Thirty minutes later, a freshly scrubbed and refreshed Rose entered the control room just as the time ship landed with a rattle and a thump. Donna was seated in a jump seat and looked a little worse for wear while Zaizan leaned along the far wall, his wings tucked in close.
Remembering what the Doctor had said earlier, Rose couldn't help but ask a question. "Are we in the right spot?"
The answer to that question came in the form of a loud pounding on the door. "Doctor!" shouted Jackie Tyler. "Open this door! You give me my daughter!"
The Doctor turned to Rose and gestured at the door. "I think it's for you."
Rose rolled her eyes at him and bounded to the door. She threw it open and engulfed her Mum in a hug. "Mum," she said, "I'm alright. I'm here."
Jackie squeezed her daughter tightly before pulling back. "Oh Rose, I'm so glad you're home. You would not believe the things that have been going on! Where is himself?"
"I'm right here, Jackie," said the Doctor, following Rose out of the TARDIS.
"Oh you!" said Jackie before engulfing the Doctor in a hug.
The Doctor awkwardly returned the embrace before moving away from the doorway so first Donna, and then Zaizan could disembark.
"Mum," said Rose, "this is Donna Noble. She's traveling with us."
"Uh huh," said Jackie, her attention fixed solely on the large bird-man standing in her backyard. "A pleasure I'm sure."
"Yeah," muttered Donna. "Don't mind me. Let's all just stare at the alien, shall we?"
The Doctor elbowed Donna in the ribs.
"And this is Zaizan.," Rose said.
"Blimey!" said Jackie, continuing to eye Zaizan up and down. "He's so –," she fumbled for a word, "…tall. Is he friendly?"
"Yeah, Mum. He's my friend, and he can understand you."
Jackie started, realizing she was being rude. She quickly nodded at Zaizan, and said, "Nice to meet you."
Zaizan extended his wings and bowed low. "It is an honor to meet She Who Bore the Golden Mother."
"He means me, Mum. He is saying he is pleased to meet you."
"Oh!" said Jackie with a saucy smile. "Such a high class speaker you are. Well, come on then. Let's go up to the house and have a cuppa." She paused as a thought crossed her mind. "Zaizan, do you drink tea? If you don't, I can look for something else in the cupboard –"
"Jackie Tyler need not worry about me. I do not require sustenance at this time, but if I did, I would drink your tea with humble gratefulness."
Jackie smiled flirtatiously. "What a honeyed tongue you have."
"You don't know the half of it," piped in Donna as she maneuvered herself between Zaizan and Jackie.
Jackie smiled tightly at Donna before turning on her heel and leading the way to the house. "I called your Father as soon as I heard the sound of the Doctor's time boat. He's on his way. He'll want to talk to you about all the craziness we've been having lately."
"What craziness would that be, Jackie?" asked the Doctor.
She paused and looked at him uncertainly. "I think it best to let you talk to Pete about that. He'll be here soon enough." She started walking once again and escorted them into the mansion. Quick steps led them through the living room, the formal dining room, and into the kitchen. "In the meantime," she continued putting on the kettle, "we will sit down for a cup of tea and nice visit."
"Mum," Rose interrupted, "can we give Donna a ride to her house? She wants to check in on her family, too."
Jackie turned to the red-head, and this time the smile was genuine. "Of course we can. I'll send you with a driver. I'm sure that the Doctor doesn't take you home to visit near often enough."
"Thank you," said Donna.
"Do you need the driver to stay? To come back? Or…"
The Doctor extended his hand to Donna. "Donna, give me your phone."
Rose grinned and dug into her pocket for her phone. She handed it over with a smile. "Come on, then. Make it a super phone."
The Doctor returned the grin, pulled out the sonic screwdriver and immediately set to work.
"Super phone?" asked Donna, pulling her phone out of her pocket with more reluctance than Rose had shown.
"Yep," said the Doctor. "Can call anywhere in the universe, and…," his long fingers flew over the keypad of Rose's phone, "…you can call the TARDIS directly." He handed the phone back to Rose and grabbed Donna's. "You just call us when you are ready to be picked up and we will be in your living room before you can say 'Milt likes fishing."
Donna retrieved her upgraded phone and slipped it into her pocket. "Why didn't you do this for me earlier?" she demanded.
Jackie snorted. "Likely he forgot. Supposed to be a genius and all, but I've never seen any indication."
Donna laughed feeling a new camaraderie with Rose's mother. "Yeah, a real space dunce, he is."
