A/N: Ok lovely readers, here's the last chapter to the fic. I debated waiting till tomorrow but I will be absolutely crazy busy at work so I figured instead of sending out late, I may as well just...get it over with, LOL! It makes me a bit sad, to tell the truth, but I knew the fic was going to end sometime!
Anyhoo, you guys, thanks so much for all your reviews and for setting it up for alerts and favorites. I really appreciate the time you all took to read this fic and for being here for the ride. This was SUCH a big part of my life for two years, the fic AND the soundtracks. I should be uploading the last disc to the site either tomorrow or Friday so keep an eye out for that and try them out, see what you think! I'm glad you all got to read the fic and have enjoyed it. I hope I keep putting stuff out that introduces me to more really great people because this fic did that for me with all of you! So as a quick aside, thank you to Emilie since you weren't signed in, I couldn't reply to your review. But for everyone else, you know I'll respond to any reviews you all leave me. So thanks again and know that I appreciate every word you have all left me! :)
Epilogue – From the Beginning:
It was a gray morning. It was always going to be a gray morning now. In his memory, now full of everything he had been sent by a TARDIS that no longer existed, it was a gray morning. It was the same day, only this time there was no happy ending. He had come for one thing and one thing only.
This was goodbye.
"Am I ever going to see you again?" she asked him in mid-straining sob, a hand lifted to her head, holding back wisps of wild blond hair as it blew around her face. And she looked at him.
He knew what she wanted him to say. Yes, she would see him again. Yes, he would find a way back to her across the void. Yes, yes, yes. Five hours. Wait five and a half hours to his two years and he would be back for her.
"You can't," he said softly, shaking his head. And his hearts tore just as he had been promised.
Face tinged red in pain, she wept at his words. "What are you going to do?"
He lifted his eyes away for a moment at the thought. What was he going to do? Saying simple little things in his head was not the same as saying them aloud. What was there to do? What could he do knowing that there had been a whole year where it had just been him and her, just the two of them running, his counterpart and her? That somewhere in the future, and in the past, the two of them were running from something, were running toward something, holding hands and laughing and blissfully unaware that their end was here on this gray and lonely beach. What was there to do?
Die a little inside. See the world in gray for a while. Perhaps take my anger out on a race of people and destroy them. Just so they can understand how much I hurt.
"Oh, I've got the TARDIS," he replied instead, his eyes drawing back to hers, speaking through clenched teeth. "Same old life. Last of the Time Lords." And his smile was strained as he fought to hold it for her.
She gazed at him, teardrops swimming around her pained eyes. "On your own?" she asked in a thick voice full of tears, sniffling.
He nodded wordlessly, eyes dipping downward slightly. All of this happening now, it was new. His counterpart had never seen this part, had never been forced to live through it. Perhaps in the end, his counterpart had been nothing more than a coward.
Coward. Any day.
She held her gaze for a small moment, seeming to steel herself as she inhaled deeply. Even then she seemed to break, a single, "I-" making its way past her lips before she crumbled once more, her shoulders heaving. Bowing her head, she took a second to compose herself, to strengthen herself.
He stared at her, his face blank, jaw clenched.
Lifting her head once more, her cheeks flushed, she cast a quick look out over the churning waters before meeting his eyes again. And she sobbed, almost faltering once more.
"I love you."
He swallowed once, past the lump in his throat as she gazed at him. She knew, his counterpart had told him, and he had been right. Without the memories of losing her one day to the Bad Wolf, he would have made the same wretched mistake as his counterpart, stealing her away from this place and bringing her back, with the knowledge of how to go about it in his head. If not before when she had first asked if she would see him again, then here and now, with her declaration, would he have spirited her away.
And all that he could make out was a faint and broken, "Quite right, too," in response, feeling as if her entire new world was collapsing around him.
She nodded at that, a smile almost making it to her face as they stared at each other on that beach in the gray morning.
He couldn't leave it at that. Even if his counterpart had said that she had known, that she had understood, she deserved so much more than what he had given her as of yet. Eyebrows turning up a bit, he whispered slowly, hesitantly, "And I suppose…"
She waited for him, a small sob forcing her to inhale abruptly, lips trembling as she expelled the breath in a sigh a moment later.
I suppose I can ask for five hours and come back in two and we can redo that haunted year we shared. Just for one more moment with you.
"If it's my last chance to say it…" His tone seemed to carry almost a pained laugh in its depths, his own frame stiffening a bit as he looked at her.
If it's my only chance to say it now. Even though you already know.
She waited, a lock of hair finding its way into the corner of her mouth as she breathed hoarsely.
