Epilogue: Back to Yesterday
In the middle of an abandoned field, far away from prying eyes or knowledgeable audiences, a large wooden pyre interrupted the flow of endless grass. It rose from the cold moor and stood solitary and silent beneath a murky sky.
As the sun set, a blue box appeared out of no where, and from the box, a tall, brown haired man stepped, a shrouded bundle held tightly in his arms.
There were customs governing this moment, ancient customs both stylized and practical, both ritualistic and logical. Although the man who bore the body to its final rest was the very last representative of the race that made those customs, and though he had spent far more of his life fleeing their rules than abiding by them, and though he himself had turned the key and relegated that most ancient of societies to the realms of myth and legend, he followed their rule here to the letter none the less.
Thus, when the stars had come out, the constellation of Orion high in the sky, the Doctor, the Last of the Time Lords, touched a torch to the pyre of his oldest friend, his oldest enemy. Fire caught in the dry wood, and wind fed it on, and the mortal remains of the Time Lord Koschei, called the Master, were committed back to the Universe that gave him life.
"I remembered," the Doctor said to the woman who seemed to have appeared at his side.
"I thought you might," she replied softly.
"I didn't think you were real then, either," he added.
"I know. What were you thinking, standing out to watch Krakatoa explode, anyway?"
The Doctor shrugged. "Whatever happened to that drawing you made? It was a very good likeness."
"Washed up off Sumatra," she said. "And sent a message to another century." She shrugged. "I walk in eternity, now."
"Me too," the Doctor said, the fire of the cremation blazing in his eyes. He didn't turn his head to meet the woman's gaze, but his hand slowly migrated toward hers. She didn't flinch when their hands brushed, just let the light, hinted touch continue.
"Why here?" she wondered after a long moment. "You don't have to explain anything else, if you don't want, but how come you picked this spot? The location's a bit out of the way, isn't it?"
"This is the former location of the Pharos Project radio transmitter. It was probably his favorite place on the planet."
"Why?" she asked, still sounding bewildered.
"I died here," he admitted, his dark eyes tracing the ground that supported the pyre now, that had once supported his fourth incarnation in his last moments. "The Master's greatest accomplishment," he added bitterly.
"He was probably ecstatic," she said dryly.
After a long moment, the Doctor nodded weakly. "He loved me once."
"I believe he did," the blonde said softly, and now she let her hand sneak into the Doctor's grip.
The Doctor turned to look at her, and nightmares and shadows shone in his eyes. He tilted his head, took slow deep breaths, shook his head sharply. Nothing worked, and he was crying. Tears, cold and copious and rarer than diamonds, poured unchecked down his pale, freckled cheeks. The sobs wracked his too slender body, the force of them strong enough to shatter his fragile form.
The blonde woman tugged gently, raised her open arms, and let him collapse against her. Even his slight weight was too much for her to support, but neither of them did anything to stop it when his momentum bore them both to the ground. Smaller than him but not so broken, she held him like a child. Soothing, gentle nonsense whispered its way past her lips, building a slow, haunting rhythm. Before long she was singing, an alien lullaby, ancient and strange.
"I hate him so much!" the Doctor confessed, the words sounding ripped from his throat. "Rose, I just… oh, I fucking! HATE! HIM!!!"
"It's all right," she said. "You're allowed."
"It's not what you think," he insisted urgently. "I forgave him all that. I meant it – I had to do. I can even forgive him this – defying his very nature, just to hurt me, because it isn't. Against his nature, I mean. But there's one thing…"
"He left you," Rose said. "In the War."
Weakly, the Doctor nodded. "He just ran. Maybe together we could have saved them, and if not…" Raking a shaky hand through his hair, the Doctor looked at Rose with such deep, eternal sorrow in his eyes. "You see, his moral compass doesn't even point at reality; it never has. He could've done it. He could've killed them all and blamed it on famous dead people and gone out for tea. But he left me!"
The long, pain filled hours of that moonless night passed with the kind of slowness that defines words like "interminable". For the Doctor, once the swift but desperately needed storm of his tears had passed, it was like a disembodied dream, and he often felt, as the hours crept and stuttered along, that he was a mere shadow of a spirit, hovering at the edge of a funeral, unable to feel or touch or make his presence known.
The death-knell urge to throw himself on that pyre passed with his rage, and he supposed Rose must have taken it away, rescued it like she rescued so many things. "I'm sorry for what I did to you," he whispered.
"You didn't do anything to me except not finish a sentence. Someday, if you're ever ready…" She looked out over the fields as she had over that beach, too far away to be an earthbound thing, even then, if ever. Her hand came up to somehow compass everything, herself, the pyre, the TARDIS, yesterday and tomorrow. "All the rest of this, I did to myself. I told you when it happened: I create myself. You can blame yourself for anything else you want, Doctor, but not for me. I chose this."
"You…" he started to protest.
"No," Rose said. "I couldn't become your equal, I couldn't become your kind. You're the Last of the Time Lords, and there are reasons for that."
The pyre had finally done its work and, in the very darkest hour of the night, the Doctor and Rose finally got back to their feet and walked back toward the TARDIS. As Rose approached, there was a faint hint of a golden aura around both the Police Box and the girl.
"This is going to take some getting used to," the Doctor allowed.
"Yeah, 'cuz learning to deal with it while it was actually happening was so easy," Rose said.
The Doctor looked down at her, and the familiarity and complete, utter Rose-ness of the situation washed over him, pulling him under like a tidal wave, washing out everything in a torrential crescendo of joy. He laughed aloud, couldn't help it if he had to do, and tugged her close, in his arms and to his hearts.
"My girl, my girl, my precious girl," he murmured when, weak with the happiness of holding her, and the love of all she was, he stopped laughing long enough to just smell her hair.
Rose grinned up at the Doctor, tongue poking through her teeth, eyes bright with love and mischief. "Feels a bit like Star Wars."
"Return of the Jedi," the Doctor corrected, looking back over his shoulder and almost, just almost, expecting to see the ghost shadow of the Koschei who grew up with him.
"Yeah, that one," Rose said, and laid her head on his shoulder. "Doctor, don't," she added, tilting his head away from the fire with her hand. "It's time to start over, now, start something new. You can do that if anyone can."
The Doctor nodded. "Where are we going?" he asked.
"Cardiff first," she said, ignoring him pointedly while he pouted. In the face of his whining, Rose grinned and looked up at the fading, jewel-bright stars. "That one," she selected. "No, wait, that one."
The Doctor laughed. "Better go with the first one," he said, even as he remembered the night that felt like another lifetime ago, when they'd first chosen such a star together in the Christmas sky.
Rose reached inside her dark pink jumper and pulled out a familiar key – the anomalous TARDIS key that was twinned to the machine itself somehow – dangling it in front of his face. "That one," she agreed.
A brief moment of melancholy rolled over the Doctor again as the first dark crimson stain of morning made itself plain at the eastern horizon. "When are you going to leave me?" he asked.
Rose looked up at him and he could see a mirror in her eyes. They weren't innocent anymore, nor were they young. All the same, they were full of hope and promise, thunder and rain and such boundless joy. She'd wanted freedom enough to infect a Dalek with it, wanted him safe enough to rewrite reality for it. She'd loved him enough to see everything he was and still call him hers. He'd died for her once and lived for her twice, and it seemed she'd become something completely different just to live for him.
She nodded as this realization caught fire in his soul and in his head, as the silent singing he could hear, the song that was the TARDIS's dirge, suddenly acquired harmony and modulated into the Theme of Hope. Rose Tyler's dark eyes glowed shiny gold as she stood on her toes and whispered her answer across his lips. "Never."