"Life is all about timing... the unreachable becomes reachable, the unavailable become available, the unattainable... attainable. Have the patience, wait it out. It's all about timing."
"OW! What the-" the Doctor's voice trailed off, as he absentmindedly rubbed the back of his skull where his ship's console had just given it a bit more of a love-tap than was necessary. The shrill ringing of the TARDIS's video phone wasn't helping his fast forming headache, either. He stood up, and pulled the video screen around to him, hitting the on-switch as he did so, before he plopped ineffectually into the captain's chair.
"Your timing is impeccable."
"Yeah? That so? What happened?"
"The console and I had a disagreement."
"You whack her with that mallet again?"
"No! Well, maybe a little." An arched eyebrow was his only response. "Okay, maybe a bit more than a little." This got him a sly smile. "She usually responds well to that! She's not usually so, so, moody about it." The tone of his voice suggested that he was more than a bit confused, and feeling somewhat disdainful towards his ship. "Oh, now come on! Don't look at me like that! Just ask him, he'll tell you."
His on-screen companion turned to look past her shoulder, "Well, Doctor? Does the TARDIS actually enjoy being whacked repeatedly with a rubber tipped hammer?"
From somewhere off screen, he heard the familiar voice, "Percussive maintenance? Sure. She usually responds well to that." The (other) Doctor joined Rose on their end of the vid-screen. "Our ship giving you problems?"
The Doctor sighed, clearly exasperated. "You could say that. It's like she's got a bit of heartburn or something, not sure why."
"Been to any plasma storms lately? Or nebula clusters?"
Rose smiled, and got comfortable on her end of the phone. Past experience had taught her well how these conversations were likely to go. As the two Doctor's discussed possible causes for the TARDIS's behavior, she knew it was going to be a long night.
It was twelve years before the Doctor received the phone call he had both longed for and dreaded.
After having left Rose in Pete's World with his other self, and saying his goodbyes to Donna, and Wilf, he had kept himself alone intentionally. Just him and the TARDIS. Bumbling around in the vortex for months on end, only stopping for parts - or milk for tea - when it was needed. Just him and his ship, becoming reacquainted (Since when did she have a dry sauna? And what, pray tell, is the point of a room filled to the brim with stuffed bears? Whose idea was that! Well, he supposed they were kind of cute. And cuddly. Not a bad place for a kip really...), and learning to cope with all the losses they both had sustained in recent years. It all just kept piling up, and the time apart from the universe was a much needed, and much wanted, reprieve.
Eventually, he'd begun to travel again. Taken in new sights, or revisited old favorites. (He avoided New Earth and the Library like the plague.) He was a Time Lord after all, how could he not keep traveling? He'd survived his destruction the loss of Gallifrey. He'd muddled through the first loss of Rose. And he'd coped after the loss of the Master – his erstwhile friend and enemy – a chance for their salvation wasted in revenge. He knew that he would survive the loss of Donna. And of Rose (again).
That didn't mean that he didn't occasionally second guess his choices. Or his actions. Well...more like repeatedly. And often. Wondering if he'd been too harsh or too impulsive or too closed-off, or just plain idiotic.
He never liked the answers he came up with, and his ship was unsurprisingly silent on the matter, so he did his best to stay distracted. And regardless of what other adjectives could be applied to his chosen lifestyle, no one could deny that exploring time & space constituted a distraction of the highest order.
He just needed time to figure everything out. To avoid regressing to the mindset that he'd been in after the Time War. He'd told Rose that she'd fixed him, and he didn't want that to be a lie. Because she had. It would only do her a disservice if he went ahead and broke himself all over again. And for that, he needed time. Time, time, time. Timeity-time. Something he, fortunately or unfortunately – he'd never quite decided – had in abundance.
When the phone call had finally come, he'd had time to make himself as not-broken as he could. To move on. He'd had several, mostly male (and no, he would not discuss his reasons for that, no matter how much one Captain Jack Harkness might prattle on about it) companions that had come and gone since Davros and the aftermath of the stolen planets, and the reality-bomb-that-never-was. The warning of the Ood was still pulsing in the back of his mind, but he refused to think on it for very long, he would deal with the ending of that particular song when he was ready. Which was anything but now. He was a pro when it came to running after all.
Time, time, time. There it is again. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tocking away, but never going far.
