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Battle in the Sky

Chapter Text

When Cass was a young girl, all she could remember was the overwhelming sense of helplessness at her mother’s sobs as she told Cass all about her father and how he had died trying to rescue the trapped children in the collapsed school building when Cass had just been a little baby.

That was the thing though. The school would never have collapsed like that if the atmospheric barrier had been holding on Epsilon III. But the barrier had been shattered, the pressure had caused several explosions, particularly in buildings, and countless lives had been lost.

The barrier was rebuilt later, but the damage was done. Epsilon III had officially become a casualty of the Time War. Theirs was a small planet, with not very advanced machinery, and the constant conflicts over the weakened barrier coupled with the Time Lords’ destructive delta waves, had left Epsilon III ravaged.

Cass had only waited until she was of legal age, and then she had been eager to leave Epsilon as quickly as possible. She had wanted to be away from it all, see the universe and forget the desolation of Epsilon III, and her mother’s neverending sobs.

Though, it seemed like her first voyage was as doomed as her home planet.

“Help me, please. Can anybody hear me?” Cass tried pressing every button on the ship’s dash, hoping something or other would work.

The only good it did was having the computer chime back with a request to state the nature of her ailment. It was times like these that Cass remembered the old Earth saying about not trusting any computer you couldn’t throw out of a window.

“I'm not injured, I'm crashing. I don't need a doctor,” she snapped.

A clear statement of your symptoms will help us provide the medical practitioner appropriate to your individual needs.

Screw throwing it out of a window, thought Cass. I ought to take it apart with my bare hands and trample on its remains. “I'm trying to send a distress signal. Stop talking about doctors!” she said.

“I'm a doctor,” came a calm voice from behind her, making Cass whirl around in shock. A handsome man in rather battered clothes was leaning casually against the ship’s wall, his arms and legs crossed, and a small smile playing on his face. “But probably not the one you're expecting,” he added, walking towards her with quick steps. “Where are the rest of the crew?”

For reasons she couldn’t place, Cass felt relief seize her heart. Logically, she knew that she ought to be wary of a strange man appearing in her crashing ship but his presence was soothing, not to mention that he could be her only way out of crashing on some obscure planet.

“Teleported off,” she answered hastily, realising that he was waiting for her answer.

“But you're still here,” he said, looking at her in surprise.

“I teleported them,” she said.

“Why you?” he asked, still in that same tone of surprise.

Cass gave a nervous chuckle as she remembered. “Everyone else was screaming,” she said.

A broad smile lit up his face. “Welcome aboard,” he said, extending his hand to her.

It was such a bizarre thing to say when the ship they were in was clearly about to crash, yet Cass felt the first beginnings of hope as she looked at him. “Aboard what?” she asked.

He grinned quickly. “I'll show you,” he said, pulling her to her feet with the hand she placed in his.

“Where are we going?” asked Cass.

“Back of the ship,” he answered.

“Why?” asked Cass, knowing that there were no escape pods there, only an empty bulkhead.

“Because the front crashes first. Think it through,” he said, like it was obvious. Before they could reach the exit hatch, the doors hissed and snapped shut as the computer signalled that the bulkhead was now sealed.

“Oh, why did you do that?” asked the Doctor, almost like he was used to berating a misbehaving ship.

“Emergency protocols,” said Cass, realisation spreading across her face. She could have smacked herself for forgetting something so basic.

The Doctor didn’t look too fazed though, as he drew out a sonic device from his jacket and started examining the sealed doors. “What’s your name?” he asked her.

“Cass,” she answered, thinking it quite odd how he hadn’t even asked her name before helping her. It made her wonder what sort of a man he was that he would jump right into saving someone first and then ask their name later, almost as an afterthought.

“You're young to be crewing a gunship, Cass,” he said, glancing sideways at her.

He didn’t say it derisively like several others before him had. In fact, he sounded like he was genuinely interested. Not for the first time, Cass wondered if she was in some sort of a bizarre limbo with this strange man while the ship had already crashed.

“I wanted to see the universe,” she said, a smile lighting up her face as she remembered the ship flying away from Epsilon III. She had felt truly alive for the first time in her life. “Is it always like this?” She wanted to know, because if so then she was signing up for life.

The Doctor’s lips quirked up at her tone, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. “If you're lucky,” he said, just as the bulkhead door slid open.

It was dark beyond it, but Cass could see a box with Police Public Call Box written on it. A sinking feeling started to overcome her, as her smile slipped from her face.

The Doctor saw the fear on her face, but misjudged the reason behind it. “Don’t worry,” he assured her. “It’s bigger on the inside.”

Far from being comforted, Cass flinched violently at his words. “What? Bigger on the inside? Is that what you said?” she asked, stepping away from the box involuntarily.

“Yes,” said the Doctor, still not having grasped why she was looking so scared and angry. “Come on, you'll love it.”

“Is this a TARDIS?” asked Cass, almost as a final confirmation before she signed her death warrant.

The Doctor finally realised the reason for her fear, and could have smacked himself. Of course she was afraid. Times weren’t safe, and getting into any TARDIS meant danger beyond comprehension. But not his TARDIS. He knew Cass would be safe in there. “Yes, but you'll be perfectly safe, I promise you,” he said, trying to make her understand.

“Don't touch me!” yelled Cass, violently snatching her hand away from his grip, revulsion rising in her throat at the thought of being touched by someone like him.

“I'm not part of the war,” said the Doctor quietly. “I swear to you, I never was.”

Cass glared at him in disgust. “You're a Time Lord,” she spat.

“Yes, I'm a Time Lord, but I'm one of the nice ones,” he said, trying to walk towards her.

Cass retreated back immediately, raising her hands as if to defend herself. “Get away from me!” she yelled.

Despite sympathy welling in his hearts, the Doctor did feel some indignation too. “Well, look on the bright side. I'm not a dalek,” he said, hoping that his anger would jolt her into action.

Cass took another step back, as his words did indeed jolt her into action. “Who can tell the difference any more?” she said as she slammed her hand on the deadlock seal button. The door closed between her and the Doctor.

“Cass!” yelled the Doctor, already regretting pushing her.

“It's deadlocked. Don't even try,” she shouted.

“Cass, just open the door. I'm trying to help,” he begged, hoping she would listen.

“Go back to your battlefield. You haven't finished yet. Some of the universe is still standing,” she said, her voice cracking as tears began to flow from her eyes.

“I'm not leaving this ship without you,” he said, and for a moment Cass believed him. But then she remembered what she had been taught her whole life, the things she had witnessed, the atrocities committed in the name of a higher form of warfare, and a universe left in shambles.

She straightened up and looked him in the eye through the small glass panel between the doors. “Well, you're going to die right here then,” she said. “Best news all day.”

The ship kept plummeting and Cass closed her eyes, blocking out the Doctor’s screams of her name, and the frantic beeping of the ship’s systems. For a few moments, it felt so peaceful again, and then everything got very hot and Cass knew no more.

~

The Sisterhood of Karn were watching their Flame grow smaller and smaller as the war raged over their skies. More Time Lords had visited their planet during the years of war than they ever had before. If the universe had not been on the verge of destruction, the Sisterhood would have refused them access to their Elixir.

As it was, they wanted the Time Lords to win this war. Because Karn’s survival depended on it, and Ohila, as the current High Priestess, had no intention of letting the Sisterhood perish.

She had made careful demands from the Time Lords in exchange for the Elixir, and had been watching the timelines constantly. One bright shining timeline stood out to her. It belonged to a man who had helped them before, who held great disdain for the Time Lords, and who had carefully stayed away from this war.

As the gunship broke Karn’s atmosphere and crashed to the ground, Ohila’s eyes brightened in anticipation. “And here he is at last,” she said, a smile gracing her stern features. “The man to end it all. My sisters, the Doctor has returned to Karn.”

She took a few tentative steps towards the crashed remains of the ship, and saw a man lying unconscious in the wreckage, “We have always known in our bones that one day he would return here. Such a pity he's dead,” she said, her voice hard.

“He’s not,” said one of the younger acolytes standing behind Ohila.

Ohila looked up at her, startled. “Explain yourself,” she snapped.

“He’s not dead, High Priestess,” said the young acolyte, looking scared. “His hearts still beat and his breath is still strong.”

“The timelines were wrong,” said Ohila’s advisor. “The Doctor will never help us, not in the way we require him to.”

“Does this mean we shall perish?” asked the young acolyte, terrified.

“Quiet!” snapped Ohila and everyone fell silent. She was gazing at the Doctor’s body with a contemplative look in her eyes. “Take him to the temple, and do not speak a word. I shall deal with this.”

As the acolytes scrambled to clear the debris off the Doctor, Ohila’s advisor leaned in close to her. “What are you planning, High Priestess?”

Ohila took a deep breath. “We know he is not dead, but he remains unaware of the fact,” she said shrewdly. “Is his companion still alive?”

“She’s severely injured but the Elixir can…”

“No!” said Ohila immediately. “Let her die.”

“High Priestess?”

Ohila inhaled deeply. “Let the girl die,” she repeated. “Her death serves a noble cause.”

“High Priestess,” called her young acolyte. “He’s waking up.”

Ohila made her way to the temple in quick steps and found that her sisters had the Doctor propped up against the altar. “Quick, fetch the potions,” she ordered as the sisters picked up a goblet each and stood quietly in the shadows, praying that Ohila’s plan would succeed.

The Doctor was twitching slightly now, his mouth forming silent, incoherent words until a name escaped his lips loudly and clearly as he woke up. “Cass!”

Ohila crouched in front of him. “If you refer to your companion, she's almost certainly dead. No one could survive that crash.”

The Doctor looked away at that. “She wasn’t my companion,” he said. “And I did survive this,” he pointed out almost absently as if his mind was elsewhere.

“No,” said Ohila, standing up again. “We restored you to life, but it's a temporary measure. You have a little under four minutes.”

“Four minutes? That's ages. What if I get bored, or need a television, couple of books? Anyone for chess? Bring me knitting,” he said in the same dispassionate tone.

Ohila felt a flash of anger which she tried to tamp down. “You have so little breath left. Spend it wisely,” she warned.

His eyes finally focused on his surroundings and a sardonic smile graced his face. “Hang on. Is it you?” he peered at Ohila as he pushed himself to his feet using the altar for support. “Am I back on Karn? You're the Sisterhood of Karn, Keepers of the Flame of utter boredom,” he added derisively.

“Eternal life,” corrected Ohila, swelling with anger.

“That's the one,” he said, still unable to keep the mocking tone from his voice.

“Mock us if you will, but our elixir can trigger your regeneration, bring you back. Time Lord science is elevated here on Karn,” she said, bringing the matter to point and the whole reason for this charade. “The change doesn't have to be random. Fat or thin, young or old, man or woman?” she fired off, nodding towards various potions being held by her sisters.

The Doctor appraised her sharply. “Why would you do this for me?” he asked, unconvinced.

Ohila had prepared for that question. “You have helped us in the past,” she said.

It didn’t appease him. If anything, his eyes narrowed even further. “You were never big on gratitude,” he said.

“The war between the Daleks and the Time Lords threatens all reality,” said Ohila. “You are the only hope left.”

“It's not my war. I will have no part of it,” he said as if it was a firm, unshakeable fact.

“You can't ignore it forever,” said Ohila sharply.

“I help where I can. I will not fight,” he said, anger radiating off him in degrees.

“Because you are the good man, as you call yourself?” It was Ohila’s turn to be mocking.

“I call myself the Doctor,” he said.

“It's the same thing in your mind,” she pointed out with an almost palpable sense of triumph in her tone.

“I'd like to think so,” nodded the Doctor.

Ohila smiled bitterly, as if he had said just the right thing. “In that case, Doctor, attend your patient,” she said as Cass’ body was brought into the temple and laid out on the altar by the sisters.

The Doctor moved at once, scanning her with his screwdriver, hoping for any signs of life. He heard Ohila muttering something about him wasting his time, but all he could see was the eager girl who had wanted to see the universe.

He must have said the last part out loud, for he heard Ohila respond. “She didn't miss much. It's very nearly over,” she said harshly.

“I could have saved her,” said the Doctor, feeling regret and sorrow fill his hearts. “I could have got her off, but she wouldn't listen.” He tried to remember if his time senses had picked up on anything on her life, but all he could remember was a badge of honour for leading the settlement on one of the most progressive colony planets. It had been her future, he realised and then winced when he remembered that it had been cruelly snatched from her before she’d had a chance to fulfil it.

She had been right to hate him, but she should never had died. This war should never had happened but it was happening and he had a part to play. He looked at Ohila and then at the sisters holding the potions. No doubt one of them would possess an elixir to trigger a regeneration that could bear to fight and win the war.

Ohila must have seen his resolve wavering, since she nodded towards the potions again. “Fast or strong, wise or angry. What do you need now?” she asked, nearly desperate in her plea.

The Doctor looked up at her with a gaze as firm as he ever bestowed on anyone. “No,” he said.

Ohila seemed taken aback. “No?” she asked. “What do you mean, Doctor?”

“I mean, no,” he said, feeling his strength and resolve building.

“Doctor, we stand on the brink of destruction and the end of the universe as we know it,” argued Ohila, as if trying to make him understand.

“No,” he said, and his voice was like a whip cracking through the silence. “Because this is what I am going to do. I am going to fight in the war, but not as someone stronger, faster, wiser or anything else that you think will make of me. I will fight this war, just as I have every war in my very long lives. I shall fight this war as the Doctor.”

“Do you really think a good man can fight a war such as this?” asked Ohila, realising that her plan was falling apart. “Surely a warrior would…”

“The war has too many warriors already,” said the Doctor as he looked down at Cass’ body. “It is time for me to do my duty, Ohila. What this war needs, is a Doctor.”

“Doctor…”

“She deserves a proper burial,” said the Doctor, interrupting whatever she was about to say. His mind was made up and as soon as Cass was put to rest, he would willingly walk into the battlefields.

Ohila was quiet but the sisters were looking scared as they exchanged glances. “Very well,” she said finally. “We shall see that she finds peace, Doctor.”

The Doctor nodded and bowed his head. “Cass, I apologise,” he murmured quietly. “But I promise you, this war shall end. I shall end it. For you, and everyone in the universe like you. Farewell, my dear Cass, it is time for you to rest.”

His hand squeezed hers briefly before he turned around abruptly and left the temple with quick steps. Outside, he could see the crashed gunship in the distance. As he got closer to it, he realised that his TARDIS was unharmed and standing tall amidst the destruction. The Doctor’s steps quickened and he nearly ran all the way back though his feet came to a skidding halt when he realised that there was someone standing next to his TARDIS.

It was a young blonde woman.

Chapter Text

Rose Tyler crouched in the shadows as she made her way through the half-destroyed city. Night was falling rapidly and she still needed an hour before the vortex manipulator could garner enough power for her to make the jump away from this planet. Her last trip to Calpurnia had done a number on it and it took longer and longer for it to charge nowadays. If it hadn’t been for the TARDIS coral bits having enhanced it, it would have given out years ago.

A cold gust of wind made her shiver and she drew her coat closer, tucking her hands into her armpits for warmth. The hood of her knee-length black coat did a good job of keeping her dark gold hair hidden. Locals on this planet rarely had hair this fair and she wanted to avoid attracting the wrong sort of attention.

Her steps faltered when she nearly tripped over a familiar eye-stalk. Being careful to step over it, Rose kept walking through the shadows, feeling the back of her neck buzz. She was being followed.

