A/N: Ladies and gentlemen, please buckle your seatbelts and keep your arms, legs, and emotions inside the rollercoaster at all times.
She took her time looking at him. Taking the measure of him. "The difference," she said quietly, "is that he had a choice, and you didn't. He chose to leave. So you tell me, Doctor," she asked with eyes so very cold, "since you're the same man, when the time comes, when you have a choice—what will you decide?"
For a moment, his face was still, blank. Then his eyebrows crept down, his brow furrowed. "You think I don't want to be here. That I drew the short end of the stick."
"The short end of the…" Rose raked a hand through her hair. "No, Doctor, I don't. I don't think that I'm the short end of anything. I do think that this was all his arrangement, though. His decision. Just like always." She fisted her hands into her hips.
"That's not how it went, Rose."
"No?" She tilted her head to study him, her voice deceptively calm. "You two have a little conversation, then? Work everything out in advance?"
"Er…" said the Doctor, with the sudden feeling that he was treading on a minefield. "Well, no." He scratched the back of his neck. "We didn't talk about it, per say."
"But you knew what he was going to do," she prompted.
"Because you're essentially the same person, and you'd have done the same in his place." She shook her head and turned away from him.
He studied the lines of her back and the bright flight of her hair in the wind. After a moment, he gave his answer in a quiet voice. "Yes."
For the first time, her voice broke. "And you couldn't be bothered to talk it over with me first?"
"Rose, there wasn't—"
"Don't say that there wasn't time," she snapped, interrupting him and whipping around, and he was relieved to see that her eyes were dry. "Don't you dare. The hell there wasn't. You just didn't want to have to do it—give me a choice, or say a proper goodbye, or anything."
The Doctor scowled. "Don't you think your anger might be just a wee bit misdirected here?" he demanded. "Because you're shouting at me, but I'm not the one who didn't say goodbye. Well, all right, I didn't say goodbye, but that's only because I'm not the one who's leaving. The point is, it seems like he's the one who's really upset you."
She stared at him in disbelief, her mouth slightly open. "Same man, remember? Just so you know—that cuts both ways."
He groaned in frustration, throwing his arms up as he spun around. But before he could come up with a pithy rejoinder, Rose started in again.
"Why was this the solution?" she demanded. "I mean, I know all about the problems—I'm intimately familiar with all the problems of us. But why just drop you and me off here? There were other options."
"Other options, meaning that you could stay with him," he ground out, feeling the prick of jealousy.
"It's not that," she protested, throwing her hands up in frustration. "I don't mean…I wasn't trying to choose between you. You're both you. It's just," she paused, swallowing. "It's just I'm so sick of the limitations. You telling me I can't—I can't stay with you on Satellite Five, I can't stay with you at Canary Wharf, I can't cross over from this world to that. To hell with that!" she shouted suddenly. "To hell with you, any version of you, saying that my life is so small, that my fate is to stay at home and wither and die. Because I don't believe a word of it, any of it. All that means is that I'm just one more way for the universe to hurt you, but that's not what I am!"
She jabbed a finger into his chest. "And you can't sit there and tell me that there weren't ways around it, because I know there are. We saw them."
"No, you're right, there are ways around it," he snapped. "Which method would you prefer? Nanogenes? Not a bad choice—they'll keep you looking young forever, or at least until your brain cells wear out and your nervous system collapses. Still, you might last a good 150 years."
He turned away from her and started to pace. "Of course, if you want to avoid that unpleasantness, you have to let the little buggers rebuild your brain, but to do that, they have to wipe out a lot of your stored memories. So sure, you'd be twenty years old again, but without all the knowledge, personality, and memories you'd gained. And you can't wait until the end of your life to do it, either, because the nanogenes need a brain young enough that it hasn't sustained regular cellular damage. Forty-five at the latest. Does that appeal to you?" he asked, whirling around to face her. "We could have lived a lovely twenty years together and then, bam! No more you, and I get to start all over again with a lovely, fresh Rose Tyler who doesn't remember me and possibly can't tie her own shoelaces."
Before she could speak, he started moving again. "Oh, and if you really don't like either of those options, there's always the John Lumic method—you remember, don't you? We'd just rip out your brain and shove it in a metal body. Sound good?"
