Earth. London. He stoops down and picks up a newspaper from a stand. August 17, 2012. He shouldn't have to check the paper to know the date, and he shouldn't need Big Ben to know it's 10:27 in the morning, but this isn't his universe. Things just aren't the same here.
He's landed pretty close to where he wanted to, which is impressive considering the jury-rigging it took to get here, and he immediately starts to walk down almost familiar streets to a house he hasn't seen in far too long a time, but that he remembers perfectly because it's always in the back of his mind.
Jackie Tyler answers the door when he knocks. She looks like she's doing well and he's glad about that. She's got her Pete, and her Rose and her money. Oh, and the baby too. That's one person he's done well by and he supposes that must count for something.
When he asks for Rose she looks gutted and he doesn't blame her. He's taken her daughter away repeatedly. Put her in harms way and nearly gotten her killed countless times. Of course he always saves her, and there are plenty of times when things go well and they just have fun, but in the eyes of a mother those just don't count. So he expects it when Jackie doesn't just hand her over, but he's not prepared for her reason why.
"I'm afraid you caught her at a bit of a bad time."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, she's getting married today."
And there it is. The shock. It can't be. After all this time. After he'd come all this way. He was too late.
She was getting married. She was happy, and moving on. Falling in love and forgetting about him. That was good. Good for her. She deserved it, and he was happy for her. Mostly. Relieved to know that his worst fears, not of coming here and finding her dead and gone, but of finding her unhappy and lost, had not been realized.
So he won't be seeing her again. He can't do that to her, and though it would tear him apart to know he'd gotten so close to seeing her, to watching her face light up in the way he just knows it would, he'll walk away. Because it's the right thing to do, for her, and maybe for him as well. The right decision and he's the one who has to make it, despite everything inside himself that wants otherwise.
"Well," Jackie prods. "Aren't you gonna go get her?"
The Doctor stares at her, part contemplating and part in shock. "Are you asking me to stop your own daughter's wedding?"
The look on Jackie's face would break a lesser man; a mix of pain, anger and a bit of regret. He's seen it so many times, on so many people, but this time it hurts. Finally she speaks and he can focus on her words, not the expression behind them. "Didn't you think it was odd that I'm sitting here at home? I am her mother after all. I should be fussing over her hair and fixing her dress and all that, shouldn't I? You didn't think of that, did you?"
He hadn't. Not for a second had he considered… "You don't approve then?" And then he feels it. A sort of warm pain in the pit of his chest. Hope? Is he really so selfish that given just the slightest prod he'd go running after her? Ruin what's supposed to be the best day of her life on the chance that one person who doesn't like it is right?
"He's a nice bloke really." He watches Jackie sit down on an armchair and follows suit, placing himself opposite her on a white couch that shouldn't be so clean in a house with a toddler, and he takes a moment to figure they must have a maid of some sort before bringing his mind back to Jackie. "But she doesn't love him. Not like she should anyway. She's only marrying him because he asked."
"Now that, doesn't sound like Rose at all." And, really it doesn't. "If she doesn't want to do something, she won't, believe me." He smiles a little, some faint memory coming back to him. "Maybe you missed something? Misunderstood?" Anything. Please. Any reason for him not to interfere. He's got to walk away and it's getting harder and harder. Just say she's okay so he can go.
"Oh I know how stubborn she can be. I raised her after all. But after a while people start to realize you can't always live like that. Pushing your way through everything on your own. Eventually you get tired of it, so you start to compromise."
"Compromise?" The Doctor asked incredulously. "Pizza tonight, Chinese the next is compromise. Not getting married."
"Maybe for normal people, but not for her!" Her eyes are brimming with tears now. "It's not that simple for her. Do you know that in that closet over there she's got a bag packed? One in her flat too, and at work as well. It's been over three years and she's still waiting. But she finally realized she can't do that any more, so she's doing the only thing she can. She's tying herself down. When Robert proposed, it was just too convenient."
