Two minutes after the now part-human Doctor and Rose joined hands on the beach that held traces of their connection across the stars they both have yet to say a word. The silence that followed the TARDIS' departure remains unbroken save for the sound of the ocean waves breaking ceaselessly on the shore.
Jackie is the first to speak.
"I'm going to call Pete," she says, and Rose has to give her credit for allowing only the slightest tremble to affect her customarily commanding tone. Rose's doesn't trust her own voice to work in the slightest, so she settles for nodding to her mother, a gesture that breaks the eye contact between her and the new Doctor.
They go on holding each other's hands, however. Rose gets the feeling they're both not sure what else to do. The imprint of the new Doctor's lips on hers from when she kissed him feels as strong as the salt breeze stinging her cheeks. She longs to say something to him, but her brain only buzzes uselessly with the events of the day. His equal lack of words adds another layer of uncertainty and strangeness, making her incapable of doing anything but staring out at the sea, the endless rhythm of the waves reminding her of a ticking clock, or else a gently pulsing blue light—
"There's a taxi already on it's way to take us to the airport," Jackie announces with a hint of pride that brings some colour to her exhausted features. "Said he was monitoring energy or something at Torchwood, already knew we were here. Wonderful man, my husband."
Rose responds with another nod, noting the slight clench of the new Doctor's fingers around hers at the word 'Torchwood.' She reassures him with an answering squeeze without even thinking, then freezes at the disconcerting familiarity of the motion.
"But it's still a bit of a walk across this beach to the road," Jackie continues, and again Rose is amazed that she keeps her tone almost completely free of accusation. "So let's get moving, yeah?"
"Rose." The sound of her name spoken in that achingly longed-for voice makes Rose's eyes immediately snap back to the new Doctor's face. He's staring back at her, looking a way she's never seen the Doctor look before— lost.
"I… I can come with you, right?" he asks quietly.
Emotions crash over Rose with a ferocity that far outweighs the ocean waves. She feels incredulous that the new Doctor would even have to ask after the words he said to her and the way she responded to them. But she feels angry as well and it's hot and sharp— how dare he look so fragile and unsure when confusion is pounding like blood through her body? How dare he expect an answer from her when she is so full of questions?
For the tiniest of seconds, she feels vengeful, wanting the tell him no, shove him away, leave him like the Doctor left her, make this new version feel some modicum of the pain that's torn at her heart and her life like a ravenous wolf, devouring nearly everything she's tried to cling to.
Then the new Doctor's fingers flex in hers and it's gone, giving way to the same blazing emotion that burst forth when she kissed him.
"Of course," she says in a choked voice, disregarding the sudden moisture in her eyes and gripping his hand so hard she thinks she may leave bruises. "Of course you can come with me. I don't want—" Her voice cracks but she pushes resolutely on, staring into the bottomless eyes she's seen almost every night in her dreams, ready to match his confession of an unspoken truth with one of her own. "I don't want you to ever leave me again."
Almost before she's finished speaking he's gathered her into his arms with a desperation that suggests he's been restraining himself from doing so for a while and simply can't hold back any longer. Rose clings to him just as tightly, pressing her face into his chest, hating to mar a new beginning with tears, especially as she's shed so many millions on this beach before.
The Doctor's new single heart beats beneath her ear, strong and constant, the sound of a promise.
They separate after only a few moments, though their hands quickly find each other again. Jackie continues to remain uncharacteristically silent, but takes a firm hold of Rose's other arm and the three of them set off across the beach, leaving the sound of the ocean waves behind them.
Rose sits between Jackie and the Doctor in the back seat of the taxi, and they both drift off almost at once. The surreality of the situation hits Rose like a blow, the sight of the Doctor with his head leaned against the window, eyes shut and mouth slightly parted in the same exhausted sleep as her mother hammering home everything her own weariness and confusion have been allowing her to ignore.
The Doctor isn't here. He is, part-human with fluttering eyelids and a pulse clear in his throat, but he isn't, because he's also in a TARDIS or on another world somewhere in another universe, without her.
