Chapter 9: Consequences
In her mind's eye, she could see him again. The Doctor, her first Doctor. She could see him, his eyes infinitely sad, as he leaned over her. She could barely hear his words, but she knew that they were his final offering. One last kiss before he was gone.
He'd kissed her to save her life, but she knew it was something more. There was more to it than just saving her. It'd been his final wish. She'd wanted him to kiss her before, and when he had, she hadn't even remembered.
The Doctor had kissed her, and she'd forgotten. Her hands curled into fists as she crossed the street back to the TARDIS. The last moments she'd remembered involved Barcelona, his daft explanation of what was happening to him, and him uttering his favourite phrase just before he burst into flames.
It's like…there was this singing…
She shivered as a chill ran through her, despite the pleasant temperature. What had happened to her? Why was it still happening to her?
When she reached the TARDIS, she leaned her head against its comforting shape, willing strength to return to her before she opened the door. The Doctor would want to talk about it. About what was wrong with her, what she knew, what she'd seen. Somehow, she doubted he'd be pleased with the answer of 'all of time and space'.
Right. Enough of this moping. She faced her problems head on. Then she dealt with them. 'What ifs' weren't for her, despite the fact that she could see the possibilities spread out through time.
Bracing herself, she opened the door and stepped into the TARDIS. The normal hum of the time-ship was strangely muted. Almost as if something were equally as wrong with it as with her. She was about to ask the Doctor what was wrong with the TARDIS when she caught her first glimpse of his expression.
There was so much pain, so much guilt, and so much anger etched into the lines of his face. Her heart went out to him as she realised just what he must be thinking. He blamed himself for what had happened. Blamed himself for whatever was wrong with her now. He might be a new new Doctor, but that hadn't changed. He always tended to blame himself even when he could do nothing.
"Stop it," she commanded. The words echoed harshly in the relative silence of the console room.
"That!" she explained, waving her hand as if to encompass his expression and life in general with the Doctor. "Blamin' yourself. 'S not your fault, okay? So stop it."
"It is my fault, Rose!" The Doctor rounded on her and, in his eyes, she could see a brewing storm. "I was the one who-"
She cut him off. "The one who regenerated because of me? The one who kissed me and didn't say?" It wasn't fair, she knew it wasn't. This wasn't how she'd imagined this discussion, but imagination was frequently wrong.
She'd imagined kissing the Doctor's previous self. Reality had been far better.
The Time Lord winced. "You remember that."
"Yes, I remember that! I remember lots of things. I remember the feel of the Earth spinning underneath my feet. I remember the future, the past, the present. I remember things that I'm fairly certain I have no business knowin'. I remember you kissing me. I remember the feel of your lips on mine and exactly how it felt as the Vortex left me and flowed into you. I knew it was a goodbye. And you never even said. Never even mentioned it!" She crossed her arms before her. It was almost a defensive posture.
The Doctor began to pace, waving his hands in emphasis. "What was I supposed to say, Rose? Hello, I'm the new new Doctor. Did I mention that I snogged you just before I regenerated? Fancy another go?"
"Yes! No! Damn it, I don't know. But you could've at least tried!" Now she knew she was being unreasonable. There really hadn't been a chance to do much of anything after the regeneration. There was the Sycorax, New New York and Cassandra, the werewolf, Sarah Jane, and then eighteenth century France. They'd never stopped to regroup. Never stopped to even consider the consequences of their actions in their own lives.
"And you could've at least tried to let me know what was going on! How long've you been remembering Satellite Five? The Vortex? The kiss?"
"Not long," she admitted. It would've happened anyway, right? It wasn't Dorothée's fault, let alone the trip through the Vortex. It had just happened.
He seemed to come to a decision. "Rose, we need to go to the medical room. I need to scan you. Make sure that it isn't hurting you."
"'S not," she said. "I'm fine."
"Let me be the judge of that," the Doctor snapped, and then winced. "Sorry, I just..."
"You're worried. I know, Doctor. 'M fine. Jus' a little rough around the edges, but fine. I'm still me, yeah? An' this thing, this remnant of Bad Wolf, is just that. It's not hurting me."
