The Sky Set Out like a Pathway

It starts out with a fortune cookie.

She's sitting alone outside a café in Chinatown that can't decide whether to sell coffee and scones or lo mien. There's espresso on her upper lip and a piece of stringy chicken stuck in between her bottom right molars, and she's decided that there's a reason no one else is in the restaurant.

The elderly serving woman brings her the folded cookie with her check. She's always loved these things, so she makes short work of the crinkly wrapper and cracks it open, pulling the halves apart to reveal the tiny slip of paper inside.

She gets crumbs on her hands. Later, she'll have brushed them off, but it'll still feel like they're there, pressed in the spots in between her fingers.

Her eyes sting a little while she reads the miniscule print on the strip of paper. She tells herself it's because of the cold, but knows it isn't really.

Bad Wolf, reads the fortune.

She gazes at it until the server comes back for her check and she has to dig a credit card out of her jacket pocket. When the woman takes away her empty plate, she keeps the paper, tucking it into her back jeans pocket.

It's April 2nd. She manages to convince herself that Mickey's a day late for April Fool's.

ooo

She's tracking a stray Abzorbaloff through Cardiff with Jake Simmonds three months later.

He's driving, thankfully – they're weaving through traffic at a breakneck speed when she sees it, scrawled across the wall of a decrepit brick building in once-vibrant yellow and hot-pink spray paint. Her heart skips a beat and her palms start to sweat, so she wipes her hands across her jeans. She wants to reach out and take someone's hand, preferably his, but it's only Jake she's with.

"Bad Wolf," she murmurs quietly to herself.

"What's that, Rose?" Jake jerks the steering wheel hard to guide their tiny little car around a corner. She doesn't reach out to hold onto anything, just lets herself slam sideways into the inside of the car door. The pain that shoots through her ribs and shoulder wakes her up, sort of.

"Nothin'," she says. "Just thinking out loud, is all."

Jake's expression is solemn. "How do you reckon this is going to end?" he asks, his voice so quiet she can barely hear it over the blaring of car horns that seems to be following them.

She knows he means the fiasco with the Abzorbaloff, but she doesn't care, not really. "Badly," she answers.

Jake steers them violently around another corner and into a side street, but this time she takes hold of the car door handle for support. Her side slams painfully into the window anyways.

ooo

Her mum and Tony, now six years old, have decided that she needs a day off. They take her out to the countryside and hire a tour-guide to lead them on a sort of nature walk, and Rose doesn't complain even though having a tour-guide is so against her very nature that she almost grimaces at the thought of it.

Tony's little hand is sticky with the residue from his apple juice box, and it adheres to hers while he walks. Jackie's having more fun leering at the tour-guide's tight bum than looking at the nature, so Rose finds herself leading her little brother ahead.

"I wish we would see a bird," Tony is saying. "Not a little one like they have at home, a big one with lots of colors that makes loud noises."

She smiles to herself. "That would be neat, wouldn' it?" she says brightly. Tony beams, and she looks down at the lake below them a little longingly. She just wants to dip her toes, maybe shake her mother's obnoxious drawl. "Why don't we look down there for one, yeah?"

Tony nods enthusiastically; she hefts him up onto her hip – he really is getting heavy, even with all of Torchwood's training – and starts down the steep incline to the shore of the lake. Her still-so-little brother hits the ground running and she toes off her shoes, relishing in the feel of the cool sand on her feet.

She comes up next to Tony, who's kneeling in the sand and doesn't seem to care less how mad his mum is going to be at him later for getting the pants Rose got him for his birthday – adventurer's pants, just like my Doctor used to wear, with the stripes and everything – covered in sand.

"I drew a picture," he tells her. He tilts his head to the side to squint at it, and says, "I don't really know what it is."

It's in the shape of a sort of smilie-face, but the letters are unmistakable. Bad Wolf.

"Me neither," says Rose.

ooo

She goes out with the guys one night in September and gets hopelessly pissed. Mickey doesn't let her do anything stupid – he never does, even when she can't shake the memories of the Doctor and just wishes he would – and she winds up in bed in her flat before one o'clock.

Rose dreams of the Doctor. They're vivid, her imaginings of him, of his lean body pressed against hers while they hug or while he lays on top of her. The ghostly feel of his thin pianist's fingers on her skin and in her hair rekindles the cold ache in her chest that never seems to go away for very long, and her name on his lips sounds like a prayer. Whether it's her prayer or his, however, she can't possibly know.

