. Not really. Sometimes he broke.
She was watching the fracture grow within him before he blinked and the moment was gone. "Yeah. I'm always all right."
No. She wasn't having that. That was no answer. At least, it wasn't the correct answer. Another layer, another mask. She crossed the short distance between them, never looking away. To look away would be a concession, an agreement to let him continue to suffer in silence, hidden away behind the mask of 'fine' or 'all right'.
She reached out and touched his arm.
It was a catalyst. He stepped forward and wrapped her in his arms. He said nothing, but his embrace told her what he could not. He was hurting. He missed Ace, missed the things that'd he'd lost over the years, missed companions, and regretted mistakes. He was worried, about her and for her. The future. The past. The present. Everything he felt, she could tell just from the tightness of his embrace and the slightly rushed sound of his heartsbeat.
"No," she said softly, denying his words. "Not always, and not now. But you will be."
His only answer was a miniscule tightening of his arms around her. But that wasn't enough. Wasn't nearly enough. She couldn't tell if he believed her. All she could tell was that he was hurting. And he needed her.
He needed her.
Not like before. Not with the same desperation. But in a different way. Perhaps even a better way. She reached up and caressed his cheek, barely feeling him press against her hand in unspoken encouragement.
Oh, Doctor. Her Doctor.
He was in pain. So much pain, for so long, hidden behind a mask but still there. Still aching. Still hurting.
Tears brimmed in her eyes. Oh, Doctor. She didn't think as she gently brushed her lips against his. She didn't even consider the consequences to her actions or the possible ramifications. It was an automatic reaction. He was hurting. She wanted to comfort him.
So she kissed him.
And she froze.
"Rose." Her name was barely a breath upon his lips.
She couldn't look at him. Wouldn't look at him. Wouldn't meet his eyes, because she just knew what she'd see. An apology. A murmured response that he didn't do this, couldn't do this, because he was nine hundred years old and she was barely past childhood. Because he was a Time Lord and she was a silly ape. Because she'd die long before he ever would. Because he could regenerate and no longer feel anything for her beyond friendship – oh, she deluded herself. She knew he loved her, but he wasn't in love with her. Because he didn't do domestic. Because he...
His hand touched her chin, forcing her to look up. And what she saw astonished her.
No regrets. A hint of pain, yes. But overwhelming it all was another emotion. Something that defied description or explanation. There were no words to describe it.
It just was.
He didn't regret it. She could see the truth in his eyes.
Instead of fulfilling her fears, he smiled. "Thank you," he whispered as his hand brushed upward from her chin to cup her cheek.
She blinked, fighting and losing against her instinct to lean into his touch. "For what?"
His smile turned into a grin as he leaned toward her, barely touching his lips against hers. "For being you."
That was when she fully realised what he meant. No, what she meant to him. Not the same as before, but different. Good different. Her last Doctor wouldn't've kissed her. Not like that.
Even though it was so gentle it was barely there, it'd changed everything and nothing at the same time.
No ramifications. No consequences. Nothing had changed. Not really. It was just them.
The Doctor and Rose.
Her Doctor. His Rose.
Friends, companions, and, possibly, something more. But that was okay. Anything could happen.
Life was a gamble. Life with the Doctor doubly so. But despite the risks, despite the inevitable consequences of the life that she'd chosen, it was worth it.
Some things were worth gambling on. And it was a choice she'd never regret.