The stories that follow are paired. The opposite story is called "How He Loved Her" 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.
Eighteen: The One She Loved
Rose leaned out over the high balcony, looking out at the city below. London looked particularly beautiful like this, darkness caressed in chains of light, the old and the new nestled together in dreamy contentment. She smiled and inhaled deeply, wondering how she had come to wax so poetic for no apparent reason.
Of course, Lord Byron's double was leaning on the guardrail next to her, so that might explain it. She admired his long, delicate form as he watched the city below with haunted eyes, and thought she finally understood the meaning of the words 'tragic beauty'. He had the bearing of a poet about him, dressed in Victorian clothes, with night darkened hair that hung long against his bowed shoulders. She wondered if his face was so fine, but didn't dare look closer, because he had the aura of one who expected very much to be left alone.
"Such a lovely place," he whispered aloud. "I believe I shall miss it."
"Are you going away?" she ventured, because it seemed he might want - or even need - company after all.
"Oh yes," he replied in a dreamy voice. "Ever so far away." His head tilted toward the stars, scarcely visible in the moonlight and the haze from the streets below them.
"I'm sorry," she breathed. "I'm so sorry."
"Yes," he said, and he looked at her with an expression that nearly stopped her breath. It looked like his heart was breaking, right there in his green eyes, right in front of her. "And yet, one hopes that they will be a great deal sorrier."
He looked at her now, she could feel it more than see it. His eyes had come back to the world and lit on her, and their consideration weighed heavy on her small, grubby soul. "I know you," he whispered.
"I don't think so," she replied, doubtfully. There was something about him that tugged at memories and tossed hazy pictures into her mind. "I think I'd remember you."
He smiled faintly, and even his smile was tragic. "And yet time contrives to make even the most precious of memories into vague dreams."
She nodded, because that was true. "I'm Rose Tyler," she said, and offered him her hand.
He looked at the hand, seemingly baffled for an instant, then his eyes lit up, and he took it in his, lifted it to his lips, and kissed it like she was a right proper lady or something. "It's good to meet you, Lady Rose Tyler."
There was something so achingly familiar about this that her heart clenched in her chest and she had to bite her lip to stifle the sudden desire to weep. "Yes," she said, instead.
He turned her hand in his, but didn't let it go. His long, delicate fingers moved softly, this way and that, and then, suddenly and unexpectedly, like the right key in the right lock, they fit exactly perfectly. Again, her heart hammered against her rib cage and her breath caught in her throat as he held her hand like the only thing anchoring him to the world, and looked out at the night with burning eyes.
"What's wrong?" she asked when she could find her breath again.
"War," he said. "Such terrible destruction. I had a few loose ends to tie up, one last night in the world, and then I must go."
It didn't even occur to her to disbelieve him, or to wonder where the war was or anything. It did, however, occur to her to wonder how much danger was coming here. "Is it..."
He patted her hand with his free one, comfortingly. "Oh no, everything will be fine here, that's been seen to." He gazed over the city again, a benevolent lord surveying his people. "You're all safe." His eyes were full of deep, contented, despairing love, like a king admiring his faithless young bride. "Your precious little blue green paradise." His words, too, were a lover's caress, all full of admiration and longing and an abiding love so unconditional it was painful just to hear him.
"Thank you," she said, because it felt like the right thing to say.
Now, he turned those eyes on her again, and the love was still in them, not distant any more, but very personal, very intimate, as if he saw what was inside her and found her tiny little life more precious than diamonds. Something her gran used to say when she was young wandered into her mind. "Many thereby have entertained angels unaware." She couldn't have denied how appropriate it seemed, not even if she tried for the rest of her life.
"I've done all I can. You'll have to look after it for yourselves from now on."
It sounded like a torch being passed. She could scarcely comprehend it, but it was not passing to her, not necessarily. That was a good thing, because she wouldn't have known what to do with it, even if she could have supported the weight of it.
Mind, the slender shoulders of the man at her side had borne it thus far. He blinked at her, like a child waking from sleep, and smiled with tender concern into her eyes, then looked around, as if for something else to talk about. "The music's quite good," he ventured.
She beamed. He was right, they were, even if they were just some unknown cover band playing older music from all over the world. "Just some band," she said.
"What're they called?" he asked.
"Hum?" she said, listening intently to the strains of a smoky saxophone playing the intro to something that sounded vaguely familiar. "Oh. Bad Wolf Rising, I think," she said. "Probably a take off on Creedence, they were playing that a few minutes ago."
He nodded and seemed ready to go back to his solitary contemplation, but he didn't let go of her hand, almost as if he'd forgotten he held it.
