"Come on, Rose, it's time you showed me around the rest of this place." Mickey pulled Rose out of the room as she looked back questioningly at the Doctor.
Glancing up to make sure they were gone, the Doctor pulled a letter out of his pocket. He slowly unfolded the letter and read it, his expression wistful. He then refolded the letter, carefully tucking it back into his pocket. He stared sadly at the scanner as he punched a few buttons and watched the fire in the mantle die. Sighing, he sent the TARDIS on its way and then walked into the study, where no companion but Susan had ever been. He approached a large desk and pulled open a drawer. He laid the letter on top of a stack of other letters, caressing them gently. He sighed once again as Reinette's words echoed through his mind-oh, Doctor, so lonely, so very, very alone; lonely then and lonelier now-how can you bear it? He pushed the drawer closed, wishing he could put away his memories that easily.
He slowly wandered back to the console and finally pulled off his long coat. He sat heavily down in the chair and rested his chin on his hands. The TARDIS seemed to mimic his low mood, dimming the lights, muting normal operation sounds, and moving a bit sluggishly.
After sitting that way for he didn't know how long, the Doctor jumped up. "Who's going to stop me?" he asked defiantly. The TARDIS brightened as if reading his mind. After a few adjustments, the Doctor tapped a button and jumped away from the console, crying, "Oh, yes!"
As the TARDIS materialized, Rose and Mickey reappeared. Mickey looked searchingly at the Doctor. He nodded, seeing the Doctor's mood had much improved. Rose, oblivious, was eagerly studying the scanner. "Where are we, then?" she asked brightly.
"Stay here," the Doctor ordered.
"Why? What's out there? Is it safe?"
"Just stay, I said." He strode out the doors, leaving Rose open-mouthed behind him. She crossed her arms and glared at the doors long after he was gone.
Mickey shuffled his feet uncomfortably. He hoped the Doctor would return soon.
The Doctor wound his way up and down through a maze of corridors. He finally stumbled onto one he recognized. Hearing voices approach, he quickly ducked into a doorway. Once the voices had passed, he carefully peered out, only to be startled by a voice behind him. "What are you doing in here?" the woman demanded.
Turning, the Doctor began stumbling over an answer, but he was cut off.
"You said two minutes, Doctor."
"Reinette!" he exclaimed.
"Two years, Doctor. I've been expecting you almost every moment for two years."
The Doctor examined his shoes sheepishly. "It was those time windows. Practically impossible to how much time had elapsed from the other side. I'll try not to do it again." As he finished speaking, he almost felt those words mocking him.
"Am I finally going to see those stars, Doctor?"
"If you like," he said, a hopeful grin on his face.
She hurried across the room. "I've been ready for this for a very long time," she said, grabbing a bag from a large cupboard. The Doctor took her bag, like a gentleman, and then proffered his arm. "Shall we?" Reinette flashed a winning smile at him as she accepted his arm. "We shall."
Back in the TARDIS, Rose had been alternating between pacing and examining every inch of the image on the scanner. She also muttered to herself at random intervals. Mickey had given up trying to talk her out of it and had seated himself on the captain's chair. Happening to look up, his eye was caught by movement on the scanner. Two figures were approaching. One was the Doctor, the other looked remarkably like… "Rose," he cried, "look!"
She moved to the scanner so quickly that she tripped, nearly falling on her face. "Who's that? Is that-? It can't be. Why's he bringing her back?" Her eyes narrowed in displeasure.
The Doctor and Reinette glided in through the doors, which the Doctor had opened with just a snap of his fingers. He flashed a grin at Rose and Mickey before bowing. "Ladies and gentleman, may I present Madame de Pompadour!" Mickey responded in a friendly fashion while Rose barely said hello.
Noticing, but brushing it off, the Doctor turned to face Reinette.
"Where would you like to go, Reinette?" the Doctor asked.
"Anywhere," she replied, smiling. "You're the expert, you should choose."
The Doctor paused a few moments. "Have you ever heard of Jean Sylvain Bailly?"
She tilted her head in thought. "The name is familiar. Did he not have some prediction about an astronomical phenomenon?"
The Doctor nodded. "Halley's Comet. Would you like to see it up close?"
"Well, then, that's where we'll go. I might venture to suggest a slight wardrobe change, Reinette," the Doctor said. "Don't get me wrong, I love all the…poof…you've got going on, it's gorgeous and lovely and pink, but it's a bit impractical for what we do here."
"And what exactly is it you do, Doctor?" she asked, the look on her face belying the innocent tone of voice.
"Run," he replied with a mixture of mischief and excitement. "Mickey, would you care to show Reinette to the wardrobe?"
"Sure thing, boss," Mickey replied, realizing the Doctor wanted Rose alone, probably for a lecture. "This way," he said, pointing to the door.
Rose barely waited for their footsteps to fade away before demanding, "What is she doing here, Doctor? I know we didn't go back to that spaceship because the time windows were closed, so we must've gone back to France. Did you go back just to pick her up?"
"Yes, I did."
"I thought that was against the rules."
"Rules, schmules. Who needs them?"
"You do, but apparently only when it suits you. I couldn't save my dad without ending the world but you can just go crossing timelines or whatever and pick up anyone you like?"
The Doctor merely frowned.
"I thought I knew you, Doctor, but you keep doing…this," she said, throwing her hands in the air.
"Oh, Rassilon end it, Rose! This is like Sarah Jane all over again," the Doctor burst out.
"Exactly. We established we were going to travel together forever, then this! You wind up in France and meet a pretty French tart and decide to abandon me," she said, "and Mickey," she added as an afterthought.
