Counting the Moments

Summary: "He wasn't sure how much time had passed. He refused to think about it, refused to let his internal clock do the calculations. He didn't want to know. He's spent so long counting the moments, now it's time to make the moments count. The Doctor finally finds what he's looking for. Post "Journey's End".

Author's Note: This bit me and wouldn't leave me alone until I got it down on paper. Hopefully, it's got a bit of something new thrown in. Many thanks to Robin and Sara for helping me with a summary and title.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

He wasn't sure how much time had passed, linearly speaking. He refused to think about it, refused to let his internal clock (set to the same one the universe ran on) do the calculations. He didn't want to know. It had been a long time, of that he was sure. He was surprised he hadn't burned out this body yet, but part of him knew he would take extra care not to be forced to regenerate, if only because it was his last link to Her.

He still had Martha's old cell phone sitting on the console, and every once in a while he would receive a call from her, or Jack, or even Sarah Jane (and he had to admit, sometimes he would call Donna, claiming to be a wrong number, just to hear her voice). It was nice hearing from them, but he wouldn't—couldn't—go back there, back to early 21st century Earth. It just hurt too much.

He had just met River Song for the first time—or rather, she had met him. It was his second encounter with the archaeologist, his first having been her last. She had been right, all those years ago in The Library—things were complicated dealing with a time traveler. She was just as he remembered—no-nonsense, demanding, energetic, and stubborn. It hurt, seeing her, because she reminded him of Donna, and that hurt almost as much as Rose did. He could barely bring himself to look at her, and he was relieved when the cell phone rang and he had an excuse to escape into the TARDIS to avoid any more of her overly perceptive and probing questions.

His relief was short-lived as Jack's voice came through space and time. "I know you won't like this, Doc, but there's something you need to see here." The Doctor couldn't remember the last time he had heard Jack sound so grave.

"When are you?" the Doctor asked in reply.

"The fifteenth of March, 2059. I've sent my team away so they won't be in the way. This is personal," Jack answered.

"Right, I'll be there in a jiffy," the Doctor replied, hanging up. He poked his head out of the TARDIS to see River glaring at him, waiting for an answer. He flashed her a toothy smile. "Sorry, must be going now. Great talking with you again. Had a blast, really. I mean, giant space worms and all, really great fun, those. Never gets old, them," he rambled quickly. "But I've got to be off now, things to do, places to go, people to see."

"You're not getting off that easily, Doctor. I want answers. How did you know my name before I told it to you?" River demanded.

He grinned again. "Sorry, spoilers!" he replied, closing the TARDIS doors without waiting for a reply. He moved to the console and started flipping switches. The time rotor groaned into life. He set the coordinates for Cardiff, and pulled a lever, feeling his ship dematerialize into the vortex. He felt them slipping backwards and sideways, and he braced himself as they reappeared on top of the rift. He checked the monitor—Jack was waiting just outside, his face set in a grim expression. He hesitated for a moment before stepping through the doors.

"Thanks for coming, Doctor. I've got something for you down in my office," Jack said by way of greeting.

"Needed to refuel the old girl anyways," the Doctor replied as nonchalantly as he could. Something was bothering him, more than just the oddness of Jack's "condition". He followed Jack to the hidden lift, hands stuffed in his pockets, gripping his sonic screwdriver tightly. He couldn't even bring himself to prattle as they descended into the Hub.

"It appeared out in the square early this morning, after a huge spike in rift activity. Anne Marie, our tech specialist, picked it up before anyone else could get their hands on it. As you can see, the label caught my attention," Jack said, leading the Doctor into his office, where a cardboard box sat on his desk. The Doctor read the label.

"'The Doctor, care of Captain Jack Harkness, Torchwood 3, Cardiff'? Seems rather specific. No return address," he joked, opening a flap to peer in at the contents. There were several objects, carefully packed—a photo album, a leather-bound journal, and an envelope with his name on it. He picked that up first.

"There was a letter addressed to me inside as well. I opened the box, just to make sure it wasn't some sort of a trap," Jack said, holding up his own piece of folded paper. "I haven't looked at the other things yet. I called you right after I read my letter."

The Doctor was only half-listening as he unfolded his own. His hearts were thumping as he recognized his own handwriting, though shakier than normal. They stopped as he saw the symbol at the top, in place of a greeting. "My name," he whispered, touching the Gallifreyan word.

"What?" Jack asked. The Doctor looked up, startled, having not realized he had spoken out loud.

"It's my name—my real name. There isn't anyone alive who knows it, let alone in my own language," he replied, turning his attention back to the letter.

'I've been drafting this letter in my head for what seems like forever, though really it hasn't been nearly that long. 14 days, 9 hours, 37 minutes, 12 seconds. That's how long I've been alone. Well, not really alone, but that's how long it's been since Rose died. It's taken me that long to be able to admit it, if only in writing, that she is truly gone. I'm sure you can imagine how much it hurts, but she hasn't been a constant in your life for the last 51 years (9 months, 17 days, 6 hours, 5 minutes, 2 seconds). It passed in the blink of an eye, it seems. Not nearly enough time, but more than I (we) could ever imagine having.

