Author's Notes: So… this is sort of an epic story… squashed into a one-shot. But dammnit. I love Rose.

and then, again

Ridiculous? Yes. Fangirl? Yup.

David Tennant? PLEASE.

--

The first clue is that she stops feeling tired. Physically, mentally, athletically; it's almost like her body's growing backwards, getting more fit instead of the other way around as she ages.

The second is that she never looks a day over nineteen.

--

He's alone for a long time, after Rose, after Donna. So many losses in one day. It takes years before he's ready to even pretend to commit to another friendship, another companion; won't even risk robots because God knows those aren't immortal, either.

Anything he gains he loses; anything he loses he misses; anything he misses takes whole lifetimes to lose their sting.

It's the Time Lord's curse.

--

It's her New-New Doctor that figures it out first. Six days passed his "forty-third" birthday, when people have started mistaking Rose for either his young mistress or his daughter; he pulls her inside their bedroom and lets the bath run so that none of the guests can hear.

"It's Bad Wolf," he explains. "Even after I absorbed it, there must have been traces left in you. To some extent, you will always be Bad Wolf, even if you don't have it inside your head. You were its first vessel so it's intimately connected to you—it's sort of like, if you go, Bad Wolf goes."

Like usual, Rose takes the news with a brave, if shaky, smile. "So I'm just gonna be like this forever?"

He takes her hand and cups her cheek. She leans into his touch and looks up at him with the same trusting eyes. "I'm so sorry," he whispers, wondering what sort of cruel place the world is that no matter how many hearts he has they can never seem to make it work. "Oh, Rose. I'm so sorry."

She smiles, a tear dripping out of the corner of her eyes. "It's not your fault, Doctor," she whispers, stretching onto her tip-toes to kiss him. "I knew what would happen, more or less, if I looked into the TARDIS. It was my choice, and I wouldn't change it." She laughs wetly, looking at his chin instead of his eyes. (She does that when she's nervous.) "If I hadn't, I'd never have met my New-New Doctor."

He opens his mortal arms and she steps into them, fingers fisted in his shirt.

The water runs.

--

Sometimes he watches them—Martha, Donna, Sarah Jane. They never see him, of course (not Donna, especially); he's not that cruel. But he can't just . . . let go, can't simply erase them from his life. (My friends are my family.) Sarah Jane's son grows up quicker than he thought possible, giving his mum trouble at every corner. The Doctor likes him more every time they run into each other, sometimes at the shops or smoking behind the school.

(He promised he'd never tell his Mum about the visits, and the Doctor knows he won't. After 947 years, you learn to spot a lie.)

"Nah, Mum's got this new boyfriend now. David, his name is. Skinnier than Vicky Beckham though, eh."

"Don't like him?"

"Nah, David's all right." He grins. "Looks kind of like that actor fellow. Bloke from Blackpool."

The Doctor smiles, happy for his Sarah Jane. He'd known that she'd had a crush on him, back when she had been his companion, but God. She'd been so young. They were all so young. She hadn't been wrong, Sarah Jane, when she mentioned they were getting younger. It's more or less subconscious, of course, and has nothing to do with how they look, per se. It's just—the younger they are the beginning, the longer he gets to … keep them. (For lack of a better word.)

"Got nothing on you, though," Luke continues, taking a long puff of his cigarette and grinning. "I mean, with the spaceship and everything."

The Doctor smiles wanly, pulling out his screwdriver and doing a quick scan of Luke's lungs. (Still clean.) "Quite right," he agrees. "Hard to compete with TARDIS, the old girl."

They shake hands as the school bell rings. Luke goes in to read double English or math or whatever it is, and the Doctor walks home in silence. Maybe it's time, he thinks. Maybe it's time for another one.

You can only be lonely for so long.

(He forgets: whispered, dying words: you are not alone. The Face of Boe's greatest secret.)

--

Eventually they tell the family (plus Mickey), but by this point the Tylers are so used to insanity that it seems almost arbitrary.

Parallel universes, Dalek/Cybermen invasions, time travel. What's a little immortality compared to all that?

Tony thinks it's about the coolest thing he's ever heard of. He's thirteen now, just starting to really like girls, and when the Tylers move (it's too hard to hide Rose now; the neighbors are starting to ask questions) he loves that she always brings her new mates round.

She stays with the New-New Doctor, although now he's nearing fifty. It's the same relationship bit different, too, worn in by the years and the wrinkles and the space between them. It's not sexual anymore, has lost its sort of desperate, making-up-for-lost-time sensuality that it had in the beginning. But it's still Rose and her Doctor.

