Disclaimer: I'm not the BBC or Uncle Rusty. Therefore, I don't own the Doctor, more's the pity.

The Life Fantastic

Regeneration always hurts. It's a lot like birth, he supposes; something new comes out from inside his body. He's done it many times, but it seems like he forgets about the pain every time. He wonders if it's a survival mechanism. He never asked any of the other Time Lords.

He never can, now. They're all gone.

So are all the Daleks. That was the point of this whole exercise, wasn't it? One final gambit, one doomsday scenario to end the Time War. He honestly didn't expect to survive.

He didn't, technically; that's why he's regenerating. This isn't what he expected, what he wanted. He thought there wouldn't be enough of him left to regenerate. Nonetheless, it's happening. And it hurts.

There's no one to help him through the aftermath. Only the TARDIS, barely functioning, drifting in the Time Vortex. How long it goes on, he doesn't know, and it's meaningless besides. Time Lords don't see time the way merely linear creatures do. But finally, he recovers enough to realize his clothes are the wrong size.

Oddly, that spurs him to action where nothing else would. It's ludicrous--there's no one here to see him, he could walk around naked for all the TARDIS cares--but it's something concrete he can do right now. He goes down to the wardrobe, chooses dark trousers, a dark shirt, and a black leather jacket. Simple, basic pieces that he doesn't need to think about. He glances in the mirror when he's done, curious in spite of himself to see what he looks like.

He's not ginger. It disappoints him yet again, and he lets out a short laugh at his own idiosyncrasy. It's the first sound he's made since his regeneration. The single laugh turns into a hysterical laughing fit, which gives way to wrenching sobs. There in the wardrobe, among the remnants of his past lives, he gives in to grief for his people.

Once, he had a name. A family. A home.

Now he has a TARDIS, and he has a mission. The first is a comfort; the second is a distraction. The TARDIS was in almost as poor of shape as he at the end of the Time War, but she has her own way of regenerating. He nurses her along, making short jumps in space and time to find patches for lost equipment and energy to power her. It's something to do, for a little while at least. Something to care about.

When the TARDIS is back to functioning properly, he occupies his time stamping out brush fires throughout the universe. A crime syndicate is trying to sell real estate on a developing world whose natives will, in a few million years, create a beautiful, peaceful society. He outwits the syndicate, leaving the infant world free of interference. Two civilizations are locked in a conflict so intense that one side is developing a weapon that will destroy stars and warp the very fabric of space. He brokers peace. And so on, and so forth. It's almost mechanical. This is what the Time Lords did, so this is what the Time Lord does.

Sooner or later, of course, his work leads him back to Earth.

Why he's so fond of this little blue marble swarming with just-fell-out-of-the-trees apes, he couldn't properly say. He likes them, the humans. They're raw, forthright, mostly stupid, and alive. So alive, in the way that only young races are. He's taken many companions on this world.

At the moment, he has no companion. This is not a good situation, he knows. Without someone mortal, someone limited, on board, it's too easy to lose perspective. He needs someone to keep him grounded.

He needs someone. At times, his loneliness threatens to crush both his hearts.

It's on Earth that he begins his search for a new companion. He moves through several time periods, dealing with small crises, haunting those small (by his standards) turning points that nudge the human race toward either their glory or their damnation. He even makes some friends. But none of them ever suit for a companion. For the most part, they're too attached to their world and time. They have families, important work, things that keep them in one place and in linear time. The few who don't are too afraid of the unknown. He almost gives up.

Another day, another plot to take over Earth. Another damsel in distress--in England, of course. Sometimes, he wishes he could find trouble in warmer climes. But he rescues the girl, helps her to get out of the building before he blows it and the living mannequins up.

He asks her what her name is. It's only polite, of course. She answers, and as he looks into her eyes, he recognizes something in them.

Then she's gone, and he has a department store to destroy. He does so, quite decisively, and sticks around to find the source of the signal. Also, he has to find her again. To make certain she's not a target, of course. To make sure she's okay.

It's that something in her eyes that makes him give away perhaps more than he would ordinarily. She's not denying what happened. She knows, and she lets herself know, that there's more going on than most people will believe. She's clever, too, and brave. Strong. And best of all, she doesn't have much to tie her to this world. Her mother, a few friends, her (rather pathetic, in his estimation) boyfriend. That's all.

In other words, she's perfect companion material. He makes the offer, trying (and failing) not to sound too wistful or desperate. Predictably, she turns down the first entreaty, but he can see in her eyes that she wants to come along. So he plays his trump card, knowing it'll only take a little push. As usual, he's right. She comes running.

Within twenty-four hours of Rose Tyler's acceptance of his invitation, the Doctor is wondering not if he's made a mistake, but rather just how bad a mistake it is. Paradoxically, this confirms his earlier suspicions that she's an ideal companion. If a companion doesn't bother him, irk him, question him, quibble with him, even defy him, that companion is of no use. He doesn't want a sycophant. That would be disastrous.

During their association, the Doctor will compile a laundry list of Rose's character flaws that's as tall as she is. She has a knack for finding trouble. She doesn't do what he says. She cares too much about things that don't matter, and not nearly enough about things that do. Her boyfriend is an oaf, and her mother is a harpy. (To be fair, those things aren't strictly her fault, but they do count against her.) She argues with him when he clearly knows better. She's stubborn. She's childish. She prattles on and on until his head hurts. She takes too much time doing her hair. She rolls her eyes and tunes out when he's trying to tell her important things. And she flirts! Every male that's passably humanoid and vaguely pretty gets the full-on girlish giggle, the shy glance from under the eyelashes, the just-so stance that emphasizes the parts of her that human males gawk at in their Neanderthal way. It creates no end of difficulties. And worst of all, he's pretty sure that she's got a similar list in her mind for him--and he's taller.