"I knew I'd run into myself eventually and hitch a lift and get back to that ship, so anything that happened to you while you were waiting wouldn't have happened."
"Whatever," she said, shaking her head. "We had something special, Doctor-"
"We do have something special, Rose. But so do Mickey and I, and Reinette and I, and so many others. It's always special, Rose. And it always breaks my heart in the end."
Rose didn't reply and an uneasy silence fell, broken only by the rhythmic pulsing of the TARDIS. Eventually, Rose left, leaving the Doctor alone with his memories.
Reinette had changed and made her way back to the console room. She stopped just outside the door, hearing raised voices and then a long silence. Then, she heard footsteps and ducked into the shadows of the curving and twisting support pillars. She watched Rose leave and then went in to the Doctor.
"Are we nearly there?" she asked lightly.
"We are. Do you want a look?" the Doctor responded, traces of his late argument slowly vanishing. Reinette nodded and the Doctor grabbed her hand without a thought and pulled her to the outer doors. He opened them, revealing that the TARDIS was keeping pace with a large, icy object.
"Is that it?" Reinette asked, a bit disappointed. "Up close, it proves a bit of a disappointment."
"Yeah," he agreed. "But look around you, there's the Sun, the Earth, the other planets," he said, pointing out each as he mentioned them. "I know something that won't disappoint. Stay there and close your eyes." He walked back to the console, pressed a button, spun a dial, and pulled a lever. He returned to Reinette's side. "Alright, open your eyes," he said softly.
Reinette complied and caught her breath. She was staring at a swirling, pulsing field made of every color imaginable. "It's beautiful," she whispered. "It's like looking through a cloud of living colors."
The Doctor smiled. "This is the Orion Nebula. Stars are born here. Look at that one," he said, pointing. "That's just a baby. Keep watching it," he said as he once again approached the console. He returned moments later and then sat down, his legs dangling in open space. Reinette cast one unsure glance at him and then did likewise. "There, do you see it now?"
"That star I told you to watch. Now it's half a million years later." The Doctor had auto-programmed the TARDIS to jump by time increments of 500,000 years to watch the development of this star. He also told Reinette about the planets orbiting it and how he had visited one of them and managed to get his friend Jamie married to the Leader's three daughters.
The Doctor and Reinette eventually fell into a companionable silence, content to gaze upon the ever-changing 'landscape' of the nebula. Reinette sighed. "I cannot thank you enough, Doctor. Not only did you rescue me from the monsters under my bed, but you showed me the stars, even though it got you into some trouble, I believe."
"Trouble? Me?" the Doctor replied, looking scandalized.
"The young man, Mickey, said something about Rose being upset because you broke some rules to bring me here."
"Oh," he replied flatly. "The rules of time travel. I can live with a few broken rules. What I can't stand are broken promises. They stay with you much longer." He sighed, then forced himself to continue speaking rather than dwelling on painful memories. "I promised you that you would see the stars, and if I broke a rule or two in keeping that promise, I don't care. There's no one else to care, either," he scoffed. "They're all gone now."
"The Time Lords?" she asked.
"Yes, the Time Lords."
Reinette took his hand and smiled at him. "I trust no great damage was done to the universe by coming back for me."
"None whatsoever," he replied, squeezing her hand.
"Doctor, did you ever manage to learn why those creatures thought they needed me?"
The Doctor was startled by her question. "No, I assumed the ship was just damaged and the droids got confused."
"Could we go back to try to find out? It should be safe, should it not, since the machines were trapped at Versailles?"
"I suppose," he replied, tugging at an ear. "Why not?" He set the coordinates.
The TARDIS stopped outside of the spaceship. The Doctor tugged on the scanner, bringing it over to where he and Reinette stood. He studied the ship, trying to learn something new. Reinette interrupted. "I believe I have the answer, Doctor."
"The machines were correct, we are the same."
"The vessel is named Madame de Pompadour."
As the TARDIS dematerialized, the Doctor smiled slightly, at the same time letting out a quiet sigh. He hated goodbyes. He would miss Reinette, her smile, her amazing ability to grasp concepts far beyond her experience, and, of course, her penchant for grabbing him unexpectedly for a snog. He wished that she had been able stay longer, but important historical figures couldn't vanish without an explanation for very long, ten days, tops, so, though Reinette's time on the TARDIS had been considerably longer than ten days, she had to return to Versailles near the same time she had left, without appearing to have aged.
Rose wandered into the room, followed by Mickey. "Where to now?" she asked.
"I thought maybe Jaxxah. A friend of mine retired there, and I promised I'd drop in and take a look at something for him."
Rose shifted uncomfortably. "Doctor, I just want to say I'm sorry I was so difficult about…everyone else traveling with you. It's not like I own you or anything."
"I'm sorry I never mentioned anyone else I've traveled with. It obviously gave you the wrong idea."
"How many women have you traveled with, Doctor?" she asked, her manner somewhere between shy and teasing.
"Oi! They weren't all women, Rose. And I've spent a lot of time with some people who never traveled with me like this at all."
"Tell us about some of them. I want proof you think about us after we're gone," she said, appearing nearly her fun-loving self again.
The Doctor thought for a moment. "You remember U.N.I.T.? Let me tell you about the man behind it, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart."
Author's Note: I love The Girl in the Fireplace and how Reinette and the Doctor interact. I just wanted to give them a happier ending. I also wanted Rose to grow up a little bit and realize that's she's not necessarily the most important person ever in the Doctor's life.