Only it wasn't so unknown.
The biting air hit her first, the cold winds swirling around her ankles and nipping at her fingers.
Despite it feeling like morning to Rose, the outside was dark, almost pitch black and a silver moon, full and bright, hung in the star-strewn sky; it's luminous orb so close she felt that she could reach out and touch it. The silver circle glinted and sparkled and the stars winked back, snug against the velvet blue background of night.
The sands that her boots sunk into were of the same silver, like glitter sprinkled across the floor winking and flickering in the light. Rose nudged the particles with her toe and they scattered like dust, caught by the breeze and caressed across the wind-swept plains.
Her eyes followed the dancing dust until it was just a blur against the sky, hidden amidst the other delights that were on offer.
She breathed the cold air, her body trembling at the frigid atmosphere as much as the silence that the whole place held, the utter quiet signalling that there was no one on the planet—no one but them.
She could feel the Doctor behind her and he laid a hand on the small of her back; a courtly gesture.
"Let's walk a bit."
Rose nodded and, without thinking, headed for down the hill, down the soft silver dunes towards the painful sound of nothing and the sight that made her heart ache.
She managed to keep her eyes averted until they reached the valley and then she could hold back no more, her gaze caught by the frozen sea, fifty foot high waves frozen in time and space. Just icy cliffs of water, held back by the fearsome powers of nature gone wrong. A planet plunged into an ice-age so fast that the crests hadn't had time to soften, that the fish hadn't had time to scream, the birds hadn't had time to stop. It would have been a planet of death, a continent of lament; but life finds a way.
Hidden in the sculpture of ice lay microscopic creatures starting to evolve, starting to live with the sub-zero temperatures and to develop ways of dealing with it. Down in the depths of those frozen waves were creatures beginning to live, starting to come to the surface after years, decades, millennia of being cast at the bottom.
Life finds a way.
They reached the waves and Rose touched the wall of ice, her heart remembering when the Doctor had brought her here—her Doctor.
She opened her mouth but no words could express either the beauty of the planet nor the cruelty of bringing her here.
This place was where the Doctor brought her after showing her death and chaos and destruction. This was where he took her hand and told her that he wanted her to stay with him. This was the place where he'd spoken, hesitatingly, about his people—not giving much away but telling her that he was alone and that he was glad she was with him. This was where she had first fallen in love with the Doctor for real; when he showed her beauty and life and a side of himself few had seen.
Now he was going to destroy the memory as well as what remained of her heart.
She hated him just a little bit for that.
The Doctor, for his part, watched her carefully as she was lost in thought.
He hoped she was remembering the time that he had brought her here before, when he had tried to make up for the death and destruction that he had showed her. When he had told her about himself and spoke to her of how glad he was that she was there; of how his people were gone and all he had left was her.
This was where he had wanted to share himself, this was the place where he'd admitted his love, at least to himself.
Now he had to admit it to her and this place seemed appropriate.
He swallowed and wondered why, with the gift of the gab, this was so hard for him.
She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself.
"There's a reason I brought you here and it ties into what we said last night. I'm sorry for that, by the way. I was a … a stupid prat."
Rose let out a bark of unwilling laughter. "You've been hanging around with Mickey."
He sniffed. "Well, he does make sense sometimes."
Rose simply nodded.
He scratched his ear nervously. "I heard you," he blurted.
Rose frowned. "What?"
"I heard you," he said again clearly. "Talking to the TARDIS the other day. I wasn't intending to eavesdrop—which is a marvel for me, really. You know how nosy I am, in this regeneration anyway. I think I've been nosy in all of them, actually, but this one—" off her pointed look he cleared his throat, "—right. Sorry. Thing is, I heard you. My Doctor, the TARDIS' Doctor."
She said nothing else and he turned to her, reaching down for one hand.
"Rose. When I regenerated every cell in my body died. I died. When I regenerate my feelings do change. In one body I had a thing for celery, in another it was jelly-beans. I've had a mortal dread of burnt toast and train stations. I've played the flute and worn opera capes and scarves and straw hats and played cricket—although not at the same time. Each time I'm a little different but the fundamentals don't change. I'm still the Doctor."
"I know that."
