Part VI: One More Time
Every sign, every line
Trick me into falling one more time
When you need me, you're here
When you don't, nowhere near
I should have quit a long time before
Dan Auerbach, "Whispered Words"
20. Then—She Holds His Hand
Rose stared at the back of the seat in front of her. She didn't want to look out the window at the empty sky. At the Darkness. Because the stars weren't back yet, and though the doctor said they would be, she still didn't want to see. Still couldn't quite believe him.
Because she loved the Doctor (didn't she?), trusted him, thought he was brilliant, but he was always getting things wrong. He'd said she couldn't come back, and she had. And he'd said that the metacrisis was him, just the same.
She didn't want to look at the doctor, either.
He was obviously tiring, becoming steadily less convincing, and he kept rubbing at his chest where the Doctor's second heart would be, like the absence pained him. He'd perked up a little after dinner, but it hadn't lasted. Jackie kept trying to talk to him, but he babbled past her, focused on Rose. He spoke more and more desperately as she became more silent, and she could feel his eyes boring into the side of her head, willing her to … she didn't know, smile at him? Act like everything was fine? She could hear the exhaustion in his voice, but she was exhausted, too. She couldn't do it.
He left me.
That was all she could think of. She remembered asking Sarah Jane what she should do, whether she should leave the Doctor before he left her—because even then she'd started to doubt their forever—and Sarah's answer.
No. Some things are worth getting your heart broken.
No. No, they weren't. Nothing was worth this. And she was so angry with him, because he'd promised her he wouldn't leave her like he'd left Sarah, and angry with herself for believing it, for still believing all these years when he was gone. And angry with herself, for breaking that same promise. How could she believe in love, when even her own love wasn't strong enough to stop her leaving him?
And now she sat next to this man who sounded less and less like the Doctor as the day wore on, and she was supposed to fall for it all over again? She was supposed to believe in forever?
No. No more.
She turned to look at the metacrisis. She thought she could manage that, now. Now she'd made up her mind, now she was letting the Doctor go. Now that she'd decided this wasn't him.
And she saw a tall, skinny man in a suit, with punk-rock hair and soulful brown eyes, and even though there were empty spaces in those eyes as desolate as the Darkness out the window behind him, she saw the Doctor there. Not all of him, not by a long shot, but him. Nattering on about the Ood and giant brains.
And she realized she did love him, after all. Loved him no matter how much or how little of him was left, loved him even if he left her a thousand times, loved him even if he'd never loved her. She always had, always would, every part of him. If he was chopped into a million bits, she would love every one, and if he were burned to ash and scattered on the wind then she would love the wind.
She smiled past the lump in her throat, and she reached out and took the metacrisis' too-warm hand, squeezing it tight. He trailed off, gripping her back, and warmth lit up the darkness in his eyes. Reflecting her smile back at her. He was so much more than ashes. Not a copy, but a real person. He was alive, so very alive, and he needed her.
She loved him. Maybe she was mad, but she didn't care if it meant another broken heart. She loved him. That much was true, whatever else was a lie. And there was peace in that.
His hand. His right hand. That was the same hand. Today had been so mad, she hadn't even thought of that. But this hand she was holding … that was part of her Doctor, physically part of him. He'd given her part of his body, so that she could go on holding his hand, a universe away. He'd loved her that much—enough to give her part of himself.
She held his hand for the rest of the flight, through the airport and the cameraphones and the taxi ride home.
21. Now—Bed of Broken Roses
She'd showed him the shower in the guest room down the hall, and when she came out of her en suite, he was already finished (probably because he hadn't bothered to dry his hair) and was standing by her bed in an old white tee and gray sweatpants that used to belong to her dad. The clothes were baggy, making him look thinner than ever, and their colorlessness seemed to bleach his skin, as well. His face was haggard with exhaustion, and he was shivering and trying not to look like he was.
"Don't just stand there with your bare feet an' wet head," she snapped. She was annoyed at him for not taking better care of himself, and more annoyed with herself for putting him through so much. "Get under the blankets before you catch cold!"
"I ain't a flippin' kid," he grumped back, but without any strength.
He looked like a refugee from some terrible disaster. Maybe he hadn't lost that much of himself—maybe he had just been tired. Or maybe he was tired from losing so much. Either way, she'd never seen him look so wrecked, and it hurt her to see it.
