March 28, 2008
That's all the message says. At first, he thinks it's junk data, something the TARDIS hasn't purged from her banks. It's everywhere, this one date, and the most perplexing thing is that it's a date where nothing remotely important happens. It turns up everywhere - the TARDIS viewscreens, the projector in the media room, even on the microwave clock when Donna tries to reheat her Chinese.
He tries a full system restart.
The numbers never go away.
"You," he says. "Are supposed to be shoppin' with Jack."
He's facing away from her, toying with something - looks like Jack's vortex manipulator - at the workbench on the far side of his bedroom. It's a wonder she made it all the way in here, without him noticing anything's off. She draws her arms around herself subconsciously; for all the growing up she's done in the last three years, being around him like this makes her feel young and scrubbed raw.
"Oh, you know Jack," she waves her shaking hand dismissively. "Found somebody to flirt with."
"Now Rose," he puts down the sonic screwdriver, turns to her. "You an' me both know there's a very short list of things the good Captain won't do. Leavin' you behind on a strange planet? That'd be on it."
Oh god, his eyes. She'd known, in her mind, in some of her most precious memories, that they were an unmatchable shade of blue. But she'd forgotten the way they could pin her to the wall and see to the depths of her. She wonders if he can see every scar, if he can feel the tiredness in her bones, how very not-nineteen-years-old she is, right now.
"You hair's shorter."
"And you weren't wearing that when you went out this morning."
She laughs at this. "Was worth a try."
He strides forward, stands so close she can smell leather and for a moment she's nineteen and scared and her daddy is dead and the only thing she wants in the world is for the Doctor to pull her close.
"Are you Rose Tyler?"
"Sort of, yeah."
Then, after a beat.
"Do you believe me?"
"Sort of, yeah."
There are a few moments in between the end of those words and the smile that breaks open between them, and then without thinking Rose buries herself into leather and the sound of two hearts beating, arms going around his waist and under his jacket while his come up to settle on her back, hands stroking her hair.
He examines all the new things about her.
Fingers rake through her hair, the lighter blonde, skim over the little row of scars on her neck, the bruise on her collarbone. She shivers when his lips brush her forehead, when his hands skim down her arms, over the cannon strapped to her wrist, to settle at her too-thin waist.
"The TARDIS didn't bring you here."
She shuts her eyes, a wave of exhaustion threatening to overwhelm her. This is the first time she's seen the Doctor in so long, and he's so close, the temptation to beg him to just fix it all is right at the tip of her tongue.
"Rose, what happened?"
She could do it. She could shatter a thousand timelines right here, and right now. She could grab his hand and they could destroy Torchwood before it begins, and maybe she'd blink out of existence, but another Rose, in another time, could go on believing in never ever.
"I can't -" she can't finish the sentence, doesn't trust her voice. He catches her chin, smoothing his thumb over her lips.
"I'm going to lose you," he says, like it's something he's always known.
His eyes leave hers; he's staring at a spot on her shoulder, drawing small concentric circles with his index finger there. She knows that look, it's the Downing-Street look, the I-can't-spend-mine-with-you, quite-right-too look.
She grips him by the lapels of the jacket; it creaks under her hands.
"You listen here, Doctor. I'm comin' back. I'm always comin' back."
She raises the dimension cannon to his eye level, sudden fierceness clawing at her. Immediately after his regeneration, she'd often romanticizied this version of him, imagining that he wouldn't have taken some of the same actions as his counterpart. But now it's obvious he's never believed, not once in their long association, that he was going to be able to keep her.
She'll show him if it's the last thing she does.
"You built this?"
His fingers dance over buttons and knobs; so much power in such a small bit of machinery.
"Had help. Mickey figured out most of the tricky bits."
Looking up from her wrist, she might've just handed him the answer to the question of the universe. "My clever girl," he beams, and for a moment she thinks he might kiss her.
He doesn't. Instead, the ridiculous phone on the console rings and she's forced to listen to herself on the other end, babbling to the Doctor for a good ten minutes about stupid, trivial things - a dress and dancing and Jack. It's all so stupid, and it hurts, because she misses it, the ridiculous days when her only fear was whether or not the Doctor would even notice she was flirting.
"She loves you so much," Rose murmurs, when the phone call is over. He's holding her again, fingers brushing back and forth over her hip.
She lets the brush of her mouth against his be the answer. When she pulls back, there's a certainty in his expression that she's never seen on this face, and then all she knows is the scrape of his stubble against her cheek, the deep hum of satsifaction against her mouth, and a curling warmth in the pit of her belly as his fingers slip underneath her jacket and she falls down, down, down into a soft place where the weary defender of the Earth can just go back to being Rose Tyler in love.
