He stood there, looking up blankly at the Time Rotor, the pulsing green light throwing strange shadows across his grim face. It had been such an awfully long day.
That was the problem with living in the TARDIS.
When does one day start and another one end? He usually uses the hours in which his companions are awake or asleep to time the days, but it's been so long now since Rose fell. So long since he's had someone to count the days with. But he hasn't slept for what he knows must be weeks.
Weeks of searching.
He had known that the void would not stay open for long, and he knew that it would have to be a rather large gap for him to be able to contact Rose. He had dedicated every minute, just searching for that gap. Just to say his goodbyes.
And he hadn't even been able to say it all.
What a bitter twist of irony, the Time Lord, running out of time.
And then, just as he was ready to go, go to sleep, go to cry, go to break his hand punching the wall, the universe had thrown him a curve ball in the shape of a mouthy red-head.
Brash and insensitive, she had quickly begun to grate on his already frayed nerves. But Donna had been nice in the end. Sort of motherly. Well, by motherly, he meant she was pretty much a ginger Jackie. But she had been the one to save him in the end.
The one to save him from himself.
He was glad at least, that Rose hadn't been the one to see him like that. So completely unstoppable, so uncaring to a mother pleading to save her children.
But then Donna had turned him down.
He hadn't expected that. He didn't often get refused.
But he knew now that perhaps that was for the best. Right now he needed to be alone. He needed to be able to think about the things that he had lost. To collect his thoughts and memories of Rose. The last things he had of her, except the room that would be locked away and lost.
And to delete the Protocols.
That always hurt.
After each companion left, or after each new companion found, or after a regeneration, he had to make new Protocols to be played in case of emergencies. Which meant deleting the old ones. Usually, in the case of new or left companions, it's a simple case of changing the names, deleting the old and inserting the new. Regeneration, of course, meant replacing all of them.
But it had never been this hard before.
Because there had never been a companion quite like Rose before.
He swallowed hard, before turning to the screen, clicking the turning characters of his mother-language. The TARDIS knows what he's doing of course. They've both been through this so many times.
But now they're both feeling the loss.
He never thought it would be her name he'd have to be deleting. Not so soon.
He clicked the icon to delete her name.
Then something flickered in the corner of his vision.
A flickering blue light.
A blue light that he recognised.
She was standing there, and he was sure he must have been seeing things. Perhaps it was his sleep deprived mind, tormenting him.
Or perhaps she's just a little bit brilliant.
Rose Tyler, standing looking right at him, wearing a dark blue top and jeans, or perhaps the holograms making her top just look blue, and the edges of her shape were looking a little fuzzy, but he just couldn't care less.
There she was.
"I, um… I'm not really sure what Pro'ocol this'd be classed as, but you've just finished doing all the new ones after Mickey left, and I thought that… well, I wanted to make one for you."
She swallowed, obviously trying to keep her composure, her breath shuddering and she looked so self-conscious, he wanted to comfort her. But he couldn't. Just like he couldn't on that horrible, blasted beach.
"I told you a little while ago that I wanted to stay with you forever, but as you've pointed out before, my idea of forever is very much different to yours. So if and, as much as I hate to say it, when you're watching this, I must either be dead, or you've sent me home for the last time. I know that, if you sent me home, it must have been a hard decision, but don't feel bad about it. I wouldn't have let you get rid of me if I didn't think it was the right choice," she gave a weak laugh, "tough ol' bird, I am.
"But when I saw you deleting those Pro'cols, it got me thinkin' how many times you must've had to go through that, and I just want to say a few things before I'm gone from your life forever. Oh, and one thing, just before I start, I've asked the TARDIS to only play this when I'm gone, but just incase something goes wrong and this is playing before then, please stop it now. This isn't exactly something you wanna think about when you're still alive and well. I'd never live it down if you hear some of the stuff I know I'm going to spout out. So go on. Turn it off," she stared at him expectantly for a moment, "Right. Hopefully, if I really can trust you, then this'll only be playing if I really am gone. If not, you be'er start runnin' now mate. You have been warned.
"Right, first off, I wanna tell you I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you have to go through this. I know that it must be hard to have to get over losing a friend. I've been through the same with Mickey for this past week, as you only too well know. After he left, I wanted nothing more than to see him again. So that's why I'm making this. But I want you to know that I really am. I'm sorry that you're being forced to do this again. I guess I don't know even half the pain you've felt in your life, and I'm sorry to be the one to add to it.
"Secondly, I know you won't want to face the dragon that is my mother, but if I die on some planet, without saying goodbye to mum, please tell her what happened. I don't care what you say, but don't you dare go taking all the blame. I get myself into trouble, and it's not your fault. It's never your fault. I came of my own accord- twice now. But tell her I love her, and that I never stopped thinking about her, even when I was whooshing around in here with you.