The (other) Doctor and Rose were doing well, it appeared. The two of them had used bits and bobs collected from Torchwood to create a small-scale, large-scope communication array with which to contact him (the power source needed had taken just a bit longer than they had anticipated, and while they were sure they could get at least three hours out of their inter-dimensional phone call, it didn't seem likely that they would be able to call again within the decade.) Apparently, his other self had wasted no time in creating himself a new sonic screwdriver (only up to setting 12,461, having skipped numbers 2,457-3,219, as he didn't see much use for them now, stuck on Earth as he currently was).
He was glad to hear that the bit of TARDIS that he had quietly slipped to his other self before stranding them on Pete's World was growing up fine, and strong and currently located in the butler's cupboard at the Tyler mansion (something Jackie had been none too happy about). They suspected she only had another two, maybe three years tops, before they could take her out for a test flight (Torchwood technology had allowed them to send it back in a secured time-loop, which helped take care of that pesky three-century gestation period, and still allowed the Doctor to monitor her development). In the meantime, Rose and the (other) Doctor, had been busy little bees on (mostly) 21st century Earth. (Their Torchwood was certainly more capable than the one in his universe. Of course, the one in his universe didn't have him and Rose tweaking their equipment.)
The first time Rose had talked to him without his other self around, he had expected it to be an awkward, and possibly very tense, conversation. Knowing that the way he'd left things (and no, he'd probably never forgive himself for running away how he had, without a proper goodbye for either of them), could very easily have turned her feelings for him permanently. So, he was pleasantly surprised when the conversation was anything but awkward.
She'd admitted to having been angry at him for leaving her (again), and that there were moments at the beginning when she'd been inconsolable (especially after she'd learned what Donna's fate had been), or torn (How much of the Doctor was this new Doctor, anyway? And how much of him was Donna? Had he always been that cheeky? And he might just be taking this whole 'rude, but not ginger' thing a bit far), but that had given way to a quiet sort of acceptance, and eventual (or so it seemed) extreme case of joy at the opportunities that were left to her. She had her (still) successful career at Torchwood, her New New New Doctor in her life on a more or less permanent basis (the two were constantly globetrotting for this or that, and despite their best efforts, had to separate on occasion – Rose refused the Doctor's very sincere offering of a homing beacon), and very recently motherhood.
Rose had explained to him then about her initial resistance to the idea of being a mother, not sure it was something that their lifestyle could support. Her New Doctor had been understanding and supportive about it, respecting her decision, despite his obvious interest in the matter ("Think of it, Rose! A little RoseDoctor or DoctorRose running about! It'd be brilliant!"). She had admitted, somewhat awkwardly, that she had avoided getting too close to her baby brother during her Doctor-less (or so she called them) year's in the parallel world, since all of her efforts were being focused on getting back. She hadn't wanted him, nor her, to have to deal with the pain of that separation; and she was concerned what that said about her parental abilities. It appeared, all her worries had been unfounded, however, because once a few years had passed, her priorities had begun to shift. But then the day came that she decided that she did what a child, and she had found that the Doctor had been right. It was brilliant. And so was their son (who was more like a little RoseDoctorDonnaJack, a somewhat scary, but wonderful combination).
She might occasionally wonder what would have happened if she'd been given a choice on the beach that day, but she insisted that she wouldn't change anything now.
He found himself happier for them then he thought he ever could.
During each call, the three of them would get caught up on all the ins and outs that the time allotted to them would allow, and when the calls ended, he always found himself feeling refreshed and invigorated from the contact. And maybe just a tad bit nostalgic. Something he wouldn't have thought possible a dozen years before. They always made plans to call again as soon as their energy source had recharged (and next time to perhaps introduce him to their son). He was thankful that neither of them mentioned him getting in contact with them any sooner. They all knew what his answer would have been, and it (like so many other things in his life) didn't need to be said.
He'd (finally) met River Song (future archaeologist thankyouverymuch) for the second time. (She was 15, and all awkward limbs and wild curly hair. But that spark, that wonderful undeniable spark that she had on the library planet was already fierce and growing stronger by the day. Time had tempered his reaction to her, and now he could understand how the two of them would get to the point that they one day would. He even found himself looking forward to their next encounter. Whenever that might be. (He was firmly not thinking about what their last encounter would be. He wasn't ready for that quite yet.))
It was just as well that he was in between traveling companions when the TARDIS's shrill ring sounded throughout the console room, as he really didn't fancy explaining why he was getting a video phone call from himself. Again.
Rose and Jenny got along surprisingly well. To the point that neither Doctor was able to get a word in edgewise for nearly the entire length of the next phone call.
