Author's Note: This story's been inside me quite a while (since the broadcast of Journey's End), and it began, strangely, with the last five words I knew I had to end it with. Often, I wasn't sure how I was going to get here, so it's been extremely bittersweet for me to have reached the finish—because now I'm going to miss working on it! I thank all of you who have read this story, and if you've commented before or will comment on this last chapter, thank you times infinity!
I won't go
I won't sleep
I can't breathe
Until you're resting here with me
I won't leave
I can't hide
I cannot be
Until you're resting here with me — Dido, "Here With Me"
Part X: The Last Part
Surprise choked Rose, and she rolled over to cough. To say that the question had come out of nowhere was to have understated things, and even when she recovered her breath, she reached for words, for thought, for something, anything, that would make sense of what she'd just heard. Sitting up, she looked at the Doctor, who seemed to find it all funny. Or at least, he had a wide, open grin on his face that Rose could not understand.
"You're joking," she said.
"No I'm not." Her accusation stripped his grin off in a hurry, and his brown eyes turned serious.
Rose blinked. "But you can't ask...you can't ask me if you're reading my mind. It's not—it's not fair if you ask and you know what the answer is!" said Rose.
The Doctor raised his hands to the sides of his face and wiggled his fingers. "But what's the answer? Rose, I'm not reading your mind right now."
Rose bit her lip. "Then why did you ask?"
The smile was back. "Rose, has it occurred to you that maybe I asked because I wanted to?"
"Because you..." Rose sat back on her heels and looked at him. The time lord who didn't (used to) grow old and hated domestics and who'd left a trail of broken hearts behind him. She was too shocked to think. He seemed sincere now. She hadn't even seen the question coming, being distracted and him always being mysterious and keeping people at a distance. Sure, there had been that question long ago, asking her how long she'd stay with him (and it was the other him), but that was just staying. She grew aware that she was staring at him, agape, but she was still well and truly at a loss for an appropriate reaction. A part of a brain wondered if this was a test, a trick, a joke.
The silence grew too long. He sat up beside her, touched her hand gently and held her fingers in his. "Breathe, Rose. I'm sorry if that seemed to come out of nowhere. But it really didn't."
"It did for me," she said, but as she thought more about it, she supposed he deserved the benefit of the doubt. They had been apart for a while... years. She didn't know all that had had happened in that time. And he was looking at her, his heart in his eyes, chasing away rational thoughts from her head. There was only the beating of her heart, thundering painfully in her chest.
"Rose? I'm sorry, Rose." He looked down, deep in thoughts that were hidden from her, and she read in his face his growing uncertainty. She wanted to say something comforting, but she couldn't. She wanted someone to comfort her, or make him take the two words back. Because they changed things. And the change made her see anew.
"Rose?" he asked again.
Rose shook her head violently. "Shut up," she said. She didn't recognise her own voice when she said it—it was rough and strained. She gripped the Doctor's hand hard, hard enough to cause pain. But if he felt it, he gave no outward sign. His face was solemn, but there was shock in his eyes, and that gave her some satisfaction. He would know what it felt like then.
"You can't do this. Doctor, you just can't. I don't even know your name. I don't even know that much about your past." The words were tumbling out from a place of hurt deep inside her, and she hadn't even known it was there. "You said before that you were a dad, once, and then you never said anything more about it. I didn't care to pry then. I don't care now," Rose said, her voice growing in anger. "I just can't answer if... it doesn't feel right. I'm not just saying this so you start telling me things. I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do. And I don't want you asking me because," her voice broke, "Because you think I'm all you have, or if you thought I had to want it, or if you—Don't say anything." Rose delivered the last three words with a growl, her eyes blazing when she saw the Doctor open his mouth to interject. "And don't—"
She released his hand then, and backed away from him. She closed her eyes, because the look on his face when she broke their physical contact was breaking her heart. She felt hot tears sliding out from beneath her eyelids. "I'll stay with you forever," she whispered. "I will. Doctor. I just... I just..."