Rose’s speed remained unchanged, though she straightened up almost imperceptibly. Whoever was following her, was definitely not a Dalek. She would be dead by now if it was. It could be one of the locals who would have looked at her expensive coat and assumed that she would be a good target for robbery. However, the footsteps behind her sounded sloppy in a way of a rather lost soul following her.

Rose rounded the corner and hid behind a large bin. The person following her turned as well but stopped in confusion when they couldn’t find Rose. From her hiding place, Rose looked at the silhouette of the person and determined that it was actually a small child. A little girl, judging by the torn skirt and long, straggly brown hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks.

She couldn’t have been older than six and Rose was certain that she wasn’t armed. After a quick debate with herself, Rose left her hiding place and approached the girl.

The girl gasped in surprise and took a few steps back when she saw Rose. “You must leave,” she told Rose, recovering from her shock rather quickly.

“Why?” asked Rose, surprised by the urgency in her tone.

“You are not from here. You have to leave before the Daleks find you,” said the girl.

Rose stared at the girl for a moment. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Zara,” said the girl.

“Zara, my name’s Rose. So, why were you following me?” she asked.

Zara looked down at the ground. “I thought you were Becca,” she said in a small voice.

“Who’s Becca?” asked Rose.

“She’s my friend. She looks after me and the other kids down at the shelter,” said Zara.

Rose took in Zara’s torn clothes and dishevelled appearance, and realised that she was a child living in the streets in a society torn apart by war. Compassion welled in her heart and she knelt in front of her. “Is Becca missing?” asked Rose.

Zara’s eyes filled with tears and she looked down. “She usually comes back before the first sun sets,” she said, and Rose knew that the first sun had set a few hours ago. “I have to find Becca. If she’s gone then we won’t have anyone.”

“Sshh, it’s okay,” said Rose, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder. “We’ll find her, yeah?”

Zara started shaking her head violently. “No, no, you can’t. If the Daleks find you, they’ll kill you,” she said.

Rose smiled reassuringly at her. “I’m not leaving you alone when there are Dalek patrols around,” she said firmly. “Come on, let’s find Becca.”

Zara looked heartened and nodded at Rose. With a wider smile, Rose stood up and tucked Zara’s hand into hers as they left the dark alley together. Night had fallen completely by then, and distant cries of Daleks seeking out survivors and killing them could be heard echoing around them.

Rose could feel Zara trembling with fear, though she tried to hide it well. They walked along the path that Zara said Becca took so she could bring food for the children at the shelter. A series of quick questions determined that Zara was one of the older children at the shelter, hence why she had been the one to venture out. Rose shuddered to think how they were coping if a six year old was taking on such a grave responsibility.

“They take us when we turn 12,” Zara told her calmly. “Becca’s 14 but she ran away.”

Rose swallowed back her revulsion as she listened to that. The Daleks taking the children and turning them into slave labour for their own purposes was one of the most horrifying things she had heard. She shouldn’t have been surprised really, the Daleks were notorious for enslaving the population after they had invaded a planet and it really didn’t matter that this was a parallel universe. Daleks were the same across the multiverse.

As they passed a dilapidated building, there was a light beep which made Zara jump violently. “Don’t worry,” said Rose hastily. “It’s just my instrument.”

Zara looked at the vortex manipulator on her wrist and then back at Rose. “Does this mean you are leaving?” she asked.

“Not until I know you are safe,” said Rose firmly, as if there was no question of it.

Zara looked slightly happier but then her grip on Rose’s hand tightened. “I see Becca,” she whispered.

Rose followed her gaze and felt her heart freeze. Becca was standing in the middle of the street, with two Daleks blocking her way. There was nowhere to run and she would surely be killed right there.

Making a quick decision, Rose pushed Zara into the closest alleyway. “Stay here and don’t move,” she told her.

Zara looked terrified as she crouched on the ground, clutching her knees to her chest. Rose dug into her pockets and drew out the compact laser deluxe. She rarely used it, but kept it on her person just the same. A quick change of the setting from stun to kill, and Rose was ready as she emerged out in the street.

“Oi, you lot!” she shouted and the Daleks turned around as one. Without wasting time, Rose aimed and shot the eyestalk off the first Dalek.

It wailed loudly and Rose ducked into the shadows quickly before the other one could shoot her. Adrenaline pumping in her veins, she recharged the power on her gun as the Dalek started approaching her. Setting the power to max, she aimed right at its gun and shot it. Unlike the Dalek before, this Dalek exploded loudly, killing even the actual creature inside the Dalekanium shell. Rose aimed her gun against the Dalek whose vision had been compromised and proceeded to blow it up.

With the two Daleks destroyed, she saw Zara run out to Becca and the two girls embraced each other tightly.

“We have to move,” Rose told them , stashing her gun away. “Before more of them show up.”

Becca looked at her with gratitude in her eyes. “Thank you so much,” she said.

“Thank me later,” said Rose as she urged the girls along. “Come on, hurry!”

They ran all the way back to the shelter which was an underground bunker with a sturdy vault door as its entrance. It really was no match for the Daleks but the secrecy of its location made it the best hiding spot.

Rose watched as Becca and Zara climbed down into the bunker. They invited her in, but Rose knew that she had to leave this planet soon. Already, she could feel a headache building. Experience had taught her that as soon as she started getting that headache, she had to go away at once.

The girls were disappointed but Rose dug into her pockets for whatever food and supplies she had with her and gave it to them. It would stop them from having to venture out for a week at the very least.

After making sure that the bunker was secure, Rose randomised the coordinates and left the planet at once. She hadn’t even learned the name of the place, she realised, as the loud cheerful chatter of the marketplace nearly knocked her over.

“Miss, are you alright?” the friendly store vendor asked her.

Rose mustered up a small smile and nodded. It looked like she had arrived on Trenzalore again. It was remarkable how many times she landed here. Any more, and she would have to set up a semi-permanent base here, like the one she had in the Swiss Alps. Her Doctor had teased her about her fondness for places with snow, and Trenzalore was just another planet with a rather snowy temperament. The sun only rose for a couple of minutes and turned the planet into a glorious golden ball of light before it would go dark again.

Thinking of Trenzalore brought a sad smile to her face. It was rather apt for her and the Doctor. Her time travelling with the Doctor had been like that brief minutes of sunlight on Trenzalore. Canary Wharf had cast a shadow so dark that it took years for the sun to rise again. When it eventually rose, it was more glorious than ever and the hand in hers would have been hers to hold for the rest of their human lives.

But then the shadows had come back darker than ever, and the sun had never risen again. Seventy eight years, four months and twelve days had passed since the Doctor’s death, but not a single moment passed when she didn’t miss him dearly. The wedding ring had stayed resolutely on her finger even though they had only been married for about six years before the metacrisis had overwhelmed his brain.

A Time Lord consciousness could not be sustained in a brain that was as human as his. His memories were the first to go and towards the end, he could barely even recognise Rose. She had stayed by his side until the very end when his eyes had brightened with the familiar spark for only a moment before his single heart gave up.

His memory sparked the familiar anger and sadness in her heart again. Rose had a lot to be angry about, but she could never decide who she was more angry at: the Metacrisis Doctor for dying, the Time Lord Doctor for abandoning them, herself for being a fool, Torchwood for being far more sinister than she had anticipated, or the universe in general for taking away everything she ever loved from her. Most days, the anger and resentment slept in the back of her mind but after a particularly bad experience like she’d just had, it became more and more difficult for her to maintain her calm.

It was no wonder then, that she wasn’t paying attention when the first lot of air attacks started firebombing the marketplace on Trenzalore. The screams of the people around her and the heat from the burning stalls knocked her out of her reverie and she sprang into action. Before she could do more than analyse the extent of the damage, she saw the attacker’s ship in the sky.

The familiar saucer-shaped ship made an angry growl escape her lips. Fucking Daleks again. They had been on the last three planets that she had visited. If Rose had been more paranoid, she would have thought that they were after her.

But the Daleks had been stirring in this universe very soon after her Doctor’s death. It was as if they were pouring in from an unexplained leak somewhere, and destroying nearly every planet in the sky. Rose knew that they were invading all over time and space, but the how and why had eluded her for nearly eight decades.

And then there were her headaches. Everytime she thought about interfering, she would get slight twinges that would pass soon enough. But the other sort of headaches would be enough to knock her out if she didn’t stop her interference and leave at once. The only thing she could conclude was that whatever was preventing her from aging was also acting as a warning system of when she could interfere and when she should leave well enough alone.

She waited for the familiar painful headaches to start but her head stayed clear and she was still steady on her feet. Rose was surprised. Dalek presence usually meant that the headaches would be near-blinding. A grim smile crossed her face. It looked like it was time to get answers, whatever they might be.

With a determined look upon her face, Rose walked out of the destroyed marketplace and towards the fields where the Dalek ships were starting to land. The doors opened and ramps touched the ground as Daleks began to descend onto the planet’s surface. People screamed and ran for cover, knowing all too well what the Daleks were truly capable of.

Rose was half tempted to just walk in, guns blazing and all, and let the chips fall where they may. Not like she had much to stay alive for, and if she managed to take out these Daleks with her then at least her death would have meant something. But then her rational side kicked her anger back into the recesses of her mind and Rose allowed herself to calm down. She was being stupid and suicidal, and she was neither of those things. The Daleks had to be stopped, but she would do her damndest to make sure that she did it the right away and not through a reckless gamble of her life.

The fields of Trenzalore that had been covered with white snow just mere minutes ago, were charred due to the firebombs and the Dalek spaceships landing. But the strange thing was, the Daleks hadn’t started killing the locals yet. They had descended from their spaceships and were moving their eye stalks and plungers around, as if scanning for something.

Rose wondered briefly who or what they were searching for, when they turned abruptly and went in the direction of the tower. Rose had heard rumours about the tower on her numerous visits to Trenzalore. They said that a truth field existed around the tall structure which activated as soon as one stepped through the gates. The gates forever remained closed, and only opened briefly during a two-day festival.

She had never landed in a time of festivities so she really had no idea what was so important about the tower. It looked like it had been abandoned for years, and been left to fall apart.

“YOU!”

Rose went still when she realised that she had stayed in one hiding place for too long, and been found. She turned around slowly and saw the Dalek right in front of her. Long buried fear of those creatures reared its head and her hands shook as she raised them to her sides.

“DETE-CTING PRE-SENCE OF AR-TRON RADIATION!” announced the Dalek as soon as it scanned her.

Her trembling became worse. She hated those words and could still hear them in her nightmares as clinical voices assessed the artron radiation level before the next needle would…

“YOU WILL COME WITH US.”

Rose glanced behind her and realised that the entire Dalek fleet had surrounded her. There was no way she would be able to take them all out. Yet she was curious about why they hadn’t killed her. They needed her alive but she doubted it was for anything good, judging from past experiences. With a small nod, she started following the Daleks as they moved towards the tower.

As they got closer to the gate, Rose started to feel dizzy like she never had before. Having lived for as long as she had, new physical sensations were extremely rare and she felt her step falter in shock rather than pain.

“MOVE!” The Dalek ordered.

“Alright!” she yelled as she tried to calm her breathing, wishing the world would stop spinning.

“THE FE-MALE’S HEARTBEAT HAS INCREASED.”

Rose resisted the urge to growl in anger. What was with everything reminding her of that day? Wasn’t it enough that she had lived it in her nightmares for years and years?

“THE TRUTH BARRIER IS AFFECTING THE FEMALE.”

“You know, the female is standing right here,” she snapped, trying very hard not to rub at her forehead.

The Daleks ignored her as one of them fired off a single bolt to break open the lock on the gate. The doors swung open and the Daleks as one turned to her.

“YOU WILL ENTER.”

“Why?” asked Rose, annoyed. “Why don’t you go in first?”

“YOU WILL OBEY!”

Throwing a dark glare at the Daleks, Rose started walking towards the gate. With each step she took, her vision became foggier and she was nearly about to collapse when everything cleared at once. Eyes widening with surprise, she looked around and realised that she stepped past the gate into the small yard in front of the tower.

The Daleks came in after her, eye stalks analysing every inch of their surroundings. Rose took the chance to talk to the Dalek that had been ordering her about. His red exterior, different from the grey of the others, proclaimed him to be in charge. “So, what is it that you wanted to get in here for?” she asked.

The Dalek’s eye stalk turned towards her and Rose met the stare unwaveringly. “THIS PLACE HAS BEEN IDEN-TIFIED AS A WEAK SPATIAL AND TEMPORAL POINT,” he said.

Rose’s eyebrows shot up. It had been years since she had heard that term, not since her dimension cannon days at least. “And why are we here?” she asked.

“YOU WILL OPEN THE GATE-WAY.”

“What gateway?” asked Rose warily.

“THE GATEWAY TO THE PRIME UNIVERSE.”

“What makes you think I can open it?” she asked, feeling her heart starting to race.

“THE ART-RON ENERGY IN YOUR PHYSIO-GNOMY WILL ALLOW YOU TO OPEN THE GATE-WAY.”

“You mean you want to use me to create a gap in the void so you lot can go into the other universe. In other words, you will kill me,” said Rose, in a matter-of-fact tone as the truth field did its work.

“CORRECT.”

“Well, that’s not going to happen,” she said, a smile twisting her lips. “I’d rather die than unleash you upon a whole other universe.”

“YOUR CO-OPERATION IS NOT NECE-SSARY!”

“What do you mean? I’m not moving from here. You got that?” she asked, eyes blazing in anger. “You’d have to kill me first.”

“YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED REGARDLESS.”

Rose stopped short at that, though it wasn’t easy. It seemed like the truth field was compelling her to speak, so she pressed her lips together lest she start babbling about the Doctor or something. The truth field was affecting the Daleks too, and it just confirmed her suspicions that whatever she did, they would kill her.

She racked her brain quickly, trying to think something, anything, that would stop them. Her life didn’t matter at this point, all that mattered was that the Daleks wouldn’t survive. This would end right here on Trenzalore.

With a start, she remembered the failsafe that had been built into her vortex manipulator. It had been added almost as an afterthought, and Rose had no idea if it would even work. But she had to try, because she was out of options and there was nothing else she could do.

“Fine,” she said, choosing her words carefully lest the truth field give her intent away. “Lead the way.”

The Daleks started moving towards the tower again and Rose put her hands behind her head to show them that she had surrendered. Praying with every fibre of her being that she was typing in the code correctly into her vortex manipulator, Rose closed her eyes as her button hovered over the confirm button.

“HALT! WE HAVE BEEN DECEIVED!”

Well, it was a good life, Rose decided and pressed the button. The resulting explosion burned bright and golden, and the Daleks screamed in agony as they perished.

Rose could feel the heat behind her eyelids, and her wrist with the vortex manipulator felt like it had melted off her body. The pain was excruciating, coursing through her like every form of torture inflicted all at once. It seemed like it kept happening for years and years, and Rose couldn’t even hear her own screams when she finally hit the ground with a thud.

That’s it, she thought to herself. It’s over.

But she was still breathing and the heat was dying down as she returned slowly to her own mind. The air around her felt different, yet so familiar at the same time and Rose knew that she wasn’t in Pete’s world anymore. Her wrist seemed to be buzzing and she realised just what that hum was.

Keeping her eyes closed lest she was wrong, Rose flexed her fingers and toes experimentally. She braced herself for the pain but there was none. Slowly, she placed her palms on the rough ground beneath her and pushed herself into a sitting position. Her eyes still stayed close, but more for keeping herself from feeling dizzy this time. The feeling passed and Rose slowly got to her feet, wobbling only a little.

