Okay, first of all, I am SO sorry this took so long. This chapter was giving me fits...it was so completely uncooperative, and made me stare at my screen in hatred for several days before I finally figured out a way to make it work. So yeah. Sorry. Anyway...goodbyes for Team TARDIS, and the last chapter for this story. More information in the a/n at the end.
The morning after the paradox was broken, Jack wandered into the console room to see Rose kneeling next to a pair of pinstriped legs sticking out from under the console.
"It's not the wormhole refractors," Rose said.
"Rose, as intelligent as you might be, I think I know how to fix my own ship after a few hundred years with her," the Doctor replied in a tone bordering on patronizing, then yelped when sparks flew from the console. This was quickly followed by a bang, a groan, and muttered cursing as the Doctor hit his head on the console while trying to wiggle out from underneath it.
"Told you," Rose said in a satisfied tone, then glanced up to see Jack watching them with a bemused smile. "C'mon, captain," Rose said, rising smoothly. "Lets you and me get a cuppa while the Doctor and his ship work out their differences."
She bent down and kissed the spot the Doctor was rubbing on his forehead, and he gave her a soft smile before she turned and headed off down the corridor. Jack hesitated, but the Doctor turned and went back to his work, muttering to himself. The captain shrugged and followed Rose back to the kitchen, where she was already setting up the kettle.
"Things like this," she said conversationally. "Just making yourself a cuppa tea, you never really realize how much you take it for granted until you're not allowed to do it anymore."
"Funny old life," Jack said, sitting down at the table. "How're you doing, Rosie?"
"I'm…alright, I suppose," she said, leaning against the counter. "Considering…you know…everything. Just not being there, being home with you and Martha and the Doctor, it all helps."
"The worst of it should pass within a couple of weeks," Jack said. "Isolation like that…so long as you can keep from going completely bonkers, the other symptoms should fade. The mood swings, the paranoia…things like that. The phobias might take a little longer, but they shouldn't be as severe."
Rose tilted her head as she studied him. "You say that like you've experienced it."
"World War I and II," he said with a shrug. "Not everyone respects Geneva."
"I'm sorry, Jack," she said.
"It's okay," he assured her. "The toughest part was avoiding running into myself or you two during the Blitz," he added with a grin. "Thought of you every time I heard Moonlight Serenade."
"Our song," she said with a grin, then turned as the kettle started whistling.
"He tell you what happened?" Jack asked.
"More or less," Rose said as she fixed them both steaming mugs of tea. "A year that never happened but was filled murdering spheres, Martha walking the Earth, and me dying. Although, pretty sure you probably did your fair share of dying in that year as well," she added as she put the mug down in front of him and took a seat next to him. "Doesn't seem like an opportunity the Master would have passed up."
"Not likely," Jack agreed, getting an itchy feeling again where the chains had been.
"How was he?" Rose asked. "Really? I could feel some of the emotions, once he fixed the bond…but…"
"He was angrier than I've ever seen him," Jack said honestly. "And I saw his face when he found out what had happened to you during that year and a half we missed. That was nothing compared to the way he looked at the Master after you died. If he'd had the power at the time, he would have killed him right then."
"You think?" she asked.
"Definitely," Jack said with a nod. "Looking back, you being alive again is probably the only thing that made him think twice about killing the Master when we were on the Valiant. He did kick his ass a little, though, and held a gun on him for a minute or two."
"The Doctor held a gun on someone?" Rose asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Not the first time I've seen it," Jack said. "He did that back at Satellite Five when he thought you were dead, too. Seems to be a pattern. If it had just been the Toclafane…or whatever…and the people of Earth who'd suffered, all those nameless billions who cried his name and then forgot him…I think he might have still shown the Master mercy. But the minute it's you…all bets are off."
"I dunno if that's good or bad," she said, looking down at her tea.
"Both, probably," Jack said. "Most things are. You're the one thing that could send him over the edge. But…look at him, Rose. You're also the one thing that turned a cold, hard, wounded soldier into someone who could care about people and accept that people care about him, someone who could actually allow himself a moment of happiness, even if it scared the hell out of him. And you keep him fighting. Always. You give him something worth fighting for, and something to return to."
"Thanks, Jack," she said with a smile, reaching forward to take his hand, and he squeezed hers reassuringly. "So what about you?"
"What about me?" he asked.
"How're you doing, Jack?" Rose asked. "Really?"
"I get the feeling you're not talking about the year that never happened anymore, Rosie," he said, and she gave him a sort of half smile. He leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest in an unconscious defensive gesture. "I'm alright."