"Four… hang-on…" she counted on her fingers, "three!" she said brightly, making him smile in the way that she always did, even in his darkest hours, "See, I bet that cheered you up, me making a fool of myself. Anyway, I wanted to tell you to not be stupid. I met Sarah Jane, so I know that I'm not the first person that you've pulled into your amazing world, and I know for certain that I'm not going to be the last. So I want you to go out there, do what we… you do best and go throw yourself into danger, and find someone. Find some brilliant person who does the right things in the worst situations. Someone who makes you smile. A hand to hold. You might think that I won't want you to have someone after me, but the idea of you travellin' alone… that would destroy me. Or maybe there's someone new already, and they're laughing at me for making an idiot out of myself. If so," she gave a little wave, "hi!"
"But if not, don't be alone. That's one thing that will rip me apart. The thought of you, alone in the whole of time and space… it'd kill me. It's all very well seeing all the amazing stuff out there, but… I know that it's not the same alone. I only ever wanted you to be happy. That means more to me than anything else in the world. And don't treat them bad. I did that with Mickey, when we were in Cardiff with the Slitheen. I made him jealous. I hurt him. Don't make my mistakes.
"Right," she sniffed, "definitely number four this time… I know me well enough to know, no matter how long I stay with you, I'll never have the guts to tell you… I…"
Suddenly, he knew what was coming, and if he could, he would have turned the hologram of that second, but he couldn't. He couldn't tear his eyes from her face, marred by the trickle of her smiling tears.
"I love you. It's funny, isn't it?" she looked down, fiddling with the control panel, but her fingers passing through them, even as they turned for her in her own time, "Three little words, and I know neither of us will ever say them. I'd like to think that you felt the same for me, but I know that love probably means something different to you than it does to me. But I'm… well, I love you. Silly as it is, I always loved you, one way or another. And if I'm still alive out there, or even if I'm not, I always will.
"And finally… thank you. You've made me who I am. You've made me a better person, and you've made me the happiest person alive. You've showed me things I would never believe, and you've stood by me no matter what. You've shown me how to live. You've shown me how to love. You've shown me how to be everything that you want me to be.
"So I'm going to keep living my life with you, because I've still got it all ahead of me. I'm glad I don't have to worry about this, cos I know I must have said something that'll embarrass me one day. But I hope… if, when you're watching this, and I am dead, I hope it's a good death. I hope I'm not the damsel in distress. I hope I do something that makes you proud. I hope I do that. And, even though I know I can't hear you, promise me something.
"Don't ever change. I know you'll regenerate, but that's not what I mean. Don't ever stop being you. Because you'll always be the one who polishes of the last of the milk without telling me. You'll always be the one to leave wires and bits of stuff all over the place. Because somethings don't ever change. Go on being the fantastic, beautiful man that I know you are. Go on being rude to royalty, go on getting yourself into impossible situations.
"Go on being the man that I love, and I'll always be there, right beside you. Have a good life, just being you. Do that for me. Promise me that, and I'll always be there with you."
There was the sound of footsteps, and she whirled around to look at the inner door, leading to the inside of the ship.
"I've got to go," a little laugh and a roll of her eyes, "you're coming. But please, just carry on, even now I'm gone. Just promise me you'll go on and live the amazing life I know you will.
"I love you."
A quick flash of her smile, and the image failed, gently fading into nothing.
The Doctor blinked, trying to get his eyes to refocus.
He swallowed, ignoring the gentle pat-pat as twin teardrops fell onto the grille-flooring of the console room.
He clicked the delete character on the screen, the finality making his hearts clench as he turned towards the inner door from which the holo-Rose had heard him coming. But as he reached the door, with his hand on the handle, he turned, looking at the room, at the spot she had stood smiling at him so calmly.
Far away, and oh-so long ago, Rose stood silently in the console room, the camera was off and she was left staring at the point she had guessed she'd see the Doctor, standing by the monitor.
Her smile had died as soon as the light had gone off the camera, and she had to quickly wipe the tears that had forced they're way down her cheeks at the sound of the Doctor entering the room, bouncing with his usual excitement.
"So! Where are we gonna go… Rose?"
She looked up at him, her eyes shining with tears that were not to be cried just yet, but to be saved for another time.
"Rose, what's wrong? What's the matter?"
He was at her side in a moment, pulling her into a hug.
"Nothing. I was just saying goodbye. I'm fine, honestly."
He looked at her, and she could see that he was worried, but he would know one day.
But not yet. She's got a life ahead of her, and she's not going to ruin it now.
"So where we gonna go today?" she asked cheerily.
He understood, of course, and pulled away gently, giving her the space she obviously needed.
"I was thinking Elvis."
Sitting in the car, heading for the nearest airport, heading away from Norway, Rose and her Doctor sat in a companionable silence, until, quite suddenly, he turned to her.
"It would be counted under Protocol 23, in case you were still wondering."
She thought for a moment, her brow furrowed, wondering what he was talking about, until he gave her that cheeky grin, and she knew only-too well what he meant. Then she could only think of one thing to say.