Author's Note: Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers for Journey's End. Writing this was an exercise to come to terms with the season finale, and to finish up some of the strands I saw in the story (though not all of them). I saw a lot of themes and symbols to tie up with my other pieces of Doctor Who fan fiction as well. And I especially couldn't help one blatant hint to my other story, "Days of Ice and Fire," so if there's a reference here you don't recognize, that is it.
There's a generous sprinkling of T.S. Eliot quotes throughout this story, from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "Little Gidding". I hope you enjoy the story--I had to write it in order to get back to my happy place. Let me know if in any way it helped do this for you too.
The viewpoint of this story is all from the new, part-human Doctor. It was the only way to have a happy ending. Or beginning, as the case may be.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
— T.S. Eliot
Emptier. This chest—how strange it felt. Quieter. The lubdub of just a single heart. He'd felt it before, of course, when he'd been a human briefly as John Smith. Remembered it—but memory was different from now. Now he was the Doctor, still possessed of a time lord mind, but more. He was also human.
What was it the DoctorDonna said in the Crucible? Combine a time lord's mind with a human's gut instinct, and you had a creature for which the universe had been waiting all of eternity. God but she was brilliant—and the other Doctor's ire with him, for the genocide of the Daleks, was nothing, was inconsequential right now, as he looked around the TARDIS console (Rose on his right), and saw his friends, past and present companions all around him, operating the TARDIS, leading the Earth back to its home in the Milky Way galaxy. The brilliant DoctorDonna was giving everyone instructions, praise and encouragement. His friends were smiling, laughing with elation, like an old family around the dinner table. It was a scene the Doctor would never have guessed he would ever see in his lifetimes, and while his time lord mind exalted, his new part-human gut told him it would end, so very soon.
But Rose was giving him an irrepressible grin, and he returned it—he couldn't help himself. It was like old times, yet not—and he was flooded by memories of him (the other him?), facing death with her by his side, memories borrowed/suppressed. They felt not quite his own. The memories washed over him anew as his new heart reacted to them, joy/pain/triumph/fear like a vice around his chest; different, somehow more intense, because he was part-human and more mortal now. Strange. Unfamiliar. An adventure within. He supposed it could not be very different for Donna, though he had no idea what it must be like for a human to become a time lord, the reverse of his experience—and then he realized with a shock that she would not remain so for much longer.
There was no way Donna was going to survive this hybridisation—her mind was human to begin with, and taking a time lord's into it would be like taking the Vortex into it, as Rose had done, a long time ago. And humans could not survive that for too long.
The knowledge made the Doctor look up. He gazed at the other Doctor, the full-blooded time lord. The two Doctors' eyes met. Understanding was reached, the tragedy shared. For a moment, the whooping, laughing, and merriment in the TARDIS was worlds away, as the two Doctors contemplated the coming loss of Donna Noble.
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
— T.S. Eliot
Church bells were ringing, music was playing. These sounds filtered faintly into the TARDIS as the companions took their leave. Sarah Jane first, then Jack and Martha, followed by Mickey. They would only say brief goodbyes to him—the new, not-quite-him Doctor. The real goodbyes would be saved for the real Doctor. Some part of him mourned this, yet understood. In any case, Rose was in front of him now, laughing, impossibly here, dominating his attention, as he concentrated on catching her up on the time she'd been in the other universe. He chose to cover only the happier moments he (or the other he) had shared with Donna. Rose listened with rapt attention and no trace of jealousy. Donna and Jackie hung in the background, interjecting occasionally with expressions of disbelief (or in Donna's case, loud denials), and he took comfort in that for the moment.
What was the lesson that the Bohdins had tried to teach him, so long ago? The only time that mattered was now. The only place that mattered was here. The only person that mattered at any time was the one right in front of you.
And it was Rose.