"Here," she said, pulling back the covers for him. He hesitated for a moment before getting into the bed, still unsure of his welcome. It was a slightly fussy-looking bed, white-painted wood and white quilt patterned with pink roses, a matching fabric panel on the headboard with an incongruous blaster-hole scorched through it. Well, that ought to make a doctor feel at home, anyway. And speaking of burns … "Oh, that looks bad. D'you want a bandage?"
"No," he said, as she gently touched his arm. "Ouch! It's fine, just leave it."
He got into the bed hastily, before she could find anything else to fuss over. She pulled the blankets back up, and he scrunched right down, until everything below his nose was covered.
"Comfy?" she asked.
"Hm." He gave a little nod. Then his eyes shifted up, looking at the headboard.
"Yeah," she said. "Look, it's a really, really long story. I'll … tell you some other time."
She wanted to hug him and tell him everything was all right. But she limited herself to patting his shoulder through the quilt, and brushing her lips against an exposed patch of cheek. "G'night."
"G'night, Rose," he said, sleepily.
She walked around the bed, slid into her side, and turned out the light. It felt so good to be clean and warm and off her feet, nothing to do but listen to the sound of rain outside and the sound of their breathing. It was even a comfort, in a small way, to be back in her own bed. And she'd always hated this bed.
But she wasn't alone in it any more. He was there, the length of an outflung arm away in the darkness. She could almost feel his presence. No, wait, she could feel him. The residues of strange energies still lingering in his body, the way time bent ever-so-slightly around him, like there was far more to him than his mere physical body.
She smiled, just a little, and closed her eyes.
"Rose?" came a voice out of the dark.
"Yeah?" she mumbled.
"What d'you think hatches from the black egg? Really?"
He didn't sound terribly anxious, so she took a moment to think it over. "Don't know, really. S'pose it could be anyfing. But I'd think if a phoenix laid it, it'd have to be at least half phoenix itself. I mean, be weird if it was a canary."
"Hadn't thought of it like that," he mused. "Guess you'll have to wait an' see if I start singing, or burst into flames. Don't think I've ever spontaneously combusted before …"
"Well, you ain't gonna start by doin' it in the house! Take it outside!"
"All right, all right, no need t'go getting' all excited …"
"You ain't seen excited. Wait till you get scorch-marks on my mum's carpets."
"Wouldn't dare. I ain't got any regenerations in this body …"
He trailed off, and Rose was beginning to fall asleep before he spoke again.
"I'm tired, Rose. I'm just so tired."
"Go to sleep, sweetheart. It'll be better in the morning."
"It doesn't feel like falling asleep. It feels like passing out. Like drowning. Is it supposed to feel like this for humans? Like all your thoughts're comin' unraveled?"
She realized she didn't know how Time Lords slept. The Doctor would sometimes talk about going to bed, but she wondered now if that had been for show, something he said so she wouldn't feel obliged to stay up and keep him company. He'd always still been puttering about with something when she went off to her own room, and always already up when she woke.
Even when she'd seen him sleep (or pretend to sleep) he'd looked more like he was just resting his eyes.
"Just let it happen," she told him. "Just relax. Let it all drift away."
She felt him fidgeting on his side of the mattress. "I think I'm having trouble metabolizing the caffeine from the tea. Never happened in my old body. Oh, isn't this wizard."
"You won't fall asleep if you keep talking."
"Not sure I want to fall asleep."
"Well, I do."
"Oh," he said. Then, catching on, "Oh! Sorry. Right."
"D'you ever worry you ain't gonna wake up?"
She thought. "No. Never."
"Here." She reached out into the darkness. "Take my hand. There. Now neither of us is goin' anywhere."
His human-warm hand gripped hers like a lifeline, and he fell silent. But now she found she was the one who couldn't sleep. Now she'd stopped moving, now she had no distractions, and all she could think of was the Doctor. Cos who was gonna hold his hand now? He was gonna lose Donna, and he'd be alone.
She'd left him alone. She'd promised she'd stay with him forever, and she left him alone. How could she do that? And how could she ever be happy here, when he was out there, and …
This doctor must still be able to see in the dark more clearly than a human. She thought she'd managed to cry silently, or at least softly enough to be lost in the sound of rain, but he suddenly spoke her name and shifted closer, reaching out to brush the tears from her cheeks.
