Wow. Just…wow. I can't believe this story is finally over. I started working on this in September of my freshman year of college and now I'm preparing to enter my junior year. I've spent the last two years procrastinating on homework with this thing! It always feels strange when I finish a long story or project. I'm relieved to be finished but at the same time I want to hold on and never let go! But I'm not finished with this 'verse yet so it's not like it's goodbye or anything.
Thanks to all my readers, whether you've been here since the prologue or you found this story the day I posted the final chapter, and stuck with it even when I did horrible things and hinted at things even more unspeakable.
Special thanks to WhoinWhoville, my wonderful beta from chapter 50 and on, and hopefully for further installments in this verse, and Kryalla Orchid for offering advice and helping me plan and plot (particularly the Human Nature arc).
Okay, I'll shut up now and let you get on with reading. Be sure to keep an eye out for the next installment coming out some time in the next month or so!
Rose stood at the top of the ramp, staring at the doorway as the ship dematerialized and they left their dear friend behind. "Is it always that hard?" she asked.
Behind her, the Doctor stopped fiddling with the console. "Not always. Depends on the person, the circumstances of, well, everything. But it can be very hard, yes."
"Suppose…I'll have to get used to it, then." She turned around, watching him carefully. He still hadn't outright told her how he felt about her staying with him for the rest of her very long life.
"Mmm," he agreed with a nod. He walked towards her slowly, with his hands in his pockets, dragging his Chucks against the grating. "But it gets easier. Even when it's hard, it won't be quite as hard as it could be. Some you won't miss much, others you'll miss more. Some you'll never want to contact again and others, others you'll give them your mobile number and demand weekly updates. Or you'll want to. Maybe you will, maybe you won't." He removed his hands from his pockets and grasped hers gently in between them. "The point is, you'll learn to let them go. The ones who part on their own terms, you accept that they have their own lives to lead and you let them get on with it. Those who…don't…you mourn them…but, again, you eventually let them go."
"And was that what you would've done with me?"
The Doctor sighed and looked down at their joined hands. "If you had chosen to leave, if you ever do, I will let you go. But—"
An alarm she'd never heard before began blaring out of nowhere and the whole room quaked and up was down and down was up and Rose felt like she was going to be sick. Something was pressing…pressing, pressing, two into one and no that's not right!
She blacked out for a second and when she came to, the Doctor was a few feet away, hollering at the ship. "Stop it! …What was that all about, eh?" He knocked on the rotor. She raised her head, blinking her eyes open. Something was wrong. Some things were too sharp, others too blurry, the colors just too intense. "Eh? Rose, you okay?"
"Right, just settle down now." An unfamiliar voice commanded in a very cultured accent and Rose was suddenly very preoccupied with the strange man standing next to the console, messing with the controls like he knew what he was doing. He was older, maybe in his fifties, with blonde hair that was nearly gray, and wearing a very odd outfit. A cream colored jacket with red accents, matching trousers with red stripes all around, a lighter sweater and oxford underneath, and a hat on his head. But strangest of all was the piece of celery pinned to his lapel.
He and the Doctor bumped into each other as they worked around the console.
"Oh, excuse me," the Doctor said.
"So sorry," the man apologized. They stepped around each other without pausing their work. The penny dropped for the Doctor almost immediately and his head snapped up. The man looked up a second after, shock registering on his face.
"What?" the Doctor gasped.
"What?" the man echoed.
"D-Doctor?" Rose stammered quietly.
Both of their heads turned towards her and her jaw went slack. "What?" they asked simultaneously. Then they looked at each other.
Then the other man (Doctor?) pushed the Doctor out of the way and bustled over to her side and knelt down. "Are you alright?"
"Um," she squeaked. No, actually. She felt as if she were being pressed together on all sides, like she was trying to fit into a space meant for a person half her size.
"Here, let me help you." The man grasped her arm gently, but firmly, and helped Rose to her feet. She swayed slightly and the Doctor moved forward to steady her with his arm around her shoulders.
"Oh, I don't like this," she moaned.