But her chatter fills the emptiness of the TARDIS. He enjoys the feeling of her hand in his, having someone to touch again. She gives affection so freely that he can't help but return it. She's kind-hearted almost to a fault, and he cannot bring himself to count it against her. She's sensual--she enjoys food unashamedly, opens her eyes wide to marvel at the wonders he shows her, absorbs the smells and sounds of worlds she's never imagined, and reaches out to touch . . . everything.

Best of all--though she'd no doubt hate it if he put it this way to her--she's tough. Resilient. London-bred working class, used to working hard and never having much. She's not spoiled in the least, which is a quality never to be undervalued in one's companion. She bounces back quickly after upsetting incidents and doesn't pout (well, not for too long, at least) when her feelings get hurt. She's always ready for the next thing.

Her wonder opens his eyes again, makes him remember that although his people are gone, and he will never stop grieving them, the universe is full of life and beauty. With her by his side, his loneliness becomes something he can bear.

When they got a break long enough to catch their breath (that would be after Earth was destroyed), he showed her around the TARDIS a little. There was a room for her in the strangely organic corridors of the TARDIS, and though it was small and simple--just a bed and a place to bathe--she betrayed no disappointment.

"Not exactly the QE2, but it'll do," she said, sitting down on the bed. She looked pleasantly surprised. "This isn't bad. Better than my mattress at home, anyway. No huge lumps."

The Doctor showed her how to work the bathing facilities. "It's sonic," he said of the shower. "You can even stand in there fully clothed and it'll clean your clothes, too."

Rose flashed him her wide grin. "Good. These'll get pretty ripe after a couple of days." She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "Next time we go back home, I'll have to grab a few more things. We are going to go back sometime, aren't we?"

"Of course," he said, thinking to himself that it would probably be after she decided this was too exciting and strange for her, and she wanted to go back to her old life. It had happened before.

"Where do you sleep?" she asked as he turned to leave her little cabin.

He smiled at her. "I don't. Not the way you do. You ever need me, I'll probably be in the control room." He started to leave again, but her voice caught him.


He poked his head back in. "What?"

"Thanks," she said simply.

"For the cabin?"

"For asking me along. It's been so amazing already." She grimaced just a little. "Almost killed me, too, but it beats working retail."

He smiled at her, thinking that perhaps he might have been mistaken about her wanting to leave. "You're welcome, Rose Tyler."

It's not long before he starts to be a little disturbed.

For one thing, he's starting to feel proprietary toward her. The first time they go back to her home, he finds Mickey well-nigh unbearable. While it's true that the boy is an idiot and nowhere near worthy of her, the Doctor realizes what he's feeling goes well beyond mere irritation. He's jealous of Mickey, and Jackie, too. When he recognizes it, he's a bit horrified. Isn't he beyond this?

When he thinks about how lonely he was before he found her, though, it does make sense. On some level, he doesn't want to share Rose with anyone, even her own mother. He's afraid she may choose them over him now that she's seen how dangerous it can be, traveling with a Time Lord. Now that she's seen how he can be.

(And what right do they have to her, anyway? He's the one who saw her potential. He's the one who has shown her even the barest glimpse of what the universe is and what she can be. They would have allowed her to stay where she was, stay the way she was, wandering around like an Auton herself when she's capable of so much more. She's better than them, better than the ignorant little world she's been clinging to. Why should they have any claim on her when he was the first one to truly see her?)

He can drown out his thoughts, force down the incomprehensible feelings of jealousy and entitlement. He's sure they'll fade; he is, after all, an eminently reasonable being.

What's truly disturbing is that he finds himself hesitating to save the planet on account of her. A planet versus a girl, and somehow, the girl's life means more to him than her entire world.

But she looks at him with absolute faith. She's frightened, but she trusts him. It's daunting, to say the least, but he knows that she has her priorities straight, even if his have gone all pear-shaped. Even Mickey and Jackie know what's right. Mickey could flatly refuse to follow the Doctor's orders, and even if he did follow them, Jackie could (and no doubt would, under different circumstances) smash the boy's brains out before letting him take an action that would cost her daughter's life. The Doctor's got to respect them a little more for the fact that they do what's necessary anyway.

So he takes the risk, and a little quick thinking saves their lives. And Rose leaves with him again, turning away from her mother's pleas.

He notices little things about her, studies her in a way she'd probably find strange and worrisome if she realized he was doing it. There's a hint of green in her brown eyes. Her teeth are a little crooked, which is most noticeable when she's laughing. Her weight fluctuates, thanks to her love of greasy, salty foods. She frets about it whenever her clothes start to get a little tight, but he likes her best that way. He finds

He finds it sexy.

that he likes having a little extra Rose in his arms when she hugs him. But above all, it's her trust in him that simultaneously gratifies and terrifies him. Her eyes are so clear, her face so expressive, that the littlest bit of doubt shows. She trusts him instinctively, or she'd never have joined him. He's grateful that she did. He's terrified that he'll let her down.

It isn't so long before he does.

The Dalek brought out the absolute worst in him. Seeing the thing made all the raw, painful wounds he carried break open and start bleeding again. Afterward, he regarded his actions and words with more than a little horror, but he was so grief-stricken, so terrified in the moment that he couldn't stop himself.