The humor was gone now from him, from his face as he hesitated. Because she deserved to hear him say it, to hear him voice what he had always told her through his embraces and his laughs. His jaw clenched, teeth visible between his parted lips as he seemed to brace himself and he said slowly, "Rose Tyler-"
And he felt it when the power of the supernova failed him. Failed her. He felt it when his image was cut and she vanished before his eyes to become the walls of the TARDIS once more. Almost physically, he felt it, like a sharp snap. And he felt his hearts break completely, the breath ripped from him in a single sudden moment. Just like that he was standing on the floor of the TARDIS, his hands clenched into fists in his pockets, a single tear slipping down his gaunt cheek as the words he hadn't gotten a chance to say hovered over his lips. He felt himself move to say them still, those words of response, but even as they formed he closed his mouth on them, eyes slipping closed, head bowing.
Was I supposed to be able to say them?
He felt pure anger flood him for a moment, past the overwhelming pain. His counterpart had never told him that they would be cut so abruptly, that he would be left with so much to say still. One more word. One more emotion. One more smile. One more godforsaken year now ripped from him. His other self had had that year. And while he had his double's memories and was now making his own new memories in this correct timeline, he yearned for that one more year. Yearned to see her still, if nothing else to complete that sentence that had almost made it past his lips.
One more. Please. Just…one more.
He had met the elusive Donna Noble that same day. The loud, obnoxious redhead from his alternate's timeline. She had turned out to be a bit louder than he had expected her to be. But in the end, after saving the world, after she had helped him even though he would never have admitted it to her, he had dropped her off at her home.
"And I'm ok with it…because I know that they're going to take care of you. All those people I saw, doing all those things with you instead of me…they're taking care of you. In my place. And I'm ok with it. Because I know you're going to be ok…"
He had summoned snow that night, seeing it come down and somehow never feeling more alone. Donna had asked him to stay for dinner after she had turned down his offer to travel with him. He hadn't meant to throw out the offer the way he had. He still didn't know why he had. But then she had asked him to find someone even after he had stated, quite flatly, that he didn't need anyone.
Because I think sometimes you need somebody to stop you.
He had felt the loneliness descend upon him once more at her words. Once upon a time there had been someone to stop him. No longer. And Donna also had been so human, so honest with him. She had feared traveling with him, feared merely being around him. A stranger, she had called him. That's what he was then, a stranger standing on the face of her planet. After everything he had ever done for the people of Earth, he was still a stranger.
He had found it odd that she would have felt that about him. In his alternate timeline, she had been a companion, had traveled with him. Perhaps he had expected her to be the same person then. Or perhaps the events of the alternate timeline had made her that person, that person who would become a companion. Whatever the case, he had been slightly taken aback when she had refused his offer.
He had almost been looking forward to having had Donna Noble as a companion.
When she had asked him for the name of his former companion, of the friend he had lost, he had tried so hard. Yet when her name came out, when he had spoken her name aloud after having successfully pushed away the mere memory of her to the back of his head, he had nearly faltered. Her name had come out thickly, a suspicious warmth in his eyes.
"Her name was Rose."
And then he had finally left Donna. That had been Christmas Day. He had spent the previous Christmas with Rose. How quickly things changed.
He had come to the realization not too long after the events of Bad Wolf Bay and Christmas. He had remembered what day it was and he had felt sickness course through him, bile almost rising in his throat.
While operating the TARDIS in silence, he had found strange readings in the timeline that had brought his attention to incidents he had needed to deal with. One such incident had involved an alien in human guise. With a straw. One who had broken interstellar law and had brought the fight onto the humans' turf in a hospital. That incident had called to him and he had dealt with it well, with the help of one Martha Jones. A companion he would be going back for shortly. He would offer her a trip, one trip. As thanks for her help in the hospital on the moon. Maybe more than one trip. But that was it. Because he didn't need anyone.
Donna Noble. Fantastic if a bit loud. And Martha Jones. Purposeful and ever so brilliant. Exactly what he had been expecting. Time was, no doubt, progressing as it was meant to.
But the realization he'd had that day, it had to deal with a memory he had been sent. A recollection of Rose telling his alternate counterpart of her splintered memory in that ill-fated timeline. He was to go back somewhere and fulfill an unasked promise before he caught up with Martha later that night.
And so, that afternoon, after the hospital was once more firmly on Earth, he found himself taking off his blue suit and pulling on his brown suit and white trainers. He straightened his tie, checked his wild hair and finally he stepped out into the evening. He had somewhere he needed to be and a date he needed to keep.