"But you don't understand," he stressed and then rolled his eyes. "And I don't mean that in a stupid ape kind of way. I mean that in a … god, I'm not doing a good job of this am I?"
Despite herself Rose wanted to grin at that.
"I'm the same. I may do things in a different way but that doesn't mean that I'm not the same man. The previous regeneration wouldn't have challenged the Sycorax to a sword fight but I'd still have saved the Earth. My priorities don't change, Rose. My feelings sometimes do, I won't deny that. Can't stand celery now."
She gave another involuntary laugh and stared out somewhere over his shoulder.
He smiled a little at her laugh and held her hand tighter. "But some things they don't. Things that I feel deeply about don't change, in fact they often get stronger. Too strong."
"I don't know what you're saying," she confessed.
He sighed in frustration. "You've separated us into two people in your head, Rose. One of me you lo—trust and respect and believe in." He held back pain. "The other you don't. Something I've done has made you stop believing in me, Rose. I've wracked my brains but I can't think what it was and for a Time Lord…" he trailed off. "It wasn't Reinette because this started before that. I need to know what it was and how to put it right because we can't do this, be like this any more. It's hurting you … and me."
Rose's eyes snapped to his at that confession and she could see tears swimming at the back of his eyes. Tears like she had seen when he'd spoken to her after meeting Sarah-Jane again. Tears that she never expected to see the Doctor shed and it crumpled her defences like paper. She didn't want to tell him, didn't want to let him in but he'd always held the power over her and she was helpless.
"I can mend planets and save the universe. But how do I fix this, Rose? What do I do?"
One tear slid down his cheek and Rose came undone.
"You stopped!" she sniffed, trying to look away. "After Christmas you held out your hand and I took it and we went far and did things and we were okay. It was all fine. Then after New Earth and Cassandra kissed you in my body, it was like you were in full reverse in case I wanted to talk about it or do something about it. You acted like I'd got the plague … no, you hugged those who had the plague. Me you just … ignored."
"You did!" she argued. "Before we landed in Scotland you wouldn't come near me, every time I moved close to you practically leaped away, keeping the console between me and you. You refused to look at me when you took my hand. I got the message then and there that you weren't interested; hell I'd seen it before and that was fine." She took a deep breath.
He gripped her hands and urged her to look at him. "But it wasn't because I didn't care, Rose, I swear."
Rose shook her head. "You couldn't get back to Earth fast enough when Mickey called and I didn't know why, until you showed me what I was."
His throat couldn't make the sound.
"Dinner lady," she said sadly. "After everything you still see me as dishing out chips to brats. That's all I'm worth to you. You big Time Lord; me human with no A levels and no future except what you let me have."
"That's—that's not true!" his voice was thick and Rose licked her lips.
"Yeah, it is. That's the bitch. You may be a superior species but that doesn't make you better than me. You seem to think of me like … like … some sort of pet."
"Timorous beastie? Wild child bought for sixpence?"
"I was joking."
Rose shook her head. "He introduced me as his plus one, told everyone that we went nowhere without each other. I was more than his friend, I was his partner. You? You didn't even trust me with the bloody sonic screwdriver! You don't see me, see what I can do. What? You think that if you dump me back home now then all I've got to look forward to is the job centre? Fast food restaurant? Retail? After everything I've … you know why I hated Reinette so much? It wasn't because you loved her, I accepted that you and me weren't... It's because you saw in her all the things you used to see in me. It hurt when you dumped me and Mickey, yeah, but it hurt worse because you made me feel like nothing. An' maybe I can't compare to that, to—to—" she searched for the words he had used, "—the most accomplished woman in history." She straightened her shoulders. "But I shouldn't have to, I'm me and maybe that's not enough for you."
"No. No. No."
"Yes." She maintained. "You know where I went when I asked to go back to Earth?"
He shook his head, afraid of the answer.
"I went to see Sarah-Jane. Because I knew that one day you'd leave me and I wasn't sure how I'd go on. Because I didn't want to be like Sarah-Jane and have it sprung on me. I wanted to be prepared."
"I told you that you could stay with me." He reminded adamantly. "I said that when we met her. You can spend the rest of your life with me."