On one memorable occasion Jack had been on board when the call rang through, something the Doctor had neglected to forewarn him about. He was fairly certain he could still taste the (supremely nauseating) pears the man had eaten before coming on board (Jack had given him a very wet celebratory snog when he saw Rose on the view screen). Jack was now screened for pear intake prior to boarding the TARDIS. A setting on the sonic screwdriver that the Doctor previously had very little use for.
The first phone call after he regenerated was the only awkward one the trio had ever had. Rose's ability to question a man's identity had not changed in the slightest over the years. Neither had his method for convincing her. Admittedly, it was a much harder sell through a vid-screen.
It was four years, three months, six days, and 11.27 hours after he lost River before he felt capable of speaking about her at any length, even to himself.
She was brilliant and stubborn, and harsh, and intriguing, and everything that she'd been the first time they'd met her. But also so much more. He'd had more fun careening around the universe with her then he ever thought he would, or even could. He'd even managed to forget (or at least, put it mostly out of his mind) what their eventual outcome would be. He knew that he was a better man for having known (and loved) her.
Their time-loop had been closed - with her never having known just how they had locked her life into a state of non-decision, all of her choices already made and laid out before her, until they really weren't choices at all.
Neither Doctor thought they'd ever quite get over the guilt they felt for that. Even if their choices had been just as limited.
They went on like that for four more decades PWRT (Pete's World Relative Time), giving the Doctor a chance to see the (other) Doctor's and Rose's son as he grew up (a smashing young man with much more Jack and Donna tendencies than either Doctor could fathom). To watch his other self and Rose grow older (he was, to his chagrin, balding a bit in the back – she was as beautiful as ever albeit quite a bit grayer). And, if possible, happier. For him to tell them about the new meteor shower in the Cassawarius constellation out by the Moon of Dyjun (massive amounts of cobalt deposits made them all a shimmering blue), and what antics Team Torchwood had found themselves in most recently (Weevils and psychotropic amphetamines do not a good mixture make). For them to tell him all about the differences in their universe versus his (Klum and Raxacoricofallapatorious had switched places, and the Shadow Proclamation was known instead as the Darkness Declaration (they insisted that the resulting jail time was well worth the laughter that bit of knowledge had induced)).
The final phone call came 56 years after the first (PWRT), and brought with it a surprising revelation. Bad Wolf it seemed, had planned very far ahead. The (other) Doctor had managed to extend their lives as best he could, giving the technology available to them (they had limited their time traveling to only a few thousand years in either direction, as the new TARDIS wasn't quiet up to speed yet – and was only slightly bigger on the inside), but there was only so much he could do, and his body was giving out now. He felt that he was more than prepared for it. The life, the adventure, he'd had with Rose had been incomparable to anything else he had ever experienced, and he had no regrets. Only a...complication had arose.
Namely, Rose's recent regeneration.
He had no reason to suspect that he still possessed the ability to regenerate, as he clearly remembered what the build up of energy felt like that allowed for a regeneration, and he felt nothing of the sort. That, added onto the death of their son five years prior (a hero in the end, rescuing several others when their zeppelin went down), gave them no reason to suspect he would be able to do so. Rose still only had the one heart, only now she was younger (much, much younger) and a bit ginger (he swore he wasn't the lest bit jealous. A tad envious, perhaps, but that's not the same thing!). None of them could tell if this would be a regular occurrence for her, or if it was a limited, one-time only offer. Though they all strongly suspected the latter.
The only thing they were sure of was that should his other self not regenerate, they didn't want to leave a possibly immortal Rose (an even worse TARDIS driver in this incarnation then the Doctor in any of his – she swore she had no idea how exactly she had managed to break the forward time stabilizing bar in two) stranded in the parallel world. With very little accessible family. Her mother and Pete had long since passed on, and her brother Tony had chosen to stay behind in ancient Kyoto of all places (with one videophone carefully hidden away). The universe as a rule seemed to adore sticking monkey wrenches into gears though, and this one was a doozy.
There was very little decision to made. It wasn't long before the Doctors got to arguing about the best course of action to bring them over to their home universe. It took a very tired and annoyed Rose to point out the obvious.
Not more than 30 minutes after ending the last call, the three of them found themselves all in the same universe again. Standing on the shores of one Bad Wolf Bay. (Rose had, fairly accurately, pointed out that there were at least three times in their shared history when the walls between the universes were thinner than usual, any of which should have been enough to allow a TARDIS through.)
The timing was tight, with only a few short minutes to spare before their timelines all crossed, but they had chosen a spot far enough away from the original landing point so as not to cause an issue (they hoped). Another location might have been preferable, as well as another time, but this was the only occurrence that they knew of where the safety of the TARDIS's arrival and departure could be guaranteed.
