A/N: Another really rather random Whofic, prompted because I read the aftermath to The Satan Pit as written by someone else and disagreed about what happened. So what else is a girl to do but write her own version?
"Oh." He looked at her and grinned. "The stuff of legends."
Together the two of them watched the rhythmic, hypnotic rise and fall of the time rotor, listening to the wondrous machine inhale and exhale wheezily, every groan and moan telling them that they and the ship were still very much alive, legendary indeed, and most of all together. Rose didn't release the Doctor's hand for a minute as the TARDIS established its presence in the Time Vortex. Even when they were fully stabilised and cruising gently along the waves of time, neither of them moved for a long while. They merely watched the time rotor breathing in and out, and watched each other. It had been so close that day. Of course it was close almost every day, and not once had a week passed without the obligatory running for their lives, but usually it was together, and usually it wasn't on quite such a big scale. Usually they were facing monsters that the Doctor knew, or could at least understand. Usually they were facing creatures who were only chasing after them physically. Usually they weren't fighting a war on two fronts against the Devil himself.
Finally, the Doctor extricated his hand from Rose's with a slight sigh. "I'd best go have a shower and get rid of this spacesuit," he said, glancing down at the hideous orange costume he still wore.
Rose gave his hand the tiniest of squeezes then let him go. She smiled slightly at the helmet hair he had been left with as she watched the back of his head depart, but was unable to quite make it a proper smile as he walked away from her. Again.
The Doctor and Rose were a unit now, a team. You could barely have one without the other. Oh, they could function quite happily, run away from aliens, work out how to defeat them, exist very well without the other's constant presence, but they couldn't live. Not properly. That ever-present sparkle in the Doctor's eye faded out when she wasn't near, the perpetually lurking smile on Rose's lips was lost.
Neither of them was aware of the changes in themselves when they were apart. After all, they weren't there to see it in each other, and no one ever notices that sort of thing about oneself. Jackie saw it though, and Mickey. It was why he left, in the end. He knew that it was only with the Doctor that Rose could live.
Meanwhile, Rose was only aware of a slight irrational pang of fear as she found herself alone once more on board the TARDIS. This is ridiculous, she told herself, striding purposefully over to the captain's chair and plopping down on it, folding her arms stubbornly. Just because today was dangerous- isn't it always?
Her thoughts trailed round in circles, resolutely refusing to wander. This was more than anything she'd ever faced. Maybe more than the Doctor had, either. This was the first enemy they had come across who they both knew so well and yet neither knew at all.
And it had said she would die in battle. Its words echoed again through her brain: soon, so very soon. You will die… but how could she know when? Almost every day brought a new battle, a new fight. Almost every time there came a point where it seemed everything was going to go suddenly horribly wrong, like a well-written television drama. There was always a point when one or both of them was going to die, but it never happened. Obviously, because they were both still here. But surely it was only a matter of time…
Time. It all came back to time. In the TARDIS, they had all of time and space to meander through, but they still lived each moment as if it were their last. Or second to last, Rose corrected herself. If it was the very last, she would at least try to tell him… But even assuming they survived all their misadventures, even assuming he didn't break his promise and drop her off in Aberdeen, there was still a time limit. Namely, her lifespan. She had often cursed her stupid, human body for trying to curtail her time with the Doctor, and surely it must go even quicker for him. Surely seeing off your nine hundredth birthday gave you a different perspective on a minute, or an hour, or a year.
She didn't know how long she'd been on board the TARDIS. A year, maybe? It could have been less. Then again, the time flew so quickly that she could have missed four birthdays and not realised. Every now and again, she idly wondered how out of sync she was with the timeline they maintained for Jackie. Every time she popped back to the Powell Estate, how wrong did they get it? After the accidental twelve months spent away from home, and every odd trip in between, how much older or younger was she than her birth certificate claimed?
What would the date be on her death certificate, she mused morbidly. How long did she have left?
It was only when she heard the Doctor's footsteps rattling the metal grill as he re-entered the console room that she realised she didn't even know how long she'd been sitting here.
He frowned at her when he saw her. "Not in bed yet? It must have been… ooh… eighteen hours since you last slept. Give or take three minutes."
Time, and time again. She was horrified to feel the warm salt water start leaking out of her eyes and immediately leapt up.
"Yeah, good point," she muttered hurriedly. "See ya," she added, then hastily went to make good on her departure, but as luck would have it, the Doctor actually noticed how she was feeling. He nabbed the sleeve of her vibrant raspberry jacket, and tugged her back to him. She didn't put up much of a protest.