"On the slow path?" She mocked painfully and he fell silent. "You didn't give me the choice. You didn't respect me and Mickey enough to say 'hey I'm riding off on a white horse to save the day, see you in a few thousand years'. We got nothing. Because, to you that's what we were."
"No. Stop saying that!" He grabbed her shoulders and shook her. "I never meant to make you feel like that, Rose. Never and you are not nothing. No companion has ever … I've never …" he struggled with words and feelings and emotions that he had never showed, that he had never dared show. "After everything we've done, Rose, how could you think that?"
"After everything you've done, how could I not?"
"You think I don't care about you?"
"I know you don't," she said, trying to stop herself crying. "In a million little ways you've let me know that you don't. I'm okay with that because I have separated the two of you. Past and present. I've had to because by saying you're the same person you're saying that he didn't care and I won't let you do that."
"I do care, Rose." He croaked, close to tears himself.
"You don't act like it. In every look he said he loved me. Half the time you look like you don't even know me, like you're trying to find some way of getting rid of me. You know we've been back to Earth more times in a few months together than me and him did in a year? Every time I think: this is it, he's gonna swan off and leave me."
He shook his head. "I said I wanted you with me. "I'd love you to come," remember?"
"Would you tell me if you changed your mind?" Rose challenged. "Or would you just push me away, talk crap non-stop? You erect barriers like you're redoing the M1. You want to keep me at arms length but you get mad when I do the same."
He swallowed and looked away.
"After Jimmy Stones I promised myself that I'd never let any bloke make me feel like nothing. I promised that I'd protect myself. That's all I've been doing. I thought that's what you wanted, not getting too close, remembering my place."
"Your place is with me," he said fiercely, stepping forward. "It has been since I took you hand in the basement and yes, that was me. It's always been me, Rose. It's always been me and I feel the same about you now as I did then, only stronger. I've felt you pulling away, Rose and no, it's not what I wanted."
She glared up at him, pain in her eyes but fierce confrontation in her expression. "It felt like it. Why do you get to protect yourself and I have to hurt? You said you feel the same about me as he did? He showed it. You don't. Why? What did I do to make you stop? I never pushed you. I never tried to make you give more than you were willing to give. Why did you stop?"
"I didn't stop, I just hid it better." Too well.
"Why? Did you think I was gonna domesticate you?" she spat. "It wasn't even me who kissed you, it was Cassandra."
"Because—" He raked a hand through his hair and stepped away, fighting the words, fighting the feelings.
"Because you didn't need me anymore, that's bloody why!" He looked shocked, like he couldn't believe the words coming out of his own mouth.
Rose stared at him for a moment, her brow creased and he looked away, unable to see the pity he expected to in her face.
"What?" Rose frowned. "What are you talking about?"
The Doctor bit down on his lip. This regeneration was not just talkative but downright loquacious when it came to confusing enemies, spouting trivia, to anything inconsequential really.
But when it came to feelings he just couldn't do it. He couldn't put into words what he meant, what he felt. He hated this emotional crap. But, as he looked at Rose's tear-streaked face, he knew it'd be worth it. It had to be.
"My last regeneration may have needed you, Rose. But you needed me, too."
She stiffened. "I saved your life, remember?"
"I didn't mean like that. The girl who needed to be rescued from her life of drudgery back on Earth; the girl who needed to be shown the stars, the girl who needed a father figure or just someone who could show her what she could be."
Rose felt sick. "You were never a father figure."
"I know that, Rose. I meant metaphorically." He sighed. "But you did need me. Then the Games Station happened and Satellite Five. I didn't remember everything that happened there, not really. It was all bits and pieces, flying around along with memories of who I used to be—all of them. I didn't remember properly. Not until after that kiss by Cassandra. Sometimes the regeneration comes with slight amnesia." He smiled ruefully. "Or dementia, occasionally psychosis. It takes something powerful to retrigger the memories and the kiss was it."
"I don't understand—"
"You did it, Rose," he said hoarsely. "You saved us all. Saved me. You looked into the heart of the TARDIS and the TARDIS looked into you and you bonded, bonded in a way that only Time Lords are supposed to. You had the whole of time and space inside you and you used it to end the Time War—for me. You destroyed all of the Daleks, including the Emperor. For me. You became the Bad Wolf."