"She took a walk, went to a café, she said. Saw an image of me. Of you. Was never me."
The woman's lilting voice carried to him, reached him when he still had a few blocks to go. And Rose had been right. The woman's voice had been haunting, Rose had told his counterpart. Tender, painful and beautifully haunting. Raw. He rounded the corner and encountered the cafe just as she had described it. So innocent in this world. A gentle breeze ruffled his hair and he inhaled deeply, smelling her for a moment on it. Soft and sweet.
She had been so human.
Taking an empty seat at the nearest table, he motioned for the waitress and ordered a tea, taking off his long coat and folding it over the back of the chair. Loosening his tie, he sat down slowly, feeling as if the world was yet again on his shoulders. And once more, all was as it was supposed to be. After this he would take a moment in her old flat, curl up on her bed as the sun set and watch it die for the night, in hopes of hearing her voice whispering against his ear, ghostly arms wrapping around him from behind. Then he would be on his way to find Martha Jones.
Listening to the woman's soft voice distractedly, hearing her sing in French, he understood the words of the song. It was just as sad as it seemed. She sang of a man lost at sea as his wife waited for him at home, at the shore. He closed his eyes as he listened, was aware but was so far away when the waitress put his tea down before him silently so as not to disturb him.
There was nothing else that could ever disturb him. He had been through so much already that he feared one day he would be immune to it all. But he hoped not. There was still so much out there for him to see, to discover. And he would find someone else to take with him. Not someone to replace her. Never. But someone to make the trip less lonesome.
Leaning his head back, he heard it then. He thought he did. The gentle whisper on the wind, her voice, murmuring his name questioningly. And maybe she called to him from her shore. Perhaps she was the embodiment of the wife who was fated to wait for him forever even when she knew he would never be able to return to her, be it on a shore or on a gray beach. How hauntingly similar. Maybe he was the husband lost at sea, lost in another world. Two lovers forever separated by an invisible wall, the churning sea bordering a dark beach. Bad Wolf Bay. Or perhaps separated by mere consequences from actions they had been forced to take. The vision stirred in his head, of Rose on the pale beach, her head bowed into her hands, her shoulders shaking as she wept. He felt heat rise inside him, painful, washing over his hearts even as her whisper on the wind grazed his cheeks, murmuring his name gently. Not even his real name. He hadn't been able to give her that ever.
That's who we are, isn't it, Rose? That's who we've become, that woman waiting by the shore, on that beach. That man lost out on the sea, lost in another world. That's us in the end.
Turning his head and opening his eyes a bit, he glanced to his right, studying the people surrounding him as they sat to listen to the beautiful singer. And then to his left he saw the trees swaying slightly. He felt the wind, tasted her on it. So human. As he closed his eyes again, the singer's haunted voice reaching him once more, he allowed himself to believe deep down that he felt her fingers trail through his hair, curl around the back of his neck and tangle there, ghostly thumb brushing his jaw. Then the faintest pressure on his lips, the barest hint of warmth, and the soaring feeling that rose inside him at the thought that she was with him still. Not stranded far away but so close he could reach out and drag her to him and hold her forever.
His tea grew cold. The French woman ended her set. And he sat there still, for over an hour, held in her invisible embrace, almost hearing her heart pounding against his ear and feeling how vulnerable she had been. How strong. To have only one heart and to be mortal but to risk it all for him, her one life. For him and for the ones she had loved, which included all of the people on the face of her oblivious planet. How she had cared for them without them even knowing who she had been, them and him as well.
And it roused him. He opened his eyes, drawing away from an imagined warmth. He raised his eyes as he would have if she had been there, to look into her golden summer-brown eyes from so close, as he had that night, their last night. Almost unfair that he would have that memory always while she had to revert to her former memories, never understanding that they'd had an additional year together, that they had crossed their own line and had been content with it. In love.
It's all for you in the end, Rose Tyler.
With an inward nod, pulling away reluctantly but feeling her on that wind still, he sat up and reached into his pocket for some money to pay his check. He had one more pit stop to make, one more moment to tend to, a few more moments in a familiar darkened room, catching her scent on her comforter, on her pillow. Watching the sun fade away into night. Remembering words he had yet to speak and understanding why they fit so perfectly in this world and hadn't fit in that alternate universe when she had joined him in that bed. When she was supposed to join him tonight in her bed, in a dead timeline.
It's different now. That sunset. It's different. Like it knows you're not here anymore.
And he leaned over. Brushed off his trainers. Stood to his feet and pulled on his coat, straightening his tie once more. One more stop before Martha Jones and the future. One more stop.
Then it would be time to save the world again.