Rose traced her fingers along the edges of a fish cut out of construction paper, given brightly colored scales and a smile with markers. It was an odd place for a media briefing, a primary school, but Broadchurch was small, it's resources limited. The tragedy was awful, but it seemed…amplified, surrounded by bongo drums and crayon drawings and grinning construction-paper fish.
It would be the sort of place you'd find him, she thought. So many people hurting, a mystery to be solved, and superhuman compassion needed to solve it with as many hearts as possible intact. It was the sort of thing he thrived on, thatthey thrived on together. Conditions right for summoning one mad, time, travelling alien: check.
Rose giggled to herself, a soft, half-mad sound, her fingers climbing up to twine around the three small circlets on a chain dangling between her breasts. She understood him better now than she ever had, living all these years without him, why he always told her things with his actions because he couldn't help it, before he told her with his words because he chose to. Hope was something she had to fight for in the dim lighting of the console room when the latest companion had gone and the only company was the faint hum of the TARDIS in her mind.
So Rose didn't hope, not for this. Instead, she did what they did best; stuck her nose in where it wasn't asked for and felt around for the first sign of trouble.
She felt it a split-second before it happened; the TARDIS, gathering up her energy, light and movement and sound pulling in from every corner of the infinite ship to coil at it's heart. The Cloister Bell sounded and Rose felt the reverberation in her chest; she spun around the console, frantic as she searched for the right switch to flip, the right button to press to make it all right. He had always been so much better at this than she was.
But then he flickered to life in front of her; the Doctor, as she remembered him last, hands tucked in his pockets and bouncing back and forth on his heels. His hair still stuck up at odd ends, but it was streaked with grey; his eyes were still merry and bright and utterly beautiful, but there were little crinkly laugh lines around them, from a long and happy life.
The hologram looked at her like her husband had – warm and reverent and utterly grateful that she had chosen to spend her life with him.
"Rose Tyler," it said, and the TARDIS lurched. Rose flailed to anchor herself on the jump seat, but her eyes never left the Doctor.
"Rose Tyler, this is Emergency Programme One-point-One. If the TARDIS is showing you this message, then the – outcome – that we discussed has occurred. I'm so sorry, Rose."
The hologram reached towards her like he wanted to take her hand; reflexively, Rose's hand on the jump seat scooted forward a little, curled into the leather of the seat and left little crescent-shaped marks from her fingernails.
"I tried so hard, in every way I knew, to stay with you. I – found a solution, sort of, but you aren't going to like it."
He was wearing the look, the you-can't look, the does-it-need-saying look. A look, she learned, that he was steeling himself to take an action he knew she was going to hit him for, later.
"This message is programmed to appear if the TARDIS detects a kind of energy. Right now the TARDIS has found a crack – and she's reaching across it, locking onto herself. She's already sized it up, and is preparing for a jump. That jump should – by all my calculations – bring you back to me. The other me, the Time Lord one.
I don't know what state he's in. I don't know if he's regenerated. You may not be able to find him. But if you want, I'm offering you a choice."
Tears welled in Rose's eyes. Seeing him didn't upset her; The TARDIS voice interface still took his form sometimes, she thought, in mourning, and it had never bothered her, had always been a great comfort, because she had a human memory and a Time Lord's lifespan, and this way she would never, ever forget his face. In the two centuries since his death, he'd never had time to grow fuzzy in her mind and she was so, so grateful.
But the choice.
"See the blue button, there?" she looked to where he gestured, ran her fingers lightly over a small, round protrusion flashing blue.
"If you press it, the cycle will be aborted. You'll stay where you are, and nothing will change."
"But the red one, next to the zig-zag plotter? If you press it, the TARDIS will jump through the crack. I've no way to know what you'll find, but – perhaps it's better than nothing. Maybe you've moved on, and I'm only a memory. Or maybe you're alone," his voice broke; Rose's fingers crept towards him another inch. "I suppose – I've got to go, now, can't keep you waiting or you'll get suspicious, clever girl."
She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. The TARDIS seemed to wrap around her like the arms of an old friend, and Rose, for the first time in years, let open the box in her heart where she'd carefully tucked away the woman who had relied on this man to breathe.