Rose shook her head. "That's not…those aren't the only—"
"There are a few other ways," he interrupted. "Things that can prolong life, but not indefinitely. Maybe add a century or so—a big difference compared to your lifespan, but not compared to m…his. And along the way, you'd have to sacrifice little bits of your humanity here and there, slice off a few parts and pieces." He came to a stop in front of her and softened his tone. "In the end, everything has its price. There is no perfect solution."
He raised a hand to rest gently on her shoulder. "You shouldn't hate me for not doing those things to you, Rose," he said softly as he toyed with the ends of her hair. He dipped his head down so that he could look into her lowered eyes. "You should hate me for thinking of them at all."
"I don't hate you," she said quietly, shaking her head in rejection of that idea even as she pulled back. "I could never. But," she said, crossing her arms and raising her head, "that doesn't make it right. You should have talkedwith me about it. So many secrets, Doctor. So many things you knew about but never told me—"
"Well, that's the thing about that pesky age-gap," he said flippantly, biting back annoyance. Now she was just being bloody difficult. "A lot you can learn about the universe given an extra eight centuries and change."
"Oh?" She gave him a meaningful look. "Anything in particular you'd like to share?"
He raked his hands through his hair in frustration. "Of all the—look, I'm sorry, all right? I'm sorry I, he, we didn't talk to you about it. I'm sorry for all the life-altering, life-saving decisions I've made on your behalf. But I'm not hiding anything from you."
"Really?" Rose snorted. "How about the fact that Jack's immortal?" Her voice was heavy with accusation. "That seems like, oh, I dunno, at least a little bit relevant. Why didn't you ever say?"
The Doctor's face went carefully blank. "It wasn't something you needed to know."
"Oh, bollocks," she snapped. "I made that happen. Me!"
"Rose," he said, shaking his head. "I didn't tell you because it wasn't your fault. You couldn't control it. And I didn't want you blaming yourself."
She hugged herself, fingers gripping at the sleeves of her jacket, and turned away from him. "You're wrong," she said softly.
"What do you mean?"
She stared out across the grass, the seemingly infinite rippling waves of it. "I did it on purpose," she said softly, just barely audible over the wind. "Didn't remember until I saw him alive again on the Crucible and thought, 'Oh, well, there's Jack, of course he's still alive.'"
The Doctor waited a moment before speaking. "Why did you?" he asked in a low voice.
Rose laughed unpleasantly. "'Cause I was a god with only a few minutes to live," she said. "And there were so many things to try to fix. I needed a…a champion. An avatar. Jack said I was worth fighting for, and I gave him a million lives to prove it." She turned, glancing up at him. "Can you imagine anything so cruel?" She shivered and wrapped her arms tighter around herself.
The Doctor swallowed hard at the thought, but laid a hand on her shoulder. "He'll be all right, Rose." And he believed it. Jack was nothing if not resilient.
"What else did I do?" she whispered, ignoring the comfort he offered. "I stretched my hands out into time and space, twisted reality, changed everything. Did I…" Her voice broke.
"Did you what?" he asked anxiously, stepping closer to her.
She turned to look at him, her eyes anguished. "Did I cause this? All of it? Did I…create you? Trap you here? You said, when we were on the Crucible, about the time lines, and that something had closed the TARDIS doors, and then that Dalek said—"
He frowned and interrupted her babble. "Which Dalek? Time lines? Doors? What are you talking about?"
"Oh." She blinked. "Right. That wasn't you; it was the other you." She closed her eyes for a moment, puzzling it out. "You don't remember anything after the partial regeneration, do you?"
"Not until I woke up on the TARDIS," he confirmed.
"Well." She cleared her throat. "When we landed on the Crucible, we were leaving the TARDIS, but the doors shut all on their own, and Donna was trapped inside. He—the other you—asked if Dalek Caan, the one who saw time, was the one who closed the TARDIS doors. And later, you said someone had been manipulating the time lines for ages, and the Dalek said, no, this was always going to happen. That he'd just nudged it along." She hugged herself. "Was it me, then? Did I write this future? Did I cause it all to happen—Torchwood and Jack and the Doctor-Donna? Even Canary Wharf?"
The Doctor opened his mouth to deny only to shut it again. He couldn't offer her useless platitudes or denials. The truth was that he didn't know the answer. The image of her wielding the power of the Time Vortex, weaving her fingers through time like it was water, was etched on his mind. He thought of the market on Shan Shen—watching the words on every visible surface rearrange themselves into her moniker. He remembered thinking that something was binding Donna and him together, wondering what it could possibly be.