"Please." It was one word, just one. But through the worry and the fear in his eyes, she could suddenly see something else. Something far more ephemeral.
There was this singing...
There was an unfamiliar distance between them as they walked through the halls of the TARDIS. Their shoulders brushed against each other. It was the only tangible reminder that they were here, they were together, and that they were – for the moment – safe. However, despite that contact, he couldn't read her. Couldn't tell what she was thinking, what she was feeling. Couldn't tell if the Bad Wolf had overwhelmed everything that she was.
What had he done to her? Oh, he knew she didn't want him to blame himself. But what else could he do? It was his fault. He'd brought her along, he'd shown her the universe, and for what?
For her to end up like this? Seeing the universe as he did? Surely it'd drive her mad. It was only because of who he was, what he was, that he could withstand it. How could she? How could Rose Tyler, twenty-first century human, survive the Vortex? Sure, she'd done it once, but at what cost? One of his lives? That was nothing. He had spares – not many, admittedly, but they were there. He'd do it again. In a heartsbeat. But what if he was wrong?
His hand curled into a fist and he wished that he dared take her hand. He needed to feel her living flesh pressed against his, but he couldn't force himself to reach out for her. Not after what he'd done. He didn't deserve it.
That was why he was startled when he felt her hand slip into his own. The gentle pressure was almost enough to break him, but he couldn't. Not now. Not ever. Not while there was a chance that he could do something to save her.
She stopped, tugging on his hand until he turned to face her. "'M fine, Doctor. You don't have to blame yourself, yeah? It was my choice back then, 's my choice now. You can check me over all you want, but you're not goin' to find anything wrong with me. Oh, maybe a few more brain cells are bein' used than before, but that's it."
If only he could be certain of that. "I'm sorry, Rose."
"Doctor, I'm not gonna accept an apology for somethin' you didn't do, okay? So stop it! Look, let's just get this over with, yeah?"
He wasn't certain if she was referring to her upcoming examination, or their lack of discussion. But she didn't understand, not really. It was his fault. All of it. But he couldn't make her see that particular truth. "Yeah," he allowed, though it wasn't a concession.
She sighed. "Let's go, then."
They resumed walking. Down the halls, through open doors, and up one of the many flights of stairs. The medical room was farther away than usual, but he suspected that the TARDIS had a hand in that. Rose needed time - as did he - to process what had happened, what was about to happen.
Despite her certainty that nothing was wrong with her, he couldn't accept her words on faith. He needed proof, tangible proof, that she was okay.
He didn't want to think of what he'd do if she wasn't.
"And here we are! One room for all things medical," he announced as he pushed open the door with his free hand. They'd been there before, of course. Far too often. It was inevitable that someone would get scratched, or cut, or bruised, or burned, or broken during their adventures. However, this time was different. She could be fine, she might not be. But he had to know. And knowing was half the battle. Wait, that was G.I. Joe.
So where to begin?
Best to start simple, he decided. Simple was good. Simple was easy. Simple could spot things that hard might not. Well, sometimes. "Sit down," he told her, his voice soft. He regretted some of his earlier words, but not his guilt. Never his guilt.
Maybe he should've told her. Should've told her lots of things, probably, but he'd always pushed it aside. 'Later' was his favourite word, it seemed, if only in his mind.
Rose climbed onto one of the beds and let her legs dangle off the edge. She couldn't touch the floor that way and she gently swung her feet as she waited.
Right. Simple was best. Temperature, breathing, heartbeat. That should do for a start. He walked to her side, murmuring his actions as he gently grasped her wrist between his fingers. There, he could feel her heartbeat just beneath his fingertips. It amazed him how fragile humans were. Despite all their strength, there was only one tiny heart beating beneath their chests. Only one, and, eventually, that one would stop.
His hearts lurched at the thought of her heart stopping. One day it would. He knew it would. Nothing could last forever. Not even Rose.
