A/N: And so we've come to the end. I just want to acknowledge and commend my superb beta-reader and best friend, nike_z1 for working with me on this one. A big hug and thank you for helping me out, pushing me to write better, work harder.
And a big thank you so much to all of you who commented! It's a source of encouragement for me, and believe me, on days when I'm feeling particularly low, I read your comments to lift my spirits. A big shout-out has to go out to some of you who commented almost on every chapter. I'm really grateful to all of you! But on with the show.
The Tardis door was open. The Master was inside, tinkering with the Tardis. The Tardis had been a little cautious with the Master at first before accepting his presence. Perhaps she missed the company of a Time Lord as well.
Rose had her hands in her leather jacket. She could hear him working on the old girl. The Tardis was almost as run-down as the one she knew of in her universe. With the way the Master was humming away as he worked on the Tardis, one could almost say he was happy. Happy and oblivious to the heartache that the small group of humans outside felt over Rose's imminent departure.
Rose dug her heels on the ground, feeling the Earth's movement beneath her trainers. Some days she allowed herself to feel the momentum from Earth's rotation; she felt awed and humbled by the vigour of the universe. Today, however, she needed to focus on something else. Dressed in jeans and a bright top, she was almost a mirror image of the time when she travelled with the Doctor except a little more grown up now. She shrugged her shoulders a little self-consciously at the small farewell party.
"We're ready to go," the Master called out from inside the Tardis.
Jackie's shoulders fell at his words. Tony was holding her mum's hand very tightly. He might not have understood what was going on, but Rose knew that Tony knew she was leaving them. Pete had his arm around Jackie's shoulders protectively. Mickey was fuming, his eyes dark and angry, but he kept his words to himself. Jake did not say anything; his face was impassive. Martha looked at the Tardis and at the skies above longingly.
"Don't go, sweetheart." Jackie begged.
Her mother's eyes were weary, with dark circles from the fear and worry of her only daughter running off with an alien. Except that this time round, the alien was actually a lot more hostile than the one she slapped around in her living room.
"Oh, Mum. I'll be alright. It's a time machine and I'll be back in about ten seconds after I leave," Rose said, smiling. But her words were not as optimistic as they were before. She might not come back, she might die. He might betray her.
But everyone left home after a while.
The Master stepped outside the Tardis, leaning on its blue wooden panels. Sometimes, Rose would forget that he was the Master, would think of him as Harry. But as Tony held onto Jackie's leg tightly and stared at the Master, Rose knew it was not the same for everyone else. Jackie had complained that he still had nightmares from the ordeal with the Master.
She had told him countless stories about traveling the universe and after the ordeal with the Master, she hoped that Tony would forgive his sister for running away with the same man that tormented him in his dreams.
"Okay, it won't be ten seconds. But I promise I'll try and call as often as I can." Rose held up her mobile. It had taken her ages to convince him to do the same jiggery-pokery that the Doctor had done for her years ago. He had given in begrudgingly. "Super phone. Nothing to stop me from calling."
Rose hugged her mother tightly. She could feel her mother's hot tears streaming down onto her neck. She had to bite her lip hard to stop her own tears from forming. She moved down to hugging Tony, to avoid her mum seeing the tears in her eyes. "You be a good boy for Mum, kay?" Tony nodded.
"I'll be fine," she assured her mother. Turning to Pete, her dad, she hugged him tightly. Pete looked as devastated as Jackie was. "You can call me, for any of Torchwood's emergencies. I'll come back."
Pete merely nodded. He turned to the Master, his voice was low and threatening. "If you hurt her, I don't know how I'm going to do it but I'm going to find you and hurt you."
The Master put up his hands in mock surrender and was about to retort when he caught Rose's warning glance. It was Harry Saxon that answered Pete, and not the Master.
Rose turned to Mickey and Jake next, her two closest friends in Torchwood and outside of Torchwood. Mickey continued to fume and refused to look at Rose. Rose reached out for Jake first.
"I'll miss you."
Jake hugged back tightly. "Miss you too. You take care."
She let go and hugged Mickey, who did not respond at first. It took him a while before Mickey finally returned the hug.
"Can never seem to go for the human ones, eh, babe?"
Rose half laughed and half sobbed. "I tried. It's not my fault if he turned out to be an alien too."
"You're cursed, Rose Tyler," he said gently, cupping her face with his hands. He leaned over and kissed her on the lips. Rose kissed back for all the years of friendship and love they'd shared together.
When they released each other, Rose noticed that the Master's face was dark and he was fingering his laser screwdriver in his hand a little too fondly. Mickey looked a little too satisfied. "You'd better take care of her!" he warned gleefully.
Rose ignored the unnecessary display of testosterone and reached for Martha next. "Come with us," she whispered to Martha. Martha hugged her back tightly before letting go. She looked at both the Master and the Tardis and shook her head. "It's much too soon."
"It'll be fun, the universe." Rose insisted.
"For one, Rose, you're traveling with a mad man who was hell-bent on taking over the planet and the universe. I know the Doctor told you that you needed to do this." Martha rolled her eyes at the mention of the Doctor. "He's not always right, you know," she intoned further, glaring at the Master, who waved back. "Secondly," Martha continued. "I have so much to do. There are still plenty of people who need help from the Cyber wars."
There was that tinge of guilt again, that she was leaving Earth when she was needed most. But Rose shook it off, remembering the Doctor's words. The Master needed her.
Martha held her hand. "Take care, Rose. If you ever need me, don't hesitate to call. And maybe when it's the sales in Moon 9 on Planet Zahara, call me."
Rose nodded. The Master had already walked into the Tardis. It was her turn to join him in this new adventure of theirs. She waved goodbye and entered the Tardis, closing the door behind her.
Rose bounced to the console, could not help but feel excited with the prospect of traveling again after staying on Earth for nearly three years. The Master was fiddling around with the console.
"Alright, what do I have to do?" she asked excitedly.
The Master looked irritated with the question. She grinned; it was almost like travelling with the Doctor, annoying him with stupid ape questions. Almost. The Master motioned towards the screen and Rose realized, he had the link to the outside switched on. Her family, Martha, Mickey, and Jake stood outside watching the blue box, their gaze filled with melancholy and trepidation. Not for the first time, Rose wondered if this was the right thing to do, that perhaps she should just leave the Master on this planet, freeze him till they figure out what they wanted to do with him.
"Barcelona as you requested?" he asked. "Lovely weather, parties going on with elections coming about."
"You're far too giving. I ought to be suspicious."
The Master put on his faux innocence face. "I've been such a good boy, Rose. No killing, no maiming. No decimation of the Earth population. Saved the world too," the Master grimaced with disgust at his words. "How could you not trust me?"
There was a reason why he survived, Rose wondered. How much of the Master was truly evil, Rose wondered.
The Master took her hand and placed it on what looked like a bicycle pump. "Hold on," he told her gleefully. "This is going to be a rough ride," he leered.
The Tardis whirred into life with a sound she thought she would never hear again in her life. Rose giggled with delight as the Tardis entered the Time Vortex. The travelling was better than before; as Rose became more in tune with the Bad Wolf, Rose became more aware of the universe, its atoms, its pulsing and its vibration. The universe came alive with the pulsation of time and life itself.
But despite it all, amidst the haze of excitement of traveling again, Rose Tyler remained vaguely aware that the Master never did let her hand go as they piloted the Tardis into space.