He threw his coat over the support strut, not looking to see if it made it. He'd probably never wear it again.
He moved around the console room, looking, really looking for the first time in a long time, as he started the dematerialisation sequence. He'd seen Rose. That hurt, almost as much as the radiation that was slowly killing him. Not slowly. Very quickly now.
Rose. What he most wanted to do now was go and find her room. Curl up on her bed like he hadn't when he left her on Bad Wolf Bay. Either time. He knew the TARDIS had kept her room as she left it. A mess. Every now and then he'd found himself confronted by her door, but he'd never gone in.
But he couldn't. Not now. Not ever probably. He could feel the radiation building and behind it, the regeneration energy burned. Too hot. Was it this hot last time?
'I don't wanna go.' Because he would be gone, this time. Utterly changed. No Rose to stabilise him, to remind him how much he loved her every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every… well… always. But that was a good thing, wasn't it? No pain at her absence. No ridiculous jealousy of himself- his human self - standing there in Bad Wolf Bay kissing her. Of course, he might lose his hair – and it is great hair – but at least the pain will stop. The everyday, gnawing pain that ate away at him day by day.
He screamed as the regeneration energy ripped through him. Suddenly aware of nothing around him. Only the pain and the brilliance.
Then it stopped. He staggered forward, dropping to the deck. Funny, his hands looked the same. And he still hurts. He closed his eyes, needing a moment in his head before he faded and was replaced. Hands. Not his, not those in front of him, someone else's, pulling him around so he was laying on the deck, his head on something soft.
'You know, you don't half make a mess.'
He kept his eyes shut and sighed. 'Madness does tend to make one neglect the housework.' He felt the body he was resting against shake with silent laughter. 'Then you start to hallucinate and all hell breaks loose.'
'You're not hallucinating. Open your eyes, Doctor.'
Reluctantly, he complied. The first thing he saw was the TARDIS, frozen in the process of its own destruction. He'd been ripping the TARDIS apart in the middle of the vortex. Good move, that. Smart. Unwillingly he allowed his gaze to focus on the person holding him, knowing what his – judging by the evidence, quite cracked – mind was about to show him.
He was lying on the floor, in the TARDIS, with his head in Rose Tyler's lap.
'Hello,' she said, smiling through the tears that were streaking down her face. In the reflected light of the TARDIS exploding, her tears looked golden.
'Hello,' he replied, closing his eyes again.
'So… I was sleeping, yeah? And suddenly I wake up with this memory of this bloke talking to me outside our block of flats…'
'January 1st, 2005,' he murmured.
'He said I was gonna have a great year…' she said. He could feel wetness on his forehead and what was presumably her sleeve as she wiped it away. 'Sorry,' she murmured. Her tears then. She was crying. Always crying for him.
'So there's suddenly had this full grown memory, right? Of a strange man who'd had a bit too much to drink. Except he wasn't strange, not really… was he, Doctor?'
'He was me.'
'He was you,' she confirms. 'And I knew,' she says, her voice a whisper, 'I knew. So I had to come, even though you left me behind. Again.'
'You know – it's bad form for an hallucination to pick on the hallucinatee.'
'What happened to Donna? Once you were back on the TARDIS?'
As always, his treacherous brain moved too quickly. Taking the sketchy information he'd been given and reaching the horrible conclusion. 'Ohhh… I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.'
'Yeah,' she said dryly. He could feel her pulling away, mentally, becoming harder. 'He said that too. As he died. Couldn't hold on to it all, see. Imagine trying to contain every memory, every thought, every action from almost a thousand years of life in a body with a brain that only uses ten per cent of its capacity and that only has one heart. Somethin' had to give.'
'But he could have forgotten, could have-' he broke off as she maneuvered him into a sitting position and looked at him, a harsh light in her eyes that he hadn't seen before. Never directed at him, in any case.
She got to her feet and walked over to the console; careful to dodge a piece of it that was midway through exploding. Then she turned to face him, crossing her arms over her chest and speaking in a soft voice, as though genuinely curious. 'Could you? Everything you've seen and done, everywhere you've been, everything you've felt - could you forget all of that?'
He looked away, desperate not to see that look in her eyes, even if she was just a hallucination.
'Thought not. Stand up.'
