Although this story can be read on its own (since it's intended to remain within the TV show canon), it follows on from my stories, "The Girl in the Stalking Spaceship" and "Age of Bronze".

Thanks to SamiWami for prompting (via review) a bit of clarification at the end of this chapter.

Disclaimer: Surprise, surprise, I don't own Doctor Who. Nor do I get anything from writing these stories-except wonderful, constructive reviews! Wink, wink; nudge, nudge ;)

Crabtree brought Rose into the office, covered by a blanket. The Doctor didn't want to believe it, couldn't comprehend that she might have become the next victim. But there she was, in that voluminous, pink skirt, and matching shoes.

"Take a good look," said Detective Inspector Bishop. "See what you can deduce."

The blanket was removed, and the Doctor approached. His Rose. His perfect, sweet, wonderful . . . faceless, "Rose."

"Do you know her?" asked Bishop.

"Know her? She's my wife!" answered the Doctor. He didn't realize what he'd said until Bishop replied.

"Wife? Doctor, I know you may not think much of my detective work, but I don't see any ring on her finger. Do you, Crabtree?"

"No, sir," answered the policeman from behind Rose.

The Doctor took her left hand in his right, feeling the bare ring finger. "Well, we didn't really; it was sort of an accident."

"You accidentally got married?" asked Bishop incredulously.

"This isn't really pertinent right now, is it?" replied the Doctor evasively, turning to give Bishop his best withering glare.

"It certainly is!"

The Doctor turned back in astonishment to where Crabtree had been standing a moment before. Only now, he was faced-impossibly-with his ninth form. "What?"

"Oh, it's 'pertinent', all right," his past self told himself, walking up behind Rose and resting his hands on her shoulders. "She nearly dies to save our life, we almost die to save hers, and when I hand her over to you," he looked the current Doctor up and down with disdain, "you never even thank her, let alone tell her how we really feel."

"This isn't possible," said the Doctor vaguely.

"Can you really believe anything in this world is impossible, my lonely angel?"

The Doctor turned back to where Bishop had been standing a moment before, only to be faced with Madame de Pompadour. "You. You, for one, are impossible," he told her. "You died. I was too late."

"I lived," Reinette corrected him. "I lived the life I was meant to live. I followed the slow path as far as it could take me. But you, Doctor, are you truly alive? Keeping your hearts so much to yourself, terrified of letting anyone new in. In the end it will not spare you from the pain, but you will still have the regret. Is it worth it, to deny yourself, to deny her?"

"I don't deserve her," the Doctor replied weakly.

"You'd better believe you don't!" Next to his ninth form, holding Rose's right hand, had appeared Jackie Tyler. "She's been in love with you right from the get go, big ears an' all," she elbowed "big ears", whose stern visage softened into a bit of a grin, "but you just keep leadin' her on. It's all just fun an' games to you, takin' her into danger, skippin' across the universe. At least this one sent her back to me. But look what's gone an' happened to her! My little girl! Her face . . . taken! An' what can you do about it, Doctor? Not a thing. She's gone. And she's never comin' back!"

Staring hopelessly at Rose's blank face, the Doctor barely registered Jackie raising her hand. His head jerked suddenly to the right, coincident with the resounding "crack" from her slap. Funny, it didn't really hurt as badly this time around. Maybe his skin had been more sensitive in his last regeneration. . . .

His eyes opened just in time to see the grating of the TARDIS floor rising up to meet him.

Okay. Now, that hurt.

The Doctor lay there, between the console and the captain's chair from which he must have tumbled, slowing his breathing and repeating to himself that it had just been a dream. The Wire was destroyed. Rose and all its other victims were perfectly restored. Rose was asleep in her room, perfectly safe. They weren't really married. They never would be married. She couldn't know how he really felt. Someday, Rose would leave him, whether by her own choice or not. She'd leave him, and he'd have to go on somehow. Like he always did.

But now, she was safe.

He climbed to his feet, wearily patting the console before turning to the corridor.

To be continued.