The tea was poured and the group round the table enjoyed the jovial conversation; there was plenty of ribbing at the Doctor's expense, and Jackie made Rose promise to bring her some of that alien hair dye that completely obliterated roots, a request Rose let stand without further comment. When the chauffeur arrived, Donna rose to go with him. She paused in the doorway and looked back at the Doctor.
"You will pick me up when I call?" she asked uncertainly. "It took me a long time to catch up with you last time."
Surprisingly, it was Rose who answered. "We will come when you call."
"Yes," added the Doctor. "We will be there."
Donna nodded. "You'd better." And then she was gone.
A silence descended around the table for several moments, Jackie slowly sipping her tea and eyeing the Doctor with suspicion. She replaced her cup in the saucer and turned her gaze on her daughter. "I suppose this means you plan to go with him."
Rose fidgeted in her seat. "Yes, Mum. I'm staying with the Doctor."
Jackie sighed. "Can't say as I'm surprised. I always expected you'd swan off with him if he ever appeared on our doorstep again. Just promise me you'll call…and visit-" She stopped in mid-sentence. "You can visit? This isn't an all or nothing, never see my daughter again farewell?
"No, Jackie," the Doctor rushed to reassure, "the path is open and we should be able to visit like we did before."
"Hopefully more than you did before," she quipped. "It's shameful to leave a mother behind to worry. Promise me, Rose, that you'll visit…and be safe…and don't eat anything poisonous…and make sure you wear clean underwear-"
"I've got it," said Rose, holding up a hand to stem the tide of commands before they became even more embarrassing. "I promise."
"I'll keep her safe, Jackie," said the Doctor.
Jackie snorted clearly indicating what she thought of the Doctor's promises. "I know you do your best, Doctor, but danger sticks to you glue."
"Rose Tyler is under my protection," offered Zaizan.
She scrutinized the bird-man carefully, judging the power in his limbs and the sincerity of his claim. After a long moment, she nodded. "You be sure that one," she pointed to the Doctor, "brings her home for a visit every now and again."
Zaizan bowed his head in a silent promise.
Jackie picked up her teacup. "I think I like this new friend of yours, Rose."
"Can either of you tell me what this is?" asked Pete Tyler. He gestured toward the spread of satellite photographs spread out on the coffee table between them.
The Doctor reached into his jacket and pulled out his glasses and affixed them on his nose. He reached out, snagged the nearest photograph and peered at it intently.
The photographs clearly displayed the new moon. The bright orange surface was smooth and unmarked by the craters seen so prominently on the first moon clearly demonstrating its youth. Closer inspection revealed a long series of evenly spaced unidentified objects. Stretching for miles, the objects were clumped into what almost looked like an aerial view of cultivated English farmland.
"How long has this been in orbit?" asked the Doctor.
Pete rubbed his hands over his face and leaned back. "The images came in today," he replied. "Headquarters woke me up at the ungodly hour of 2 AM."
Rose had to admit Pete looked tired. His suit was rumpled, his chin was unshaven, and dark circles lay heavy beneath his eyes.
"Is this the only anomaly?" inquired the Doctor.
An expectant pause filled the room as both Rose and the Doctor waited for Pete to continue.
"I don't really know how to explain it," Pete said with a sigh. "It sounds absolutely crazy, and if it had just happened to me, I would've checked myself into the psych ward. But it's not just me. It's everyone."
Pete leaned forward and propped his arms on his knees. "Once the doppelgangers disappeared, we started to remember things." He paused. "Rose," he said, staring at her intently, "I know that I am not your real father, at least not in the biological sense. I understand and accept it, and over time we've worked out a relationship, you and I." He paused. "Haven't we?"
"Of course we have," Rose said emphatically. "You're my Dad."
Pete flashed Rose a quick smile, and then stood to pace restlessly around the room. "I know all this in my head. Logically it makes sense. And yet," he looked at Rose and she noticed there were tears forming in his eyes, "I remember perfectly the day you were born."
Rose gasped and felt tears forming in her own eyes.
"Can you believe it?" Pete continued. "I was late getting to the hospital, and Jackie was absolutely furious. But I made it in time, and I held your Mother's hand as she gave birth to you. I held you in my arms and knew that you were the greatest gift I had ever been given."
Rose could not contain herself; she jumped to her feet and engulfed her Dad in a tight embrace. "Oh Dad," she said, "I'm so sorry."
Pete hugged her for a moment and then pulled back to stare questioningly at the Doctor. "It doesn't end there. I remember things I've never done, outcomes of decisions that I never made, and lives I've never lived. And it's not just me."
The Doctor looked grim. "How are you handling it?"
Pete pulled out a handkerchief, wiped his eyes and blew his nose. "All I'll say is that the shrinks around the world are seeing a great influx of patients." He tucked away the handkerchief. "So I must ask you, Doctor, what has happened? What did you do?"
