She's tried everything. The science in this world is a bit more advanced, but only just a bit. And the Hoppers are a bust; she wouldn't destroy the omni-verse even for a glimpse of her big haired man-child. It's not what he'd've wanted. Besides, love isn't death because love is life. And death, she keeps telling herself, is the absence of life. She's breathing, still. Her lungs expand as they pull in air; they deflate as they expel it. Her chest lifts with their every effort. Her heart beats; loudly, sometimes, in her ears after a run.
All this is life. She's not dead; she can't be. Her flesh is flush with blood after a good day at Torchwood. Her pulse beats strongly… she tells herself she's not dead, but she never believes it.
Her Doctor would be so disappointed in her, she knows this.
"Have a fantastic life."
He'd once said that, when he was coarser, brasher, short of hair and big of ears. He'd implied it too, when he'd come to say goodbye.
"Rose Tyler, Defender of the Earth," became, "Living fantastically," between them. They'd known. But perhaps only she knew that there could be no fantastic life without him. She's tried so very hard, but it's just not the same once you've walked the stars. She's outgrown this world, this time, this static placeness.
Her mum said it best, that day the ghosts came. She was something not human, not anymore, and she's still not. Everything is just too small, too slow, too claustrophobic that she just can't stand it! Her skin itches constantly, like this planet is an ill-fitting wool coat, constricting her limbs; she wakes up gasping for breath, pushing at the covers, struggling, thrashing, trying to keep the heavy air of this world from crushing her.
She walks at night, sleep a long lost companion that she meets for tea every once in a while, but never for long and never peacefully. Her eyes are always drawn to the stars, shining so brightly, whispering their secrets to her through the wind. These times, it is the closest she ever gets to serenity. She can feel them - the stars - dancing on her skin like dew drops, clinging, kissing her flesh.
She's a celestial body, a child of the stars, made for something bigger and brighter than human existence.
"I'm goin' to the stars one day, mum. And I won't be comin' back."
She'd said that once, small and innocent, clutching her Marvin the Martian stuffed toy close to her chest. Lost through the years of bitter disappointment and drudgery, it'd come back to her, trapped as she was in this world. She'd whispered the words as she'd remembered them, layered with hope and heartache.
Her mum had paused, flinched, then carried on serving the tea, chattering away to Mickey and Pete and Jake. She'd known then, just as she knew now, that Rose's place had never been earthbound. Rose knew that was the main reason her mum objected so strongly to her travels with the Doctor, even from the very beginning.
Laughing, Jackie snuggled her baby-girl into her side and gazed up at the stars. "So serious abou' it, luv. You almost sound prophe'ic."
She glanced back down at her little girl, startled at the gold in her eyes. "Wot's this? Ah, jus' a reflection from the lights. Nobody's got gold eyes." She kissed Rose's forehead and then bundled her inside. Rose couldn't figure out why her mum was so nervous.
She's not belittling everyone else, she's not devaluing what they've got here, but it's just not for her. Never has been. She knew it once, as a child, and she knows it again. But all of that knowing just makes it worse. Better to have forgotten than to double the pain of her loss.
She wears a shirt that gets only raised eyebrows from strangers and hisses from her mum. So this is what it feels like to be stuffed in a zoo. It's rather convenient when her mum sets her up on surprise dates. She's taken to having it on under everything she wears.
"You're not even tryin'!"
Jackie's shrieks were infamous around Pete's mansion by now. Rose was the only one ever to inspire them, with the exception of when Mickey trailed in mud. Rose stopped insisting to her mum that, yes, she'd tried. So very hard. It never did any good because Jackie couldn't understand. Out of everyone, she and possibly Pete, should have been able to. They'd got their second chance; after living a life without their other half, they should understand. Pete never judged her. Jackie never stopped.