Her hand stretched out blindly in front of her looking for some support while her legs tried to stay in place, and she encountered the smooth (yet with just enough roughness) wood beneath her fingers. A smile pulled at her lips as tears pricked her eyes with the realisation of where she was.

Being mindful of keeping her emotions in check, Rose opened her eyes slowly and gave a cry of surprise when they confirmed what her other senses had told her already. She was standing next to the TARDIS, actually the TARDIS, and in the right universe.

Emotions exploded inside her as happiness, excitement, relief and joy warred with anger, sadness, resentment and feelings of abandonment. The tears began to flow in earnest, and Rose made no move to stop them. She had no idea how long she cried for, it could have been hours or minutes, yet when her tears finally dried, Rose realised that she now had to face the Doctor.

She was trying to prepare herself for it when she heard footsteps behind her. Gathering every bit of self-restraint that she had cultivated over the years to slip her face into a mask of neutrality, Rose wiped the tear marks off her face and turned to face the Doctor.

Chapter Text

The Doctor was in shock, not just because of the sudden arrival of this woman, but the state that she was in. Trousers torn around the knees and calves, black coat in tatters on her torso, and dishevelled blonde hair framing a face streaked with dirt, soot, and unless he was mistaken, hastily wiped tears.

Then his eyes saw past the physical appearance and he took an involuntary step back. Everything in his instincts said that she was a human but he had never seen a human like her. He didn’t know what she was, just that she was either the most dangerous thing in the universe, or perhaps the most beautiful. He couldn’t decide which yet.

He drew some comfort from the fact that she looked just as shocked to see him as he did her. That was good at least, she hadn’t been sent to kill him. Because he knew she could, and with very little effort if she wanted to.

Rather abruptly, he straightened his posture and fixed her with a steely look. Just because she was shocked, didn’t mean that she meant him no harm. Times were dangerous and there would be many a people who would want him dead. Or it could be the Sisterhood themselves, since apparently they had tried to convince him to regenerate when he wasn’t actually dying. Perhaps, he ought to…

“Doctor?”

His stance faltered at the vulnerability under the veneer of calm that her voice projected. “Can I help you?” he asked, doing his best to sound as gentle as he could.

Somehow, it had the opposite effect on her. Usually that tone of his calmed people down, but she suddenly straightened up, her gaze fierce and quite a bit angry. “Evidently not,” she said, and the anger being directed at him made him flinch a little.

He was about to demand that she explain herself when his gaze was drawn to the hand that she was resting on his TARDIS. On her wrist was a cobbled together old space hopper, but the glowing bits on top of it he would recognise anywhere. With two steps, he walked up to her and seized her wrist as if to make sure that his eyes weren’t deceiving him.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she yelled furiously, trying to shake his grip on her wrist.

He dropped her hand, though he remained right where he was. “Where did you get that?” he demanded.

“None of your business,” she snapped. “It’s obvious that you don’t know who I am which means I can’t tell you even if I wanted to.”

“I don’t give out my TARDIS coral like candy to strangers,” he said, sounding quite furious. Why would he tear a piece of his TARDIS apart like this? Unless, he hadn’t and his TARDIS had been harvested…

“Is that what you did then? Killed me and tore my TARDIS apart to enhance your little space hopper?” he demanded.

She looked at him like he was mad. “I would never hurt her like that,” she said angrily. “You gave it to me, you egotistical, selfish alien git.”

He abruptly stepped back at that. Not only had she addressed his TARDIS like a person, but she had sounded sincere when she had told him that he had been the one to give her that. He nodded slowly, showing that he believed her and was relieved when she relaxed a little too. “So, you are from my future?” he asked, doing his best to keep his voice calm as he wondered what his future self was playing at, sending whoever she was in the middle of a warzone. Especially in Kasterborous.

“Yes,” she said, and almost involuntarily her hand went to the ring on her finger that he hadn’t completely focused on yet. “We got separated, different universes and all. I wasn’t exactly planning on returning,” she added defensively. “It just sort of happened.”

His brow furrowed in confusion. “That makes no sense whatsoever,” he said. “I understand that parallel universes have been sealed out to stop the war spilling into different universes but surely if you are from the future, they have been opened by now.”

She was looking at him with wide, horrified eyes. “The war? What war?” she asked, as if she already knew the answer.

For an almost absurd second, he wanted to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of that question. No one asked that question anymore. It was just the one war now. Every higher life form knew it was happening, and even the lower life forms were aware that something was not quite right with the universe. But then her horror registered with him. She was from the future, hence she knew exactly what had happened. He had been right about her being dangerous, but not for the reasons he had thought of before. She was dangerous because she knew too much. She knew the way it ended.

She seemed to have realised the same and she looked terrified for the first time since he had seen her. “I have to go,” she said slowly.

“You can’t,” he said.

She looked at him like he was mad. “Have you lost it? I can’t be here, don’t you understand?” she asked.

He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. “I understand perfectly,” he said. “I didn’t mean you shouldn’t, I meant you cannot leave. The entire constellation of Kasterborous is existing in a time lock. No one can travel beyond it. It was one of the first things that the Council did to stop the war from spreading.”

“What about my vortex manipulator? Can’t it…?” she asked.

“No. In fact, unless I’m mistaken, it has already broken down,” he said.

She looked at him in shock and then started pressing the buttons on the vortex manipulator frantically, until she realised he was right.

“Time travel isn’t permitted for anyone who doesn’t have a TARDIS, and even then you cannot leave the time lock,” he said. “I am sorry.”

She slumped a little, and he realised that she looked exhausted. His eyes flicked between the TARDIS coral parts on her wrist and his ship, and he finally understood how she had bypassed the sealed universes to arrive there. A sharp gasp escaped him, and she looked up at him inquiringly.

“Won’t you come in?” he asked, doing his best to sound calm.

She looked at him in confusion. “Is that really wise?” she asked.

“Wiser than us standing out here,” he said as he walked up to the TARDIS doors.

“May I?” she asked as he went to unlock it.

He glanced back at her in surprise, and saw the glimmer of excitement in her golden brown eyes. Funny how he hadn’t noticed them before, but now he found himself quite unable to look away. “Of course,” he said almost reflexively, and he realised it was worth it when the excitement in her eyes grew.

She stepped around him, unaware that his eyes had locked onto her like a magnet, and drew out a key on a silver chain from around her neck. It wasn’t quite the right key, this ordinary Yale key in her hand, but it slid in just the same and the lock turned under it. A rather enchanting smile lit up her face as she pushed the door open and stepped inside.

For a moment, he wished his old interior had still been there. He knew she would have loved it. But he had got rid of it a while ago, in a time that he didn’t remember with much fondness. The interior now was much like the older, bare white ones that he had preferred when he had been younger. Except he had kept the cavernous quality of the console room, and some of the roundels had golden light filtering through them. A few cables had come loose, and were hanging over their heads but he had done his best to loop them around so it looked like it was part of her charm rather than him avoiding fixing it up.

He was about to turn to her and let loose the barrage of questions on his mind, but they got stuck in his throat when he looked at her. She was standing utterly still, with a smile on her face, and tears flowing down her cheeks. One of her hands rested on the time rotor and he could have sworn the old girl sounded a little brighter in his head.

“It’s Rose,” she said, after a few moments of silence. “Rose Tyler, that’s my name.”

He smiled a little at that. “Nice to meet you, Rose Tyler,” he said.

She turned to him, and her eyes sparkled with laughter. “So I have heard,” she said and it occurred to him that he might have said that the first time he met her. Before he could try and think of a response to that, Rose let her smile drop and crossed her arms in front of her. “Why didn’t you ever say that we had met now?” she asked.

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, glad that he had kept it shorter rather than the poncey style that he had regenerated with. “There are two explanations for it. One, it technically hasn’t happened yet which means that my older self will not remember this. It’s a basic temporal sense in every Time Lord. Keeps us from getting into a lot of trouble,” he explained.

“What’s the other one?” asked Rose.

“We are in a time lock,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Everything we do here is happening all over time and at the same time.”

Her brow furrowed. “What’s that mean?” she asked. “No, you know what? It’s fine. So, it’s not exactly dangerous if we talk about the future right?”

He sighed again, and sounded much more reluctant to answer this time. “It’s why I invited you inside, apart from the fact you look like you could use a cup of tea that is,” he said, and watched as her lips quirked up into a little smile. “You know how this war ends, and I know that time is in flux and everything, but I will ask only one thing of you, Rose Tyler. Never, no matter how much I beg, plead, threaten and ask, never ever tell me how this war ends,” he said, speaking slowly and clearly as if wanting to make absolutely certain that she understood.

She raised her eyebrows at his tone. “Wouldn’t have done it anyway,” she said. “What if you try to change something and end up making it worse?”

“That is exactly why I am telling you,” he said, glad that she understood.

“So, at what point exactly did we establish that I am coming with you?” she asked, tilting her head towards him in question.

“I realise I have no right to make your decisions for you, Rose,” he said. “But with what you know, you would be the safest with me. Not everyone in this war will be prepared to take my view of remaining ignorant of the future. Hell, even my previous self would have demanded every bit of information you possess. I can take you to one of the safe zones and keep you there. Like a witness protection program.”

“No,” said Rose.

“No?” he repeated incredulously.

“You’re not putting me in some safe zone like a china doll. I’m coming with you,” she said determined.

“I am walking into the most dangerous war this cosmos has ever seen. I am not taking you in there with me,” he said sternly.

“Well, tough, ‘cos I am stayin’ right here,” she said. “And she’ll back me on this one,” she added, jabbing her thumb towards the rotor.

She was probably right, but he wasn’t going to let her know that. “Rose, if you do this, I cannot guarantee your survival. Think of what you would be leaving behind. Think of your husband,” he said, with a pointed look at her ring. “Doesn’t he need you?”

For a moment, it looked like she was going to slap him but then her shoulders started shaking and hysterical laughter burst from her lips. “You...you...oh my god…” she gasped, tears rolling from her eyes.

He crossed his arms, rather taken aback at her reaction. He waited patiently for her to finish laughing, and answer him. “Something funny?” he asked casually.

She chuckled and wiped off the tears from her face. “I hate the universe sometimes,” she said quietly and he wasn’t sure if he was meant to hear that. She smiled at him and shrugged almost too casually. “Haven’t got anyone,” she said. “Mum, dad and brother are dead. My husband died even before that. Can’t have any kids. Not exactly got much to lose.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, automatically though he felt his hearts sink. With the TARDIS coral given to her, and the sparkle in her eyes that he had seen only briefly, he had just assumed that maybe they were...but they clearly weren’t since she talked about being separated from him by a universe, not by death. He really shouldn’t feel disappointed by it, but it looked like he couldn’t help it.

Her eyes softened as she smiled more genuinely at him rather than the bitter smile that was worse than a grimace. “Doctor, believe me, there is nowhere else better for me than here. I can help, I have been doing that for a while now. You said it yourself, this war is the worst thing to ever happen to the cosmos. You’re going to stop it, I know you are, but you can’t do it on your own. Let me help. Please,” she said.

He stared at her stunned, wondering how she knew just the right thing to say. As reluctant he was to take her into war, he could see the hardened soldier in her and knew that she was an asset. Besides, it always felt better when you had someone with you. “Better with two, eh?” he asked, feeling an odd ripple pass over him that made him wonder if they’d had this sort of a conversation in the future.

She grinned brightly at him, a truly beautiful smile that was tinged with only a little sadness. “Better with two,” she agreed.

He smiled back at her and nodded. “Very well then,” he said. “You must want to get cleaned up, I expect. And a change of clothes.”

She looked down at herself, and nodded quickly. “I won’t take long. Just give me a few minutes,” she said.

“No matter, take your time,” he said. She turned to go, and he called out to her again. “Rose?”

“Yeah?” she asked, turning back.

“This may seem like an odd request,” he said shyly. “But could I have a hug?” Her eyes went wide as she stared at him with her mouth open. He clarified himself hastily. “I failed to save a young woman from a crashing spaceship today. She is being laid to rest as we speak. But if you’d rather…”

Rose was in front of him with quick steps, and had wrapped her arms around him before he could finish. He hugged her back gladly, holding onto her like a lifeline. The hug lasted for several long moments, and he could feel her single heart beating madly as she buried her face in his shoulder. He stroked her hair almost tentatively, as if afraid that she would pull away if he pushed it too far.

Finally, Rose loosened her grip on him and the Doctor let go of her slowly, his hands lingering in her hair as they pulled away. He could see the tears in her eyes but she seemed to be smiling as she turned to go further into the TARDIS to freshen up.

As soon as she was gone, the Doctor let his smile drop and held up the single golden hair that he had managed to pluck from her head.

It was time to see exactly what Rose Tyler was.

Chapter Text

Rose was still in a bit of a daze as she walked through the corridor, hoping the TARDIS would point her in the right direction. For all her anger and resentment towards him, Rose would be lying if she said that she had never wanted to see the Doctor again. But she had never expected to end up here of all places.

But perhaps it would be a good thing, she decided, as she saw a solitary wood panelled door at the end of the corridor. This was the worst time in the Doctor’s life, and if nothing else she could be a friend and his hand to hold. Her Doctor didn’t talk a lot about the war but Rose had been there when the inevitable nightmares would sneak up on him. Anything she could do to make sure to reduce that pain he would feel, she was willing to do.

She opened the door, and was a bit surprised to find a brand new room beyond it. Good thing too, since Rose didn’t think she would be that fond of her old room especially without all her things in it. Or perhaps, even if they were there by some quirk of time and space, she would still be uncomfortable with all her memories in there.

This new room was almost the same size as her old room, and had parchment coloured walls and dark rosewood furniture. The duvet and sheets on the bed were a deep shade of red that matched the carpet on the floor. The ensuite was much the same as before, but with unidentifiable labels on the bottles of shampoo and soap.

Rose knew that TARDIS wouldn’t give her something that she would be allergic to or anything, so she set about shedding her clothes and stepping into the shower. As she stood under the spray, she took a moment to analyse her injuries. There were light scratches on her calves but they had already turned pink and would heal in their own time. Her shoulders felt stiff, though a few moments under the warm spray of water worked wonders.

The worst injury was her wrist with the vortex manipulator. There was a long, ugly scar spanning around her wrist, that looked worse than it felt. Rose flexed her wrist a little and decided that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. She wasn’t particularly concerned about the scar; not like she didn’t have enough of them already.

Her hair shampooed and conditioned, body scrubbed of dirt, sweat and god-knows-what else, Rose stepped out of the shower and picked up the big white towel on the rack to dry herself and a smaller one for her hair. Emerging into her room with the towel wrapped around her, she started searching the wardrobe for appropriate clothes. Everything in there looked brand new, so Rose grabbed a set of clothes, making sure that they would be practical enough for whatever was about to come rather than anything else.

The black trousers certainly felt sturdy as she pulled them on, as did the midnight blue jumper that fit her just snugly enough. There was a black coat very similar to her ruined one sitting in the wardrobe, and Rose sent a silent thanks to the TARDIS as she picked it up. It was double-breasted and had a tie around the waist and a little longer than the one she had before but it fit just as well, and Rose felt much better once she had it on.

She would be okay, she realised, as she finished getting ready. She was strong enough.

~

The Doctor was staring at the results on the TARDIS monitor, his eyes fixed on the words. It wasn’t possible, it just wasn’t.

“Doctor?”