"Nothing," said Rose. "He didn't do anything. It was me."
"What?" asked Pete, turning towards his daughter.
"I had to fix it, Dad. And this was the only way. I'm sorry."
"Rose honey, I don't understand you."
The Doctor stood up from the couch and moved beside Rose placing a comforting arm around her shoulders. "What she means is that Earth is now at the center."
Pete's brow furrowed in confusion. "The center? Of what?"
"Everything," Rose whispered. "The universe was collapsing. I had to do something to fix it, and now there are no alternates of Earth. There is only the one."
"No more Pete's world versus Rose's world?" Pete's eyebrows rose to his receding hairline.
"No more," added Rose. "Only the one. That's why everyone can remember."
Pete's legs suddenly refused to support him and he collapsed heavily on the couch. "What about you, Rose?" he asked. "Do you have these memories, too?"
"No," she said. "There's only ever been one of me. It's why it had to be me."
The Doctor's arm around her tightened in surprise; whether it was from hearing she was singular in the universe or it was astonishment at her being aware of that fact, Rose couldn't tell.
"Now that I can believe." The Director of Torchwood was silent for several moments, and Rose felt certain she could see the wheels turning inside his head. "What does this mean for the Earth?"
The Doctor reached down and squeezed Rose's hand. "Oh," he said lightly, "I shouldn't think it would make that much of a difference, at least not for a really long while. The memories will start to fade as timelines work themselves out, and you might see increased alien travel to Earth. It being the center of everything will very likely attract some attention. It is rather exciting to contemplate." He bounced on his toes. "It's an adventure."
Pete let loose with a dry laugh. "I've seen your idea of adventure, Doctor, and it isn't for everyone. But I suppose that does explain some things."
"What things?" asked the Doctor.
"We've received a glut of diplomatic applications from a great many species we didn't know existed and don't even have names for. We are suddenly being treated like some exotic stop on an intergalactic travel package, and we are scrambling to accommodate."
The Doctor nodded. "All par for the course. I'll be happy to relate what I can about the species involved."
"I would be grateful, Doctor." Pete reached forward and snagged a photograph off the table. "But what about this? Is it a threat?"
"You can't let anyone go there, Dad." Rose's voice was tinged with worry and she felt the Doctor's eyes on her like a physical touch. "No one. Make up whatever story you have to, but don't let anyone get close, not until I…we say it's OK."
"That won't be easy. And if it is a threat to the Earth, I have to -"
"No! It isn't a threat, I promise." Rose shifted from foot to foot and wrung her hands. "I know it will be difficult, and I'm sorry, but it isn't for you, not for a very long time."
"Rose," Pete said seriously, peering into her face, "I can tell you believe what you are saying, but unless you can give me a reason, I don't know that I can do what you ask. What is it?"
Rose jumped when the Doctor's voice rumbled beside her. "It's a piece of a dead planet, Pete, and the ground contains so much radiation it would kill any human that set foot on it."
This was something concrete that Pete could latch onto it, and he grabbed the information like the Doctor knew he would. "What about protective gear?"
"You lot don't possess the technology needed to protect yourselves," said the Doctor, warming to his story. "The human race won't develop the technology needed to counter that specific type of radiation for at least," he glanced at Rose for guidance, "one thousand –" Rose gave a barely perceptible shake of her head, "two thousand-" Rose nodded. "Two thousand years!" he finished.
"So it is a threat," said Pete.
"Oh no," said the Doctor, shoving his hands into his pockets. "The orbit is completely stable and as long as no human sets foot on it for a couple of millennium, it should be perfectly alright. Don't bother it and it won't bother you. Isn't it lovely how that works?"
Pete looked first at the Doctor and then Rose. Rose recognized the look in Pete's eyes; the Director of Torchwood was a smart man and he suspected he was being flimflammed. Rose wasn't the best of liars, but she did her best to look as if the nonsense the Doctor had just spewed was exactly what she believed with all her heart.
Pete continued to eye them with suspicion, and then sighed. Leaning over he gathered the photos together and shoved them in a folder. "I get the feeling you two aren't being completely honest with me," he said. "But I trust that you will tell me if and when danger becomes imminent."
"Of course," said the Doctor.
Rose pulled her phone out of her pocket and waved it. "Got my super phone back. We can call you at the first sign of trouble from absolutely anywhere."
"Alright," Pete conceded. He kissed Rose on the forehead. "I've got to go make arrangements to deal with this dangerous rock in our orbit. How long are you staying?"
"For a bit," said the Doctor.