It's not a nightmare, this time – she's not ripped away from him by an uncontrollable force but rather allowed to stay with him in a tangle of gangly limbs and sweet nothings through the night. It only makes waking up to find herself in a room she can't ever recognize early in the morning, stuck in a parallel world without her Doctor, that much worse.

She expects she'll have an awful hangover, but come morning she opens her eyes and the only pain wracking her body is a cold grief that seems to have been waiting right below the surface all that time she thought she had recovered.

Her rug is a light lavender color, but it seems a harsh violet under her feet when she slips out of bed. She's dizzy, but the feeling at the base of her skull is more of a heady buzz than an ache, thrumming in time with her lethargic heartbeat. For the briefest of moments, she entertains the notion that that little soothing buzz sounds a hell of a lot like the TARDIS.

She doesn't feel sick but she feels feverish, so she collapses onto the cool bathroom tiles and leans her head against the rim of the toilet. Her full-length mirror looms in front of her, and she blinks rapidly as she regards her reflection until she realizes that the gold haze that's hanging around her eyes isn't leftover alcohol influence.

She brushes her tousled, on-end hair out of her face and squints. When she waves her hand inquisitively in front of her nose, it comes away tingling.

ooo

It takes the rest of the day, but eventually she knows all of time and space. The knowledge sounds like music and his voice; she feels as if she's remembering, even if to remember she would have had to have first forgotten.

Everything – for it is everything; it's everything that ever was and ever will be – is beautiful, but it's a fire. And it's burning her, because she's got no Time Lord to steal the omniscience away with a kiss that she can't believe ever left the forefront of her mind.

She tries to last, but it's only four days later – Sunday – when she finds herself on the welcome mat outside Mickey's flat. She knocks, and he answers wearing a pair of sweatpants and a tee shirt that was clearly chosen by his girlfriend.

Rose doesn't wait for a greeting. "I think I'm going to die," she says. "Soon."

ooo

He warms up a plate of left-over chips for her while his girlfriend makes tea, dressed in nothing but one of Mickey's sweatshirts and a pair of baby-blue knickers. The chips are soggy but she dips them in ketchup and eats them just as quickly as she would a good batch, because they're her comfort food.

Mickey's girlfriend takes her coffee and goes back into the bedroom; Mickey watches her as she leaves, sitting across the table from Rose. Rose pushes the plate left over from the chips into the center of the tiny kitchen table and wishes she had more, if just to have something to do with her hands.

"You want to tell Torchwood," she says.

He looks up at her. "Whatever this is, they can help you-"

The corner of Rose's mouth quirks up in a lopsided smile, and it's a little scary because she's not sure if it's her smiling or the Bad Wolf. "No they can't, Mickey," she says. "'Cause it's the Time Vortex, just like that time the Doctor tried to send me home in the TARDIS, yeah? Just like I looked right into the heart of the TARDIS again, only I didn't."

"They can get it out of you, Rose," he urges, sitting forward. "We won't just let it kill you without a fight."

Rose sucks on her bottom lip and stares hard at the linoleum surface of the table. It's terribly tempting – letting them try to save her, letting herself try to live – but she knows it's not possible, knows it will only hurt them more when they don't succeed. "No," her voice is quiet. "It took the Doctor to get it out of me last time, and even then he had to regenerate within a few minutes." And she's already too far gone, because it's been twenty-four hours at least, most of which she's had a fever and a headache for.

"Rose, you can't just let yourself…" he trails off, swallows, and can't seem to say it.

She inhales deeply, but can't let the breath out in anything more than short bursts. "Well I can't do anything about it either, so." She presses her lips together and flares her nostrils, inhaling the scent of week-old chips and the discarded Early Grey teabag sitting on the counter.

Mickey reclines in his chair and lets his eyes slide closed momentarily. "Are you in pain?" he asks, and when he opens his eyes she thinks of lying to him.

But he's the one person here she has to tell the truth, so damn it if she won't unload just a little of this burden. "Yes," she whispers, her voice breaking. It turns into a sort of high-pitched whine, and she's holding back tears while she says, "I'm burning up, and I feel like my head's going to explode, and…"

She opens her mouth and then snaps her teeth together, her lips pulling slightly before she's able to reign in her expression. "I just keep thinking," she says after a few long minutes. "I can see all of time and space, every single…" she raises her hands to her face and drags them across her mouth, then continues. "But I can't see a way back. I just… all I want is to see him again, you know? One more time."

"He'd try and save you," says Mickey.