He switched the monitor off and turned around to greet her. She did look much better after having cleaned up, yet somewhat more closed off than she had seemed before. Or perhaps it was the way she had chosen to dress herself in dark, severe colours with her hair in a tight French braid. Everything from the military boots on her feet to her stance seemed awfully familiar and he wondered briefly who she reminded him of.

“Hello Rose,” he said with a quick smile. “Find everything alright?”

“Yeah, thanks,” she nodded with a small smile. “Uh, I didn’t know what to do with this,” she said, holding up the vortex manipulator that was now all but useless.

The Doctor took it from her and placed it near the rotor. “I’ll leave it here for now. You never know, we might find a use for it after all.”

Rose nodded with a small smile. “So, anywhere we have to be?” she asked.

He nodded and flicked a switch next to the monitor so that when he turned it on, it wouldn’t display those results. “A standard check of the war outposts,” he said. “We can start with Viridian. It’s the closest one to Karn and one of the biggest ones.”

“What exactly do these outposts do?” asked Rose.

“Some of them are defensive positions, strategically speaking,” he said as he started to steer the TARDIS away. “Others, like Viridian, are resource planets.”

“What resources does Viridian have?” asked Rose with interest.

“Metals of almost every kind, making it invaluable to Daleks and Time Lords alike,” said the Doctor as the TARDIS started to materialise with the usual sounds.

“And why are we going there?” asked Rose as the TARDIS landed on Viridian.

“Viridian is the foremost Gallifreyan outpost set up to engineer weapons needed to fight this war,” said the Doctor as he and Rose stepped out of the TARDIS.

The planet outside looked empty of all life, yet the tall glass buildings and concrete roads were spotless. There was an odd sort of a hush in the air, as if the smallest of sounds would bring forth chaos.

“Still doesn’t answer why we are here,” said Rose in an automatic whisper.

He stared at Rose for a moment before answering. “I want to see what they have been up to,” he said, leading her down the concrete road.

“Don’t you know?” she asked, sounding surprised.

He looked distinctly uncomfortable at that. “No,” he admitted.

“That doesn’t sound like you,” she snorted. At his raised eyebrows, she rolled her eyes. “Oh come on, you said yourself that this was the biggest war in the cosmos and you, of all people, would not have kept your nose out of it. Especially when it comes to weapons.”

He glared at her furiously. “What is that supposed to mean?” he asked, feeling some dread at the thought of the man he would become.

She rolled her eyes again. “I meant, the weapons factory would have found itself burnt to the ground and have a banana grove on it instead if you thought they were doing something wrong,” she said.

He barked out a small laugh at that, his demeanour softening. “You are not wrong,” he said. “I have actually kept my nose out of it. Wilful ignorance, as a matter of fact. It is something I regret,” he admitted softly.

Rose’s eyes melted in compassion. “You tried to stay away from the war, didn’t you?” she asked.

He looked at her in surprise. “How did you know?” he asked.

“I know you,” she said with a rather sad smile. “Why now, though? Why set aside your rules now?”

“I haven’t set my rules aside, Rose,” he said with a sigh. “But I won’t stand by as the universe gets slaughtered to bits in this bitter, endless war. I intend to end it, by any means necessary, if it means the survival of the universe.”

Rose stared at him for a long moment before nodding. “Okay,” she said simply as they continued walking. “Just one question.”

“Yes?” he asked.

“Have you realised that we are being followed?” she asked.

Without missing a beat, his lips quirked up. “Of course. Ever since we left the TARDIS, in fact. Would you like to come with me into that dark alley so that we may ambush our pursuer?” he asked.

Rose’s smile was bright and lovely. “Thought you’d never ask,” she said, slipping her hand into his as they rounded the corner and took cover to hide from their tail.

Rose’s mind drifted to her time with Zara and she suppressed a shiver, though judging by the way that the Doctor stiffened made her think that she hadn’t exactly succeeded. He looked at her in concern but she avoided his gaze as they hid in the shadows.

Their pursuer’s steps sounded almost metallic and Rose racked her brains to remember where she had that sound before. She got her answer a moment later when the four-legged metallic spider scurried up and started scanning the area, undoubtedly looking for them. It was different than the ones Cassandra had used, and looked sturdier and more menacing than she would have expected a spider made of metal to look.

She looked at the Doctor and found him frowning thoughtfully. A moment later, he dropped Rose’s hand and left their hiding place, presumably to confront the spider. Rose rolled her eyes at his back before going after him. The spider turned towards them as they approached it.

“Hello, where did you come from?” asked the Doctor in a way that someone would greet a stray kitten.

The spider made no move to respond, just kept completely still. Rose felt a sense of unease, but the Doctor seemed mostly unperturbed. “Who sent you then, eh? Could you take us to your leader?” he asked.

The sense of dread worsened, and just as the red scanning light on the spider got a little brighter, Rose seized the Doctor and pulled him away. The laser from the spider hit the spot where the Doctor’s head had been moments before.

“Run!” shouted Rose as she dragged the Doctor behind her.

The two of them ran down the concrete road of the seemingly deserted outpost, the metallic clink clink of their pursuer’s legs sounding behind them. “We have to lose it,” said Rose as they ran.

“Quick!” said the Doctor, thrusting the sonic screwdriver in her hands. “When I say so, point and activate it.”

Rose took the sonic screwdriver, different from the ones she had seen before, and watched as the Doctor tossed a red marble at the spider. The marble burst open into a mesh that engulfed the spider and at his shout, Rose pointed the sonic screwdriver at it and pushed the button.

The whole thing sparked and the spider broke down into pieces as it was destroyed. The Doctor and Rose turned to each other in relief, and Rose gave him his screwdriver back.

“That’s that then,” said the Doctor with a grin. “And now…”

“Onto the secret weapons base?” asked Rose.

“Indeed,” he nodded as they continued along the road towards the tall green glass building. It stood out like an emerald among the others, though there was still no sign of life.

“Shouldn’t we have seen someone by now?” asked Rose uneasily. “They’re hardly likely to send one metallic spider after us and then just let us have a wander around their secret weapons base.”

“Unless…” said the Doctor.

“Unless what?” asked Rose.

“Unless, there really is no one here,” he said.

Rose raised her eyebrows. “You said this was one of the biggest outposts,” she said flatly.

“Well, yes, and look around you. Does it really feel like a major outpost during a chaotic war?” he asked.

Rose sighed and tucked a few errant strands from her braid behind her ear. “What about the spider then? Someone must have sent it after us, right?”

“Not if it was just left behind,” he shrugged.

“Doesn’t really make sense to abandon an outpost suddenly, does it? It doesn’t look like it’s been attacked,” she said, looking at the pristine buildings and roads.

He smiled bitterly. “You really don’t understand, do you? The war isn’t the Daleks and Time Lords shooting guns at each other and blowing things up. Each side has gathered their allies, either by persuasion or force, and have been ranging a complex warfare over all of time and space. Whole species are being wiped from creation, some were never born at all and time itself is being used as a weapon. Whatever happened here, despite all appearances, was rather brutal.”

“So what then?” asked Rose. “We can’t just stand here. Shouldn’t we be scanning for something? Find out if there are traces of who or what attacked Viridian.”

He nodded. “Yes, we do,” he said as he pushed open the door that led to the lobby of the green building. “We should…” he stopped and turned sharply in the direction of a storage closet that had creaked open slowly.

Rose turned too, having seen the door open, and stifled a gasp as a man emerged from beyond it, stumbling on his feet. He looked ancient; loose skin hanging over bones, eyes that were half-blind and the green robes on him at least three times too big for his weak, thin frame. The Doctor and Rose ran to him, and the man collapsed in the Doctor’s arms.

He was saying something and it sounded like grunts and whispers to Rose, though she caught an occasional word. She wondered if the TARDIS wasn’t translating for some reason, but then the man lost consciousness and unless she was mistaken, he had stopped breathing altogether.

“Is he…?” she asked in a small voice.

The Doctor looked horror-struck as he lowered the man’s body to the floor. “Yes, he’s dead,” he said, as if he was in a daze.

“Did you know him?” she asked, looking at him in concern.

“No,” he said, and his voice held much regret. “But he was a Time Lord.”

Rose gasped and looked down at the man. She could see no signs of regeneration. “Why isn’t he...you know, changing?” she asked.

“He’s run out,” said the Doctor flatly. “Burnt through all his regeneration. In a span of a few decades.”

“How is that possible?” she asked, shocked. “And what did he keep talking about? He sounded like he was grunting and slurring his words.”

“Did you understand anything of what he said?” asked the Doctor, still staring down at the dead Time Lord.

Rose’s brow furrowed at the odd question. “I guess so,” she said. “He kept saying something about shadows and houses, I think.”

The Doctor tore his eyes away and looked at Rose in surprise. “Yes, he did,” he said. “He said ‘Shadow Houses’, to be precise.”

“And what are Shadow Houses?” asked Rose.

“A myth,” snapped the Doctor unexpectedly. “He was confused and had no idea what he was talking about.”

Rose raised her eyebrows. “Or, he was telling the truth and they aren’t a myth,” she said gently.

The Doctor rubbed his forehead in irritation. “Shadow Houses were a myth. In all my years, I have never seen an honest-to-goodness Shadow House on Gallifrey,” he said, insistently.

“Doctor, now is not the time to debate mythology,” snapped Rose. “Myth or not, we have to get to the bottom of this and if you could suspend your disbelief for one moment, we might be able to get some answers. So, what exactly are Shadow Houses and why exactly are you so adamant that they didn’t exist?” she demanded.

The Doctor glared at her and looked away. “Shadow Houses were said to hold Time Lords whose regenerations had gone wrong. Discarded as being harmful or useless, they were tossed away in these houses, hidden away from the rest of Time Lord society,” he said and then looked down at the Time Lord. “He said he was from the Shadow Houses and that he was being used for feeding.”

“Feeding what?” asked Rose, horrified.

The Doctor closed his eyes. “He didn’t say,” he admitted. “But he was telling the truth, about the feeding part anyway. Someone has been feasting on his life force. They drained it out of him until he aged and aged and regenerated until he couldn’t anymore. Then they tossed the husk out,” he said, anger colouring his tone.

Rose swallowed back her revulsion. “Daleks?” she guessed.

The Doctor laughed bitterly. “I wish,” he said.

Rose looked at him in horror. “Time Lords?” she asked in disbelief.

“No one else it could be,” he said, his face closed off.

Rose nodded rather sadly and looked at the Time Lord on the floor. “We can’t leave him here like this,” she said.

The Doctor nodded and drew out a small silver sphere from his pocket that he set on the Time Lord’s chest. He crossed his hands on top of it before pulling Rose away as they retreated a few steps. The silver sphere emitted an iridescent purple flame that engulfed the Time Lord’s body.

“We burn our dead,” said the Doctor softly.

Rose’s eyes were forlorn as she stared at the flames. “Yes,” she said. “I know.”

The Doctor looked at her in question but she avoided his gaze. The purple flame burned brighter and took the Time Lord’s body with it as it extinguished completely, leaving only a charred mark on the floor. Rose blinked, as if returning back to the present from a memory and turned away.

“So,” she said, looking at the Doctor. “What do we do now?”

“The lift is through here,” said the Doctor as they walked further into the lobby. “I think we ought to find an archives room.”

“Or a security room,” said Rose shrewdly. “They might have records monitoring Viridian. Split up?”

The Doctor nodded reluctantly and pointed at the numbers in the lift. “Security is level 3, archives is 18. Meet me back in the lobby in an hour.”

Rose gave him a nod as the doors opened on level 3. Like a proper office building, it was posh and quiet but there was not a soul in sight. She walked out of the lift and went towards the large room with monitors set all around it. She was just about to start browsing through their last recorded data when she heard a sound rather like a TARDIS materialising.

She snapped around and gasped in surprise when a woman wearing all black materialised into the room, holding a bracelet in her hands. “Time Ring,” she said as soon as she had become properly solid. “Horrid way to travel.”

“Who the hell are you?” asked Rose.

The woman gave a sinister smile. “I am the Rani. Welcome to the domain of Morbius.”

~

The Doctor tried not to jiggle his foot impatiently as the lift climbed its way up the floors. Finally, it arrived on level 18 and he got out at once, eager to get to the bottom of this whole mess.

Level 18 was just as quiet as the rest of Viridian, and the Doctor realised that it had been divided into sections based on the year. He went to move towards the most recent data cubes when he realised that there was a Time Lord already sitting at the magnificent desk in the middle of the room. His head was bent over the data cube in his hand, but the grand robes proclaimed him to be the President of the Council, an absurdity in itself.

“I knew you would not stay away for long, Doctor,” he said as the Doctor approached him.

“And you ought to know not to wear clothes that don’t belong to you,” said the Doctor, a chill running down his spine.

The man looked up and gave a tired smile. “They will belong to me soon enough, Doctor,” he said. “Your friend, Romana, is it? She is trying her best but her best is not enough to win this war.”

“You’re not saying that the Time Lords resurrected you?” said the Doctor, hoping with all his being he was wrong.

“Resurrected me?” he sounded amused. “Oh my dear Doctor, not only did they resurrect me, they emptied Viridian for my use, and have been feeding me excellent Time Lord life force to nourish me back to the height of my power.”

The Doctor’s hands trembled with rage. “I realised that the situation is rather desperate but I failed to recognise how low they had fallen to bring the likes of you back to life,” said the Doctor viciously.

It only served to amuse him further. “I would not be so quick to judge, Doctor. Time Lords from the Shadow Houses are well and good, but I require more. The spirit of a warrior, the brains of a scientist and the body of a fighter,” he said, getting to his feet slowly.

“You shall not have my life, Morbius,” said the Doctor.

Morbius threw his head back and laughed loudly. “YOU? You pathetic disgrace of a Time Lord, you dare assume I shall seek your life force? RANI! Bring her forth.”

The Doctor’s blood went cold when he saw the Rani carrying an unconscious Rose in her arms. Morbius smirked at him in amusement as Rose was laid down on the desk. “The Artron energy in her is powerful than any Time Lord that Gallifrey could produce, and the Huon particles in her bloodstream are stronger than many of the TARDISes we produced for this war.”

“Don’t even try,” said the Rani, pointing a blaster at the Doctor when he tried to move towards Rose.

Morbius was too lost in his imminent victory to pay any attention to them. He smirked triumphantly at the Doctor and raised his hand to touch Rose’s temple. “It is her life force that I seek, Doctor, for it is her life that shall bring back Morbius! And with me, shall come the end of this war and victory for ME!”

Chapter Text

Previously

The Doctor’s blood went cold when he saw the Rani carrying an unconscious Rose in her arms. Morbius smirked at him in amusement as Rose was laid down on the desk. “The Artron energy in her is powerful than any Time Lord that Gallifrey could produce, and the Huon particles in her bloodstream are stronger than many of the TARDISes we produced for this war.”

“Don’t even try,” said the Rani, pointing a blaster at the Doctor when he tried to move towards Rose.

Morbius was too lost in his imminent victory to pay any attention to them. He smirked triumphantly at the Doctor and raised his hand to touch Rose’s temple. “It is her life force that I seek, Doctor, for it is her life that shall bring back Morbius! And with me, shall come the end of this war and victory for ME!”

“Brain of a scientist, really?” came Rose’s voice as her eyes snapped open. “I didn’t even pass my A-levels.”

“Down, girl!” shouted the Rani as she turned around and shot Morbius straight in the chest.