"Jack," she said, her voice a warning and a question at once.
"Do you two practice that?" he asked, eyeing her, then sighed. "I dunno. When I met you, my biggest worries were who I was going to get into bed that night, how much my next scam was going to pay off, and how to keep a step ahead of the Time Agency."
"And now?" she prompted.
"Now…I've been around a long time," he said. "I've had too much time to make mistakes, to let bitterness leave it's mark…lost too many people." He paused, debating how much he wanted to share with her. He knew she was still fragile, and shouldn't have to bear his problems on top of her own…he'd also gotten really used to holding everything close to the vest. But this was Rose…hiding things wasn't easy around her. Even the Doctor couldn't do it. "I dunno, Rosie. It's easier around you two to pretend that I'm still that guy, the one who can charm his way out of a paper bag and never think twice about anything. But I see you two…I see the way he is with you now, all that chilly distance gone, that weary soldier put to rest…you've made him better. I've only gotten worse."
"Oh, Jack," she said sadly.
"My team doesn't know anything about me," he went on, the words pouring out now. "Because they don't really want to. If they really knew everything I'd seen, everything I'd done…not only would I lose their respect, but I'd lose whatever friendship I have with them too. So I just have to pretend that's okay, that I know what the hell I'm doing, that…that some days, the only thing that keeps me going is the fact that I couldn't die if I wanted to."
"Would it be so bad if they knew something about you?" she asked.
"I don't know," he said, shrugging. "I mean, there was an…incident…so they all know I can't die. Funny story, turns out that the devil, the one you and the Doctor thought—"
"I don't know, okay?" he said, frustrated. "I just…you know, you and the Doctor, you got your happy ending. I mean, yeah, you had to go through hell to get there, and it nearly got blown to hell when the Master showed up, but it's still there. But that's not gonna happen for me. There's not going to be someone to tear apart a transdimensional spaceship for me. I've cared about so many people over the years, fallen in love with a few of them, but it all comes down to the same thing…I lose. Every time."
"You sound like the Doctor now," Rose commented.
"See what I mean?" Jack asked. "You fixed him—"
"But I broke you," she said softly.
"No," he said quickly. "No. I mean, you brought me back to life, but you didn't dictate what I should do with that life. It's not your fault. It's just…you know, I used to think, better to have loved and lost, all that jazz. Now…I just wish, just once, that I didn't have to lose."
"Never thought I'd hear you begging for monogamy," she said with a small smile.
"You're telling me," he said. "I mean…there's people. There's one…but…I dunno." He paused, glancing at her. "Hey, who knows? Maybe when I get to be as old as the Doctor, I'll get lucky too."
"Maybe," she said. "But this team…they're good?"
"Yeah," he said, smiling fondly. "They're good. We're sort of like the island of misfit toys. A little broken, a little weird…but we fit, you know?"
"You love them, don't you?" she asked.
"Every single one," he admitted. "I kept thinking about them this past year…the year that never was. That team of mine. Time I had some responsibility."
"Good for you, Jack," Rose said with a smile, then looked up as Martha walked in. "Oh, and look what we have here…the woman who walked the Earth. How're you doing, Martha?"
"I'm alright," Martha said, going to the counter and fixing herself a mug of tea. "Felt nice to be able to sleep without worrying about who or what might sneak up on you."
"I'll bet," Rose said with a smile. "You know, the Doctor said he couldn't have done any of it without you. You're brilliant, you are."
"You know…I spent a lot of time when I first met you two thinking I'd never measure up," Martha said as she sat down. "But you know what? I am good."
"Yes, you are," Rose said with a laugh. "So what do you think? Are you gonna keep travelling with us?"
"I…I dunno," Martha said. "I need to see my family, see how they're holding up."
"Good call," Rose said, pulling her legs up on to the chair and wrapping her arms around them.
"What about you?" Martha asked, watching her. "How're you holding up?"
"I'm…coping," she said, glancing around her.
Claustrophobia, Jack thought, following her eyes to the white walls around them. He was about to suggest they move locations when music started pouring into the room, followed quickly by the Doctor striding in and holding a hand out to Rose.
"Rose Tyler, I believe this is my dance," he said with a grin. She looked up at him for a moment, then smiled and took his hand, letting him sweep her up into his arms.
So reel me in my precious girl
Come on, take me home
Cause my body's tired of traveling
And my heart don't wish to roam
"You know, Martha," Jack commented as he watched the pair twirl. "I was there the first time they danced together."