Rose was safe, but not because of him. He nearly cost her life. She saved herself.

He couldn't bear to be around her and the latest poor sod to give up his good sense for Rose's smile, so after starting up the TARDIS and setting its destination, he retreated back to the wardrobe.

His brooding was interrupted when she showed up, sans idiot. She said nothing, but started picking through the wardrobe. She pulled out a cream-colored jacket with bright orange piping and made a face.

"Where'd you pick this up?" she asked. "The Planet of Lost Fashion Crimes?"

"Earth, in the nineteen-seventies," he answered. "So yeah, you might say that."

She hung it back up and continued poking around. The Doctor hoped Idiot Boy wasn't doing something unforgivable to the TARDIS, but even that thought failed to arouse much interest, which was in itself rather unprecedented.

Rose finally came over to sit by him, his old scarf wound around her neck. "This, I like," she said. "It's sort of endearingly ugly. You ever wear it?"

"It's been a long time," he said. "How's wossisname?"

"Adam's still a little in shock, I think. Don't worry; I gave him strict instructions not to touch anything, or we could end up inside a star or something," she said. Her expressive brow crinkled a bit. "You scared me back there."

He couldn't quite look at her. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry you had to go through that. I'm sorry you had to see me--" He cut himself off and started again. "The Time War was fought between my people and the Daleks. Neither side won. They're all dead now. They're all gone. Except me." He gave a short, bleak laugh. "But it wasn't just me, was it? Two survivors of the Time War, one from each side. Funny, isn't it--that only a Dalek could understand what it's like to be the last Time Lord. And now it's gone." She said nothing, just sat by him, and he realizes that she'd taken his hand. He squeezed hers. "It wasn't because of me or anything I did. It was you. You made it a little human." He looked at her fully for the first time since she came in, touched her face gently. "You make me a little human."

"I told you the truth, you know," she said, covering his hand with hers. "I wouldn't change any of this, not for the world. Even if I had died, at least I lived. Saw things no one else has. 'Swhat you've given me."

He smiled a little at that, but the pain was crushing him. He pulled his hand away from her, looked away.

"Doctor," she said, worry in her voice.

"They're all gone, Rose," he said, voice choking. "They're all gone."

He felt like he was breaking, wanted to break. Wanted to curl up and lock the universe out, let it go on without him. Let it take the last of the Time Lords, and let them rest at last.

Rose was at his side, then, and a little in front of him, putting her hand to his face and making him look at her. She opened her mouth as if to say something, but then shut it again as she looked into his eyes and saw the bottomless pain there. Tears filled her eyes.

He reached out, pulled her against him, pressed his face against her hair as her arms wrapped around his neck.

"Wish I could help, I wish I could help," she murmured.

His voice was a hoarse whisper. "You do."

Her presence soothes him in the wardrobe, and continues to do so after. When they're not together, he misses her. He's not selfish enough to keep her with him all the time, though; she has to learn how to deal with their travels, and experience isn't just the best teacher, but the only one. But she's getting good at it. He's proud of her.

All the same, he's only too glad to slough off Idiot Boy after he makes a spectacularly bad showing for himself. How Rose finds these brainless wonders . . . The Doctor doesn't consider that perhaps he's a little too eager to send the boy packing.

So it's just the two of them again. They travel a bit, and Rose picks up another of the hazards of traveling through space and time (aside from stupid males): a virus. One day, she starts looking a little green. Literally. Kind of a nice sea-green color encroaching on her face and extremities, accompanied by some unfortunate digestive difficulties. She spends a few days in bed, quite miserable, and the Doctor tends to her. The virus is nothing terribly serious and will run its course, he knows, and all he can really do is break out the TARDIS's medical kit and make her more comfortable. He asks her if she wants to go home. She turns him down, saying her mother would only fuss over her and yell at him. He has to admit he's rather grateful.

It is nice, taking care of her like this. It reminds him of Susan. She reminds him of Susan, really. The memories, though, are painful, too painful to dwell upon. He's not ready to talk about his past just yet, talk about his (children) old companions or his home. So he just occupies himself with Rose, concentrating on helping her, feeling her worm her way ever further into his heart.

Once she recovers, she comes to him, pensive and sad, with a serious request. She wants to meet her father.

He guided her gently away from the accident scene. She offered no resistance, moving as if in a trance, too overwhelmed to care where they went. The Doctor put an arm around her shoulders, leading her back to the TARDIS.

Once inside, she collapsed against him, sobs welling up from deep inside her as she grieved her father for the first time. He held her tight, let her cling to him, made soothing noises--but not once did he tell her it was all right. Because it wasn't.

They ended up sitting against a bulkhead. His legs stretched out in front of them, but she was curled up under his right arm, her head on his shoulder as her tears finally abated into soft sniffles and little hiccups.

He'd seen plenty of grief rituals in his time, the Doctor had. This, though, struck him as the best, and the simplest: two friends together, helping each other through their pain.

She finally spoke, her voice watery and soft. "It was never about him before, you know; it was about me. I felt sorry for myself that I never had a dad, but I didn't know what I was missing. Not really." She wiped at her face with a tissue she'd pulled from her pocket. "But now all I can think about is, he never got to see his daughter grow up, an' he should've. A stupid accident took that away from him--and me, and Mum. How does that happen? Why?"

There were a million answers to her questions, but the Doctor was too wise to offer any of them. He kept quiet, kissed the top of her head.