The Doctor stared in shock as the Rani lowered her gun and then helped Rose get to her feet. “What?” was all he could manage.

The Rani and Rose exchanged a look. “Who the hell are you?” asked Rose.

The woman gave a sinister smile. “I am the Rani. Welcome to the domain of Morbius.”

Rose looked at her warily. “You’re a Time Lord?” she asked.

“Yes,” said the Rani. “As is Morbius. I am, well, his keeper you could say.”

“Is this Morbius the one who needs to feed on Time Lords?” asked Rose, crossing her arms.

The Rani raised her eyebrows. “Yes,” she said. “The Time Lords emptied this outpost so that they could safely house Morbius until he was stable enough. I was put in charge of bringing him the supplies for the life force and...persuade him to impart his knowledge of temporal weaponry.”

It was Rose’s turn to raise her eyebrows. “And you’re telling me all of this because?” she asked.

The Rani smirked. “My orders have recently changed. Morbius is more of a liability than an asset and I have been asked to...dispose of him. You wouldn’t even have to do much. Just play dead for a while.”

Rose still looked wary, but gave a small nod.

“Come, we have to take him to the basement,” said the Rani now as she holstered her weapon.

“Isn’t he dead?” asked Rose as the Doctor tossed Morbius’ unconscious form over his shoulder and they headed back to the lift.

“Not as easy to kill him, I’m afraid,” said the Rani. “He got the Council to enact several failsafes to make sure that they didn’t betray him.”

“What I want to know is why they resurrected him in the first place,” said the Doctor, still looking furious.

The Rani looked at him with an almost pitying look. “You really have no inkling of how bad things really are, do you?” she asked, and then continued without waiting for him to answer. “Temporal engineers are being taken by Dalek scout ships at an alarming rate, and there are rumours of an advanced Dalek Time Controller surfacing again. Morbius could have proven useful, especially with a military brain like his, had he not lost his grip on sanity.”

The Doctor’s jaw clenched tightly. “The Dalek Time Controller?” he asked. “Where?”

“Intelligence is still being gathered. I dare say we shall know more in the coming days,” said the Rani as they arrived back in the lobby.

“And where do you fit into all of this, Rani? Since when do you care?” asked the Doctor harshly.

She turned and glared coldly at him. “Like it or not, Doctor, this affects us all and I am no exception to it. The sooner this mess gets sorted out, the better for me. I cannot continue in my research if my menagerie is constantly under threat by Dalek invading forces,” she said, and opened the stairway door that led to the basement.

“Compassionate as ever, Rani,” snorted the Doctor bitterly.

The Rani smiled sweetly at him, her eyes glinting. “Which of the two of us has been running from the war like a coward again?” she asked.

The Doctor scowled at her, but Rose interrupted before he could snap back. “Right, enough you two,” she said sharply. “How are we dealing with the unconscious maniac of a Time Lord we are carting around?”

The Rani shot the Doctor a glare before turning to Rose. “He is not stable enough for a full regeneration yet, but he can heal himself with a device he created to harness the regenerative energy from the radiation in the Time Lock.”

“So, as long as the Time Lock exists, he can just heal himself and not die?” asked Rose in disbelief. “And your lot agreed to that?”

“We didn’t even know he was capable of making something of the sort,” snapped the Rani. “As soon as the Council found out, they asked me to get rid of him. Except, it’s not exactly easy to do.”

“Where’s this device?” asked the Doctor.

“In the basement over here,” said the Rani, as she scanned her Time Ring over the lock to the vault-like door in the basement which hissed open. “There is a way to break the connection that Morbius has with the radiation in the Time Lock.”

The Doctor had set Morbius down into one of the two chairs inside the small, dark room. With a quick glance at the equipment around him, he turned around and glared fiercely at the Rani. “Is this a joke, Rani?” he demanded. “This isn’t really the time for mind-bending competitions, you know.”

“Morbius modified it so that he could be the only one to harness that regenerative energy, Doctor,” said the Rani coolly. “We need another mental signature to overwhelm his so that the connection may be severed.”

“Absolutely not. I refuse,” said the Doctor furiously.

“I wasn’t going to ask you,” said the Rani as she drew her weapon out again and pointed it at Rose.

“Don’t get her involved in this mess, Rani. You and the Time Lords did this,” snapped the Doctor angrily.

“It is either you or her. Don’t you dare tell me you would rather it was you,” countered the Rani.

“Can you two not talk about me like I’m not here,” Rose interrupted loudly. She crossed her arms. “What exactly is mind-bending?” she asked.

“Time Lord wrestling,” said the Doctor shortly. “Two Time Lords pitting their telepathic strengths against each other.”

“And how am I supposed to do it if it’s Time Lord wrestling?” asked Rose, turning to the Rani.

“Do not play coy with me, girl,” said the Rani coldly. “The Time Lords tend to take notice when an anomaly breaches a Time Lock to land right in the middle of the warzone. Especially an anomaly such as you.”

“Yeah, yeah, bursting with artron radiation, ample amounts of Huon particles in the bloodstream, negligible cellular decay, all with a 100% human DNA,” Rose rattled off to the astonished look on the two Time Lords’ faces. “Prolonged exposure to the vortex will do that to you.”

“You knew?” asked the Doctor.

“Yes, as did you, I suppose,” she said, a bit coolly when she noticed his lack of surprise. “Did your lot tell you or did you scan me when I wasn’t looking?”

The Doctor had the grace to look ashamed. Rose chuckled humourlessly. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. You could have just asked, you know. Not like I was keeping it a secret or anything.”

“Informative as this no doubt is, our pressing problem is Morbius,” interrupted the Rani. “He knows the Time Lords have betrayed him and he will seek vengeance unless he is stopped. You girl, get into the chair,” she added, jabbing her gun at Rose.

“No,” said the Doctor. “If it’s another Time Lord you need, then I’ll happily volunteer. Morbius is my problem, not Rose’s.”

The Rani glared at him. “You foolish idiot, his brain is still a lot superior to yours. He will kill you,” she said. “If we use the girl, then we kill two birds with one stone. Morbius will be defeated and we might learn more about what this creature really is,” she added with a sneer.

Rose rolled her eyes. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to be such a bigot?” she asked.

“Quiet, girl!” snapped the Rani and turned to the Doctor, who was looking slightly thoughtful. “You know I am right, Doctor.”

His gaze snapped to the Rani and he smiled a little. “Oh, how little you really know me, Rani,” he said as he got in the chair himself. “Wake Morbius. I think it is time I put an end to your mess.”

“Hang about, I should do it if you are going to die,” said Rose while the Rani fumed.

The Doctor smiled at Rose. “Oh, don’t worry, Rose,” he said as he strapped the contraption to his forehead. “I have done this before, you know. I defeated him then, and I will do so again. Not to mention, I was the Eighth Man Bound.”

The Rani lowered her gun and glared at him fiercely. “Fine!” she snapped and reversed the quantum bullets that she had shot Morbius with.

The Time Lord awoke with a gasp and looked around frantically. Upon seeing himself sitting opposite the Doctor with his beloved device between them, he raised his eyebrows. “Mind-bending? You dare challenge me again, Doctor?” he demanded.

“Less talking, more thinking, Morbius,” said the Doctor, closing his eyes. Are you ready?

Morbius’ voice was gloating as their minds began to battle. My mind is far superior to yours, Doctor. Defeating you shall be a pleasure. And then I shall take the girl. Her life force shall be mine, Doctor, and the Time Lords shall suffer for this betrayal.

The Doctor, on the other hand, stayed far calmer. You really ought to focus, you know. I have already driven back to, let’s see...oh, look, this is the body you attempted to gain with Zarodnix’s help.

And I have taken you back to your seventh regeneration, Doctor. Was it he who created the girl? Hmm, it would certainly be his style.

What are you on about? The Doctor was confused by the turn of the conversation, though he did have a nasty idea of what it was about.

Oh, don’t pretend you do not understand, Doctor. Morbius sounded smug now. The girl, Rose, she was exposed to the time vortex consistent with the heart of a TARDIS. That she sought you out when she breached the Time Lock tells me that it was your TARDIS’s heart that she looked into. Question is, did you do it deliberately? Pick up a silly human from a backwater planet and create a perfect temporal warrior?

Don’t be ridiculous, Morbius. That is far-fetched even for you. You are just hoping to distract me since I am close to defeating you. The Doctor could sense his own lack of conviction.

Think whatever you want, Doctor, but don’t deny the obvious explanation. I can see that you have thought of it yourself too. Was she a weapon your future self created and sent back to you? Can you really be sure that she was sent back by you, and not by someone else who seeks to gain from this war? How much do you really know about this Rose Tyler, Doctor?

~

“Is this supposed to take so long?” asked Rose, clenching her fists anxiously as she saw the Doctor and Morbius stay perfectly still with their eyes closed.

“Could take seconds, minutes, hours, days, even months,” said the Rani in a bored voice. “You heard the Doctor, he was the Eighth Man Bound.”

“Yeah, what is that anyway?” asked Rose.

“A game,” said the Rani with a scowl. “To see how far you could push your telepathic capabilities and glance at your future regenerations. Some catch one or two if they are lucky, most of the others just regenerate or die doing it.”

“But the Doctor saw more?” asked Rose.

“Eighth Man Bound,” said the Rani, looking rather put out. “He saw eight of his future selves. A record in itself, not to mention incredibly telling that it should be this face he saw last all those years ago as an Initiate.”

“This is the Eighth Doctor?” asked Rose in surprise.

The Rani raised her eyebrows. “You didn’t know? Curious,” she murmured. “So, while he is otherwise unoccupied, why don’t you tell me the truth?”

“About what exactly? You think I am an anomalous creature, remember?” asked Rose, her tone slightly mocking.

“Perhaps that was a bit harsh,” conceded the Rani. “But you cannot fault me for being cautious. These are dangerous times and I am not as foolishly trusting as the Doctor.”

Rose shrugged lightly. “I guess so,” she said. “Talk about foolishly trusting though. I let you take me to Morbius without a second thought.”

The Rani smirked. “You will learn,” she said. “You are from his future, that much is obvious. But how did you come here? Did he send you? Did he construct you and send you here?”

Rose stared at her like she was mad. “Construct me? I’m a person, not a robot!” she snapped angrily. “And no one sent me. I didn’t even know that I would land here of all places. Since I can’t leave, I thought I would help where I can. Honestly though, I am having second thoughts about that too, if everyone’s been scanning me behind my back and wondering if I am some sort of a super weapon.”

The Rani raised her eyebrows at the outburst. She was about to say something when Morbius gave a cry of pain. They snapped around to look at him, and saw a smile starting to blossom on the Doctor’s face while Morbius seemed to be getting weaker. They both still had their eyes closed but it was clear that the Doctor was winning.

Despite her frustration with him, Rose was worried about the Doctor, and when he opened his eyes slowly, she rushed to his side at once. Morbius was motionless, but the Doctor was taking the contraption off his head. Rose batted his hands away and helped take it off.

“Did it work?” asked the Rani, leaning forward eagerly.

The Doctor glared at her but nodded. “He will be in a coma for a while now. If you want to kill him, now would be a good time,” he said, his tone slightly mocking as he stood up with Rose’s help.

The Rani shot him a cold look, and fired two bullets into each of Morbius’ hearts. “That ought to keep him subdued until I get him to Gallifrey,” she said.

“If you know what’s right, Rani, you will ask the Council to dispose of him,” said the Doctor, starting to get his colour back. “He had no intention of helping them win this war. He only wanted victory for himself.”

“It will be up to the Council, Doctor,” said the Rani as she readied the Time Ring. “Whatever his intentions, he still possesses incredible knowledge that we may be able to use.”

The Doctor glared at her furiously. “Has everyone utterly lost their minds? Bringing renegades back into this war is doing no one any favours,” he said.

“You are a renegade, as am I. Or have you forgotten that?” asked the Rani coldly. “Face it, Doctor, we are desperate and it has been necessary to bring some of us back.”

The Doctor was about to retort angrily, but then he looked at the Rani curiously. “Who else did they bring back?” he asked.

The Rani suddenly looked uncomfortable. “It is the Council’s business, Doctor,” she said half-heartedly.

“You don’t give a toss about what the Council thinks, Rani,” snapped the Doctor. “Tell me the truth. Who else did the Time Lords bring back?”

“The Master,” she answered reluctantly. “But he disappeared almost immediately. Efforts to trace him have turned up empty.”

The Doctor pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Who else?” he asked.

The Rani’s hesitance was even more obvious now. “Now, Doctor, do understand that this was the Council’s decision, not mine. And they didn’t bring him back to life, so much as award him a legitimate status in this war rather than calling him a renegade.”

“Rani,” said the Doctor in a low, dangerous voice. “Who?”

“The Monk,” she said. “The Monk is now a part of this war.”

Chapter Text

Previously

“Rani,” said the Doctor in a low, dangerous voice. “Who?”

“The Monk,” she said. “The Monk is now a part of this war.”

The Doctor’s jaw clenched tightly. “Rose, we are leaving,” he said through gritted teeth, keeping his glare fixed on the Rani.

“Doctor…” began the Rani.

“No,” he said, in a low, cold voice. “Just don’t.”

The Rani sighed. “Fine,” she said and then activated the Time Ring, taking Morbius with her as she disappeared.

Rose glanced away from the empty spot back to the Doctor, who was still looking furious. “Who’s the Monk?” she asked, crossing her arms.

“We’re leaving,” snapped the Doctor as he turned away abruptly and started walking out of the basement.

Rose felt her own temper simmer as she caught up to him. “Don’t snap at me,” she said, equally annoyed. “It isn’t going to help much if you are keeping secrets.”

“Oh, and you would know all about that, wouldn’t you?” he sniped.

Rose glared angrily at him. “I wasn’t the one who scanned someone behind their back now, was I?” she demanded.

The Doctor seemed to deflate a little at that jab. “Yes, I realise,” he said. “I am sorry. I should have just asked you.”

Rose stopped glaring at him and nodded. “Look, we are stuck together, for better or worse, and times aren’t exactly good for being secretive. So,” she took a deep breath and met his gaze firmly. “Who is the Monk?”

The Doctor met her gaze with a steely one of his own. “He is a renegade Time Lord who left Gallifrey not fifty years after I did. The last time we met, well, he was working for the Daleks,” he said, sounding more and more reluctant to go on.

“And you think he’ll still be working for them?” asked Rose, trying to coax him to reveal what he knew.

“Not if he knows what’s good for him,” said the Doctor grimly. “His interference last time cost, well it cost a lot. To me, and to the universe.”

Rose looked concerned. “Did you lose someone?” she asked quietly.

The Doctor fiddled with the buttons on his waistcoat and nodded slowly. “Two of my companions, Tamsin Drew an-and L-Lucie Miller,” he said. “Not just them, but my great-grandson, Alex Campbell, as well.”

Rose gasped. “Oh god, Doctor, I am so sorry,” she said, touching his arm gently.

He sniffed and abruptly straightened up. “Anyway, gone now. But the Monk is bad news,” his voice was harder now. “Especially since there are rumours of the Dalek Time Controller resurfacing again. The last time, he helped repair it.”

Rose realised that he clearly did not wish to talk about it and steered the conversation towards their next step. “So, what do we do now?” asked Rose as she saw the TARDIS in the distance. “Check where they have moved the Viridian outpost?”

“Not exactly urgent now,” said the Doctor as he increased his pace. “The Rani gave us something far more important to go on. I must see what the Dalek Time Controller is up to.”