As though utterly controlled by her voice, he pulled himself to his feet, wincing at the pain that rolled through him in waves. Her eyes swept over him, starting at his hair, then moving down his body, then back up to his eyes. Her expression was still cold. 'Doctor,' she said softly, 'what have you done?'
'You're really here,' he replied, unable to meet her gaze, 'aren't you?'
'I had to come. I had to offer you this, even though you don't-' she broke off, then continued, 'I guess I owe you somethin' for all this.' She swept an arm out around her.
'Rose,' he said softly, finally allowing himself to say her name out loud. Even to his own ears it sounded like a plea for absolution. Her eyes widened slightly at that, apparently she hadn't missed the fact that he'd not called her by name. He took a breath, 'I'm regenerating,' he said bluntly, 'And this time there's no way to stop it. Nothing we can do.'
'Your handy spare hand,' she murmured. She met his eyes again, 'You look so tired.' He looked down at his feet, feeling another wave of pain cresting in his stomach. 'When did you stop looking around you, Doctor? When did you stop loving it all?' she asked, and he could hear the tears in her voice. 'We're frozen in time and the Time Lord with the vastly superior intellect and the biggest gob in the universe hasn't said anything. Probably 'cos you thought it was a hallucination, but still…'
All too late, the Doctor suddenly realised that the pace by which he measured his life, his position, his very existence, had gone. There was no time. He felt as though his breath had been knocked out of him. 'No… that's not right. You can't… You can't possibly…'
'I came here to offer you a choice,' she said and her voice sounded… doubled, somehow, as though two people were speaking at once, 'I wasn't even sure up until just now that I had anything to offer you, but I've got this. I can make this stop.' She whispered. He hadn't noticed until right then that she'd been walking towards him, but now she was standing just inches away from him and he couldn't look away. He saw her then, his Rose, peeking out at him from behind the Bad Wolf, the monstrous entity that could cross dimensions and stop time. Briefly he wondered what she was seeing, right now, when she looked at him. 'You were so much better than this, before. So much more. I've seen what you've done. How much you've hurt. The mistakes you've been making…'
'Stop it,' he breathed, his eyes falling closed.
He felt her tuck her fingers under his chin and lift it slightly, gently indicating that he should be looking at her. So he did. He felt like he could drown in her, right then. Standing there and just so… Rose. All pink and yellow. Looking at him like she's not examining his soul anymore, like she already knows everything and it doesn't matter. The way she always used to look at him.
'You can't stop this,' he said.
She snorted her amusement at that and he couldn't help but feel warmth for her humanity in the face of everything that was happening. 'I can stop time, Doctor. I can cross dimensions. I've come looking for you and found you twice and you never even thought about it.' He stared at her blankly, and wished he could blame the pain he was in for his apparent denseness. 'I've stopped time in the TARDIS for how long now?' she asked him.
His brain raced to calculate the last time he'd felt time passing and couldn't. He resorted to counting his heart rate backwards, then realised that was unreliable, this close to a regeneration. So he counted hers instead. Her heartbeat which hadn't picked up the whole time she'd been here. 'Seven minutes, forty three seconds.'
She nodded. 'So what do you want?' she asked, 'Do you want this,' she waved a hand around the console room to illustrate her point, 'or do you want to stop it?'
'Just stop it?' He asked, because regardless of how he felt about changing he didn't think he could survive in this world without time much longer. He thought this is what it must feel like to be dead.
'Don't be thick,' she said, smiling as though she'd read his mind.
'You can't save me, Rose,' he said.
'I can if you want. What do you want, Doctor?'
'I don't wanna go,' he whispered, and like so many others the words had left his mouth before he could stop them.
She stepped closer then, something he hadn't imagined possible, really, considering how close she was already standing. She tilted her head back so that she was looking directly up at him and for the tiny moment before her lips pressed against his he saw her eyes were ghosted with golden light.
When he came back to himself he was slumped against the support strut behind him and she had fallen against him, barely conscious. Her heart rate had picked up now, quite alarmingly. And he could feel no pain. He caught her in his arms and carried her to the jump seat.
As he strapped her in she murmured something at the edge of hearing and he had to lean closer to catch it. She repeated herself. 'Get ready.' Then she lost consciousness and the console room became his own personal hell. They were going to crash.