In the final stages of programming, Pete decided they needed a way to protect the fabric of space-time if anything happened to Rose or anyone else got their hands on the cannon. Ian, one of their techs, suggested a launch code. Pete wanted it to be completely confidential; no one but Rose should know it.
They put her in a locked room, disabled all security cameras, and left her to enter the alphanumeric code directly into the cannon. To be honest, the moment they asked her she knew what to use. She completely trusted the two other people in the multiverse that might guess it. More than that, she liked the feeling of cosmic guidance; that she trusted herself to bring her home.
She felt the cannon vibrate to life under her hands. For the first time since he faded away on the beach she hoped, deep in her bones. This might all work out.
He is broken. Heart, limbs, soul. He is dying, and it will be slow and painful. If he is honest, he deserves it. He is done. He's saved the universe at the cost of his people and whatever shreds of goodness left in him.
He stumbles out of the TARDIS onto the mossy ground of Hadlor V—always nice when the old girl takes him where he asks. In approximately thirty-two minutes, an alpha class asteroid will strike the planet. Good old Hadlor V will disintegrate utterly, vaporized by the high-speed collision and forgotten in the annals of history. His body will be among the atoms, and the Time Lords will be no more. The universe will probably be better off for it.
He feels bad for the TARDIS, but he also can't fathom her being with anyone else. Perhaps he is a jealous lover, but the time for such worries is over. If she didn't want to come along, she wouldn't have brought him here. She has a mind of her own, after all.
He begins slipping out of consciousness, hoping for relief. But every time he closes his eyes he sees Gallifrey burning and is awake again, hearts pounding a drum roll. Finally he hears a whoosh and sighs in thanks to the asteroid for entering the planet's orbit so quickly. But then there are hands, small but strong, pushing his hair from his face and feeling his chest for a heartbeat. It is a woman, humanoid, but his vision is blurring and he can only make out colors beyond that. Pink and gold.
She does not speak, just pulls him up and drags his body back into the TARDIS. She is small, but has no trouble. Perhaps he is just that frail now—the heavy weight of a soul lost the moment he banished two races from time and space. Salvation is not what he wants, but the universe—and this woman, too, apparently-is not interested in letting him rest. He can tell the TARDIS is happy that their mutual destruction has been delayed, but he also picks up on an odd sense of welcome for the girl who's carried him back home. It's future tense. Very odd.
"Can't let you see me," she whispers into his ear. Twenty-first century. English, but not posh. Right now he cannot make out anything more specific than that—his senses are fading fast. "Shouldn't even be talking, really."
The regeneration energy is building, soon it will be too late to stop it. She probably won't answer, but he is compelled to ask. "Who...?"
"Can't say that, neither. But your story's not done yet. You've got to meet me, for one thing," she is careful to keep out of his vision. Smart girl. He wishes, briefly, he could file away some detail to prepare himself. Unlikely, considering he can only make out vague shapes and the song of the vortex and his regeneration begins.
"All right," he gasps. Her hands are cool against his forehead. He feels them move away, only to be replaced with her lips. He is grateful for compassion he doesn't deserve. He pushes his luck: "Don't go?"
"I'm not gonna leave you," she sighs. He closes his eyes. They explode with light.
She's been jumping for a few weeks now, and in that time she's encountered other versions of the Doctor. This is the first time she's seen a familiar face, though. It looks different, in the frock coat and frills. She would laugh, but as she's now discovered, even if you know what's coming, regeneration isn't easy to watch. This is her first; his ice-blue eyes behind closed lids. He'll carry the weight of the world on his leather-clad shoulders and tell her to run. But she has to be gone before he wakes up because as much as she wants to comfort him, to see his contagious grin and hear his voice (she wonders if they are in the northern hemisphere of this planet), nothing is worth jeopardizing their meeting in the Henrik's basement.
She can't resist a kiss. She was always curious. She leans over him and lets her lips brush against his. It's wonderful, but horrible. He is asleep, doesn't know; it's not like they were dancing and he dipped her and she comes back up and...the TARDIS chimes at her. Something is happening; she has to leave now. She stands swiftly, locking away fantasies and memories. Caresses the unfamiliar-but-familiar console one last time before inputting the launch code.
He sees it one night, a flash in a dream during the year that never was. Gold. Pink. A voice.
After Martha leaves, he decides to investigate. It's a wild thought, and his desire to see is dangerous. But he is feeling a tremendous amount of guilt and self-pity, so he decides to bugger it all and sets the TARDIS for Hadlor V. He's careful to land at least an hour early. He wants to approach on foot, watch from the cover of Hadlor's thick forests. His timing is perfect, he congratulates himself as the TARDIS materializes. He watches as he stumbles out; memories of those desperate moments filling his hearts. He wants to hang his head, cry out at the memory, but he is here for a reason. He shakes himself, watches.