In the kitchen, the Doctor foiling her attempts to make cookies by eating all the dough. In the sitting room, muting the TV and making up their own dialogue. In the bedroom, Rose's head on his chest, listening to the beating of his single heart.

--

He meets Lily Bennett in a dress shop. (Maybe this is coincidence, and maybe it isn't.) She's as pretty as Rose but harder, too, less trusting. That's why he likes her.

He takes her for a spin round Raxacoricofallapatorius, showing off a bit, and then whisks her back to London. She tells him she'll think about it, but she's getting promoted next week. Aliens are nice and all, but can they pay for her Mum's nursing home?

On his way back to the TARDIS, he runs into River Song.

--

The day her New-New Doctor dies, Rose knows it before anyone has to tell her. Tony—never quite growing used to the fact that now he looks Rose's age, maybe older, and is sometimes mistaken for her boyfriend—holds her hand on the way to the funeral and back, when she bathes, and climbs into bed with her at night. She cries against his warm flannel shirt, dressed from head to toe in the New-New Doctor's old pajamas, and Tony doesn't know what to do except whisper it's okay.

Except it's not okay. Mickey's long since married, Jackie and Pete were buried years ago, and Tony's life is just about to start.

And there's no place for a girl who's been nineteen for sixty-four years.

So in the morning, while her brother lies asleep beside her, Rose slips out of bed and packs a bag.

Without her New-New-Doctor, there's nothing for her here.

--

River is nothing like Rose and everything like Rose and the Doctor can't help but fall in love with her. He's regenerated a few times now (finally ginger!) and even though she doesn't know him, he feels like he's always, always known her.

She's leaning against the TARDIS, listening to music and toying with her cell phone. "'Scuze me, that's my ship," he says politely, but his smile is huge.

River raises her eyebrows. "Oh, yeah, sorry," she laughs, shaking her head. "Didn't realize they were making police box spaceships these days."

He steps inside. "Take a look," he invites happily, the warmth of familiarity tugging at him from all sides.

And River steps inside.

--

The first thing Rose does is break into Torchwood. She uses her old ID (which still works, miraculously) and steals her favorite of their stored spaceships: a red, box-shaped little number which can't travel through time but it does look an awful lot like a phone booth.

It's got a bedroom, a bathroom, and a control station, just big enough for one.

Rose makes a rule for herself as she takes off, aimed for whichever star she might find.

No companions.

--

Sometimes he feels guilty, liking River so much. It's not exactly love (yet) and it's not exactly friendship (really­), but something in between. Something far less defined than whatever it was with Rose, and yet still somehow more obvious.

There are days, of course, when he wakes up and all he can think about is the brown-grey eyes of a girl he'll probably always love.

But there is room, in two hearts, for more than just Rose Tyler.

--

She goes to places she remembers, first. And just like Pete's world, they're all the same and all different at the same time. But she's found that she's still good at finding trouble, still good at doing what has to get done in time for tea.

It's harder, without the Doctor, without Mickey, without Torchwood. It's harder when she's not really fighting for anything, just a way to pass the time.

She's not the Doctor, never will be. She hasn't got his arsenal of knowledge, but forever is a long time, and she's willing to learn.

--

It's been sixty years since Rose Tyler, fifty-nine since Martha Jones, fifty-eight since Donna Noble. Sometimes he still sees Jack, but more and more it just depresses him. Jack's old now, seventy, eighty, still fit as a fiddle but—different, too. Tired, maybe. Looking at the endless years and already exhausted.

And anyway, Jack always reminds him of Rose. He can't help it. Jack is immortal, and that's something that irks the Doctor, somehow, because it's just so wrong. He can't not think about it, but thinking about it leads to thinking about why and how and Rose.

River smiles at him from across the TARDIS, brushing dirt from her cheek. In the shadows, her hair looks almost blonde.

--

It takes her a long time, but eventually Rose realizes she knows enough to start fiddling with the mechanics of her phone booth. She adds room for an extendable closet which folds into a box small enough to fit under her bed but when opened fills up almost the whole control room. (She might be ninety but she's still got to look good.)

She makes everything simpler, more compact; the Doctor always loved having to press a million buttons while hammering against a Bunsen burner and pushing a pedal, but Rose doesn't have the patience for it.