"Dance with me?" she asked. He was so alone and had such a terrible task ahead of him. He should have some comfort before he went, even if it was only a few moments to hold a not-so-strange stranger's hand.
"I don't dance," he said with an oddly firm conviction, not as if it was his policy, but as if it was the natural order of things. The moon wasn't made of green cheese, the sun didn't rise in the west, water didn't flow up hill, and he didn't dance. All as it was supposed to be.
The eerie sense of deja vu stole over her, and she smiled her best smile at him, encouraging. "Yeah, you do," she replied softly. With the most delicate care, she placed herself correctly in relation to him, then guided his hands into the correct positions. His eyes watched her, strange and wonderful, and she knew she was treading a very thin line here. It felt oddly necessary, and yet had to be done just right so as not to chase him away.
For a man who didn't dance, he did it very elegantly. He let her lead for a few steps and then, all at once, as if remembering something long forgotten, he took over and swept her into a perfect waltz that put them on an entirely different plane of reality from the world around them. Who would have ever thought of this? Ever? Still, she felt perfectly comfortable, like coming home from a long, long trip away.
"Tell me about yourself," he said after awhile.
"Oh," she replied, blushing, "but there's nothing to tell. I'm nobody in particular, just simple Rose Tyler."
He shook his head, and his eyes smiled. "There was never anything simple about you, Rose," he replied.
She smiled tenderly, touched by his kindness. "I don't have any A-levels and I'm not much good at maths or chemistry. I'm not exactly clever enough to wander back into school now, so I expect simple's all I'll have to look forward to."
"There are more ways to be clever than just test-taking," he said, and again, his expression was achingly familiar, as were his words. She had kissed the last lips that said them, she thought. And perhaps she would kiss these as well.
"Are you going to stop the war?" she asked, intent on turning the subject away from her and the endless string of guilt she felt for stupidly leaving school over a boy who had very nearly wrecked her life. Still, she was careful to tread lightly on this subject and hoped for his sake it was possible.
"I am now," he said, with a note of dark finality. "It's my job."
The conversation, not the dancing, was what put the giddy sensation in her head, the feeling of the Earth spinning toward morning with the usual blind disregard for her wishes otherwise. This night was magic and he was brilliant and as long as the moon hung in the sky, it was just the two of them, together. Where they belonged, perhaps, or would have done, before the real darkness stepped between them.
"I hope things go well for you," she ventured.
He smiled and, probably because the song had changed to something soft and melancholy, drew her closer. He was apparently very sure in his assertion that he knew her, because he kissed the top of her head and guided it to rest against his chest. "They will and they won't," he replied at last, sounding quite bitter.
The rhythm beneath her cheek wasn't right, but it was, too, if that made any sense to anyone, even her. It wasn't Mickey, or Jimmy, but it was him, and he always sounded like this. He always smelled like this, too, she remembered hazily.
"I like this song," she said. "Wouldn't have thought they'd play it, it's very very old."
"I used to sing this song," he mused.
She looked up at him, startled. The familiarity was jerking hard at her mind now, trying desperately to tell her something.
"It's alright," he said, watching her eyes. "You can't always believe everything you see, Rose Tyler. Some things are like..."
That tugged something right out into the open, and she found herself finishing his sentence. "Magic," she said. "They're there, but you can't see them..."
"Unless you know what to look for," they finished together.
She stopped dancing, stepped back, and just stared up at him, wide-eyed and wondering. Something was happening in her mind, in her memory, scattered bits and pieces all coming together from all over her life. Like a shattering mirror wound backward in a video recorder, diverse images started to piece themselves together into...
"If you could have anything in the world," he whispered, a desperate, heart-broken hope in his eyes, "what would you want?"
...him. The pieces were there now, most of them, whisper fine threads of the reality of her life, all woven together to create this single moment, to stand her before this single image, and give her one word. She waited for it, but it wouldn't come, so she answered his question with almost certain knowledge of what it meant. "If it was my last night in the world? The only thing I'd want is to spend it with someone who loves me."
He bowed his head, the very picture of shame. "May whatever gods there are forgive me."
And there it was, all of it. The mirror coalesced, only it wasn't a mirror, it was a picture, a picture with a label, comprised of many images, but forming a single, ever shifting face, always with the same endless fire behind the changing, changeless eyes. "Doctor?" she breathed.
He looked up at her, staggered, and then, as if this was the last drink of water in a desert that went on forever, he wrapped his arms around her, pulled her close, and kissed her.