There is the whoosh. The younger him is welcoming his imminent death, but he is desperately seeking a spark of life and hope.
And there she is.
It's Rose, of course, he sees it now. He's far enough away that he cannot make out the details—how old she is, when this might have happened for her. He suspects it had something to do with her possession by the Bad Wolf. Doesn't matter. It's always been Rose.
As she disappears from that timespace reality, she realizes she saw a flash of pinstripe in the trees when she was dragging the Doctor into the TARDIS. She didn't know whether she wanted it to be real or her imagination.
So close but too late: the story of her life.
She reappears in a familiar spot, just around the corner from her apartment at the Powell Estates. Where, just a few years ago, her Doctor disappeared for just a moment. She remembered the panic she felt, the absolute conviction she'd made a mistake. Then he reappeared and she ran into the TARDIS doors, 'cause it travels in time.
His time is nearly out. He's seen D…Well, he's seen everyone except her, this last stop, the last person he wants to see with these eyes. Rose.
When he hears her voice, his hearts swell. He is, for a moment, home—at least the closest thing to it since Gallifrey. Even Jackie's drawl is a comfort. Good old Jackie. He shouldn't be here, really. This is risky. He might mess up everything they had after he regenerated. But he figures it is New Year, both of the may have had a bit to drink, it is cold, and he will not step out of the shadows. He should be safe. He deserves this one last indulgence, after everything.
They come into his vision, and she is wearing a scarf he remembers fondly—she wore it when she leapt into his arms after correctly pronouncing Raxacoricofallapatorius, and he took advantage of the moment with an extra tight squeeze; the day he thought he might have lost her to Mickey for good. It was around her neck when she came back to him and he had to look like he didn't really care, like he was concerned and not the least bit overjoyed. They had wasted so much time then.
He keeps a hand on the TARDIS door or he knows he'll lose control and run to her, wrap his arms around her and spin while the ends of that lovely scarf track circles in the snow.
A bit of construction places her in a pretty specific point in time—Mrs. Chatterjee's flat had a gas leak and caught fire; blew out the windows of the whole floor. She had just gotten her job at Henrik's and she was almost late her second day because the emergency vehicles blocked traffic around the block. It was around New Year's, 2005. This is too early…'S not like she was looking for herself.
Still, she decides to investigate. Give the cannon a rest. She walks around the corner and quickly ducks back behind the wall. She thinks she see the TARDIS, doesn't want to risk walking into the middle of something and causing a paradox. She peeks, keeping her body hidden, and sees the Doctor, her Doctor, the one she's looking for. He's grasping the TARDIS door as though he can't stand without it and he's talking to someone... The air leaves her lungs in one great whoosh as she realizes. The Doctor was that drunk bloke on New Year's Eve, the cute one—totally sloshed but really great hair—she told Shireen about as soon as she got in. How could she have forgotten?
Shaking, she leans back against the wall and tries to catch her breath. Somehow, it only seems right that they've been poking around in each other's timelines, twisted around each other, intimated and imbricated from before they met. She looks around the corner again, and sees that she's gone and he's alone. Something is wrong—he's falling over himself, leaving incomprehensible tracks in the snow. She can't stop herself when he falls again, his bare hands grasping for something, anything that wouldn't melt. She pushes off the wall to go to him but jerks back. She spins, ready to punch whoever's interfered.
"You're an Ood." It's not a question but she wants an answer.
"Yes," the Ood responds. "You are Rose Tyler."
"What of it?" She pulls her arm violent from his. This one has a symbol on its chest. Greek, that pointy E thing…? Her eyes narrows, there's something different about this one.
"You must not go to him."
"But he's dying," she turns to look again. He's on his stomach, breathing heavy. "He's all alone," she chokes.
"I will go to him so that he will not be alone. His song is ending," the Ood turns away and begins to walk toward the open space.
"I can't leave him," she grabs the Ood's arm and pulls him to face her. The Ood's eyes blink gently. "He doesn't even know you…"
"He does know me, Rose Tyler," he answers. "You may stay, but he cannot see you. His time has come." She lets the Ood go, watches as he walks to the Doctor. She will stay. He might not be able to see her, he won't know she's there, but she made her choice a long time ago.
As he stumbles back to the TARDIS, he lets the Oodsong fill his hearts and mind. It's a small measure of comfort when he knows what's coming. His song is ending, but the story never ends. He reaches the door, pausing for a moment to ready himself when he hears a voice he recognizes. He closes his eyes and smiles, enjoying the dream that Rose's voice is amongst the choir. He steps inside and turns to close the door, taking in one last look at the somehow-lovely concrete of the Powell Estates.
