A/N: The last chapter. Bit of a warning: The beginning may be fun, but here there be angst. Of course, you probably already knew that. And thank you all for reading (and reviewing)! It is deeply appreciated!
"Rose," said the Doctor in a gleeful whisper. "Run!"
And that was all it took; they were running, running, running as fast as they could, laughing hysterically as they jumped and dodged and stumbled their way over loose stones and debris. They reached the base of a small rocky cliff; at the top of it, the hillside gave way to grass and trees and green, growing things. Too eager to get where they were going, they didn't look for a way around it but just started climbing up, grappling for rough handholds and slipping on the loose shale.
The Doctor took advantage of his longer frame. "I am so going to get to the top before you," he teased, swinging himself up ahead of her.
"Oh, the hell you are," she mock-growled as she scrabbled up the rock as fast as she could, and it was a testament to Torchwood's training that she was gaining on him. The Doctor grinned at her over his shoulder and was distracted enough by her progress to miss a handhold—he slipped and slid down a little, catching himself just in time to stop a more serious fall. Rose took advantage of this and put on an extra burst of speed, until they were neck and neck.
"Doctor," she said, panting with effort, "d'you know what apes are particularly good at?" She grinned at him, catching her tongue in her teeth. "Climbing!" She pushed off an extra-sturdy foothold and pulled ahead of him.
"Rose," he called up to her, "do you know what Time Lords are particularly good at?"
He grabbed hold the back of her jacket. "Cheating!" he cried, pulling her down as he scrambled up over the top of her.
"Oi!" she shouted, but it was too late; he was at the top, climbing up over the edge, and laughing and grabbing her hands to pull her up after him. She fell forward on top of him in a tangle of limbs.
"That was just shameful, that was," she scolded, still breathing hard from the effort. His only reply was an amused chuckle as he wrapped his arms around her waist and tried pulled her closer.
"Oh, no," she said, twisting out of his arms. "You're clearly not to be trusted, and I'm not having a cuddle with anyone I can't trust. At least," she added, hopping up, "not on the edge of a cliff." She stepped over his prone body and glanced back down at him, arching an eyebrow. "Coming?"
He was on his feet with truly astonishing speed.
They hiked a bit farther up the hill, hand in hand, until by tacit agreement, they stopped. "Sorry," said the Doctor as he shucked off his coat and lay it down. He cast an apologetic glance at the grass. "It's not very apple-y. Still, it's a nice spot to…" Then he looked up at her and fell strangely silent.
Rose stood on the other side of his jacket and waited. "What?" she asked after a moment.
The Doctor swallowed, his eyes dark. "It's just…" he said roughly, "I look for you. Everywhere. Everywhere I go, Rose, I look for you, and you aren't there." It was said simply, without blame, but Rose still felt a tear in her heart. "And now, here you are." His voice took on an air of wonderment. "Standing right in front of me. Shining in the moonlight."
Rose smiled slowly. "Here I am," she agreed and slipped her blue leather jacket off, dropping it on the ground next to his. The air was cool, but the goose bumps on her flesh had nothing to do with the temperature and everything to do with the way his eyes lingered on her bare shoulders.
She glanced down at the space between them, at his jacket making both an invitation and a barrier. She ran her tongue over her upper lip. "So, Doctor," she said with a bit of a challenge in her voice, "you gonna cross the void and come get me, or what?"
And before it was all the way out, before she could add a come-hither gesture, he was there, his fingers cupping her jaw and his mouth covering hers.
It wasn't tentative; he wasn't asking for permission with this kiss. This was kicking-down-the-door, carpe diem, about-bloody-time kissing, and Rose didn't bother trying to stifle the startled sounds of approval coming out of her own mouth and sliding into his.
The transition between standing in the moonlight and lying down on his coat was surprisingly swift. One corner of her mind wondered if it was just her own faulty perception or if he really was doing strange things with time. Then he tugged her shirt free of her trousers and snaked a hand up her ribs, and rational thought officially left the building.
They tousled, pulling and struggling to shed clothes, her hands fumbling on the knot of his tie as he yanked on the zipper of her boot. There was no shyness, no coy pretending—they both knew that this was a stolen moment, out of time, ripped by force out of the cruel grasp of the universe.