No, he couldn't tell her that it wasn't possible. It was.
She seemed to have reached her own conclusions, and she began pacing feverishly back and forth. "The Sycorax—they cut off your hand, but luckily just in time for you to grow a new one. And Jack just happens to find it, because he's there to find it, because I made him immortal." She ticked off the list of facts on her fingers. "The TARDIS just happens to slip 'accidentally' through a crack in reality, and we end up in Pete's World for the first time—you know, a world where my dad's a success and alternate-reality Jackie ends up dead. Canary Wharf, and I land in Pete's World with mum and Mickey, one big happy family. Pete's World runs ahead of our original universe, which gives me foreknowledge of the stars going out. Meanwhile, Donna meets you just in time for the Racnos invasion and then meets you a second time, later on. You get hit by a Dalek, but not fatally—because again, Jack's there to save the day. You pour your regeneration energy into the handy spare hand. Something mysteriously traps Donna inside the TARDIS with the hand, and there we are."
She wheeled around to face him. "What if I caused it all? Made a perfect ending, all for myself, at the expense of everyone else—Jack, Mickey, my mum, you. And I messed around with Donna's head, made her half-Time Lord." She grimaced again at the thought of forcing that sort of change on someone else, even if Donna had seemed to enjoy it. She glanced up at the Doctor. "At least they'll be together. Do you think I did that so he'd have a…a perfect companion?" Her eyes were begging him to affirm.
He didn't say anything, but a shadow seemed to fall across his face. Rose's eyes grew wide. "What is it?" she demanded. "What else is there?" Her hands started to shake. "Oh, god, is she going to be all right?"
He didn't answer, just swallowed, as he thought of brilliant Donna Noble who was so soon going to be stripped of her memories.
"That's what Caan said—that one of us was going to die. Is it Donna? Did I do this? Answer me!" Rose demanded, clutching at the front of his suit.
He placed his hands over hers. "She's not going to die," he forced out. "She's going to…forget. Forget everything about me. He'll take her memories from her, seal up the Time Lord part of her mind to save her. But she won't die. Rose," he said, because she was staring at him in horror, "he will save her, I promise you."
"Oh god," she said, letting go of him and slipping down onto her knees. "Oh, dear god."
He knelt down beside her. "Rose, listen to me." He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulled her close. "I don't know if you caused any of it or not, but you can't blame yourself. We can't know what you saw in the Time Vortex, out of all the possibilities. What you might have changed or why. What terrible things you might have prevented. Rose…" He reached a hand down to grasp her chin, nudging it up so that he could look into her eyes, willing her to believe him. "If you made things turn out the way they did—and I'm not saying that it's for certain—but if you did, you did so for a reason, and I refuse to believe that it was just self-interest."
"But you can't know for sure," she whispered brokenly.
"Yes, I can," he said, smoothing her hair back. "Oh yes, I can because I know you. Listen to me, Rose," he said, giving her a little shake when she started to sag against him, "I know you. I've seen a lot in my time. And if I had to pick someone, anyone out of the whole universe, to act as an all-powerful deity, I'd choose you any day. If I believe in anything, Rose Tyler," he said with a half-smile, "I believe in you."
She leaned her forehead against his, and for one peaceful moment, he thought he'd managed to comfort her. Then she pulled back. "But…but that's not all," she said. "That's not the end of it. Because if Donna's gone, that means he'll be alone again."
With a frantic energy, she pushed to her feet, pulling away from his hold. "Oh, god," she said, pacing, "Donna's gone, and he's alone again. Oh, he's going to do something so stupid. One way or another, he's going to go too far, and he's going to get himself killed."
The Doctor stood up, stretching out his hands, trying to calm her. "Rose, he'll be all right," he insisted. "He knew what he was doing."
She stopped and looked at him. "Will he find someone else, d'you think? Another companion?"
He paused, stuck between the urge to comfort her and the need to tell her the truth.
"He won't," she whispered. "He's lost everyone now, and he just won't. And he'll end up getting killed."
"You can't know that—"
"Yes, I can," she shouted, suddenly enraged. "I bloody well can! Because you were dead! You died, in Donna's parallel, fighting the Racnos. You never met her, and you were alone, and you died. You told me you would be all right, promised me on this same, god-forsaken beach, you promised me, and you just LET yourself die!"
