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Shattered Into Ash

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"Try there." Rose pressed her finger against the readout, tip of her nail brushing the spot where the line dipped.

Pete squinted at the screen, put on his glasses, then looked again. "Not sure about that, Rose. It doesn't look like part of the system we've been running down."

He was right. For all that they hadn't been able to find a pattern to the way the universes were falling together, Torchwood had found a distinct series of chronal markers. These latest readouts didn't have them, or anything like them. Still, she couldn't ignore a weak place between timelines like this.

"Maybe," she said, "Maybe this is what started it all. Maybe if I go through there and have a look around, we'll have a better idea of what's going on."

"Maybe it's a weak point in your Doctor's timeline that you can actually get to?" Pete asked, voice amused, almost indulgent.

Rose narrowed her eyes but kept herself from biting the inside of her lip. Probably too late; Pete had gotten pretty good at reading her. "Could be," she admitted. "Won't know until I get there, will we?"

He could feel time shredding around him. All the possibilities in the universe fell away. It sounded like a child screaming, metal sheering, a rabbit in a snare. It made no sound at all.

Something twisted in the timeline, just as his new body was forming around him, and the memory of a red button changed. He'd pushed it. He'd pushed the red button, and his homeworld burned.

Inconceivable. Unimaginable. Unspeakable.

It had spoken of it. It had been able to imagine what it would mean. The Moment had told him that outliving his race was his punishment for burning them. His life alone preserved in consequence of his actions. As the timeline twisted and shattered and made itself anew, he held onto the Moment above all else. Who else could possibly understand what he was?

Something flashed blue in the corner of his eye. He thought it was the TARDIS continuing to pull herself apart. When he looked, no. It was still here, watching him.

It had changed: its hair less wild, its clothes less worn. Now it had a blue jacket and a machine in its ear. At first it looked around, seeming not to have seen the TARDIS before, but then it found him. It looked surprised, which was wrong. He didn't remember why.

It crossed the control room. He hadn't realised he was sitting on the floor, longer legs pulled up in front of him, but it had to kneel to look him in the eye.

"Doctor?" it said. "Doctor, are you all right?"

"Don't call me that." His voice sounded odd, too high. He could feel his new vocal cords grating in his throat, wearing themselves in. He had a new accent, he realised. Northern. Fitting, he supposed. "I'm not the Doctor anymore."

The Moment had never touched him before. He'd thought she was a thought, a projection. Its hand was warm. Its fingertips touched the side of his face, guiding it up to meet its warm brown eyes. "Of course you're the Doctor. Who else could you be?"

He didn't know what to say. He shook his head. Another piece of time fell away, and around him the TARDIS groaned and shuddered. The Moment glanced, lips pursed. It seemed different now, something in its mannerisms had changed. Maybe he wasn't remembering right. He could feel little memories pulling free, like hairs yanked out with a plaster.

"She's changing," the Moment said. "Your TARDIS is changing. How's she doing that?"

"Old girl's had a long war," the Doctor said, though he didn't know how the Moment didn't know. "It's not fair to ask her to last longer than me. Not fair to ask either of us to outlast..." He made himself stop. It was fair, to him at least, if not the TARDIS. He hadn't thought of it before, but his ship was the last of her kind now too.

The dying lights of the last TARDIS in the universe reflected in the Moment's eyes. Bright eyes. "I've never seen you cry," he said, though he might have. "I don't remember."

It sniffed and smiled and stroked his cheek again. "You haven't met me yet, Doctor."

"Don't..." He stopped, not seeing the point. Then he stared at it.

No at her. The woman was right. He hadn't met her yet. This wasn't the weapon, this was her form. He asked, "Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"

The woman froze. Her hand hovered a millimetre above his skin, still warm. "You..." Bad Wolf swallowed, paused, then started again. "You shouldn't know about that yet."

He laughed. "It doesn't matter." What could possibly matter now? Hang the Web of Time. "I'll probably forget. I'm forgetting a lot of things. I thought you were something else, but now I don't remember it."

Bad Wolf took two slow breathes. He watched her chest rise and fall under the blue jacket, and her teeth cut at her lip. He could almost see her thoughts. Almost.

What she said was, "I can't stay here. I'm not in the right time, but you have to promise me something. You have to remember one thing. Just one thing."

He shook his head. If he remembered only one thing, he already knew what it was going to be: Gallifrey Burning.

"No." She took his face between both hands. Her voice was low and urgent. "No you have to remember this one thing: You are the Doctor. Everything you've done's been to save the universe, so you just keep on saving it, okay?" She wiped her tears on her shoulder. "When I leave, find some back water little planet full of stupid apes, and you go and save them. Because that's who you are."

"I don't know if I can."

The Bad Wolf kissed his forehead hard enough that he felt her teeth. Then she stood and smoothed her jacket. She looked down at him and said, "I do. Be the Doctor." She tapped her ear, said something low that he couldn't hear, and vanished in a flash of blue light.

The Doctor stayed where he was, sitting on the control room floor as the time and the TARDIS reshaped themselves around him.

When they were done, he went to the wardrobe. He needed to find something that didn't choke him. He looked in all the rooms on the way back. He thought there'd been someone else here, a woman. But that didn't seem right. He hadn't kept company since the war started. Maybe that should change.

The console had changed, but he still knew the old girl. He set a course for Earth.

"Any luck?" Pete asked.

Rose dug her palms into her eyes, smearing mascara and tears everywhere. The Doctor never would have wanted her to see that, but in a way she was glad she had. Maybe she'd even gotten through a little. She hoped she had. He'd been doing better then that when she first met him. "You were right," she said. "That was something else. Nothing to do with what we're looking for."

He stepped into the launch area and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "You all right, Rosie?"

It felt good to be able to lean into her dad. She rested her head on his shoulder for a moment, just letting him hold her. "I will be," she said. "So long as we keep looking."

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