It's cold on the beach. Wind whips her hair around her face as she stands perfectly still. "He's gone."
"I'm sorry. Everything's closed off now."
She swallows hard and looks at him again. "I -" she stops and shuts her eyes.
"He won't come back," he says. "He can't."
"If -" She takes a deep breath. "If we just..." But words fail her because she can't see an end in sight. If the last time she stood on this beach was the worst day of her life, this day isn't far behind.
"I said once you should always wait five and a half hours for me," he says thoughtfully. "That rule no longer applies."
She feels helpless tears fill her eyes and reaches up to brush them away. Only then does it register that he's still holding her hand. He lets go, shoves his hands in his pockets.
Rose turns to him - what does she call him now? - but his eyes are focused on the water. "Are you really the same?" she whispers, but the wind takes her words, and if he hears her he does not respond.
Grief and rage well up, and Rose thinks she may scream. Jackie walks over to them at that moment, saving her from making a fool of herself on a beach in Norway. Wouldn't be the first time that happened, Rose thinks distantly.
"I've called your father," Jackie says, holding up her mobile phone. "He'll be here in a few hours."
He looks around at this, glancing briefly at the deserted beach.
"We've got a zeppelin," Jackie explains to him. "Bit slower than an airplane, but it'll make faster time than a car."
His gaze floats back to the water and across the horizon. There is no expression on his face.
Rose can focus only on what she's just lost. It will be a long time before she stops to think about what this man has lost by being brought to this world. What he's lost simply by being brought into existence.
The tide rolls in and Jackie urges them higher onto the beach. It's winter, and no one is around but a few hardy surfers in wet suits.
"Here we are, then," Jackie says briskly, heading over to a nice flat grouping of rocks. There's nothing else on Bad Wolf Bay, not even a boarded-up concessions stand. She sits down on a rock, drawing her coat around her. She looks up at them expectantly, and Rose sits down next to her. Jackie smoothes her daughter's hair back and strokes her cheek. Rose leans into her mother for a moment. They've been here before.
He has trailed after them and remains standing, staring hard at the water. His eyes are wide and a little wild. Rose swallows hard, suddenly, unreasonably, afraid, but then he removes his hands from his pockets and sits on the flat rock next to her. His gaze slides sideways, staring at her from the corner of his eye. Despite herself, Rose relaxes. It's a small movement, barely one corner of her mouth lifting up, but he smiles back in relief. Whatever was in his expression as he looked at the water is gone.
Jackie is saying something, trying to cover up their silence. Rose tunes out her mother's voice, as she has done so many times before.
"Nice beach," he says, and both women start at the sound.
"What?" Rose may be in shock, but she's still not sure that's what he's chosen to say after a silence of an hour or more.
He nods towards the sand. "Nice enough beach, isn't it?"
"Hope we never come here again," Jackie says bluntly. "South of France, next time we need a holiday."
Rose sighs. Her feelings about this place are not to be said out loud.
"Didn't have time to look around, last time," he continues, slanting another look at Rose. "Only had two minutes."
"The Doctor's still you."
"And I'm him."
If so, this is surely the quietest he's ever been. The man Rose remembers could and did talk incessantly and never fell silent when his voice would suffice.
"I didn't notice much myself, last time," Rose says finally. She's not bothering to look around now, truth be told.
He looks down at his hands, linked together in his lap. "This is awkward, isn't it?" he says casually.
"Pete will be here soon," Jackie says comfortably. Rose wonders how her mother can be so calm.
"Got your own zeppelin now, do you?" he asks interestedly.
"Just a small one. For family trips. Pete has his license."
That statement makes Rose cough, and Jackie giggles. They don't let him in on what's so funny, even though he asks.
"How long do you reckon the trip takes?" he asks. "We've been here 107 minutes, 26 seconds now."
Part human/part Time Lord. Rose remembers a Time Lord who could keep track of seconds and minutes as closely and easily as she kept track of the days of the week. Who could track the spinning of the earth without falling off.
"Depends on the weather," she says. "Dad claims the driving of a zeppelin depends strongly on the weather it's flying through."
Jackie stifles a snort of laughter, and again he's left out of the joke. He nods thoughtfully instead. "Temperamental things, then. I remember trying to land -" he breaks off, swallows the word in his throat.
Rose swallows as well, trying to ease the lump of sorrow. She slowly leans her shoulder into his, the first time she's touched him since he took her hand.
He rests his head against hers and her eyes fill, suddenly and unexpectedly, with tears. They slip down her face and fall onto her hands.
"I'm going to call your dad," Jackie says, "make sure he's not gotten lost somewhere over France." She stands up and heads a few yards away, waiting for her phone to connect the call.
"Don't cry," he says softly.
"I'm not," she denies, even though she clearly is.
His arm moves away from hers and slips around her shoulders. She settles her head against him, content for the moment. For the first time since it happened, she recalls that she kissed this man, very thoroughly, and was kissed, very thoroughly, in return. She looks up to find his eyes on her face, like he's thinking the same thing. Her heart starts to beat faster.
His lips part, to draw a breath, to say something, to ask her - what?- but whatever it was goes unfinished.
Jackie is back. "Dad caught a lucky gust of wind," she says cheerfully. "Be here in just a few minutes, thank goodness. I'll be glad to be out of here." She starts to search the sky above them, gray and overcast.
Rose keeps her eyes on him, hoping he'll resume whatever it was he was going to say or do, dreading it, too, but all he does is smile and close his eyes, resting his head against hers once more.
They sit in the embrace, silently waiting for the roar of the zeppelin.
"You look the same," Jackie says a short time later, finally taking her eyes off the sky and fastening them on his face. "Bit older." Her eyes narrow a little. "Thinner. You've lost weight and you never were more than a pole to start with, were you? And you could do with a haircut."
His free hand goes to his head, smoothing his hair down. Jackie continues before he can form a reply. "And honestly, that's got to be the most hideous suit I've ever seen! We'll go shopping and you can burn it."
He looks down at his suit with a slight frown on his face, then looks questioningly at Rose. She nods slightly. "It's pretty awful," she says apologetically. "Did no one ever mention that to you?"
"No one ever cared enough to," he says ruefully. He takes her left hand in his right. "Should I burn it?"
"Oh, yes. Immediately."
"Your wish is my command. Rose Tyler." He kisses her hand and presses it against his chest, against his beating heart.
She tilts her head back against his shoulder and traces the side of his face with the fingers he's just kissed. Their eyes meet and hold.
And she smiles.