"Easy," he soothed. "It'll be over soon."
The man looked between them crossly. "Who are you? And what are you doing on my TARDIS?"
"Your what?" Rose squawked suddenly very alert.
"My TARDIS. My ship. You're on it."
She glanced at the Doctor who rather seemed to be enjoying himself. "Who are you?" she asked the man.
"I'm the Doctor."
"No, he is," her Doctor insisted. "And good for him. Good for brilliant old him."
"Is there something wrong with you?" the other (Doctor?) demanded.
"Oh there it goes!" Her Doctor pointed, grinning down at her. "The frown-y face, I remember that one! Mind you….bit saggier than it ought to be. Hair's a bit grayer. That's 'cos of me, though, the two of us together shorted out the time differential. Should all snap back into place when we get you back home," he added to the older…younger…other Doctor who was patting his cheeks in concern. Apparently vanity wasn't a new thing for him after all.
Rose's head was starting to pound and having another regeneration of the Doctor in the room wasn't helping. "So…this is…a younger…Doctor?"
The Doctor seemed to realize how much trouble she was having because his eyes tightened. He shifted his grip and guided her over to the jump seat. "Yep. Practically still in the cradle."
"I beg your pardon?" the other Doctor sputtered as Rose eased down onto the seat. "I'll have you know that I am well over a thousand years old—"
Her Doctor winced, knowing he was busted, when Rose arched an eyebrow at him. "Oh, really? And which regeneration is this, then, Doctor?"
"Fifth," hers admitted while rubbing the back of his neck. She smirked at him before lowering her head as a spasm rippled through her.
"How do you know so much?" the other—fifth—Doctor demanded. He looked around and for the first time seemed to realize where he was and frowned again. "What have you done? You've…changed the desktop theme. What is this, coral?"
Her Doctor shrugged. "Well…"
"It's worse than the leopard skin," he snapped.
Rose glanced at her Doctor. "Leopard skin?"
"Don't ask. Reeaaally don't."
"Hmm. Well, I love it how it is now," Rose informed the other Doctor.
"Yes, well, if you ever find yourself in the position of owning your own TARDIS, you can decorate it as you like," the other Doctor replied, pulling out a pair of half-moon spectacles.
"Oooh! There they come!" Her Doctor laughed and gave a little hop. "The brainy specs! You don't even need them, you just think they make you look a bit clever."
Rose's stomach clenched painfully and she doubled over, gripping the seat with one hand to keep herself from falling off. "Ah! Ow, ow, ow. I, uh, I don't mean to alarm anyone," she panted, "but we've got a problem."
"Are you ill?" the other Doctor asked.
An alarm began to blare and both Doctors turned to the console. Hers went to look at the monitor, while the other bent over the controls again. "That's an alert," said the other. "Level five. Indicates a temporal collision. It's like two TARDISes have merged—"
"Oh, that explains it," Rose muttered. Her Doctor glanced up at her, face tight with concern, but otherwise he seemed perfectly at ease. Maybe he'd already worked out whatever was going on. Or, no, wait a minute. This other Doctor was a younger version of him so he probably could remember how events had occurred. No wonder he was so calm, concern for her aside. He knew how it all turned out.
"—but there's definitely only one TARDIS present! Looks like two time zones at war in the heart of the TARDIS. …That's a paradox. Could blow a hole in the space time continuum the size of…"
Her Doctor nonchalantly pushed the monitor around for the other Doctor to see. It beeped once.
"…Well, actually, the exact size of Belgium," the other Doctor reported unenthusiastically. "That's a bit undramatic, isn't it?"
"Not if you're Belgium," Rose pointed out.
The Fifth Doctor chuckled. "I suppose not."
Her Doctor held out the sonic screwdriver as the other Doctor turned back to the console. "Need this?"
"No, I'm fine."
He rolled his eyes. "Oh no, of course you mostly went hands free, didn't you?" He gave the screwdriver a little flip and tucked it away. "It's like 'Hey, I'm the Doctor, I can save the universe using a kettle and some string, and look at me I'm wearing a vegetable.'" He finished with a pointed and decidedly unimpressed look at his younger self's lapels.