Her face was flushed and her eyes were wild. The Doctor fell back a step as she pressed forward. "I had to interrupt the autopsy, you bastard. I stood over your dead body in the UNIT morgue. All those times," she rasped, gripping the lapels of his suit and shaking him. "All those times, you moaning about the pitiful human lifespan. How horrible it would be for you to watch me wither and die, Doctor, but in the end, I was the one who had to carry your broken corpse back to the TARDIS. Imagine," she said, her voice breaking at last, "imagine seeing that happen to somebody you love."
Her head tipped forward into his chest as she finally broke down into tears. Great wracking sobs shook her narrow frame as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her in close. "I'm sorry," he murmured over and over into her ear as he rocked her. "Oh, Rose. I'm so sorry."
For several long minutes, he held her as she cried, and he wondered just how long she'd been carrying all this anger and worry, guilt and pain. He pressed his cheek against her hair and ran his hands over her back as she spent her terrible grief against his chest.
He thought he was beginning to see what Jackie meant: he had tried so hard to protect her, but in the end, he hadn't been able to shield her from any of this. All he'd done was exchange one kind of pain for another. Every attempt to keep her from harm had torn a little piece out of her heart, and then, in the end, she'd just jumped right back into the fray.
Give and take. Different but still equal. Yes, maybe Jackie had a point after all.
As Rose grew calmer and her weeping quieted, the Doctor took a deep breath. "You're right," he said softly. He gave a half-laugh. "You'd think it'd choke me to say so, but you are right. I should have told you. I should have told you all of it—Jack, and Donna, and what we were planning, and all." He ran a hand over his face. "Should have given you a choice at Canary Wharf. And while I don't really regret sending you home from Satellite Five, I should have at least told you what I was going to do." He blew out a breath. "…And I probably should have given you a heads up about the regeneration thing, come to think of it."
Rose gave a weak, watery laugh against his chest. "You sure you're the same man?" she asked, lifting up her head. She wiped a hand over her face, drying away her tears.
He just smiled and traced the apple of her cheek with his thumb. "Better?"
Rose let out a shuddering sigh. "Yeah. Better. Sorry for that. It's been awhile since I…"
"I understand," he said. "Sometimes, the weight of the universe just gets a bit much to carry by yourself." His lips twisted in a wry smile. "That's part of why it's better with two."
"Yeah." She took another deep breath. "I just…" She looked down. "I don't know how to live with all this," she admitted. "I'm afraid for him, and I feel like I'm being asked to sacrifice his happiness for my own."
The Doctor nodded slowly. "I see." He looked thoughtful. "I can't…hmm." He paused, frowning. He didn't want to upset her any more, but it was time to start being truthful. "I can't promise you that he'll always be OK. You're right—he might be a bit…reckless. But I don't think he'll die." He mulled it over. "You should know, this…arrangement is not without its compensations for him." When she just looked at him oddly, he smiled a little and continued. "You remember how when the TARDIS lands somewhere, we become part of the current timeline, yes? Part of events?"
"And you understand the concept of causality, how you can't go back and unravel events that are requisite preludes to your own current position in time. For example, you can't go back and alter what happened with Queen Victoria in 1879, or at Canary Wharf. Well, I should say, you shouldn't do that, but of course, you know that it is possible—you just risk causing a paradox, doing irreparable damage to the fabric of time, and that, of course, has all sorts of nasty consequences, which—"
"Yes, Doctor," Rose interrupted patiently, "I remember. Vividly."
"Er, right. So my point is, if for example, you'd stayed on the other Earth in linear time, at some point or another, you would…be gone," he explained, still fumbling over the concept of her mortality. "And inevitably, his timeline would encounter that fact—he'd read about it or hear about it or meet your great-great-grandchildren or something. In fact, there'd probably be a great, gold statue of you in the middle of London. A shrine to you slap-bang in the middle of Trafalgar Square."
She chuckled, which he felt was a promising sign.
"But this way, staying in a parallel universe?" He smiled softly, sadly. "For him, you will never die. Separate universes means separate timelines. Non-convergent realities. Your story never ends for him, because he will never stand over your grave. He can think of you here, existing forever, Rose, because for him, that's true. It was the only real way to make you immortal without sacrificing anything.
