This, thought Rose as she shared hugs with all and sundry in the TARDIS control room, is an after-party worth waiting for. The Earth was saved and back in its proper position. Heck, the whole multi-verse was saved in the bargain, which, Rose figured, probably set a new record in heroic good deeds. She was reunited with the Doctor (Doctors, she silently amended) after so very, very long, and, God willing, she would never have to travel by Dimension Cannon ever again.
Very nearly perfect, she thought. The question, which she had been avoiding, tried to push itself to the forefront of her mind again. Two Doctors, she mused. Why can't this ever be simple? But she set it aside for now in the face of the celebration.
The TARDIS was humming with satisfaction as the Doctor-in-Brown set her into a high orbit around the Earth. Everyone was talking, laughing, and catching up, and somebody (Jack, Rose thought) was yelling about digging out some champagne.
CRACK! There was a terrible ripping sound and a flash of blue light. Suddenly, three new people appeared by the console. Rose stared, gob-smacked, at the younger versions of herself, Jack, and (this was really the surprise) the Doctor – short hair, blue eyes, leather jacket.
There was a moment of shock while everyone's mouths hung open.
CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!
Three more explosions of noise and blue light, and suddenly, Rose could see another younger version of herself, with shorter hair this time, holding hands with the Doctor in a pinstriped suit. And there was another Doctor, standing next to another Martha. And another Doctor next to a bewildered Donna.
Then the silence that followed was suddenly broken. "So," drawled Jack (the elder). "I'm thinking what, orgy?"
And then all hell broke loose.
"Doctor, what's happening?"
"We need to recalibrate the trans-dimensional stabilizers!"
"Stop touching that!"
"Look, it's Mickey!"
"Is the extrapolator shielding down?"
"Who the hell are all you people, and what are you doing on my TARDIS," shouted an outraged voice in a Northern accent. Over the sea of heads, Rose thought she could see two leather-covered arms gesturing wildly.
"Quiet!" shouted Rose over the din. She clambered up onto the railing surrounding the control room platform. No one was listening to her, and she could see from her new vantage point that several different versions of the Doctor were trying to give directions. No one was really listening to them, either. Too many cooks, thought Rose resignedly. She brought her thumb and finger to her lips and let out an ear-piercing whistle.
"All right," she called out, as the room got quieter and every eye turned to look at her. "I think pretty much everybody here knows who I am, yeah?"
"I don't," piped up the younger Martha.
"Nor me," said the Donna of regular intelligence.
"Rose," whispered Martha's Doctor in a broken voice.
"That's Rose," Donna's Doctor said softly.
"Yup, that's me, Rose Tyler. Hello!" she said, giving a little wave of greeting. "So, first things first. We seem to have a little timeline overlap happening here. Probably don't have time for long introductions, so Doctor," she said, addressing the one in the leather jacket, "meet your next regeneration, along with a super-star cast of companions." He looked a bit gob-smacked at this. Meanwhile, the pinstriped Doctor holding a younger Rose's hand was frowning speculatively.
"Now," continued Rose, "we really need to work togeth.. "
"Rose, you're back," interrupted Donna's Doctor, and the look on his face was like the sun rising. "You came back. How long until…" But here he was interrupted by Martha's Doctor.
"Rose," he said, quietly, staring at the younger version of her holding hands with the younger him. He opened his arms and took a step toward her.
"Whoa there," said the other Doctor, swinging his Rose around to his other side possessively. "No need to get grabby." He was eyeing himself with distaste. "Ah, no offense, but you look a little…unhinged."
Martha's Doctor spluttered angrily.
"Doctor, I'm sure it's fine," argued the middle Rose.
"How long until you come back, Rose?" Donna's Doctor asked the eldest Rose.
"Oi, would you both stop nattering on," snapped the Doctor in the leather jacket. "You're giving away future information."
"Hey, nice outfit," called the younger Martha to the older. "Looks a bit…military."
"Mum, Mickey, what are you doing here?" demanded the youngest Rose.