There she is. Rose Tyler, dimension cannon in hand, breathing heavily as though she's been running. She must have been watching the whole time. Oh, Rose. He knows.
Her eyes lock with his for the briefest of moments before he smiles and closes the TARDIS door.
She keeps jumping. She has to be perfect. Too early and the Doctor won't be able to do anything or she could undo everything. Too late, and…that's more obvious. Sometimes, when she can tell it's her Doctor and she's just too early, it's hard to not sod the consequences and run to him. But it's not just her; it's for Earth and all the other planets. Even that might not be enough, if it weren't for her mum and Mickey and Pete and Tony.
She's circling her target, landing a few years too soon or a decade too late. The Bad Wolf hasn't lead her astray, there's something to do with the Doctor wherever she lands. Pretty good considering her target could be anywhere in time or space.
She's seen so many of his faces, even gotten to meet a few of his companions. She's always careful not to give anything away. When she sees Sarah Jane, she steers clear, just in case.
She discovers he's travelling with a Donna Noble when she needs to find him. It's probably time to check back in to her home universe and reconfigure the cannon around Donna. Smaller slice of time to track. From what she's seen, she likes Donna. She's funny and brash and keeps him honest. She fights back jealousy, though—that's it's not her with him. She sees them once, walking down a London street, laughing; she can only turn back around the corner and cry. She feels like a silly little girl for it but she misses him so much. She decides to make one more jump before she checks back home. No, with Torchwood. Home is a block away, laughing at Donna Noble's jokes.
He knew this day would come. Even Time Lords can't stop death forever. He just expected something more epic or exotic than the twenty-first century Cardiff. Ah, well: it's a good death and it's time. He's lived too long. He just needs to get up and get to the TARDIS before he passes out again. It's too dangerous for him to leave his corpse in the open. One Time Lord cell in the right hands…
He pushes up off his belly, arms shaking. His legs aren't cooperating. Come to think of it, he can't feel them. This will be a problem. He moves his upper body, pain intense enough that he's sure without his respiratory bypass he'd have already passed out. He's sure one heart is gone. He's not looking down, afraid to see the blood he guesses is pouring from his side. He looks around him. He couldn't manage to stop the Rift's implosion early enough to prevent the earthquake. Streets were torn up, the buildings closest to the rifts were destroyed. Sophie managed to evacuate the area in time, so the human damage had been minimized except... He hadn't been able to protect her when the Reapers appeared. He is such a fool. It is definitely time.
He scoots himself to the curb so he can rest his head, watches the blood trail forming beneath him. This will be a problem. Hopefully, no one will guess it's Time Lord blood and just wash it away. Looks human enough. They'll probably be surprised there's not more. He breathes deeply (which hurts) and closes his eyes when he hears a whoosh.
He's relieved and surprised but if he's honest, he half-expected her to show up. She looks around, surveying. He sees sadness in her eyes. She never could deal with the physical signs of destruction, her heart was too big for it. She finally spot the casualty, runs toward him.
"What happened here?" She asks, assessing his body for injuries before she even looks up at his face. "'S it just you?" Of course, she wouldn't recognize him right away. He finally got his ginger hair, a nice auburn, just a little darker than Donna's was, but his skin was also darker than it has been—almost mocha. He's grown a neat beard, too. It's a striking look, he wears a lot of dark purples and greens with it. Regardless, he looks rather different than she would have seen in any of his previous incarnations.
He doesn't answer her. He can't, he is too busy drinking her in. As beautiful as he remembers. All pink and yellow and gold.
"Hey buddy, you all right?" she asks. She touches the side of his face—oh so gently, oh Rose—and turns him toward her. She looks into his eyes, checking for a concussion. She jumps back, scrambling in the gravel and debris.
"Somehow I knew you'd be here, at the end," he smiles. She picks herself up and runs back to his side. "You seem to have a sense for showing up when I'm dying alone." She cups his cheeks, kisses his forehead. He smiles, though it takes all his concentration to do it.
"You'll be fine," she whispers, resting her head against the wet spot she's left on his.
"Not this time," he answers. His lungs are beginning to seize. "And there's not much time left."
"'Course it does, maybe if I go back…" she turns, trying to find her cannon. Always stubborn, this one.
"Rose, please," he gasps. "It's time. I'm ready." She shakes her head, but keeps their foreheads together. He lifts his arm as best he can, grasps her arm. "And now, I get to see you one last time."