"We've got to run a short errand, though," added Rose.
"An errand, eh? Well don't tell your Mum and try to be back before she wakes in the morning or else she'll have my head for not tossing the Doctor in a deadlocked cell so she could have some time with you."
Rose smiled. "Will do."
Pete left the room and Rose felt tension fill the room; the Doctor was angry, she could tell. He looked at her with blazing eyes and tight lips. He was uncharacteristically quiet.
She gazed up at him with red-rimmed eyes. "I wasn't sure at first," she started. "But I remembered when I saw the pictures."
"What is it, Rose?" he demanded.
The Doctor reared back in surprise. "A gift? This isn't a box of chocolates we're talking about here. It's a bloody planet!"
"I know that!" Rose shouted. She drew in a heavy breath. "Is this how it is now, Doctor? Are you going to yell at me every time you discover a new change in the universe you either don't understand or approve of?"
The Doctor ran his hands through his hair. "No, no. It isn't like that, Rose." He pulled her into his arms. "It's just going to take some getting used to," he finally said. "It goes against everything I was taught, well, when I actually listened that is. Planets just aren't supposed to appear from nowhere."
Despite herself Rose smiled into his jacket. "It's a new universe, Doctor."
The Doctor pulled back and grinned. "Yeah, I suppose it is. A brand new universe begging to be explored." He bent over and quick as lightening placed a gentle, brief kiss on her mouth. "And there is no one I would rather explore it with."
He bounced on his toes suddenly filled with excitement. "So," he said, "a gift, you said."
"Yeah, a gift."
"Typically gifts have a giver, that would be you Rose, and a receiver. Who is this gift for?"
Rose caught her tongue between her teeth and grinned slyly. "Oh, I don't know. The universe?"
"The universe, eh? Can't think of a more unappreciative entity to receive a gift."
"You're right," Rose agreed. "The universe can be very rude. Maybe the gift is for you."
He looked at Rose intently, all signs of merriment gone. "Me?"
"Yeah," she said with a smile. She extended her hand in invitation. "Wanna go take a look?"
The Doctor did not hesitate when he grabbed her hand. "Absolutely."
The Doctor stared at the time rotor with something akin to awe. "I think that was the softest landing she's ever given me," he said. He turned to Rose. "It's like she is happy to be here."
Rose smiled mischievously. She stretched out a hand and patted the console. "Happy? I think she's positively delighted."
Neither Rose nor the Doctor proved to be adequate at deception where Jackie Tyler was concerned. When she wheedled out of them that they had an "errand" to run, she glared at the Doctor with such ire that he felt inclined to take shelter behind Rose. In the end, she made them stay through the day, only allowing them to return to the TARDIS after a home-cooked family dinner and a detailed description of the pain she would inflict on the Doctor's person if he were late bringing them back.
Rose had faced another battle as soon as she boarded the time ship. It had taken all her skills at persuasion to convince Zaizan to let her and the Doctor disembark alone. She had finally resorted to playing the "Golden Mother" card and told him emphatically that she knew precisely what they were headed into because she had created it herself. And if something were to go wrong, she could scream. Loudly.
Zaizan wasn't happy, but finally acquiesced with a tight bow. He left them in the control room, heading towards the habitat room the TARDIS had created for him.
The Doctor made no move towards the door.
Rose sauntered over and nudged him with her elbow. "You ready?"
He swallowed hard, and rubbed his hands through his hair. "What's out there, Rose?" he asked softly.
Her smile broadened. "Only one way to find out," she said and nudged him again. "Go ahead, Doctor. Be the first to step out onto something entirely new."
His long legs ate the distance to the door with ease; once there he steeled himself, took a deep breath, and opened the door. He stepped out of the familiarity of the TARDIS and planted a foot on red ground. In the distance, limbs of tall trees bearing silver leaves waved in the night breeze. Though there was no light from the sun at this time of day, fields of what appeared to be living corral emitted a soft golden light.
Rose came up behind him as he let out a strangled gasp. "Do you like it?" she asked.
"Rose –" The word was no more than a puff of air.
She moved around him and walked into the nearest field. Squatting next to the orderly rows of baby TARDISes, she stretched out a finger and every so gently rubbed the nearest one. The glow around it brightened, and suddenly the air was filled with a musical hum.
It was then that he noticed it. It wasn't the TARDISes that had brightened; it was Rose. Her hair streamed like starlight, and when she looked up at him with a sweet contented smile on her face, her eyes glowed like the eyes of a wolf.
"I couldn't bring either your people or your planet back," she said, her voice rising on the wind. "Both were too ruined. But there was no reason for the universe to forget. So this stands as a memorial to the Time Lords and Gallifrey."