She decorates—not gold and alien like the TARDIS was, but like any house might be. It's got curtains on the wall, and pictures, and she keeps plastic mugs in the kitchen and a teapot. She wears slippers when she travels, listens to her headphones and always takes tea before bed, because it's what her mother would have done (and God sometimes she misses her mother).

She clings to her humanity, feels it slipping away. But it's there, too, sometimes stronger than the Bad Wolf inside her and sometimes weaker; but it's there.

Rose makes a second rule. Stay human, as human as you can.

--

The first time he kisses River, Rose's face only appears for a second. Then he shoves the image away because she is dead, she is dead, she is dead. And River is here, beautiful River with her wise-ass smile and dimpled cheeks, River with irrational fear of spiders and balloon animals.

River, who looks at him with the adoration of Martha, the bravery of Rose, the attitude of Donna, and the wisdom of Sarah Jane.

When he pulls away, River is smirking at him. "Cradle robber," she teases with a laugh, and then kisses him again.

--

It's takes her a while, but eventually she realizes that this is a parallel universe. Everything is the same, if different, and there must be Doctor here as well.

She knows (sort of) that going is a terrible idea, recognizes that even if she could see the Doctor again there is so much time and space between them, that they couldn't just pick up where they left off.

Understands (more or less) that it's not her Doctor she would meet, but someone new, maybe even someone ginger. Realizes (with mixed emotions) that he's probably got a new companion now, someone young and pretty and dazed by him.

Accepts that she can't afford to find him again and not feel the same connection. Her Doctor is dead, she tells herself—he died at the age of seventy-three, smiling at her with those painfully soft eyes, arms wrapped around her with a strength he hadn't had for years. Her Doctor was human and her Doctor was a Time Lord, but both of them are gone now.

She finds him anyway, and he looks like he did the first time she met him. Rose finds it comforting, somehow, to know that with this Doctor she has so much to look forward to. (Pinstripes.) She lets him save her the first time, pretends to be awed by him because she knows that (secretly) he loves it.

She asks him to walk her home and when he sees her spaceship, he laughs. "Cheeky," he compliments, and upon walking inside, "This is fantastic!"

She grins. "It's not the TARDIS," she admits with a little sigh. "I can't time travel. But it gets me where I want to go." She thinks of her old universe, her old Doctor, and amends, "More or less."

He gives her a look. "How'd you know about the TARDIS?" He asks with a frown, suddenly alert. His hand goes to his pocket.

She smiles, a little sadly. "I'm not from around here," she says.

--

"Be kind of interesting though, wouldn't it," River muses, staring at the space where the window is. "See what it's all like over there. What I'm like over there."

The Doctor cringes a little. "Don't even think about it," he says, too sharply. "We're closing this window for the last time."

He really wishes the universe would stop tempting him as soon as things were smooth again. Why open a door to Rose's universe when he already knows what is (not) there?

She looks over at him, interested. "It's been opened before?"

The Doctor doesn't say anything, just steps forward and starts examining the window, trying to determine the best way to close it. "This used to be the site of the Torchwood Institute," Jack Harkness explains. "They've moved now, bigger building up near New New Jersey. But yeah, it opened here before. Cybermen, Daleks, terrible death toll, the whole shebang. We closed it, but, uh . . . well, we closed it. Don't want another clash like that, is all. Too dangerous to leave this thing about for humans to discover."

"So what do you do?" River asks, interested, eyes roving the walls. "Just step through?"

"That's what I would do," the Doctor says with a too-cheerful grin, "but unfortunately, as a human, you'd need a special device, little yellowy buttony thingie. Very rare these days, since no one's seen a rip in space for near a century now."

He hesitates for just a second. (Maybe she has kids out there, or grandkids, maybe the Tylers reproduced again—maybethere'ssomethingleft.)

River takes his hand, and then he closes the window.

(Goodbye?)

--

From the other side of the window, Rose stands with her fists clenched. Her New-New-Original Doctor doesn't say anything as he closes it. Maybe because he doesn't want to know what's on the other side.

"There's nothing left for me there," Rose says aloud, wanting to believe it. He doesn't answer. Let's her think—selfishly—that she's right. (He knows himself. He's never been one to cling to the past, can't if he wants to keep his sanity and not lose himself to grief.)

Maybe they both know that there's too many ghosts between them, two many Doctors in the ER. But Rose smiles at him anyway, taking his hand. "And anyway," she says, putting strength into the words that she does not feel, "Now there's you."

