Rose Tyler had inhaled the Vortex, taken it into her heart and soul. It was as beautiful as a sun burning in space, and as huge, and as terrible: and it was inside her, a part of her, indivisible and eternal.
From the centre of Time she looked outwards, and all of space was in her sight. She saw the Doctor, cornered by the Daleks; she saw all his travels that had brought him to this point, and all the twists and turns that had brought the Daleks here to face him. She saw herself, with the Doctor, as she wrote her words across the stars, disintegrated the Dalek ships and blotted them out of eternity.
She looked and she saw - eternity.
She saw her life, from its beginning to its end, and she saw the Doctor's life as well. How long he had lived, how far he had travelled, and with so many companions! So many people his life had touched, brightening or changing or even ending those people's lives. And - he would be, without her.
He had lived for centuries, without her, before her. And he would go on for centuries, after she was dead and gone - no.
No. The stubbornness that had been a part of Rose Tyler all her life flashed awake, feeding on the powers of the Vortex and growing greater, deeper, hungrier and more ruthless. She was the Doctor's companion; she was his friend. His best friend. And she would never, ever be apart from him. Never.
It would not be.
From the Doctor's point of view, it was catastrophe.
He had been about to die, the Daleks about to exterminate him and all the Earth. Then the TARDIS had returned, his familiar blue box, now holding a burning golden Rose that seared the Daleks into dust, and then she burned.
She stared at him, eyes wide and wet and molten, and smiled, a smile that said she would always trust him, that she would always be with him: and then she vanished. Flashed out in an instant, leaving only a tiny rain of glittering particles that dissipated like smoke.
The Doctor collapsed; it was as though his own bones had gone to dust as well. He wept: he bawled as he had not when he thought that Rose had been vaporised by the Gamestation. Then, there had been answers to find, something to distract him. Now there was nothing. Not even the fumbling hands of an unexpectedly alive Jack Harkness could bring him back to himself; he curled up, forehead pressed to the gridded floor, and choked out his breath with his tears.
Jack was finally reduced to dragging the Doctor into the TARDIS and dematerialising; he couldn't pilot the TARDIS with anything like the Doctor's finesse, but he knew her basics by now. It was probably just his imagination that her controls shuddered with grief as well.
The Doctor recovered. He went on, with Jack at his side, and with other companions in time. People were life to him, reminders of what the universe was, and what it could be. But then he started to see patterns.
Patterns in the Vortex. Patterns in the stars, in the planets, in the faces of people he met. On a planet where the people were blue, blue hair and blue eyes and blue skin, he helped save a girl destined for sacrifice to a god named the Bdd-Wolltf. She had blonde hair and dark eyes outlined by black tattoos, and her name was Rho'z. And she travelled with him.
Later, much later, when Rho'z was trapped in E-Space beyond even the Doctor's efforts to retrieve her, he travelled alone, and then on a planet of orange gas beings he met a tall golden bubble whose name was Rr-h/ss. And Rr-h/ss travelled with him.
Jack was gone now; he had stayed on Earth during one of the Doctor's trips there, and swore gamely that he intended to rut his way through the rest of human history. But wherever the Doctor went, whenever he went, he saw too many faces that were the same. Too many girls with strong chins and dark eyes and blonde hair, too many round bottoms moving down the streets and streams and cobbled pathways, too many bright smiles. Too many familiar smiles.
It was only when he withdrew himself from the Universe for a while that it started to become clear. He had no companion now (the last one, Roah Tyy, had been killed in an improbably heroic manner), and he let the TARDIS sit in the Vortex, burbling and groaning. He sat himself, in the rebuilt Zero Room, and he thought.
Rose Tyler. An Earth girl who took in the Vortex, who wrote a message across time and space. Who had destroyed the Daleks, and then been destroyed by the very energies she used. A girl who had died - or maybe not. He thought and he thought; he thought so hard he grew tired of thinking; he thought so hard that he lay down and fell asleep. And he dreamed:
He watched as Leela's brown eyes faded to blue, with a smile: and then frowned, as they coalesced into dark brown again.
