While the Ponds are honeymooning in the TARDIS, the Doctor tries to work out who destroyed his TARDIS, how, and why. As usual, the holiday is short-lived, after a very improbable phone call leads to a few unexpected reunions and a whole other side to the story of the mysterious Silence. "There's only one force in the universe left capable of changing things at that level, at a personal level, to help me, that's the Bad Wolf," the Doctor snapped off. "So where is she, Donna?" / "I don't know," Donna said simply. "But we can find her together, and we can put it right."

For the prompt "Eleven/Rose with Donna fix-it." Title from "Set Fire to the Third Bar" by Snow Patrol/Martha Wainwright. Arguably a first episode in an epic (read: damn long) story that could NOT be told in under 10,000 words. This entire 'verse (which I am dubbing the "To Lead Yourself Here" 'verse) will be set between 6x00 A Christmas Carol and 6x01 The Impossible Astronaut.

Find the Map and Draw a Straight Line

It all began with an explosion, as it so often did.

The Doctor found himself lucky in that the Pandorica thing didn't come up in conversation once he'd dragged the Ponds along for their honeymoon trip and beyond, for lots of reasons. Least of all was that no matter how much the Companions he picked up along the way cared for him, they were never good enough to pick up on when he was completely and fully rattled and make him admit it.


Rory Roranicus Williams-Pond had also been fairly busy fighting off Auton instincts and the grand desire to join the hordes closing in on the Doctor, and Amy was busy being shot with Rory's gun in an entirely literal sense for once, so the Doctor was left with no one to ask questions or answer to on how traumatic it actually had been.

Rattled was definitely the word. He was most certainly not okay with -

Actually, the smarter thing would be to list the things he was perfectly all right with. There was Amy and Rory and their wedding and the universe being put right thanks to his stroke of brilliance (take that, Pandorica Alliance), and River Song made her way up that list each consecutive time he had the pleasure of adventuring with her. It was everything else that he found very much not good and puzzling in the bad and quite honestly disturbing way.

"Boom," the Doctor said faintly under his breath as he picked through wires with his fingers, examining connections and circuits and all the things he could name like a pedant if he felt like being particularly annoying that day. That wasn't today's aim.

Today, he needed to know how it was done. Then he could find out the who, and the why, and show them what happened to people who thought it was clever to destroy the fabric of the universe and pin it on someone who was perfectly innocent of most things that reasonable beings would consider major crimes against the universe.

"Destroying my own TARDIS," he said into the breaker, scorn sharp in his tone. "I never. Daleks giving me lectures. Honestly."

If he dwelled, he could still feel their grip on his shoulders, and the hoarse jab in the back of his throat as he screamed for them to let him go, to fix it, to stop it before it happened and only he could -

I'm sorry, my love, River had whispered, every time.

The Doctor shut the last engine interface up and picked up his toolbox, tensed and deaf to any distractions. Next, the console.

"Doctor?" Amy asked from the door, and he sent her a cursory glance, keeping his face carefully blank when he noticed that she'd been digging in the wardrobe again. This time it was a flapper dress that Victoria had taken to, albeit with much less ... leg involved.

He waved it off and went to pass by her, talking as she followed. "I'm fine, nothing's going on, we're still in flight and I'm doing repairs. Also in case you were wondering I didn't hear you two doing whatever it was you were doing in your marital bed et cetera," he assured her. "Unless you weren't. Doing things in your marital bed. I don't need to know."

"Ooh, you really think I spend half my time with my legs in the air, don't you?" Amy clearly fought a smile or smirk or anything that could give away that she wasn't in fact offended. "I should smack the taste out of your mouth."

"That would show me," he agreed breezily.

"Oh shut up. Look, it's important, you've got to come to the console room, right away," she pressed, following him closely.

"Pond," he interrupted, adjusting the digital goggle settings to suit twiddling with the column and the Heart of the TARDIS interface instead of something as simple as the engines. "Oh, Pond. You know what's important? Finding out why a TARDIS, my TARDIS, would explode and detonate every star at every point and time and wipe out almost every moment of time across every universe – "

"I remember that," Amy said, cross. "I'm ginger, not blonde."

"Doctor, you really should come back to the console room," Rory's voice came over the intercom.

"When did you figure out the comm console?" the Doctor asked, maybe a little aggravated. It was one thing to teach a Companion something, but entirely another for them to learn something and use it to boss him.

The intercom picked up Rory's sigh. Luckily, it probably didn't pick up the Doctor's slight huff. "Amy, did you tell him?"