Rose giggled then winced as her stomach clenched again.
Five looked between the pair of them suspiciously and approached his older self. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"Take a look."
The other Doctor did and his eyes widened. "Oh…oh no."
"You're…oh no, you're…"
"Here it comes." He nodded, grinning stupidly. "Yep, yep, I am."
"A fan!" the other Doctor spat in disgust and turned back to the console as it began beeping again.
"Yep!" His grin immediately turned into a petulant frown as he realized what his younger self had said. "What?"
"Level ten now! This is bad. Two minutes to Belgium!"
"What do you mean 'a fan'?" her Doctor protested. "I'm not just a fan, I'm you."
"Ok you're my biggest fan," he allowed. He stepped away from the console and sauntered over to him. "Look, it's perfectly understandable. I go zooming around space and time saving planets, fighting monsters, and being, well, let's be honest, pretty sort of marvelous…and naturally every now and then people notice me…start up their little groups. What do you call yourselves, eh?"
"Oh, for the love of God." Rose grumbled then barked sharply, "Doctor!" They both turned and she gestured between them. "Fifth, meet Tenth."
The younger Doctor gawked at her. Rose's entire body suddenly seized up, she let out a howl of pain, and fell off the jump seat. She hit the grating, unforgiving as ever, hard enough that she wouldn't be surprised if she bruised. At the same moment, the Cloister Bell began chiming—the TARDIS's way of telling them to get a move on. When she opened her eyes, both Doctors were kneeling over her.
"What on Gallifrey is the matter with the poor girl?"
"She's bonded with the TARDIS. Long story, don't ask. Only way to help her is to fix this."
She watched them blearily as they raced around the console, flipping switches, rotating knobs, and pressing buttons. She closed her eyes again and focused on breathing through the searing pains in her body.
"So, do you mind explaining to me, why we're about to detonate a black hole strong enough to swallow the entire universe?"
"Um, yeah, my fault. I've been rebuilding the TARDIS. Things have been kind of…hectic lately; forgot to put the shields back up. Your TARDIS and my TARDIS—well, the same TARDIS, different points in its own time stream—collided and, oops there you go, end of the universe. Butterfingers. BUT! I know exactly how this all works out. So, while I do this, will you make sure she keeps breathing?"
She felt the Doctor's hands on her arm and shoulder while the other worked the console.
"What are you—no! You'll blow up the TARDIS!"
Rose gasped, a rough guttural sound, and raised her head. "What?!"
"It's the only way out," her Doctor insisted, glancing at her intently. "Trust me, I remember this." She heard the rapid beats of his fingers against one of the keyboards. "…Rose, I'm so sorry, but if I don't do this—"
The TARDIS hummed an assent in her mind, but it was also laced with apprehension. Oh, this was gonna be rough. "Do it," she panted.
The Doctor pressed his lips into a thin line then slammed his hand against a lever.
Her eyes rolled back in her head. White heat roared through her body for a single, agonizing second that seemed to last forever and yet no time at all. And then she gasped, eyes flinging open, and she sat straight up. Hands steadied her as she focused on pulling air into her suddenly very hollow lungs.
"Supernova and a black hole simultaneously," her Doctor crowed. "Explosion cancels out implosion—"
"Matter stays constant," the younger Doctor finished in awe.
"You alright, Rose?"
Rose nodded. It still felt like she was being squished but the pain was gone. She got to her feet using the younger Doctor for support. Her Doctor came over and gripped her upper arms, giving her a once over. "Don't worry, I'm fine," she assured him.
"Good." He kissed her forehead, eliciting a quiet, "Oh," of surprise from his younger self.
Rose smiled at him. "Hello. Sorry, I'm not usually like that."
"Who are you?" he asked softly, staring at her with curiosity and amazement.
"But you're not…" The Fifth Doctor shook his head. "We're not…are we?"