Ah. Heartbeat was fine, if a trifle elevated. She was watching him carefully as he turned his attention to her breathing. One breath, two, three, four. There was no evidence that she was labouring to breathe, despite the slight quickening of her breaths.
Her eyes. He cradled her face between his palms, resisting the urge to search her mind without permission. It'd be easy to see, really, if she were 'fine' that way. However, he couldn't. It wouldn't be right, especially since this was Rose.
Her brown eyes were clear but for a tiny flicker of gold. Fear still ran through him at the sight, but there was little he could do.
"So, 'm I gonna live?" she asked, humour colouring her tone.
He winced, but he couldn't lie to her. "For now. But I'm not finished yet." He released her face, trailing his fingers across her cheeks in a brief caress before he turned away. There was so much he wished he could tell her. So much he wished he could say.
Rose sighed. "It's a bit like having a telly in your head, y'know. This Bad Wolf...thing. Only problem is that it doesn't like stickin' to one channel. Kinda like whenever we're at Mum's an' you get control of the remote. It just can't sit still. But it doesn't happen all the time. Just sometimes. When there's somethin' important about to happen, I think. Something that'd cause a major change in time, perhaps? I dunno. It's a bit strange, though." She sounded curious, which could be considered a good thing.
However, he knew the truth. She was seeing possibilities. Infinite possibilities that stretched from a single moment. He could see that all the time. "Doesn't it drive you mad?" he asked, unable to stop himself. He paused in his reach for the scanner, letting his fingers rest upon its base as he awaited her answer.
"Not really. Well, maybe a bit. But I've seen things like this before. 'S like I can handle it now. It's a bit weird, really. Don't think I would've been able to before…" Her voice trailed off.
He completed the sentence in his mind. Before Bad Wolf. Before he'd changed. Before…before was even a possibility. He pulled the scanner off the shelf and returned to her side. "Before?" he prompted as he switched on the scanner.
"Before you," she whispered, meeting his eyes.
He paused, frozen, captured like a moth to her flame at the truth in her words. But if she'd never met him ( he'd've died ), she never would've had this knowledge. She'd never have become Bad Wolf. She wouldn't be his Rose Tyler. "You might've been better off without me," he murmured, unable to stop the words even as he began to scan her.
"Don't say that," Rose protested, lifting her hand to touch his own. "This is better. Bein' here is better, okay? I made a choice, Doctor. I chose to be here. I chose to be here with you. The only way you're gettin' rid of me is if you kick me out the door. An', even then, I'd find a way back."
She would. He knew she would, and the TARDIS would probably help her. But he'd made a decision after they'd seen Sarah Jane. It would have to be her choice or that of fate in the end. He was tired of losing the people he loved, of forcing them away, or leaving them behind. He made a show of staring intently at the scanner, though the Gallifreyan text scrolled past his unseeing eyes.
Rose continued, her words washing over him as he finally dragged his attention back to the scanner. "I'm fine, Doctor. Your scanner'll prove it. And then we can go back to doin' what we always do. Savin' the universe, one planet – or one person – at a time."
His lips quirked into a smile. It was a good summary of what they tended to do. "Yeah." If only he could be certain that she was okay...ah. And there it was. Just as she'd predicted.
There was more activity than what was considered human-normal in her brain, but not dangerously so. Her mind had apparently learned to cope with the additional information. No evidence of strain, no evidence of injury, no evidence other than that additional amount of cranial activity that anything might be wrong.
"What's it say?" she asked, and in her tone he could hear a measure of fear. So she was hiding some of the truth from him. On one hand, she was certain that she was fine. On the other, she wasn't as sure.
"Aside from the busily firing synapses in your mind, you're fine. Brilliant. Wonderful. Fantastic." His smile widened, encouraged by his relief as he concluded. "Healthy." He switched off the scanner and put it down on one of the tables.
Rose released a whistling breath between her teeth and returned his smile. "Good! See? Nothing to worry about, then."