She couldn't think. Couldn't breathe. His name on her lips tasted like poison. It wasn't his name. Not his real name. Even the earth elemental had pointed that out. It wasn't him. All this time she'd wondered at his true name, but she'd never asked, and he'd never offered. Now it felt like something she had to know. And he should have known she needed to know. He was a stranger to her. She was conscious of that now more than ever. And he couldn't just drop this into her lap and expect...
She rocked back on her heels, turned her head and opened her eyes. The view of the airship cabin blurred in her tears, and irritably she fumbled for her knickers, found them, and stumbled to her feet. She headed immediately for the exit, all the while avoiding looking at him. She needed time to think.
"Rose, wait. Just wait, please..."
She stopped; she was already out of the door, on the middle of the gangplank. Her chest hurt with buried sobs, and she couldn't catch her breath. And despite it all, she wanted to hear his voice. She thought of everything she'd ever wanted him say to her but never said. And some things, the other Doctor had still refused to say. The damn time lord who could prattle on and on about nothing. And this Doctor who would keep on carrying the same secrets. She waited, and when he spoke, it was halting and unsure.
"I made a promise, Rose. To myself. You'll never lose me again. I promised myself. I won't leave you again. So to me, it just made sense. To ask you." His voice was low. "At least I thought it did. And I'll ask again, when... when it's right, when—if you want me to. Let me fix it. Whatever you want, I'll do, because I know I'll want it too. Whatever you need to hear—" he swallowed, "I'll try... Just let me ask again. Because I will. Maybe you just thought I never would."
His last words rang true, and they made Rose pause. She looked back, blinking to clear her sight, and saw him. His hair and clothes were in disarray. He was half-sitting up, half on his feet. His eyes arrested hers. A light shone in them whenever he looked at her, and it shone now.
Her vision of him blurred again. She blinked to gaze at him a moment longer. A small sad smile crept onto her face that was gone in the blink of an eye. I'll stay with you forever. I will. There was nothing more she could think of to say. Rose turned again and left the zeppelin behind.
The Doctor stood up slowly, not taking his eyes off Rose as she left. She never looked back, and soon she disappeared from his view. He remembered to breathe, noting the pain at his heart and in his throat. He swallowed. That hadn't gone well. It had gone terribly, in fact, and he'd hurt Rose in the process somehow.
The Doctor sighed as he ran a shaky hand through his hair. He replayed the scene in his head, and knew now that the question (more a request, really) had come out of nowhere for Rose, because she'd not been privy to his thinking about it since... well, he'd thought about it before, and during that time in the library with River Song, but more lately since he'd found Rose again, and ever since this human body and those damn earth elementals that had put the idea into his head. And he'd kept those thoughts behind a locked door.
Rose's words also gave him more to think about. She was right. There was a lot he'd never told her. Some of it was stuff he'd never meant to hide, only holding it in because he'd been around so damn long and there was only so much he could talk about even for the gob on this body. Some of the secrets, though, he'd kept because they might have scared her, or any sane person, away. He ran away. Always the coward. Too much blood and fire in his past, lives that had been sacrificed for him, whole worlds that had been destroyed, and a true name that, once translated, captured all his fears of what he really was and would become. Why should she want to know? How could she want to know?
But he recalled the smile. Her smile, so brief on her tear-streaked face, one of the last expressions she'd shown him before turning away. That smile had been for him. Even in her hurt she offered comfort. Even to monsters, she offered comfort. That was Rose. That was always Rose.
The Doctor closed his eyes.
He would tell her. She wasn't a girl anymore. Whatever she wanted to know, if it was what she wanted, he would tell her. The cost to him didn't matter. What mattered was what she needed to hear. What she deserved to hear. Things like "I love you." Except this would be his past, and his future, and things much, much uglier than three simple words.
