AN: This is the close of Nine Lives, my first Doctor Who fanfic, (though not the first one posted, it's the first one I started). I am contemplating another one, we will see how this goes. I have a method to this madness in this chapter, and I'd love to see it out. To those who have followed along for these several months, thank you! Enjoy!
The Doctor had always been rubbish at goodbyes.
He had meant to tell Rose about regeneration. Just like he had meant to tell most of his companions over the years. But just like with all of them, he had never really gotten around to it. None of his companions ever really got a warning before hand what was happening until it was far too late, and then they had to deal with a new man all together. Perhaps it was that bit of him that was eternally afraid that they would be too bothered by it and turn him away. Maybe it was the idiotic confidence he always had that his time in any body couldn't be that close at hand.
Really, it was just that he didn't know how to end things properly at all.
As he met Rose Tyler's confused gaze, now a blessed honeyed whiskey color again, he realized that in fact he didn't want to end this life. Not really. He had come into it, all anger and guilt, covered in the blood and the recrimination of the war and everything that had gone with it. He hadn't expected to be alive after that awful day, his hand on the Moment, watching his world burn. Consequently, he hadn't expected much out of this life. He'd assumed the only reason he'd been allowed to live was as a punishment at the hands of the weapon he'd unleashed on his people, made to suffer alone without them as the penalty for this grave crimes. And he had been determined to bear it with the sinner's penance, to somehow make right that thing which he never, ever could. The eternal Sisyphus, always pushing that boulder up the damn hill, only to have to start over again and again for all eternity. He had never expected to ever let go of that anger and guilt. And he certainly had never expected to come to love this life.
And all it took was grasping the hand of one, jeopardy-friendly shop girl.
"Before I go," he managed, despite the swirling, burning, pulsing pain lighting every nerve, every cell, every atom in his body. He smiled at the girl who had saved him from his eternal damnation. "I just want to tell you, you were fantastic."
Rose didn't understand. How could she? But she smiled tightly, despite her silent pleas for him not to go. He wished he didn't have to. She had made it so that he wished that. She had turned what was a miserable existence something he could enjoy, and something he could be proud of.
"And you know what," he grinned, the weight of transgressions lifting as the tsunami of energy pooling in his middle finally broke loose, racing through his body. "So was I!"
It was a majestic, triumphant statement, a call to the universe, as the power he had been holding back unleashed itself in its full glory. His body was melting, burning, like the phoenix of old, every cell shifting in its coding, amino acids reconfiguring into new combinations around the singular strand of time that wended its way through all Time Lord genetics. Slowly, but surely, everything that had been the Doctor with this face began to change.
And in that moment, time simply stopped.
If he had breath to hold, he perhaps would have done it. His eyes opened, or at least seemed to. He was standing in that place. The desert, with it's gypsum white sands, and the tiny shack, on the edge of nowhere, made of wood that shouldn't exist in this environment, tattered and broken. He knew this place. He had seen it in his nightmares so many times.
Why this place?
Every regeneration was different. He had not yet had two that were the same. There had been one constant, however. Quiet or loud, peaceful or explosive, he'd always had that moment, that space between double heartbeats, when the old him died and the new him emerged. Perhaps it was simply a trick of the synapses, all firing at once as they shifted and changed, he never understood it. And he never really remembered that moment well. He knew it happened, but it was always lost in the trauma of finding himself a new man, with new wants, needs, likes, and desires. But he was fairly certain, as much as he could be in this moment, that the shed from the last day of Gallifrey was fairly new.
He stumbled up to it, his boots scraping in the dust, pushing open the rickety panels that could be called a door only in euphemism. The inside was empty, save for a single box, right in the middle of the floor. He knew that box well, had dreamed of it. To an outsider, it looked pretty enough, all cogs and gears, brass fittings and steel. It had lacked a big, red button, though, he wished it had one of those. Instead, it was just a box, quiescent, sitting amongst the dried straw and dirt, almost as if it had been forgotten.
Or maybe he just wished it had been forgotten.