Rose raised an eyebrow at his words but said nothing as the two of them entered the TARDIS again. The Doctor went to the console at once and started typing furiously, no doubt hoping to unearth whatever intel the Time Lords had on the Dalek Time Controller. Rose watched his frantic pace briefly, before going further into the TARDIS, hoping she would lead her to the library.

Fortunately, she came across the familiar double doors after only one hallway, and she immediately found her way to one of the terminals connected to the TARDIS databanks. The Doctor had shown her how to use one a few months after she had started travelling with him, though he had warned her not to look up future events.

A quick search for the Dalek Time Controller yielded an entire folder full of documents. Knowing that the Doctor would acquaint himself with the fresh intel, Rose settled in to read the catalogued history of the Dalek Time Controller.

~

Vermillion had once been a thriving planet just on the outer reaches of Kasterborous, and was said to be rivaled only by Gallifrey in its beauty. Unlike the advanced civilisation of Gallifrey however, the Vermillions led a very simple life. Theirs was an agrarian planet and although their techniques were quite developed, it was still a very unremarkable planet as far as technology went.

It was one of the reasons why it made for such a good planet for the Daleks to conquer. With a population of just over five billion people and no moons, it made for an ideal slave planet. Theirs was a tried and tested strategy. A deadly plague would be released onto the planet and the weaker inhabitants would perish. The survivors were then either put to work or converted to Robomen to use as cattle during the skirmishes that were taking place all over the universe.

Vermillion had been no different. When the plague had been released a year ago, most of the population had perished, with the survivors now being in the five million benchmark. The survivors were well aware that the Dalek ships would soon descend from the skies and take what was left of them and destroy all of that too.

Unlike other planets that had fallen before them, the Vermillions had decided to organise their remaining numbers into a resistance force. They’d had help from an unexpected ally. She had shown up one day out of the blue in the midst of the plague, claiming to be immune to it and having experience with Daleks before.

The middle-aged woman with her dark hair and tired eyes was the hope that the Vermillions had needed. She had helped form resistance groups, built various contraptions for helping them communicate with survivors in different areas of the planet and seen about getting them arms and equipment to fight the Daleks. The Vermillions had been heartened and they thought that they would be ready when the Daleks came. How wrong they were…

It started at one of the biggest survivor colonies in the southern continents. One of their sentries fell ill, not with the usual symptoms of the plague, but with curious radiation burns all over his body. Usual treatment proved futile and two days after he first fell ill, the other survivors across the planet lost all contact with the colony in the South. Then, rumours began to surface of other colonies in the South getting the radiation burns before they would simply stop contact with the others.

The remaining survivor colonies started to become hyper-vigilant, making sure that none of their people showed any signs of this new plague as they called it. Reconnaissance parties were sent to the south but none of them ever returned. The people in the North were getting worried, since the loss of colonies also meant that their supplies were running out.

It was in the midst of bitter winter, that their mysterious saviour decided that something had to be done.

“Mrs. Campbell! Mrs. Campbell, are you here?”

The woman looked up from where she was packing up her rucksack. “Oh, Meria, what is it?” she asked.

The young woman, Meria, bent over to catch her breath. “Papa said you were heading to the South,” she said.

“Yes, I am,” she answered. “We are running low on supplies, and we cannot do without the South’s help. I must see what has happened down there.”

“What if they are all dead?” asked Meria curiously.

“Then we can set up a new colony,” she said firmly.

Meria observed her tense posture. “You don’t think they are dead, do you?” she asked.

She turned around and resumed her packing. “It doesn’t fit the pattern,” she muttered, partly to herself. “This hasn’t happened before. Whatever those radiation burns are, they are new.”

“Can you take me with you?” asked Meria, her eyes lighting up.

She looked up in alarm. “Meria! What on Earth are you on about, child?” she demanded.

“What’s Earth?” asked Meria curiously.

“Never you mind,” she said. “The battlefield is no place for you. Our children are here to carry on the future, not perish in this war.”

“But I want to help!” protested Meria.

“And you will,” she said, calmly. “Once all of this is over, you shall have a lot to do.”

“But I want to help now!” insisted Meria.

She sighed and shook her head. “Sometimes you remind me far too much of my son,” she said tiredly.

“Your son?” asked Meria, her eyes lighting up with curiosity. “Where is he now?”

Susan looked at her sharply. “Dead,” she answered. “He was killed by the Daleks.”

Meria’s eyes widened before she looked down hastily. “I am sorry,” she said.

Susan’s eyes softened a little. “He was very stubborn too,” she said. “He wanted to stay and fight like his father did.” She shook her head. “You will not come with me, Meria. You shall stay here and be prepared to rebuild once this threat blows over. Survive, child, that is what you were meant to do.”

Without looking to see if her point had been driven home, Susan Campbell picked up her rucksack and left her scant living quarters to make her way to the south.

~

Vermillion only had two continents, the North and South, with a massive ocean in the middle. The Cinnabar Island was famously considered to be the halfway point between the North and the South due to its location in the middle of the Vermillion Ocean. The Cinnabar Island colony had met the same fate as the poor survivors in the South and it was there that the Dalek Time Controller’s ship arrived.

“REPORT, DALEK SUPREME!”

“THE EXPERIMENT HAS NOT YIELDED SUCCESS, DALEK TIME CONTROLLER!” reported Dalek Supreme. “THE THAL GENETIC MATTER IS NOT PURE ENOUGH!”

“WHERE IS THE MONK?” demanded the Dalek Time Controller.

“I am right here,” came the Monk’s tired voice as he walked up to the Dalek Time Controller.

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS FAILURE, MONK?” demanded the Dalek Time Controller.

The Monk sighed. “I warned you that this might happen. Thals have evolved far too differently after your first war, just as the Daleks did from the Kaleds. There isn’t enough similarity in their genetic structure to mimic the Dalek gene, despite the common Skarosian origin,” he explained.

“YOU HAVE FAILED, MONK!” declared the Dalek Time Controller. “YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED!”

“No, no, no, wait,” said the Monk hastily. “There is something else we can do.”

“EX-PLAIN!”

The Monk took a deep breath. “We have been using Vermillion and Thal subjects for the experiment with the Skarosian radiations. But if we were to acquire a subject with similar physiology but with temporal radiation in the mix, I believe that the experiment might have success,” he said.

“YOU REQUIRE A TIME LORD?” inquired the Dalek Supreme.

“No, not a Time Lord, the physiognomy is too different,” said the Monk hastily. “We need a human being or close to it anyway, who has travelled through time.”

~

It took five whole days for Susan to make her way from her semi-permanent base down to Cinnabar Island. She only had a handful experienced combatants with her, and they set up a camp in the woods just off the beach.

The Cinnabar Island was quiet and it didn’t appear as if any survivors were about. They would travel further through the Island in the morning, before moving on to the southern coast in the next two days, provided everything went as per their schedule. The survivors were assured of their success, but Susan wished she could be that optimistic. She had been keeping a keen eye for signs of Dalek arrivals but so far their intel had turned up nothing. If Daleks had come to Vermillion, they had stayed well below radar which meant that they had found some new, destructive strategy to use. It set Susan’s teeth on edge.

“Are you coming for supper, Mrs. Campbell?” asked Ciaran, the youngest one of their party, a hearty lad of a mere twenty years.

Susan smiled at him and shook her head. “I am alright, thanks, Ciaran,” she said. “Be careful when you light your fires. We don’t want to alert anyone that we are here.”

Ciaran smiled a little. “You really think that the Daleks are here, don’t you Mrs. C?” he asked.

Susan’s smile slipped. “I have learned not to let myself get complacent, Ciaran,” she said, looking towards the ocean.

Ciaran opened his mouth, presumably to tell her that they would all be dead by now if Daleks were indeed here, when they heard a splash in the water. The two of them jumped to their feet, and Ciaran raised his weapon, ready to attack whatever was coming their way.

“Don’t shoot,” said the figure as they emerged from behind the rocks lining the coast, with their hands raised.

“Meria! What are you doing here?” demanded Susan, looking astonished at the appearance of the girl.

“Have you been following us the whole time?” asked Ciaran angrily.

“I’m sorry, I wanted to help,” said Meria beseechingly.

Susan sighed. “Lower your gun, Ciaran, and tell the others,” she said and then turned to Meria. “It was very irresponsible of you, child, but go on and eat some supper. Tomorrow morning, Ciaran will take you back home.” Both of them protested at that but Susan shot them a steely look. “Now!” she ordered and the two of them went towards the camp, sniping at each other irritably.

There was another splash in the water, and Susan whirled around, ready to yell at whoever Meria had brought with her when she saw the familiar eye stalk rise from the water.

“DALEK!” she shouted in warning and ran into the woods. By the time she reached the camp, the others had picked up their weapons and were getting ready to fight.

“There’s a whole bunch of them coming from the beach,” reported Neil, the unofficial leader of their party. “We can’t hold them all back!”

“Run! Come on, run!” said Susan as they all fled deeper into the woods with Daleks in pursuit after them.

~

“And this Vermillion? What’s so special about it?” asked Rose as they walked out of the TARDIS.

“It’s where the Dalek Time Controller’s ship was last seen by the Time Lords, over a week ago, relative time,” said the Doctor as they looked around the hold that they had landed in.

“Must be an advanced planet to have ships like this,” commented Rose as she tapped her knuckles against the wall.

The Doctor frowned as he used his sonic screwdriver to open the only door that led out of the hold. “Far from it really,” he said as the doors opened. “It’s…” he stopped mid-explanation and glanced around the control room of a very familiar ship.

It only took Rose a fraction of a second more to realise that it was a Dalek ship. “Come on,” said the Doctor urgently. “Back…” he was cut off when he saw a Dalek enter the empty control room.

“DO NOT MOVE!” said the Dalek, moving towards them. “YOU ARE THE DOCTOR! YOU ARE AN ENEMY…”

“Enemy of the Daleks and let me guess, you want to exterminate me,” said the Doctor with an eye-roll.

Rose knew she still had the compact laser deluxe with her, and while it might not be enough to shoot their way out, it was still enough to take out that one Dalek and make a dash for the TARDIS. She adjusted her stance slightly, making sure that her hand was right over her gun.

“Wait!” came the voice that most definitely did not belong to the Daleks, and the Doctor and Rose looked over as a man dressed in a monk’s black robes rushed into the control room.

“YOU!” shouted the Doctor furiously when he saw the Monk.

“Don’t kill them,” said the Monk to the Dalek, ignoring the Doctor. “They might prove useful.”

The Doctor gritted his teeth in anger. “Oh, you never learn do you, Monk?” he asked. “Working for the Daleks again? Have you forgotten what happened the last time? Does the name Tamsin Drew still mean anything to you?”

The Monk flinched at the name, and for a moment it looked like the Doctor’s words had got to him. However, he straightened up and addressed the Dalek. “I need those two for the experiments. You cannot kill them,” he said. When the Dalek still refused to budge, the Monk glared at it. “May I remind you that I have the Dalek Time Controller’s express permission when it comes to the experiments?”

The Dalek’s eyestalk turned towards the Monk. “I OBEY,” it said reluctantly before turning back to the Doctor and Rose. “YOU WILL COME WITH ME!”

“Not a chance, tinpot! Run, Doctor!” shouted Rose as she shot the Dalek in front of them and pushed the Doctor to run. He obeyed on instinct and Rose ran after him to get back to the hold where the TARDIS was parked.

They were nearly at the door leading to the hold when a bolt of Dalek ray was fired at Rose’s legs. She lost her footing and fell to the floor.

“ROSE!” shouted the Doctor, realising that the Monk had called for reinforcements and that there was a group of Daleks in the control room.

Rose looked up at him. “RUN! GO!” she shouted, knowing that her legs had been paralysed.

“Don’t kill her! We need her!” shouted the Monk.

“GO DOCTOR!” shouted Rose as a Dalek ray nearly hit him.

The Doctor shot her a look of despair but at her furious cries to leave, he slammed the hold door shut and ran to the TARDIS.

Rose heard the TARDIS leave and slumped to the floor as the Daleks converged on her. “THE FEMALE WILL BE TAKEN TO THE EXPERIMENTAL CHAMBER!”

“Oh, will I?” said Rose, acutely aware that she was at their mercy, though unwilling to give them the upper hand just yet.

“DO NOT STRUGGLE!” said the Dalek and fired a bolt right at her head.

~

“We can’t outrun them!” shouted Neil as they ran.

Susan knew he was right, but then the key around her neck started getting warmer. “Impossible,” she muttered and couldn’t believe her eyes when the TARDIS started materialising a few yards away. “Over there!” she shouted. “Run over there!”

The doors sprang open as they reached them and Susan ushered everyone inside and slammed the doors shut behind her. She glanced around eagerly. “Grandfather! Oh, Grandfather! I knew you would come!” she said in relief.

Her relief slipped away when she saw the furious look on the Doctor’s face. “They have her. The Daleks have Rose.”

Chapter Text

Previously

The doors sprang open as they reached them and Susan ushered everyone inside and slammed the doors shut behind her. She glanced around eagerly. “Grandfather! Oh, Grandfather! I knew you would come!” she said in relief.

Her relief slipped away when she saw the furious look on the Doctor’s face. “They have her. The Daleks have Rose.”

Susan’s expression became guarded. “Who’s Rose?” she asked.

“I should have checked before opening the doors right on the Dalek Time Controller’s ship…” he stopped abruptly and looked up in shock. “Susan? What are you doing here?”

“I should ask you the same,” said Susan, crossing her arms obstinately.

The Doctor walked up to her. “You are supposed to be on Earth,” he said, barely concealed anger in his voice. “Not in the middle of this mess.”

Susan swelled furiously at his admonishing tone, but Meria piped up before she could retort. “Wow, that’s what you said to me, Mrs. Campbell,” she said.

Susan glared at her. “Not now, Meria,” she said and then looked at the five other members of their party who were looking around the TARDIS with ill-concealed disgust.

“You one of them then, Mrs. C?” asked Ciaran, sounding disappointed. “Are you one of the Time Lords?”

“No! Well, yes,” said Susan, sounding frustrated. “It isn’t like that.”

“Oh, it is exactly like that,” snapped Neil. “Did they send you to us in the first place?”

“No, no, no,” said Susan immediately. “Nobody sent me, I swear to you! I came of my own accord.”

“What I want to know is why, Susan,” said the Doctor, still in that same admonishing tone. “Why would you leave the safety of Earth and come to this madness?”

“Safety? Safety, Grandfather?” she demanded incredulously. “Nothing and nowhere is really safe. Besides, it isn’t as if I have anything left on Earth now.”

The Doctor had the grace to drop the point. “Oh, Susan, I am…”

“Don’t apologise, Grandfather,” she said gently, her demeanour softening. “Earth was never really my home, you knew that. If it hadn’t been for David, and later Alex, I would never have stayed there. And after the call came, I could hardly not answer.”

“Oh, but you could have, Susan,” said the Doctor, sounding distressed.

“Grandfather, I…”

“If I can just interrupt this family reunion or whatever it is,” interrupted Neil. “We demand to be let out of this-this hideous contraption!”

“Let out?” demanded the Doctor, rounding on him. “I didn’t even invite you. You lot just barged your way in. And if you want to be let out where there is a horde of Daleks just waiting to slaughter you, then go ahead. Leave!”

“Grandfather!” said Susan, outraged. “They are frightened, as is everyone else on this planet.” She turned to Neil and the rest of the Vermillions who looked a little chastened too. “We all have a common enemy in the Daleks, and for everyone’s sake, let’s stop arguing over petty differences and focus on the real problem, shall we?”

