Rose was on the beach again. Daleg Ulv Strandon. Bad Wolf Bay. The beach where she had died; the beach where she had come to life again.
It was just as she remembered it: barred, windswept, and cold. She looked around at the familiar stretch of land, up and down the barren shoreline.
And that's when she saw him, a figure in the distance. But she recognized him immediately. Standing feet apart, hands buried in the pockets of his long coat, he was distinct, unforgettable. Behind him, the TARDIS' lights blinked welcomingly. She hummed happily in the back of Rose's mind.;
Rose stood frozen for a long minute. Then, she ran. She ran until she was right in front of him, but stopped before she touched him.
"Hello, Rose Tyler," he said softly.
"Is it really you?" she asked.
The Doctor's mouth twisted up in a small smile.
"It's really me," he said.
"What are you doing here?" Rose gasped.
They stood staring at each other in silence, drinking each other in. Then, in one swift move, the Doctor closed the space between then, pulling her to him as he hugged her tightly.
"Rose," he whispered against her hair. "Rose, Rose. I've missed you so much, my Rose. So much."
Rose hugged him fiercely, never wanting to let him go.
"At least you're not alone this time," she said. "You've got Donna."
The Doctor shook his head.
"Don't have Donna any more. I had to… I had to take away her memories of me, so they wouldn't kill her."
Rose saw the sadness in his face, felt it roll of him. She leaned her ear to his chest, cuddling closer. Then, beneath her cheek, she heard a sound she had never thought to hear again. The double rhythm of two hearts beating in tandem.
She drew away.
"You're not him. You're the Time Lord. The real you. Not the Metacrisis."
The Doctor grinned crookedly.
"That's right. I'm the real me," he said.
"But how?" Rose asked. Then, she shook her head. "I should know better than to ask that question. Every time you say it's impossible to get back, you do somehow."
She stepped back to take stock of him, smiling at the familiar sight.
He smiled back.
"I didn't last time, you did. It wasn't me this time either. It was my daughter Jenny and her ship."
"She found you, did she?" Rose asked. "She found us first, and he, my Doctor, sent her to you. He said that you needed her more than we did."
"I did need her," the Doctor said softly. "I needed her very much. If it hadn't been for her, I don't know what I'd have done. She offered her ship so that I could come back through the void one last time."
"But why?" Rose asked. "Why would you come back? You know as well as I do how dangerous it is."
The Doctor took Rose's face in his hands.
"Can't you guess?"
Rose shook her head.
"But you left me here, Doctor. You wanted me to stay here."
"Oh, Rose," the Doctor said. "The reason I've come back again, Rose, the reason I've breached the walls again is you. I've learned that I can't live without you. I've tried, but I can't do it. So I've come to ask you to come with me again." He held out his hand to her.
Rose looked at his hand, then back to his face.
"We could go back to our adventures," he encouraged. "There are so many places that I want to take you, so many things you haven't seen yet. You and I together, just like old times."
Rose extended her hand as if to take his, then hesitantly drew it back.
She looked up into his face, so filled with hope.
"You know," she said, with a sad smile. "For one glorious second I thought I might actually be able to go with you. But I can't."
The Doctor's face fell.
"Why?" he whispered, the hurt in his eyes almost overwhelming.
Rose didn't say anything; she only held up the hand she had almost taken his with. It was her left hand. On the fourth finger was a sparkling wedding band.
"Him," she said simply.
He looked from her face, to the ring. Then, he shook his head.
"But we're the same, Rose. Him and me. It would be the same as if you were with him if you came with me."
Rose considered his words. The other Doctor had said the same thing to her all those years ago when they had been left on this very beach. She wrestled with this. Then, clarity washed over her. There was no more consideration.
"You're not the same," she said slowly. "You're both very different."
"How are we different?" the Doctor demanded. "We have the same thoughts, the same memories. The same… feelings for you."
Rose shook her head.
"He could say it and you couldn't. You still can't. Don't you see, Doctor? He could tell me that he loved me, but you didn't think it needed saying."
"That's not fair," the Doctor argued. "How could I tell you that I loved you when I knew that I had to leave? It would break my hearts all over again. I couldn't risk it."
"There's the difference. He did risk it. You know, all this time I couldn't help thinking that he was the lesser one of you two. But now I see that it's you who's deficient. You're the one who's lacking."
"Lacking?" the Doctor asked, his face flushed with anger. "How am I lacking?"