That truth, finally realised without the distraction of the new Doctor speaking those words in her ear or looking at her with such need in his eyes, hurts with a crushing pain, and it's all Rose can do not to double up in the taxi's back seat and scream with agony.
She travelled across worlds to find the Doctor again. She spent several years working obsessively on a device that cost far more than just money and would allow her to get back to him. She saw realities of him dead, unable to regenerate. She watched Donna Noble suffer then sent her to her death. She faced Daleks and the end of all creation, just to be with him again.
And for a brief, shining, glorious while she had been. There'd been loss and fear and danger and flames, but she had been reunited with the Doctor, and she was prepared to live out the rest of her life running with him across the stars.
But in the end she's stuck right back on this strange world of zeppelins and Torchwood and no Doctor. And yet, here he is right next to her, body warm in all the places it's pressed against hers, fingers still holding tight even in his sleep. The Doctor she gave everything to find would be wide-awake in his place, staring out the window and keeping up a running commentary whether Rose was listening or not, and possibly sonicing a few parts of the taxi just for good measure. The Doctor next to her sits so still Rose might be afraid something has gone wrong and he's died if not for the fine mist his breath is making on the window.
And though a small part of Rose wants to shout and strike out at this Doctor, to blame him for the other one who left her behind, to blame him for being human when she did so much to find a Time Lord, a much larger part of her is swelling with the memory of his words.
I've only got one life, Rose Tyler. I can spend it with you, if you want.
It isn't what Rose wanted because she hadn't even considered it possible. Her life was going to be bittersweet, lived out with the Doctor until the end and he would carry on without her. Rather like he was doing now. But for Rose this isn't the end. She can see a thousand sparkling possibilities stretching out in the future, their future.
Because the man next to her is the Doctor. Rose isn't doubting that like the last time he changed in front of her. The uncertainty of what new differences she'll have to learn and adapt to tugs sharply at her but for the time she ignores it. She accepted him the moment he spoke those three words so definitively in her ear, the moment she sealed those familiar lips under her own, and she can't deny it. Her body and her heart knew what her mind is still struggling with.
She can't decide if she feels lucky or trapped. The Doctor who left in his TARDIS gave her a chance to be happy, a chance to be with him in way that never would be possible if she were actually with him, a chance to resurrect a life she had been ready to let die. He gave her a chance, but he didn't give her a choice.
Anger bubbles inside her chest again as she thinks of the man who tricked her into going home and forced her to tear open his TARDIS to return; the man who tried to send her to this reality and forced her to tear herself from her family when she chose him; the man who left her broken on a beach and forced her to tear apart the universe looking for a way to be whole again. And now the same man has left her again, told her she is needed, told her she is staying behind.
The Doctor next to her stirs faintly, a small twitch of his shoulders that she feels with more than just her body. He looks so fragile lying there, asleep as she's only seen him after his regeneration, and suddenly she remembers. He gave her a choice. Twice now, he's asked her if she's okay with the situation, allowed her to make the decision for herself.
The other Doctor gave her a chance to make this choice, she knows deep down with an ache that hurts but isn't quite pain. And while she's left behind yet again, this time she isn't alone.
And she is so tired of being torn.
There's a tiny flicker at the back of her mind, like the remnants of a dream or a whisper she can't quite hear. Rose doesn't know if it's her exhaustion making her delirious or something else, but she sits up straight and focusses on the feeling, blocking out everything else. Instead of the inside of a taxi cab she can see the blue glow of the console room, a dark figure walking around it with steps that whisper like wheels on the road.
I'm sorry, she tells him. I forgive you. And I understand. There's a subtle change to his posture like a car going over a bump and she adjusts. Well, I think I will, eventually. And I think I'll be happy eventually as well. He reaches out to pull a lever, and though the movement is slow his hand is steady. I hope you will be too. He's starting to move away, darkness closing in on him like a dark road rushing past. I love you, she says and there's a brief flare of light like a star coming into existence. Then she's blinking dazedly in the quiet of the back seat of the taxi, feeling drained and alone except for her last word which reverberates in the silence like the final note of a symphony.
Her life may still be a little bittersweet after all, Rose thinks, before she tilts her head back in the crowded, quiet seat and cries.