Neither one of them was going to waste it.
He was speaking, Rose thought, muttering, though it was hard to make him out over the rushing of blood in her ears. She reached a hand down to tip his head up from where he had his lips pressed over her pounding heart.
"Wha?" she breathed.
He nuzzled his face into the curve of her neck, close enough to her ear that she could hear him reciting a litany of places and times, a list of their lives apart.
"New York, 1930, and the bloody Daleks again," he murmured and then ran his tongue over her collarbone. "The Castolaren Moon Colony, 4522—you'd have loved it, chips the size of small dogs." He lifted her arm and pressed a line of kisses from her wrist to her elbow, still speaking softly, placing the words like memories against her skin.
"Doctor," she said, interrupting him. When he raised his eyes to meet her, she whispered, "I see you everywhere, too."
With a broken sound of want, he moved to cover her body and kissed her like he could drink the essence of her from the pool of her mouth. And when they came together, she thought that they weren't so much making love as drowning in it, pulled by the inexorable force of need into perfect, glorious unity.
Afterwards, they lay curled into one another, savoring this rare moment of peace. But once the heat of passion had faded, the combination of the night air and her own sweat chilled her; she started to shiver. When she moved to reach for her clothes, however, the Doctor leaned over and handed her his jacket.
"Here you are," he said lightly, wondering if she would play along, wondering how long he could keep her from putting on her own clothes. How long he could keep her from leaving.
He was, of course, something of a professional when it came to playing for time.
Rose looked surprised but pulled it on and buttoned it up with a little chuckle. She fished around in the breast pocket until she found his glasses and put them on as well. She tilted her head at him. "So," she asked with a sly grin, "how do I look?"
He ran his eyes up her naked legs to where his jacket just teased the tops of her thighs and then up, up, up past the deep V of her barely-covered chest, all the way to her tongue-in-teeth smile. He blew out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "There are no words," he assured her.
She laughed and tilted her head back, gazing up at the moon. Then she frowned, peering through his glasses. "Hang on, do these lenses even do anything?" She nudged them down the bridge of her nose and back again, testing.
"Er," said the Doctor.
"You're so daft," she said, giggling. "They're nothing but glass!"
"That's not true!" he protested. When she arched an eyebrow, he added, "They're a very sexy fashion accessory."
"Mmm," she said, humming in agreement. As she leaned over to toe on one of his trainers, she said, "I'm surprised. Thought you'd say they were for seeing complex patterns of causality beyond mortal thought. Eddies in the space/time continuum or something."
"Is he now?" the Doctor murmured, teasing, and she laughed again as she pulled on his other shoe.
"I don't know if those are quite as good a fit," he commented.
"A bit big," she sighed, flapping the shoes together idly. "Figured I'd give 'em a go, though. They tease me about that—Mickey and Jake. Pete, too, sometimes" she said. "Call me 'Doctor' when they're trying to wind me up." Her smile was a little rueful. After all, somebody had to be the Doctor, but, at the end of the day, the shoes were still hard to fill.
The Doctor didn't reply, just took her hand and squeezed it.
"So," he asked after a moment of silence," are there really lots of tall, dark, handsome men working with you at Torchwood?"
"Oh, loads," she said, nodding seriously. "And I occasionally have to kiss them. For, y'know," she said, waving a hand vaguely, "work purposes."
Peeking at him out of the corner of her eye, she broke into laughter at his outraged expression.
"Oh, that's just…" He rolled over and grabbed her around her waist, making her squeak. Pulling her down to the ground, he snatched the glasses off her face. "Cheeky, Ms. Tyler," he finished. "Cheeky and rude, and that," he said, placing a quick kiss on her lips, "is my job."
"Oh, my mistake," she said, grinning up at him. But just as he was leaning in to kiss her again, she gasped and sat up suddenly, narrowing avoiding a collision with his forehead. "Oh! There was a shooting star," she said, pointing upwards. "Big one, too."
"The Perseids," said the Doctor, settling on his back with a sigh. "Resulting from debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet."
"So, not blown-up bits of an alien spaceship?" she asked, lying down next to him, shoulder to shoulder.