"UNIT, standard issue," called the older Martha in reply, and with that, the room went back into a free-for-all.
"Hey!" shouted Rose, trying to get everyone's attention again. "HEY!"
Everyone ignored her as the volume in the room pitched up another notch.
"FINGERS ON LIPS," she hollered at the top of her lungs and glared at each and every one of them. This was her Torchwood-field-agent-training-new-recruits glare, and it generally got good results.
Most of the humans in the room promptly did as she asked, although Immortal Jack rolled his eyes. Donna and Martha's Doctors both obeyed, and Rose had the uncomfortable feeling that they would have both stood on their heads if she'd asked. The Doctor in the leather jacket looked amused as he brought his hand up, like he would play along for the moment but would interject when the moment was right. The earliest Doctor in pinstripes was holding hands with Rose's younger self, and he nudged her with his elbow.
"Look at you, all in charge and clever," he said, smiling.
The younger Rose looked mildly indignant. "No need to sound so surprised," she muttered.
Rose raised an eyebrow at the two of them and tapped her finger to her lips. They both quieted down and mirrored her gesture. Rose glanced down at the two remaining Doctors standing on either side of her. The Doctor-in-Blue (as she thought of him now) had done as she'd asked, though he was grinning cheekily at her.
The Doctor-in-Brown, however, was ignoring her completely. Rose smacked him lightly on the shoulder with her free hand.
"Ow," he complained. "What?"
She glared at him.
"But it's my TARDIS," he whined.
She ratcheted up her glare power to the next level and threw in a little patented Jackie Tyler 'Oh-you-are-so-gonna-get-it' facial expression.
Alarmed, he raised his finger to his lips and took a step back from her.
"Now," said Rose, addressing the now-quiet room, "this many people, there's no way we can prevent information from leaking across the timelines, so we're gonna need some memory mods, yeah? Uh, Doctor-in-Leather, Martha's Doctor, Donna's Doctor, and…" she hesitated for a moment, looking at the man holding hands with her younger self, "and, um, Happy Doctor, you're all in charge of making those modifications once we get the rest of this sorted."
The Doctor-in-Blue standing next to her quirked an eyebrow at her and murmured, "Happy Doctor?"
"Well, what am I supposed to call him," she whispered back. "Rose's Doctor? What about him, then?" she asked, gesturing toward the man in the leather jacket. "Besides," she added and then blushed.
"What?" he asked, his face mock-serious.
She grinned and winked at him. "You're all my Doctor," she whispered. He made his patented happy noise and grinned back at her.
"Now," she continued, speaking to the group, "not sure what's gone wrong here, but just a guess? I'm thinking we hit a trans-temporal/fixed-spatial fissure caused by…well, recent events in this timeline." No need to start throwing around words like "Reality Bomb" in a room full of Doctors, she thought.
"It's a break in time/space that crosses timelines but not physical distance, and we've all gotten pulled through it into the same space. That sound right, Doctor?" she asked, addressing the Doctor-in-Brown.
"Um, possibly," he said, frowning. "Likely, even. But how did you work that out?" He was looking at her like she had grown another head.
"No need to sound so surprised," she answered, unintentionally repeating her younger self. "So if I'm right, that's good. Or at least, it's not really, really bad. A fissure like that will close, but it should take some time – hopefully time enough for us to get this sorted out first. If not…" she trailed off. No point in dwelling on their inevitable destruction.
"Belgium," muttered the Doctor-in-Blue, which struck Rose as a weird thing to say, but, she figured, probably made sense in some weird, Doctor-ish context.
"So I count one, two…," Rose continued, pointing to each Doctor as she counted, "…six Doctors, which means we've got five different time lines colliding."
"Uh, don't you mean six?" called mortal Jack from across the room.
"Nope," said Rose, resting her hands on the heads of the Doctor-in-Brown and the Doctor-in-Blue. "These two both belong in the same timeline. Bit of a long story there. Short version is that there's two of you now."