"But there was something," she said after a moment. "I looked in his eyes, and it was like--it was like he knew me, and he loved me. There was love in his eyes when he saw me. He knew who I was. Somehow, he knew. It sounds crazy, but I know what I saw. He knew me."

She didn't ask for confirmation, but the Doctor felt, with the unerring instinct of a Time Lord, that something had happened. Time had rippled. Exactly what it was eluded him, but perhaps Rose was right. Perhaps her father did somehow know that this young woman was his baby, all grown up.

Even if he'd known otherwise, though, he'd never have said so.

"He'd have been proud of you," was all the Doctor said. "I know I am." He wondered if that was what she saw in him, a father-substitute. Perhaps that was their relationship, then. Perhaps he simply felt paternal toward her. After all, he'd been a father once.

Thinking of his children only brought him more pain. He couldn't bring himself to tell Rose about them. It still hurt far too much.

He closed that door in his memory and turned his attention back to Rose, warm against his side. "You know what you need?" he asked. She looked up at him. "A distraction. Come on." He stood, helping her to her feet as he did so.

"Where're we going?" she asked, wiping her face, as he turned to the TARDIS console.

"You'll see." He grinned at her. "Trust me. It'll be fantastic."

That got a little smile out of her. "Okay. What do you need me to do?"

"Nothing. Go get yourself some warm clothes," he ordered as the TARDIS started up. "It'll be cold. Go on, now."

By the time she was dressed for the weather, they had reached their destination. He took her hand and stepped to the doors.

She gasped as he opened them. They were on a beach, looking out at a frozen sea. It wasn't pack ice that she might have seen in nature specials about polar bears or penguins. This sea had frozen in full fury, breakers and waves preserved in a moment. The Doctor started explaining what had happened, the science behind it. He could tell she wasn't listening, though, so he stopped his explanation and let her just look. He looked, too, and felt the same thrill he had the first time he'd seen this place.

It was a beautiful night, perfectly clear, with the planet's double moons illuminating the frosted waves. A little hoarfrost floated around them, making the very air glitter.

"It's--it's beautiful," she whispered, as if afraid her voice would somehow disturb the serenity. He smiled at the expression on her face.

"Come on," he said, tugging her down the little rise the TARDIS was perched on. "It's safe, I promise."

She came after him then, and allowed herself to be led onto the ice. Layers of hoarfrost and frozen foam actually made for a good walking surface, though there were some dangerously shiny waves further out. He led her around those, toward a towering breaker. A little moonglow penetrated it, just enough for him to see the awe on her face.

"Told you it was fantastic," he said.

She shook her head, for once at a complete loss for words. They walked through the ice cave, and then further out onto the sea. Just as they reached the top of a huge swell, Rose gave a little cry, looking up.

An aurora was streaming in from the world's north. At first, it was pale green, and then purple and rose pink notes began to appear.

"I've always wanted to see this," said Rose, her voice still low. "It's so much better than I imagined."

The aurora had taken over the sky, dancing and rippling like visual music, or perhaps laughter. There was no wind; the only sound was from their breath, and more faintly, the soft sizzling of the aurora. Rose moved closer to his side, trembling a little, but not from cold. He instinctively wrapped one arm around her.

He liked how she fit under his arm.

They stood there, frozen as the sea, watching the lights in the sky. Tears flowed down Rose's face again, but this time, they weren't from sorrow.

It's nearly impossible to hate Captain Jack Harkness. The Doctor can say this with certainty, as he gave it a good, solid try. Handsome, roguish fellow with his sonic blaster and his big teeth and dancing and the way Rose talked about "It's always the great-looking ones" that leave her in the lurch. Comments like that could bruise a fellow, even if he is a Time Lord. This face isn't that bad, is it?

In the end, Jack's charm and unexpected nobility win over the Doctor as well. Besides, after a day like this one, he isn't inclined to hate anybody or anything in the universe. Everybody lives! How often does that happen? Not often. An impossible dilemma turns into a dance of celebration as he and Rose swing their way around the TARDIS. She's laughing, and so is he. The moment is pure, simple. Even the wistful, slightly envious expression on Captain Jack's face is perfect. The Doctor's not sure whom the captain envies more, but it doesn't matter. All the victims of the "plague" are not only alive, but even better off than before. Everyone lives!

This day has been too long in coming.

Of course, Jack can't leave well enough alone. It's not in the man's nature. Almost the first thing he does on board is offer Rose and the Doctor sex, just as casually as Rose might offer someone tea. Rose giggles and turns him down, protesting that she has a boyfriend. The look the Doctor gives him is indication enough that no, Jack won't be sharing his bed anytime soon.

At the very least, Jack shows the Doctor that Rose is not, in fact, the worst flirt in the universe. Captain Jack is evidently making it his personal mission in life to flirt with and/or bed as much of the galaxy as possible. Even so, there's an undeniable sweetness about his disposition. He's genuinely kind and brave, which goes a long way toward easing the Doctor's exasperation with his constant stream of innuendo (and even gets him to flirt back a bit, because it is fun, though he'll never admit that to either Jack or Rose). Rose is thrilled to have someone aboard who knows all the hottest nightspots in space and time, and though that's not really the Doctor's scene, he indulges the young folk. Jack also makes himself useful around the TARDIS, helping the Doctor and Rose keep her going. He's got a good mind along with a solid knowledge base.

But all the same . . .