The Doctor squeezes her hand.

--

Afterwards, the Doctor steps forward and pushes his hand against the long white wall, something in him clawing desperately for the other side. Jack stands in silence and River gives them a moment, understanding, perhaps, that the Doctor's love for her and his love for all the things he has lost aren't comparable, that they are equal and she can't expect him to give up one for the other.

He rests his forehead against the cold white plaster. For a moment, he thinks he hears her saying his name.

--

"Doctor," Rose murmurs, eyes stinging, "I just need—just a moment. I won't be long, I promise."

He nods, and walks out of the room without looking back. (He was always so stoic, this Doctor. She had forgotten.) Rose steps up to the wall, running her hand down the paint, feeling her own breath reflected against the surface. "Doctor," she says again, but this time she isn't talking to the man downstairs.

--

"Rose," he murmurs. It's the first time he's said the name out loud in years. It hurts, but it's the same, too. Just the same mix of love and joy and sadness and—laughter. Rose always kept him laughing.

River's getting older now, almost twenty-six, and even though he knows she won't leave him until all her bones are wearied and broken, he can't help feeling that time is running out. He isn't sure he'll survive when River's gone, the last woman either of his hearts will have any room for.

She had been the first, his beautiful blonde companion, despite all the other companions of the past. She had been the first one that made him see everything about her—her beauty, her compassion, her humor; the first to make him love her despite everything in him screaming that he shouldn't.

So brave. So perfect. So human.

"Oh," he whispers. "Rose."

--

She thinks she can hear him—the real him—whispering her name, the way he used to in the beginning, before everything got so complicated. When it was just the two of them, together.

She thinks about impossible planets and gravity funnels and mortgages. She'd wanted to share a house.

She thinks about Madame de Pompadour, and doesn't feel as jealous as she used to. She understands, now, what it must have felt like—walking the slow path, only knowing her Doctor in flashes. Waiting until the end of her life for him to come back and take her for a spin across the stars.

She reminds herself that she has a New-New-New Doctor, and maybe she can learn to love him.

She loved the man, though, not the idea; it is not as easy as picking up a replacement and sticking him in the whole where her Doctors used to be. Not just any Doctor will do.

She can't give her heart away anymore. It's too bandaged and weak, and she's not sure it could take another blow.

So in the end, she leaves him.

She goes back to his TARDIS and kisses his forehead, knowing that he'll forget her soon enough. They've only been together a few weeks, and she doesn't need this Doctor the way she had in the beginning.

Her phone booth is waiting for her where she left it, red and shiny and … home.

--

He marries River.

It's almost arbitrary, but she likes the idea. She's nearing forty now and he loves her. He can't keep her, but he loves her. So they get married on five different planets because they liked something different about each of them, and River declares the week afterward in the TARDIS, chasing aliens and saving the world, their honeymoon.

"Bit of a let down," he says with a grin as she gets ready for bed. "We didn't almost die even once."

River pokes her tongue out at him cheerfully and then proceeds to ignore him. He's got about eight hours before she reemerges; the Doctor, who doesn't really need sleep, likes the time alone. River likes long showers, he likes to sit in the control room of the TARDIS and listen to his ship hum.

But tonight it's different. Tonight there's a … problem. He isn't sure what it is, only that she's not singing like usual. Instead there's a sick sort of grunt, followed by a long, sad whine and then everything goes dark.

River comes in a few minutes later, complaining about the sudden cold, but goes quiet as soon as she sees the dark and the look on the Doctor's face.

"I've got to open her up," he breathes. "River—get out of here. I have to open her up and I don't want you to see."

"I'm tough," River snaps back.

He shakes his head. "It will kill you. The heart of the TARDIS will kill you and I'm not losing anyone else, do you understand?"

She's quiet for a long time. Then she says, "Well, neither am I." Then she crouches beside him and kisses his cheek. "I'm coming back in four minutes. Four minutes, Doctor."

He nods, squeezing her hand, and then puts his hand on the TARDIS's controls. "Open up, baby," he whispers, and she does.

--

River Song dies for the first time on May 16, four minutes after the Doctor opens the TARDIS. The essence of his ship gravitates towards her, burning her tender human heart without ever meaning to.

Impossibly far away, Rose Tyler wakes up with her heart drumming, badwolf, badwolf, badwolf.

The part of her that is still connected to the heart of the TARDIS lets out a scream, a desperate, lonely scream, and before she even knows what's happening she is being transported through the Void.

