Canon: Takes place after TRB. AU-ish.
AN: First part in a series, "Bad Wolf" (title subject to change once I've come up with a better one).
Ghosts by Alexannah
The TARDIS took off into the Vortex and broke into outer space, where she slowed right down. The Doctor frowned. After bidding goodbye to Donna, his thought had been to head towards Naostherimec—a beautiful, uninhabited planet, just what he needed for a little time alone—and he was pretty sure he had programmed the co-ordinates to take him there.
"What are you up to?" He checked—they were still the same. The TARDIS seemed to be flying herself. "Please don't play games with me, not now. What are you doing?"
He received no reply. This wasn't unusual, the TARDIS rarely used actual speech to communicate, preferring to rely on vague empathetic images. They took a lot of power to channel and so she usually kept silent. He pulled the screen towards him and began typing, trying to work out what she was up to.
"But that's impossible!" he said out loud. "You're working at full power! Why? We're only drifting, we're not even in the Vortex any more. What are you doing?" He tried bringing up a list of all the TARDIS' currently running functions, but she didn't seem to want to communicate.
"You've been up to something," he accused her. "All the while I was running around after robots and Racnoss, you were up to something. What have you been doing?"
A moment after he spoke, the screen changed without his touch, and he jumped back.
Bad Wolf Programme 100 per cent complete.
"What?" he whispered, his hearts beginning to hammer.
A voice, a voice inside his head—a terribly, wonderfully, beautifully familiar voice—answered.
Impossible, he thought. Impossible. But it was her, that was her voice.
"Doctor? I—I don't—what's happened? Where am I?"
As she spoke, even in his mind, a tiny light flickered just under the screen, going out when she finished. The Doctor swallowed.
"Rose. I think—I think you're in the TARDIS."
"But I can't see anything." Pain exploded afresh in the Doctor's chest as she spoke, the light flickering as she did so. "Just ... I don't know, it's not seeing, it's like ... feeling. All around me. I don't know. What happened?"
"What's the last thing you remember?" the Doctor asked, his voice steady, tears running silently down his cheeks.
"I'm not sure. Wait—I was leaving the TARDIS after Torchwood took you and Mum. That's the last thing I remember."
The last time she had been in the TARDIS. The Doctor swallowed.
"Rose, I ... I'm sorry. But you're not—you're not really Rose." He was greeted with silence. "You're an imprint. A data ghost. The real Rose, she—got trapped in that parallel world."
For a long moment, 'Rose' was silent. The Doctor wondered if she had faded. But finally she spoke again.
"No, I don't think so."
"I think I'm getting to understand my senses now. I'm not the real Rose, you're right. But I'm more than a data ghost." She paused. "I'm the TARDIS."
The Doctor couldn't think of any more to say than to repeat "What?"
"Remember Bad Wolf, Doctor?"
"O-of course—but—" He faltered. Rose, who had looked into the heart of the TARDIS. Whom he had taken the Vortex out of, but still ... a connection like that wouldn't have just disappeared ...
"You took her imprint," he said out loud. "You've been connected since she looked into you and now ..."
"Now we're the same," Bad Wolf answered. "Rose Tyler, the TARDIS, one and the same. That's what Bad Wolf always was. It's me, Doctor, really. I may not be the real Rose, but I'll be Rose. Forever."
"Forever?" the Doctor whispered.
"I promised, didn't I?"
He closed his eyes, the lashes sticking together with tears, and tried to pretend Rose really was still there. For a moment he could almost feel her hand slip into his; though when he tried to squeeze her fingers, his palm was empty. The Doctor jumped as ghost lips brushed his; nothing was physically there, Bad Wolf was in his mind, altering his senses.
"Rose ..." He kept his eyes closed, picturing her on the beach with her wind-swept hair and the tears pouring down her cheeks. "I ..." He had to say it. Even though it wasn't really her. He had to. "I love you."
Non-existent fingers brushed his wet cheek, and he couldn't help himself; he opened his eyes, to be greeted by the empty console room. Hearts constricting in pain once more, he said, "Rose?"
"I'm still here," Bad Wolf assured him softly. "I always will be, Doctor."
The Doctor wiped his eyes on his sleeve, trying to pull himself back together. Odd, the amount of water that could be stored in ducts that tiny. "Rose." The man of so many words, unable to construct anything more.
The TARDIS gave a little shudder, as if reminding him what she was there for. "Where shall we go?" Bad Wolf asked, and he could almost feel her smiling at him.
He couldn't stop the tearful grin creeping onto his face, and he began to take charge of the console again, preparing her for landing. "Wherever you want, Rose."
"Can we go to Barcelona?"
"Yes, the one with dogs with no noses."
The Doctor chuckled as he set the co-ordinates. "'Course we can."
The ghost of a kiss was back. "I love you too."
To be continued in "Three's a Crowd"