"I was getting to that! He's not listening to me. Doctor," she said patiently, "someone's on the phone for you."

That caught his interest. "Really? Who?"

Amy shrugged. "She says her name's Donna."

The Doctor ran to the console room without taking off the goggles, even though he could barely see the incoming twists and turns, and had a few less than dignified close calls with colliding into walls, because this was IMPORTANT, because it DIDN'T MAKE SENSE, and if he didn't go faster he would have to make himself accountable to Amy and her questions.

Once at the phone there was a very pregnant pause where the Doctor would have picked up the phone if only he weren't fighting the urge to run in the opposite direction. Thankfully, Amy and Rory were there to block his way back into the maze of the TARDIS. "It can't be Donna. You misheard," he said to Amy.

"I didn't mishear, she said it just like that, Donna," Amy said, deliberately slow, and picked up the phone. "Hi! Amy Pond again. The Doctor's being an idiot, could you repeat your name please?"

The Doctor handed the toolbox off to Rory, pulled the goggles up over his forehead and raised a finger to give Rory instructions before he'd heard Amy prattling on again. "Pond! Stop messing around and give me the phone."

"Anything you want me to do with this or, I'll just put this over here," Rory decided upon seeing the look on the Doctor's face.

"She says her name's Donna Temple-Noble and you need to stop being a prat," Amy reported, her hand over the receiver. "Think you've got to take this call, Doctor, she means business."

The Doctor yanked the goggles from his head, handed them off to Rory again, and gestured for the phone. He warily waited for something to explode as he put it to his ear, and when it didn't, he said, "Hello?"

"Is that you? Of course it is, no one prattles on like you," Donna's voice went on. "It's me, you big dumbo, get your blue box back here to London, I need you. I need the TARDIS and her vortex circuitry more, but you're sort of the nutter in the center, aren't you?"

"Donna, you can't be talking like this, you can't," the Doctor said, just barely toeing the line between alarm and full-out panic. "You can't remember me, you've only got a handful of minutes, I'll be right there, now stop yourself THINKING or you might just - "

"Hi, hello, are you listening, I think not, I've been ringing your TARDIS for ages now and whatever you and Little Miss Pond are up to must be fun for the whole family since I only just got hold of you," Donna retorted, "so I think I know better than you how long I've got. Looks like I'm fixed."

The Doctor twisted a knob and punched in the code for call-tracing, and only relaxed once he got a location. "Right! Coming for you," he said to Donna, "and don't do anything stupid, will you, I like your head too much to watch it go all explode-y." He hung up on her. "Okay, we're off to London! Fast! Fast as we can!"

The TARDIS groaned as he pulled the engine release lever, and it pitched sideways, throwing Rory into Amy. The Doctor clung to the console, content to ride out the wave, then he heard it.

The Cloister Bell was ringing.

"What's wrong?" Amy asked him, alarmed, and grabbed his arm once the TARDIS was on an even keel. "What's happened?"

"That sound is a very bad sound and you two need to be ready to do anything I say because I've only got a few minutes to sort this out before reality snaps shut on us like a bear trap," the Doctor explained as best he could through the mild, exhilarating terror. "Are you ready, Ponds?"

"No," Rory said honestly. "Sorry, what was that sound?"

Amy elbowed him. "Yes, what do you need, Doctor? Tell me what you need."

"Tell me it's all right and we can sort it," the Doctor said, eyes glued to the console as he checked into the state of the universe and that sort of thing.

Amy's hand was on his shoulder as he took in as much of the Gallifreyan on the screen as he could manage. "You can do this," she reassured him.

He couldn't stop himself saying it once he realized. "Oh no."

"Did he just say 'oh no'?" Rory said faintly, behind him.

"No," Amy said uneasily.

"I think he did. Doctor, should we be running?" Rory pressed.

"We are, we're running towards it," the Doctor said firmly. The TARDIS's landing wasn't perfect but it was quick, and he ran for the door, shoving it open, only slightly hearing the Ponds chase him down the street. "DONNA!"

"What are you shouting for, I'm right here," Donna shouted back at him, not a meter from where the TARDIS had materialized.

The Doctor stared at her for a long and stupid moment, astounded enough at the brilliance that was Donna - Time Lord consciousness or no - to forget that her mind was going to implode within a few minutes. "You really haven't changed a bit, have you," she said, affectionately, and her half-smile sent him running to her, first seizing her in a hug before he pressed his forehead to hers.

Here I'm here don't try and put me back the way I am Doctor 'cos I'm here

She was in every nook and cranny. She was safe. "That's not possible," he said, opening his eyes to look her in the face. "You can't be."