The Doctor wishes Jack would stop commenting on every little endearing thing Rose does. The things that the Doctor's trying so hard to put out of his mind can't be ignored when Jack's raphsodizing about them. Jack loves her accent and does a passable imitation of it while trying to teach her to sound American (which is a lost cause). The way she catches her tongue in her teeth in that teasing grin of hers is a source of great fascination for him. Her laugh, the soft curviness of her body, the way she looks when she's just woken up and hasn't got her tea yet, how she raves when she finally discovers a bathing room with actual water--all of these are subjects of enthusiastic and detailed monologues for the Doctor's ears. More than once, he's bluntly told the man to just shut up about Rose.

That's when Jack does the absolute worst, most infuriating thing in his repertoire: he leans back a bit, grinning in that insufferable knowing way, and nods, as if the Doctor has just proven his point.

The TARDIS needed maintenance again. She had been behaving oddly ever since the last quick escape they'd pulled (Jack's libido again, with Rose getting dragged along for the ride), so the Doctor stopped her in the Time Vortex and roped his misbehaving young cohorts into helping out. They seemed to be doing more talking than working, though.

"There's no way you're being serious," said Rose.

"I am," said Jack.

"Not possible."

"Is possible."

Rose, who was lying next to the Doctor purportedly holding a panel in place while he reattached it under the main console, looked to him for support. "He's not serious, is he?"

"2144, Parliament is torn down, and a large nightclub of the same name is erected on the site," said the Doctor shortly. "Would you pay attention to what you're doing?"

Jack's smug voice floated down. "Told you. It's a happening spot. We should go."

"We should not," said the Doctor. "Great Britain in the 2140s is a good place to get yourself killed, and London is the worst."

"It's not that bad," said Jack.

The Doctor rolled his eyes. "Economic decay, neo-imperialist death squads, the fifth great influenza pandemic, cocktails infused with concentrated absinth--no, you're right, it's not that bad. Rose, pay attention to what you're doing."

She was just opening her mouth to say something when an entirely different panel fell off and doused her in something oily. She cursed, as did the Doctor as her hand slipped and the panel she'd been holding up smacked him across the nose. There was a muffled thump as Jack jumped down from his perch to inspect the damage.

"You two all right?" he asked, concern no doubt overriding the urge to point and laugh.

"That's it," said Rose, pushing her way out from under the panel. Jack gave her a hand up. "I'm tired, I'm dirty, and now I've got engine grease in my hair."

"That's not engine grease," said the Doctor.

"Then I don't want to know what it is. I'm takin' a shower with real water," she said.

Jack, being Jack, had to offer to aid her in this endeavor.

"Thanks," she said, "but I was holding out for the Doctor." She threw him a teasing look over her shoulder.

"Too bad. I was holding out for Captain Jack," said the Doctor without missing a beat.

"Well, there is one solution," suggested Jack.

"Nah. Stall's way too small," said Rose, unzipping her coveralls as she walked away.

"But that can be fun, too!" Jack called after her. Her giggle faded as she left the control room.

The Doctor wedged himself back under the console. "All right, you," he said. "Get down here."

"I knew I'd hear those words from you one day," said Jack, sliding in almost gracefully.

"Was it all you hoped for?"

"Sadly, tragically, no." Jack helped the Doctor clean up the mess before turning over and holding up the troublesome panel. "You know, I'd have been happy to hold down the fort while you took her up on her offer."

Blast the man. "Her offer, as you put it, was about as genuine as my offer to you was. In other words, not very."

"You sting me." He let the Doctor work for a few blessed moments of quiet before returning to his theme. "She meant it more than she was letting on."

"Would you shut your mouth and work?" asked the Doctor.

The "shut your mouth" part of the sentence didn't appear to penetrate, though Jack did get back to work. "Tell me one thing: if you knew she meant it, would you have taken her up on it?"

"No," said the Doctor shortly.

Jack looked at him as if he'd just sprouted tentacles. (Actually, that probably wouldn't have gotten nearly the reaction the Doctor's statement did.) "Why not? This is what I do not understand about you. A beautiful, desirable young woman has been on your ship for months, and--"

"No. And I won't. We're not all slaves to our hormones, Jack." The Doctor gave the panel a final push, locking it into place. "That part of my life was over a long time ago. Switch places."

Sighing, Jack complied. "I hope I never live long enough to say that."

"Trust me, you won't."

The Doctor hoped that would end this particular conversation. Vainly, as it turned out.

"So, how long has it been, exactly--"

"What do you know about Time Lords?" the Doctor interrupted.

Jack pushed up the second panel while the Doctor aimed his sonic screwdriver at it. "Not much. Legends, more or less. Supposedly, you're the next best thing to immortal."

"Precisely," said the Doctor. "Ever think about the ramifications of that as far as procreation goes?"

"I haven't had a reason to. Besides, we're not talking about procreation; we're talking--"

The man was another idiot, then. The Doctor cut him off again. "Believe it or not, there is a connection between sex and procreation."

"Okay, I get it; your kind doesn't--didn't need to procreate all that much because of your extended lifespans," said Jack. "Didn't you ever do it for fun?"

"Evolution's not stupid, even if you are," snapped the Doctor before he could stop himself. "That sex drive you prize so much didn't do my species much good. Ergo . . ." He looked at Jack as if he were a particularly dull student.

"Lower sex drive," said Jack. He looked incredibly disappointed. Obviously, he'd never considered this notion before. Probably didn't even know it was possible to survive without wanting to shag everything that moved.

"Much. Lets me focus my energy on other things." He was rather proud of himself for getting this across to Jack on his first attempt. True, he was leaving a few things out, but he had absolutely no desire to explain the details of Time Lord reproduction to Jack.

