LAST chapter of this. And, of course, if you wish to read more... the main story is called With Starlight in Their Wake, which can be found on my profile.
After useless struggling and two vocabularies worth of curses and insults—Rose's being significantly larger and containing many from alien languages—she and Donna found themselves trapped up in the web on the ceiling. Lance, to their surprise, was up there as well. Rose was just glad she hadn't been put between them. She stopped struggling, figuring it probably would not be a good idea to fall as there was no way she'd be able to avoid plummeting into the hole beneath them.
"I hate you," Donna snarled at Lance.
"Yeah, I think we've gone a bit beyond that now, sweetheart," Lance replied.
"My golden couple," the Empress hissed below them. "Together at last, with this girl to bare witness to the union!" She cackled. "Tell me, do you want to be released?"
"Yes!" all three of them shouted at once.
"You're supposed to say 'I do.'"
Lance scoffed. "No way."
The Empress hissed, "Say it!"
Lance and Donna looked at each other for a moment. "I do," Lance said flatly.
Donna shook her head. "I do," she agreed mockingly.
All three of them looked at Rose next. She looked between them and made a face. "Why do I have to say it? I'm not even getting married. And why am I even up here?!"
The Empress was unimpressed.
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, okay. Fine. Whatever. I do."
"I don't," the Racnoss cackled. She stretched up and shouted to her soldiers, "Activate the particles."
"Oi!" Rose protested. "I haven't got any particles in me anymore!"
"Your eyes say differently, girl. Purge every last one!"
Donna and Lance began to glow and, once again, the song filled Rose's mind. So that's why she was up here. The Empress, or maybe Lance—one of them must have noticed something when the particles had been active earlier. They must've thought she had them within her as well. She hadn't glowed, had she?
Oh, but the song was so exquisitely wonderful, and yet unbearably heartbreaking.
Rose didn't expect anything to happen so she was surprised when her body suddenly felt hot. It snapped her out of her daze and her eyes flew open. Something was tugging on her, trying to pull her down, and she gasped, expecting to go plummeting to her death any second. The undertone of the song in her mind changed, turning possessive and angry. Mine.
And then came the pain. Excruciatingly hot, like someone had shot fire into her body. It raced through her, razing every nerve and bone. The pull on her body increased and the pain grew worse. The song echoed soundly in her ears; it was loud and angry, challenging and possessive. Her mouth opened and she let out a scream of agony.
Donna's head whipped to the side. Rose's face was contorted around a scream of pain. Her back arched against the web—having struggled against the binds herself, Donna could only imagine the amount of strength that must have taken.
"Rose!" Donna shouted.
Rose looked at her, face pained and terrified. And her eyes! They were glowing. The irises were gold, deep and fathomless, the pupils as dark as ink, and even the whites of her eyes seemed to shine. They snapped shut as her face screwed up, another scream tearing out of her mouth.
That final scream must have lasted for a full ten seconds before it died in her throat. Rose hung limply in her binds, her hair falling forward to cover her face. For a horrifying moment, Donna was afraid that she was dead. She struggled against the webbing, shouting her name.
"Is she dead?" Lance asked, horrified.
Donna was about to tell him yes when she noticed some strands of Rose's hair fluttering near her mouth and the slow movement of her chest. "No," she choked out. "No, she's alive." Turning her glare on the surprised Empress, she shouted, "WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO?"
"I did nothing," the Empress hissed.
"She told you she didn't have anything!"
"It is of no consequence. She will be dead soon anyway. My lost children are now reborn to feed on flesh! The web star shall come to me!" With a hiss, she looked back down at the tunnel in the ground.
Donna stared downwards in horror. Miles and miles below, a white light glowed brightly, and the sounds of scuttling and hissing echoed off the walls. Oh, God, how many were there? Where was the Doctor? He said he'd sort it all…
"My babies will be hungry. They need sustenance." Looking up at them, she hissed loudly. "Perish the web!"
"No!" Lance jerked his head at Donna. "Use her, not me! Use her! Use the other girl! Not me! You promised!"
"Oh, my funny little Lance," she rasped. Lance whimpered in protest. "But you were quite impolite to your lady friend! The Empress does not approve."
