The stories that follow are paired. The opposite story is called "When You're Older" and can be found on my Author page. Both stories follow Rose's chronology and will be updated simultaneously. I also still have to disclaim, because, while I believe in miracles, one hasn't happened yet.
Eight: Because She Loved Him
The bells were ringing in the cloisters, bells that had been silent for eons, bells he had heard only once before. A fallen god woke screaming in his tomb, and the TARDIS was singing a dirge in sympathy to his grief.
The Doctor had heard it all, and known that the time at last had come. He checked his lists and knew he was prepared. The War had finally started, Ragnarok, the fall of the gods, the End that had been coming since the Universe first spun Time from her loom.
He would do what he must, he assured the bells and the summons and the mad old deity who shouted his name to the heavens. Head bowed over the console, he knew, somehow, that this was the end, at long last.
"Just once," he dared, "I wish..."
The TARDIS materialized and he stepped out in bewildered wonderment. London stretched out before him, his favorite city on his favorite world. Locking the doors behind him, he walked slowly around the band, around the balcony and, almost in a trance, leaned out on the railing to look on it for the last time.
He knew she was there the moment she arrived. There was that familiar fragrance, and the brush of pale blue, distant memory. She granted him his silence and allowed him his solitude, but he knew he should have expected her. She was always here when he needed her, never very far from his pain or his confusion. Just as he had always been there when she needed him, through random chance and comically divine twists in circumstance.
He dared to glance at her, wondering if this could possibly be true, if the warm human body leaning so close to his own did indeed belong to the one person he had wanted to see before he joined his people in a march to their doom. There were so many friends he could have taken a moment to say goodbye to, but she was the one, the only one he couldn't have said goodbye to without help.
But it couldn't be her, could it? The memories were scattered, shattered, tossed by the storm of his life and blown away in the winds of Time. Still, any risk, any chance. He spoke, not an invitation, simply a benediction. But if she was who she was meant to be, the words would be enough.
She responded, softly, tentatively, apologetically, almost as if she knew what it would mean to him to never again walk the streets below them, never again watch the stars above them. There were caught there, between his home and hers, between memory and dream, and it seemed so perfect, so likely all of the sudden that he turned and met her eyes.
There was no recognition in them but, utterly certain now, he knew there should be. He told her so with quiet awe, even though she couldn't quite believe him.
He knew her, oh how he knew her. Centuries of dreams and starlight and half-heard snatches of song, images of Time, all hazy, crazy, caught in forgetfulness and forget-me-nots, the unmistakable sound of the rhythm of her single, throbbing heart, the echo of her whisper and her laughter, the answer to it all, such a very long history; it spiraled all together with the endless flow of possibility that surrounded her like a goddess's cloak, forming that single, golden, perfect truth, and it was a truth to shake the heavens, and it was her name.
She spoke it the same instant it came floating, independently, into his memory, and then she offered him her hand.
The Doctor kissed it, a gesture that was painful and breathless and beautiful. All the while, he watched her eyes and saw them burning and glassy. He turned her hand in his until it fit the way it was supposed to, and again memory seared into his skull. Lost and tumbling loose for so long, they burnt so sharply into his mind that he could almost smell them all. That it should come to this, that he should come to this. The last free, peaceful hours of his life, and they were going to shine and hurt and echo with all the unreachable yesterdays he had never quite understood.
He spoke to her of the coming War, assuring her when she asked that the world below would still be standing when it was done. She couldn't possibly grasp what was going to happen, what was really coming, but she thanked him sincerely, with a voice that spoke for all the races of mankind. She had that much power, certainly, it was all there in the way that Time caressed her, unknown and unseen, skittering, ecstatic, over her every human breath.
He knew, just from the way his eyes couldn't stop watching her, that he had to bring this back to reality and quickly. His life had become ever more complicated since those various times they first met, and he couldn't bring her into it because, for all that he had desperately wanted to see her one last time, he realized now that her life was a much more peaceful place than his had ever been.
So he mentioned the music, and she smiled, looking for all the world like she was thinking, searching that gifted little mind of hers for the memories his very presence might just be dragging up.