"Allons-y," the Doctor said softly to himself as he looked around the airship's cabin. He drew a deep breath, focusing his mind back on the present, on picking up the pieces. He spotted the picnic baskets and retrieved them, hooking them on his arm. He unlocked the zeppelin's controls, then set the computer to sleep. He closed the door to the zeppelin as he left. He descended the gangplank (avoiding the last step that was still smushed from the Giant's Causeway) and stepped onto the grass.
And was blinded by a rift opening in front of him.
Jackie Tyler had just changed into her nightgown when two things happened at once. First, Pete received a call on his blasted phone, and while he was answering, there was a knock on their bedroom door.
"Mum? Mum, I think I need you."
There was no mistaking Rose's voice, and Jackie knew her daughter well enough to catch the note of distress even through the heavy wooden door. She pulled it open at once to see Rose breathless and in a mess. She looked like she'd been crying, and Jackie had had enough experience with men to identify it immediately for what it was: A lovers' tiff.
"Oh, love," she stepped into the hallway and took her daughter into her arms. "What's the silly Doctor done now? Everything looked fine between you two a half hour ago."
Rose didn't answer straight away, and Jackie waited patiently as she rubbed her daughter's back. Behind her, Pete suddenly spoke. "Torchwood call. I've gotta leave for a bit."
"Oh, you're bloody kidding me," said Jackie to her husband over Rose's shoulder. "It's a Sunday night. You can get someone else to shoo the stupid aliens off."
"No, I can't. This one was close... but not for you, Rose. You stay." Pete briefly stroked Rose's hair as he took in the sight of Jackie comforting their red-eyed daughter. He kissed them both, quickly, first his wife on the lips then Rose on her forehead, before shrugging into a jacket. "I'll try not to be long," he said, already dashing down the hallway and down the stairs.
Rose reflexively tried to follow. "Should I go h—" she began.
"Look at you," said Jackie, holding her daughter back. "You're in a state. Let your father handle it—he can get the Doctor's help if he needs it. So what is it now?" She led Rose into the room and sat down on the bed. Rose sat beside her and wouldn't meet her mother's eyes. Her fingers picked at threads in her skirt.
"This is going to sound so stupid, mum."
"Well, I've heard all sorts of things from you before about the Doctor," said Jackie Tyler. "'Mum, he time-travels.' ' Mum, he's changed his body.' 'Mum, he's—'"
"What? Pardon. What?"
Rose raised her head and looked at her mother. "He asked me to... marry him."
"What? Just now? And you ran to me?" Jackie tried to understand. It was nice for a mother to still be needed, but she had thought she only needed to be there for Rose's disappointments with the Doctor. Not this. "Are you two... not compatible or something?" asked Jackie. "Is he still alien where the deed is done, is that it?"
"I'm just guessing 'cause you're not giving me anything," said Jackie. "A proposal's no reason to cry, is it?" She touched her daughter golden hair gently. "I have to admit I never thought he had it in him, him being an alien..."
"I know," said Rose. "Mum, I know. That's just it. I know so little about him, it made me realize I don't know anything at all—"
"That can't be true, love, you're exaggerating."
"He's really hundreds of years old—"
"And looks pretty good for it..."
"I had no idea he would want to marry—"
"Some people like surprises, love..."
"I think he's had children before..."
"Oh." Jackie actually had to stop at that one. "Do you think aliens pay child-support?"
Rose gave a bitter laugh. "I don't know!"
"You could ask him," said her mother. "That's all you have to do, isn't it? This man... you never forgot him. You jumped universes for him. Did the stuff that you didn't know matter before?"
"No, well... no..."
"Sweetheart, if it bothers you now, either you find out what you need to know, or you go back to it not mattering."
Rose bit her lip as she thought about it. "Shouldn't it matter? Isn't that something... married people...do, or should do, know everything about each other?"
Jackie snorted. "How'd you get such crazy ideas about marriage with me raising you while I was single all those years? ...Oh. Oh, love."
Rose looked at her mother, her eyes wide and questioning.
Jackie sighed. "I thought I did such a good job with you..."
"You did, mum..."