Donna is visiting her grandfather. He's alone, on the TARDIS, raking his hair until it stands on end.
"Oh, what are you?" he says with a growl in his throat. The computer screen blinks at him.
"Is this him, then?"
They're warm and bare underneath the plush comforter of his bed, and he's got one arm tight around her waist while using the other to flip idly through the pictures on her mobile.
"That's you, yeah."
She doesn't know where he got it, or why he's reacting so blithely to the fact that he'll regenerate soon. Maybe he knows. She thinks she might ought to be angry with him for that - thinks briefly of telling him off for not warning her - when he looks at her with a cocked eyebrow so reminiscent of her pinstriped Doctor that she almost laughs out loud.
"He's a bit pretty."
"Just a different sort of pretty."
His haughty indignance does make her laugh. Oh, how had she not remembered this? She wishes, now that she'd had time to sit down with every him - to find the bits of the Doctor that held true every time, to find the bits that bled through from each regeneration.
"Rose Tyler, I am not, nor have I ever been, *pretty*."
She has had some experience. Run into him a couple of times, but never a him that would recognize her, and so she'd never said hello for fear of muddling the timelines.
"I dunno, the you with the celery was gorgeous."
"How did you -"
She knows that tone, knows from experience that when he uses it that he's winding himself up for a good long rant. So she shuts him up the only way she can think how, by pressing her teeth into that cord of his neck that's been taunting her for -years-.
"Ah - Rose -" he takes a deep breath, gives her a dark, hooded look. "Minx."
He traces the message back to a single text file.
The TARDIS buzzes vibrantly in his head when he finds it, so much that things go a bit fuzzy and he glares at the console. His eyes widen at the reading of it; he whips out his glasses, shoves them onto his face and gets so close to the computer screen his nose is almost touching it.
It can't be. Not possible.
He checks for the author of the message.
9.ΘΣ on 28-3-08
He takes off running for the console room. He'll have to come back for Donna. This can't wait.
When she wakes up, he's gone, and that makes getting dressed easier. Gives her time to press her hand against the raised red spot on her neck, take a deep breath and figure out how to make her exit as painless as possible. She pulls on each part of her now-traditional armor - converse, pinstriped slacks, leather jacket - and steels herself for the inevitable pull of the dimension cannon.
She might not see him again for months. Years.
"Time was I couldn't get you out of bed for anything less than a full-scale revolution."
Oh god, she doesn't want to leave, not with him standing against the doorframe, lean and beautiful and not a memory she can barely hang onto.
"And chips," she grins at him, tongue between her teeth.
"And chips," he says, arms folded over his chest.
"Doctor," she presses her hand into his. "I'm comin' back. I promise."
"I know you are. I made sure of it."
The Doctor gives her a mad grin.
"C'mon Rose. I've got one last thing to show you."
"Come on, come on," he slams the zig-zag plotter down and the TARDIS rocks. He almost topples forward onto the console, but only just manages to keep his balance.
"Oh, please please please," he hurls them towards the date where nothing happened, and prays.
The Doctor and Rose are running, hand in hand, through the corridors of the TARDIS, through the winding hallways. She feels like a ship at sea in a storm, forcing her two occupants to stumble and bump hard against corners and doorknobs. They fall more than walk through the entrance to the console room and collapse to the grating.
"What's the matter with her?"
"Oh, nothin' universe-threatening. Dead clever, me. The TARDIS just doesn't like sharin' space with another TARDIS."
Rose's eyes went huge.
"Well. The same TARDIS."
"What did you do?"
"Me? Oh, not much of anythin'. Wrote a letter while you were sleepin'."
And that's when she hears it.
The scraping, whirring sound of the TARDIS landing.
Outside the doors of the TARDIS.
The sound that bubbles up out of him when he finally, finally lands is somewhere between a laugh and a sob.
This is impossible.
A billion different variables would've had to line up just right to make this true. He still isn't sure he believes that the other TARDIS is going to be there when he opens the doors. The universe just doesn't like him that much.
He takes a deep breath, filling up his lungs, steeling himself for disappointment, and steps out into March 28, 2008.
And directly into the arms of Rose Tyler.
She must've been standing with her key in hand, ready to open the door, because it's a full thirty seconds of pure sensation - of texture and smell and the quiet hum of her slight telepathy filling up all the empty places in his mind before he registers the fact that her arms are wrapped around him. And then he's whooping, calling out his joy and swinging her around in a circle until they're dizzy, pressing his wet cheek against hers and digging his fingers into the fabric of her jacket because it worked.
"Hello," she says, smile like the sun rising.
"Hello," he stumbles. "Oh, hello, Rose Tyler. Hello."