Jack, being Jack, wasn't finished, however. "So if that's true, why do you look at Rose the way you do?" he asked.

The Doctor's hand slipped. "Oi! Be careful."

"That was your fault," said Jack, sounding a little testy for the first time in this conversation. "And I'm not letting you wriggle your way out of answering."

"What way of looking at Rose are you talking about?" asked the Doctor. Clumsy evasion maneuver, attempting to define the terms. He'd have to come up with something better, and fast.

"Come on! The look. Starving man at a buffet," said Jack in a tone that communicated that perhaps the Doctor was the stupid one in this conversation.

"I do not look at Rose like she's a piece of meat, unlike--"

"You know, I've wanted a lot of things in my life," interrupted Jack. "A TG-20 racing speeder, my astrophysics professor, that Chula warship that got blown up almost around me, my two years of lost memories--but I don't think I've ever looked at anyone or anything with nearly the longing you have in your eyes whenever you look at Rose."

The Doctor was thoroughly rattled by this point, primarily because Jack was being far more perceptive than he'd have given the man credit for. "I was lonely when I met her," he finally said, understating the matter in an egregious way. "She's a good companion. A good friend."

Jack snorted. "Doesn't cut it. You want her for a lot more than friendship. Maybe she's awakened that long-lost sex drive of yours."

"Shut up," said the Doctor wearily.

"Not until you admit there's more going on in your bicardial circulatory system than mere friendship as regards the lovely Miss Rose Tyler."

The Doctor jabbed furiously at a loose connection. "It's just an old man's embarrassing crush on a girl who makes him feel young again. Satisfied?"

"Not remotely," said Jack, grinning in triumph nonetheless. "At least we're getting somewhere, though."



"Mention one word of this to her, and I'll eject you into the Time Vortex. I mean it."

"I'd never do that," said Jack, sounding offended. "I just fail to understand why you don't."

"You don't?" the Doctor scoffed. "I'm sure a 19-year-old human girl's in the market for a 900-year-old alien with big ears and bigger issues."

"I've had bigger age gaps. Works fine if all the parts are working."

"You're incorrigible."

"Why, thank you." Jack looked over at him. "Seriously, though. She has feelings for you. Why not take a risk?"

"First of all, I'm not willing to risk her friendship for anything," said the Doctor. "Secondly, she doesn't have those kinds of feelings for me. Probably sees me as a substitute father figure." That part was a bit irksome, he had to admit.

"Whatever you say, Daddy." As usual, Jack made a simple word sound incredibly filthy. "Look, I know how to read human women, even if you've forgotten. Don't you notice the way Rose is always touching you?"

He had. Oh, yes, he had. "She's affectionate. She touches you a lot, too."

"I'm not the one she fell asleep on in that prison cell," said Jack, referring to their most recent narrow escape.

"She was annoyed with you. So was I. Couldn't keep your hands to yourself, could you? And with a Priestess of the Third Moon!"

"How was I to know she was a holy woman?"

"You might've heard me mention it if you hadn't been too busy staring at her breasts," said the Doctor.

Jack grinned, apparently unrepentant. "Mm, but they were such lovely breasts. All four of them. I have a thing for felinoids. You, however, are avoiding the subject again. Rose fell asleep against you, possible death sentence and all."

She had. Pressed up against his side, head on his shoulder. He could almost feel her warmth still.

"She trusts me," he finally said. "Too much."

"And that's the point, isn't it?" said Jack. "You offer her adventure and security all in one lanky, dead-sexy package."

"She has a boyfriend back home," protested the Doctor, somewhat weakly.

"She's with you," Jack reminded him. "Not him. You."

To the Doctor's extreme relief, the final panel was in place. "It's done. Now go away."

Jack pulled himself out from under the console. "You know I'm right."

Rose's voice floated into the control room. "What're you right about?"

"Nothing, as usual," said the Doctor before Jack could reply. "We're done here." He stood up and looked at her.

She was in a simple set of sweats, hair still wet, no makeup on, and she was beautiful. Jack pulled her into a quick dance-step.

"So clean. Makes a guy think about dirtying you up again," he said. Rose giggled, and Jack sniffed her hair. "You smell good enough to eat."

The Doctor attempted to ignore them, checking the readings on the TARDIS. Part of his brain, though, was still caught on Jack's assertions, and what he himself had admitted. Was this some kind of latent reproductive urge coming to the fore, now that he was the last of his race? After all, he himself had said that evolution's not stupid.

No. He was just lonely and tired, and Rose's presence kept him afloat, emotionally. Her energy, her affection, her sweetness--he could hardly imagine himself without her now.

One treacherous part of his brain wondered if that might not be the very definition of being in love.

He wants to guide her and protect her, but not like a father.

He wants to stand by her side and hold her hand as they explore together, but not like a friend or brother.

He wants to learn from her, but not like a student.

He wants to place his body between her and anything that threatens her, but not like a guardian.

He wants to hold her, to touch her, to feel her sleep in his arms, but not like a lover.

He doesn't know what he wants to be to her--but he wants her near.

He sees her die in front of him, torn apart by the disintegration beam. All that remains of her is dust.

It's all too easy to feign apathy as he, Lynda-with-a-Y and Jack are arrested and trundled off to a holding cell. Even Jack seems taken in briefly, but a glance from the Doctor has him ready to move at the signal. For no matter what happens, the Doctor must not let it interfere with his work. His mission.

One more, dead. It should've stopped hurting by now.