"Bad Wolf," she whispered the words that had followed them everywhere.
"It was killing you so I took it away with a kiss. It's what made me regenerate."
"I killed you." Her mouth fell open in horror. Rose looked like her world had been devastated and he took a step forward only to have her stumble back, her hand held up as if to ward him off.
He stopped, hurt clogging his throat. "Rose?"
It was like she'd been shot. Her chest hurt and all the air had gone from the world.
"I killed you."
"You saved me." He swallowed hard. "You saved the universe. Rose Tyler; defender of the universe and, for that one moment, everything. You were everything. You've never really needed saving, but at that point you could do anything. Since then, Rose you've no longer needed me; not just physically saving your life, but … mentally and emotionally. You can do it all yourself. You're wrong, Rose. So very wrong. I do see all you can be. You're … incredible." He looked at her like she was the most precious thing in the universe. "Nothing compares to what you did. No companion has ever done so much for me. You killed all my enemies and came back, for me. I couldn't save you," he choked, "you saved me. Again."
"But I still needed you," she said, tears in her eyes. "The Sycorax—"
"Surface work." He shrugged. "You were shaken but you still stood up. In a million ways you've shown me how you've grown, Rose. It was you who stalled the Sycorax. It was you who got me into the TARDIS; the one place that could help. It was you who stopped those pirates on Spirren 8. It was you who escaped the werewolf, getting everyone out of the chains. It was you who stood up to the clockwork droids." He had paced away from her, but now he stormed over and grabbed her hand. "Rose, you're not nothing. Could never be nothing. Truth of it is, we're too equal and …" he swallowed. "I've never had someone who felt as deeply, who cared as much or who was willing to do so much for me. Rescue me, yes. Destroy the universe, rip apart the fabric of time and destroy my enemies, just because she wanted me safe?" He shook his head in amazed disbelief.
"You sent me away to be safe," she said. "How is what I did any different?"
"Because you're a human," he answered honestly. "Most of your species would have agreed with the self-sacrificing alien and gone home. Eaten chips."
"You taught me better." She raised her chin.
"I did." His eyes caressed her face. "I taught you to be like me and I'm sorry for that."
"I'm not." Rose took a deep breath. "You've spent so long thinking you're the high and mighty Time Lord who's above everyone else and where has it got you? Lonely. Lonely angel, lonely warrior, lonely god. It's bollocks. You push people away when they get too close; like you did me. You don't have to be lonely. It's a choice." She pointed to him angrily. "It's your choice and you don't get to bitch about it."
He was so surprised at her attack that it took a moment for her words to penetrate and when they did, he couldn't stop the laugh that bubbled to his lips.
"You do realise that you're the only person who'd ever call me on this. Most companions go along with what I say … or leave. And that's exactly it, Rose, people do wither and die. If I let them close then they leave—it does hurt, Rose."
"So's better not to feel at all?" She challenged him. "I would do it again, you know. Even now. Even with your magic pushing act. I'd still die if it meant you got to live." She put her hands on her hips. "How's that? I'd die for someone who's afraid to get too close to me." She shrugged. "Maybe I don't have as much to offer as the Madame, but—"
"You know why she appealed to me?" he said quickly, cutting her off and tried to rush on, ignoring the flinch of pain as it crossed her face.
She shook her head.
"I wanted someone who said they did, but who couldn't possibly understand me, who couldn't get as close as you were. She saw inside my head but she didn't see it all." He gave her a small smile. "She would have run screaming if she had. But she thought she knew me and it was enough for her. She wouldn't try to look deeper and would take what she needed without trying to get anything back."
Rose just stared at him and he could hear her calling him all the names under the sun in her head.
He nodded, agreeing with half of them. "Sometimes, even a Time Lord likes to feel needed. You don't need me to take care of you, you take care of me."
Rose glared at him, anger wiping away the last of her tears. "So what now? You take me home because you think I can live without you and you need to find someone who can't?"
Boiled down to its simplest form.
That was why he loved humans so much. They could take something endless complicated, fathomless and analyse it and dissect it until it came to one simple truth.