"Sweetheart, we don't know everything. I didn't know everything about your father when I married him. I just loved him. I didn't know his crazy schemes, didn't know I was going to lose him, didn't know I was going to have you." Jackie had one arm around Rose, and she squeezed her daughter's shoulders affectionately. "So many things I didn't know, love... and it all turned out OK. I wouldn't say it was perfect, but it turned out alright." Jackie looked around the room before she looked at her daughter again. "It was you and the Doctor that brought me here, love." She smiled as she touched her daughter's chin gently.
Rose returned her mother's smile.
"And he loves you, Rose, in his own weird alien way. All it just means," said Jackie, "is that you just give him any answer you want. Because it'll work out."
"Thank you, mum," said Rose, sniffing. Her eyes were dry now, and the smiling came a bit easier after listening to her mother. Gratefully, Rose gave her a hug, and Jackie returned it.
"And if it doesn't work out," said Jackie, "You just tell me. Okay? I'll sock 'im."
White light seared into his eyeballs until the Doctor threw up an arm to shield his sight. The rift was so close that it almost seemed like he'd walked right into it, and hurriedly he backtracked, reassured by the metallic gangplank under his feet.
A large shadow stepped out of the light, and the Doctor squinted as he peered carefully through his fingers. It was huge, and looked familiar.
"Al?" he said uncertainly. This was unexpected, but it looked like the black earth elemental... the light from the rift glimmered behind his bulk and made him darker, and it was hard to see the details. "Is that you? Any chance you can shut that light off?"
I'm not staying. This is a short visit, Doctor. The large shape took one step towards him, and the Doctor saw that it was Al, all glossy black glass with silver veins, and a ring that glowed on his hand when he communicated.
The Doctor craned his neck upwards to look at the creature's diamond eyes. "How are you and the missus?" he asked conversationally.
We are fine.
"What brings you back here?"
The giant bent down slowly, and stretched a hand before the Doctor. It was hard to see at first, but there was something small in the middle of its massive hand. It looked like a stone cube.
We wanted to give you a gift.
The Doctor approached carefully. "This thing?" He looked up to see the giant's eyes glittering, and looked at its palm again. Slowly, he took the object that was offered. It was a perfect cube that just fit into his hand, four inches on each side, smooth, black in colour, and fairly heavy. It was cold, like marble. When the Doctor had a firm hold on it, the giant straightened and started to withdraw.
"You're leaving?" the Doctor asked in surprise. "So soon?"
You'll forgive me, Doctor, if the events of my last visit still stay with me.
"Oh, right," said the Doctor, recalling the guns and the iron cage and the hostage exchange. "Well, thank you for the gift." He hefted it up in one hand. "If you don't mind me asking... what is it?"
The elemental turned around and was already walking back into the light.
It is a gift.
"We covered that," said the Doctor, but got the feeling that the conversation was over. "Thank you again then..." He squinted as the edges of the earth elemental disappeared into the rift, then had to close his eyes as the giant slipped into the light entirely. Only when it was black behind his eyelids again did he reopen his eyes. The rift was gone. In front of him, the lights of the Tyler mansion shone in the night. It wasn't enough light to examine the giant's gift more closely. Stone cube firmly in one hand, and baskets on the other arm, the Doctor started moving in long strides across the grass, heading towards the door that would lead him into the kitchen. He became aware of running footsteps rounding the side of the building as he approached.
Pete was jogging towards him, and the Doctor immediately stopped where he was, curious. The man was looking over his lawn, his brow furrowed in bewilderment. "Doctor," asked Pete, "Did you just see anything here? I just received a call—"
"About a rift?" said the Doctor. "Yeah, you just missed it." He resumed walking, reaching the mansion's back door in another few steps. "Um, do you mind getting the door?"
Pete Tyler joined him, opening the door and letting the Doctor through. The kitchen was empty, Delia having retired for the night. The Doctor walked to the kitchen table, and set down everything he'd been carrying.
"So you saw it? There was a rift?" asked Pete. "And... what's that?" His eyes were on the Doctor's new possession.