They storm the control room, seeking answers. The Doctor quite frankly expected something like the Editor he met before. Instead, he finds only a girl, imprisoned there since childhood, forced to be a living conduit of information. It's perhaps the most hideous thing he's seen in this whole perverted, brutal world. Not that it gives him much compassion for her, if she's the cause of Rose's death. But he hears her out.

It's Jack who makes the discovery that Rose is still alive somewhere, and for just a moment, nothing else matters. Then the Controller, the child whose life has been sucked away, betrays her masters, and they take her. The Doctor can only hope that her death is more merciful than her life.

And then he sees what she brought him here for, what has been shaping Earth for centuries: Daleks.

How they escaped the Time War, he doesn't know. It doesn't even matter. What matters is that the Time Lords failed, and their sacrifice was for nothing.

Then Rose is on the screen, surrounded by his worst enemies, and still looking at him with that same faith she has shown in him all along. Frightened, obviously, but there's hope in her eyes as she sees him, and that's enough to bring him to his feet, shouting defiance at the Daleks and promising her that he will save her. And she believes.

So he goes charging off like a knight to his lady, feeling like a madman and knowing that he will save her.

She's back in his arms, and he is in love. There's no use denying it anymore. It's the strangest, silliest thing in the universe, but at the moment, it's the only thing that makes sense. He's in love with Rose Tyler.

"I knew you'd save me," she says, holding onto him. Though she's shaking from the adrenaline, he knows she means it. She had more faith in him than he had in himself--and her faith paid off, at least in this case.

It gives him hope. He's going to have to fight the Time War again, on his own, and the chance for success is minimal. But if Rose wavers in her belief, he can't detect it.

Perhaps that's why he doesn't allow her to join Jack's battle. Perhaps he needs

He needs her by his side, safe with him just a little longer.

more than her help creating the delta wave; he needs her faith.

"Rose, you are worth fighting for."

Jack kissed them both goodbye, and he left. The Doctor was almost certain he was going to his death.

"He'll be all right, won't he?" asked Rose.

He knew she'd believe him if he said Jack would make it. Therefore, he didn't. It was all the answer she needed, and she was trembling a little as she sat down and went back to work.

It was oddly comfortable, sitting there with her, working to solve the problem. In spite of the odds against them, the Doctor was almost light-hearted. He was in love. The Time Lord had turned into a besotted schoolboy. Fantastic! He gave a laugh.

"What's the joke?" she asked, a bit of a smile curling her lips.

"I am," he said. "I'm a silly old man, Rose."

"You're nutters is what you are," she said, grinning at him.

"Barking mad!" he concurred happily.

"Wonder what that says about my mental state, that I'm still sticking around?" she said.

"Probably means you're certifiable," he told her, and paused for a moment before adding, "Lunatic or no, though, I'm glad you're here, Rose."

"Nowhere else I'd rather be." Her voice was light, teasing, but he knew she meant it.

No wonder he was in love with her, strangest thing in the universe and all. He wouldn't have thought it was possible to fall in love again, not for him, but he was glad he had. The Time War had left him with that much, at least.

Still, he didn't tell her. She didn't need to know right then. Perhaps if they survived this, he'd tell her, but probably not. It would only make her uncomfortable, if Jack was wrong about her feelings. Besides, it was his last secret, something he wanted just for himself. He could be that selfish, at least.

They chatted a bit more, mostly light-hearted banter, the work taking their minds off the threat hurtling toward Earth. He was almost happy.

And then the alarm rang.

He can't do this to her.

As he looks over the readings of the delta wave, his hearts seem to stop. Seconds earlier, he'd been smiling at the fact that leaving for her own safety had never even occurred to her. But now . . .

The delta wave will kill everything in its path. Everything in the sky, everything on the planet, everything in the station. Dalek, human, animal, even Time Lord. Another hour, and he might be able to refine it, but he knows very well he doesn't have another hour.

She'll die, and by his hand.

She's at his shoulder now, frightened but still trusting, and he cannot do this to her. The lives on the ground and on the station are, for the most part, distant. He can believe that their deaths are an acceptable trade-off for the safety of the universe. But Rose is here, and he can no more activate the delta wave than aim a gun at her and pull the trigger.

For the first and last time, he'll use her faith in him against her.

A clever ruse, one last embrace and a loving betrayal later, she's on her way back home. He hears her from inside even as the TARDIS fades away. She's confused, frightened and angry, and it hurts him that this will be his last impression of her. He hopes the emergency protocol recording will help her to understand why he's sent her away, give her one last thing to do for him. He hopes she'll go on to lead the fantastic life he wants for her.

Rose is gone, and Jack is dying. All the people fighting the battle, all of those huddling down below, are dying, and the Doctor is preparing to finish them off. He works at a fevered pace now, bringing the components of his weapon together while the rest of his mind occupies itself with a poem in order to stave off the reality of what he must do. Unfortunately, the poem that leaps to mind isn't very soothing.

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.

So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:

The time, of course, is in his mind. It always has been. And resigned or not, the grave is still hungry for the planet he's come to love.

Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.

Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

His mind strays to Gallifrey, a planet that now, technically, never existed except in his mind, wiped from space and time. The wise, the lovely, Romana and Susan . . . another connection clicks into place, another wire is spliced.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.

Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.

A fragment of what you felt, of what you know,

A formula, a phrase remains--but the best is lost.

Nothing left of his people. Nothing left except him, and now he will die, taking out the last of the Daleks with him. Perhaps it's how it was always meant to be.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love--

They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses.

"They're all dead," gasps Lynda over the com system. The Doctor doesn't even look up.

Elegant and curled

Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know.

