Disclaimer: I own nothing, BBC owns all.

As ever, thanks to Bonnie for beta reading!

Too late.

Seven letters; two words...all adding up the cruellest truth of his life. So many times he'd been just barely there; he had squeaked by and saved the ones who mattered. Not now; now he was just...too late.

Tears were still burning down her cheeks as he pulled away, the taste of honey and Rose lingering on his tongue. The golden glow faded from her, and for just a moment he was staring into the familiar warmth of hazel-hued eyes.

No. The warmth was an illusion; he saw what he wanted to see. Her eyes were wide and glassy; unseeing. No longer bolstered by the Bad Wolf, her knees buckled; the only thing that kept her from the unrelenting metal floor was his arm about her waist. He lifted her easily, cradling her gently against his chest as he returned to the TARDIS.

He placed his burden down gently upon the cool grating of the console room floor, and took a long, deep breath before smoothing his palm over her eyes. It was easier to pretend she was simply asleep, wasting precious time – as the silly little apes tended to do with so much of their lives. Something in him, disconnected and unemotional, laughed at the necessity of the pretence.

He moved to the console, slapping at controls with well-honed instinct and an utter absence of thought. His mind was frozen, unable to grasp anything beyond the moment when he had realized that Rose's soft lips were cold and unmoving beneath his own.

She had burned, and it was all for him.

Instinct told him to run, and his mind was distant enough not to question. He took his fractured beauty of a timeship and vanished into the vortex; away from the memories, away from the many, varied and haunting, nightmares that the day had birthed. He ran from an abomination; whom he would never be able to think of without the faint taste of bile at the back of his throat.

He kept the console between him and the motionless girl – not a girl, not anymore – while his thoughts whirled through any variety of mundane tasks, anything and everything that he could concentrate on, other than what he would do next. Thinking of next was too cruel…it was a world without her, and that he wasn't quite ready to face…so he didn't.

Somehow coordinates were set and the ship was in motion; he had nothing more to do. It was a rough landing but he did nothing to soften it; his girl had suffered a lot of damage between sending her to London and her return to the year 200100. When he was knocked off his feet he simply stood up again, wrapping his knuckles around the rail at the console. Thinking of repairs was a nice distraction, but it wouldn't work for long. He wouldn't be able to keep denying.

The time he stood there, staring at nothing, seemed interminable. To anyone else it might well have been – but he knew with dismal certainty. It had been four hours, twelve minutes and forty-seven seconds since Rose Marion Tyler had died, and now it was time for 'next'.

He heard them before the doors opened; a shrill hairdresser and angrily muttering mechanic furiously demanding his attention. He didn't have the energy to face them…it would be easiest to simply deposit the body - he rebelled at the word - and run again. He was tempted to wait them out; they would leave eventually and he could…no…he couldn't, could he?

The doors opened slowly; from the expression on Jackie Tyler's face he supposed that he looked as bad as he felt. The bulk of his weight rested against the TARDIS as half-stumbled into the chill air of a London winter.

"Doctor?" her voice trembled a little. "Doctor, where's Rose?" rising in pitch and volume toward the end.

He shook his head - the words would not come, to say it was asking far too much.

A pause, she watched his face for the joke, the 'gotcha' that would make her fear silly and overprotective. It didn't come.

The blood drained from her face, leaving her ashen. "No," she shook her head slowly. Her strength left her and she found herself on the dirty pavement, desperately seeking an answer that would make this fact a fiction. She looked up and her expression reminded him strongly - far, far too strongly - of Rose; she looked childlike, and desperate for someone to tell her it would be all right.

The Doctor remained silent.

"Jackie," Mickey was obviously trying hard to sound stoic, but his voice was thick with tears. "Not here, we gotta go inside." he looked at the TARDIS for a brief moment, but disgust quickly chased away any interest in his expression. "C'mon, up to the flats."

"Where is she?" Jackie's voice was stronger than he expected, but then…it was Jackie Tyler. He met her eyes slowly and he gestured wearily toward the ship. She surged to her feet and was through the door before he could stop her - if he'd even wanted to stop her. He followed slowly; she was by the-thing-that-had-been-Rose, clutching at it, begging it to wake up and speak to her.

