They had always been connected, if only slightly. He felt, for example, the fierce rush of pride as Lady Christina de Souza escaped to her freedom, even though he was a universe away from the eyes who watched. He even heard the echo of Carmen's prophetic words, even though he didn't know the name of the speaker, nor could hear her with his own ears. So when he woke up screaming despite being safe in his bed, he was not hugely surprised.
Rose, however, was.
"What? What is it? Doctor, tell me! Shh, shh, shh, I'm here, Doctor, it's me! Look at me, look at me!"
The reality of her arms around him, her hand at his cheek, managed to drag him back to this universe which he now called home.
"Sorry," he said, panting hard. "Sorry, sorry. I'm sorry."
The fear in her eyes was receding slightly. He wondered what his own must be betraying.
"I'm okay," he promised.
He took the hand that shook at his face and kissed it. She let out a shaky breath and pulled him to her in a hug.
To begin with, it had been very difficult to accept Rose's help in settling into this new universe. This was home for her, of a sort. She knew the lingo, the culture, and why these zeppelins were much safer than a universal foreigner might believe. Still, it was hard to settle into the role of the one who didn't know what was going on. Jackie's assumption that it was a male thing was only slightly easier to stomach than the reality of the problem. Now, a few months down the line, he almost didn't notice. Almost. Again according to Jackie, he would be seriously odd if he didn't notice at all. For her part, Rose had stopped looking at him in wonder when he asked her to just be with him. Almost.
"Nightmare?" she asked, her voice slightly muffled against his neck.
His eyes were closed; he was concentrating on Rose's warm weight against him. "Sort of," he admitted.
That, of course, made her pull back and look at him, searching for the truth. "Tell me," she said simply.
"He's gone mad," he said, and immediately regretted it. He, of course, was the alternate him, and Rose still loved him. Not to say that she didn't love him; they were the same man, though it had taken her a while to get her head entirely around that. To be honest, if he didn't have the advantage of a native language with a far greater set of personal pronouns, he probably would have had difficulty with it too. He certainly did when speaking English, which was 99.98% of the time. Possibly a little more.
"Why? What... how d'you know? What... Are you sure you're okay? Is he?"
And that was why he loved her.
"I'm fine. He... I don't know. No."
He shifted back on the bed to rest against the wall; she sat cross legged to face him. They had sat like this often when he first had tried to adjust to a human pattern of sleep and after that when he had still suffered from restless nights. Many a conversation had been shared here, of a nature ranging from serious to utterly flippant. Tonight, it would be the former, but Rose felt only grateful that he would actually confide in her. It was something she thought she might never get used to.
His eyes were trained on her as he began. "I'm not sure, exactly. I still feel some connection to him, sometimes. Not much. Only dreams of echoes of emotions, or things that really affect him."
"That wasn't an echo," she stated flatly.
"No," he agreed, with a shaky half smile. "That was..." He didn't know how to explain. "He broke the laws of time. I don't know how, or when, or why. He... I think he finally realised that there's really no one else. No one to tell him off. No one to stop him."
She was terrified again. The image was so tangible. She could see in her mind the Oncoming Storm burning in his eyes. She could see the manic grin, normally so harmless, but with the raw power behind it which only he could exude. She had seen enough, known enough of him to know that he could be the most terrifying force in the universe; from her position at his side, she had seen the fear freeze anyone or anything who dared to cross him.
He had seen enough and known enough of her to see her thoughts as they flitted through her transparent eyes.
"Am I really that scary?" he asked, threading his fingers through hers.
"Yes," she said honestly. "D'you remember, with the Krillitanes?"
"The Skasis Paradigm." He nodded. "But Sarah Jane was there to stop me, then."
It was a mark of how close they really were that Rose completely missed the opportunity to take offence or feel guilty that it had not been her to stop him. Instead, she merely nodded.
"That was the first time I realised exactly how far you could go."
"Anywhere," he said. "I could have gone anywhere, done anything. And now there's no one there to keep him human."
"He's not human."
She knew that, oh so well. She had known it from the first day she had met him, but it had been easy to forget, at times. They were like any friends. There were even times where they felt completely equal, or it seemed that way to Rose. In London, 2012, when she had saved his life. In many other situations when she had saved his life, for that matter. And the thousand tiny moments of banter and flirting and simple companionship; they all made her forget that they were worlds apart. The difference in their species had only truly been hammered into her on Bad Wolf Bay. The second time. The exact line had been Does it need saying? A human knew the answer to that instinctively.
The human sitting on the bed with her certainly did.