Time jumping with the dimension cannon is rough, like having the wind knocked out of you. It's nothing compared to hearing those words come from his mouth. It's a new look for the Doctor, but all it took was one look in his eyes and she knows it's him. That's all it takes. She's got him to herself for a few minutes, finally, and he's dying. For good, apparently. Maybe invoking the Bad Wolf wasn't such a good idea after all.
She's lost for a moment, staring at the air between the two of them, when he breaks the silence.
"Rose, could you do me a favor?" He asks.
"Anything," she answers, not quite ready to look up at him yet.
"Take me back to the TARDIS? It's around the corner," he gestures with his head. "I'm afraid I can't walk."
She nods, and stands, gauging his weight. As she bends to pull him up from under his arms she sees another figure approaching. She stands to full height again. "Who's there? Stay back!"
"Rose?" the voice calls. It's familiar, American.
"Jack?" Her heart races. She doesn't know if she can face the Doctor's death alone, and the one person she really trusts to be a comfort, to help her through this just appeared in the midst of disaster. He picks up the pace and runs toward them. But he's…
"My God, Rosie, look at you!" He doesn't slow down before he's wrapping his arms around her, lifting her off the ground. When he sets her down the Doctor groans and she smiles despite the absurdity of the situation. "Who's this fella then?"
"Don't start, Jack," the Doctor moans.
She answers at the same time, voices overlapping like they used to so often like choruses bouncing off the TARDIS walls. "Well, it's the Doctor."
"When the Rift opened suddenly I figured you might have something to do with it," he squats down next to the Doctor, looking over his injuries. Frowning, he pokes at the Doctor's unresponsive feet.
"You're…?" Rose stands dumbfounded, watching Jack examine the dying Doctor. He hasn't aged a day...
"Oh, right—you're still jumping around. I'm alive, yeah. You brought me back on the game station. I'm kind of immortal, now."
"Bad Wolf," the Doctor says. "You brought life." Rose looks at him, then closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose. She is overwhelmed by everything. She knew about Bad Wolf, but not that somehow, she saved Jack...
"You don't look so hot, Doctor," Jack states, interrupting her jumbled thoughts.
"I'm dying," the Doctor drawls.
Rose shakes herself from her confusion. "I was going to take him to the TARDIS. Be easier with help?" Jack smiles and nods, and picks the Doctor up from under his arms.
"You grab his legs," he nods toward the Doctor's dead limbs and Rose follows orders. The Doctor groans as they lift him. They move slowly, Rose keeps her eyes on him all the time, wondering at her luck. She's not sure whether it's good or bad right now, story of the Bad Wolf. But right now she has her Doctor and Jack is alive and she'll take it.
When they arrive at the TARDIS, she pulls the key from his pocket and opens the door. She holds it open while Jack drags him inside. The TARDIS has changed again, too. She watches while Jack carefully sets him in a chair by the console.
"Rose?" The Doctor asks weakly, looking up. She lets the door go and steps toward him, trembling. She moves in and reaches for his hand. "Rose…" he chokes. "Please."
"Rose? How bad is it?" Jack asks, looking up from the Doctor.
"He's dying," Rose answers, not looking away from the Doctor's face. "For good."
"God," Jack gasps. "Doctor?" Rose watches the Doctor nod.
"Listen," the Doctor says, wheezing, "You have to destroy my body. If the wrong hands got a hold of even one cell…"
"I couldn't…" Rose recoils. She'd do almost anything, but…
"Rose, you have the cannon?" The Doctor asks. She nods. "It only carries one, yeah?" She nods again.
"Right," Jack says. He walks over to her, touches her shoulder gently. Rose does not understand what's going on around her. These two men seem to get something she's not seeing. She looks at Jack, searching for answers.
"Rose, you can do this. It's only right it's you," he smiles at her. He brows knit together as her gaze drops to his chest. He curls a finger under her chin and raises her eyes to meet his again. "Listen, you'll see me again soon. Here's the thing, we won't get a big chance to talk. But don't feel bad about the immortal thing. It's a gift, Rosie, in its own weird way. I've never felt anything but love for you." Tears slip from her eyes as he leans in to kiss her, gently.
"This is familiar, isn't it?" He smiles at her, wiping her tears with his thumb. He turns to the Doctor. Rose forgot for a moment, she panics that something might have happened. He catches her eye and smiles at her, then shoots a glare at Jack.
"'Suppose you're gonna kiss me, too?" he asks. Jack laughs, then leans in and kisses the Doctor's lips. It's more chaste than the last time but no less meaningful.
