Disclaimer: None of them are mine! Really!
"And I suppose… if this is my last chance to say it… Rose Tyler—"
He doesn't even fade away—he's just suddenly gone; as if she'd dreamed him and woken up. She breaks in two, folding at the waist and hugging herself in a futile attempt to hold her pieces together. (Scrubbing at her face, wiping her hair from her eyes, going crazy from not touching him… it already seems so long ago.)
She hears a noise from far away and starts running, falling into her mother's embrace halfway between the jeep and the rendezvous point.
"Shhh, sweetheart. Shhh. I know. I'm here," Jackie murmurs, the ocean drowning out her urgent whispers. "Let's get you home, eh?"
"I—" she starts, and her voice cracks for what feels like the hundredth time in two minutes. (And maybe if she'd spit it out sooner, he'd have finished his sentence in time. Maybe—)
Jackie loosens her hold slightly. "What is it?"
"I need to… hold on. Please," she says, only vaguely aware of how little sense she's making. How desperate she must appear.
She turns around and marches, retracing her footprints in the sand until they suddenly stop—alone. ("No touch.") As if she'd been talking to thin air.
The sea-saturated sand beneath her is glassy and smooth, reflecting her image and the lonely gray sky. Looking past her feet at herself, she marvels at the accuracy—a perfect copy, a little blurry around the edges and a little drained of color. (Sounds about right.) She takes another step towards the tear-stained Rose looking back at her and all but disappears: the image bursts into ripples, shattering her like glass beneath her feet.
And somehow she's expected to believe any of this is real.
This is worse than the fall, she realizes; this is the worst day of her life. Her mind races as she tries to come up with something, any small piece of comfort, to distract from the twisting, crushing weight in the center of her chest. She thinks about signs and portents; the Doctor's ominous warnings and the Beast. She thinks of the valiant child, who died in battle after all. She thinks, bizarrely, of a story she learned back in primary school—a time before traveling and earlier still, before skiving and cigarettes and shopping with Shareen. When the hidden wonders tucked in the pages of books were the closest she could get to the stars. She remembers, against all reason, a myth that had once been her favorite bedtime story, and knows beyond all doubt that this is what the world felt like when Hades whisked Persephone away.
She thinks: This is the story of how I died.
Standing alone on a beach in Norway, Rose Tyler—quite suddenly—grows up.
Breathless and flushed, staring at the space where he's left her here twice now, she realizes she must be a tremendous fool. He slips his hand into hers as the TARDIS disappears (she tries not to think for the last time, but there it is: thought) and for a second, she's startled at how foreign it feels.
It's not the human warmth that throws her, nor the uncharacteristic neediness in his grip—it's the smoothness of his skin, baby-soft and callous-free. He's so new to this world, in more ways than one, and for a moment she lets herself wonder if she's too scarred for him. This new-new-new Doctor who looks at her like she's the only thing he's got left in the universe.
The silence between them is excruciating; her thoughts echo so loudly within the confines of her skull she's sure he must hear them. Under the intensity of his gaze, she buckles.
"I've changed," she blurts, helpless to stop herself, because the last time this Doctor saw her, she was running at him with a gun strapped over her shoulder. She doesn't say: he was wrong. I can't make you better. I can't fix you.
"Not as much as I have, I bet," he says lightly, and his smile feels like sanctuary. (And oh, how she's sinned.)
He lets her go and walks forward a few steps, to the place where the TARDIS had been parked. (There's an inch-deep crater from its weight in the sand, and it feels like a slap in the face: how solid it all is, this time around.) The Doctor kneels down to inspect the beach, and she kneels with him—already slipping back into old habits. Follow him anywhere and ask the right questions. Hold his hand. It's second nature to her.
He grabs a fistful of sand and lets it fall, grain by grain, through the cracks in his fingers. The play of the light in the brittle cascade is mesmerizing.
"This is the part where you offer me chips and we both avoid talking about our feelings, then?" he asks, and then clamps his mouth shut, looking perturbed. "Okay. So… I'll still have to reign Donna in when I'm having what's supposed to be a serious conversation. In a way, it's like nothing's changed."
"Yes, I'm sure Donna was definitely the rude and incorrigible one, while you were the picture of maturity," Rose teases, bumping his shoulder and biting her tongue. As if nothing's changed.
He grins weakly, but she can tell by his expression that there's something he's not saying. (And maybe nothing has changed, after all.)
"Hey," she goads gently, "what's wrong?" He busies himself with the sand, and she leans into him. "Doctor. We've got to talk to each other, yeah?"
His eyes are hollow and haunted, and any thoughts she had of him being somehow absolved are stillborn. "I killed her, Rose. The metacrisis that made me… it's killing her."
"Can't he…?" she trails off; not sure how to refer to the other Doctor.
He swallows, and she's spellbound by the bob of his Adam's apple. "He'll take her memory away. Everything we ever did together; all the places she's been and the things she's seen… she won't remember me, and either way I've killed her."
"Join the club," she says with a humorless smile. "I…" she begins, preparing herself to tell him the full story of the parallel universe and the other Donna, but the words lodge in her throat. (She's just so tired of forcing herself to be someone she's not.) Everything about him is so familiar it aches, and it occurs to her that there are easier ways to survive. The hardened warrior exterior she's spent years cultivating falls away, leaving plain old Rose Tyler in its wake. "I held her hand while she…"
He grabs at her hand, cradling it in his own. "It seems we're quite a pair," he hums, standing up and then helping her to her feet.
"Full of blood and anger and revenge?" she quotes, searching his eyes. He flinches.
"I know this isn't what you wanted," he says, exploring her palm with smooth fingers. Refusing to meet her gaze. "And I should have told you what he was planning, but I just—I wanted—"
"—you," he finishes weakly. "I wanted you. It was selfish."
She cups his cheek, giving him a wobbly, misty-eyed smile. "Just… tell me you're sorry." Not even sure what she's asking him to apologize for, but certain that it needs saying.
His eyes light up in recognition and the corners of his mouth pull in nervous relief. "I am," he insists, leaning into her touch. "I'm sorry."
She fists his lapels and kisses him again.