"Hello." His response was one of complete confusion.
"Much nicer than last time, huh? You know, no Daleks, no end of the world, and no regeneration." She pulled him back down and kissed him again.
"What was that for?" he asked, stunned.
"That was a thank you for not sending me home." Rose ran her hands down her stomach, and he saw her face fall.
"Oh, Rose. I'm sorry about the baby," he said softly.
"He was a paradox." Her voice was casual, but he saw the tears in her eyes. "Look at me. I'm a mess. Do I still have anything here that I can change into?"
The Doctor heard the tears coming and pulled her in as the sobs overtook her. She shook against him, and he just held her as she cried. Time didn't matter while she purged her grief. As the sobs dwindled to hiccups, he looked down at her face.
"Oh, I'm such a mess," she said, her voice still hoarse from her crying.
"Considering?" she asked with a tiny smile on her face.
"No. You're beautiful." He hugged her tightly. "Your room is just how you left it."
"Thanks." She brushed her tangled hair back self-consciously. "I'll be back."
The room felt empty when she left, but for the first time in a long time, the Doctor knew that she would be back. A smile sneaked onto his face. He shouldn't feel this happy, but he did.
Rose had been gone nearly fifteen minutes before he noticed the knocking. Or rather the pounding on the doors of the TARDIS. He opened the door and stared in surprise at the mob outside. "What?"
"What's going on? Where's Rose?"
"Oh." He stared back toward the corridor where Rose had vanished down. "Give us some time, all right? We'll explain as soon as we can." The Doctor ducked back inside and slammed the door, hoping that the TARDIS could keep it closed until he was sure Rose was ready to face everyone. There were enough out there with keys that being invaded was a realistic fear.
When the beating on the door resumed, he headed back through the ship. Once beyond the control room, the noise vanished. Heading toward his own little-used bedroom, he noticed that Rose's room had been moved to right beside his. Her door wasn't completely closed, and he could see through the opening that Rose was dressed. He knocked lightly.
"Come in." She was sitting on her bed, which was still rumpled from the morning before the events of Canary Wharf. "I can't believe that after all this time, everything's still the same," she said as she struggled to get a hairbrush through the snarls.
"May I?" he asked as he held out his hand for the brush. She handed it to him and he sat behind her. After a silent moment, he spoke. "We got the radiation levels corrected out there."
"Good," she said. "Since when do you know how to do this?"
He ignored her question. "Rose, by doing that, we erased the traces across the Void. I'm sorry."
"Doctor, how many times are you going to make me choose?" she asked. "The only reason I stayed over there as long as I did was because you asked me to."
"No. I'm not trying to send you back. I'm just telling you that I'm sorry you won't see your family again."
"Wait. You're not?" She spun around and winced when she ripped her hair out of his hands. "So this isn't some kind of protect me for my own good thing? You're not sending me back?"
"No, I'm not sending you back." He grinned when she squealed and hugged him. "I'm just letting you know that I can't send you back."
"Is that the only reason I'm still here?" she asked suspiciously.
"No. I've had enough people tell me that I'm a stupid ape for making decisions for you. You came back, so I need to face the fact that you're here for good."
She threw herself into his arms again, knocking him back against the head of her bed. His shock allowed her the opportunity to kiss him. When she would've pulled away, he wound his fingers into her half-dry hair and held her against him. He kissed her, this time being in complete control. When they broke apart this time, she was panting.
"Same face, same smell, same taste, but oh, so different," she whispered with a smile. "My Doctor."
"Oh," he said, sitting up quickly. "Um, you might want to finish here. I think there are a few people outside who are in need of some explanations."
"Just a moment." She traced his jaw with her finger before kissing him again. "Now I need to get ready."
The Doctor found himself standing outside her door. Shaking his head, he headed back to the control room. The pounding was still present, but he ignored it until he felt Rose enter the room.
She had grown up. The clothes still fit her, but somehow they looked out of place with her mature face. "I think I need to go shopping," she said with an apologetic grimace.
He nodded before looking toward the door.
"You weren't kidding, then, were you?" she said. "Let's go face them."
They both opened the doors, which threw the mob outside into silence. One look at Rose, though, and the questions flew again. A piercing whistle from Mickey stemmed the noise.
"All right! Before everyone starts up again, I suggest we find somewhere more comfortable," the Doctor said in the silence.
"Conference room," Gwen and Jack said at the same instant.
"Lead on, then."
Ten minutes later, they were all seated around the large table. Ianto had supplied drinks before slipping into a seat of his own. The Doctor looked around the table at the expectant faces. "I know that you all have questions, but it'll make more sense if we tell the story from the beginning."