"You're wasting time, Doctor," Donna said, gently pointed. "Something's very wrong, and I'm here to help."

"The Cloister Bell," the Doctor said faintly, releasing her after an awkward pause. "It's started."

Donna calmly removed herself from the Doctor's grip. "Let's go already! We've got universes to save!" She looked to the TARDIS door, and Amy and Rory. "Hi, I'm Donna Temple-Noble, you'll be Amy and this must be Rory!"

"Right," Rory said, shaking her hand once she'd seized his, looking blank. "Um, you called?"

"She's going to help," Amy said, and smiled at Donna. "Hi! Friend of the Doctor's?"

"Yeah, and one day he might even deserve me," Donna said brightly. "Well come on, let's get moving!"

"What about Shaun?" the Doctor pointed out, feeling a bit stupid.

"I think Shaun'll understand once I mention I'm saving the universe," Donna said, rolling her eyes. "Now are you coming or not?"

"Of course I'm coming, it's my TARDIS," he said haughtily.

"Oh you've got a mouth on you this time," she returned, hands on her hips.

"Sorry, 'this time'?" Amy chimed in.

"Not the time to gossip!" The Doctor opened the TARDIS door and ran inside. "Come along, there's a universe to save!"

"Oh, you redecorated!" Donna's voice rang out in the console room. "I don't like it."

The Doctor glowered at Amy, whose grin was enough to dull the panic from the Cloister Bell sounding once more.

"Let's get to work!" he declared. "What have we got?"

"Long story short," Donna said to Amy and Rory, "I got the whole of his Time Lord-y brain in my head a few years back and since I'm just human it overloaded the measly human circuits, I'd have died eventually. But something changed me and fixed me - "

"It didn't fix you," the Doctor interrupted. "You didn't need fixing, Donna, you were just fine as you were."

"Oh excuse me, I was just a secretary in Chiswick!" Donna retorted. "I wasn't just fine, I didn't have you or the TARDIS or anything!"

"What changed you?" Amy interrupted them, resting a hand on the Doctor's arm to restrain him a moment.

Donna fixed the Doctor with a careful look as he tried to keep his mouth shut and listen. "There's only one force in the universe capable of doing that and you know it," she said. "But I can't help unless I know what you've been up against - or up to, from what I gathered." She gestured between their foreheads - the telepathic connection from earlier.

"What force? There aren't any forces, not anymore, not really, not that I've heard from recently, everything's gone belly-up since the Time War and that's not really the point now is it," the Doctor realized as he talked, and went on. "Look, there's no changing your biology and I'm not convinced you aren't going to go ka-boom as we're talking to you right now no matter how convincing a patch-job this 'force' managed and - " He paused as he did the mental math, and forced a breath out between his teeth. "Oh," he finished.

"Aaaaand he's got it!" Donna declared, gesturing openly with her hands and clapping them together in vague satisfaction.

The Doctor did his best not to panic and began the dematerialization to head into the Vortex, to do whatever he had to do to confirm this and fix it and maybe figure out why his TARDIS had been hijacked and exploded and nearly ended the universe as he knew it. "Where is she? Did you see her, hear her, anything?" he demanded of Donna.

Amy touched his shoulder, but he brushed her off. "Doctor - " she tried.

"There's only one force in the universe left capable of changing things at that level, at a personal level, to help me, that's the Bad Wolf," the Doctor snapped off. "So where is she, Donna?"

"I don't know," Donna said simply. "But we can find her together, and we can put it right."

"It doesn't make sense, she was in a parallel universe, it shouldn't have affected her, her universe should be just fine," the Doctor insisted. "It can't be her - "

"Parallel universes. Sometimes it's like living in a comic book," Rory said, apparently to himself.

"There's no such thing as parallel," Donna said reasonably, and pulled the Doctor away from the console. "Stop. Breathe."

The Doctor sent her a pained look. "There's no need to be patronizing."

Donna poked him in the chest. "You're being a pain, I'll act how I want, now you get to shut your face for a minute while I remind you about basic non-Euclidean chronological concepts such as the basic intersection of an infinite number of possible universes intersecting at various points in space-time which means that if one whole universe gets unwritten by Vortex energy - "

"All the universes that intersect with the unwritten point are unwritten as well, yes, I remember," the Doctor said hastily. "I bet Shaun's loving this side of you."