He wanted it out of his ship. He wanted all of them as far away as he could manage. He had asked her, back when she was a person, how long a person could bounce around space without hitting Earth. She hadn't known the answer, and he resolved then and there to test it. Perhaps he could avoid it for years, centuries even; maybe he could never come back to this disgustingly troublesome planet at all. It could learn to defend itself, and save him a job lot of trouble. There were other planets with milk and tea and most of them had better television programs than Earth anyway.

A dial spun and a knob pressed was all it took to dematerialize from the street corner.

Jackie, for once, said nothing. Mickey objected rather loudly to being taken anywhere in the 'miserable old matchbox', but that was sorted quick enough when the door opened to Rose's old bedroom.

The Doctor was surprisingly gentle as he helped Jackie to her feet and braced her against a rail, but then, he had no particular reason to fight with her now. He could be nice, knowing that she would only affect the next few moments of his life; knowing that he would never have to see her again once this long, awful day had ended.

He picked up the body, holding it gingerly and as far from his person as he could without dropping it. He did not look at her face as he placed her gently on her bed, and he did not send one last prayer to the skies that she would open her eyes and make it all a nightmare.

He did not do that for one reason only: because he knew it was hopeless. Rose was dead, and it was entirely his fault.

Jackie caught his hand as he turned back to the TARDIS, and her hand felt so nearly right that the ways in which it was wrong seemed even more violently obvious. She didn't allow him to jerk away, even when he tried.

"Thank you," she said. He could not quite hide his shock – hatred, curses and possibly physical attacks he had expected from her, but gratitude was a mystery. "You sent her home," she continued softly. "Before, I mean; you sent her home to me. What happened was her own choice; she had to…" her voice broke, "get back to you. An' I'm sorry that you lost her too, Doctor."

He took a deep breath and nodded slowly. He squeezed her hand once before pulling away and retreating into his ship. With all eyes on the TARDIS, no one noticed a soft, golden exhalation from the bed behind them.

"What am I gonna do?" Jackie wondered if she was out of tears, if years of fear and suffering had finally used them all up. The pain in her chest begged for release, but she could not find even the sad relief of crying.

It had been nearly an hour since the TARDIS vanished, the Doctor with it. Neither of them had quite managed to do anything but sit on the floor, watching the still form of a girl who had never in her life been still. Even in sleep she twisted, moaned and kicked; so obviously alive every moment of her life. Stillness was unnatural, so wrong in every way.

"Live, I guess," Mickey stared into a tumbler, rattling whiskey and ice against the glass. "What else is there?"

"It's my fault," she whispered. "I knew he sent her home for a reason, an' still I helped her get back. I knew better, but I did it anyway."

"She woulda found a way," Mickey took a large gulp of the liquor, enjoying the burn as it trailed down his throat. "She'da done anythin' for him, you know that. Even if it took her years an' years to figure it out, she still woulda done it."

"Yeah," Jackie stared sightlessly into her empty wine glass. "Just like her dad, she was."

The tense jolted him, and Mickey jumped to his feet. "I gotta get outta here," he said suddenly. "Sorry, Jackie, but I can't – I jus' can't."

"Go on then," she said dully. "Get rest. Gotta live, don't we?"

"Yeah," he placed a hand gently on her shoulder before he stumbled out the door and into the streets.

Jackie hugged a pillow close to her chest and slowly collapsed against the carpet, sobbing brokenly, tearlessly, into a plush pink teddy bear.

Mickey wasn't sure where he was headed; he just knew that he had to escape. Too many remembered hours lingered in that small flat, memories sparking past too fast to comprehend. The funny thing was it had been almost two years since he had spent time in it with Rose…but somehow the prospect of Rose was enough to keep him happy. The knowledge that at any moment she might walk through the door and make the room light up, that was enough to keep him bound to her. He didn't even resent it, most of the time.

It was stupid to think about now, hardly mattered, did it?

The cheerful music was almost too much for him; he needed a pub and quickly. It was sick; wrong and twisted that people were wandering about so cheerfully when Rose, his precious, precious Rose, was upstairs and gone forever.

He was half-tempted to grab a trombone from one of the performers and beat them with it. No one liked Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen that much anyway; they were just being gits and annoying everyone.

Those thoughts were of course, before they started shooting.

When Mickey burst into Jackie's apartment, she was sitting at the kitchen table and hugging a half-empty bottle of wine. She blinked at him, either surprised by his presence or his manner of entrance, Mickey wasn't quite sure.