"You can't keep running away from it forever." Her voice was lower than it had been a moment ago, less girlish, almost growling behind him. He flipped around to find her, standing with her back to the door, that beloved smirk laughing at him, taunting.
"Rose," he breathed, reaching for her, but stopping, confused. "What are you doing here?"
"It's your hallucination. You tell me." She shrugged beneath the torn, white rags she wore, the fabric looking very much like Gallifreyan homespun. How did she get dressed like that?
"I don't know," he admitted, fragments of things scraping their way to his consciousness, partial dreams from a life he had tried so hard to forget. "I remember this place."
"I know." She was sad, slipping past him, eyeing the tattered and ruined remains of the hovel with a grieved expression. Her hair, a glorious tangle of gold, shined in the dim light filtering from the hot suns outside.
"How do you know about it?" Why did this feel so familiar, this scene?
"I was here," she replied, not looking at him, perhaps in answer to both the spoken and unspoken question. The Doctor scoffed, even more baffled, scrubbing his face hard at this.
"Rose, you couldn't have been here, because this place was before I met you."
"Yeah," she hummed, turning to face him, that tongue caught in her teeth again. "But what is that phrase you were always saying? It's all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff?"
"I never said anything of the sort. That's next to gibberish," he coughed, outraged that she would think a great Time Lord like him would somehow forget how to speak the language.
"Oh so you never came first in 'jiggery-pokery', then?" She was outright laughing at him now. "But you did say it, or will say it. Bother, don't have the right tenses for these verbs."
"Will say it? Rose…"
"You've seen me here, before, Doctor," she insisted, her voice dropping to a low rumble as her eyes flashed gold.
And then he knew. And he remembered.
"The Bad Wolf." If he had been breathing, he'd have stopped by now. "You are the Bad Wolf."
"Hello," she waved, her long, ragged sleeved catching on her thumb.
"When...how…" His already dying mind swirled, trying to grasp at straws.
"Does it matter?"
"But I took it out!"
"Yes," she admitted, suddenly so sad, so compassionate, so grateful. She glided across the dust and debris to where he stood, reaching a hand up to his cheek. "My Doctor. I've wanted to keep you safe. That's all I've ever wanted to do."
"I don't understand," he admitted lamely, feeling ashamed by saying it out loud.
"Nor should you," she smiled softly, Rose's smile, warm and caring. "I created myself, you didn't create me, Time Lord."
"What are you?" That was all he could manage, learning into her warm, familiar touch.
"I am everything you saw so long ago, when you stared into that Untempered Schism." In her voice he thought he could hear the howl and rush of the winds of time that whipped and churned the Vortex. "I am a golden goddess, sent to end a war that should never have begun in the first place. I am a shop girl from London, who longed to be so much more than what this universe had given her. I'm a young woman who loved you enough to stare into the the heart of the TARDIS, to take on that which she couldn't, all to save your life."
Tears, molten and blinding, filled his eyes. "You were here...before. You are the Moment."
"I am," she admitted, her smile, Rose's smile, stretched from ear to ear, as brilliant as time itself. "I exist because of you, Doctor. Because you need me. And because I need you."
"I don't understand," he admitted, knowing it was pointless as he wouldn't remember a thing soon enough. "I came here, I used you, I made this world burn and everyone and everything on it died."
"Did you?" Rose, the Bad Wolf, the Moment glanced pointedly towards one of the slats in the walls. "Looks pretty safe from where I'm standing."
"Gallifrey is gone," he wept, his voice ringing in the space, making the girl/woman/entity jump. Her eyes, Rose's eyes, went impossibly wide.
"So much anger, Doctor." She shook her golden head. "And for no purpose. Gallifrey stands."
"Then why can't I…"
"Because you hid it," she replied simply. "You had to, and for now, it must remain so. Remember?"
He did. As if coming from a dream, he remembered. As an old man, wearing this same jacket even, standing in this shed. Of a choice he had to make, and an impossible girl named Clara, who wended her way throughout his life, begging him not to burn everything he loved. And a woman, a goddess, a golden haired apparition, who had showed him what he needed to see in order to prevent that from happening."