"Oi watch it, I won't stand for you making fun of my husband or my being a wife because I'm proud thanks, and you didn't show up now did you, I think not," Donna pressed on, "so let's get back to the point - "

The Doctor raised a hand to stop her talking. "Hi, yes, I was at your wedding," he interjected. "So no more guilt trips."

Donna softened. "You were?"

"You think I would miss your wedding?" the Doctor retorted, indignant. "I have a time machine."

She shoved his arm, not without affection. "I know that! But you're soooo important, why would you show up to some wedding on 21st century Earth when you could be freeing space miners from the yoke of their evil corporate masters or battling green monsters of doom with only your mad giant brain and a screwdriver?"

The Doctor brushed it off and went on his correcting voice, "Donna, it's never just miners or a monster, it's always miners and a monster, and I would push over Madame du Pompadour to get to your wedding on time, now can we get back to the threat to the universe and Rose?"

Rory raised his hand. "Sorry, we're lost, any chance you could let us in on the threat to the universe thing?"

"You're like twins, speaking in your own secret Doctor-y language," Amy said, fingers waggling.

Donna turned to the couple, amiably enough. "Didn't I say? Once the point of intersection between one universe and another is unwritten by Vortex energy, the intersecting universe is unwritten completely - "

"Actually it's most likely unwritten completely, with a survival rate of plus or minus two percent," the Doctor interjected. "It cracks the universe at the center and it's bound to shatter eventually, unless it's got a trump card up its sleeve, like a clone of me, or Rose Tyler, for example."

"You think it's still there," Donna said, unabashedly skeptical.

"I think Rose is still there," the Doctor corrected. "I think parallel Gallifrey's still there. One of the two put you right, and only one of them can or even would do that, because parallel Gallifrey would know you can't possibly be what you are and... once humans get an idea in their heads, it's all 'of course it's possible, I can do it'!" he finished, and looked at Amy and Rory as they exchanged a look. "What?"

"Let's go find her, Doctor," Amy said, and gently guided him by the shoulders to face the console. "So what do we need to do?"

"Oh my god, no way," Donna realized, and sank back against the rails. "Oh, we're in a heap of trouble."

The Doctor barely spared a glance in Donna's direction as he set the TARDIS to materialize somewhere plausibly safe. "What?" he demanded.

"If she's not in her universe she's in the Void, there's nowhere else for her to be, Doctor!"

He threw a switch and brought the TARDIS to a tidy landing. "It doesn't matter where she is, I can get her." He took out the sonic screwdriver and crouched by the console, undoing screws left and right to reveal the glittering innards of this gorgeous machine.

"WHAT are you doing," Donna snapped off, and seized his arm, but he barely heard Amy stop her with a few quick words.

"Don't worry," the Doctor murmured to the TARDIS fondly. "I'll find her. Donna! I need a direct interface with the Heart of the TARDIS, same old code - "

Donna leaned on the console beside the half-opened Heart of the TARDIS and said, understanding and blunt all at once, "I am not letting you upload the Vortex into your head."

"Good thing I'm not asking your permission then."

"Doctor," Amy cut in. "This sounds dangerous."

"I'm not uploading, I'm ... consulting, and even if it is," the Doctor added, pointed in the moment, and looked Donna in the face. "Trust me."

Donna balked only for a second, and went to the nav console to enter the code. "He's always been like this," she confided in Amy and Rory, and brought the direct interface goggles over to him once she'd patched them in. "All 'oh, is this a dangerously stupid thing to do? I'll be there in a flash!'" she went on mocking him.

"Well. Someone's got to," Amy said, and drifted closer to Rory as the Doctor looked back at them. "What?"

He pulled the goggles on and tapped them with a finger. "Don't take them off. No matter what. And if something happens to me, you listen to Donna, she's almost as brilliant as me."

"Almost, ha," Donna dismissed, with a broad grin. "Well go on Doctor, prove it!"

"Be careful," Amy said, chiding, and he hesitated at her look of careful concern. "Do it! Get the girl!" she pressed.

The Doctor didn't give himself the chance to deny, hesitate, or make excuses. He threw the switch.

Still broken, the Heart of the TARDIS said to him. Always broken.

The universe, the multiverse, everything he'd done to save it was a patch job, at best, but it always would be. Not always. Help me fix it.

Gone - a flash of Rose's hair and cheek bathed in golden light – she is ours, she is gone.

I know. The Vortex energy both seared him and comforted him in its warmth. You brought Donna back. Bring Rose to this world.

For a moment he felt something intensely wrong, the glass of the TARDIS floor against his shoulderblades, and the Heart pulsed, weak and hesitant and denying, until the words came to his mind, unbidden.