The Doctor shrugged his shoulders as he seated himself on a barstool next to the table. "It's apparently... a gift. From the giants." He reached into his jacket for his glasses, then put them on his nose to take a closer look. "Al—the black earth elemental, you remember—came back to, well, gift it to me. The rift appeared, Al popped in, handed it over, popped out. It was amazingly quick."
Now that he had his glasses on and the cube under better light, he saw it was a thing of beauty. Cold blue-black stone that was dark as night, and embedded with glittering flecks of white that looked like stars. The four-inch cube was unusual, and quite attractive. It looked like someone had managed to capture the night sky into solid form.
"Did he say what it is? What it does?" asked Pete as he bent over the kitchen table to peer at it without touching.
The Doctor picked up the cube, hefting it thoughtfully. "No, he didn't. Paperweight, you think? Feels pretty solid. Even looks a bit like him." The Doctor gave the stone a shake. "Maybe earth elementals make these as a hobby."
Pete gave a small chuckle. "Well, you can always use the scanners at Torchwood tomorrow to see if there's anything in it..."
The Doctor frowned in thought at Pete's words. The elementals' rings had looked deceptively simple. Rose and the Doctor hadn't even thought anything was remarkable about the one they'd found until the psi-effects... and that was it.
The Doctor placed the cube squarely in his left palm. Open, he commanded, and the seamless stone responded, drawing a quiet gasp from Pete. The top half of the cube divided itself into four equal smaller cubes, which slid outwards to reveal a space in the centre of the bottom half of the stone. And what was inside made the Doctor's jaw drop. He couldn't believe it. He dared not believe it...
"Do you think they're making a hint?" asked Pete Tyler.
Two, small, silver rings.
The lights were dim in Rose's room when the Doctor peeked in. She was nowhere to be seen, and not in her bathroom either. The Doctor was puzzled. It was late. He'd been talking with Pete for an hour in the kitchen, discussing plans for the future, things like wages and identities and numbers and property laws, stuff that would have bored the old Doctor to tears but held a new fascination for him in this new world. But right now he couldn't find Rose in it.
He swallowed his worry, his fingers gripping the closed stone cube in his hand more tightly. The cold edges of it pressed into his palm, and he used that feeling to cut through his emotions with cool logic. If Rose wasn't in her room, then she was simply somewhere else. It didn't take long for him to find her.
He opened the door to the guest room. Rose lay on his bed that was scattered with his clothing, curled up on her side, her head and hand on his pillow. He saw that she had changed her clothes, possibly taken a quick shower before putting on a simple cotton shift for sleeping in. Her hair spilled damply across the bed linens. He got the feeling that she had been waiting for him. As he padded softly across the floor to the bed, her eyes opened and looked at him. He sat on the bed in the empty space in front of her. Her eyes briefly noted the strange stone in his hands, then looked up at his face again.
The Doctor carefully set the stone aside on the bedside table then placed his hands reluctantly in his lap. He ached to touch Rose, but would not do it without a sign from her. And he was tongue-tied, suddenly afraid of saying the wrong thing.
Rose sighed. "It's just me," she said softly, and she wiggled the fingers on her hand that was on the pillow. The Doctor clasped her hand, reassured by her warm flesh captured in his, astounded by her words. It wasn't just her. She was his whole world. He couldn't take his eyes off her as he brought his legs up to lay on the bed next to her. Her smile. That tiny smile, it was there.
Rose breathed a soft sigh as he settled beside her. They gazed at each other, faces just inches apart, their linked hands between them.
"Tell me," she said, "how time lords marry. Then ask me again."
The Doctor smiled and blinked at the moisture in his eyes. He saw Rose's answering smile that came from his joy. Carefully, the Doctor composed his thoughts. He kissed the soft skin on Rose hand's as he did so, before intertwining his fingers with hers and re-establishing the mind link. He threw open all the doors to his memories. Slowly he moved closer so that his lips were beside her ear.
"I'll do better," he said.
He told her his name.