"He gets your forever, Rose. I get your everyday." He suddenly looked uncomfortable. "I mean, if you want."
Rose looked at him, tracing the oh-so-familiar lines of his face with her eyes. She had been fighting against their separation for so long, battling fate and time and parallel realities, and it was hard to let go of that struggle. But maybe it was finally time to concede, time to take the gift he'd offered her and see his sacrifice for what it was: An act of love.
Because even though he was gone…he was still right here.
Looking up into his eyes, she gave her answer. "Yeah," she said softly, sincerely, placing a hand over his single heart, "I do."
A smile, bright, brilliant, and joyous, broke out on his face. "Oh, good," he said, his voice lilting a little in relief. "It would have been a bit awkward otherwise."
Rose couldn't help it; she giggled. The Doctor didn't seem to mind, though. He reached up, captured her hand resting on his lapel before it could escape. "Ah," he sighed happily, threading his fingers through hers. "That's better."
She studied their joined hands. "It is," she agreed, feeling more content than she'd been in years. "It really is."
With a little tug, the Doctor started them both walking again.
"So," he asked, eyeing her, "I was wondering—and, you understand, I don't want to rush you, and I'm really just asking this purely for information's sake—but do you think, if I were to confess my inner feelings in a dramatic fashion, there could be a chance you'd kiss me again?"
Rose chuckled. "Might do," she said, half-teasing. "Although I don't know if that kind of talk really helps your 'we're-the-same-man' case. No way he'd have said that out loud."
The Doctor looked at her oddly. "Well, it's not really necessary, is it? I mean, honestly, does it need saying?" he asked, clearly a little puzzled.
Rose's mouth fell open as a gust of wind blew over them, and it rushed in to fill the space between her teeth and tongue, temporarily robbing her of speech. "You did NOT just say that to me," she said at last, wavering between aggravation and hilarity. She tugged her hand free from his. "Wait, what am I thinking, of course you did." And just when she thought they were getting on the same damn page… She fought the urge to scoop up a handful of gravel off the road and pelt him with rocks. "You are such a bloody idiot!"
He blinked. "I'm the idiot?" he said incredulously. "It's not exactly like it was some enormous secret. How is it that every single other sentient entity in the universe seemed to know except you?"
"What the hell are you on about?" she demanded.
"Seems like everywhere we went, someone was announcing that I was in love with you."
She shook her head. "Oh, please—"
But he threw his hands up in the air, interrupting her. "Everyone! Everywhere we went! The Dalek. In Utah. Well, it went and said it outright, didn't it? And Adam—a person stupid enough to get a bloody hole carved into his head, and even he knew. Then your father, then Jack," he listed, waving his arms for emphasis. "Jack had reams of advice for me on the topic! Margaret the Slitheen, she sure knew, that's why she held you hostage. And the same with the Daleks again…"
"You're absolutely mad!"
"Oh, and I'm pretty sure that Harriet Jones cottoned on at some point, what with me being so reluctant to save the world for fear of losing you. Then there was Mickey; well, he probably knew all along. Reinette knew—I could see it in her eyes when she sent me back to you. Cassandra knew, Queen Victoria knew, the crew of the Sanctuary Base knew, your mum," he paused and wagged his finger in emphasis, "your MUM knew, Rose. Your. MUM. Also Satan," he added as an afterthought.
She opened her mouth to speak, but he interrupted again, holding his arms wide and turning away from her. "Then you were gone, so you'd think everyone would stop commenting on it, but NO! Everywhere I went, people saying, 'Oh, so sorry to hear that the love of your life is gone. How's the broken heart doing?' Donna, she knew, the bloody Carrionites knew— they made up poetry just for the occasion!"
Rose squinted her eyes; the wind—just the wind, she was sure— was making them tear up again. "Who are the Carrionites?"
"Witches," he said succinctly over his shoulder.
"What, seriously?" she asked, taken aback.
He nodded and then turned to grin at her conspiratorially. "I met Shakespeare! It was brilliant!"
Rose bit her lip, trying to not smile in return, but the Doctor seemed to sense that he was close to victory. He stepped toward her, eyes dark.
"Martha knew," he said, reaching out to take her hand. "It's why she left. Oh, and I got to hear about it from Jack all over again. And then Donna some more, well, Donna several times more, actually—"
"Doctor," she interrupted.
"Rose," he replied, pulling her closer.
