"I always did wonder how I knew how to dance," the Doctor remarked. "Don't remember a thing about learning how, just knew that I could do it that day we met Jack."
Rose leaned towards Jack and Kris. "That was also the day he tried to resonate concrete rather than dance with me."
Jack feigned shock. "You turned down dancing in favour of resonating concrete?" he accused the Doctor.
The Doctor shrugged. "I was worried about the potential consequences of all the dancing-related metaphors. Besides," he added. "I thought you wanted to hear about this bit of the story…?"
The Ninth Doctor did not look happy. "I can't believe you're making me do this," he huffed as Glen Miller played persistently on. He had his hands on Rose's waist, and was not looking best pleased about being ordered to dance by his future self.
"You have to learn!" Ten exclaimed fervently. "Now, come on. It's not hard."
Rose giggled as Nine started to move them to the music and then promptly tripped over his own feet. She steadied him with her arms around his back. "I promise you get better," she told him.
"Really." He didn't look convinced. "Why do I have to learn again?"
"So you can win the metaphorical pissing contest with Jack the Lad," the Tenth Doctor told him.
"And when does this take place?"
"Somewhere around World War Two."
He nodded sagely. "Ah. I see. Forget I asked."
Rose stood on tiptoe and whispered loudly into his ear. "Don't worry; you win." She stood back and looked him sternly in the face. "But you wouldn't win right now so get your act together."
They grinned at each other then, and for a moment it was just the two of them, back to how it used to be so very long ago now. Rose felt herself drowning in his intense blue gaze. Ten took the opportunity to not-so-craftily turn the volume of the music up before retreating to the Captain's chair and watching his previous self (attempt to) dance with the love of all his lives.
The Ninth Doctor's grin eventually melted away and he said softly, "Dance with me, Rose Tyler."
She nodded. "Of course."
Rose felt herself blushing as she danced with her old Doctor, letting sensation overtake her as he gradually picked up the rhythm of the music and discovered how to move without tripping over his feet- or hers- all the time. It was a strange sensation to have two incarnations of the same man both staring at her with deep emotion in their eyes. It made her feel safe and loved. It made her feel like she had finally come home. She might miss her family now that she knew she was never going to see them again, but she knew she would always be okay for as long as she had the Doctor's- either Doctor's- arms around her.
"I have to go soon," Nine said to her.
"I know," she replied.
"Do you think I'll pass the dance test when the time comes?" he smiled.
She pretended to contemplate that for a moment before replying, "Just about." They were whirling around the console room to an upbeat number similar to the one he had shown off to Jack with the day they had met him.
"And the other… dance test?" He raised his eyebrows suggestively.
She giggled and blushed a deeper shade of scarlet. "Naughty," she scolded him. "I don't know about that yet."
He pushed her hair out of her face. "You will," he said.
"How do you know?"
He grinned. "I know me well." His expression sobered. "I guess we should say goodbye for now." As if on cue, the music quietened and switched back to Glen Miller's 'Moonlight Serenade.'
Rose nodded. "I guess." She shivered. "It seems weird, saying goodbye." She nodded towards his other self, who was still watching them with interest. "I've only just said hello again. To both of you."
"It has to be this way," he reminded her gently.
"I know," she admitted reluctantly. She raised her face to his and lifted a hand to brush one of his ears. "I'll always love your ears," she told him.
He smiled down at her. "I know. At least someone likes them."
She left her hand up by his head, stroking his closely cropped hair with her fingers. He shivered, and behind them the Tenth Doctor shivered as though she was touching him too. "I'll never see you like this again," she said.
He shook his head. "Probably not. Unless some future me manages to make an even bigger paradox than the current one. Then you never know."
"You'll see me though."
He nodded. "Yes. I'm looking forward to it. But for now, Rose, let me say this." He pushed her hair back behind her ear. "You're fantastic."
She smiled, tears welling up in her eyes at those words which were so familiar to her. Her face drifted closer to his. "So are you," she told him.