Bad Wolf, he said. Who's afraid of -

He felt her there before the Heart of the TARDIS snapped shut around his mind, streaming through him, and then he heard - felt - the voice, soft, layered and echoing through his consciousness.

My Doctor.

The Doctor tore the goggles from his face and scrambled back, dazed and unable to express any of his gratitude for Amy's arms around him and Donna's quick fix of the console. "I did it, I," he started.

"Oh my god you're okay," Amy seemed to be murmuring more to herself than to him or anyone else there.

"Doctor," a voice said, and the voice cut straight to his hearts. He looked up instantly, in time to see Rose wavering on her feet, eyes wide and the Bad Wolf coursing through her.

"Thank you," the Doctor said, and it felt so inadequate.

The Bad Wolf took an uneasy step forward on Rose's feet, looking down at her trainers, and spoke urgently, "I can't... this body."

"I know. Is your universe safe? Are you safe?" the Doctor pressed.

"No," the Bad Wolf said crisply. "It's all gone." Then an expression of pain cut through the Bad Wolf's facade and Rose whimpered and choked, and the Doctor rushed to her, holding her when her knees threatened to give way.

"It's all right, Rose, we'll sort it," he said, insistent and firm.

Rose's hand went to his face and he glanced down in concern to see the Bad Wolf looking back at him. "The universes are sick, Doctor," it said. "You saw the death after a long sickness, death, and silence."

"Oh my god," rushed out of Amy's mouth, and in the time the Doctor took to give her a warning look, the Bad Wolf pushed herself up.

"My Doctor can cure all ills," the Bad Wolf said with the bland certainty of all-knowing, all-seeing, "but only with the help of one like himself."

"Him," the Doctor said, tone flat, caught up in the implications and the vague horror. "The other Doctor, you're bringing him back."

The Bad Wolf skimmed his mind and tilted Rose's head in something that looked like confusion. "He's gone. Sacrificed." The connection broke for a moment when Rose cried out, but then it spoke smoothly again as though the interruption had never occurred. "When her Doctor could no long protect her, his double awoke."

"What?" the Doctor asked blindly, before he could think twice.

"Me," Donna spoke up, frankly gobsmacked. "She means me."

"Cure them, Doctor, Donna, or it will happen again." The Bad Wolf touched his cheek in something that resembled tenderness, Rose's eyes alien but soft in a way that still felt like her gaze on his face, and he nodded. "They are everywhere, and they will take everything from you, and you will never know they were there."

"Rose," he interrupted, and cursed himself inwardly, adding, "tell me, who do you mean, do you know who – "

"It is done. I've healed what I can. You must do the rest," the Bad Wolf said, the voice trembling as Rose's body began to quake, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Thank you," the Doctor made himself say. "She can't bear much more, you have to let her go."

"You first," it said, and Rose's mouth opened barely, a wisp of regeneration energy curling in the air before she went completely limp in the Doctor's arms.

The Doctor tried to remember how to breathe again in the moment of silence that followed. Donna broke it like it was nothing, in her way, and the Doctor couldn't have been more grateful. "Rory, be a mate? I think Rose needs a bit of a lie-down, maybe a cup of tea," she suggested.

"I've got it handled, thanks," the Doctor said, as casually sharp as he could manage, and picked Rose up.

"Tea, then, I'm a housekeeper, great," Rory said, apparently to himself.

Amy found her voice. "She was talking about silence! Like Prisoner Zero, like you said we were going back out to stop, and - "

"And we'll sort it," the Doctor interrupted, carefully edging Rose out of the console room and pulling a face as he took a moment to really shake off the whole Vortex thing. "Blimey, remind me to never do that again, Donna."

"Told you so," Donna said in a knowing sing-song. "Amy! I need your help over here a minute."

The Doctor followed Rory into the main corridors of the TARDIS and said lightly to the unconscious Rose, "We have got to stop meeting like this."

"Talking to yourself? Or are you the sort of bloke who talks to girls when they sleep 'cos you can't possibly be honest while awake," Amy chimed in from behind him, and the Doctor looked back at her, flabbergasted.

"You - no surprising me when I'm carrying someone who's taken to fainting!" he chided her.

"I don't like leaving you alone," Amy insisted, and followed him closely. "You look - sad."

"I'm worried," the Doctor defended. "And I should be, the Cloister Bell was ringing, you heard it."

She gave him a warning look. "I don't know what that means, Doctor."

