It had only been a day for him. That was all, just one day. One lousy, crappy day banging around the empty TARDIS, pretending that he didn't miss the sound of her voice as terribly as he did.

When he couldn't find the sugar for his tea, he realized that only Rose knew where it was. He tripped over his own feet in the control room and turned to share a laugh, only there was no one to share it with. He considered stopping off somewhere for a bite to eat, but realized that he was only hungry when she was around.

He was only a lot of things when she was around.

This…this was something they never taught at the Academy: Companion Withdrawal. Of course, technically, he wasn't supposed to even have companions. But ever since Susan, that sweet little girl he'd raised as his own family, it had seemed pointless to travel alone. He enjoyed the role of being a teacher. He'd felt so old at such a young age, and it had made him feel young again to experience that wide-eyed wonder and joy at visiting new places, seeing the unimaginable through someone else's eyes.

Life in the TARDIS without companions was just not the same. He didn't do lonely very well. He'd tried it once, but it had only lasted until…

…until he'd found Rose.

Damn it.

He sighed in irritation and yanked the spectacles off his nose, resisting the temptation to throw them across the room. It had been her decision. She'd wanted to leave.

He'd honestly thought he'd be okay with it. Well, maybe not okay, but he had thought he'd be able to handle it. Yes, he was more attached to Rose than to other companions for a number of reasons, but still…ever since he'd seen the look in her eyes when he regenerated, he'd been preparing for this.

He knew this would happen. Companions always leave. Seeing Sarah Jane had reinforced that. She'd left him not long after he'd regenerated as well. Oh, she had that spiel about waiting for him to come back for her, but he she hadn't really believed it. She'd said it herself; it had been time. Time for her to discover her own life.

So Sarah Jane had wanted something more from him that he hadn't given her. He hadn't known, had he? She just said she wanted to leave, and he wasn't about to force anyone to stay. Just because she hadn't found the life she wanted, she'd gone and blamed him for it when it was her decision to leave in the first place.

This time he did throw his glasses across the room, grimacing as they hit the central column of the control consol and shattered. Fantastic.

Placing his hands on one of the railings, he bent his head and took a few deep breaths to calm down. He wasn't angry at Sarah Jane, he knew that. He'd been happy to see her, if sad that she hadn't found what she was looking for after all.

But it was his fault a bit, wasn't it? Sarah Jane had thought that after all she'd seen, she'd be able to go back to Earth and find a normal life. Maybe she would have, someday, but she hadn't been ready for it. Not then. And he'd known that, somewhere inside. He'd known she wasn't ready to leave him.

He hadn't been ready for her to leave, either, but then he never was ready for that. It always hit him like a punch in the gut, and he had to smile and pretend like it was no big deal. Little birdies all grown up and flying on their own. Time to leave the nest.

He hadn't gone back to Sarah Jane, though, and that was his fault. With each regeneration certain memories got hazier. It was harder to recall exactly what he'd been thinking or feeling at some particular point, though he could recall everything else with perfect clarity. He knew there had been certain rational to certain decisions, but every now and then he just couldn't for the life of him remember what it had been.

Why hadn't he gone back to Sarah Jane? He'd known the sort of culture shock she'd experience going back to her own time permanently. The least he could have done for her was to drop by and help ease her into it. Had he been so angry with her inside that he'd just figured forgetting about her would be easier? Had he been so afraid of watching her age and die that he hadn't been willing to sacrifice his own fear for her sake?

Or had he really just not cared?

There were too many damn questions. One thing was certain when it came to Sarah Jane: he couldn't go back now. Not now that she'd finally come to terms with everything and was comfortable again. It would be too much, too painful. For both of them.

He'd loved Sarah Jane in his own way back then, every bit as much as he…well, he had. Still did care about her. Even though he hadn't been able to show it, to tell her, she'd charmed her way into his heart (his left one, probably. That was always the weakest one, the one on the same side as a human heart).

The question that had bugged him since seeing her again, though, was why? Why hadn't he ever told Sarah Jane or showed her more affection? Again, there were those reasons…he knew he'd had reasons. But none of them seemed to make sense now. Why?

Because Rose is gone, his brain insisted. Rose is gone and you miss her because you love her. You love her every bit as much as you cared for Sarah Jane or Romana or anyone else. Possibly more, because she was different.

Oh, she was just as human as any of them (except for Romana, because Romana was just…well, she'd been Romana). Just as silly, just as stupid at times, just as blundering. Just as wide-eyed, naïve, innocent, and endearing.

But he had held onto her in a way that he'd done to no one else. Not even Romana, the only woman he'd ever told he loved. Romana had been a refreshing spring breeze; a scent of pleasantry and lightness and fun. And she'd loved him, too, but she'd left him for a greater love: Gallifrey.

He had been angry over that for so long. He knew why, now. He'd wanted Romana to be what she could never be. He'd wanted her to be human.

Like Rose.

Rose, who he'd held onto like a drowning man holds onto his last breath of air. She'd become as integral to him as a heartbeat. A third heart. She'd seen a darker part of him, a part that had been burned, and she'd laughed the pain away and told him she wanted chips.

He closed his eyes and let go of the railing, slumping down to the grating with a resigned sigh. He knew. He'd been hers from that moment. That one moment on that crowded London street. Why hadn't he seen it then? It was so obvious now.

They'd seen the end of the world. Everything that had graced the Earth in all her long history; all of it erased in the dying gasps of a tired sun. All that history, gone in a single second. No great epiphany at the end. No great moment where God stepped in before the final boom and said "This is what it was all for." No reason for doing any of what humanity had done in all their eons of history.

But then they'd gone back and it hadn't mattered. London hadn't seemed futile, even though they both knew it would end in fire and dust. Just because the end was coming, Rose had said, didn't mean that they should just sit tightly and wait for it to happen. It didn't mean that humanity should waste the time it was given on the Earth while it was still there.

Just because a human would die sooner than he would didn't mean that he should waste the time he was given with her. It didn't mean he shouldn't love her.

He would hurt anyway. Why not hurt for the right reasons?

He'd driven her away, but he could get her back, he knew he could. He could fly the TARDIS right in front of her, step out, grab her hand…he could pull her close and tell her what it was she had wanted to hear, and he could mean every word of it.

He would mean every word of it.

It had been her decision, but she had only made it because of him. Because he pushed her aside. Because she was next to him, and it was easier to believe he loved someone trapped in the past – like a living painting from the eighteenth century – someone he could keep at a distance.

He couldn't fool himself any longer. It was his fault she left, even if she thought it was her own decision.

Standing, he straightened his suit with determination. He'd drag her back to the TARDIS if he had to. He'd go through her mum if he had to. Rose had braved the Time Vortex to get back to him once. He could brave a bit of Jackie Tyler.

By the time he arrived at the Powell estate location again, it had only been one day for him. Just one day, that was all.

He hadn't bothered to check the chronometer as he headed out of the TARDIS. He'd just figured that his wonderful ship had sensed his urgency and had made an extra careful landing, right where he wanted. It did that, usually. If it really mattered to him, the TARDIS never detoured.

Usually.

But after five steps outside his wonderful ship, he paused and looked around him for the first time. This was…different. The council flats were still there, but they were in horrid disrepair. They looked unfit for human habitation.

Beyond them, though, there were rising spires of buildings reaching towards the sky, and lanes of traffic on suspensor bridges. There were air cars and noises he recognized as alien music, and what the hell year had he landed in?

He looked at his watch and blanched. "But," he murmured, looking to the sky once more, "it was only one day…"

………………………………………………………………………………..

TBC