She is safe, back in her mother's arms in 2006, probably abusing his name mightily. She is safe, and she will never have to fight this battle.

--But I do not approve.

Lynda's panicked voice comes over the com. They've found her, poor, brave girl. Another brave blonde girl who signed on for his crazy crusade.

She screams; she is dead. The Doctor barely pauses in his work.

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

He's supposed to be defending the planet, not destroying it. Yet there was only one thing standing in his way, and now she's gone. And now he can do it.

Is that wrong? He can't tell anymore.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave.

Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;

Jack's screaming something at him over the com, and the Doctor knows he's doomed.

Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.

It's ready. The delta wave generator is complete, even as the Daleks finally stream into the control room. He can make an end of them now.

I know.

The Dalek emperor challenges him to do it, to take this one last action, complete his own transformation.

But I do not approve.

Earth is ablaze. The Daleks' work is almost done. He can end it.

He can finish it.

And I am not resigned.

He won't. He cannot become what they are, even at this late hour. The universe will fight back against the Daleks. Everything ends; all comes to dust. The hubris of one Time Lord can't stop that.

They'll kill him, of course. The Daleks know how to properly kill a Time Lord. They'll disassemble him right down to the floor, leave not a living molecule to regenerate.

Perhaps it's fitting. He ended his previous life destroying the Daleks; they'll end all his lives now.

He steps back, throwing his arms wide, closing his eyes, thinking about his loved ones. His people. His family. His companions. Susan, Sarah Jane, Tegan, Ian, Barbara, Jo, Ace, Jack, all of them. Rose. Somewhere in the past, she's alive, as are the others. He'll have to be content with that.

He's no more accepted his death than it's taken from him. The TARDIS appears, and a goddess steps out of it.

How she did it, he doesn't know. How she bears it, he can't fathom. She and the TARDIS created this hybrid being that she has become, and he has never seen its like. She's no longer simply Rose. Her skin and eyes glow with the Time Vortex, even as the heart of the TARDIS surrounds her in wisps. Even her voice has changed; it is no longer hers alone. Her accent is gone; her way of speaking taken over by the Bad Wolf that has created itself out of her soul and flesh and the TARDIS.

She's beautiful, awe-inspiring, frightening. The Dalek Emperor calls her an "abomination." The Doctor sees in her something sacred, a Time Lady and more.

Why she did it, he soon learns.

"I want you safe, my Doctor."

It nearly knocks him over again. In all his sturm und drang about his love for her, he'd never stopped to consider just how much she loved him. Loves him. What she would do--and has done, and is doing, and will do--for him.

She loves him, and she has taken on the Bad Wolf to save him. She wields all the power in the universe, for time is power. She ends the Time War, a war that should never have come to this place and time.

She's saved him; now he must save her. Her body cannot support the creature she's become for much longer. It was never meant to. Tears are streaming down her face, tears of love, wonder--and pain.

It's his fault, he knows. He's the one who showed her what even a glimpse of the heart of the TARDIS could do. She looked into it, and now she's dissolving right before his eyes. It's only a matter of time before her flesh catches up.

But there's hope. She sees as a Time Lord does; a Time Lord can take this from her, provided she lets go. He rises to his feet, ready to ride to her rescue this one last time.

She's ready to let go, he thinks. He hears her voice, childlike and afraid, through what she's become; he feels her fear, the fear that failed to stop her. When she says her head is killing her, she's speaking literally.

She must give it over willingly, and he knows how he can persuade her. He's known it all along.

This is how it happens: he takes her in his arms, and he kisses her, pouring his love into her even as he receives the power--the burden, for that is what power is--that she should never have had to bear. Her lips taste salty and sweet.

She is empty, and she is dying, irreparable damage done to her brain and body. Except that he can repair it, reverse it, with the power he's taken on. It's the easiest thing in the world for him now; a mere thought, and she's healed.

That's the extent of his use of the Time Vortex. He lays her gently on the ground, and then he looks into his TARDIS, loosed from her resting place, singing triumphantly. In one long breath, he gives her back what is hers. The Time Vortex streams back into the living heart of the TARDIS.

It's over, and he's empty, and he is dying. But he's at peace at long last.

Regeneration always hurts. He feels energy prickling through his body, readying him for the change that must take place. They're in a safe place now, in the TARDIS, headed back to Earth--her Earth. He's trying to hold back the change, delay it until she awakens so he can warn her, let her know what's happening. It wouldn't do to have her awaken to a stranger's face.

She comes around, finally. As he'd have predicted, she doesn't remember anything of what she did. That's only to be expected; her neurons can only hold on to so much, and the Time Vortex overloaded them. It's good. It means she won't blame herself for what's happening to him

He feels it crawling through him, this change. It's scattering his thoughts, making it hard to focus, but he needs to deliver one last message to her. It's hard to sum up what she's meant to him, what this lifetime has been. He's had some very bad days, and some very good ones. He's gotten to know some lovely people, and a few who weren't so lovely. He pulled a girl out of a department store and got taken in by her eyes. He ate chips and danced and fell in love.

Regeneration always hurts, but he's at peace with himself for the first time since he awakened after the war.

He tries to explain even through the pain that she won't be seeing the same man anymore, but he'll still be her Doctor. He tries to say goodbye, but he can't think of anything in the five billion forms of communication he knows that will express what he wants to tell her. How to say it. His mind finally comes up with one thing:

She was fantastic. And so was he. So that's what he tells her.

He lets the change take him.

The poem is "Dirge Without Music" by Edna St. Vincent Millay