The other Doctor strode back into the TARDIS, announcing that they had one last trip to make. Dalek uth Straden. The words, as they were said, received a puzzled look from Rose, and a knot of fear and grief in the new Doctor's single heart. He looked at the other him, the time lord, and admired, briefly, the impassive face he put on as he worked the TARDIS controls. They were going to the other universe through the gap in the walls. Rose's universe. Jackie Tyler still had to be returned there to her Pete. But that beach, in that place... for the first time since getting this new/old body, the Doctor felt pain tear at the core of him and he could barely breathe. He had lost so much the last time he'd had anything to do with that place. But he followed the other Doctor's example. Had to. For Rose. Another parting was coming. On that damned beach. Again.
Only one TARDIS. Two Doctors. Even the part-human time lord could do the math.
Bigger on the inside the TARDIS may be, but it still wouldn't be big enough for the both of them. The Doctor touched the TARDIS controls, recognising this would be the last time, his last journey. He whispered goodbye to the TARDIS. He ached for himself, but knew the ship would continue to be in good hands. His hands. The other Doctor's hands. It would have to be enough for the TARDIS. It had always been.
And if this was the last journey he needed to take, to never be in a different universe from Rose again, he might be able to live with that. He would be the lucky one.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration.
— T.S. Eliot
The one adventure I can never have, he'd once told her. Was he entitled to that memory? Uncertainty dogged him in this body like no way he'd ever felt before. This one heart, beating in his chest—he didn't know if he was complete, and it was a thought that came from still having a time lord mind—at least, he was sure he could claim that much as his own—couldn't he?
"I'm the Doctor!" he'd shouted to Donna earlier, just before they'd annihilated all the Daleks to kingdom come using the controls to the reality bomb. Searching within, he knew he was. The Doctor. So why did he still feel so much uncertainty, as if he didn't know if he was enough? What wasn't he enough of?
Damn this beach. He hated this beach. He wanted to blame it all on the beach.
Always making Rose cry on this beach. Leaving her again on this beach. And now she was chasing after him, the other him, on this beach. And now the (other) Doctor was giving a lecture about the Dalek genocide he had just committed, pronouncing his crime as if leaving him here in this alternate universe (with Rose) was an exile, a punishment. Way to sell me up to Rose, he couldn't help thinking. I'm going to be either a convict, or a mental patient to her. Really helping, thanks.
"But he's not you." Rose said to the other Doctor.
"He needs you. That's very me."
That was the truth. Always. Though he had long hid it from himself. Both of him.
"But it's better than that, though. Don't you see what he's trying to give you?" Donna asked Rose. "Tell her, go on." Soon-to-be-lost-Donna was looking at him.
Panic rose like bile up the new Doctor's throat. This was the truth, the question and the answer he had been dreading. He swallowed as Rose turned around to regard him, pain and confusion plain in her eyes.
Never before in a millennium had the Doctor felt so... inadequate.
"I look like him. I talk like him," he said. Except I am not him, though I wish I were. "Same memories same thoughts, same everything." It's me, Rose. I'm just afraid I won't be enough. "Except I've only got one heart." And it's yours. It's all I can offer. I've got nothing else. "I'm part human. Specifically the ageing part. I'll grow old and never regenerate. I've only got one life, Rose Tyler." He actually sounded more nonchalant than he was actually feeling, him with just one human heart and no more TARDIS. "I could spend it with you."
Would that be enough? Rose, will that be enough?
"...If you want," The Doctor finished quickly. And his mouth went dry as he contemplated the possibility that she would not.
"You'll grow old at the same time as me?"
"Together," he offered.
He thought his chest would explode as Rose slowly raised her hand. She looked as uncertain, as lost and unsure as he was. The hand she placed on his chest trembled as she used it to measure his single heart, beating hard as a war drum in his body. Her eyes were liquid as they searched his, familiar yet unfamiliar with this stranger in front of her. When she looked away, the Doctor had his answer. No, he wasn't enough.
Was it right, was it normal to feel pity for oneself? For both himself, and the other him? He thought about the one who would go back to the other universe. The one Rose had actually fallen in love with. The one he wasn't. That Doctor would be alone again. Yet he would need Rose as much as the new one did. The part-human Doctor understood completely, could not blame Rose at all as she again called him back—no, she was calling the both of them to her. That was why he loved her—this was hard for her too. Her heart was bigger, so much bigger than her actual being, big enough for both of them. And in return for her love, all she wanted was something simple: an answer.