He waited until he got nods from all present before he started speaking. With as few words as possible, he detailed the second trip to Darlig Ulv Stranden and the reasons behind it. Rose added the vital bits of her time over there before she traveled back to this universe. When they were done, they opened the floor to questions.
"I see that it wasn't the Doctor, the real Doctor, who was the father, but I have to ask, what happened to the baby?" Martha asked.
"He was a paradox. He was never supposed to exist," Rose said, her voice low and emotional.
"So, one minute you're pregnant and the next you're not?"
"That's about it," the Doctor said, feeling Rose's hand seeking his under the table. He squeezed her hand. "Next?"
"Rose, you're back here? For good?" Mickey asked.
"Yeah. The Doctor closed that door. I'll miss Mum and Pete, but they knew that this was it. They were actually the ones who sent me back after he died." She glanced at the Doctor before giving Mickey back her full attention. "So, yeah. I'm back for good."
He stared at her long enough to make her squirm a bit before grinning and leaving his seat to hug her. "At least I'll be able to see you every now and then."
"Oh, yes. The universe is definitely too small for us to coexist and not run into each other," the Doctor said dryly.
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but just after the Cardiff power station went back on line, we got a call from Mrs. Noble," Ianto said quietly. "Donna Noble collapsed at her wedding and died."
The room grew silent. "We'll represent you at the funeral, Doctor," Jack said, for once serious.
"Thank you, Jack."
"Look, we should really let you go," Martha said.
Rose stood up and swayed slightly. The Doctor stood and supported her without seeming to. "There are still a few things that need to be taken care of," he said, uncharacteristically diplomatic.
The Doctor's familiarity with Rose didn't go unnoticed to Jack, Jenny, or Martha. The only one who seemed unaffected by the closeness was Mickey, who cast his ex-girlfriend a very knowing look and a cheeky wink. When the rest of them stood and began breaking up into smaller groups, Jenny pulled Rose off by herself. "Listen, I'm going to stay here for a bit," she said.
"Oh, no. Please come with us," Rose said in protest.
"You and Dad need some time alone," Jenny said. "Besides, I know that you need some time to recover."
Rose hugged the girl. "I do appreciate that. But you need to join us. It's an experience like no other."
"I know. I love the running," she said with a bright grin.
"All right. I'll give you my mobile number and whenever you're ready for some adventure, then just give me a ring. This will reach anywhere in time or space." Rose jotted the number on a bit of paper and handed it to Jenny. "I'm just glad the Doctor's not alone any more."
"No, he's not. He's got you."
Rose stood and stared as the blonde bounced off. She saw the flirtatious grin Jenny gave both Jack and Ianto, drawing a leer from one and a blush from the other, before walking off jauntily.
"Oh, she's going to wreak havoc with them, isn't she?" the Doctor said as he leaned over Rose's shoulder.
"Of course. She is your daughter."
"Let's go while the others are distracted," he said.
The TARDIS dematerializing finally caught the attention of the Torchwood crew, but they were already gone. Rose closed her eyes and leaned against the padded railing, listening to the sounds of the ship in the vortex.
"Go rest, Rose," the Doctor said, the order clear even though his voice was soft. "You need it."
She nodded and left the control room. Although he was alone in the room, he had a smile on his face. Rose's presence resonated through the ship.
A change in the pitch of the engines drew his gaze up to the green glowing column. "I still have something to do, don't I?" he asked. Listening for the answer, even though he didn't need it, he set the coordinates and took the TARDIS out of the vortex. He took the time to check on Rose, who was curled into a ball asleep on her bed. Sighing, he closed the door silently. This was going to be difficult and she'd gone through enough to want to spare her this.
"It took you long enough."
The Doctor ignored the gruffness in the tone, recognizing the tears underneath as the cause. "I'm sorry." He took his customary seat beside Wilf and let the old man take the lead.
The two of them sat and stared up at the stars for a while. "She had a message for you," he finally said.
It took another couple minutes before Wilf could speak. "She remembered. She said to tell you that she remembered it all."
"I'm sorry. I did everything I could for her," the Doctor said.
"I know that. Smart move, by the way, not showing up at the funeral. Sylvia blames you."
"Nonsense! You did Donna good. I've told you before, and I stand by my words." He sighed shakily. "It's hard to keep reminding myself of it, but I do try. And she was so happy at the end, though. She was happy with those memories."
"It is my fault, though."
"Oh, no, it isn't!" a female voice said, cutting through the night. "Doctor, Donna's death is not your fault."
Wilf stared up in shock at the blonde who had just appeared. "You!"
"Rose, you should be sleeping," the Doctor said, starting to stand.
She shook her head at the Doctor before going to stand in front of Wilf. "I'm sorry for your loss, but you need to be grateful for the extra time you had with your granddaughter. Donna was supposed to die in that battle."
