Written for the then_theres_us ficathon at LiveJournal, for the following prompt: "When he burned up a sun to say goodbye, he finished the sentence. How did this change how they lived during their separation? How did it change their reunion?"
Beta by Annissa!
Spray flew up, spotting her face, indistinguishable from her tears. The wind howled and whipped the sea.
The wind always whipped the sea.
She felt everything: every little rock under her feet, the salt already itching on her face. For the first time in her life, Bad Wolf or no, Rose Tyler felt the turn of the earth. It no longer mattered.
She was alone at Bad Wolf Bay, looking back. She would always be alone at Bad Wolf Bay.
She will tell them another story tonight. Perhaps, she thinks (as always), she can find the strength to tell a new one. Sometimes she reads to them. Sometimes she simply holds a book and makes something up. They do not know the difference, but that feeling, the feel of textured leather on hands and smooth paper against her thumb, seems to make the story more real, less ephemeral.
She loves her children, three improbable miracles, but some nights she tires of the repeats and the waiting.
It was a terrible night, but he laughed when she found him. Laughed and laughed and laughed again as she, Defender of the Earth, destroyed one last Dalek and sauntered, almost casually, toward the TARDIS.
It felt right, that nonchalance: she found him and came home. He realized for the first time that through all that wrenching separation, those years of being without his right hand, he knew that the only question was which of them would find the other first. It was going to happen somehow, always. His last words to her, and hers to him, made it inevitable.
He did not have to run, to touch her, to assure himself that she was really there. It was the right time, the right place, and he was perfectly, absolutely, suddenly certain. It was like flying into a supernova, that one indelible millisecond of endless light before you become dust on a solar wind. The moment rushed over him; he stood still and waited, and it carried him forward.
She always would too.
"No, Mickey! No, you will not."
When Pete shouted, all of Torchwood seemed to echo. All of Canary Wharf shook, she imagined, but she knew that was only a memory.
It still shook.
"She has a right, if she wants."
"No! Do you really want her to live through that again? She—"
Pete slammed the door and the building went silent. She looked at her watch: eleven forty-five at night and still stifling hot outside. She could see the heat boiling up, clouds of steam outside the windows, over the view of London that, when she was nineteen, she might have loved. Everything looked so beautifully vast and tiny at the same time.
She imagined. Of course she could not see heat. Of course she could not see dark, or the infinitesimal smallness of London beneath the zeppelins. Of course.
She still felt the smooth cobbles of the seashore under her boots, even though she wore sandals. A crust of salt still covered her face.
On the beach in Norway, they had said so much, and so little.
Thousands of books, all the bedtime stories she could read, and it always seems to come back to the ones that were never written, the ones that seem to pop out of those oddly blank last bound pages. She tells them, over and over.
It is, in fact, the same story, again and again. It never changes. She loves that, holds it tight to her and marvels at the way her glowing treasure bounces the light over her heart. She hates that. What she stores up and clings to can never change.
"Mum, will you tell us about the Doctor tonight?"
She will, again and again; her hands will cradle the book and her voice will tell the story while her heart wrenches. She is trapped with it, a loop she cannot break.
Donna was drunk. Drunk. After the day they had had, he could hardly blame her.
It was inevitable, a fixed point, but twenty-four thousand people: that was too close to genocide for his taste. He could only imagine how she felt.
She gave a half-hysterical whoop and downed another shot of hypervodka, effusive and in sync with her four new "best friends". Bars in the fifty-second century were wonderful if you wanted to be drunk, especially if you wanted to be drunk quickly. Of course, that was pointless if you were Gallifreyan: he could have drunk Donna under the table and still not felt a thing.
He did not want to feel a thing.
Finally she wound down a bit and he slipped a hand under her elbow. "Come on. Time to go home."
"Oi, spaceman! I'm—" she started to protest. It only took a second, staggering to her feet, for it to hit. "Oh, I'm, 'm really tired."
Tired or not, she babbled all the way back to the ship, studiously ignoring Pompeii.
"'S the TARDIS like your car, then? You in love with her, like all the other blokes?" She giggled. "Hope my mum found my car keys! Too late now to go back—no, too early—no, time machine! We can always go back."
She was dragging him down, staggering so. "We can't, you know."
"Well, that girl better not've taken them. Hope she told Mum." She paused, then continued, sounding surprisingly sober. "She was pretty, roots showing and all, almost just a kid. Young and pretty and so sad."
She stopped, and he pointedly did not think about a beautiful woman with obvious roots who looked so, so sad when last he saw her.
Donna laughed again, oblivious. "Stupid necklace, though, all huge and cheap-looking and yellow. Not her color."
He stiffened and could have stopped breathing, but no. Donna was, after all, drunk, and probably not remembering clearly.
"You all right?" Drunk, but perceptive.
He guided her gently into the TARDIS, saying "I'm always all right." She giggled again, like she had already forgotten the blonde girl with the sad sad eyes and the big yellow necklace.
He did not say, you just reminded me of a friend. He did not say, I miss her. He did not say, I never told her enough.
It was time. It had always been time, a thread she followed, a moment running perpendicular to itself, spinning the thread into being. She had felt like Sleeping Beauty for so long; finally she saw the new cord, the loose wool (in her hand), the spindle (darting beneath her fingers), and the wheel. It was her turn.