"What're they called?"
"Bad Wolf Rising," she replied, blithely, and compared them to other bands.
Something walked over his grave.
"Dance with me?" she asked.
The music was good, the night was perfect, and so was she. "I don't dance," he told her, reminded her perhaps, because she shivered as she moved toward him.
"Yeah, you do," she replied.
She felt just as she had always done, but older now, coming into her true beauty, and it hurt so much that he would never see her eyes shine like that again. He was on dangerous ground here, as they circled in a quiet waltz, as the world and everything but the music fell away. He had to stay in her reality, had to, because what he longed to visit on her was more likely to cause her pain than anything he could ever inflict on anyone. Even he had to admit that was saying something.
He asked her about herself, but the instant she started talking, all his resolutions fell completely apart. Small memories of their encounters littered their conversation, and he couldn't stop himself from wanting his Rose back. If he was to go to War, if he was to die...
He pulled her closer, so she could rest her head against his chest. He knew that inhuman doubled rhythm might register, but she'd missed it once before, and definitely noticed it once before, so he had no clue what to think when she simply sighed and settled, content to let him hold her.
The band, the dubiously named, treacherous cover players, were playing one melody that no band on Earth would ever play on a day such as this. Rose, of course, recognized it, and he did, as well, how could he ever forget?
And now, she was realizing what was going on below the surface of this strange encounter. She met his eyes with hers wide, and he should stop, before he frightened her or forced facts on her that she was so much safer without. But he couldn't stop, not now, not when he was so close, not when she could actually finish the quote from the last time he'd seen her, their earliest encounter by her personal time line.
Was it so wrong? She was, had been all her life, the single most giving person he had ever known. Maybe it was thoughtless, making a wish to see her just when her life was making perfect, human sense, but if he had ever needed her in all the days he had ever lived without her, it was now. She had put him back together before, once when he was lost and bitter, once when he was feeling quite the failure, and once when everything he'd believed in had crashed on the rocks of despair. Surely, it was not too much to ask to have her hold him together just a little longer?
"If you could have anything in the world," he whispered, "what would you want?"
Those rich dark eyes looked deep into him, looking for something, seeing something in the depths of his own. She shone like the sun while she answered him. "If it was my last night in the world? The only thing I'd want is to spend it with someone who loves me."
And now, either she knew or she didn't. He bowed his head, and waited for her judgement.
"Doctor?" she whispered, a question, an exaltation, an invitation, all present in the tone of her soft, gentle voice.
Oh, how could he have ever forgotten her? He drew her close again, and kissed her, kissed her with all the regret and all the gratitude he had in him. His Rose trembled in his arms and though absolute ages had passed, she welcomed him still, held on to him still, loved him still.
He held her tightly, inhaling her gentle fragrance, and showed her the stars, the two in Orion that were the closest pointers to Gallifrey from Earth. The light of Gallifrey's twin suns would never reach here, but Rose never let that stop her from being fascinated. Funny how she'd never asked that before.
"'Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning,'" she quoted, a Peter Pan reference that felt so very strange, because it was he who had come back ever so much older than twenty. It made her seem the ageless one, really, when she had once complained that it would be him.
That band, they didn't know when to let up. They were singing and playing a song that struck a chord, though he didn't remember having heard it before. Still, he could see her fitting the lyrics as they sang, imagining holding her hand tight and running with her, away from danger, away from sorrow, away from all this, her golden curls flying behind her like a banner.
It was cruel, this, what he had done. He could apologize, at least, so he tried.
...Someday, lady, you'll accomp'ny me...
And oh, but she only wanted the impossible.
His hearts skipped a beat in his chest.
Take her with him...
The rage that burned through him could have destroyed whole solar systems, but he contained it in his slender, weary body. The Doctor abruptly hated the Daleks, hated the Time Lords, hated that she should ask now, of all times. "Don't ask me for that!" he begged her.
He didn't hate her, couldn't hate her, ever. He couldn't tell her no, either, but couldn't she see that, of all the things she could have asked of him, this was the one that thing that was impossible? He had promised her, more than once, he knew that, but couldn't she see that he had to break that promise and it was killing him inside?