Rose's smile stretched into a full blown, tongue-between-teeth grin, then she stood on her tippy toes and kissed the younger Doctor's lips. A second later, she pulled back and her Doctor wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tightly against his chest.
"My Rose. Get your own."
A trilling alert came from the console, snapping her Doctor into action. He darted around to the other side and fiddled with a few things. "TARDISes are separating. Sorry, Doctor, times up. Back to long ago…" He looked up. "Where are you now? Nyssa and Teagan? Cybermen and Mara and Time Lords in funny hats and the Master? Oh, he just showed up again, same as ever," he added as he ran around behind the console to flip a few more levers. As he progressed, the pressure began to lessen around Rose and she was able to breathe properly again.
"Oh no. Really?" The younger Doctor turned, following him with his eyes.
"Really," Rose growled.
"Does he still have that rubbish beard?"
Her Doctor finally stopped next to Rose again. "No—no beard this time. Well, a wife."
"Yet it would seem he is not alone in that regard." The younger Doctor chucked and then his eyes flicked upward. Then he began to fade away and his voice took on an echoing quality. "Oh. I seem to be off. What can I say? It was nice to meet you, Rose Tyler."
"I look forward to meeting you…and being you," he added to his older elf.
"Thank you," her Doctor said.
He grinned. "I'm very welcome." And then he faded away, taking the pressing feeling along with him.
But her Doctor immediately flipped a switch on the console where the other Doctor had left his hat, and the man himself popped right back in as if he'd never left. Rose grunted at the return in pressure. Her Doctor picked up the hat and walked towards him.
"Hang on, you really don't want to forget this."
"Oh, yes." The younger Doctor accepted his hat and placed it on his head. "Got a hat yourself these days?"
"Oh, no. Not since…three bodies ago. Really don't need one, though, do I? I mean look at this hair." He gave his head a quick shake, like a dog proud of his ears or something.
"It is some really great hair," Rose agreed.
"There, see?" He grinned. "Why would I want to mess that up? But!" He lifted his foot and placed it on the console and pointed at his shoe. "Trainers! And!" He pulled his glasses from his pocket and put them on. "Snap."
The younger Doctor laughed. "Not bad. Though, the whole look is a bit chic if you ask me."
"You're wearing a stick of celery on your coat," Rose pointed out and Her Doctor grinned, sliding his hand around hers.
"Touché!" The Fifth Doctor smiled at them. Something in his eyes softened. "Look at the pair of you. We're going to drive everyone absolutely batty, aren't we?"
They nodded simultaneously.
"Just, remember, when you meet me—and I know you're gonna have to forget this until you get here yourself—but try to remember, that I'm supposed to be with you. Don't take no for an answer," Rose told him seriously.
The Fifth Doctor nodded and tipped his hat. "To days to come."
"All my love to long ago," the Tenth Doctor replied.
The younger Doctor disappeared properly this time but his voice still echoed back a few seconds later, "Oh, Doctor, remember to put your shields up!" Only after his words faded away did the pressure end.
Rose took a deep breath and the Doctor laughed quietly. He did as instructed and pressed a combination of buttons on the console that Rose didn't recognize.
"Well, that was interesting!" he chirped.
She nodded. "Does that happen often?"
"No. I can only remember it happening a couple times before. Although, there's probably some I can't remember because one of my future incarnations was there as well and I had to forget again until I get there."
Rose grinned. "Something to look forward to."
"Definitely." The Doctor agreed and sauntered towards her. "Y'know, what you did there with him—not the kiss, I mean telling him to not take no for an answer. …I think you might have done that more than once. Because something told me even after I'd left that I needed to back for you. I knew on some level, even before I'd spent more than two hours with you, that you were supposed to be with me—and not just because all but a few of your timelines pointed in that direction," he added quickly. "And something like that…it wouldn't just come from one meeting. No, I think you'll do it again at some point. Or, maybe you already have done but neither of us can remember."
Rose licked her lips and ducked her head, wringing her hands together nervously. "An' you're okay with that? I mean…I'm gonna live for a very long time, Doctor. Are you sure you'll even still want me in a hundred years time? Two hundred?"