Mickey wanted to go with her. Pete had protested her going at all, but Mickey won, so Mickey went.
She smiled at him, and in the tiny movements of dozens of facial muscles, she felt certainty, reality spiraling out. It was, she thought, her first real smile in two years. The yarn tightened. Mickey still loved her; it was an old ache. She trusted that he was not the only one.
"Are you sure? I mean, are you sure you want to do this?"
His throat worked, hard, but he nodded. "I know you aren't comin' back, if we, y'know, live and have a choice. Don't know if I will."
"I feel so, so—Tony. And Mum—"
Jackie chose precisely that moment to storm in.
"He's with your mum, Pete, and I'm goin'. I'm gonna save the whole bloody universe with my mad daughter." Jackie Tyler had a gun. After two Jackies' worth of arguing, Pete knew better than to try.
She joined Rose and Mickey in the jump grid, slipping the rifle's strap across her body.
"Mum. I'm so, I'm so sorry. But it's like—you remember the wind, in Norway?"
Jackie bit her lip and said nothing. She never wanted to remember that wind, how cold it was, how it tangled Rose's hair and never touched her Doctor's.
"It's like I can feel the wind, but it's different. I can hear it all again, and it's like…like some of the words changed. I mean, I know what we said, but it's like there was something else, some other little thing, like we knew there would be a way. Like we promised." Rose looked straight into her mum's eyes; hers were dancing. "You know how sometimes you realize you're gonna keep a promise you didn't think you could?"
Both women smiled, a slow spreading smile that became a grin, a great fantastic grin in a cold white room in Torchwood, under a sky full of Daleks and void of stars.
"I'll miss you, love." Always.
Jackie turned to Mickey, standing strong and solemn with a gun that no more belonged in his hands than it did in hers. They gave each other a quiet, private nod: this is right, but oh. There was a long dark road ahead of them; who knew if either of them would stand in this room again?
Pete silently handed each of them a button. The thread spun, the wheel whirled, time sang, and Rose Tyler chose.
"Once upon a time, there was a man called the Doctor. And he had such grand adventures, always running from one place to another time, making trouble and helping people. Some of the people flew away with him for a little while. They were legends wherever they went, the stuff of legends."
It always goes like this.
She wants to believe he could be happy, she could be happy, even if they cannot be happy together. But that is not how the story goes.
"Tell us about the one who couldn't come back, Mum."
She stares at the blank page of her little book, fingers the tooled cover, and finally lets her eyes close as the idea blooms in her mind. She never thought the solution would be quite like this, so simple. All the bedtime stories in the universe, all the history she could imagine, and she never thought to simply change the story and let herself go. No more of this, the same day, the same place, the same people, all like faint shadows and dreams, over and over. No more.
She takes a deep breath.
"Oh, Charlotte. She saved the world. Most of the Doctor's friends did at one time or another, but she tried so hard. She nearly died twice; that happened to his friends too sometimes. And in the end, she lost him, and he lost her."
Not the worst way of putting it, but still the bitterest to her.
"She found another universe where she lived with her mum and her dad and saved that world too, but it was never quite the same, and she never stopped wanting to go back. He traveled with lots of other people, but that wasn't the same either. He sent her a message and they talked one last time. It was only a message, though, and they were like ghosts to each other. And that might have been all that was left for them."
She wonders if this, rewriting history, will be enough. Oh, my love, she thinks.
"He just had time to tell her one last thing, one very important thing. But he did."
Oh, my love. Goodbye.
There was nothing. He tried to imagine the taste of sea breeze on his tongue, the sound of gulls. The feeling of her hand not touching his face.
It could not be real, could not possibly be real, if he could not feel the turn of the world in Norway, the great eternal pull of the Vortex, or the gentle rumble of the TARDIS beneath his feet. It could not be real.
It would be real, the bride said, a moment before she appeared. It will be real, the doctor told the Doctor. You will make it real, the Scottish ginger seemed to plead. Their faces were unfamiliar, but he could almost see their future and his, the road ahead.
There was another, last of all. I'm sorry, my love, murmured a warm voice with half a dozen faces. You don't know me yet, and now you never will.
He heard these things in the blink of an eye, one precious second of his precious three minutes. They were like names on the tip of his tongue, unremembered, slipping away, but it was enough. Another path unfurled, not real: not yet, maybe never.
Oh, my love.
He seized his chance.
"Rose Tyler. I love you."
She tried so hard to smile and reached towards him again, as if to wipe away the tears on his own cheeks, and vanished.
He scrubbed at his face, reached into himself, remembered, looked forward. Two roads diverged, one fading, the other just barely hinting at solidity. It was time: time to make it real.
The bride arrived.
River flips through the smooth pages of her journal: many of them are blank. She knows they were not before, but she can no longer remember what filled them. She closes the book and begins tucking the blankets around her children. Finally she comes to Charlotte's bedside: such a little girl to contain all of history so thoroughly that it takes only a bedtime story to remake the world, all those lives, River's own life. She smoothes her sleeping daughter's hair and waits for the library to fade.