The Doctor dipped Rose over his arm and looked up at Jack over her. "Jack…you only wish you'd been there the first time we danced," he said before pulling a giggling Rose back up into his arms and spinning her around.
"Well, yeah," Jack replied. "Who doesn't?"
"Um, me?" Martha suggested. "Bad enough hearing them through the thin walls of that flat."
The Doctor leaned down and kissed Rose deeply and unashamedly without breaking step, and Jack laughed out loud while Martha rolled her eyes. When the song trailed off, it was quickly followed by the opening notes to Moonlight Serenade, and Jack grinned as the Doctor bowed theatrically to Rose before moving to pull Martha up into a dance, allowing Jack to take Rose into his arms for "their song". Then all four danced like lunatics to the Proclaimers, Jack sliding on his knees across the floor to tell Martha Jones he'd fall down at her door.
Sometime during all this, Jack came to a realization. Maybe he hadn't found his happy ending yet…maybe they didn't even really exist, given what the Doctor and Rose had just been through. But there were moments, scattered across a life, that could hold unbelievable happiness, and that wasn't nothing. Maybe it was even enough to get him through the next few centuries…that hope for the next moment he'd get blindsided by something brilliant in the universe.
Definitely not nothing.
Half an hour later, the four of them were leaning on the railing in Millennium Square in Cardiff, watching the crowds flow past them without a second glance.
"Time was, every single one of these people knew your name," Martha commented as she looked around. "Now they've all forgotten you."
"Good," the Doctor said.
"For all your need to show off how clever you are, you do not handle infamy well," Rose observed.
"I do not," he replied easily. "Can you imagine how badly that would disrupt my life? Blending in would be impossible."
"Yes, because you're so good at that now," Rose snorted.
"Rose Tyler, I am phenomenal at that," he said, arching an eyebrow at her.
"Riiight," she said, drawing out the word, then yelped when he reached a hand down to tickle her side.
"Wow...you two are just adorable," Jack said with a grin as the Doctor wrapped an arm around Rose's waist. "But...I should get back to work."
"Sure you don't wanna come with us?" Rose asked.
"I really don't mind," the Doctor added.
"Thanks...but no," Jack said. "Like I told Rose...I've got my team, and responsibility for once."
"Defending the Earth," the Doctor said. "Can't argue with that."
The Doctor moved to shake Jack's hand, but then pushed up his sleeve to reveal the vortex manipulator before pulling out his sonic.
"Hey, I need that!" Jack protested as the Doctor moved the sonic screwdriver over the wrist strap.
"I can't have you walking around with a time-travelling teleport," the Doctor said. "You could go anywhere."
"Twice," Rose interjected with a grin.
"Yeah, the second time to apologize," the Doctor finished, putting the screwdriver back.
"And what about me?" Jack asked. "Can you fix that? Will I ever be able to die?"
"Nothing I can do," the Doctor said. "You're an impossible thing, Jack."
"I'm sorry, Jack," Rose said, once again looking contrite.
"Stop it," Jack said, chucking her under the chin. "You loved me enough to want me to live. That's not something to apologize for." He faced them fully, hand raised in a stiff salute. "Sir," he said. "Ma'ams." All three of them gave him lazy salutes, and he turned to leave. He stopped after a few steps, however, and turned back to them. "But I keep wondering…what about aging? 'Cause I can't die but I keep getting older. The odd little grey hair, you know? What happens if I live for a million years?"
"I really don't know," the Doctor said, shaking his head a little, while Rose glanced between them and chewed a nail. Everything the Face of Boe had ever said to her made complete sense now, but she still wasn't sure if she should tell the Doctor about that.
"Okay, vanity," he said with a smile. "Sorry. Yeah, can't help it. Used to be a poster boy when I was a kid back on the Boeshane Pennisula. Tiny little place. I was the first one ever to be signed up for the Time Agency. They were so proud of me. They Face of Boe they called me. Hmm…I'll see you."
He turned and ran off across the square, while the Doctor and Martha stared at his retreating back in shock.
"Can't be," Martha said.
Words from long ago on New Earth whispered through the Doctor's mind as he stared in the direction the captain had gone.
"I know a great many things you would not expect about yourself and Miss Tyler."
"No," he said, then turned to Rose. "No!" Rose only started chuckling lightly and giving her tongue in teeth grin. "How long have you known?" he demanded.
"Um...Platform One?" she said hesitantly.
"Platform..." He trailed off, turning back to the square, then started laughing, joined quickly by the two girls.