She sniffled. "It's not that I didn't think, didn't know…it's just…"
"Sometimes it's nice to hear it?" he murmured.
"Yeah," she exhaled.
"Yeah," he agreed, sliding his arms around her waist, coming home.
"I love you," she said, burrowing her head against his chest.
He rested his chin on the top of her head. "Well, and quite right, too."
She jerked back in his arms to glare at his cheeky grin. "Seriously?" she growled, but, he was pleased to see, she was fighting a smile.
He laughed and cupped her face. "I love you," he said. "Oh, Rose Tyler, how I love you, and if you want to hear it, I'll say it every day."
Her lips curved up as she closed her eyes. "Think I like the sound of that."
"Good," he whispered, leaning forward, his breath washing over her lips. And then, because he could, he kissed her and kissed her and kissed her.
Eventually, they came to the realization that a freezing cold beach wasn't really the most conducive place for romantic activities. Also, Rose remembered rather guiltily, her mother was still waiting for them back at the lean-to. Hand in hand, they started down the road to town.
After several minutes of quiet, the Doctor glanced at Rose. She was biting her lip.
"Penny for your thoughts?" he asked.
"I'm just wondering," she said. "What are we going to do?"
"We're going to call Pete, get a car, pick up your mum, and then get ourselves a hotel room for the night," he answered. When her eyebrows shot up, he hastened to explain. "No, no, no! I mean, so you can sleep. Just sleep. That's all. Nothing else. Nothing else at all."
For some reason, this wasn't helping the eyebrow situation, so the Doctor did what he did best—he kept talking. "I mean, that's not to say that…it's not that I wouldn't want…I mean…at some point…" he trailed off awkwardly, rubbing his free hand over the back of his neck.
Rose just smirked at him.
"Twenty-three and a half hours," he blurted out. "Since you've slept. That's what I meant."
"More like twenty-four and change now," she said, glancing down at her clock.
"Right. Got to get you some quality shut-eye."
"Sounds good," she said, sounding amused. "But what I meant was, what are we going to do here on Earth? We're still stuck here, on this one single planet for however long it takes to grow a TARDIS, if that's even possible." She shook her head. "I still don't see how this is going to work. Doesn't this bother you?"
The Doctor grinned at her. "Nope," he said, popping the 'p.' "This is a grand adventure in an undiscovered country. I've lived in linear time before, you know, but never like this." When she looked confused, he elaborated. "It's like I was saying, about the timelines and causality and all that? Back home, my timeline was woven throughout the universe, through all of time and space. I knew where the fixed points were, the things I couldn't change, but here?" He smiled again. "I've never been to the future here. It's unwritten."
Rose tilted her head, taking in the excitement written across his face. "Right," she said slowly, "but we can't go visit the future, at least not yet. We're still on the slow path for awhile."
He grasped her hand. "But that's the beauty of it," he said cheerfully. "A lovely little…eh," he tipped his head to the side, running the numbers, "let's say, three year vacation with no causality worries. Anything I can think up to do, I can just…do." He waggled his eyebrows.
At this, a slightly alarmed look flitted across Rose's face.
"No, no," he said hastily, "I don't mean anything anything. Just good things."
"Well," he said, mock-thoughtfully before shooting her a conspiratorial grin. "Ever want to cure tuberculosis? End famines? Stop wars?" He tapped a finger to his head. "A lot of know-how in here, Rose, all at Planet Earth's disposal."
Her mouth dropped open. "But…but we can't just flood the world with…with future knowledge and alien tech," she objected. "I mean, it could do a lot of good, yes, but it could also do a lot of harm."
"Not flood," he said patiently. "Just some nudges, here and there. Carefully. In between growing the TARDIS, which, incidentally, should be a fascinating process, guaranteed to keep me from world-government-toppling boredom."
Rose still looked a little doubtful. "You sure you're not going to end up trying to take over the planet?"
The Doctor grinned. "If I do, I've got you to stop me." He lifted their joined hands, spinning her in a pirouette. "Tell you what, you can be the final arbiter. Keep me on the straight and narrow."
And finally, finally, she laughed, really laughed, bright and golden, such as he hadn't heard in years. "Just like old times."
"Just like old times," he agreed.
"So we're just going to spend a couple of years making the world a better place, then?"
"Rose," he said happily, pulling her close and wrapping her up in his arms, "we're going to make it shine."