"Jackie, we gotta get outta here!"

"Mickey?" she stared at him. "What're you on about?"

"Look, there's no time," he grabbed the bottle from her and pulled her to her feet. "Someone tried to kill me a minute ago!"

"Don't be daft," she frowned confusedly. "Why would anyone try to kill you?"

"Exactly. What reason is there to attack me other'n Rose and the Doctor? None, so they gotta want somethin' from us, so we gotta get outta here!" he gripped her arm tightly. "Now sober up and get ready to run!"

"Run where?" she demanded. "An' if you think for a second I'm leavin' her here-" her voice caught. "You've got another think comin', Michael Smith!"

There was a pause.

"Jackie, what happened to your tree?"

She tilted her head and followed his gaze. "I dunno, someone sent it as a present, I guess. Come by the door earlier."

"Jackie…" as they watched the lights on the tree blinked on. "Oh, that's just ridiculous!"

She turned and ran for Rose's room, the sound of the tree grinding after her. Mickey threw himself after her and slammed the door before stumbling into the opposite wall.

"What're we gonna do?" he demanded, facing the older woman. "We shoulda just run! Rose ain't gonna care either way, an' now we're gonna die by Christmas decoration!"

"Shut up!" Jackie curled up in the corner by the bed, her arms wrapped around her daughter's shoulders. "She's my little girl, Mickey. I couldn't leave her."

"It's the damn Doctor is what it is! He musta done somethin' to her, now there's aliens that want her! It's all his fault!"

Jackie, for once, did not curse the Doctor. She just held tighter to the chilled body and whimpered as the tree began to shred through the door.

"If he'd just left us alone we'd be fine!" Mickey continued to rant. "We wouldn't have monsters after us all the bleedin' time and Rose would be alive! It's his fault!"

"An' what've you done to help anything, Mickey Smith?" Jackie demanded shrilly. "Stop blamin' someone else and do somethin' useful for once in your life! You can't cling to Rose's skirt so be a man!"

The shock at her words finally subdued him, as the tree burst through the door.

"We're gonna get killed by a Christmas tree!" Jackie sobbed into Rose's hair. "An' that's just stupid!"

The tree stopped, three inches from the bed containing Rose's still form. A robotic voice filled the room, dispassionate and cold. "You will release."

They exchanged looks, and Mickey quickly pulled himself closer and took hold of Jackie's arm. "We ain't releasin' nothin'," he informed it, defiantly.

"The source has been identified. You will release."

Jackie looked down at her daughter and shook her head frantically. "No, no I won't. You can't have her!"

"Refusal has been logged. You will board."

"We will not! We refuse that too!" Mickey tightened his hold on the older woman. "Bugger off!"

"Denial is pointless. Insults are irrelevant. Commence teleport."

Jackie had time for one last "what?!" before the teleport indeed commenced, and the trio found themselves encased in a thin blue light that obliterated the Powell Estates entirely.

Everything was soft.

She rather liked it. Sure she felt like she needed rather heavy prescription glasses, but it was nice not to worry about edges. Edges, she had learned even as a small child, had a tendency to hurt. She wondered if she should worry about the edges…perhaps they had done something wrong? Had they been banished? She wouldn't want them to be sad, or alone. Edges deserved love too.

That was a rather silly train of thought, so she abandoned it.

Everything, she noted, was quite soft. She had never noticed the air being sharp before, but she noticed its softness now. She felt like she was living in a world of marshmallow and eiderdown. There were no walls, but if she moved in certain directions she found herself gently bouncing away. It was a bit like having walls, without their particular form of binding a soul. She could see forever – or at least, for quite a few feet. There was a distinct impression however, that forever was much the same. There could not be anything else, here in this world with no edges and no walls. She wondered if anyone else was about, and whether they could manage to exist without lines.

She wondered what she looked like now; she had always been rather fond of her particular lines, she would be sad if they had all vanished. Something, somewhere, hummed. A pleasant, contended sound, spiralling gold through the supple borders of her new world.

New? Was it - oh, yes, it was new. Things had not always been such, which was an odd sort of idea. Time was such a silly concept, so prone to misunderstanding and rather problematic in practice. She had never lived anywhere else, and yet…she remembered, didn't she? If she had existed in such a state always, how could she know of floors and walls and corners where they met? She wouldn't know of a man who was all hard edges and such giving form between them. Could she have dreamt it?