"Mum!" Martha yelled as she burst into Francine's house, and everyone quickly jumped up and surrounded her, firing questions at her and hugging her and just generally being happy she was still alive. Francine had been worried, when she'd been so quick to take off with the Doctor again, that it would be days, maybe weeks or longer, before she'd see her daughter again. Though if some of the things she'd now heard about the Doctor could be believed, it could easily have been that long for Martha anyway.
"But what happened?" Tish asked. "Where did you go?"
"We went to pick up Rose," Martha said with a grin. "See, she was never on the Valiant. When she died, she was still on Earth. So when the paradox was reversed—"
"She came back," Tish finished with a smile.
"I promise you, Francine Jones, that her death will only make me work harder to take him down."
"He knew," Francine murmured. "All along, he knew exactly what he was doing."
"That's why he sent me out there," Martha said, nodding.
"But he had to come up with all that in seconds," she said, stunned.
"That's the Doctor," her daughter said with a shrug.
Martha turned then as Leo started asking her something else, and Francine watched her reunited family for a moment before turning and, spotting something blue, taking a step toward the window. The Doctor was out there, leaning on that blue shed of his, one arm wrapped around the small blonde that Francine could almost recognize as he bent his head to listen to something she was saying. The blonde glanced up at the house and, catching sight of Francine, nudged the Doctor and nodded at the window. He looked up, following her gaze, then froze when he saw Francine watching them. The eyed each other warily for a moment, then a corner of his lips twitched in a small smile. After a second, she returned it, a little tightly.
She would never like the Doctor...but he had saved them all, her and her family, as well as his own, just like he'd promised, even after she'd raged at him. After everything they'd been through together, they could at least extend a little mutual respect and forgiveness.
"Mum," Leo called. "What're you standing there for? We've got champagne! A toast to the downfall of Harold Saxon!"
The Doctor gave her a small nod, almost as if he'd heard Leo, then opened the door of his blue box, ushering his wife in before following and shutting the door behind him. She turned away from the window toward her family, all fundamentally changed but at least whole again.
It was an hour before Martha was able to move out of her family's understandable but slightly suffocating embrace and head outside. On impulse, she called Royal Hope as she stepped outside, asking for Tom Milligan. When he answered in A&E, she smiled and snapped the phone shut without saying anything. There were better ways to introduce herself to the man willing to sacrifice himself for her after a day…but things were definitely looking up.
She stepped into the TARDIS, and the Doctor peeked around the time rotor at her as she made her way up the ramp.
"Right then!" he shouted, jumping up and dashing to the console. Rose stood more slowly and watched Martha carefully, giving her a tight smile after a moment. "Off we go! The open road! There is a burst of starfire right now over the coast of Meta Sigmafolio. Oh, the sky is like oil on water. Fancy a look? Or…back in time. We could…I don't know, Charles II? Henry VIII? I know! What about Agatha Christie? I'd love to meet Agatha Christie! I bet she's brilliant!"
"Doctor," Rose said quietly.
He glanced at her, then at Martha, who gave him a tight, sad little smile. "Okay."
"I just can't," she said.
"Yeah," he said, but he still sounded disappointed. For half a second, she wanted to smile, say she was just kidding, dash off with them again…but then she thought of her family, serving a psychopath for a year, never knowing for sure if she was alive or dead…she just couldn't do that to them again. And even if the Doctor could bring her straight back here, even if she survived all the running and adventures...she'd know how long she'd been gone.
"It's just…I spent all these years training to be a doctor," she said. "Now I've got people to look after. They saw half the planet slaughtered and they're devastated. I can't leave them."
"It's okay, Martha," Rose said. "We understand. Honest."
"Thank you," the Doctor said, stepping forward to hug her. "Martha Jones, you saved the world."
"Yes, I did," she said as he released her.
"Not surprised," Rose said as she stepped forward to claim her own hug. "Told you, he only takes the best."
Martha smiled as she stepped back and looked at them. "You two gonna be all right?"
"Oh yeah," Rose said with a grin as the Doctor put an arm around her shoulders.
"Always," he said. "We've got each other. I'll take care of my family, you take care of yours."
She looked at them both for a moment, tears burning in her eyes. A year ago, he'd been this mad, fit genius in a hospital, and Rose had been a chav from the estates…and Martha herself been so, so small, so entrenched in her own tiny view of the universe. Now she'd seen what was out there, how completely strange and mad and wonderful it was, and she'd seen it all with two of the most amazing people she'd ever met, who'd completely smashed her ideas about them, the universe, and herself. She'd helped them find each other, and they'd helped her find herself.