"Nope," he said, popping the 'p'. "Well, of course most of the shooting stars you see from it nowadays might be from a slight, very minor, extremely understandable…er, piloting error in 1862. Just a small, little collision, hardly worth mentioning. The TARDIS was tetchy about it for weeks, though."
She giggled. "Well, as long as it's not dead aliens," she said. "Or I'd feel guilty about enjoying the view."
They lay there together, quietly counting the falling stars.
"How about we just stay here forever?" said the Doctor whimsically, tipping his head toward hers. "It's nicer than the rock quarry."
She hummed in agreement, nuzzling against his forehead.
"All eternity," he murmured, taking her hand, "you and me, staring at the skies until the stars burn out."
In the darkness, he felt her flinch.
"Rose, what is it?" he asked.
She sat up. "Time I was going," she said quietly. "I've stayed too long already."
"Rose," he said, sitting up as well. "You don't have to…"
"Yes, I do." She quickly unbuttoned his jacket and handed it back to him before starting to dress with a grim sort of efficiency.
"Just because you've measured one set of timelines doesn't mean that there aren't alternates," he argued, thrown off by her rapid mood change. "You could tell me, right now, and we'll go and sort it, Rose. We always do."
And you could stay.
She shook her head. "Can't risk it," she said bluntly. "Not with this." She kicked off his shoes and yanked on her pants and trousers.
"Rose," he said softly, "you don't have to be the Doctor." He stroking a hand down her leg and she paused, one of her boots in her hand.
"No," she whispered. "I have to be Rose Tyler." She quickly pulled on her ankle boots and zipped them up. "See? They fit."
"Defender of the Earth," he said in an uneven voice, wishing desperately that he could take back the title he'd given her.
She knelt and pressed a quick, fierce kiss to his lips. "Sooner I go, the sooner I can come back," she said firmly. "And Doctor, I am coming back." She looked into his eyes. "I promise." She gathered up his clothes and passed them to him. "Better get dressed, yeah?"
He opened his mouth to argue, but something in her eyes, grim and tired, stopped him. Silently, he pulled his own symbols back on and wondered if they had always felt quite this heavy.
Once he was presentable, they climbed back down to the quarry, slowly walking to the spot where he first saw her. She opened her bag and pulled out the tape deck and her jump remote. "S'time," she said softly, flipping open a hidden panel on the ret-con device to reveal the controls. "Here, you activate it." She pressed it into his hands.
The Doctor took it from her and swallowed. "Rose, I never got to say," he said quietly, reaching up his free hand to toy with her hair. "On the beach…"
She quickly brought a hand to his mouth, pressed her fingertips to his lips. "Not yet," she said, just a little desperately. "Not now. Wait until you can say it for keeps, all right? Until I get to stay."
Silently, he nodded, and she withdrew her hand. "Better that way," she said.
"But you know."
The answer was already in her shining eyes, but she gave it anyway: "Of course."
Rose nodded and then swallowed. "Right then," she said roughly. "Just push the button, Doctor. It'll take about two minutes to take effect."
He looked down at the tears swimming at the edge of her eyelashes and forced down his own sorrow and grief. She had been so brave for so long, and he decided that the last thing that his poor, precious girl needed was more guilt.
She needed him to do this for her, and to do it right.
So he raised an eyebrow. "I don't know," he said, pasting on a little smile. "You sure this isn't the kind of button that should never, ever, ever be pressed?" And only once the pained lines of her face broke apart, reforming in a smile, did he push it. The device hummed and a red beam shot out, scanning over his head, clicking. Then it switched itself off.
"That's it then," said Rose softly as she took it back and tucked it into her pack. "Time for me to go." She quickly programmed the jump on her remote. "Twenty second count-down."
He pulled her into a hug. "My Rose," he whispered into her hair. "Have a good trip."
She laughed a little. "Thanks," she said. "I'll…I'll be back soon."
He tipped her head up to look into her eyes. "I'll be waiting," he said and bent to kiss her softly and gently until she faded from his arms.
And only when he was alone, and the night seemed empty and broken once more, did he let his own tears fall, wiping them away slowly as he turned and walked back to the TARDIS.