"I'd probably let him," she replies.

Mickey holds her while she cries.

ooo

His girlfriend leaves for work at a shop – that was me, Rose thinks, dating Mickey and working at a shop and not knowing what was out there – and she holes up on his leather couch with Star Trek: The Original Series reruns playing on the tele and her wallet curled in her hand. There's a crumpled picture of her and the Doctor in front of Big Ben in the fifty-seventh century, the only photo she had of the two of them when she fell through, in the front credit card slip.

Her fever gets higher, and Mickey can't seem to stop pacing the flat back to front. He gets her a damp washcloth, and she downs several doses of ibuprofen thinking what the hay, I'm dying anyways.

Nothing helps except staring at his smile and watching the planets and stars flashing across the screen out of the corner of her eye so that it seems like maybe she's there.

ooo

Rose's own body is turning on her.

By Sunday evening she can barely see straight, and when Mickey tries to get her to eat dinner, she can't keep it down for the life of her. She makes it to the bathroom and pushes away the frilly pink rug that Mickey no doubt had no say over to sit on the cool, patterned tiles.

She rests her head on the toilet when she's not busy hacking up the contents of her stomach and almost regrets not letting him take her to Torchwood. The black oblivion when she closes her eyes may not then have been her only solace.

Mickey sits against the cabinets next to her, the damp washcloth in his hand. He looks as if he wants to speak, but, thankfully, he doesn't; Rose doesn't know whether the penetrating silence is any better.

She forces herself to smile reassuringly even though her mouth tastes like the tail end of something disgusting. "It'll be alright, yeah?" she says, but her voice is raspy and not entirely hers.

"Yeah," croaks Mickey. He reaches out and pushes her sweaty hair away of her face, then lets his hand rest on her shoulder. It's far too hot for any sort of contact, but she doesn't push him off.

The weight is almost comforting as she dozes off against the side of the bathtub.

She can almost imagine that his hand is her Doctor's.

ooo

Rose doesn't expect to awaken, but she does, her face pressed against cool tile. Her fever is still raging and her headache is still dancing a samba, but she's lightheaded and dazed and is having a little bit of trouble comprehending how bad she feels.

She pushes herself up into a sitting position and blinks blearily. It takes a second before she realizes that she isn't in Mickey's bathroom at all, but what looks like the bathroom at some sort of café, complete with the awful color scheme.

Her reflection looks exhausted and sickly. Her hair is still mussed in a haphazard halo around her head, and every inch of her skin is glowing that psychedelic golden color. It's the same color she remembers the Doctor's skin turning at his regeneration, and it thrums with energy and sensation, hanging about her in a cloud.

She turns and pushes out the door into the same café in Chinatown where she first got the fortune cookie with the next half-year of her life dictated inside it. There are a few people enjoying the same awful combination of kung pao and coffee, and they look up in alarm when she stumbles into the room leaving a sort of wake of sparkling air.

Rose is swaying woozily, held in place by the stares of the diners, when every atom in her body feels as if it's being pulled apart.

ooo

For the first moment she doesn't allow herself to believe what she's seeing. For the next moment she can't breathe.

She's standing in the TARDIS consol room, and it's different but it's completely and utterly recognizable. It's brighter, this new consol room, so bright she squints her eyes behind the golden haze but can't see any better as a result of her efforts.

There are three people in the room, she thinks, but she can't tell who they are for the life of her. They're gathered around the consol, bracing themselves on the edge of it, and Rose can almost feel it under her fingers, can almost feel the Doctor's shoulder knocking against hers.

"Doctor," someone says, alarmed. It's a girl's voice, Rose thinks. "Doctor, what the hell is that?"

"What's what, Pond? Bit busy here and all, TARDIS malfunctioning." His voice is different, but she can tell it's him with him even though she can't see a thing other than the immense emptiness of the Time Vortex inside her.

"Oh, that's nothing unusual," says the first voice exasperatedly.

"Yeah, Doctor, I think you should really take a look at this," there's a third voice, and she thinks it's a man's but her mind is going fuzzier and her ears are buzzing raucously and she can't feel her fingertips.

"Fine, alright, what is it?" her Doctor's voice, different but so very the same, takes her heart and squeezes it until it dances to the beat it seemed to have forgotten. The consol room is silent for a long minute, and the pressure inside her builds to an almost unbearable hiss.

She's sure she's dead when he says, "Rose."