"Rose Tyler…" He cupped her head in his hands. "I once told you that you could spend the rest of your life with me—ooh, such a long time ago, remember that?"
She nodded, glancing up.
"That hasn't changed. What has changed is the second part. You can spend the rest of your life with me and now I have the chance to spend the rest of my life with you."
"And you really want that? You really want to deal with all my inferior humanness and…me falling over every time the TARDIS hiccups for the next thousand years?"
He sighed. "Where's this coming from?"
"I just…" She looked down again. "You never answered me last night when I asked if it was alright that I'd be with you for a long time."
The Doctor was quiet for a few seconds. "That younger me? He's got years and years before he gets to you. Centuries. And that time will be filled with many, many companions and friends. Time Lords, too. But then he'll lose so much in a war unlike any other. He'll do horrible things and come out feeling so tainted that he can't bear to look at any of his former friends because he fears they'll be able to see what he's done. He'll be alone and desperate and unable to find a real reason to live. …And then he'll meet a beautiful girl from the early 21st century, of all places, and she will give him a reason to live again. She might not realize it at the time but she becomes the very air he needs to breathe, the light he sees by. She saves him. In every way."
He put his hand beneath her chin and lifted it up. "And eventually she becomes the very hearts that beat in his chest. Without her, he'll be lost. For so long he'll fear what will happen when he finally loses her. He won't let himself love her as she deserves because he fears the pain of losing her will kill him if he does. He'll hurt her and nearly push her away. But she won't let him. She'll choose him over everything and everyone else. When he finally gives in, he'll realize the pain will be worth it. And, then, he'll lose her, and it will break him. He'll want to die."
She opens her mouth to interrupt but a quick look from him has her closing it.
"What keeps him going are the memories of her—good and bad. Then she'll come back again with the power of life flowing through her…and she'll give him the best gift he's ever been given. And hope for a future full of love and happiness. And for the first time in a very, very long time…he'll be happy that his life still stretches out before him."
Rose shook her head slowly. A single tear slipped down her cheek. "So that's a yes, then?" she whispered.
The Doctor smiled and kissed her sweetly. Her lips parted beneath his and he deepened the kiss, stroking his tongue along hers slowly. She sighed through her nose, sliding an arm around his waist and running her fingers through his hair. A delighted noise rumbled in his chest. He loved kissing her. She always made him feel safe and loved. Moments like this were when he felt that he was worthy of her. Her continuing doubts over him were heartbreaking but one day, eventually, she would know she deserved him and everything he gave her. He had centuries to prove it.
He pulled back from the kiss and nuzzled her cheek with his nose and Rose smiled. He always knew how to make her feel special with just a few words and touches. As far as companions went, she was one in a long line that stretched out behind and in front of her, and she accepted that. But she had her own place by his side and in his hearts that no one else would ever share.
"You know what? I don't feel like going back to Torchwood just yet." She grinned at him, poking her tongue out. "Come on, Time Lord. Take me somewhere fun."
The Doctor beamed, letting go of her hands, and raced back to the console. "As my lady wishes! Fun it is! I think I know an excellent place, too, you're gonna love it. It's on the planet Eehkor." Rose smiled at his rambling and the familiar, hyper way he worked the controls. "I'd say it's been a while since you've had ice cream, right? They make some of the best you'll find this side of the Milky Way Galaxy. Ice cream, crystal clear channel system throughout the city, wonderful markets, and some amazing street performers!"
Rose smiled, running her hand along the smooth edge of the console. "Eehkor it is."
The TARDIS flew with its usual manner of bumps and jostles that had Rose clinging to the console for dear life. She grinned giddily though it all, smiling at the Doctor across the console. They landed with a jolt that sent them both sprawling and their laughter echoed through the room. He bounced to his feet and she rolled to hers and they bounded out the doors of the TARDIS hand-in-hand, ready for a day of fun and peaceful adventure.
So, naturally, they were running for their lives within the hour.