The Empress of the Racnoss reared up on her backmost legs, stretching her torso as long as it would go, and swiped a pincer at the web around Lance. It gave way under his weight and he fell screaming into the pit.
"LANCE!" Donna shouted. The Empress hissed gleefully as his body disappeared into the light and his screams faded. Donna stared after him. On the one hand, she was glad he was becoming Racnoss food. The two-faced son of a bitch had lied to her, used her, and betrayed the whole planet. On the other hand… She'd loved him. She'd wanted to marry him. It wasn't that she didn't understood what he'd been saying before, she just hadn't wanted to.
The Empress was shouting commands to someone about harvesting the humans; Donna wasn't really paying attention. Between her conflicting emotions about Lance's death, worrying about Rose, and wondering what the hell was taking that bloody Martian so long, she didn't have room for much else. What was the point, anyway? She was probably going to be spider food in a few minutes.
"My children are climbing towards me and none shall stop them!" The Empress declared. "So you might as well unmask, my clever little Doctor Man."
Donna's head whipped around, following the Empress's gaze. She didn't see the Doctor; she only saw a robot.
The robot started to pull its cloak off, revealing a brown pinstriped suit. "Oh, well. Nice try," the Doctor's voice came from underneath the mask. He tossed the disguise to the ground and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. He lifted the sonic and pointed it at Rose's bindings first. They started to snap and Rose's body jolted, but she didn't stir.
"Doctor, stop!" Donna shouted. "She's unconscious."
"I know," he growled, turning the sonic towards her. She heard the webbing breaking and felt gravity start to tug her downwards. "See that thick piece in front of you? Hang onto it then reach over and grab ahold of Rose."
The Doctor noticed that the Empress hadn't tried to interfere. Perhaps she thought it was too late to stop her and didn't care if they were free—or perhaps she wanted to see if it would actually work. If it didn't, he wouldn't even offer her a chance.
He watched Donna struggle to get her arm around Rose and he worried that she wouldn't be strong enough to hold her, but this was the only way. If the Racnoss didn't take his offer, then Rose might not survive up there long enough. He activated the sonic and the last of the webbings around them snapped. With a scream, they plummeted towards the hole and his hearts literally stopped beating. Donna somehow held onto her long enough for them to get clear of the hole and the Empress, but then she let go. It wasn't a long fall, but he still winced when he heard Rose make contact with the ground. She didn't move. He didn't realize until it was too late that Donna was on a collision course and she hit the metal cabinet beneath the stairs.
She groaned in pain as she crumpled to the floor and he made a face. "Ooh. Sorry."
"Yeah, you will be," she grumbled. She slapped the front of her dress and sat up. Her arm was sore from trying to hold Rose up and she was going to have bruises later. But she didn't complain, scrambling to her feet and over to Rose's unconscious form.
Donna knelt beside her and rolled the younger woman onto her back, brushing the hair out of her face. She didn't appear to be bleeding, which was good, though Donna wouldn't be surprised if she was heavily bruised later. That's if she woke up.
What the hell had that been earlier?
The Doctor, meanwhile, was addressing the Empress. If the day came he was brought before some higher power to defend his actions on this day and all the others, he wanted to say he'd always given everyone a chance. "Empress of the Racnoss, I give you one last chance, and believe me, that's more than I want to. I can find you a planet. I can find you and your children a place in the universe to coexist. Take that offer and end this now."
"These men are so funny," she hissed mockingly at him.
She really didn't seem to understand what she'd done. Part of him wanted to end her and her spawn now and he didn't care that it would be genocide. He'd never heard Rose scream like that, so in pain, so afraid, and it was the alien's fault. "What's you're answer?"
"Oh, I'm afraid I have to decline," she laughed.
So be it. And he would be lying if he said he wasn't glad she'd declined. "Then what happens next is your own doing."
"I'll show you what happens next," the Empress hissed aggressively and lifted herself into the air. "AT ARMS!"
The robots lifted their gun.
Donna gasped, looking up at the Doctor. He waited calmly, hands stuffed in his pockets.
