Starlight filled his eyes, the radiance of a billion, billion suns performing their intricate, cosmic dance just for him. He floated free, turning gently, straying further and further into the shimmering reaches of Space and Time, engulfed at last in the splendour of the Medusa Cascade…
Someone spoke his name.
He blinked. The vast expanse of space was gone, replaced by the rotating blur of blue-green light twisting between the latticed structure that housed the Time Rotor Column. The Tardis hummed softly, filtering the music of the spheres into a melody he had thought he might never hear again. He inhaled deeply. Something smelled gorgeous. Tea.
"Back among the living are we?" a familiar voice asked gently. "He was right. Ten minutes and a cuppa and you'll be right as rain. Just in case, he left some bananas and something nasty and green in a glass. Oh. And he said you owe him a teacup."
"Rose…" he whispered, wishing she were more in focus. Worrying that it was all a dream. A wonderful, horrible dream. "Rose, I'm so sor-".
She put her fingers to his lips and shook her head. It was time to stop apologizing. It was time to stop seeking forgiveness for something that had never been his fault. She smiled down at him, cupping the side of his face in her hand. He pressed his cheek against her warm fingers and closed his eyes.
"You smell like sheep," he murmured. "Wet sheep. Wet sheep with Void Stuff on their wool. Hold on a tick. That's my jumper!"
"Is it?" she said mildly. "Hadn't noticed. You weren't wearing it when I put it on."
He sat up slowly, expecting every joint and muscle to scream out in alarm. But… he didn't hurt. Not much. Well, not that much. As his eyes focused he took in his surroundings and exhaled a noisy breath. The interior of the Tardis looked like a train had run through it. Electrical wiring hung higgledy piggledy from the ceiling, bits and bobs of their hurried modifications littered the floor. He looked around, expecting to see -but no. No. Of course not. Silly of him to even think it.
"He's gone," Rose told him. She sounded a little sad. "Said he hated to dash off, but he had a one-way ticket back and it was time to cash it in."
"He said that?"
"Well, not in so many words. Actually, in twice as many words."
"You… didn't go with him."
She tipped her head sideways, long brown hair spilling around her face. He stared at her. She was more beautiful than the first time he saw her, running scared from animated shop dummies in the basement of a department store.
"Why would I go with him? I have you, don't I?"
"I thought," he let the words go, suddenly feeling exceedingly foolish. Stupid human emotions. He still didn't know what to do with them half the time. "I thought you loved him."
"I do. I always will. But I fell in love with someone else."
When he gave her a blank stare she leaned forward and twirled her fingers into his hair.
"Well aren't we thick," she told him. "You. Remember that bit about 'for better or for worse?' There was nothing in there about 'till the return of another Time Lord do we part."
"Something happened," he said, struggling to remember. His skin was crawling and he shivered. At least he wasn't naked again. Not that being naked was so bad. "I think I died. Then I woke up. But I didn't Regenerate. I don't know what-"
She took his hand and pressed it against his chest that he might feel the steady rhythm himself. He pulled his hand away.
"What? What? That's-that's-impossible!"
He felt with both hands to make sure.
"That was the general consensus," Rose told him. "I'm told it was an amazing performance, by the way. He said you should audition for Hamlet."
"But the Tardis-"
"-and I was part of the—"
"Yeah, that's what he said."
"And it was glorious, and terrifying, and beautiful. But I died, Rose Tyler, because not even a Time Lord is meant to sing that song anymore!"
She raised an eyebrow at him then took his hands in hers and tugged him out of bed.
"Just had to go up there without me, didn't you? Come on Space Cowboy. He left you a gift."
He rose stiffly, but the pain in his shoulder and leg were gone. His head… was filled with wonderful things, none of which hurt. The solution as to how to express his theory regarding cross-temporal muon shift rushed into his mind. Oh? Oh! That was brilliant! Why hadn't he thought of that before? He couldn't wait to explain it to Rose! Combined with his notes on Trans-Space Thermodynamics it would be a mathematical tour de force. He paused at the Tardis door, suddenly worried that he would be required to present a paper. In a lecture hall. They might even expect him to wear a suit. A slow grin spread over his face. A tall, wooden hat stand had been placed beside the door, and on it hung his long coat. The one he had left in the orangey. Beside it hung a 17th Century feathered cap. He lifted an eyebrow in question.
"No, not that," Rose laughed at him, pulling him along. "But he left those, too. He said your interior decorating left something to be desired. As did your wardrobe."
"Did he now," he said, poking his fingers through the holes in his shirt. He glanced back over his shoulder at the Tardis interior. He'd be ages picking up that mess.
They stepped outside into a light dusting of snow. Belatedly he realized he was barefoot. Across the moors the moon was rising above their home. He looked back at the shiny blue police box.
"You're kidding me-he?-"
"No, no. Not that. That's the way I found it. Right beside the other one. I guess it was trying to blend in. He said you can adjust the Chameleon Circuit along with everything else."
"If I want to," he said, pouting slightly.
"He said you'd say that."
"Right. So. Back in Scotland? Have you talked to your mum? She's going to be really cross about the piano and the carpets. Oh—and the toaster. And, uhm, I hope they've got a plumber in.
"So, what's this amazing gift he left? Find the Jeep did he? Don't tell me it's another cannon ball or some other misdirected artefact from Earth's past. Or shoes. I could do with a pair of shoes right about now. You didn't tell me it was snowing."
"Honestly, Doctor, I don't know how Amy and Rory put up with two of you."
He clamped his mouth shut and drew a deep breath of the November air. He felt his lungs expand and his hearts beat a steady rhythm against his chest.
"So, what is it?" he asked, looking around. Rose's hand felt warm in his grasp.
"He just said 'look up.'"
"Just that," Rose told him, pointing. "Look up."
So he did.
A slow smile spread across his face.
The stars had just gotten a whole lot closer.