It turned out that she could see, all that, and more. She took his hand then, and took him away with her instead.
He raged and raved against the bitter reality of all this. He talked and wept and explained and demanded answers, some she had, some she didn't. All the while, she held him, while tears of grief and bitter self-loathing poured down his face. He even told her, though it nearly ripped his throat out to do so, exactly why this was all his fault.
"One chance. Wire to wire, and they'd've all died before they ever left their cradles. They're not people, Rose, they don't have free will, and I wouldn't do it, couldn't do it. They're just monsters, just filthy things that spend their lives in darkness. And do you know what my stupid, bloody high-minded reason was for leaving them be? Because of what others do because they exist. The Time Lords themselves stepped down from their clouds of glory to send me there, and in the end, I turned all Time Lord on them and decided not to interfere."
"I don't think you'll ever be much of an assassin, Doctor," she said softly. "If they wanted something murdered, they should have sent someone without a conscience or someone who can't see the whole thing."
"If I'd seen the whole thing... I don't know, I just don't know."
"It's not your responsibility to kill things that aren't evil yet. It'd be like bumping off Hitler as an infant."
"It wouldn't work, anyway," he said. "He was just a symptom of an underlying disease."
A small, twisted little smile graced her face. "I didn't know that," she admitted.
"'Fraid so," he replied. Then, he realized that, for all she was innocent of leading him, she had said exactly the right thing, one more time. "Rose Tyler..." he said softly, but he found his throat closed tight, and he couldn't go on.
"How long do we have?" she asked him, and looking into her eyes, he knew the answer.
"I made a single wish. I wanted one more chance to tell you I love you." He sighed and pushed his hair back out of his face, relishing the long curls, since they had even less time in the world than he did.
The Time Lords had taken the memories, and they could give them back just like that, either temporarily or forever. This time, it was meant as a gift, maybe even a thank you. It felt strange to speak of them to her without feeling the resentment that had lingered for so long. "Just tonight," he finished. "No longer."
She smiled wryly. He knew she was just dying to ask all the questions that had piled up in her head since she'd remembered him. He would have gladly answered what he could, but she waved it off. She was so generous, gifting him her night because it was all he had. She kept her curiosity and her secrets.
He felt compelled to apologize again, because what he was doing to her was cruel, to pop back into her life after all this subjective time, just because he hadn't wanted to spend his last night of freedom alone.
"Doctor," she whispered, putting her small, tender hand over his lips. "Apologize to people who regret. Not to me, never to me."
Then, she leaned forward and kissed him, and took all the pain away, took it onto herself, he supposed, because all his regret and sorrow disappeared in the sensation of her lips gracing his. They spoke no more words, then, except the small exclamations of delight and passion. She told him, in that sacred, human way, how much she still loved him, how much she would always love him.
They'd always thought, back then, in their logic and their innocence, that it was he who would carry their love on alone. Now, he knew that no one would ever remember it, and it hurt. But surely, if they must forget one another and never meet again, then it was the most correct thing to do, to celebrate a love like this, lost and found and lost again. He would never see her when she was older, after all, but for as long as he lived, he would love her.
Before the Doctor left to join the Last Great Time War, he spent the night in the arms of the shining human girl whose life had haunted his for as long as he could remember. In the morning, he would rise from their bed a soldier in an army, while the moon set out the window. She would kiss him one last time, to burn her lips into even his unconscious memory for all those times she had not been there to kiss him and for all the times she would never kiss him again. He would leave her behind and the memory would vanish, lost forever from the entire recorded history of time and from the minds of the lovers who had lived it. She would feel no pain and he would have no regrets. He would hang up the velvet frock coat, cut his hair, fight for the Universe.
But while the moon hung cold in the autumn sky above the world he cherished like treasure, he would love her with everything there had ever been in his stormy, burning hearts. And when he let his Rose go, he would let go a piece of himself as well, something he would never be aware of losing, until one day, charging into a basement in answer to some inexplicable sense of necessity, he found it.