"TAKE AIM! And—"
The robots powered down, slumping forward at their waists. Donna looked around quickly but still the robots didn't move. It had to be him. There was no other explanation. "What did you do?"
"Guess what I've got, Donna?" He looked down at her and held up the robots' remote control. "Pockets," he chirped, giving it a tiny wave.
She frowned. "How did that fit in there?"
"They're bigger on the inside."
"Roboforms are not necessary," the Empress snapped. "My children may feast on Martian flesh."
The Doctor's eyes were dark and fathomless, his voice quiet and flat, "Oh, but I'm not from Mars."
"My home planet is far away and long since gone. But its name lives on," he paused. "Gallifrey."
The Empress's reaction was immediate and powerful. She reared up, snarling furiously. "THEY MURDERED THE RACNOSS!"
Gallifrey? Donna had never heard of it. That didn't surprise her. She hadn't even really expected him to be from Mars, anyway. It was just a nickname to take the piss out of him. But it must have meant something to both of them if just hearing the name had changed the giant spider's attitude towards him so monumentally.
He stared down at the spider without an ounce of pity. "I warned you. You did this."
From his pocket, the Gallifreyan pulled out three red spheres that glinted in the light. Baubles from the trees at the reception, she realized. The Empress must've realized what he was about to do because she begged for him to stop. Her pleas fell on death ears. He tossed them into the air and the Empress screamed. The baubles whizzed through the air, piloted by the Doctor, flying out the door, around the pipes of river water, and around the Empress herself.
Several explosions shook the room and Donna flinched away from the light. Flames erupted around the Empress. The covers shot off of pipes and the doors banged open as water rushed into the room in a violent torrent. Donna hooked her arms around Rose's shoulders to pull her out of the path of the water lest they get swept into the hole. It rained down on them, soaking her through to the bone, and her dress was heavy against her skin. That plus Rose's weight made it nearly impossible for her to move.
She looked up at the Doctor for help with Rose but he wasn't even looking at them; he was watching the Empress writhe and scream in anguish for her doomed children. His face was void of all emotions except anger. Deep, righteous anger. There was no remorse for the murders he was committing or pity for the wailing creature before him.
And for the first time, Donna Noble was well and truly afraid of him.
"Doctor!" she shouted. The Doctor's head snapped down. He stared at her, almost uncomprehendingly. "That's enough! Get down here and help me or we're going to die!"
Rose's imminent death was enough to snap him out of whatever haze he'd been lost in. Stuffing the controller in his pocket, he raced down the steps. Grunting, Donna continued to drag Rose towards the stairs. "Oh, come on, Blondie, wake up!" she shouted. Rose didn't even so much as twitch.
Then the Doctor was there and he scooped Rose up in his arms like she was weightless. "Run," he told her.
The first thing Rose was aware of was the familiar, grating sound of the time rotor. Then came a soft, gentle voice.
"Rose, sweetheart? Can you hear me?"
"Mum?" she mumbled.
A snort. "I'm not that old."
No, that was definitely not Jackie Tyler. Jackie was in a parallel universe with Pete and Mickey. Rose was in the TARDIS with the Doctor in their proper universe.
Rose opened her eyes blearily and saw a white and red mass leaning over her. She blinked a few times and the face of Donna Noble came into view. Rose blinked again. Her eyes flickered around, taking in her surroundings. They were in the TARDIS, not the secret underground Torchwood base, and she was currently lying on the grating. Donna was kneeling over her with one of her hands covering Rose's. Rose reached up and rubbed her eyes, slowly sitting up and groaning as the new injuries to her body made themselves known. Every inch of her felt bruised and she wouldn't be surprised if she had a few broken bones.
"Easy does it," Donna cautioned and proceeded to place her arm around Rose's shoulders for support.
Rubbing her eyes, she murmured, "Where's the Doctor?"
"Over there," she nodded to the console. "Now hang on, don't go gettin' up just yet. You got banged up pretty badly."
She felt Donna stiffen. Checking over her shoulder to make sure the Doctor was occupied, Donna leaned down to whisper to her. "How much do you remember?"