Her life is a Greek tragedy. The world is her audience. The masks she wears hides her from them, makes her a grieving woman but nothing more. They do not see her tears made of stars, as they twinkle down her cheeks or hear her heart thud to the echo of two see nothing but carved wooden frowns and stark wooden eyes.
In her dreams, what she has of them, she is in a death shroud of white; a coffin of cloth confining her stars and she's burning up from the inside. If she doesn't escape, she'll go supernova; full circle back to her first trip with the Doctor. She'll be the twin to her earth, dying in a spectacular flash of light, nothing but stardust.
Her spark is flickering as she listlessly traipses through the falling snow. She nods briefly, abstractedly, when a passerby wishes her a Happy Christmas and smiles and admits, "They're only the melted flakes," when someone exclaims in concern over her wet cheeks. It's not farfetched. Her lashes are caged by them.
Melancholia swamps her as she flitters like a ghost along deserted streets. Everybody's inside, singing carols and decorating trees, but Rose hadn't been able to take the cheer. It's her constant companion now, this darkness she can't escape and she thinks, not for the first time, how the Devil in that pit had been right. She had died. She's fought it, told herself she was breathing and so she lived, but the pieces didn't fit. The Valiant Child had died in battle.
There's a sound. It echoes down the streets and at first, Rose thinks it's a dog. It wouldn't be the first time she'd heard one bay at the moon. But the tone is off, it's wilder and Rose thinks, "It's a bloody wolf."
It wails again, closer, and Rose sees movement down a darkened alley across the street on her left. She creeps forward, leaning closer for a clearer view, almost tripping off the curb. She's somehow not surprised when a she-wolf steps into the circle of light cast by the lone streetlamp. It's a gorgeous specimen, unusually blonde in color, almost a burnished gold. Rose stares curiously; the she-wolf stares back, head tilting in its own interest.
Wolves in the city are a rarity and Rose wonders if this one escaped from a zoo. It is the only explanation Rose can think of for her calm and trusting demeanor. Silence floods the street, the festive families dousing the candles and music and sending themselves off to bed, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would appear. The only sound remaining was the soft rustling of the snowflakes as they settled lovingly onto the ground.
Minutes pass before the she-wolf turns and trots down the alley. Rose leans further to keep her in sight until the last, but the animal stops, turns her head, and tilts it quizzically again. She faces forward, takes a few more steps, then stops and looks back. Rose supposes she should think this through more thoroughly, but she is the Bad Wolf who shone like the sun, being asked to follow a golden wolf, so she hurries across the street and after the canine. It's all a bit too coincidental to be anything but planned. Who knows what she did when she possessed all that cosmic power? All she remembers is the immediate aftermath, what had been her 'here and now', with daleks and Doctors needing to be saved.
She catches up to the she-wolf and they walk through the streets side by side. Her hand trails lightly against the silky fur of the animal's back, melting the snowflakes into her pelt, darkening it. A curtain twitches near the corner of her eye and Rose wonders what they might think. Or if they can even see the wolf at all. But it reminds her, of a family she'd once had, of a family she can't leave wondering, and so she pulls out her mobile and dials.
There's no answer. Rose didn't think there'd be, but she leaves a message. 'I love yous' and 'don't worrys' and 'I'll be fines'. She tells her that this is what she has to do, that she's been made for this from the start. That no one's eyes are ever gold, except hers twice in a life. Paths have been laid and both of them are walking; they just happen to fork.
"Tell Mickey an' them that I love 'em."
She tosses the phone once she's done. It won't work where she's going. The she-wolf nudges her palm with her freezing nose and Rose chuckles, caresses the animal's head before giving it a vigorous scratch.
"You can't be real."
Their eyes catch and Rose hears, "Just like boxes that are bigger on the inside and a man who has multiple bodies with the personalities to match."
Or maybe she's just gone round the bend and the wolf really is in sheep's clothing. She'll probably be on the news Christmas morn: Unidentified blonde mauled to death. She's not at all sure it's healthy to laugh at her own impending demise, but if she can't laugh with her final, inevitable death, then there is no kindness left in the world.