"Hey, are those tears?" he asked softly, rhetorically, since there was nothing else the traitorous drops of water could be. "What's up? Besides the sky, I mean."
The tag-on didn't manage to draw out a chuckle like he had intended, but instead provoked a sort of strangled hiccough. "I don't know," she said. "I don't even know why I'm crying. It's stupid."
"No, it's not," he contradicted her quickly. "Nothing wrong with crying. Don't do much of it myself, but it's generally a good idea to let out your tears. You know what else helps? Talking. That's why I reckon I don't cry a huge amount; I make up for it with all my blabbering. But that's not the point," he chided himself. "Come here," he said to Rose and dragged her back to the battered leather chair. "And now just talk."
She tried to raise an eyebrow, but the effect was lost slightly when a muffled sob twisted her features. He understood.
"About anything. Say whatever comes into your mind, whatever's on your mind. Cos something's on your mind, that's kind of obvious."
A weak, watery smile emerged on Rose's face. No bloke on Earth would ever let her do this, sit and talk, mucking up his fresh shirt with melting mascara and salt water as she rested her head on his shoulder. "I just… I was just thinking about time. And how, even if I really want to, I can't stay here forever, cos I'm gonna die someday. And then you'll be alone again."
His eyes were full of an ancient, alien sorrow as he wrapped his arms around her. "Yes. That's just how it is, how it has to be."
She pulled away to look at him. "How do you stand it?"
He smiled sadly and shook his head. "I don't have a choice."
Fresh tears tracked paths down Rose's cheeks, marking their way in her make-up, revealing the bare skin underneath. She looked down, and the drops fell gracefully to the cracked leather seat, like the seconds with him that she was wasting.
A long, thin finger lifted her chin up. She met his gaze, looked into those eyes that were such a close match to her own. Her saliva lingering in his mouth when he had regenerated had left its mark.
"But it's always been that way, Rose. You knew that. No point crying over milk that wasn't even in the bottle to begin with."
She tried to stifle another sob at the inevitability of the situation, and ended up letting out another strangled hiccough. Maybe it would be better just to cry.
"I know," she said, her voice wavering alarmingly. "It's just what that thing said. I know you said it was lying but… If I am gonna die soon, and we both know how likely that is, I don't want this to end."
"Neither do I," he assured her. "But it has to. Everything has its time," he quoted.
And everything dies, she thought instinctively.
He obviously realised exactly what he had said at the same time as she did. "Not yet," he insisted. "We still have time. Doesn't matter how much, we've got now. We just have to make now enough for forever."
"It can only ever be enough for now," she argued.
A grimace twisted the Doctor's boyish features. She was so right, more than she knew. The Beast's prophecies had shaken him more than he was willing to admit. Rose had saved him from his state of constant depression after the Time War. He couldn't imagine life before her any more; nor could he imagine how he would survive after her. He could only draw on the words he had used to reassure her: he had to. There was no other option.
Hadn't it been like this with all his companions, though? Sarah Jane, Tegan, Ace, all the others, hadn't he felt this way when he considered losing any of them?
He was reluctant to admit that he knew the answer was a resounding no. It was the timing more than anything that had created this new bond that he was so unfamiliar with. All of his companions had saved his life at least once, but it was only Rose who had saved his sanity. Only Rose had managed to replace the bond he had shared with his entire race, only she had managed to reconcile him to being the last of his people. She made him realise that he could survive without them. The only problem was the inevitable additional clause on that sentence. She made him realise that he could survive without them, if he had her.
The silence stretched out between them.
Finally, Rose's chest stopped its shaking, and her ragged breath quieted. She sniffed once, and brushed the last tears from her face.
"Promise me something," she said, and her voice was quite steady now. Still suffused with pain that had yet to be realised, but at least it was calm.
"Sure," he promised easily, carelessly.
"Find someone," she said. "When I'm… gone. Don't go on alone. I know," she added with a blush. "I was a bit mad when we met Sarah Jane. But I get it now. Just don't go on all alone, yeah?"
He looked into her eyes seriously. "Okay. I promise."
"And don't forget me, alright? That's what I was scared of, I think. When Sarah Jane found out you never mentioned her, I thought that could be me, one day. Just… don't forget me."
"Never," he vowed.
As Rose reflected later, never was a long time. And never say never ever. Maybe it would be better if she was forgotten, if it hurt him to remember. She knew only too well that memory was both a blessing and a curse. The Doctor and Rose, the unit, the team, would eventually become merely the stuff of legends. And then myth. And then they would fade from memory altogether.
Everything has its end, and everything dies. Even legends.