"I… I was… We got caught. They stuck us up in the web with Lance… The Empress made us all say 'I do' an' then…then…" Rose bit the inside of her lip, brow furrowing. And then the Empress had activated the Huon particles and tried to draw them out, but Rose's body had rebelled. And, oh, how it had hurt. But after that she couldn't remember anything. "I passed out?"
"Yeah. And, just so you know, I had a hell of a time getting you away from that hole. You might be sore for a bit."
"Don't mention it." Donna smiled but it didn't quite meet her eyes. "But Rose… Just before you passed out, I saw…" she swallowed. "Your eyes, Rose—they were glowing, just like I was."
Rose sucked in a breath through her teeth, eyes wide. No, it couldn't be. Because that meant when the Doctor pulled the Vortex from her mind and the Heart from her body, that something got left behind…
She still had Huon particles in her body, after all this time.
I should be dead, she realized. She glanced over Donna's shoulder at the Doctor but he honestly didn't seem to be listening to them, otherwise he would've reacted. He was too intent on the controls; though she had no doubt he knew she was awake.
Swallowing, her eyes flicked back to Donna and she realized the older woman was waiting for an explanation. But Rose didn't have one, not one that would make sense. "Oh."
"Did someone do that to you, too?" Donna whispered.
"No…" Rose looked down at her legs. "I can't explain it. Just—just don't say anything to him."
"Please. He'll panic and I really, really can't handle much more today."
"But they could kill you," she whispered.
"It's been about a year now. I don't think a few more days will matter at this point."
Donna blinked. "You knew?"
Rose opened her mouth, closed it, and nodded.
"He knew when it happened. We thought he'd sorted it. I guess something went wrong." Sighing, Rose picked herself up off the floor. Donna lingered below in case she fell, but once Rose was on her feet she straightened up. "I'll be alright," she added, loud enough for the Doctor to hear, and felt the ship touch down
He looked up and smiled at her, relieved, and said, "We're here."
"Where?" Rose asked.
"Donna's house, of course," he replied. "I think it's the same day, might be wrong, but I did me best. She's still a bit tetchy from the chase earlier and all this business with the particles messing with her systems. Sorry girl," he added, patting the rotor.
The rotor bobbed up and down once and Donna nearly jumped out of her skin. "Did it just respond?"
"How's that work?"
Rose smiled. "She's alive."
Donna's eyes grew impossibly wide. "No. No, I'm sorry, but that—that's just too much." She shook her head and made for the doors. The Doctor and Rose exchanged a glance then followed her outside.
"She can handle that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside and can travel in time, but it's the fact that she's alive that gets her." The Doctor shook his head. "Honestly."
"Give her a break. A lot's happened today."
"Yeah," he exhaled. "It has."
Donna was standing just outside the TARDIS and staring at her home. The three of them stood side-by-side and gazed in through the decorated windows where they could see her parents talking. They both looked worried and her mum was crying.
"You should get in there," Rose said.
"Mmm, s'pose I should." she looked up at the Doctor. "Am I safe now, Doctor?"
He pulled out the sonic screwdriver and scanned her body. He read the results and smiled. "Yeah, should be just fine. All the Huon particles have gone."
"Yeah, but apart from that… I missed my wedding, lost my job, and became a widow on the same day. Sort of."
"I couldn't save him."
Donna turned away, arms folded. "He deserved it." They both raised their eyebrows. Her jaw twitched and she sighed, her shoulders drooping. "No. No, he didn't."
"He was still a twat, though." Rose nodded towards the house. "You really should get in there. She's probably missing you terribly."
Donna laughed once without mirth. "You know, one of the biggest reasons she was so supportive of me marrying Lance was so that I'd finally move out. But lookin' at her now… She's probably not gonna let me out of her sight for a week."
"Just be lucky you have her." Rose told her seriously. "Both of them. I'd give anything to have either of mine right now. Well, almost anything," she corrected with a glance at the Doctor. "And look," she added. Donna's father had just folded his arms around his wife and was patting her back soothingly. "I reckon you'll be the best Christmas present they get this year."
Donna laughed, for real this time.
"Oh, but she hates Christmas." the Doctor told her.
"Yes, I do," Donna agreed.