"Rose...it was Rose." It finally made all a weird sense now.
"Yes," she nodded her head, solemn as she stood before him. "It was me, Doctor. I am she, and she is me, and we are all together." She brought her hands together in a clap, as in rhythm to the Beatles song. "I am Rose Tyler. She is the Bad Wolf. And we are the Moment. She exists because I exist, and we exist because that exists."
She nodded towards the box in the middle of the room. "It was the only way available to save Gallifrey. The Time War ends, Doctor, because I did what I had to. I convince you to hide Gallifrey, to save it, because that's what I did in the past. And I had to make sure you survived on the game station, because I need your help in the future. You, Doctor, are the key, you had to be the one to make it all happen."
"None of this makes sense," he whinged, mildly petulant, desperately trying to understand. It only served to make her snort at him.
"Not everything in this universe is there for you to pick apart." She shook her head mockingly at him, her face softening. "You need know only this. She loves you, I love you, we all do. That is why. So many love you, Doctor, so many you've touched. At least in this, for once, I got to save you."
Her words burned as he absorbed them, with a fire that could be his regeneration, could be the universe smacking him upside the head. "Rose...I won't get to say it looking and thinking like this, not in a moment. But...I love you."
She regarded him gravely for a long pause, before a grin split her face in two. "Quite right, too. And you don't know how long I wait to hear that, Doctor. Three little words, so hard to say?"
"Well, it's not exactly easy for me!"
He couldn't continue his protest, for she had thrown herself at him, hard, little hands grabbing the lapels of his leather jacket, digging into his jumper, pulling him down to her lips. Like before they tasted of her lippy and Time, like cloves, aged wine, cinnamon, and something that was distinctly Rose. When he pulled away, he stared at her, dazed.
"I won't remember any of this in a moment, will I? Not even about Gallifrey?"
"Not a bit," she replied, looking both amused and sad by the notion. "And you will be someone else soon."
"Will I like him?"
"I don't know about that," she hedged. She clearly wasn't going to give anything away.
"Then at least answer me this. Will you be there?"
"Always," she breathed, a touch sadly. "Just not always the way you may want me."
Before he could ask her what she meant by that, she shook him by his jacket, lightly but urgently. "Remember, I saw all that was, all that is, all that could be. Remember that, Doctor, when things look their bleakest, when you despair. Remember, I want you safe. And when you have to face yourself and answer for that conversation we never finished, know that it is my gift to you, my Doctor."
It was all madness and puzzling, and he knew he wouldn't understand yet, but he couldn't help himself asking. "What is it?"
She smirked at him, cheekiness and play. "It is the one adventure you've never had, Doctor. It's that moment, standing on a street corner at two in the morning, waiting on a cab with someone, and seeing where it ends up...just an ordinary, everyday sort of adventure."
He couldn't formulate a proper reply. He wanted to, to hold this moment forever, but he could already feel the pulsing strain in his chest of first one, then the other heart, pumping blood and energy through him as someone new emerged. All he could manage was a simple, "thank you."
"Always, my Doctor." Rose...the Bad Wolf murmured, leaning in on tip toes, pressing feather light lips to his.
With the next beat of his heart, he was gone. Well, not really gone, just not that him anymore. He was a different him, a new him, a perhaps better him? Better looking him, maybe? A Rose suitable him? Well, that was different, a him for a companion, he hadn't done that before, and...Rose! What had he been saying to her? It was on the tip of his tongue, something...he'd been talking about something they were going to do together, involving a cab?
"Hello," he startled in surprise, shaking his head. A deep breath, the first with these lungs, this chest.
"Okay!" He did a mental checklist of himself. Two hands, two feet, still male, and now taller...and his mouth was different. He ran his tongue through it, over his teeth, the strangeness of it.
"New teeth. That's weird." His accent changed...again. Ah well, something new, should be fun. What had he been saying just a moment ago?"
"So where was I?" He glanced at Rose, who stared back at him in shock and horror. "Oh, that's right! Barcelona!"