He returned the look. "The Cloister Bell, it's pretty much a Vortex smoke alarm, I haven't taught you how to use it 'cos you'd set it off for fun."

"I would not - oh, that! The thing that went CLONNNNG?" Amy checked, with a two-handed gesture that was apparently meant to demonstrate a bell ringing.

The Doctor paused at the door of Rose's old bedroom and fixed Amy with his best really? expression. When she shrugged at him, he fought off a smile and indicated she open the door with a tilt of his head. "Right, the thing that went CLONNNNG. TARDIS knew there was something trying to get through to the Vortex and rang me. It was her. Actually it was the Bad Wolf, not Rose, but - " He set Rose down on the bed and sat beside her, looking away from Amy. "She's important," he said simply.

Amy fell silent. "I know," she said after a moment.

He hadn't explained properly, obviously. "I mean - a whole universe shattered around her and she survived, because she's special, because she's - "

"Because she's linked to the TARDIS," she interrupted, and raised her eyebrows at the Doctor's surprised look. "What? I'm clever! You don't have to be a Time Lord to be clever!"

Sometimes, his days running about with Rose, Martha, Donna and the rest felt so far away that they had to have happened to a completely different man. And then there was Rose, throwing him back into the intensity of his last regeneration, but he didn't know if he could, not again, not like this, not now.

He shut his eyes and stuck his hand out in Amy's direction. Come on, Pond, he willed, and the corner of his mouth turned up once her fingers knit with his and her palm was against his, anchoring him to the moment.

If the Doctor were the sort to tilt towards hyperbole, he would have said it could have been hours in comfortable silence in Rose's cosy old bedroom, but really it was a handful of minutes that he knew he couldn't afford to waste. "We're in trouble, aren't we?" Amy said finally.

He sighed. "Oh yeah," he answered, universe-weary and resigned. Then he turned a smile to Amy. "Always, you know it."

She nudged him, and kissed the top of his head with unmasked fondness and worry. "I'll leave you two alone," she said, leaving if you want unasked.

The Doctor just nodded, and squeezed Amy's hand before releasing it. She shut the door behind her, and he took the moment to take the room in, the room he hadn't been able to bring himself to enter since he'd sent Rose off where he thought she would be safe.

They will take everything from you, the Bad Wolf had said.

"Try me," he said, low and vengeful, and met his reflection's gaze across the room, dark and determined. He couldn't bring himself to care that barely recognized himself in the moment. The universe, time, and all those in it, had taken too much from him, too often, for him to care what he might have been becoming.

It wouldn't happen again.

He didn't realize he'd fallen asleep resting against the headboard until Rose's voice woke him up. "Just leave him be, he deserves a minute," she was saying, hushed.

"Yeah, right, but Donna says tea should do him some good after the shock," Rory answered, and at the clink of the tea tray being set aside, the Doctor began to concentrate on not opening his eyes, stirring, stretching, or anything that might tip the two off to the minor fact that he was now awake. "He plugged himself into the Heart of the TARDIS, you know."

"Yeah," Rose said, her voice dropping, softer still, and he wasn't quite prepared for her hand against his forehead, her fingers stroking his hair. "Thanks. For the tea."

"Right. No problem, see you later," Rory said, and the door clicked shut behind him.

There was only a half second's pause before Rose shifted away from him, slipping off of the bed, and said in her best you aren't fooling me tone, "There's tea."

"I heard." The Doctor sat up and stretched. "Oh, two sugars, no milk," he instructed.

"The TARDIS, the face, the way you talk... even the way you take tea changes," Rose said briskly, busying herself with the tea. "I think you like it, regenerating. Never know who you'll be or what you'll wear or how you'll act, besides mad and brilliant, of course."

"Of course," he echoed, with a vague smile. "So, you like it?"

She glanced back at him, considering. "Not wild about the bowtie," she volunteered.

"Give it a day, you'll love the bowtie. Bowties are cool," he said simply, and accepted the tea from Rose, shifting aside on the bed to give her more space to sit. "Feeling better?"

"Yeah." For some reason the question seemed to make her uncomfortable. "I think – Doctor, I think I was... erased, or something – "

He hurriedly drank the tea to cover his discontent at putting her so ill at ease. "Unwritten," he supplied her, gently as he felt comfortable allowing. "But we'll set it right, I promise, you and your family back together again."

Her fingers tapped an awkward rhythm on her thigh, and he tried not to watch. "Aren't you going to ask me what happened?" she asked, and looked up into his face, her expression bare in its challenge. "Whose fault this all is?"