"Oh, there's plenty to worry about," he corrected as he held out his hand. When she took it, he helped her off the table. "Will you like our next destination? Will revolutions succeed or will they fail? Will another war be won or lost? Will the planets stop spinning? What's the question to which the answer is 42? What's the price of tea in China?" 'Will you snog me back if I snog you?' he added mentally.
She laughed, thumping his arm. "You're daft, you are."
He grinned. "It's all part of my charm, really."
"Yeah," she agreed, reaching up to touch his cheek with her free hand. "It is."
He leaned into her touch. She was healthy. She was fine. She was alive, and here, and his. Well, not specifically his. There was the matter of her ex-boyfriend lurking about the TARDIS. Right. Enough of that. "Thank you," he told her, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.
"What for?" she asked as her brow furrowed in confusion.
Oh, if he listed out his reasons, they'd be there all day. And all night. And, quite probably, well into next week. "Saving the day, saving me, saving Mickey, starting a revolution, not getting killed, coming with me, and being you."
She blushed at the compliment and ducked her head, but not before he could see her pleased smile. She'd learned so much. Done so much. She was still Rose Tyler. Still his Rose. Just a little bit different because of him, or, perhaps, in spite of him.
"Thanks, Doctor. But I did have help... Oh! Blimey, I almost forgot." She reached into her pocket and pulled out something that looked like a playing card. "My friend - the one who helped me? – wanted me to give this to you."
He accepted the card after giving her a curious glance. "Your friend? Why would they want to give me-" His voice cut off as he turned over the card.
It was an ace of clubs.
There'd been an explosion…and he was holding an ace of clubs. Oh, it couldn't be. It couldn't, but it was. The evidence had been right before him all along. It was practically written across Nova Paris in blazing letters. 'Ace was here'.
He smiled wistfully. Oh, Ace. She'd survived. Of course she had. Time's Vigilante was too stubborn to die, even for the sake of a war. But why hadn't she come to see…
Oh. Obvious, really. She couldn't see him now, because he couldn't meet her yet. She was preserving history. Who knows what might've happened had she seen him. Reapers would probably have been the least of their worries. Which also meant that there was a visit to a certain Rift in his near future.
"She was one of us, wasn't she? I mean, she was once your companion, yeah? Then moved on?" Rose asked.
He nodded. Ace had moved on without him, gone on to become like him, only on a more limited scale. Protecting Earth from the Rift, and, apparently, here, protecting him. Guiding Rose, too, he suspected. "Yes."
"Thought so," she said thoughtfully. "There was somethin' about her that was familiar. Reminded me of you, actually."
"Ah, obviously the wit and charm?"
She smiled faintly, shaking her head. "No. I could see her footprints through time, her shadow stretching forward and back, but it was never constant, never steady. She's a wanderer, like you."
He wasn't surprised by that assessment. Ace had always been like him that regard. "Oh, there's too much to see, too much to do, to waste time standing still. You know that."
"Yeah," she agreed. "I do. But, y'know what? Wandering through the universe's better with a friend."
He smiled as he tugged her hand and pulled her into an embrace. "Yes, it is. Thank you for wandering with me."
She echoed words that she'd said before. "Wouldn't've missed it for the world."
There were so many possible actions he could take. So many that they stretched out to infinity and beyond. However, there was only one he wanted. "So, Rose Tyler," he said. "Did I mention that I snogged you just before I regenerated?"
Rose looked startled for a moment before a slow smile spread across her lips. Just the tip of her tongue emerged from her mouth to moisten her lips, distracting him, before she answered. "Yeah?"
He leaned in, so close he could feel her breath upon his lips. "Fancy another go?" he asked.
She grinned, her eyes darkening as she slipped her hands around his back, pulling him closer. "Thought you'd never ask."
It took a thought. Just a tiny, insignificant thought to close the distance between them and…there.
The last kiss that they'd shared had been an ending, as much of a goodbye as he could make.
Now, however. Oh, now. He felt her lips part and he took advantage. This wasn't an ending. It was anything but.
She'd saved his life dozens of times. He'd saved hers. She'd started a revolution, saved the day, and saved him in countless other ways just by being her.
No, this wasn't an ending.
This was a beginning.