There's a bird outside the window. He can hear it hop from one branch to another on the bushes outside. It ruffles it's feathers a bit and he can hear it because in the house all sound has stopped. Nothing but silence as they both stare, lost in the past, regretting the present, and fearing the future.
"Go get her." Jackie finally says. "I love my daughter and the last thing I want is for you to take her from me again, but this isn't right. She's gonna break that poor boys heart along with her own, and that's not fair."
So he goes. Because Jackie's crying and he's not the type to stick around for that. He gets in the TARDIS. Because it's his job to set things right. And when he sets the coordinates for the church Jackie named, he tells himself it's just for Rose, and Jackie, and her fiancé and everyone but himself, because he's not allowed to be that selfish.
"Is there anyone who knows any reason these two should not be wed?"
There's silence in the church. Someone near the back clears their throat and it echoes, and then Rose hears it. So faint that no one else seems to notice. No, Mickey does. He's looking around and now he's staring right at her as a faint wind begins to pick up and a blue box starts to appear in the aisle. Pete and Mickey both stand to stare in shock. And then she's running.
Oh my god she's running. In the middle of her wedding, white dress and all. The door opens and she doesn't even check that it's him. That it isn't some other time lord with a broken chameleon circuit, and that he hasn't gone and changed faces on her again. She just leaps at him, nearly tackling him over. The hug is a mess of white satin, lace and tears and she can barely make sense of anything with that gown in the way and people must be staring and she's got a fiancé at the altar waiting for her to say I Do but none of that matters. He's here. He's finally here.
There's a rush of noise and she realizes that people really are staring, and murmuring and yelling and they really are quite frantic, what with the bride taking off from the altar towards another man. She supposes, realizing it just late enough to feel sheepish, that the police box that appeared out of thin air probably hasn't helped much either.
"Rose, what's going on?"
She turns, and Robert's standing there staring, and she knows it's not the strange physics of things suddenly materializing that's got him upset.
She lets go of the hand she didn't realize she was holding and turns towards her fiancé. What was she thinking? A fiancé…
"Robert. This is-" She pauses, trying to find a word to define him, but she lacks any. "This is the Doctor." All he is, all he was, all he ever will be is summed up right there for her.
"And this Doctor. Who appears out of no where to steal my bride, who is he? And why did you run to him?"
It's all she can think to say, and tears are streaming down her cheeks because she means it. And someone once told her that if she was sorry, and she meant it, that was all that mattered. Even if she'd destroyed the world.
"Sorry? You're sorry? But that's not good enough." His words aren't filled with anger, just pain, and she knows it's justified.
"I know. And I'm sorry there isn't more I can say… or do… This is the man I told you about. The one I traveled with." Rose laughs, because this is all so crazy, and she really doesn't know what to say, and maybe she laughs a little bit because she's happy. "I told you he might come back some day."
"Yeah. Well I thought that was over when you agreed to marry me. I guess I was wrong."
She reaches out to take Robert's hand and she's surprised that he doesn't pull away. He just looks at her, tears in his eyes and smiles. "Always knew you were too good for me." He tells her, and she can feel the tears pouring out of her. Love for this man she knows would do anything for her, even let her go. And then he steps away. He's looking at the floor and she wonders if it's because he's crying, but he looks back up before long. "I'm sorry. I never should have proposed to you when I knew it wasn't something you were looking for. I just wanted to make you happy."
They're both smiling at each other, and in the pit of her stomach Rose knows she won't see him again. He walks away, being swarmed by guests who are wondering just what's going on. They're all from his side, because the few guests that are there for her already know. Finally, she turns to face the Doctor, takes his hand in hers and smiles.
"Can we go now?"
He just nods and watches as she kisses Mickey and Jake goodbye. Gives her father a solid hug and asks him to take care of her mother. She spends an extra minute or two with her little brother who will probably never remember her, and then she's back by his side.
And as they step into the TARDIS and close the door he thinks that maybe he's being a little bit selfish. And so is she. And maybe that's okay.