When she opened her eyes the hologram had not shut off; he was staring at her like he could see her, and she remembered vividly the coolness of leather and the roughness of his long overcoat under her cheek, the feel of time burning in her veins, the desperation of a kiss after years of separation.
"I don't know where I am right now, Rose," he said in a voice rough with emotion. "But it's a poorer place without you in it."
Then the hologram clicked off, as though he couldn't bear it any longer, and Rose stared down at the console underneath her hands. Her fingers drifted across the blue one for a moment; she had friends in this universe, people she loved, people she would miss desperately. But they would pass out from under her like he had once feared she'd do.
Taking a deep breath, stared at the place where he'd once been, bringing her hand down on the red button.
Behind her, more people were starting to shuffle in. She'd gotten here early, earlier even than the police, and forgone one of the orange plastic seats for the standing room in the back. She didn't turn, not even when other reporters started to file in, not even when someone offered her a coffee. She didn't know what the people around her saw when they glanced at the blank piece of paper pinned to her chest, but it was obviously something impressive enough that a disapproving glance was enough to send most scurrying.
There were reporters setting up cameras, the scooting of chairs, the hush of whispers. The hush grew louder, just as Rose was tracing her fingers along another childish art project – a jellyfish this time – and grew quiet just as quickly.
She knew from the sound that the police were here, that among them, most definitely, would be Detective Inspector Alec Hardy. Knew that he was probably was taking his seat at the front of the room, perhaps waiting patiently while the Chief Superintendent made her introductions. Her heart pounded in her throat as she tried to muster the courage to turn, because it couldn't be him.
If it was him, he'd have run to her by now.
They landed on the beach.
It was a deceptively soft landing, for all the jarring tumble the jump through had been. When she pulled open the doors to reveal rickety wooden walls, the old girl mumbled a soft apology in her mind. She was exhausted, poor love, Rose thought as she watched the lights of the interior flicker out and the old girl drift into sleep. She'd earned a rest.
Even from inside the shack where the TARDIS had tucked herself away, Rose could hear the surf, smell salt on the air. The town, she soon learned, was called Broadchurch – a resort in Dorset, old but not decrepit, beautiful, but not too flash.
She liked it immediately.
With an unlimited credit card and the psychic paper she set herself up at an inn called the Traders', made friendly chit-chat with the owner, who was called Becca. During the first few days she set herself up with new clothes – beachy t-shirts and ripped jeans and a fitted leather jacket, for when the weather was frigid – and on impulse bought a box of dye and coaxed her naturally dark hair back into bleach-blonde in the sink of her hotel room.
She was feeling much more like Rose Tyler by the third day than she had in a long time, curled up in the plastic booth of a chippy and browsing the internet on her new laptop for signs of the Doctor. It was the year 2012, only a few years after she'd left, but she was coming up empty.
She was feeling so much like Rose Tyler, in fact, that she was starting to grump at the Doctor for not being where he said he'd be.
She told herself she'd know if he'd regenerated. That no matter what face he wore, she'd know it, though as time ticked by she started to examine the light behind every man's eyes – and even a few women – to see if she recognized it.
She'd wonder later if, that day, he was feeling more like the Doctor than he had in a long time, too, because he chose the most unceremonious moment – her with her mouth open and a chip halfway hanging out – to walk by the window of the chippy.
"I am going to hand over now to our senior investigator, DI Alec Hardy."
She still faced the wall, though she was turned so that, just out of the corner of her eye, she could see a skinny man in a suit addressing the small crowd. He was saying things about tragedy, about advice to parents, but she couldn't hear him. All she heard was the echo of a memory.
"Rose, I would like you to meet her Majesty, Queen Victoria, Empress of India and protector of the faith."
"She's a feral child. I bought her for sixpence in old London Town."
"How many prisms has it got? Way too many! But it's…pretty."
The world spun around her; Rose swallowed and caught her balance by laying her hand flat against the wall. Taking a deep breath, she turned her head,
"There will be no hiding place for Danny's killer. We will catch whoever did this."
and looked into the intense eyes of the Doctor, who didn't see her at all.