He complimented Mel on her new hairstyle, but twisted his mouth awry when her back was turned. He wasn't certain that colour actually suited her.
He looked up Jamie's kilt one day, totally by accident, and was shocked to discover that the boy was a natural blond.
Ace smiled over her shoulder at him, and he smiled back - and remembered seeing that same smile somewhere else.
The Doctor awoke and he knew what was happening. And it was a sting of joy followed by a long stabbing agony of terror.
Rose Tyler was alive. She was alive, and she was in all the worlds, all the universe, through all of time and space. She had merged herself with the Vortex and found power past human comprehension. And everywhere and everywhen she was, she knew of the Doctor. She wanted to be with him, with the man she loved.
So she was recreating herself, in the guise of every species. Everywhere that he went, he would meet Rose Tyler again and again. And if his dreams were true, she was writing herself into his past as well.
He fought, of course. He planned and acted, he warned and informed and urged and aided, and he juggled the energies of suns and civilisations as though they were eggs. He led crusades, and worked with middle management, and impersonated and prompted and plotted and blustered: he called upon every skill of trickery and negotiation he had learned over centuries, and it was all sand castles being swept away in the gleaming tide of Rose.
He worked with scientists on thousands of planets as they tried to reverse the disease, or the blight, or the weapon: however they defined it, whatever it was that caused their children to be born blonde and female and friendly, which to many of these races amounted to a generation of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren that were monsters, deformed creatures that should not be allowed to live.
They were temporary palliatives, gene therapies, shielded birthing facilities: but Rose's powers were too great.
There were slaughters, riots, mass extinctions: but if life survived, it became Rose.
The Doctor's efforts, all efforts, were useless. To try and limit Rose Tyler was to try and limit time itself; to try and stop her was to convert space into no-space. She had all the powers of the Vortex at her disposal; and every time she made herself anew, she became more powerful.
As the universe changed, the Doctor did as well. He was the focus around which every change occurred, after all. His memories were running like ice in the summer sun, streaming away into endless reflections of Rose. Every time he entered or left the TARDIS, every choice he made, sometimes as little a thing as picking up a cup or looking in a mirror, and another part of his past would suddenly turn clear gold as Rose found and conquered it. He felt like an insect trapped in running tree sap: he was drowning, and as he drowned he knew that time would harden the sap to amber, preserving him for all time.
He shuddered at the glorious horror that was the Fendhal, and realised that he might know her if her hair was down.
He was in a courtroom, and the Time Lords frowned down at him. They all frowned with the same face, the face of Rose, and they had blonde hair wisping out around their skullcaps. He stared at the prosecutor, a sullen fellow called the Valeyard, and saw him staring back with horrified eyes. Help us! the Valeyard mouthed silently, and the Doctor suddenly had several unpleasant realisations about the identity of all involved.
He watched as the Sea Devils rose from the water, their dark brows knit with fury.
On a planet named Rose, he helped the indigenous natives, the Tylers, protect their tribal lands from the voracious Bad Wolf Intergalactic Mining Confederate, whose executives were all female, blonde, and remarkably interested in him.
He spoke to the Nestene Consciousness, and tried to convince it not to transform every Rose on the planet into Auton-Roses.
The Daleks chased him through endless corridors, and their voice was all the same voice, a woman's voice. "Ex-ter-min-ate!" And when he came face to face with Davros, his ears were eerily familiar.
The Kyrnoid was blooming, and all its flowers were golden roses.
On a planet called Lndeen, he threw a native girl named Ro-Ti out of the TARDIS four times, but she always managed to sneak or talk or wriggle back in, smiling in that way that only she could.
He gazed into the face of Rassilon, and found it disturbingly feminine.