The Doctor sipped his tea to stall. "I just tore you from the Void, this isn't an interrogation – "

"It wasn't John," she said, all firm and sad and strong as he loved her. "It wasn't my Doctor, he didn't do this. You think he did, and... he's done terrible things, I'm not saying he hasn't but he didn't do this."

"I didn't say that," he cut in, treading carefully. "And there's no way he could have caused any event in our universe, nonetheless the explosion of my TARDIS. I know it wasn't him."

She exhaled, something near a laugh, and he didn't have the chance to ask her why. "You're wrong," she said, and he could at least appreciate the directness. "We weren't nearly so closed off as you think."

That piqued his interest. "What?" He downed a lot of the tea and set it aside to get cold, the Heart of the TARDIS thing forgotten. "Tell me everything."

She half-smiled at that, and it was a million times better than that faraway look that he knew too well, the one that meant you'd left a whole shattered world behind you. "Everything, are you sure?"

"Everything and not a word less."

He took her free hand, gingerly, and her hand closed around his; just like that, they were the Doctor and Rose again. "We were the only ones noticing," she said, her eyes closing lightly in the comfortable silence. "That the stars were going out again, and other things, little things. Jake and Dad couldn't see it, thought it'd always been like that. The Royal Family vanished, every last trace of 'em, Doctor, like they'd never existed at all, and Dad, he was making more money than ever 'cos of the economic crash of the States in the '50s, until..."

"The cracks in time," the Doctor said faintly. "Of course."

"Yeah," Rose said, her voice strained. "At first, yeah."

He held onto her hand more tightly, and she squeezed it. "What do you mean 'at first'?" he pressed.

"It wasn't just time energy erasing things," she explained, and spoke more rapidly as she went on. "The walls between the universes, they were weak, and Torchwood picked up something crossing the Void from your world into ours, ships, lots of 'em. Then they just stopped reporting it at all. People were acting off, doing things they'd never, the governments were working for someone else. Even Torchwood started working on projects and locking 'em away."

"Who were they, Rose?" he asked steadily.

"I don't know," Rose confessed. "I just know – they took John."

The Doctor froze at the look on her face, the tear-stains and exhaustion on her face from being worn like a cocktail dress by the Vortex itself, and worst of all, the hope draining out of her face by each passing second. "I got you back, your universe back," he told her, firm as he dared. "Whatever this Silence is planning, I'm going to stop it. I think the Bad Wolf might beat me up later if I don't," he added dryly.

Rose half-laughed, her shoulders jerking in what looked like it could be a sob, and he leaned in before he could think twice about it. "I take it back," she said. The sorrow's smile she turned in his direction was almost enough to make him send her home. "You haven't changed at all."

"I'm sorry," he said, quiet and understanding now. She would never be safe, no matter how many times he saved her. "I'll find your John, I'll send you two on holiday. Somewhere sunny, with drinks with umbrellas," he suggested. "It'll be like I was never here, or you were never - "

She exhaled and let her teacup fall to the carpet with a faint clinking sound. He opened his mouth to say something, anything that might stop this from escalating to where they both knew it'd land, but then her arms were around him and he couldn't find words. "Stop it, just stop, you can't make me choose again," she murmured.

"I'm not," the Doctor answered, startled and stiff in her arms.

Rose pulled away, a hand to her cheek grounding him. "You are," she said, chidingly. "You always have, you always push me away towards something normal, something better, something safer, but you know what I want."

"You have what you want." It was a gentle reminder, with his best effort not to judge, never to judge, because a woman's love was only guilt-inducing if you loved her back.

He felt paper-thin with the look she gave him. "You're not listening," she said, all sharp and Jackie tone again.

He had to draw himself up a bit to feel ready to retort. "You call him John, you love him, not me, you loved that Doctor, not me, I'm a different man, I'm not broken anymore, I'm fine, I'm not lonely, I'm not tired, I'm just ..." He lost steam as he spoke, and stopped at her raised eyebrows. "I'm fine," he repeated. "And we'll get you your Doctor back, just watch."

Thankfully, Rose humored him. "How d'you plan on doing that?"

"Haven't figured it out yet." The Doctor glanced down at the tea, then concluded, "We should be heading back. We should get to it! Come on, let's race. I'm faster this time. It's the boots, I think," he rambled.

"Doctor," she interrupted his babbling.

He nodded, seriously. "Ix-nay on the race, I have to agree. Shorter route in this TARDIS though."

She put a finger to his lips. "Three times you've tried to get rid of me," she said. "How's that worked for you, so far?" The Doctor raised his eyebrows at her, but she went on without unsilencing him. "Every time you put me behind a wall, Doctor, the wall comes down, and I wind up back in the TARDIS with you."