"Even," the Doctor backed towards the TARDIS and slid his hand up behind the top of the door, "if it snows?"
The lamp on the top of the TARDIS flared and a ball of light shot into the sky. It exploded like a firework and rained snow down on them. Rose and Donna laughed, lifting their hands up. The tiny snowflakes immediately began to gather on their clothes and in their hair and the Doctor smiled, remembering last Christmas. Then it had been ash that had caught in Rose's hair. She was still just as beautiful, even more so with the knowledge that the tiny flakes weren't the remains of a spaceship and its passengers.
"I didn't know she could do that," Rose laughed.
"Oh, it's just a basic atmospheric excitation," he said as if it were nothing. Anything to see your smile.
"Bigger on the inside, travels through time and space, can make it snow, and it's alive. Is there anything your ship can't do?" Donna shook her head, but she was smiling. "Next, I suppose you'll tell me she can talk."
"Well, she can, sort of." the Doctor tapped his temple meaningfully.
Donna lifted her eyebrows and shook her head again. "I should've seen that coming." The three of them looked at each other and then laughed at the same time.
"So… What will you do with yourself now?" he asked when the laughter subsided.
"Not getting married, for starters." Donna sighed. "And I'm not gonna temp anymore. I don't know. Travel; see a bit more of planet Earth. Walk in the dust," she grinned at them. "Just… Go out there and do something."
"Good luck," Rose told her sincerely.
The Doctor scuffed at the ground with one of his trainers. "You know, you could always come with us?"
And damn if he didn't notice the way Rose flinched at his words. He glanced at her and immediately regretted offering. Now was not the time for them to be taking on a new companion. It was too soon. They still had things to resolve in the aftermath of Canary Wharf and he had a sinking suspicion that Rose wouldn't be up for any gallivanting for a little bit. After the Time War, it had taken a solid month and saving a family from the Titanic, along with a lot of encouraging on the TARDIS's part before he'd gotten back on his feet. He wouldn't push her.
Luckily, Donna was already shaking her head. "No, I can't."
He nodded, "Alright, then."
"No, but really. I mean, everything we did today—do you live your lives like that?"
"…Not all the time."
Donna looked at him skeptically. "I think you do. And I couldn't. Both of you, and that mad ship—you all scare me to death. Besides, I think we all need some time down, and I can't just leave my family now. Tell you what, though. It's Christmas! You should come inside for dinner. Mum always cooks enough for twenty."
The Doctor looked down at Rose. She looked up at him. He lifted his eyebrow, leaving the decision up to her. She sighed and shook her head. "No. It—it doesn't feel like Christmas to me. I seen the trees and the decorations, but it's just like any other time we drop in on a holiday. If I go in there for dinner, then it's gonna feel like Christmas, and I…I'm not ready to spend Christmas without Mum jus' yet."
"I understand," Donna nodded. She leaned over and hugged her for a moment.
"Don't I get a hug?"
"Oh, c'mere you." Donna pulled him into a firm embrace. Drawing back, she asked, "Am I ever gonna see you again?"
The Doctor smiled. "If we're lucky."
"Right. You take care of each other, then. Good luck with your 'just friends' thing."
"Good luck to you, too," the Doctor told her. "And just…be magnificent."
She chuckled. "I think I will, yeah."
With another smile at her, the Doctor stepped inside the TARDIS. Rose lingered outside for a moment longer and Donna looked at her meaningfully with more than just a bit of sympathy in her eyes. Rose swallowed, said nothing, and slipped inside the ship.
She shut the door softly behind her and walked up towards the console. The Doctor was already initiating the dematerialization sequence, minus the usual spring in his step. It had been a very long day for both of them and as far as she knew, he hadn't slept in three weeks. Even for him that was pushing it. The ship shuddered and Rose had the strange sense that they were flying upwards before the flight smoothed out and they entered the vortex.
Rose sat down in the pilot's seat, scratching her thumbnail absentmindedly. She could hear the question in the air as loudly as if they'd both screamed it. Now what?
Where did they go from here?