The Black Guardian and the White Guardian made their offers, and the words froze in his throat, because they were both the same. The same face, the same wide mouth and laughing eyes, just with different hats.
He sat in the darkened TARDIS and rubbed his hands around and around each other. He had done this for so long that the skin was rough and calloused to his touch. His hair was long enough to tickle his ears and the bridge of his nose, and he stank: he couldn't remember when he had last washed his face or his clothes or himself. But at least he didn't smell like Rose.
He listened to the Vortex, and the rasping sounds of skin against skin, and the slow rising rumblings of the madness within him.
Every planet he visited was named Earth or E-Ertt or Eyath or Rrth; every race just happened to be blondes with dark eyes and round bodies whose women found him magnetically attractive; and he was starting to be surprised when he met someone whose name didn't begin with R.
The names of his past were fading like smoke: he thought of his companions, Ben Tyler and Rose Grant and Rose Jane Smith and Vislor Tyler and Rosanadvoratrelundar, and all their faces were the same.
The universe was coming to an end: being wiped out not by entropy or antimatter or catastrophe, but by a single stubborn woman who didn't want to be away from the side of the man she loved, ever.
He had looked for help, of course: but those races powerful enough to aid him had been devastated by the Time War. They were being overwritten as well, and Gallifrey was not available to stop the destruction. He had thought of all his options, and then thought of new options, and they all came up zero.
It was all the Doctor's fault.
He thought of that, sitting alone in the dark of the TARDIS. How ironic, how horribly frightfully ironic, that Rose had stopped the Daleks - only to complete their self-appointed task of universal obliteration.
He was spending most of his life in the Vortex now, because if he landed, a Rose (or sometimes two or three, a veritable bouquet of Roses) would be waiting with some perfectly plausible reason why she should be his companion. If the planet was deserted, she would be a castaway: if the planet was populated, the population would be her. It had gotten to the point that he only need open the TARDIS doors on a new world and inhale: if the alien atmosphere contained the smell of mascara and lipstick, fish and chips, and the faint aroma of a certain human female's skin, he would slam the door and flee.
And when he did land, when he decided to stay out of urgent need (the TARDIS requiring repairs, some catastrophe waiting outside her door), or fear (the realisation that he could remember only one face among all the people he ever met), or simply the hope that this time would be different, he was aghast at the destruction that was raging through the universe, with a smile and a flip of blonde hair.
All the variations of reality were going, replaced by one blonde singularity, like a firestorm burning all within its power into dust. Every world was being transformed into a pseudo-Earth, with a pseudo-London and England - the rest of the planets tended to be a bit blurry, as Rose hadn't travelled much. All the marvellous and magnificent diversity of life in the universe, replaced by a single Earth culture – not that the human race wasn't a vital one, but their differences were a part of their vitality. An Earth of nothing but Rose Tyler would have been a bore; a universe of them was an abomination.
He had thought of one member of his own species who might have survived, who might be able to help. But when he had found the Master, he had stroked his sleek little white-blond beard, arched one thick but well-plucked eyebrow, and proposed-
Actually the Doctor didn't know what he had proposed; he had run.
He was going mad again, he could feel it. Just like he had before, when he had burned the Daleks and his own species in one cataclysmic blast. He had thought that he had felt the universe itself flinch at that blow, cracking along with his mind. He could feel that withdrawal again, as though reality was shoving him aside, rejecting him as something unclean. Ironic, seeing as the reality that Rose was creating orbited around him: an unwilling and quite possibly insane God, in a Heaven he never wanted…
He was planning another attack. Another knockout blow, to end a battle and change reality forever. This time, though, he had a smaller target. A small-her target, in fact.
He worked on his weapon: a from-the-ground-up rebuild of a machine called the Chameleon Arch. He could have used it to transform himself into any species, to write an entire new life on top of his own memories. But he had a different plan now. He worked with sonic screwdriver, resonance adjusters, phase inverters and tin snips, and when he found his mind drifting into thoughts of warm red lips under his, he sometimes burnt his own hand with a soldering iron to bring himself back to reality - such as it was.