"Right, then," she said, blinking away her tears. She took a deep breath, then pulled out her phone and handed it to the Doctor. "Keep that. 'Cause I'm not having you two disappear. If that rings—when that rings, you better come running. Got it?
"Got it," they said in unison, both grinning at her.
"Until next time, Miss Jones," the Doctor said.
"I'll see you again, Mr and Mrs Tyler," she said with a grin, then walked down the ramp and out of the TARDIS, breathing in the fresh air.
She'd been running from everything when she stepped into the box…from her family, from her ambitious goals, from her roles in life…but now, she might actually be able to fix her life instead of just run from it. And she was gonna be brilliant.
"And then there were two," Rose said dramatically as Martha stepped out of the TARDIS, turning to face the Doctor and looping her arms loosely around his neck as his hands settled on her hips.
"Mmmm…so it would seem," he said with a smile. "The old team. Hope and Glory—"
"—Mutt and Jeff—"
"—Shiver and Shake," he finished off with a grin.
"Tell me again why you get to be Shake," Rose said, her eyes rolling up to the ceiling.
"Because I'm so good at making you shiver," he said in a husky voice, leaning down to brush his lips lightly over the skin just beneath her jaw. She sucked in a breath as she did, in fact, shiver, and he straightened up again with a cocky grin, his tongue running over his top teeth.
"You're not the only one with tricks, Mister," she said, running her fingers through his hair and making him purr before he leaned down and kissed her.
"I love you, Rose," he said as he broke the kiss, leaning his forehead against hers. "Always."
"Always, Doctor," she said, moving her hands down to put one over each of his hearts. "I'll love you always."
They stood like that for a moment, pulling from each other's strength. Rose was going to miss Jack and Martha, but she couldn't deny that right now, all she really wanted was to be alone with the Doctor while they both healed from the most recent trauma. They both had a fresh new batch of nightmares and demons to battle, but that's what they did—when they weren't saving worlds or universes, they were saving each other, all the time. The old team.
"Right," the Doctor said, lifting his head finally with a sniff. "Time we were off…before Francine Jones starts wondering why there's still a blue box sitting in her garden."
He gave her a kiss on the forehead and moved away, and she followed him around the console as he reached forward and pulled a lever.
Then the whole world spun.
They were both thrown back against the jump seat, the Doctor's arms automatically going around Rose protectively as the TARDIS seemed to spin around them, leaving Rose feeling dizzy and out of sorts as the Doctor heaved himself to his feet to smash a switch on the console.
"Stop it!" he shouted as the TARDIS settled—but still felt…off somehow. "Rose, you okay?"
"Yeah," she said, shaking her head a little to clear it. "What happened? What's wrong with her?"
"Dunno," he said as she stood up and moved around the console. "What was all that about, eh?"
He started moving around the console, working the controls as he tried to ascertain the problem. Rose moved to get out of his way, then froze. Another man was moving in the opposite direction of the Doctor in a similar fashion, and her jaw dropped as she saw the flash of celery on his lapel.
"What?" she cried, and both men looked up at her before catching sight of each other.
"What?" the Doctor—her Doctor—asked, staring at the man in the cream jacket.
"What?" the…other Doctor demanded, staring at him.
Yay! Okay, so, here's the deal...I've posted 134 chapters for this particular universe in the last five months. That doesn't even include the several I wrote but scrapped for one reason or another. And life is getting...hectic, so I need a break before I start hating the story simply because I can't keep up with my own fairly insane deadlines. So, here's what's going to happen: the story WILL continue, that was never a question. There will be a season 4, plus some...extra stuff that I'm working on. My goal for that one is to start posting by Christmas...I know that sounds like forever from now, but it's really not, and that season is...complicated, so it really needs the extra time and thought. BUT, I'm also going to write a mini-story for Time Crash/Voyage of the Damned to help bridge the gap...that'll be up by Thanksgiving. In the meantime, I'm still going to be posting the other story on Tumblr and eventually reposting it here, because edits are far less in depth and time consuming than writing a whole new story (random aside, "A Human Moment" was posted there yesterday, and is nearly twice as long as it was originally...it doesn't change the story, but it does add something...I think). So yeah. Keep me on your author alert and you'll get notified when I post the new story...I'll probably throw up a notice on the end of this one too, even though that's technically not...supposed to happen. Whatever.
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all of you who followed this story and reviewed. It has been an absolute pleasure, and I hope to see you guys again as this series continues. Cheers!