The band played on, the moon shone down, London meandered, and still he laid his kiss upon her lips, and still the Earth turned beneath her feet. She could have held on like this for the rest of her life, the twinned rhythm throbbing against her chest and the feel of his body aligned with hers the only sensations she would ever again need.
When at last he separated from her, the whole world had changed. He held her hand still, and the band was just coming back from a break. He looked, nervously, at peace. "I can never figure out which part to call the first time we met."
She smiled and nodded and burrowed into the circle of his arms, understanding something now that she shouldn't have done, but the memories were blue and bright and all there, right now. "Where's home for you?" she asked softly.
He smiled. "This is home, right here," he said. "With you. Where ever you are. But if you mean Gallifrey..."
She giggled. "That's in Denmark, isn't it?" she said, teasing.
"You're only off by about 250 million light years," he replied, a faint sheen of tears shining in his bright eyes. Turning her in his embrace, he wrapped his arms around her from behind, one hand on her shoulder, the other around her waist. Contented with the memory, she leaned against his, inhaling his time and mystery fragrance. He pointed up at the stars above them, and a little off from Orion's belt. "That way."
She grinned and turned around to plant a tiny kiss on his mouth. "'Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning,'" she quoted.
"Yes." His face took on a pained expression and he searched around, as if for a disturbance. The band was playing Bob Seger, and he looked at them with wounded eyes as they belted out the lyrics.
"I've seen you smiling in the summer sun, I've seen your long hair flying when you run..."
"I'm so sorry, Rose."
"I shouldn't have... you have peace and quiet in your life, because you don't have this and..."
"You always told me, always. When..."
"When you're older, yes."
The band's timing was impossibly precise. "It's written down somewhere, it's got to be. Someday, lady, you'll accomp'ny me..."
"I'm older now, Doctor," she said. "Take me with you, now."
His face turned abruptly furious, his elegant beauty suddenly majestic and terrible. He backed away and his eyes blazed, dangerous and dark and glorious and she wondered what nightmare horrors had happened to him to put such divine power there where once only joy burned. "No! Don't ask me for that!"
He seemed to collapse under the weight of his own anger, leaning on the guard rail, not looking at her, not touching her. "I'd give you anything, Rose, you know that. You want the moon on a chain, it's yours. You want a star in a box to light up your room, you can have it. But not that. I will not take you into this, I can't." His wide green eyes were clouded with tears and pain and a deep seated rage that all the tears of all the sorrows in all of time could not put out.
She nodded through sudden tears. "No," she said. "No, of course not. I don't want anything, Doctor, I never have." She smiled softly. "Except to love you."
"I don't want to break any more promises," he continued, as if she hadn't spoken. "And certainly not this one." Then he looked up at her and stopped. "Oh," he said.
She smiled at that. He'd always done that - let his speech get ahead of his hearing. "You come with me," she said softly, and took his hand to lead him away, away from the band and the balcony, away from the stars that were his home. She led him instead to her room and her bed, and for a long time, she did nothing more than hold him while he wept in helpless grief that everything he had worked for all his life had come to this.
"I made a single wish," he said some time later. "I wanted one more chance to tell you I love you, even if I can never remember who you are. A small gift, their idea of payment for services rendered." He didn't sound at all bitter, just this once. He'd resigned himself, it seemed. Or he was grateful. She could understand that. "They're giving me that. Just tonight, no longer."
"Not a good time to ask all the questions, then, is it."
"No." He sighed. "Here, at the end, I didn't want to put this kind of burden on you. But I couldn't..."
"Doctor," she whispered, putting a hand over his perfect lips. "Apologize to people who regret. Not to me, never to me."
There was so much more that could have been said, so many things they could talk about. But if there would be no memories for them, anyway, then there was no need to tell him with words. Such a long time ago, it seemed, they had discussed this, all of it. There were ways and ways to say what they needed to say between them, but the human way was one she knew he couldn't misunderstand. Time had changed him, would always change him, and she would, could, did love him still.
When Rose Tyler was eighteen years old, she spent the night in the arms of a poet. In the morning, the poet would be gone, and a soldier would wake beside her while the moon set out the window. Even in a velvet coat with long, dark curls, she would see the wounded blue-eyed soldier in his hardened, stormy green eyes. She would place her sweet benediction upon his lips and he would march away to a war he spent his whole life trying to prevent. She would forget everything she ever knew about him, which was a gift so great she could never repay it, and a curse so harsh no one else could ever endure it.
But while the moon hung cold in the Earthly, mortal sky, she would love him with everything there had ever been in her soft and precious human heart. And when she let her Doctor go, she would let go a piece of herself as well, something she would never know she missed, until one day, in a basement, surrounded by doom, it found her.