He'd roamed the corridors of the TARDIS like a drifter in his own home. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, for the first time in a long time, he had no one . No one to show off the universe to, the past and the future too. The TARDIS wasn't picking up any distress calls, anything interesting; nothing was wrong in the universe.
Except everything was wrong in his immediate universe.
So he spent his days roaming, wandering, dawdling, and all variations of the plain left, right, left around the old ship. He'd done this before, felt this melancholy before. He never got any easier. This, this was worse, because Rose was alive just, just behind an invisible of time and space that he couldn't split open, cut, rip, tear and any variation of the forcing open the fabric of the universe.
"What is it?"
Her voice. The sound in the quiet of an anonymous room made him jump, whirl around looking for danger, for something interesting. But then he realized that it was her voice, sounds, tones and frequencies he hadn't heard for weeks. It made him feel weak.
"Dunno, looks cool though," he didn't recognise the second voice, wasn't interested in the other voice; he just wanted to hear Rose again.
He couldn't see her, couldn't see anything in the room stuff full of dusty wooden furniture and alien pottery he'd picked up from all over the universe.
"Wonder what it does?"
"It's a mirror!"
The voices, her voice, were coming from the large broken mirror in the corner and he rushed to it, grabbing the gilded wooden edges, knuckles turning white, stomach jumping. He slid to the floor, dusting his hands of onto his knees, fumbling in his pocket for his sonic screwdriver. He switched it on, the blue light flashing up, and ran it over the edges of the mirror, then the surface. There was no information to be gleaned. Nothing happened; he just saw himself, and no one else. No Rose. And no more voices.
The mirror had surfaced in the TARDIS a long time ago, hidden in a room he hadn't seen for half a dozen regenerations. A broken mirror in a gilded wooden frame that had been in the TARDIS since before he could remember. It had just been a broken mirror until today, just another item in the vast universal collection, something that had always, always been there. Sometimes he suspected that it was brought on by the TARDIS itself. The ship liked to collect as much as the Doctor did.
It had never caught his attention, and wouldn't have now. His own twisted reflection didn't interest him but her laugh was bouncing around the dust room like a ray of light.
He stared at the mirror, his face broken like the glass, waiting to see what else would happened. To see if she would speak again, if she would appear.
"Rose," he whispered, desperation lacing his voice. He reached out to touch the mirror, the reflective surface rippling under his fingertips.
"What was that?" It was a gasp and he got to his knees, looking closely as if he could see through, to see her.
"It rippled." That voice again, and he didn't recognise it, but it could only really be himself, looking at something like an alien mirror in the TARDIS. He wished he could see her.
"How long has it been here?"
"Dunno, forever I guess."
He couldn't remember ever coming into this room with Rose, couldn't remember seeing the mirror at all before today and realised that he wasn't seeing his past, he was seeing something else. Someone else. That was not him, had not been him, and that was not his Rose.
It was still Rose though, a Rose, in a different universe, a different reality.
He wanted to reach out and take her for himself.
He wondered how things were different there, how many regenerations he'd been through, if this was an old him or a future version. To his ears, the voice was unrecognisable and he could only see himself, broken and desperate.
"I could do with a mirror in my room," she said.
"This isn't a normal mirror though."
"All the better, right?"
He could imagine her smile, the curiosity in her eyes, the want. She wanted this mirror in her room, not so much so that she could check her appearance in the morning, when she woke up but so when they, the other him and her, had a quiet day, she could try and figure out whether the mirror did anything exciting or amazing.
He needed to fix the mirror; then, maybe, he would see her. Though he doubted it, because she couldn't see through to him and he wanted her too. He wanted her to see him, because then there would be hope of seeing her face, her smile, the shocked look when she saw someone on the other side of the reflective glass. She wouldn't know him though; she wouldn't be able to accept it, accept that on the other side of the mirror, was another version of her doctor. An older or younger one, (though, when you're 900, a couple of decades didn't make much of a difference), a thinner or fatter one. Taller, shorter, dark hair or blond.
Who was she with? Who was looking out for her in the big bad universe? Though, really, who was she looking after? Whose hand was she holding, who was she running around the universe with, upsetting aliens, and finding new things in older days?
Too many questions.
And no answers forthcoming.
"Rose," he muttered again, reaching out and touching the surface of the broken mirror again.
"It knows my name. That is so cool."
"I don't think it's alive," the other him said.
"What then?" He could imagine her looking at him expectantly for an answer. Any answer. Even if it was wild and she didn't understand a word of it, she wouldn't care; she would just accept it, believe it.
"I think someone's on the other side."
"Yes!" The Doctor cried out.
"There is someone there. Can you hear us? Where are you?"
"Maybe he's in the mirror," Rose said.
"No, no, I'm," he paused, "maybe you're in the mirror." It was unlikely, but not impossible.
"No, we're real."
"So am I."
"Who are you?" Rose asked.
He didn't know what to say to that. Tell the truth, tell a lie. What would saying anything get him? Not Rose. It wasn't going to get her back because this was another Doctor's Rose and he could never take her away from himself. Not knowing how much it hurt. How lost he felt in the universe for the first time in a very long time. Since he was a boy and the universe was unknown to him. To most species.
"John Smith," he answered.
"John Smith?" He smiled at her voice, the disbelief.
"I think it's a doorway to another reality," the other Doctor – the Northern Doctor – said.
He'd been Northern the last time around. Northern province Belgoria, sounding like Northern England and confusing a couple of species, not just Rose Tyler.
He was talking to the ninth Doctor. His ninth regeneration.
"What year is it?" he asked.
"2006," Rose answered without hesitation, "on Earth at least," she added and the other Doctor laughed in the background.
He hadn't died.
"I don't think it's a doorway," he said. He pushed against the surface, trying to get his hand though, but it simple rippled, making the mirror shake. "Maybe just a window."
"You can see through windows," the other Ninth Doctor said.
"My side is broken," he said.
"That's a shame," Rose said.
"Better not put it in your room then," the other Doctor said, "he could watch you undress." The Doctor smiled.
"I better go," he said, sadness in his voice, on his face, none of which Rose could be aware of. This Rose didn't know him, this personality or body.
"Nah, stay around and talk. Tell us what's going on in that reality."
"Yeah," Rose said, and he could imagine her smile, her eagerness to talk to him.
"I can't," he said, "but it was nice talking to you." Great, wonderful, brilliant, fantastic and all those other words for things that were better than good.
"You too John," Rose said and he could imagine her waving.
"Bye." He stood up, and took a few steps away from the mirror. It was hard to leave it, knowing there was a Rose on the other side, trying to decide what to do with a broken window to another reality.
It had been fantastic hearing her voice again, having all his memories renewed and reinforced, but it was horrible too. Horrendous, devastating, dreadful, and a number of other words that described the sick feeling in his stomach.
He stumbled away from the mirror, keeping his eyes on it as he backed out of the room. There was a Rose on the other side of that mirror. That he could hear but couldn't see, that he couldn't have.
He wouldn't be going back in that room for a long time, and he was sure the TARDIS would see to that for him. At least he had a little focus now, just a touch. He didn't know where to go, but he knew where not to go. The dusty room with Rose's voice, a broken mirror and broken pieces of his heart.
He was melodramatic for a Time Lord but every incarnation had its flaws.