"Sorry," she sniffed. "It ain't … it ain't for me. Cos I got you, but … what about him? I just … I just left him. What's he gonna do now?"
"Rose," sighed the man beside her. And then, in a voice that was subtly different even though it was the same, "Rose."
The deep compassion remained, now joined with a reservoir of calm. Though just as soft, there was a power in it that had been absent before. A sense of great age. He seemed to be speaking to her both from very far away, and directly into her ear.
It was the Doctor. Not speaking to her from across the universes, because the walls were closed now, but from within the new doctor, some remnant summoned up from deep within him to comfort her. One last time.
"Do you know why I hate to say goodbyes, Rose?" he asked. And his voice, though barely a whisper, echoed with conviction.
Do you know why I hate to say goodbyes, Rose? It's because I want to remember people as they are. When they say goodbye, they become so sad, trying too hard, trying to make it count. And that's not them. I don't want to remember you like that. Not heartbroken, not asking me to stay when I can't. I couldn't live with that. That's not the memory I want to carry with me for the next thousand years.
I want to remember seeing you with your arms around me, kissing me, because I've finally been able to say those three little words you so need to hear.
I want to remember you happy.
And when I start to miss you, I'll be able to bear it, because I'll close my eyes and I'll see that image and know that in some universe, somewhere out there, we're still together. Living our lives. The Doctor and Rose, in the TARDIS, forever.
Someday I'll regenerate, and though the memories won't fade, the pain will recede—like something that happened in another life. That's what regeneration is for, after all. To heal what can't be healed.
And what I've learned from you will become part of that new life. So that someday, when I come to care for someone new and finally learn how to tell them, it will be because I knew you.
As time goes by, I'll think of you less and less. I will never forget you, not ever, but your memory will sleep in my mind and I'll go for months and years without thinking your name. That's the way it is with Time Lords, it's how we live with immortality.
But part of you will be with me forever. And there will be gray, rainy days, a thousand years from now, when I'll see something that reminds me of you without realizing it, and I'll smile without quite knowing why. And it will be like the sun has suddenly broken through the clouds, like a moment of peace in the midst of a storm. And all my world will be that little bit brighter. Because you were in it.
Tears were pouring down her face, now. She fought against sobs, choking on them.
"Rose?" asked the doctor, and his voice was somehow smaller, wearier than ever from the effort. Human.
She'd never speak to him again like that, she knew. Whatever remnant of the Doctor that had been, whatever it had cost the doctor to summon him up, he couldn't do it again. The Doctor would fade from him, or (maybe) merge with the new man he'd become, until there was no separating them.
But that was all right, now.
She reached blindly for the doctor, and they clung to each other in the dark, and he stroked her hair and laid soft kisses on her forehead as she gave in at last, great wracking sobs shaking her body.
It hurt. It hurt so badly. But the doctor had eased her grief, turned it into something sweet enough not to poison her, something she could let herself feel without it destroying her.
Something that would heal.
She missed her Doctor terribly. She couldn't quite imagine that would ever change. But as long as she knew he was all right, she could live with that.
She imagined her life with that Doctor, all the times and places they could have gone, all the adventures they could have had. Would she have seen him regenerate again, grieved the old and rejoiced in the new? Would she have grown old, or died young, or gone down some stranger path she couldn't even imagine?
She turned these thoughts over, held them all in her mind. A universe of possibilities. And then she put them away, one at a time, and turned her back on that universe.
And turned to face another.
Eventually, her tears ran their course, and she lay with her head on the doctor's shoulder, listening to the lonely sound of a heart beating alone in his body. Human. And she was human again, at last, no longer a pillar of salt.
"Rose?" he said again. "Rose, are you all right?"
She lifted her head and kissed his cheek. It was damp and tasted of tears, and she wasn't sure if they were hers or his.
"Course I'm all right," she said. "I'm with the man I love."
Yes, there will be sequels. At some point—I've got some other stories I'm working on, and Real Life threatens. Ahem—let me rephrase—non-fanfic life threatens. Suggestions for the sequel will be considered (I have a main plot already) but the ultimate decision, of course, rests with the story. Yeah, the story—I'm only the author, I'm just along for the ride.
I'm working on a Time War story called "The Fall," about … er, the fall of Arcadia. If anyone's interested. And I've got this Donna oneshot floating around on my computer …