The Doctor flicked a switch on the console and nodded. “Susan’s right,” he said. “I have put the TARDIS on invisible for now, but they will find a way to break through her barriers sooner or later. We need a plan, one to get Rose out of there, and to stop whatever the Dalek Time Controller has planned.”

“The Dalek Time Controller?” asked Susan, her voice hardening. “What is that doing here?”

“Precisely what I mean to find out and I could use some help,” said the Doctor, looking at the Vermillions. “Well?”

Neil looked around at his people and then nodded at the Doctor. “Fine,” he said. “For now, anyway,” he muttered under his breath.

~

Rose awoke with a gasp, and came to the immediate realisation that she was seated in a chair with her wrists and ankles bound. She was in a dark cell that smelled almost obsessively of disinfectant with an undercurrent of burnt flesh.

Her memory caught up to the mentions of Daleks and experiments and she began to struggle with her bonds, hoping to free herself.

“Stop doing that,” she heard the Monk say as he opened her cell door and walked inside. “You’ll end up hurting yourself.”

“Stay away from me,” snarled Rose, hoping that anger would conceal her fear. This scenario was entirely too familiar and she had no wish to see history repeat itself.

The Monk halted in his steps and held up his hands. “I do not mean you harm,” he said calmly. “But you really ought to stop before the Daleks use...alternative means to subdue you.”

Rose stopped struggling but glared venomously at the Monk. “And you don’t want that I suppose?” she spat.

“I do not, as a matter of fact,” he said, still in that infuriatingly calm voice. “I need your help.”

Rose stared at him incredulously. “Help? You want me to help you, which means helping the Daleks? Did the Daleks take away your common sense along with your integrity?”

His calm demeanour slipped for an instant. “Do not presume to know of my motivations for associating myself with the Daleks, child,” he snapped.

She continued to goad him, realising that he was letting a lot more slip when he got angry.“Associating? Is that what they call treachery and genocide these days, I wonder?” she mocked.

He roared at her in anger and drew his hand back to strike her. Rose stared at him unflinchingly, her face twisted in a snarl. “Go ahead,” she hissed. “Try it! But I must warn you that things did not end up well for the last people who had me in shackles.”

The Monk stared at her, fury blazing in his eyes, before he lowered his hand. “You do not know anything about me,” he said, his voice shaking.

“I know you are working for the Daleks, even after you saw what helping them once before did,” said Rose.

“That is precisely why I am doing this!” he spat angrily. “They...used me. They broke their promise. An-and they killed Tamsin!”

“You’re telling me you are working with the Daleks for revenge?” asked Rose, sceptically.

“Sshh,” he hissed and then glanced around skittishly. “Yes,” he said in a low voice. “The Dalek Time Controller sought me out. How, I don’t know. But I decided to take them up on their offer, because it is often easy to dismantle an enterprise from within.”

Rose was still sceptical, but unless the Monk was a spectacularly good actor, she doubted he was lying to her. “Fine, say I believe you,” she said, raising her eyebrow. “What exactly have the Daleks been doing on Vermillion?”

~

“It hit the south first,” said Susan. “Radiation burns and then we lost touch with them.”

The Doctor stroked his chin thoughtfully. “The Monk said something about needing our help for experiments. It’s how I know Rose will still be alive,” he said.

Susan was keenly aware of the Vermillions close by, but they were currently catching up on sleep in the corner of the console room. She lowered her voice just in case. “Who is she, Grandfather? I can’t imagine you bringing a companion into this madness,” she said.

“She isn’t my companion,” he said immediately. “I don’t know what she is, but she is from the future and that makes her dangerous to all concerned. The Time Lords are aware of her already, and if the Daleks discover what she knows, then we might as well be doomed now.”

“She’s from the future?” asked Susan incredulously. “How did she even get here?”

The Doctor nodded to the vortex manipulator sitting near the rotor. “The glowing bits on that space hopper is TARDIS coral, Susan,” he said.

Susan looked between the vortex manipulator and the Doctor. “Your TARDIS, Grandfather?” she asked warily.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “It pulled her across the void, the familiar coral seeking out the source. That’s how she bypassed sealed universes and a time lock.”

“And she survived that?” asked Susan, her eyes wide.

“I was as surprised as you are,” said the Doctor quietly. “Her DNA proclaims her to be human, yet the Artron and Huon energy in her physiognomy are off the charts.”

Susan looked at the monitor he swung towards her and read the results quickly. “How is she even alive?” she wondered out loud. “Forget the Artron readings, the Huon particles alone should have been fatal.”

“She said that it was prolonged exposure to the vortex and Morbius thought it was consistent with the effects of exposure to the heart of a TARDIS,” he said, partly to think out loud and partly to get a second opinion about Rose.

“Bu-but, that is horrible!” said Susan. “Pure vortex energy is dangerous enough to Time Lords from what I remember. No wonder her physiognomy has suffered so much. I doubt anyone has experimented with the effects of the vortex on humans before.”

The Doctor raised an eyebrow at her. “Do you think someone experimented on her?” he asked stoically.

Susan’s brow furrowed. “You don’t think so?” she asked, surprised.

The Doctor looked away and stared at the console. “Morbius, and I assume most Time Lords, are under the impression that it was my future self that experimented on her and sent her back.”

“That is ridiculous,” snapped Susan at once. “You would never do such a thing.”

He closed his eyes. “I can’t be sure of that,” he said.

“And you haven’t asked her this because you are afraid that it might be true,” guessed Susan. “Oh, Grandfather, you are positively dense sometimes.”

He opened his eyes and glared at her. “It has all happened rather quickly and we are in the middle of a war. Now is hardly the time to wonder what my future self might have done,” he snapped. “Tell me more about this new plague.”

Susan ignored his obvious attempt to change the subject. “Do you think it is possible that she might have done it voluntarily?” she asked delicately.

He stared at her like she was mad. “Why would anyone do that?” he asked incredulously.

“Several reasons, and you ought to know most of them already, Grandfather,” said Susan.

He sighed and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter now,” he said. “I have to get her out of there, and apart from taking on the Dalek Time Controller and a ship full of Daleks with five Vermillions and primitive weaponry, I am out of options.”

“Mrs. Campbell?”

Susan gave an exasperated sigh and turned around. “What is it now, Meria?” she asked in a tired voice.

Meria’s lips trembled and she held out her arms in front of Susan. They were covered in red rashes. “I think I have the new plague.”

~

“The Dalek numbers are diminishing rapidly. The Time Lords have built several successful delta waves intended to target them,” said the Monk in a low voice.

“Yeah, know what a delta wave does,” said Rose, suppressing a shiver. “But I know the Daleks can always make more of them, can’t they?”

“Usually they can, yes,” said the Monk. “But the delta waves are calibrated to target the specific Dalek genetics, so that the survivors or other beings do not die in the crossfire. Even if they make more Daleks, they will end up dying from the delta waves.”

“And being Daleks they wouldn’t really want to modify their genetics,” said Rose, remembering the Dalek in Van Statten’s bunker who considered any sort of mutation to be a sickness instead.

“Precisely,” said the Monk. “But they need foot soldiers to fight in this war. Something that will be able to sustain the Time Lords’ delta waves while the Daleks improve their genetics enough to fight the waves themselves.”

“So that’s what you’ve been doing? Helping them create new soldiers?” asked Rose.

“I would use the word help rather loosely, if I were you,” he said. “I have been sabotaging the experiments regularly, ensuring that these so-called Skaro Degradations are nothing better than weak soldiers who would go down with a simple phaser blast.”

Rose stared at him questioningly, rather aware that he was avoiding her gaze. “Something’s gone wrong, hasn’t it?” she asked.

The Monk looked chagrined. “I didn’t know they’d use Thals. The common Skarosian gene that the Daleks and Thals share was dormant and I thought it harmless,” he said.

“Monk, what has happened?” asked Rose, feeling a sense of dread.

“It has worked,” he said. “These...Skaro Degradations, they are very, very powerful. More than I anticipated them being. I haven’t told the Daleks yet and I need your help destroying them before…”

“MONK!”

Rose jumped violently and saw a group of Daleks with the Dalek Supreme in the lead standing outside her cell. The Monk looked terrified as he faced them.

“D-Dalek Supreme, is something wrong?” he asked, his voice trembling.

“YOU HAVE BETRAYED THE DALEKS! YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED!”

“No! No, I haven’t betrayed you!” shouted the Monk, but to no avail as the Dalek Supreme’s gun shot him straight in the chest, and he fell to the ground at Rose’s feet.

~

“Well?” asked Susan anxiously.

“They’re radiation burns but I can’t isolate the specific kind of radiation,” said the Doctor as he stared at the results on the screen in the infirmary.

“What’s going on?” demanded Neil as he and the other Vermillions walked into the infirmary and found the Doctor and Susan scanning Meria, who was trembling with fear. “What are you doing to her?”

“Neil, look at her arms,” said Ciaran and Neil followed his gaze.

“Is she infected?” asked Neil and readied his weapon.

The Doctor turned around and glared at him. “Put that away. You can’t fire guns inside the TARDIS,” he snapped.

“Don’t need a gun to kill her then,” said Neil as he put his gun away and started to walk towards Meria who squeaked with fear.

“That’s enough, Neil!” snapped Susan, standing in front of Meria protectively. “We have no proof that the radiation burns have anything to do with what happened in the south.”

“Isn’t that the whole reason we set out from our camps?” demanded Neil.

“That was before we knew the Daleks were already here,” countered Susan furiously. “What’s to say that the Daleks have been taking or killing the survivors instead of these burns, whatever they are?”

Neil fell silent at that. “She has a point,” allowed Ciaran. “In any case, we shouldn’t start killing each other. The Daleks are the real enemies here.”

“Good man,” said the Doctor approvingly. “As far as I can say, there is definitely Skarosian radiation mixed in with several other kinds of radiation in there. It’s like…” he stopped and looked at Meria sternly. “Were you captured by the Daleks?” he asked.

Meria stared at him with wide, frightened eyes. “No, of course not,” she said a little too quickly.

“Meria, tell the truth,” said Susan sternly.

Meria’s trembling got worse. “I don’t know what happened. One minute I was following you, and then the Daleks found me. I thought they would kill me, but then I must have passed out. I woke up on the beach when you found me,” she blurted out quickly. “I’m sorry, I should have said.”

“Did the Daleks do something to her? Is she a spy for them?” asked Neil, reaching for his weapon again.

“No,” said the Doctor shortly. “The Daleks must have taken her to their ship. You have been bombarded with a combination of radiation.”

“They experimented on me?” asked Meria, feeling sickened.

“I’m sorry,” said the Doctor. “There isn’t anything I can do for you, Meria. The radiation is eating through your metabolism.”

“Is she contagious?” asked Neil warily.

“Oh, do shut up!” snapped Susan, glaring at him. “Grandfather, isn’t there any sort of treatment that will work?” she asked the Doctor pleadingly.

The Doctor shook his head sadly. “Nothing that will stop it,” he said. “That combination of radiation is fatal to anyone who is exposed to it, aliens and Time Lords alike. The only ones who might survive it…” he trailed off.

“Well?” asked Susan.

“Would have to be Skarosian,” he finished, horrified.

~

Rose felt a raw scream erupt from her throat as red welts began to rise on her body. The radiation bombardment stopped, and then the red welts died down again, leaving her skin unmarked like before. She nearly sobbed with frustration. It had been the sixth time that the Daleks had done that. No matter how much she told them that it wouldn’t affect her like other humanoids, they seemed determined to see it for themselves.

She tried to control her breathing, focusing on anything that she could apart from the heat she could feel crawling behind her eyes. She wouldn’t let it overwhelm her again, not after what happened the last time. She squeezed her eyes shut and braced herself for the pain.

And surely it came, more painful than before. The Daleks had been incrementally increasing the bombardment of radiation on her body, determined to see how far they could push the radiation until she couldn’t heal the burns on her body. Rose nearly bloodied her lip trying not to blurt out that it would do no good. If she lost control again…

She screamed loudly again, her nails digging into her palms and drawing blood. The bombardment stopped again and she closed her eyes as the red burns left her body again. The cell door depressurised and Rose sat up when she saw the Dalek Time Controller enter her cell.

“YOU ARE IMMUNE.”

Rose could hardly feel her tongue as she answered. “I would have told you that if you’d asked nicely,” she said, wincing at how sore her throat was.

“WHY ARE YOU IMMUNE?”

“I-I don’t know,” she said. If they got even the slightest hint that she came from the future…

“YOU ARE AN ASSOCIATE OF THE DOCTOR?”

“Associate might-might be pushing it,” she gasped out. “We only met yesterday.” Had it only been a day? Felt so much longer… “Where’s the Monk?” she asked instead. “I saw that he was starting to regenerate, so where is he?”

The Dalek Time Controller turned its eyestalk towards the door and the Dalek Supreme pushed in a man in the Monk’s robes, who fell to his knees in his weakened state. This new man had a younger face than before, and he had barely looked up at Rose when the Dalek Time Controller shot him. He screamed in pain as he died yet again.

Rose glared venomously at the Dalek Time Controller, who turned back to her. “YOU WILL CO-OPERATE OR HIS NEXT REGENERATION SHALL BE HIS LAST!”

The Monk started to regenerate again and the Dalek Time Controller pointed its gun at him. “Fine!” shouted Rose. “What do you want?”

Instead of answering, the bonds holding her to the chair sprang open. Rose looked up in surprise at the Dalek Time Controller. “YOU ARE THE ABOMINATION. YOU SHALL HELP THE SKARO DEGRADATIONS.”

Chapter Text

Previously

The Monk started to regenerate again and the Dalek Time Controller pointed its gun at him. “Fine!” shouted Rose. “What do you want?”

Instead of answering, the bonds holding her to the chair sprang open. Rose looked up in surprise at the Dalek Time Controller. “YOU ARE THE ABOMINATION. YOU SHALL HELP THE SKARO DEGRADATIONS.”

Rose stiffened in her seat. “The-the what?” she asked, cursing herself for stumbling.

“THE ABOMINATION!” The Dalek Time Controller repeated angrily.

“I-I don’t know what you mean,” she said.

There was silence before the Dalek Time Controller shot the Monk’s recently regenerated body. He hadn’t even regained consciousness after the latest regeneration, but the Dalek blast had surely killed him again since the regeneration energy set his skin glowing yet again.

Rose gritted her teeth and glared at the Dalek Time Controller. “Look, it isn’t going to help if you keep killing him because you think I know something,” she said, thankful that she was no longer stumbling on her words. “I don’t even know what the Skaro degradations are, except for something about Thals that have been experimented on. As for the other thing,” she took a deep breath and kept her gaze steady. “You are mistaken if you think I am the Abomination, whatever that is.”

The Dalek Time Controller was silent and Rose waited with bated breath since she could see that the Monk had finished regenerating yet again. She had no idea how many regenerations he had left and if he could survive another one of the Dalek blasts. Her worry dissipated slightly when the Dalek Time Controller lowered its gun. “YOU WILL COME WITH ME!”

“Where are we going?” asked Rose warily.

“YOU SHALL SEE THE SKARO DEGRADATIONS!”

~

“I have to get Rose out of there,” said the Doctor as they returned to the console room. “The Monk said they were experimenting. I didn’t think...didn’t realise that they were using the Vermillions to test the new radiation on.”