The two TARDISes (Rose suggested they call them TARDII, but the Doctor's scoffed at the idea – they may no longer look or sound or behave quite the same way, but their scoffs were still identical), were hitched together like a dingy to a tugboat, and the lot of them dematerialized mere moments before their younger selves arrived.
"Hah! We did it Doctor! Finally back on board! The original TARDIS!" Rose took a deep breath, as she twirled around the console, the knee-length skirt of the dress (a style she seemed to favor now) spinning about her legs. "Smells like home. And chips. Haha! That's fantastic!" Her Doctor, tired as he was, bones and joints creaking like hers had done not more than a year ago, couldn't help but beam at his love. Her happiness was infectious, and even the TARDIS's central column seemed to glow brighter.
The pair were extremely happy and content to be back on board their first TARDIS after so long, which seemed so much more calm than the one they had become accustomed to over the years. The newer TARDIS was a temperamental teenager in comparison. And the Doctor found himself quietly reminiscing as he would move slowly from room to room. Teddy bears? Their happiness was as short-lived as they had anticipated however, and it was only a few short months after their return when the Doctor's body finally gave out. He went with a smile on his face, sitting on a cot in the observatory as they hovered over Woman Wept.
It was another three months before Rose would venture out of their shared bedroom for any length of time.
The New Rose and the New New New New Doctor spent the next several years becoming reacquainted with one another. Small steps here and there. Just learning how to be in the same room without awkward silences, or misunderstandings. With the Doctor figuring out her newly acquired quirks (she liked her tea steaming hot with three sugars and no milk) and rediscovering ones that hadn't changed at all (chips - doused liberally in vinegar, just a dash of salt). And with the two of them familiarizing themselves with traveling together again (and oh, how he had missed having her hand to hold on the all-too-often occasions when running for your life was required). They slowly opened up to each other, her telling more personal moments that she had shared with her Doctor, and him breaching the subject of River once again. Two ghosts in their lives that neither wanted to be rid of.
He wasn't as talkative now (something she'd already learned through the video chats), but neither was he brooding or aloof. Rather, he exuded a sense of peace. Rose, for her part, was much more contemplative in this incarnation, the impulsiveness of her childhood having long since dissipated, and while she knew that the Doctor, her husband in all the ways that mattered, wanted nothing but her happiness, it still felt like a betrayal the first time this Doctor kissed her again. Even though she knew, logically, that it wasn't. But then again, logic had so very little to do with matters of the heart.
Jenny and the new TARDIS bonded almost instantly. They decided to call it an early birthday present. Her resulting squeel at the news, and the subsequent hugs (lingering on Jack just a bit longer than the Doctor could stand) made it all worth while.
He had no idea how long it had been since they first stepped foot on the applegrass of New Earth, he only new it was longer for her than it had been for him.
It might have been cheesy and overly romantic for him to say that her smile at the familiar and beloved scent could light up galaxies for the remainder of time, but it certainly didn't feel like an exaggeration.
He managed to boost the output of the communication array that his other self and Rose had built, allowing more frequent phone calls to Pete's World. She was incredibly thankful for the chance to see and speak with her brother and his family as often as she liked. Even though she knew that those chances were running out all the same.
Rose finally understood what he meant about watching your loved ones grow old around you.
The first time he said the words, it had been fourteen years, seven months, thirteen days, and 7.86 hours since her arrival back in his universe and there was a wedding (royal – not theirs), a funeral (common, and also not theirs – rather a kindly old farmer who'd they'd stayed with in town) and a teeny-tiny alien invasion (quite literally). She'd been wearing a yellow sundress, and her kind-of, sort-of, but-not-quite ginger locks hung in waves down her back, her more angular features softened in the glow of the bonfire blazing at the center of town. He'd been gobsmacked by the simple sight of her, and saying them had never seemed more natural.
He wondered what had taken him so long.
Jack and Jenny, when they found out, thought that it was about damn time. The Doctor was more concerned with how much time Jack and Jenny were spending together.
The next time she promised him her forever, they had just barely escaped death by bunnies (it was the second time they found themselves hopping for their lives). He'd wrapped his arms around her, lifted her in the air, and twirled her about. Laughing all the while at the (frankly ridiculous) predicament they had just escaped. His eyes had sparkled at her in that way that always made her insides rumble, and when he asked her that oh-so-familiar question, her answer was the same as it had always been.
"How long are you going to stay with me?"
After everything they had been through, maybe – just maybe - the universe finally agreed.