He kissed her then, sweetly, gently, almost hesitantly as though he was afraid she might stop him because it wasn't his time for this yet. She kissed back, letting her eyes slip closed and allowing herself to pretend for a second- just for a second- that this Doctor had never died, that it was still the two of them on the TARDIS running through the universe having adventures just like they had done when she was nineteen and barely knew him or what she was capable of. They parted just as she was letting the fantasy fade, her eyes opening back to the reality that was every bit as perfect as she had spent years imagining it would be on the parallel Earth. Maybe even more so.
There were a few bumps and clatters from the interior of the TARDIS, and then Jack and Kris danced clumsily into view. It was obvious from the state of their hair and clothes what they had been up to. "Glen Miller!" Jack exclaimed. "My favourite!" He took Kris' hand and led her into the room. He winked at the Ninth Doctor. "Will you dance with me now, Doctor? I never got to before."
The Ninth Doctor laughed, his arms still loosely around Rose. "Actually, I was just saying goodbye."
"Oh." There was understanding and a slight sadness and regret in Jack's eyes. "It's been good to see you again."
"Hey, I'm still here." He nodded at his future self, who had moved from the chair and was busy setting the TARDIS controls ready to take them to Southampton.
Jack nodded. "I know, but…"
The two men stepped forward then and embraced, making no effort to be manly about it. Rose and Kris rolled their eyes at each other as they stood on either side of Jack and the Ninth Doctor. A slight shake followed by the familiar noises told them that the TARDIS was now in flight.
"Won't be long," the Tenth Doctor said quietly from the console. He raised his arm to Rose as Jack stepped away from his previous self. She crossed the room and wrapped her arms round his waist. He buried his nose in her hair and pressed a kiss to the top of her head before the room shook and the TARDIS landed. "Right, we're here," he said. "Better make this quick lest we make this gigantic paradox any bigger." He looked pointedly at the doors.
"Right," said Nine, knowing that his part in this adventure was over. For now. He took a few steps towards the exit. "This way, right?" He opened the door and then hesitated.
"Just a minute," Ten said. "I need to come with you."
The two Doctors exchanged a pointed look, conversing with their eyes. Ten meant that he had to come and wipe his former self's memory of everything that had happened. Nine nodded. "Right," he said again.
Ten looked round at his companions. "Wait here," he told them. "I won't be long. Make some tea or something. Get reacquainted." He picked up something from beneath the console and then made to follow his future self out the door.
"Doctor," Rose called.
They both turned round.
"See you soon," she said to both of them, with different meanings for both of them.
They both smiled softly and nodded, and then walked out of the Tenth Doctor's TARDIS in search of the Ninth's.
"Hello, old girl," the Ninth Doctor said as they re-entered his TARDIS, just as he had left it before that fateful voyage on the Titanic.
The Tenth Doctor drew in a sharp breath as he entered behind his predecessor, for a moment shocked at the state of the ship. He had almost forgotten what a wreck he- and the TARDIS- had been in the period shortly after the Time War. The console was barely hanging together, and the lights were dim and flickering. There was an awful lot of sorrow here.
The two men walked through the room, an unspoken agreement between them about what would happen next. Ten laid his hand against the console as he passed, taking a moment to reassure the TARDIS that all would be well again soon enough, that both she and her beloved Doctor would be fixed. He felt her momentary confusion at having two Doctors on board and then smiled as the ship obviously caught on and realised who this second Doctor was. He continued on, following his past self into the corridors and on towards his bedroom. He had to stop himself from commenting on the state of disrepair he found throughout the ship; after all, he was dealing with himself here. He remembered this mess well.
They reached his bedroom and went inside. The Ninth Doctor crossed to the bed and sat down whilst his successor took out the small device he had picked up from beneath his own TARDIS' console. "Right then," he said. "Shall we?"
Nine nodded. "Just…"
"Are you sure…"
"Am I sure what?"
The Ninth Doctor shrugged. "That everything will be okay now?" The haunted look was back in his eyes, the emptiness and loneliness seeping back in. "I mean, will I…" He trailed off and shrugged again.
"You'll be fine," Ten assured him. "You're going to have a great time. You're going to meet Rose." He smiled.