"Can I talk now?" he spoke past her index finger.

She removed the finger and sat back, arms crossed as she appraised him. He took that as a yes and went on. "This isn't the time to talk about this. Maybe once we've got it sorted. Who knows how long that'll be, I mean, we've had two or three day adventures but sometimes these things take months or years. Something big is going on, really big, cosmic big, and that's not something we can do over afternoon tea," he assured her. "So – "

"So in the meanwhile we can be the Doctor and Rose and Donna and Amy and Rory Pond, all mates," Rose cut him off; the edge to her tone stopped him cold and halted his apologetic smile. "You just can't wait to shove me away again."

"That – that is not it at all," the Doctor insisted, and the next moment was a bit of a blur – she went to stand, he rose to stop her and when she'd turned back towards him to give him a piece of her mind, it could have only been a team effort between his survival instinct and libido that led to him kissing her soundly on the mouth in the split second of opportunity.

It wasn't the first time he'd kissed Rose, or Rose's mouth anyway, but it was the first time he'd done it in the heat of the moment like this, not terrified or at least not frozen by the terror of what it meant, because this time it meant something more than an impending regeneration, or Cassandra taking too many liberties.

"I... should not have done that," the Doctor observed once he'd pulled away, then he retreated a step, then one more. "I didn't mean – "

"Shut up," Rose retorted, and much to his surprise he saw a smile lingering at the corners of her mouth. "We should go. Universe to save."

"Multiverse," the Doctor corrected her, comfortably know-it-all. Her rebellious look made him smile despite himself, but then she bolted for the door and flung it open.

"Beat you there," she said, in a teasing lilt, and left him shouting "HEY" behind her as he ran to close the distance the time advantage had given her.

For a moment it wasn't just about the physics problem of the multiverse he was working out in the back of his head, or about Rose and her sweet mouth and quick tongue, or wonderful, brilliant Donna. It wasn't about the who, the when, the where, the what, and definitely not the why, just the how, never the destination or the reward, but the running, the sheer, pure thrill of the running, on the way.

The TARDIS keened quietly under his feet, unsettled but content as they arrived in the console room, laughing and out of breath. "Took you long enough," Donna commented, and tossed him the sonic screwdriver. "Get to work!"

"You heard her," Rose teased him, and he flashed her a smile, avoiding Amy's always knowing gaze as he stuck it in his pocket and straightened to monologue cheerfully to the newly assembled TARDIS crew of five.

"Right then! We've got work to do," he said, and punched coordinates into the nav console. "Pandorica Alliance, the Silence, the TARDIS, the infiltration into another universe and kidnapping of a half-Time Lord, fully genius bloke, what do they all have in common?"

"Someone has it in for you," Amy spoke up, and raised her eyebrows at him.

"That narrows it down to, oh, half the universe," Donna deadpanned.

"Not helpful, Donna!" the Doctor declared.

"She has a point. We could afford to narrow it down a little," Rory admitted.

"The Silence, then." Rose cut into the conversation easily. "Think we've all heard our share of that word, yeah? Who are they?"

Rory gave a brisk nod in agreement. "Not to mention, what are they?"

"Wait, wait, we're going to the Shadow Proclamation?" Donna sent the Doctor a slightly appalled look. "Last time we went there they wanted to commandeer the TARDIS to go to war!"

"Donna, I mean this in the best possible way, but shut up," the Doctor said, as delicately as such a thing could be said, and turned to Rose – and Amy, and Rory, of course. "Mind looking through the TARDIS records?"

"Oh, my favorite, card catalogues," Amy declared in her best doomed deadpan, unwillingly readying herself to search through the TARDIS database.

"I've got a trick for the index," Rose promised her. "I'll show you."

"I like you already!"

"Oh, god," Rory sighed at the burst of camaraderie, and looked to the Doctor in hopes of a task that wouldn't involve his wife and her likely new best friend. "Anything I can – "

"Nope, sorry," the Doctor said promptly, and exchanged the faintest smile with Donna as they hurtled towards the next less than well-thought out step in the sort of plan forming in the back of his head as they went. He saw his confidence mirrored in her eyes, her brain ticking away at speeds only measureable by Gallifreyan metrics, and for the first time since the Time War, being the cure to the universe's ills felt more a blessing than a curse.

"We're going to do this," Donna said, and her smile was brilliant.

"Yeah," he replied, his smile just as radiant. "We are."