Several of the other Doctors opened their mouths, perhaps feeling that this was an insufficient explanation.
"Look," interrupted Rose, "we need a plan of action here." Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the immortal Jack start to open his mouth. "Jack, I swear if you say the word 'orgy' in front of my mum one more time, I will fire up the dimension cannon and have you transported to the parallel universe of perpetually unresolved sexual tension."
Across the room, the mortal Jack snorted. "Living in that universe already, Rose, in case you don't remember."
The Doctor in leather turned to glare at him.
"So this is what we're gonna do," said Rose, ignoring them. "Doctor-in-Brown, Doctor-in-Blue, and Doctor-Donna," she said, pointing to them in turn, "you three are gonna get to work figuring out what happened and how we fix it.
"Um, Happy Doctor, you work out how long we have before reality rips apart." He grinned at her as she named him, and she flashed a smile back. His was the joyful expression she remembered; the one without that little bit of heartbreak.
"Ok," she said, "Doctor-in-leather, you're in charge of making sure the Jacks don't do anything regrettable."
"Oi, why do I get the dirty work?" he asked indignantly.
She laughed. "'Cause you're so impressive," she said. It took him a moment, and then he grinned back at her.
"Happy Rose," she continued, pointing a finger at her younger self, "do me a favor and give them hugs." She gestured to Martha's and Donna's Doctors. Martha's Doctor was still staring at the younger her like a drowning man looking for rescue.
"Everybody else, keep out of the way and don't lose track of your respective aliens. So," she said, placing a hand on the shoulders of the two Doctors on either side of her and using them to help her to step down off the railing. "I think that's pretty much it." She blew out a breath thoughtfully. "There's really just one other thing to do before we get started."
And with that, she crossed the room to where the Doctor-in-leather stood. She pulled his hand away from his mouth and brought it around her waist to rest on her lower back. At the same time, she ran her other hand up around the curve of his neck and tugged his head down to hers. As their lips met, she could see his eyebrows shoot up his forehead, but as her mouth opened and her tongue touched the edge of his lower lip, he sighed and sunk into her.
And, oh, God, he kissed her back, all hungry lips and soft tongue and a hand fisting in her shirt on her lower back. His other hand snaked around her head, and his fingers threaded gently into her hair. She moaned quietly into his mouth as she brought her hand up to curve around the side of his face, stroke his cheekbone, and trace the line of his jaw.
Rose wasn't entirely sure she could remember her own name, but she did recognize the sound of the indignant squeak, coupled with cheering (from Jack, she assumed) from somewhere behind her. Reluctantly, she pulled back from the kiss (and gasped just a little when his mouth followed hers, unwilling to let go).
She stepped away from him and indulged in a sexy little shiver. "Ok," she said unsteadily. "Let's get to work, yeah?"
"But…but…but, what was that for?" spluttered another Doctor (at the moment, she wasn't quite sure which one).
Rose shrugged. "Always wanted to, never really got the chance. Carpe Diem and all that." She realized that she was grinning like a loon.
"Well, how come you're the one that gets to?" asked Happy Rose indignantly.
"Hey!" said her Doctor, frowning.
The eldest Rose laughed. "Seniority," she chuckled. She caught sight of her youngest self, standing behind the Doctor-in-leather with a shocked expression. "Don't worry, little sister," Rose told her. "He'll get around to it. Eventually." She ran her hand over her mouth. "All right, everybody. Get to it!"
Later, after the Doctor/Doctor/Doctor-Donna trio figured out how a way to send everyone home, and the Happy Doctor announced that they still had more than an hour and a half before the fissure closed, there was time for celebrating. One of the Jacks had finally found the champagne and led the room in a round of enthusiastic toasts filled with good cheer and a lot of strange pronoun usage.
Rose thought to herself that she had been wrong before, that this was the ultimate after-party. It was so ridiculously Doctor-ish; just when you think you've sorted out all the trouble good and proper, your life takes a sharp turn toward the weird. And pretty much just gets weirder from there on out.