What was he going to say the last time she'd been on this beach, the last thing he was going to say before he was cut off mid-sentence?
The real Doctor answered first. Of course he would. "I said, 'Rose Tyler'."
Rose looked so young, so like a child as she asked plaintively, "And, how was that sentence going to end?"
The new Doctor gazed with pity at his other self, pity he felt for real now—pity he could not deny. How long the Doctor had deluded himself, had told himself he could never say the words, had told himself that they didn't need to be said, that Rose would know. He'd held onto that delusion so long that he had missed his chance to say it the last time. How long he'd hemmed and stalled for time, time he had not had. But he had that time now. And Rose was standing there, and he could see himself—the other him, at least—stalling again.
"Does it need saying?"
He was a coward. That was a long standing rule with him, wasn't it? A coward, any day.
Was that how he looked? The Doctor regarded the full-blooded time lord, and pitied him again. He'd faced Daleks, Sycorax, Cybermen, Sontarans, the end of worlds, and it was three little words that unmade him so badly that he would not even take this last chance. The time lord was throwing this chance to him—the part-human Doctor. Whether this was done purposefully or not, the new Doctor was not sure. But if the other felt anything like how he felt about losing Rose, then surely the time lord's hearts were breaking. And Rose's was as well.
"And you, Doctor?" She looked at him.
He was still the Doctor. He wanted to be her Doctor. And she deserved to hear the words she was owed so terribly.
"What was the end of that sentence?" she asked.
Before he knew it, he was stepping forward and closing the distance between them. He took her arm gently as he did, as if she were glass—or the most precious thing in the world. He lowered his lips towards her hair, the colour of sunlight here on earth, till his mouth was beside her ear. These words were for her alone. For no one else in the universe, or in all the universes. Only for Rose. And he found that saying the words, I love you, were not so hard. Not so difficult at all. It was easier to do than a lot of things. Easier than losing her again. He was the lucky one. I love you, and I have loved you, for so long.
And maybe, with time and practice, it would get easier and easier to say.
And suddenly he was complete. Whole for the first time with only one heart in his chest, because Rose's lips were on his, with her arms around him like he was her anchor in this spinning universe—and it was strange because she was his. This one heart would be enough. No second heart needed—he was done travelling for good, if she was. Her heart was enough for him, if his was. And human as he was, or perhaps because he was human, time suddenly stretched before him, as boundless as the sea or as the cosmos. Human love was strange—and wonderful—in its scale. Limitless, even as its time in these fragile human bodies was limited . And though his time in this body would be shorter than in the other, it was all the time he needed in the world, because it was all the time that mattered. Time that would be spent with her.
Inexplicably, love poems from earth were crowding into his head.
The door of the TARDIS closed. Rose broke the kiss. She ran out out of his arms as it faded from their eyes and from their lives for the last time, carrying the other Doctor, and Donna away. The sound of the TARDIS was mournful—it always sounded that way, the Doctor suddenly thought. Because every time it left a place and place, it was a parting. Another time and place that the Doctor was leaving behind, believing that somewhere else, he would find... What was he looking for? Novelty. Companionship. Happiness. Perhaps if not for himself, then at least for others.
Yes, he was the lucky one. The one with Rose.
She stood before him, gazing where the TARDIS had been.
She would not be alone. He would not let her feel alone. He had been there, and never wanted to go there again. He walked up beside her, saw that her hands were empty, like his. Habit, loneliness, and sympathy moved him to take her left hand in his right; and like old times (yet he felt this with new happiness), she wrapped her fingers around his. A small yellow flame seemed to ignite in his heart. Hope. Joy. He could scarcely believe it. And her hand in his. Warmth, vitality, proof that she was here. And that he was here.
They looked at each other. And the Doctor felt their journey just beginning.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
— T.S. Eliot
Author's Note again: Thanks for reading. I appreciate reviews, or private messages if you want to commiserate. (Whining is better when shared, isn't it?)