Nine nodded and lay down on the bed. "Go on then," he said. "Do it before I tie you up and run away to take your place."
Ten grinned. "Well, in that case." He raised the device in his hand. "Are you ready?"
"Yes. No- wait." He frowned. "What do I… I mean, what did you do when you woke up with no memory of how you got here?"
"You mean when I was you?"
"I fixed the TARDIS." The TARDIS hummed in approval at that.
"Right. Okay then." He shut his eyes. "I'm ready."
Ten nodded and pressed the small device against his former self's head before holding his fingertips to his temples and carefully probing his recent memories, taking extra care to avoid the recent wounds and fresh hurts from the Time War. He found his memories of the Titanic, moving forwards until he was clinging to the iceberg, wondering if he would make it out of there without freezing to death. And then he clicked the small metal device into action, using his own telepathic abilities to pull all his ninth self's subsequent memories forwards and out of his mind, aided by the device. It was the only way he could be sure he wouldn't remember anything; as a Time Lord, any repressed or hidden memories most likely wouldn't stay so for long. They had to be wiped away completely… With the exception of some residual knowledge of how to dance, of course. He made sure that knowledge stayed put.
Job done, the Doctor used his mind to lull his former self into sleep. He thought that he needed it. And then he pulled back, turning off the small machine and slipping it back in his pocket. He stood and pulled the blanket up over Nine, effectively tucking himself in. He was about to leave when something occurred to him and he leaned down to whisper into his sleeping self's ear. "I hope you can remember how to make anti-plastic," he said. "You'll be needing it." He smiled. "Oh! And remember, you have to ask her twice, okay? Swallow your pride. She's worth it."
He stood and walked to the door, looking back for a second as he reached the threshold. "Thank you," he said simply.
And then he left, walking back through the corridors of the broken TARDIS and then onwards to his own, where the rest of his life was waiting for him.
He walked back into the TARDIS to find his three companions standing in a huddle around the console. They looked up when he came in, grave looks on all of their faces. "What?" he said.
Jack held up a piece of paper. "This appeared," he replied.
"It just… appeared?"
He nodded. "Yes."
"Ah." He walked over and took the paper, scanning it quickly. He swallowed down the bolt of nerves that shot through him as he read the printed words. He looked up and smiled, trying to hide the slight wobble in his stance. "Don't worry about it," he told them, discarding the ominous paper on the chair.
"Stuff doesn't just appear on the TARDIS like that," Rose said. "What's it about? What's this Court it mentions?"
The Doctor frowned and shook his head as Jack opened his mouth to reply. The Captain took the hint and kept quiet. "No need to worry," the Doctor replied, kissing her forehead. "Let's just enjoy being together again before we think about anything else, okay?"
She nodded slowly. "'Kay."
The Doctor moved to the controls and took the TARDIS away into the depths of the universe, bending his head as he concentrated on his task. He could feel his companions' eyes on him. Truth be told, he had fully expected some kind of fallout from his gallant mission across the void when he had been expressly forbidden to make any attempt to do so by the Guardians and their Court. He just hadn't expected said fallout to come quite so soon. He sighed, hoping that he would have enough time to explain everything to Rose before he had to go and explain himself to the judges who had the power to take everything he had just re-found away from him once again. He could only hope that time would be on their side, and that it would be enough. He started planning just what he might say to defend himself, as well as all the things he had yet to tell Rose about their time apart. It all suddenly seemed like too much and yet, somehow, not quite enough.
"And that's it," the Doctor concluded in the field of flowers. "Finished. Ended. The end of the story. That's all there is."
There was silence around him.
"Apart from the Court," Kris said eventually.
The Doctor nodded gravely. "Apart from the Court," he agreed. "But I guess we'll find out about that soon enough."
There was silence again. The air was heavy, as though a storm was about to break, and the wind blew through the field to flatten the flowers against the grass. The huge old tree above them swayed in the wind. No one said anything for a long while.
A/N: There's still more to come, so please stick with us! And please review because it makes us do a little happy dance and get excited ;)