'There isn't much time left for me now, but that's okay, because it hurts without Rose, and there's nothing left here for me. That's a lie, really, but I'm an old man now, and I'm free of responsibility (as much as I can allow myself to be). Jackie started the photo album I included in this package, and Rose kept it up after her mum died (17 years, 3 months, 2 days, 1 minute ago; I still miss her tea. No one makes a cup of tea like Jackie Tyler, though I'm sure Jack would protest and say his errand boy could.) Pete died of a heart attack a few years before, but by then Tony had already married, and Jackie had grandchildren to dote on. The journal was Rose's. She started it after Bad Wolf Bay—the first time. I never read it, though she offered to let me. I thought perhaps you might like to, see how she had a fantastic life, just like we always wanted for her (for all of them). It wasn't always easy, but it was happy.

'There isn't much else for me to say here, except one piece of advice—don't close yourself off. Rose was right when she said the world wouldn't end if the Doctor danced. And anyway, you have an ending to begin, if you haven't already. Rose lived a happy life, and Donna… Well, Donna was fantastic, and we'll always miss her. But you know as well as I do that you peeked, in The Library. River wouldn't have known what it said, the pretty looking symbols you wrote on the back of the inside cover, but you're going to be happy with her, and you told yourself so. Rose would want you to be happy, and Donna would too. Go find her, and have a fantastic time with her. It's just about time now, so I am going to end this and send the package through the rift. Hopefully you'll receive it. Take care, Doctor.

John Noble (Smith just didn't feel right, and Rose thought it would be odd to end up as 'Rose Smith', what with the relationship she had with Mickey, once upon a time, and really, it just felt right.)'

He didn't realize he was crying until a tear dropped onto the page. He folded it carefully and tucked it into his pocket. He looked up at Jack, who was watching him in concern. He forced a smile onto his face. "Rift mail. Brilliant, that," he said, voice sounding flat even to his own ears. He pulled the photo album from the box. "Shall we, then?" he asked, knowing Jack would want to share this. And it would be easier to bear—it was always easier with two.

It took an hour to flip their way through the lives of the Tyler/Noble family. Jack made a wise crack about the Doctor—the other Doctor—wearing a tuxedo. It reminded the Doctor of that first time he had been in Pete's World. They were both shocked to watch as Rose's stomach grew, and she gave birth to twins (Jack and Donna). The children grew, and it was clear how happy they were as a family ("They even have a picket fence!" Jack crowed when he came across a picture of Rose and her family in front of a small house. It made the Doctor's hearts hurt, because they looked so domestic, and he knew he could have been happy with that life, with Rose and their—no, his, that other him, not his own—children and Rose's parents and brother, a family.) The pictures were all labeled, and he couldn't help but feel a swell of pride when first Donna, then Jack, both got married and had children (he would have been a grandfather, again, and he felt a bitter stab of loss thinking of Susan). The pictures stopped, then, and they knew they had reached the end of Rose's life. There was one picture, without a caption, of a gravestone in a pretty cemetery. The stone had a howling wolf carved onto it, and the words brought fresh tears to the Doctor's eyes—"Rose Tyler Noble, Beloved Companion".

He flipped through the album until he found a picture of Rose as he remembered her, smiling at the camera. He pulled it out and tucked it into his pocket with the letter. "Keep this safe for me, will you?" he asked Jack, handing him the photo album. Jack took it with care.

"Of course." It was a promise, they both knew, that the Doctor would come back for him, when he was ready. "What are you going to do now?"

"Oh, I don't know," the Doctor replied, hands deep in his pockets again, rocking back and forth on his trainers. "The usual, I suppose. See where the TARDIS takes me, find trouble, save the universe."

"Alone?" Jack asked. The Doctor hesitated in his response.

"Nah. It's better with two, you know that. There's someone I've been meaning to meet up with again. She was rather mad at me when I left her before. Give her some time to cool off first, though," he replied, some of his usual cheerfulness making its way back into his voice. He picked up the journal casually, tucking it away. He would read it eventually, but not right now. "Best be off then. Wouldn't want to keep you away from your team for too long," he teased. Jack smiled.

"Take care, Doctor," he said, hugging him before the Doctor had a chance to protest. Jack walked him back to the TARDIS, resting a hand on her briefly. The Doctor waved goodbye, heading inside. He fiddled with some dials, listening to the gentle hum of his ship as they skipped into the future, landing gracefully on a beach with red sand.

He checked the monitor, and found what he was looking for—River Song, basking in the sunlight, a blue journal next to her. He smiled, his first true smile in 127 years, 1 month, 14 days, 6 hours, 31 minutes, and 2 seconds.

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