Their slow march to one of the desolate public gardens finally comes to a halt. Rose doesn't even know their direction. She looks about and admires the tranquil beauty, the freshness gifted to the world at this early hour by such a fall of snow, the slate wiped clean, and new beginnings. Perhaps the she-wolf is real after all and just has a healthy sense of humour. There's a church nearby, probably on the other side of the thicket of trees, as the bells toll the hour.
The she-wolf settles on her haunches and stares at Rose. Smiling, Rose copies her. Framing the wolf's face with her palms, she whispers, "We just wait?"
And for the life of her, she can't stop the renewed tears, this time full of hope, from escaping her eyes. The she-wolf tilts her head, leans forward and laps the streaks up, then nudges Rose's cheek with her nose, pushing her lightly. Rose looks over, into the darkness, and feels. There, close, is a hole in the tapestry; the same feeling she'd had that day at Canary Wharf, the same at Bad Wolf Bay, the same she feels sometimes when just going about. It's nothing too large and it's not dangerous. It's one of the natural ones she'd heard the Torchwood scientists talk about. Every barrier needs crevices or else if it's too tight, it could snap under the pressure. Rose thinks of these holes as crochet loops in a blanket. They'd tried to manipulate them safely, but all tests failed, but now…
Rose looks at the she-wolf, brow furrowed. The animal nudges her again, closer to the rift, and releases a whine. Her hindquarters begin to dance agitatedly and Rose gets it. If she falters now, she'll be stuck. And she's already rationalized it, said goodbye to her family; if she dies, at least they'll think she'd found a way to the other side and at least she'll be free of this misery. If her leap of faith is just that… she'll see her Doctor, travel the stars, once again.
She smacks a large kiss onto the wolf's snout, gives her one big hug, and then launches herself at the microscopic rift. She turns to bid farewell to the she-wolf, but there is nothing there. There are tracks in the snow coming up the slight hill, human and wolf, but there are none going down. It would chill Rose to the bone if she wasn't suddenly altogether certain that the she-wolf had been a past manifestation of Rose herself.
The snow starts falling heavily and the wind picks up, but Rose isn't cold. The thought of her reunion with the Doctor warms her soul and so she smiles. Then the tingling begins. It starts from her very core, radiating outward. Her skin just melts, exploding into a trillion tiny golden particles and she's felt like this before, on the Game Station. She floats wondrously, curious about the next when she's suddenly sucked through the rift, like water through a straw. There's a brief period of nothingness, hollow and heavy and loud and silent, but she's so small in her trillions and the force pulling her so strong that she's made it through and she can breathe but then she's bumping into someone else.
It's a woman, red hair and trillions of her own particles just as loud, and they're fighting. Not purposely and Rose is sure the other woman doesn't even know Rose is there, but their particles bump and tumble, buffeting by each other at impossible speeds and Rose knows she'd be sick and bruised were she flesh and blood right then. Her eyes catch coral struts and a Doctor that's too still. Ignoring the other woman, she cries out, but her pieces are too far apart, her vocal cords glorious fragments of Time instead of muscle. She watches, horrified, as the other creature coalesces inside the Tardis, all hair and voice and wedding dress, but before she can see any more, she's launched out.
She smacks hard into a cold, frostbitten surface and releases an,"Oof!"Her body tumbles down a short decline before coming to rest against something solid and for a horrible moment, she thinks she's been sent back, that some other woman dared to steal her ride and her Doctor, but then her muddled mind clears. She takes a deep breath and tastes it. There's no tang, no slightly off aura. She is Goldilocks and this reality is just right.
Her giddiness releases in slightly hysterical giggles, her head thrown back and the peals falling like music to her ears. She doesn't know exactly what happened, but whatever was in her must have been in that other woman too and their bodies tried to land in the same spot. Rose having been displaced for stars only knew how long in this reality, the one most strongly aligned won out and Rose had been catapulted back to earth!