The Doctor moved forward, away from the shelter of the TARDIS and gazed around him, speechless. In the dusky light, his eyes glittered suspiciously.
"There will come a day when the humans are ready to take their place among the stars, many many years from now." She gently rubbed the coral-like substance again. "And when they are, these will be for them."
The Doctor found his voice. "And what happens until then?"
Rose stood and dusted off her jeans. "Until then, we tend them, and we protect them."
He wasn't sure what emotion was painted on his face, for at that moment he was feeling too many to name. The Doctor knew it wasn't pleasant when his companion changed in the blink of an eye from the powerful Golden Mother, to an uncertain Rose Tyler.
She shoved her hands in her jeans and stared at the ground. "I'm sorry. I should have asked, but you weren't there and –"
His hands came up as he tried to stop her words. "No, Rose that it isn't –"
She raised her eyes and scrutinized him closely. He still wasn't sure what she read in his eyes, but this time, she nodded towards the TARDIS. "She is not alone anymore."
Rose slowly closed the distance between them as if she was afraid he would push her away. When he didn't, she drew him into her embrace. "Neither," she said softly, "are you."
The Doctor had known from the first day he met her that Rose Tyler would be his undoing. His defenses cracked, and long buried grief rose to the surface. He trembled like a tree caught in a tumultuous storm, tears flowed like rain, and his agonized cries echoed like thunder.
Through it all, she held him.
When he was spent, she led him to the top of a large hill. They sat together in the fragrant grass, she silent and calm, and he more than a little embarrassed at his outburst.
Neither was surprised when he started talking.
"A Gordian knot," the Doctor mused, staring up into the constellations that were so different from those he remembered.
"The Gordian knot," he repeated. "It is a legend from ancient Earth. It was said in the kingdom of Phrygia that whomever could solve the knot cipher and free the oxcart would be worthy of being the next king. Alexander the Great comes along and solves the puzzle in one swift stroke."
"Yeah?" asked Rose. "How'd he do that?"
"He sliced it apart with a sword."
"Sounds like cheating to me."
The Doctor stretched out more fully in the grass and put his hands behind his head. "Yeah, I suppose. I've solved many puzzles in my day, and it always seemed to be more rewarding to actually solve the riddle than cheat. But still…" he trailed off.
Rose scooted closer to him and ran her fingers through his hair. "Still what?"
"Hmm? Oh, on earth the term Gordian knot has come to mean solving an intractable problem with a bold stroke. It occurs to me that there can be some value in that. Like you repairing the universe."
Rose scoffed. "I don't remember any bold strokes. I do remember a lot of, well a lot of string, not to mention lots of sharp spikes."
"Still," he insisted, "your solution to the Polestar was brilliant, if unconventional, and likely to have lasting consequences."
"Gee, thanks," she retorted drily.
"No, Rose," he said looking up at her intently. "You misunderstand. I don't think I could have made the choice you did."
"No," she agreed. "You would have thought of something better."
He saw nothing but unwavering trust and love in her eyes. The knot of his emotions pulled taut, and the Doctor wondered if she saw the same sentiments echoed in his eyes.
An intractable problem…
"So," he asked softly, "how long are you going to stay with me?"
She smiled gently down at him. "Forever."
A bold stroke….
He returned her smile with a blinding one of his own. Without any hesitation, he reached up and pulled her face down. "Brilliant!" he said, and kissed her, allowing an entirely different storm of emotion rise to the surface.
Out on the horizon, the sky began to lighten as the moon rotated on its axis and turned its face to the sun. The Doctor and Rose, the Oncoming Storm and the Golden Mother, were entirely too busy to notice.
But millions of miles away, on a small blue planet that was shouldering the literal weight of the universe, one impatient and increasingly irate mother sat in her kitchen sipping tea, carefully watching the sky through the window. When morning finally dawned, it was unaccompanied by the wheeze of an ancient time ship.
Jackie gingerly placed her cup on the saucer. She rubbed her neck and rolled her shoulders. "Bloody Time Lord," she muttered, clearing away the tea things. "All of time at his disposal and he's never on time." As she stood at the sink washing up, Jackie vowed that this was an error that she would make sure the Doctor regretted. In spades.
And as the watery light of the budding day streamed through the window, Jackie smiled.
A/N: This has been a massive project, but it is finally completed. I wish to extend a special thanks to my beta Fayth, for without her support I might not have completed this story. I also want to thank all of you that have read and enjoyed my story, especially those that took the time to comment. I greatly appeciate your feedback. A giant group hug to you all! :)