"He needs to be," he protested. "That's what you do. You and Martha and Donna... Donna put it best. First time we met, she told me to find someone and, me being me, I told her I didn't need anyone. And, Donna being Donna, she told me that I needed someone to stop me. And, Donna being Donna, she was absolutely right. Is absolutely right. It was alright when the rest of the Time Lords were there. I had limits. Then I met you, and you set my limits. Then there was Martha, then Donna. And now there's no one."
There was an echo of that terrible loneliness in his voice even as he told a story he hadn't lived to see. Rose gripped his hand tighter.
"But it's more than that," he continued. "He's really gone mad. He tried to rewrite a fixed moment."
As always, Rose picked up on the key word. "Tried?"
"I don't know if he succeeded. It's so frustrating! It's bad enough not to have a sense of time in this universe, but to know that he's potentially ended the entire existence of the other one... No, I'd feel more if that were true. He put it right. Must have done."
He was thinking aloud, theorising, hypothesising, and really using that brilliant human ability to empathise. It was no substitute to actually knowing, and he hated it.
"So there's hope yet?" Rose probed.
He wanted to respond with an Oh, always, or something in a similar vein, but he couldn't.
"You don't know," Rose said gently, reading his face perfectly. "That's alright. You don't have to know."
"That is what he needs," he said. "He needs someone to remind him that he's not omniscient and omnipotent, not by a long stretch, and he needs someone to tell him that that's okay. No, that that's right."
She smiled, but she didn't really feel it. "And it was him who tried to tell you off for destroying the Daleks."
"Egotistical to the hilt," he agreed.
With familiar unspoken agreement they both lay down again, facing each other in the almost-dark of four o' clock in the morning. There was a dull feeling of resignation pervading the Doctor's mind. It wasn't a feeling he indulged in often, and he wasn't keen on it. Though, that said, he really didn't think he would risk an entire universe for the sake of not having to feel that. Perhaps it said something about him that right now he was feeling that horrible resigned feeling because he couldn't stop his other self and save his original universe. Perhaps it just said something about Rose.
"You alright?" she asked again.
He smiled. "Enough. Not much we can do about another universe. You?"
"Yeah, I'm okay."
They were silent for a minute. Rose snuggled up to him, the man who she would always call the Doctor, and he held her close.
It couldn't last.
"I think he's dying," the Doctor whispered into the night, and he felt Rose tense. He stroked her shoulder gently. "This mind's had more than it can take."
They were both now running through everything that this mind had indeed had to deal with, starting with a stark white wall and a lever that just wouldn't stay put.
"I never really dealt with the Time War, either," he mused.
Rose knew that only too well. In the first few weeks of this remarkably settled life, he had had the most terrible nightmares almost every night. Tonight, she had assumed that the same had happened again, even though his sleep had been relatively untroubled for months.
"And he lost me again. And Donna."
"Gave you up," he reminded her. "Because it was the right thing to do. Same with Donna. And now he's breaking the laws of time? Where was the TARDIS in all this? That's what I want to know. Why didn't she stop him?"
"Probably left her somewhere," Rose mumbled. She was fighting a yawn. Too much mental trauma for one night. "If he did... regenerate, would his mind be healed? A bit?"
"Maybe." He sighed. "It's like I told you, it's a really dodgy process. No way of knowing what you'll get, none whatsoever. So maybe he'll come out as the most cheerful, righteous person in the universe, and maybe he won't."
Neither of them wanted to give voice to that alternative, so they left it hanging in the air, and Rose finally succumbed to her yawn.
"Go back to sleep," he advised her. "Universe isn't about to end."
"Not this one, anyway," she muttered. "How can I feel like sleeping now?"
"Because you're Rose Tyler, and the world can damn itself if you don't get your beauty sleep," he teased.
"Oh, shut up."
He did, but it didn't stop him grinning or kissing the stubborn crease away from between her eyebrows. "I love you."
Her eyes didn't open. They didn't need the reassurance of eye contact. "Love you, too."
He kissed her one last time before closing his own eyes and succumbing to the very human need for sleep.
A universe away, the Doctor was standing inside the TARDIS, unmoving, staring at the console. Was this it, then? Was he going to die? Was he going to go completely insane, turn into the Master? He had seen that in himself, heard it in Adelaide's voice when she snapped at him: "Little people?" He could become that. He could turn the universe into his own personal playground and laugh his way to hell, enjoying it all the way.
And then he felt it.
They had always been connected, if only slightly. So when he heard the sleepy whisper and felt Rose's lips brush against his, he wasn't surprised. He was, however, encouraged.
This wasn't the end. It wasn't, by Rassilon.
He yanked down a lever and the TARDIS creaked softly in welcome as her Doctor clawed his way back from insanity, with a little help from an almost human metacrisis and a very human woman called Rose Tyler.