Rose had just done it. She had taken generations of angst and pain and guilt and Time Lord conditioning and commitment issues and insecurities and reduced it to such beautiful simplicity.
"You think I can live without you and you need to find someone who can't."
And kind of ridiculous.
For the first time he took a step back and looked, really scrutinised his fears and realised exactly how small they seemed, how insignificant, how stupid, how … how … ape-like.
He rejected getting close to humans because they weren't his equal and couldn't possibly understand him, and he was terrified to get close to this one human because she could.
He stared down at her wet face and saw, not the young human shop-girl, but the goddess who had known all of time and space and who had, for one moment, known him in his entirety and still loved him. He saw glowing gold light and a song that still had the ability to soothe his hearts.
He saw Rose.
She cocked a brow and sniffed. "Well?"
He shook his head, triumph in his eyes. "Oh, I'm not letting you go, Rose. Not now, not ever. You may not need me, but I still need you. I—" love you, adore you, desire you "—need you, Rose. I'll stop pushing you away, if you stop pulling away."
She looked up searching his eyes; eyes that changed in colour and warmth but never in age or feeling. His eyes. The Doctor's eyes.
Eyes that were pleading with her with feelings and emotions that he just couldn't say.
His hand reached up to touch her face, cradling her cheeks. "Just because I can't say something, doesn't mean I don't—I still couldn't chose between the world and you."
Rose nodded, tears spilling down her cheeks, unchecked and when he held his arms open she didn't hesitate flew into them, wrapping her arms around him like she'd never let go.
"I'm sorry I hurt you," he whispered into her hair.
"Leave me again and I won't wait." She vowed as she shuddered against him.
The Doctor breathed in her scent and felt his hearts beat louder against his chest, thudding harder and harder until he was sure she could hear them.
This was it. This was right. This was home.
"My Rose." He could no more stop the words than he could halt the universe and he felt her still slightly and prayed to every deity that he'd never believed in that he hadn't just ruined it all.
Rose looked up at him, looked at those scared eyes, so afraid that she'd pull away. They reminded her of two blue orbs that had held her enraptured after her father died and offered her anything, anything all as long as she'd stay with him. They reminded her of a sadness that existed when she'd turned him down the first time, Mickey clinging to her legs. They reminded her of ones that searched her form to make sure she was okay time and time again. They reminded her of a pain deeper than she'd ever know as the last Dalek exploded into stardust. They reminded her of love and affection and belonging.
It was the same man.
Different package, same insecurities.
He laughed through his tears. "Yes."
Rose pulled away sniffing loudly. She gave a short laugh. "Look at us, right soppy pair."
"Almost domestic." He grimaced, prompting another wet laugh from her. He reached over and brushed away a tear. "Woman wept is not an order, Rose."
She licked at her lips and pushed at her straggly hair. "Okay. So what now?"
"Now we go home. Back to the TARDIS," he clarified. "Is that all right?"
"Sort of, yeah." She found herself saying and his grin lit up the side of the sheer ice face.
He held out his hand and waited.
Rose looked down at the fingers that she had ignored of late, fingers that had felt too different to touch and her heart made up her mind.
She took the hand and tightened her grip. "No pushing."
He yanked her in so that she fit all along one side of him, her body warm against his. "No pulling."
She nodded and hand in hand, they headed back to the TARDIS. Back home.
The Doctor felt lighter than he'd done in months and he could feel the reason why next to him in all her glory.
They still had some things to work through; still had a lot to say, but at least it wouldn't be done with tears and recriminations. Now she could accept that he was the same man and that he loved her still, that he thought she was magnificent. Now she'd accept that he cared and he could stop pushing her away, safe in the knowledge that she not only understood how he felt, but understood him.
They had a way to go but as long as they went on together they'd be fine.
She was still human, she'd still die. He was still a Time Lord and he'd still outlive and outlast her. But while he held her so very dear in his heart there'd always be a piece of her, a spark of Rose Tyler; the Bad Wolf; the saviour of the last Time Lord. There'd always be a piece of her, wrapped in his hearts, etched on a wall of ice, branded in the memory of everyone he spoke to about her. There'd always be a part of her that would go on.
For all eternity.
And he was content with that.