"It's absolutely brilliant!" takes the place of It's not just a hat rack.
She cackles again, her happiness overflowing, as she lurches to her feet and stumbles towards… somewhere. Maybe a pub. The Doctor has a new adventure on his plate and she really doesn't want to distract him. He'd probably drop the woman back off, based on the monstrous slap the Doctor'd received, and Rose could use the tracker he'd installed in her phone just before their separation to find the ship. The phone part ceased working longer ago.
Familiar smells, smells that had been off in Pete's World, fill Rose's nostrils and she stops, breathes deep. Exhaust made from fossil fuels instead of moss (though she should probably introduce that idea), streets free of constant overcast shadows by Zeppelins, and… chips! Real proper chips made of potato and not beet! Bouncing giddily in place, Rose shrieks loudly and then launches herself in the direction of the scent, following her nose.
She's glad she'd followed the frazzled party she'd encountered earlier. Apparently, they'd been attacked by Christmas ornaments and their brash daughter had run off with some skinny guy in a suit. Rose suppresses the urge to tell them they had better respect him because he's her skinny guy in a suit. It's nice to know, she surmises, that she hasn't completely changed from the Rose he'd known.
Huddling closer into her jacket, she thinks uncharitably that he should have changed a little from the Doctor she'd known; at the least become more punctual. She's been expecting him to materialize outside Donna Whatsit's townhouse for nearly an hour now and she's freezing, damn it!
Finally, finally the distinctive whine of the Tardis fills the air and Rose breaks out into her trademark grin, all tongue and teeth. She steps out from between the shelter of two townhouses and into the light shed by the streetlamps. Her heart skips a beat as that beautiful blue box appears, battered and wonderful. Tears spring to her eyes as the last vestige of claustrophobia lifts from her soul.
The doors open and Donna stumbles out, her eyes wide. She's not close enough to hear what they say, but she does see the Doctor enter the Tardis once more and she panics. She hadn't wanted to be noticed by Donna's parents so she'd parked herself too far! She was going to lose him. She broke into a run, gasps crystallizing into the air as the whoops of the Tardis reach her ears. And then Donna's screeches, the doors opening and she's close enough.
"Her name was Rose."
Stopping, cradling the stitch in her side, eyes tracing that sad, sad face, Rose answers, "It still is, to the best of my knowledge."
The Doctor's head whips about, eyes bugging out comically. And all she can do is stare. It's been so long, nearly two years, her arms ache to hug him, her fingers throb with wanting his, but she can only stare: his reddened eyes, his unkempt hair. His tie is half undone, an offense he'd never have allowed before. His voice, she's never heard his voice like that, scratchy and waterlogged and broken.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Donna back away, a watery smile on her face. She hears a door close gently, but she's focused on her Doctor.
"You're too pale."
Her voice seems to jar him. He jerks, starts towards her, falters, stops, starts again and then he's running toward her, crying, "You're too far away."
Before she knows it, they're a jumble of limbs, clinging and weeping and laughing. She's never thought to feel this way again and then she feels even better, later, in bed when he whispers, over and over, his love for her with every thrust, a tear drop on her chest for every word.
But nothing can keep the children of the stars still for very long and so they're up, bounding around the console, Rose helping to steer like she's never been gone. Her token smile breaks out as she yanks down a lever and then kicks in a button, the Doctor watching and whirling and doing his own part. Stories had been told and explanations made and the Doctor twirls Rose into his embrace, mumbling into her lips as they dance through the stars, "My, what big teeth you have."
She's back where she belongs, with her silly man-child and her stars. And her body is like ashes in the wind. She's free; to expand, to roam, no longer condemned to living in a box many sizes too small. She can breathe again and, as the Doctor grasps her hand, the Bad Wolf howls in victory.