"You didn't have the courage to be there when I needed you," Rose said softly. "Was it you who held my hand when I gave birth to Donna, or who cried with relief when Sarah Jane lived through the night? Did you rescue me from that space ship? Did you wait for me when I walked up the aisle, or buy that house with me, or hold my hair back when I was morning sick?" He's been with me through everything. And you… you left me. Right here on this beach. Twice. He promised he never would, and he hasn't left me yet. How can I leave him?"
The Doctor's eyes were stormy.
"Is that your final decision, then? This is a one-time offer. I can't get back here again."
"I can't," she said.
Rose's hand fluttered to her middle.
"I can't leave. I'm pregnant again. He doesn't know yet."
"Congratulations," the Doctor choked out. "You've really built a life with him, haven't you?"
"What choice did I have? Did either of us have?" Rose snapped. "You stranded us both here. He loves me, and he was willing to be domestic with me. That's something, with all your dash and glamour, and bravery, which you could never give me."
The Doctor looked down at his Converses.
"I'm sorry Rose," he said, looking ashamed of himself. "I shouldn't have come. I know it was selfish, but I just thought… I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything."
He looked so broken, so weary and sad, that Rose felt her heart breaking for him.
She wound her arms around him, and hugged him as she would have her own Doctor when he was upset.
A faint sound floated to Rose as she released him from her hug. She cocked her head to one side.
"What is that?" she asked, straining her ears. Somehow, the noise was familiar.
"Is that… crying?" the Doctor asked.
"Oh," Rose said, realization flooding her. "I know what it is. It's Sarah Jane. She's probably had another nightmare."
"Sarah Jane? My Sarah Jane Smith?"
"Yeah, that's her name. Only not the one you mean. Sarah's two, and Donna's almost five." The crying was getting louder. Rose felt herself fading away form the beach.
"I think I have to go," she said.
The sadness in the Doctor's eyes increased.
"May I?" he asked, holding his arms out.
Rose nodded, and the Doctor gathered her up into his arms for a final hug. To her surprise, he leaned down and kissed her gently.
"I should have told you," he whispered. "I should have told you every day. I love you. I'll never stop loving you."
Rose stepped back, smiling slightly.
The Doctor smiled back at her.
"I would tell you to be fantastic, but I see that you already are."
Rose chuckled. She could feel herself phasing out of this place.
"Goodbye," she said, raising her hand in farewell.
Her last image of him was him with his hands deep in his pockets while the wind whipped his long coat around his legs, standing on the windswept beach, his face full of ancient sadness.
Rose woke with a jolt. Someone was shaking her.
"Rose? Rose, Love, wake up."
Rose opened her eyes, and blinked several times until the face above hers came into focus.
"You were calling out in your sleep, Rose," he said, hovering over her.
"Is it really you?" Rose whispered.
"Is it really me, what?" the Doctor asked.
Rose looked him over, taking in his spaceship boxers and wrinkled white shirt, his tousled hair and 3-day scruff, and smiled.
"It's you. My Doctor." She pulled him down and held on to him for dear life.
The Doctor held her securely, not asking why, but comfortingly stroking her back.
"Of course I'm yours," he said soothingly.
"I'll never leave you," Rose whispered, pulling away so that she could see his eyes.
The Doctor brushed a strand of her hair out of her face.
"I know," he answered. "If there's anything I know for sure in this life, it's that."
"I've made my choice," Rose murmured.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow, confused.
"It was a dream, I think," Rose said, her voice far away. Had it been a dream? She wasn't sure. She could still feel the cold wind of Daleg Ulv Strandon, the staccato of a double heartbeat against her cheek.
"Just a dream," the Doctor murmured soothingly.
His lips hovered only inches away from her own, and with a smile, Rose leaned up to claim them.
The bedroom door creaked open, forcing them to move farther apart from each other. A small, nightgowned figure padded into the room.
"Mummy, Sarah's crying again," Donna said.
Author's Note: Fade to black. The author takes a bow.
Well, it's finally finished. And I finally get to use the epilogue that's been in my head since the very first chapter, practically. I'm sorry it's over, but well it had to end some time. I know the Doctor at the beginning is acting a little out of character, but it's how I imagine he would act, if he didn't hold himself back. Was it reality? Was it Rose's dream? You'll have to decide for yourself.
Thank you to everyone who had read and reviewed this story, and made it an absolute pleasure to write. You are the people that make all this work worthwhile. Also many thanks to I am the Lev for her help with various parts of the story, and to Maestrodamus for his unfailing support and encouragement.
This is goodbye, but only for now. Whenever I get around to finishing my backlog of stories, I plan on writing a sequel to this, entitled "The Children of Time". Be sure to watch for it.