She watched her mum chat with Sarah Jane, Donna flirt with one of the Jacks, and the two Marthas talking quietly together in a corner. Her youngest self wandered over say hello to Mickey, and Rose couldn't help but grin because now he was the one with the really exciting stories.
She sat down on the jump seat across from where the Happy Doctor (and that name, she thought, was just awful, but she couldn't seem to think of him any other way) was leaning against the console. "Good to see you," she said, nudging the side of his leg with her toe.
He smiled. "You, too. Very impressive."
She touched her tongue to the side of her mouth. "Well, I have my moments." She noticed him glance away and followed his gaze to where Martha's Doctor was clinging to Happy Rose.
"He's being a bit greedy, yeah?" she said. The Doctor shrugged.
"Hard to blame him, I suppose," he said. His eyes fixed back on her. "I lose you," he said, darkly.
Rose shrugged. "But here I am again. Can't get rid of me."
She looked at him, wanting to answer but knowing that she shouldn't. "Storm's coming," she finally said.
He frowned and looked like he wanted to push her for more, but the Doctor-in-Leather interrupted them by plunking himself down on the jump seat next to Rose.
"So," he said.
"So," she replied, wondering if this was going to be an awkward, post-kiss conversation.
"I've a question for you," he said. He looked serious.
"'K," she said. "What is it?"
"For what possible purpose," he said, "in what possible reality, in any possible future, is your mother traveling around in my TARDIS?"
Rose started to laugh and found that she couldn't stop.
"Don't laugh," scolded the Happy Doctor. "It's a good question."
"Well," she gasped, trying to catch her breath, "I hate to break it to you, but you sorta get domesticated." The look on his face at her answer just made her laugh all the harder.
Much later, after many goodbyes and everyone was returned to their proper timelines, Rose leaned up against the console room walls and watched as the Doctor-in-Brown and the Donna of Unusual Intelligence circled around the console, repairing the fissure. Once they were finished, it would be time to head to Earth and drop off the rest of the team.
The Doctor-in-Blue wandered over to join her. "Well, a surreal day all around," he commented.
"Yup," she answered.
"Almost seems normal that there are two of me now. Only two."
Rose smiled at him. "I'm not sure it was normal when there was just one of you," she teased.
"Cheeky," he decided. "So, Miss Tyler, I've been meaning to ask. How did you know about trans-temporal/fixed spatial fissures?"
"It's Doctor," she corrected him.
"What is?" he asked.
It's Doctor," she repeated.
"Me? The fissure?" he said, confused.
"No," she said, smiling. "It's Dr. Tyler. Got a Ph.D. in temporal physics, courtesy of Torchwood. They, ah, had me on a bit of an accelerated course. Did my thesis on TT/FS fissures."
His mouth popped open. "You're kidding!"
"Always with the surprise," she grumbled. "How'd you think we built the Dimension Cannon?"
"Oh, but that's brilliant!" he enthused. "Dr. Tyler," he said, drawing the name out with relish. "It's got a nice ring to it. And you designed a machine capable of punching holes in the fabric of reality! Amazing! Ah," he stopped and frowned. "Normally, that's the sort of thing I'd put a stop to."
"No worries," said Rose. "I told my team to dismantle the damned thing once we put the universe to rights. Think they'll obey," she grinned. "They fear my wrath."
"Good," he said, smiling back. "And you have a team, even. Got a lot done without me, I see."
"Yep," she said. "Thirteen of Torchwoods top minds. Absolutely brilliant, outrageously egotistical, and half-mad in the bargain." She leaned over and bumped her shoulder to his. "Torchwood's head thought I'd be absurdly well qualified to manage them. Something about past experience… "
It took him a moment to understand what she meant. And when he did, he spluttered indignantly.
He was completely adorable, she decided.
This then, was the part that was simple, the universal constant: wherever, whenever the Doctor went, whichever Doctor he was, Rose Tyler loved him.
Everything else was just the setting.