Bad Wolf is choking her, will surely burst from her leaving her a husk of what she is now any moment, but she manages to speak. "Doctor, I'm…"

It's leaving is so much more violent than it's coming, because there's no warning whatsoever, and she's not pissed up.

Her head falls back, and the Time Vortex leaves her, taking the Bad Wolf with it as it goes. Rose feels as if her heart is being pulled out of her chest and held in front of her so she can watch it, for surely she's never felt the slam of it so painfully against her chest, never felt so much as if it were about to putter out and betray her.

The Time Vortex – a shimmering golden cloud that can't really be classified as a cloud at all, but rather tendrils, or fingers because fingers imply sentience and Bad Wolf is certainly sentient – seeps beneath the TARDIS consol and glows a blindingly bright unnamable color before dimming, going dormant.

The Doctor catches Rose when she crumples.

Her head seems to know where to fall on his chest, and it feels a little awkward with his bowtie but he wraps his arms as far around her as they'll go and nothing matters. She's shaking delicately, and there are circles under her eyes darker than he's ever seen them but she's still beautiful as hell, and she's here –

"Doctor?" asks Amy cautiously. She's crouched next to him, peering inquisitively at the blonde girl in his arms. "Who's this, exactly?"

"It's…" The Doctor feels tears on his cheeks, and he wants to wipe them away like he always does but can't bear to let go of her for even a second. "It's Rose."

Rory kneels on his other side, but doesn't say anything, his thin mouth shut. "Who is she, though?" asks Amy, sounding annoyed with him.

Rose is stirring in his arms, and her mumbling is incoherent but sounds vaguely like his name, vaguely as if – he can only hope – she's looking for him. "She's my pink-and-yellow human," he says. A smile breaks across his face, and it's uncontrollably wide, even though his lips are salty with tears. "She's the Bad Wolf, apparently even after I put an end to all that nonsense on Satellite 5…" he trails off.

"How did she get here?" asks Rory. "I thought we were in the Time Vortex."

"Does she have something to do with the TARDIS malfunctioning?" demands Amy from his other side. "Is she hurting it?"

Rory opens his mouth to add another question, but the Doctor cuts across, "Oh, shush, Ponds. Fingers on lips, yeah?" Amy and Rory fall quiet, both still looking puzzled, but neither raises a finger to their lips.

"As for how she got here," says the Doctor, "I'm not sure I care." Amy looks alarmed, so he amends, "I reckon whatever was left of the Time Vortex decided it couldn't be separated from the rest, and so it just…" Rose stirs in his arms, and he lowers her slightly from his embrace, but doesn't let her go completely. He's not sure he'll ever be able to let her go completely again.

Rose's eyes come open slowly, and relief sweeps through him, quashing the fear he didn't know he had that there would still be the golden sparkle left in her eyes. She reaches up a hand to his face, trailing the backs of her fingers across his jaw, and he's glad that the entire TARDIS, the whole of time and space seems to be holding its breath.

"Quite a chin, this time 'round," she says quietly, at last. Tears flow uninhibited from his eyes, and this time he has her to wipe them away for him. "No eyebrows, hmm? And still not ginger."

He breaks at the same time she does.

She throws her arms up around his neck and buries her face in his shoulder and he still smells like time and marmalade and promises that they both know he can never keep. The Doctor laughs jubilantly while he presses his face into her neck, and they're both shaking and he can't seem to get her close enough even though she's sitting in his lap.

"You going to introduce us, Doctor?" cuts in a voice. Amy's smiling, but it looks sort of awkward and forced, almost like she's too confused to really know whether she should be genuinely happy or not.

Rose pulls away from him and seems to notice there are other people in the room. "I'm Rose," she says, and offers her hand to Amy, who shakes it politely. "Rose Tyler."

"Amy Pond," says Amy. "And that's my husband Rory over there looking like an idiot." Rory waves stiffly, and Rose has to turn around in the Doctor's lap to wave back, because she'll be damned if she's ever going to move again.

She looks back to him, and he's still gazing at her as if the moment he looks away she'll disappear, which, she supposes, isn't so crazy of a theory. "You're wearing a bowtie now," she observes, pulling at it. "That's cool. I could get used to that."

He seizes the sides of her head and presses his lips to her forehead, letting them linger for far longer than is necessary, even though it's completely necessary as far as he's concerned.

"He does that a lot," says Amy. "Sorry."

"'S okay."

A?N: I disclaim all of that, yep. Don't own Doctor Who, which is good, because I can't write it for crap. Anyways

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