"I love you, Doctor," Jack says. Rose marvels as his voice cracks. Jack was not one to show such vulnerability…the years must have changed him. The Doctor doesn't answer, but smiles and nods.
"You'll see me again, Jack," he says. "Both of us, actually." Jack smiles, lips tight. He grabs Rose into a last hug and then stalks from the TARDIS without a word. She watches until the door closes.
The Doctor explains his plan to her, pausing occasionally to gasp or moan from the pain. He tells her he's been able to block the pain until now, but his systems are giving out quickly. She blocks it out for now, she has work to do yet.
With his instruction, she sets the coordinates and activates the TARDIS. She can feel her spinning through the vortex, tumbling toward their final destination. When the TARDIS stops, the Doctor asks her to open the doors. Outside, a star is dying.
"It's beautiful," she whispers. It's impossibly bright, the gases around it swirling into the shape of an hourglass. Appropriate somehow.
"Rose," he says weakly, beckons her back to him. She turns and is beside him, grasps his hands tightly.
"I know, I shouldn't tell you, but…" he stops, swallows. "You'll find me. Our story's not over."
"I'm glad," she smiles, but feels the tears track down her cheeks. "It's probably good you told me, I don't know if I could've…"
"Rose Tyler, there's nothing you can't handle," he smiles. He pauses, strokes her cheek, leaving a wet smear. "That star is going hypernova in ten minutes. It'll obliterate everything within 2 light years. Anything within 5 light years that survives will be sucked into the resulting black hole. I'll be stardust. A fitting end."
"You can't die," she sobs, feels something unnamable inside her break. "You can't."
"I can. I am. I've got about two minutes," he grimaces. "You need to jump away now."
"You know me better than that," she shakes her head. "I made my choice a long time ago."
"Quite right, too," he smiles. "That's why I left eight extra minutes." Rose watches his chest rise and fall with a heavy breath. He opens his eyes and looks into hers. It almost burns her. "Rose Tyler, I've always loved you."
She leans in and kisses him. He's weak and losing strength, but she gives it as much passion as she can. His lips are fuller than the ones she remembers, softer than she imagined. Their tongues slip toward each other, slick and needy but gentle. Another shudder breaks them apart. His body stiffens, his eyes find hers. He is afraid.
"I'll always love you, Doctor," she whispers. "'m here. To the end." She threads her fingers through his. His jaw tightens and his chest shakes, but his eyes never leave hers. She kisses his forehead as he shudders, until his grip gives way. She steps back, screaming or sobbing she's not sure. His eyes are open but, finally, lifeless. A golden stream of light erupts from his mouth, filling the TARDIS with a gentle glow. She turns to the dying star. Its shape has changed—it is, unmistakably, a howling wolf. She turns back to the TARDIS console, and feels a voice shaking the atoms of her eardrums.
"Everything comes to dust. All things. Everything dies. But your story, and his with it, has yet to be written."
It's the TARDIS or the Bad Wolf or something. Familiar and dangerous, but right. She is raw, her heart is broken, but there is a future ahead of her. His body will be safe. And she was with him at the end. He wasn't alone.
She watches the star shift from a wolf, doubling in on itself into a shrinking figure eight. She picks up the cannon, and walks over to his body. She closes his eyes and kisses him one last time. The launch code is set. "I create myself," she whispers as she disappears from view.
The Doctor finds Rose outside, watching the stars. She'd told him, earlier that day, about her experiences while jumping with the cannon. There's something she's holding back, but he doesn't push her. He's so new and their relationship is so tender and…something. He can't quite find the words. They will not leave each other, they love each other, but they aren't quite ready for each other yet. He walks up beside her, rests his hand on her shoulder.
"I saw you die," she says, her voice uncomfortably matter-of-fact for his tastes.
"Oh," he responds. He thinks he should say something but he's not sure how to answer that.
"I was with you, well, the other you. At the very end."
"Oh," he says again, this time understanding her meaning. "When you were jumping?"
"Rose, I'm so, so sorry," he whispers. He shoves his hands in his pockets.
"I'm not," she answers. "I mean, it was awful. But you shouldn't be alone. Especially then. Somewhere, out there, we're together."
They're silent for a moment. He watches the stars move-imperceptible to the human eye but he can still see it. They are unexpectedly bright for being so near the city. She's right, of course. In another universe, they are always somewhere in the distant past or future. Beyond the end of Earth. But not in this universe. Here, it is just the two of them, now. Him. Her. Here. He smiles to himself, turns toward her.
"But...we're together now," he says.
She turns and looks at him, eyes really meeting his for the first time. She smiles. It is small and broken but a real smile. The first he's seen since the beach. "We are," her smile broadens. "and the story's just beginning."