"What?" the old man asked.
She missed the look of shock that the Doctor shot her as she continued to the old man. "The Doctor changed her timeline, and in doing so, gave you more time with Donna." Rose sank down onto her knees in front of him. "Her timeline ended at the hands of the Daleks."
He opened and closed his mouth several times, unable to respond to her words. The Doctor stared at Rose, an inscrutable look on his face.
"Don't dishonor her memory. She died a hero. If it wasn't for Donna, none of us would be here. She saved us all."
Tears spilled down her face as Wilf suddenly leaned forward and hugged her. "Thank you," he sobbed. "Thank you."
Rose clung to him, trying to support the old man. "I lost someone too," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "So believe me, I know how you feel."
"I've been a selfish, foolish old man."
"That's your right. You're grieving," Rose told him. "Now, it's your turn to help her mother."
"I will. I will." He pulled out an oversized handkerchief and wiped his face clean. "I really will."
The Doctor cleared his throat. "I think we need to be going."
"Oh, yes." Wilf struggled to his feet and gave her a hand up before hugging Rose again. "Now you promise me something."
He pointed at the Time Lord standing beside them. "You take care of him. He needs it."
"I will. I promise," Rose said with a slight smile on her face.
Wilf snapped to attention, granting the Doctor the same salute that he'd given him before. The Doctor nodded, dropping his gaze as Rose stepped to his side and took his hand. "Thank you."
The travelers turned and entered the blue box, and Wilf kept saluting until the TARDIS had completely gone.
Inside, the Doctor took them back into the vortex. As soon as they were settled, he turned to Rose. "Now go," he said, pointing back toward the bedrooms. "You're going to rest this time."
A flash of Rose's old fire lit her face. "Don't blame me this time. I was sound asleep when the TARDIS woke me up."
"All right then. I'll just have to go with you and make sure that you stay asleep this time," the Doctor said. "March."
"Yes, sir," she said sarcastically. She turned and stalked back to her room.
The Doctor could see the anger in her steps, but as they got to their respective doors, he stopped her and pulled her into a hug. She held herself stiffly against him, subtly resisting the embrace. "I'm sorry."
He smiled at the obvious suspicion in her voice. "For ordering you around. You're a grown woman. You can make your own decisions."
"And I choose this," she said as she looked up at him. It didn't take much coaxing to bring his head down low enough for her to kiss him.
He kept it short and ignored her groan of frustration. "We need to talk," he said, his voice rough.
"So, your room or mine?"
She looked up at his teasing grin. "Mine. I miss my bed." Rose led the way into her bedroom. She kicked off her shoes and pulled off her tee shirt before she froze. "Sorry," she said, quickly snatching it back up and holding it in front of her, although her bra still showed around it. "I got way too used to doing that, I guess."
The Doctor quickly looked away as she finished changing her clothes. "It's safe now," she said, quickly climbing under the blankets.
His suit jacket and trainers joined hers. He turned the light off, leaving just one lamp on. They lay stiffly next to each other for a while, not quite sure how to proceed.
"How did you know about Donna?" he asked.
Rose sighed. "Remember when she saw that fortune teller? When we were trying to help her correct that, our equipment saw that she didn't have long to live."
"So, he figured out what was coming?" the Doctor asked.
She nodded against his shoulder. "When Donna had her first headache, he started having really bad nightmares. Well, worse than normal. He never would tell me anything, but since then I've figured out that as she deteriorated, so did he. They really were tied together." Rolling over on her side facing him, she cautiously put her arm across his chest. "Since he knew he was dying, he and Dad rigged something up to get me back over here." He could hear the disapproval in her voice when she spoke again. "He really was like you. Kept everything to himself. Had to do it his way."
The Doctor heard the accusation in her words. Seeking to apologize somehow, he intertwined his fingers with hers, and they watched as the joined hands rose and fell with his breaths.
"I guess you want to hear the whole story now, right?"
"Only what you feel you're ready to talk about," he said.
Rose wiggled her fingers against his and nestled her face on his shoulder. "We need to do this more often." She sighed and closed her eyes.
The Doctor waited until her breathing had evened out. Gently kissing the top of her head, he rolled toward her, pulling her into his arms. He settled her comfortably before letting his own eyes close.
The sound of two heartbeats filtered into Rose Tyler's dreams, and she smiled.
A/N: This is it. I know there are a few things that weren't tied up with a big red bow, but I like to leave a bit there for possible sequels. I may follow up with another one eventually, but for now, this plot bunny is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet... You guys know the rest. Thanks to everyone who reviewed. And really big thanks to you Brits for not sending nasty notes to the American attempting to play with your show. ashleezak