No. That was quite adamant – she had once known something so very different, so very harsh but at the same time so much more satisfying.

The thoughts pained her, a world that was anything other than this comfortable perfection? It would be too cruel.

She smiled and wrapped herself in the forgiving clouds. The sharpened world could wait, she decided, and allowed herself to join in the song.

Arguing with aliens that wore their muscle on the outside seemed a bit silly. Sure, you might convince them not to kill everyone with a-positive blood type, but could you ever succeed in explaining how desperately important skin was to continued functioning and defence against the elements? No, you couldn't.

Even though they had fairly well kidnapped herself and Mickey straight from the flat, they hadn't paid them much mind since then; Jackie, however, had resolved to kill them all if they looked at her little girl and called her an energy source one single more time. They had at first seemed content to leave them alone; once the trio – duo, she corrected herself, not a bit chokingly – had been transported to the ship they had been duly ignored for nearly half a day.

It wasn't until the room once again filled with blue light, signifying the use of another teleport, that anyone acknowledged Jackie and Mickey. The someone that acknowledged them however, was not a Sycorax.

"Who are you?" Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, demanded. She didn't wait for an answer, turning instead to the alien leader – who had already, just moments before, killed two of her associates. "Why have you taken civilians from Earth?"

Harriet Jones seemed decidedly uninterested in the issue of visible muscle on the aliens, but then, she had been initiated into alien life by large, green, farting creatures that were defeated by pickled onions, so perhaps she had a better perspective. Jackie had been a bit spoiled by the Doctor's tendency to look more or less entirely human – even if the bloke could never manage to act it. These Sycorax creatures now, they were entirely alien…and entirely willing to kill.

"They are irrelevant to you," the handsome young man translated as the leader of the aliens shouted at them. "Their energy source will be harvested for the glory of the Sycorax."

"If you think for one second I'm going to let you near my daughter, you've got another think coming!" Jackie stood protectively in front of Rose. "I don't care what you say!"

Harriet's attention focused momentarily on the still body, and her face went white. "Rose Tyler?"

"Yeah," Mickey gripped Jackie's arm fiercely. "Somethin' she did with the Doctor made these things want her. They can't have her, we're gonna bury her at home!"

"Of course not," Harriet agreed quietly. "We are civilized people, and I'm sure they are the same. We must simply explain –"

A loud string of rasps and clicks interrupted them. "No explanations are necessary," the translator informed them. "Your silly traditions are irrelevant. The energy from the flesh will be taken with or without cooperation." Jackie's fingers tightened around Mickey's.

The Prime Minister paled and shot a desperate glance at Mickey and Jackie. "Is there no way to contact the Doctor? Didn't she have a way?"

Mickey scowled. "We tried usin' Rose's mobile to call him, but it just rings. Once I got a beep, tried to leave a message an' it cut off before I got more than my name out."

"So," Jackie hugged herself. "We're on our own now."

Harriet let out a breath and turned back to the Sycorax. "We will negotiate."

The Doctor wished he could figure out when he became useless. It wouldn't particularly help in his current problem: that of being held captive by an alien race he had been attempting to save from total annihilation, nor would it actually prevent the aforementioned annihilation, but it would be good to know. From a purely academic standpoint, of course.

He remembered a time when he had been quite happy to swan in, save the day, and meander casually back out. There had even been less running in those days; rarely had he been actively chased off of a planet at the end of his adventures. A few weeks earlier he would have blamed his choice in companions…but his companions were gone and he was still in trouble.

This should have been the point of the journey when she mentioned something obvious and incredibly helpful; the one essential thing that he had failed to observe and which would bring about their escape.

There was no one to say it.

If only it would be a slightly more dignified death, he might be tempted to let it stick. But he could never, in good conscience, allow the last Time Lord be taken out for banana theft, especially when he'd had every intention of paying for it, and had just got…distracted by attempting to save their planet. Which he considered a worthy cause, even if they didn't.

Although, really he had a suspicion that the execution for hacking a cashpoint to pay for bananas would be even less pleasant than the one planned for just outright stealing the fruit. So perhaps he was better off as he was after all.

The Doctor sighed and waited grudgingly for dawn, and the return of his executioners. The silence was entirely too damning, and he had an escape to engineer.