He had scouted around Earth, and found that some of it was unchanged. Well, if he went ahead two hundred years from Rose Tyler's first life, the planet's population was much blonder than natural. But it seemed that Rose-who-was-everywhere, the goddess Rose, was unwilling to rewrite her own personal timeline before she met the Doctor - so far.
The Doctor was going to take advantage of that.
He awoke from a dream of golden hair (all his dreams were golden now) and carefully landed the TARDIS in London. The device was ready, enhanced with technology from a dozen worlds with a dash of Zygon-tech on top. A Chameleon Mirror was how he thought of it: something that would let him impress another person's body and mind on top of his own. Thanks to a judicious dimensional tweak, the person would vanish, to reappear when the transformed Doctor entered the TARDIS and fed certain data into her console. And the Doctor would revert to his original self as well, safe and whole.
He had tried, again and again, to eliminate Rose Tyler. But just as he had once been unable to press two wires together and destroy the Dalek race, so he had been unable to kill the little gurgling baby, or the stout toddler, or the little girl running and running in the muddy schoolyard, or the pre-teen awkwardly combing her hair and hoping the boys might like her, or the nervous young woman going to her first job interview. He couldn't do it.
So he was going to attack the problem from the other side. He was going to make sure that he, the Doctor, would never take Rose as a companion. He was going to rewrite their first meeting, put his earlier self face to face with a tarty vulgar shopgirl who cared only about herself. Not companion material at all.
He was a long way from sane now, far enough that the trivial matters of crossing his own timeline, of changing his own past, of the dangers of paradox, were lost to him. If the Reapers' wings rustled around his ears as he worked, he did not hear them.
He was waiting when Rose Tyler walked by. For one moment he looked at her image on the scanner and he just yearned: yearned for the bright-haired brave-hearted woman who had found him at his darkest hour and filled him up with light. He clenched his raw, wounded hands, as battered it seemed as his hearts, and felt the skin pull around his self-inflicted wounds.
The he hardened himself. He unclenched one hand and pushed a button still warm from the hot glue fastening it to the console, and Rose Tyler vanished. One second later, the TARDIS doors opened and Rose Tyler stepped out, and continued her walk to work.
The light filled him. He had forgotten that there was so much light in the universe, alone in the dark: he had forgotten Earth, Earth with her yellow sun and clear air and the wonderful murmuring hum of human life. And he was a part of that life now, a part of that light, lines of memory and emotion connecting his lone heart to everything and everyone. It seemed a better life than the one he had left behind.
He was Rose Tyler, all her strength and her laughter flowing through him, and washing over him, and he drowned in her golden grace with a smile.
The TARDIS felt him drown, felt the Doctor give up his self and his life to be completely subsumed by Rose, and guilt ripped a hole in the core of her. She knew that she was a part of this obscenity: if she had not given in to Rose's plea and her crude human tools and let the Vortex into her, Rose would not have been given the power to twist and warp time and space to her own ends. In her inhuman and bottomless loneliness, she knew that now she was the last not-Rose being left in the universe.
The sound of the TARDIS' final dematerialisation was a long slow wail of grief as she faded away, folded herself back along her own timeline and became a memory, and no more.
Later, Rose Tyler was stumbling through a darkened basement when a strange man took her by the hand. Even though he looked like a dockworker, and was old enough to be her father, something inside her reached for him. There was some word she was going to say, some snippy phrase on the tip of her tongue, something insulting and crude, but in the heat of the moment she forgot all about it, forever.
And she ran with him, hand in hand.
NOTES ON THE TALE
This story is obviously a tragedy on a cosmic scale: not only does the Doctor watch the destruction of the universe by Rose, he then turns himself into Rose, and becomes the destroyer. This does explain how Rose could handle the Vortex.