Chapter Thirteen: I think I know what my unfinished business is

The Doctor stood at the side of Rose's bed, watching her sleep. He was dressed and ready to leave, but he still hesitated; reluctant to walk away from the happiness he had found. His hearts were heavy with the loss that was to come and the more he looked at Rose, held in the contentment of her dreams, the more he wished that he could remain with her. However, some things really were impossible, even for him.

Leaving Rose was one of the hardest things that he had ever had to do, but he knew that it was the only way to protect the timelines. He was not meant to be part of Rose's life right now. The time they had spent together had been precious, but it had also been borrowed, stolen even, and now he had no choice but to set things right, however much it hurt him to do so. Even now the sunlight of a new day was edging its way into the room through the thin curtains that covered the windows, a gentle reminder that he had stayed too long.

Rose moved in her sleep and the Doctor watched her lips curve into a soft smile that he knew he would never forget. Gently, so as not to wake her, he sat on the bed and brushed a stray lock of her blonde hair from her cheek.

He knew that he could not remove Rose's memories of the previous night, they were part of her, they would always be there, but he could bury them. They were only a few hours old, so they were still to all intents and purposes 'surface memory'. All he had to do was push them deeper… and let them fade. Once that was done Rose would not remember anything of the time that they had spent together. It was the only way.

Before he could change his mind he reached into the pocket of his jacket and withdrew his sonic screwdriver. Slowly, methodically, he changed the settings, closed his eyes for a moment then let out a breath and turned to look at Rose.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered, as he leant in close and pressed his lips to hers before drawing back and placing the tip of the sonic screwdriver against Rose's temple.

His eyes shone with regret as he moved his finger against the barrel of the device and sent a low sonic impulse into her brain. The blue glow and the hummingbird-like noise lasted only a few moments, but it was enough. Silently the Doctor slipped the sonic screwdriver back into his pocket and got to his feet, moving away from the bed.

At the door to the room he stopped, hesitated, but he did not look back, could not look back, instead he straightened his shoulders headed out into the hall and closed the door behind him.

~oOo~

The streets were almost deserted as the Doctor walked through the city in the encroaching early morning sunlight. He found himself welcoming the solitude and the silence that had so graciously wrapped itself around him. His hands were pushed deep inside the pockets of his leather jacket, his head was bowed and only the pavement knew of the sorrows that shone in his eyes.

Eventually he neared the bar where he had met Rose the night before, but in his reluctance to remember, he did not look up; knowing that it would be better if he forgot too. His hearts heavy, he walked past the locked doors with his eyes still downcast and he paid no mind to the name of the bar. The name that the night before, even without him realising, had called to him through the rain and the darkness – Bad Wolf.

He crossed the road and at last lifted his head, seeing the TARDIS ahead of him. He stopped walking and stood like a broken man at a crossroad. His hearts missed a beat as the urge to run coursed through his blood like fire. And it terrified him because it was the urge to turn around and run back. Leaving Rose was killing him, and all he wanted to do was to go back to her, return her memories to her, live a life with her, give her the universe and to hell with the timelines, but…

Closing his eyes he covered his face with his hands, calling upon all his strength. Impossible. Some things were impossible. And this… this was the most impossible of all.

Defeated, he let his hands fall back to his side and he took a step forward, then another and another. He slid the key into the lock, pushed the TARDIS door open, stepped inside and closed the door behind him, shutting the world out. Turning, he slwoly made his way up the ramp to the console table, his fingertips drifting hesitantly over the controls.

"Why did you do it?" he asked quietly. "Why did you bring me here?" He turned around expectantly, waiting for a response that did not come. "Why?" he implored, his voice a little louder this time, his pain a little closer to the surface. "To show me what I can never have?"

The soft, ever-constant hum of the TARDIS moved around him, beneath him, through him, and his pain eased as he finally understood. "No," he said softly. "Of course you didn't! That's stupid. Why would I think you did that?" A smile tugged at one corner of his mouth as he came to life, moving around the console, pulling levers and spinning dials with purpose. "I'm supposed to be a genius, no – correction – I am a genius." He threw a switch and the console's central tower came to life. "You did it to show me what I can have."

~oOo~

The Doctor watched as the movement of the consoles' central tower slowed then stopped. Its green lights dimmed slightly and he took a step back, trying to ignore the ghosts of his people as they mocked him for what he was about to do.

He was the Doctor. He never went back, never asked a second time. But times change. Rose deserved a second chance – and so did he. He needed a hand to hold, a person to run with, and a heart to love. He needed Rose.

He knew her dreams, and more than anything he wanted the chance to make them come true. There was so much he wanted to show her. People and planets and wonders that she could never have imagined, he would show her them all.

But there was no rush; they had all the time in the world. And that was why he would take things slower this time. Besides, he thought ruefully, declarations of eternal love would make absolutely no sense to her right now. Handholding was a good place to start – lots of handholding.

He smiled to himself as he set off toward the doors. He was in love with her, yes, no question about it, he was head over heels in love with her, and it was fantastic. And maybe, just maybe, if he was very lucky, one day she'd remember that she loved him too.

He opened the TARDIS door and looked out to where she stood. "By the way, did I mention, it also travels in time?" He stepped back, left the door open, and waited.

Rose smiled, no hesitation in her heart this time. She trusted the Doctor more than anyone she had ever met, she couldn't explain it, and she didn't understand it. But it was real and it had always been there, right from when he had first taken her hand and told her to run.

She kissed Mickey goodbye and turned to face the TARDIS, her smile even brighter than before.

Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor watched as Rose ran toward him and he was certain of one thing; whatever the future held for them, it was going to be fantastic.

~~The End~~