After the hospital on New Earth, he'd asked for permission to enter her mind. He wanted to give her mental shields to protect her from telepathic attacks so what Cassandra did could never happen again. After having her mind invaded and body taken over, Rose was in no hurry to allow anyone in her head again. If it were anyone but the Doctor who'd asked, she would've told them to piss off. But it was him, and she loved him, and she trusted him. And he'd asked for permission ahead of time instead of just doing it and informing her later. So she'd allowed him into her mind, keeping all but a few doors shut in case he went looking, though she doubted he would.
She'd felt his presence, comforting anddefinitely occupying space, but not invasive. It was warm and gentle, like a candle's flame, brushing her mind gently. She'd brushed back, trying to convey her gratitude in a way she never could with words. In that moment she saw several flashes of memory, a succession of faces, each lasting less than a second, but all of them perfectly clear. Three in particular seemed to linger slightly longer than the rest: young black-haired, blue-eyed boy grinning mischievously as he held up a mouse-like creature by the tail; a petite young woman with pixie cut black hair and green eyes, smiling warmly at him; a woman with long blonde hair patting the head of an earlier version of K9.
It had been so long since he'd looked into another's mind like this, feeling another consciousness against his own, and he remembered all the people with whom he'd communicated telepathically. There was such longing and grief behind each memory that she knew, somehow, each and every face she saw belonged to a Time Lord or Lady.
When he drew back and quietly announced he was done, she realized for the first time just how truly alone he was. It was right then and there she vowed that, no matter what, even if he changed his face again, she would never leave him. That he would never be alone, not for as long as she lived.
And yet at the same time, she'd also accepted that there might come a day when she lost him. That he would not survive and she would have to allow the TARDIS to take her home. This ship and the man currently messing with its controls were all she had. There was nothing at home for her anymore; nothing but friends and family she hadn't spent much time with for two years, three for them.
And, oh, God, she had to tell them all about Jackie…
Rose combed her fingers through her hair, pushing it away from her face and sighed. They might as well get this over and done with. "We should get back to June. I need to clear the flat and—"
"No," he interrupted quietly, but firmly. The Doctor walked around the console and cupped her face in his hands. "It can wait. The TARDIS needs to finish recovering and recalibrating and you—you need sleep."
"So do you."
"It can wait," he repeated.
"I can't sleep. Every time I've tried I have nightmares." She glanced down, pressing her lips together. "Will you stay with me?"
He tilted her head up, staring into her eyes, then leaned forward and gently kissed her forehead. "Of course."
Hand cradled securely in his, Rose lead him out of the console room and down the hallways to where she'd last seen her bedroom. It was still in the same place and, unsurprisingly, his room was right across from hers. He waited on her bed while she went in the bathroom. She hadn't had a shower in nearly two days and her body was sticky from the Racnoss web. The warm water felt heavenly against her skin and she lingered in there for far longer than she needed to. She squeezed as much water out of her hair as she could with a towel, brushed it, and then wrung it once more. She slid on her softest pajama pants, a loose t-shirt, and fuzzy socks, and then left the bathroom.
She found the Doctor right where she'd left him, minus his shoes, tie, and jacket. The top of his Oxford was unbuttoned, showing the light brown undershirt. He was fiddling with a megaminx with his tongue clamped between his teeth and his brow wrinkled in concentration. Rose smiled to herself, remembering his face when she'd given it to him. Rubik's cubes were child's play, but this thing seemed to honestly entertain him. He'd only solved it once so far.
"How's it coming?" she asked.
"Nearly got it," he replied without looking up.
She smiled again and sat down on the bed next to him. She rested her head on his shoulder and watched his hands twist and turn the dodecahedron. Her eyes began to droop and she stopped trying to track his progress. Then his hands stilled and he set the megaminx on her bedside table. The Doctor got out of the way so she could crawl under the covers and when she scooted over to make room for him he stretched out next to her under the duvet.
This was hardly the first time they'd shared a bed, but usually there was some amount of distance between them or he was on top of the duvet. She wasn't having any of that tonight. Rose snuggled close to him, slipping her arm around his waist and resting her head on his arm. Neither of them said a word, but then again, neither of them needed to. With one hand's fingers playing with her hair and his other tracing circular patterns on her back, she finally allowed the weight of exhaustion to pull her under.