She emerges on the other side, knees quaking, hands gripping the door handle of a very familiar-looking police box.

--

He doesn't move except to clutch River to him, curling her into his chest.

--

Rose goes inside unhesitatingly, both parts of her longing for the inside of the TARDIS, for the Doctor, for Bad Wolf.

The essence leaves River as she breathes her last, brave breathes and goes to Rose like heat-seeking rocket. The Doctor looks up just as Rose inhales the long gold light and when she opens her eyes, she smiles.

"Hello, Doctor."

--

He believes that he is dead, and he drops his head. "Rose," he breathes. It is possible now to love her. "Rose."

He doesn't wonder that she is the first person he meets in Heaven, or wherever he is, but he looks down at River with a familiar ache. Maybe she just hasn't gotten here yet. He always did like shortcuts.

Rose steps forward, taking his hand. "I am Bad Wolf," she tells him, slowly helping him to his feet. Her eyes flash brown. "Doctor—" she gasps, before the human moment passes. She moves to the TARDIS control panel and puts her hand on the metal. "I create myself. I protect myself."

She can feel the metal work clicking back into place, the sick spots healing themselves beneath her palm.

Connecting her with the TARDIS inextricably.

Rose's brain is burning.

--

It takes him a moment, but then he understands. Or thinks he understands. Or tries to understand.

He is not dead.

He cannot accept that this is Rose, that she is here, that she is alive, cannot accept that Rose found her way back to him, cannot accept that the universe would break his heart so many times.

But he knows he is not dead.

"Her brain," he breathes. "You're burning her brain. You've killed River and now you're killing—" Rose "—her."

Bad Wolf turns to face him. "I must exist," she says, and despite the deeper tone he can hear Rose Tyler, just beneath. "I am Time, and Time must always go on."

"You're killing her," he says again, desperately.

Rose's eyes flash brown. "Doctor," she says again, before Bad Wolf takes over once more. She looks down at Rose's hand. "I am Bad Wolf," she says, "I was first created in Rose Tyler, with without her I am nothing."

And then it clicks into place, impossibly: Rose, the first time, her mouth against his, sighing the essence into him. But he couldn't get it all. Bad Wolf clung to Rose the way jam gravitates to a child's hands; without Rose, Bad Wolf couldn't continue. She needs her human vessel to survive.

And she must survive.

Time must go on. The Doctor understands nothing, if not this.

--

The human part of Rose sees the dead girl on the floor. Bad Wolf looks also, and because they are the same, they both agree: the Doctor must not lose another.

"I bring life," she whispers, and River's heart begins to beat, slowly at first but then quicker. (She learned her lesson last time: this will not be an immortal life. A long one, perhaps a hundred years. But River Song will die for a second time on another spring day on the planet Slivenya, not here on a cold metal floor.)

Rose breathes once. "Oh, Doctor," she whispers, "I'm sorry."

And just like that, the future Professor River Song is whisked away. She is still holding his screwdriver.

--

He will not lose anyone else.

He grabs Rose by the arms and kisses her once, fiercely, drawing out every inch of Bad Wolf in her that he can find. There will always be some inside her, and he knows this; but he will not let her burn. He will not let her down, not again.

He can feel his own body crumbling and makes one last wish before breathing the power back into the TARDIS. She hums.

Rose collapses against the floor and he clings to the wall for support. "Rose," he whispers wonderingly.

And then he begins to regenerate.

--

She wakes to the bright light of his regeneration. She screams, leaping to her feet and crawling towards him, crawling desperately, trying to get to him before—

--

His last wish is this:

He wants to wear pinstripes again.

--

Rose drags her Doctor back to her old bedroom (is it River's bedroom now?). She puts him on the bed and tucks him in (it's so familiar), and then curls in beside him.

He is new, no longer ginger, but she doesn't care. He is new but she is new, too. She is something different, perhaps a new form of life—Bad Wolf and Rose Tyler and perhaps a little bit of River Song.

In twenty-four hours he will wake, and she will have to try and explain. She doesn't expect him to leap into her arms, but neither would she leap into his—they are foreign and not the ones she remembers.

But this is the truth, the one that Rose has always known: this man, this alien Time Lord, no matter what he looks like, no matter how old he is, will always be her Doctor. And she will always be his Rose.

They have a long way to go. Wounds to heal, scars to fade, a river—and a River—of separation to overcome.

But these are things for the morning. For now, Rose curls herself against his chest, and sleeps.