“But what is it all for?” asked Susan. “What do they hope to achieve from subjecting those poor people to radiation that is obviously fatal to them?”

That made the Doctor pause. He was certain that it wouldn’t have taken the Daleks long to realise that the radiation was simply killing the Vermillions. He knew that it wasn’t a weapon because the Daleks possessed far superior methods and technology than irradiating people individually or even as a group. Especially since this radiation didn’t even appear to be contagious once it hit the host.

He took a deep breath and tried to think it through carefully. He had been accused of waging a war against the Daleks through all his lives, and as much as it disgusted him, he had to admit that he knew better than most the way that the Daleks worked. “The Vermillions might have just been the initial test subjects,” he said slowly. “Guinea pigs to improve and finetune the radiation.”

“Then who is the intended target? The Skarosian radiation is fatal to practically everyone and mixed with those other radiations, they make for a deadly combination. Who could possibly survive it?” asked Susan.

“Other Skarosians,” said the Doctor. “I doubt the Daleks would choose to improve their genetics through something as crude as radiation, so that leaves…”

“The Thals,” realised Susan. “They are targeting the Thals.”

~

“So, these Thals once lived on your planet?” asked Rose, as she limped behind the Dalek Time Controller. “And developed a way to combat the Skarosian radiation?”

“CORRECT! THE MONK LIED TO US BUT THE DALEKS KEPT TABS ON HIS EXPERIMENTS. THE THAL SUBJECTS HAVE RESPONDED TO THE RADIATION.”

“I’m guessing they’re not immune like me,” said Rose.

“NO.”

“So, they have evolved differently to you somehow then?” asked Rose. “Something that would be able to resist the delta waves.” There was silence which Rose took as an affirmative. “How will you control them, though? From what I’ve heard so far, they’re not exactly big fans of yours, and if you exposed them to radiation and caused them to mutate, I doubt the feeling has somehow changed.”

The silence was definitely uncomfortable now and Rose felt her eyes go wide. “Oh, that is it, isn’t it? You aren’t able to control them. You just created a bunch of super soldiers from a race that hates your very existence. Oh that is just…”

“SILENCE!”

Rose ignored the Dalek Time Controller. “Oh, that is just stupid, that is,” she said.

“SILENCE!” The order was more forceful now. “YOU WILL CONTROL THE DEGRADATIONS!”

“And how am I supposed to do that?” asked Rose. “Come to think of it, if I am able to do that, what’s to stop me from ordering them to kill you as my first task?”

“YOU ARE THE ABOMINATION.”

Rose’s step faltered. “You keep saying that but I don’t know what you mean,” she said.

“DO NOT LIE! YOU ARE THE WEAPON MADE BY THE TIME LORDS TO DESTROY THE SKARO DEGRADATIONS.”

“I think you have me confused with someone else, mate,” said Rose, getting a sinking feeling in her heart just the same. “I have never even met another Time Lord apart from the Doctor.”

“THE INTELLIGENCE IS SOUND! ONLY THE ABOMINATION WILL BE IMMUNE!”

“Who gave you this intelligence?” asked Rose. “Oh come on, you can at least tell me that.”

“IT WAS STOLEN FROM THE OUTPOST VIRIDIAN,” answered the Dalek Time Controller. “NOW, MOVE!”

~

“We got a plan yet?” asked Neil, grumpily.

“Grandfather,” said Susan, ignoring Neil. “The shields will only hold for an hour or so.”

The Doctor checked the readings and nodded. “Yes, quite,” he agreed. “I think we ought to…” He turned around sharply when he heard the materialisation sound of a Time Ring in the console room. “Get out,” he told the Time Lord coldly.

“Is this how you really greet all your guests, Doctor?” asked Androgar with a smirk on his face.

“My guests usually knock,” snapped the Doctor. “Oh, would you mind leaving? I am rather in the middle of something.”

“Yes, we have been watching,” said Androgar dryly. “Taking on the Dalek Time Controller with five Vermillions and your granddaughter, are you?”

“If you’re here to help then I suggest you do it fast,” said the Doctor coolly.

“Yes, might as well,” shrugged Androgar. “The Monk was sent in by us to infiltrate the Dalek Time Controller’s operation. We knew that they were trying to find a way to bypass our delta waves.”

“So that’s what they are doing,” murmured Susan.

“Yes, and the Monk was only meant to sabotage a few experiments, tell them it hadn’t worked, so that we could chip away at the Dalek fleets with the delta waves,” said Androgar. “Except, they brought in the Thals.”

“It has worked then?” asked the Doctor. “You quite literally handed over a weapon to the Daleks by sanctioning this absurd enterprise.”

Androgar shot him a condescending glare. “Do have some faith in us, Doctor,” he said in a long-suffering tone. “The Daleks have no way of controlling those mutated Thals. Why, they even bought that absurd bit of intelligence about the Abomination.”

“The Abomination?” asked the Doctor.

“Ah yes, that is what we call your little blonde friend,” said Androgar with a nasty smile. “Rather suits her, doesn’t it?”

The Doctor gritted his teeth. “You deliberately set her up,” he spat. “What did you tell them?”

“That she could control the Skaro Degradations because she was immune to the radiation,” he said lightly. At the Doctor’s look of surprise, he rolled his eyes. “We have been keeping tabs on your TARDIS, Doctor, and that DNA sample you took from her is being analysed by practically every scientist on Gallifrey. We knew she would be immune, and it has been…postulated, that she might be able to destroy these Degradations.”

“Except you cannot know that for sure,” said the Doctor, furiously. “You just made a gamble on her life because you are convinced that she is a WEAPON!” He was shouting by the end.

“She is a weapon,” said Androgar coolly. “If you weren’t so busy running from the war or getting caught up in your sentimentality, you would see it too.”

The Doctor looked like he was about to shout again, but then his voice lowered menacingly. “You better hope that your little game hasn’t cost Rose her life, Androgar, because there are only a few things in this universe that I would protect beyond anything else, and my friends happen to fall into that category. These Skaro Degradations, whatever they might be, will pale in comparison to the sort of hell I will bring down on Gallifrey,” he said.

“Hell has already descended on us, Doctor,” said Androgar furiously, dropping his smug demeanour. “Look around you, you worthless renegade, and tell me that you cannot see each possibility just dying down into the same darkness that we are all headed for. All of us on Gallifrey have been trying to change the final outcome for nearly a century now, and unlike you, we have had to give up this foolish pursuit of sentimentality and emotions, Doctor. Now more than ever, it is about survival.” He threw two bright green cubes the size of dice at the Doctor which he caught instinctively. “Kill the Skaro Degradations and all the Daleks on that planet before they escape,” snapped Androgar. “It is the least we expect from you.”

Without giving the Doctor a chance to respond, Androgar activated his Time Ring and dematerialised from the Doctor’s TARDIS. Susan glanced at the Doctor in worry, realising that he had all but frozen up at Androgar’s words. “Grandfather?” she asked in a small voice.

The Doctor turned around swiftly and started plugging the dice into the TARDIS console. Susan almost sighed to herself before touching his arm gently. “Grandfather?” she tried again.

He stiffened at her touch, and recoiled sharply. “Not now, Susan,” he said, his voice full of forced calm. “I am afraid this time I must do as I am told.”

“But what about Rose?” asked Susan, concerned.

“And the rest of our people down there?” quipped up Ciaran.

The Doctor looked at him and then at Susan. “If the Time Lords are right, and I am assuming they are, then the delta waves will only kill the Daleks and those Skaro degradations. Everyone else ought to remain safe,” he said.

“Are you sure, Grandfather?” asked Susan, knowing that there were still millions of people on Vermillion.

Before the Doctor could answer, the TARDIS gave a lurch and the lights dimmed a little. “Shields are at sixty percent,” said the Doctor, with a quick glance at the monitor. “I have to do it soon.”

He met Susan’s gaze who stared at him for a moment before nodding in determination. Heartened, the Doctor activated the two delta waves.

~

Rose could feel the panic settling into her chest. Nothing about this made any sense, but the thing that got to her the most was the Dalek Time Controller’s invariable smugness. She rather felt like she was missing a huge point, but she truly couldn’t understand how they expected her to control the Skaro Degradations and not have her first order be the destruction of all the Daleks around them.

“THE TELEPATHIC CHAMBER IS READY!”

Rose jumped at that, and cold seeped through her bones. She had been a complete idiot and looking at it the wrong way. The Daleks wouldn’t control the Skaro Degradations, they would control her. At least, they thought that they could. Rose almost yelled at them that it wouldn’t work, but clamped her mouth shut as she started to focus on her mental shields. She was sure that they wouldn’t be able to control her but she didn’t trust herself not to retaliate with all her mental strength.

The Daleks nudged her to get into the telepathic chamber, which rather resembled a small cubicle with a chair surrounded by complex wires and machinery. An entire side of the cubicle was glass and beyond it she could see what the Skaro Degradations were. It was funny, she was expecting something much like the Daleks themselves, but the Degradations looked mostly humanoid.

They were tall, well around 7 feet, and had identical blond hair. There were a dozen of them, standing in four rows of three, with their arms crossed tightly behind their backs. What unnerved her the most was not the obvious strength and odd energy emanating from them, but the blank, listless expressions on their faces. It reminded her of the void creatures she had seen briefly during her dimension jumps.

“MOVE!”

At the Dalek’s command, Rose took a seat inside the telepathic chamber. Immediately, the clamps came up to bind her legs and hands. She didn’t struggle, doing her best to keep her mind calm. The Dalek Time Controller, and even the other Daleks were oddly silent while the door of the chamber closed itself with a hiss. The chair turned a little so that Rose was now facing the glass wall with the Skaro Degradations beyond it.

Up close, Rose could see that their expression wasn’t as blank as she had previously thought. It was almost murderous, and the memory of the void creatures slammed into her head again with surprising ferocity. It had been one of her earliest jumps and she had landed on an Earth that had been invaded by them.

They were humanoids as well, and were impervious to practically every weapon known to anyone. Their strength lay in the ruthlessness with which they bled the planet dry, murdering the populace and sucking the minerals and resources out of the planet until all that was left was a dry husk of a planet. She had likened them to Daleks at the time, but unlike the Daleks they took no prisoners, nor did they make the deaths of the other beings quick. It was a long, drawn-out death, and they had practically turned that Earth into something resembling the void where all time and space had coagulated and warped beyond recognition.

Although Rose had narrowly escaped one of them only a few hours after landing there, nearly a week had passed in Pete’s world by the time she had returned. They had never found a name for them, and they had been dubbed ‘void creatures’ by her Torchwood team for convenience. If Rose didn’t know better, she would consider these Skaro Degradations to be one mutation away from turning into those void creatures.

“INITIATE SEQUENCE EPSILON.”

The words sounded muted from outside the chamber, and Rose clenched her fists in preparation. A bright light shone into her eyes and for a moment, it seemed like nothing had happened. Rose relaxed slightly but then her head was suddenly gripped with an onslaught of pain that made the radiation torture she had suffered before seem almost bearable.

She didn’t even know if she was screaming, or if it was the Daleks crying out, or if she was back facing the void creatures who were bleeding her life force dry, or if she was just back inside her dungeon under the Torchwood building being carved into pieces…

The pain didn’t stop, didn’t let up, and Rose fought with all her might to keep the heat behind her eyes caged up but then darkness fell upon her and she knew no more.

~

“Has it worked?” asked Susan quickly, as the Vermillions crowded around the console eagerly too.

The Doctor checked a few readings and gave a nod. “Yes, I should think so,” he said. “Come.”

He opened the doors of the TARDIS and they found the dead shells of the Daleks littering the woods where the TARDIS had taken refuge. The Vermillions and Susan followed him out cautiously, but upon seeing the sight that greeted them, the Vermillions broke out into cheers.

“Sshh,” said Susan sharply. “We don’t know what could be about.”

“What could be around?” asked Neil, looking at her like she was mad. “The Daleks are dead!” He kicked an empty Dalek shell which fell over with a clang. Ignoring the glare that the Doctor shot him, he looked at the remaining of his people. “Come on you lot, let’s take this joyous news back to our people.”

“What about me?” asked Meria, who had been rather quiet the entire time.

“We’ll find a way to treat you,” said Ciaran, trying to sound optimistic.

“I think we ought to stay together for now,” said Susan carefully.

“No, thank you,” snapped Neil as he ushered the rest of the party behind him. “Your lot have done enough here. Just leave us be.”

Susan opened her mouth to protest, but the Doctor gripped her shoulder and shook his head. The Vermillions left the area quickly, not sparing the Time Lords another glance. Even Meria avoided their gaze as she followed behind the rest of the group.

Susan sighed and shook her head. “I still think…” she began.

“Let them go, Susan,” said the Doctor as he took her hand and led her towards the Dalek ship which was camouflaged further into the woods.

It didn’t take the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver long to undo the camouflage and as the two of them entered the Dalek ship, they were struck by the deathly silence inside the ship. The Daleks were all definitely dead, and when the Doctor and Susan walked through the ship, they found a man in the monk’s robes lying inside a cell. A quick scan told them that he was dead too, and it was too late for regeneration.

Regretfully, the Doctor gave him his final rites, just as he had the poor Time Lord that Morbius had fed on. He and Susan continued to look for Rose, and they finally found her lying unconscious into what appeared to be a telepathic chamber.

“Oh no,” gasped Susan, when she saw how pale Rose looked.

The Doctor wasted no time in opening the chamber and freeing Rose from the bindings holding her trapped. Fortunately, she was still breathing, albeit a bit slowly. A quick glance into the chamber next to it showed a group of Thals lying unconscious on the ground. Thankful that the Time Lords’ delta waves had worked on both Daleks and the Skaro Degradations alike, the Doctor picked Rose up in his arms carefully and beckoned Susan to follow him towards the TARDIS.

Unbeknownst to them, the Skaro Degradations started gaining their life signs back even before they had reached the TARDIS infirmary.

~

“Well?” asked Susan in concern as the Doctor laid Rose onto the examination table and scanned her briefly.

“Minor psychic trauma and some lacerations on her palms. She seems fine apart from that,” he said, sounding a bit puzzled. “Get her clothes off so I can put her into the full body scanner to check for internal injuries.”

Susan nodded, and worked the black coat and jumper off Rose’s body while the Doctor prepared the full body scanner. She was about to continue when she pulled away with a gasp.

The Doctor turned around and saw the horrified look on Susan’s face. “What is it, Susan?” he asked.

“Look, Grandfather,” she said in a low voice, pointing to the criss-cross of deep scars decorating Rose’s arms and torso.

The Doctor’s eyes went wide and his hands trembled slightly as he scanned Rose again. “They-they are old scars,” he pronounced slowly.

“What happened to her?” asked Susan, looking close to tears.

The Doctor rested a gentle hand on Susan’s shoulder. “I don’t know, my dear, but I shall find out,” he said. He traced a scar on Rose’s right forearm and almost flinched at the coldness he could feel emanating from the scar. Abruptly, he pulled away and returned to the scanner. “Get the remaining clothes off her, and take her jewellery off too. The metal might interfere with the results,” he said, his voice sounding flat and detached.

Susan didn’t move, still looking horrified at the myriad of scars on Rose’s body. It took a sharp reminder from her Grandfather for her to jump back to work. She got Rose’s remaining clothes off and dressed her in a flimsy hospital gown, all the while trying not to flinch at the scars that covered nearly every surface of her body, save her face.

The only jewellery that Rose appeared to be wearing was a chain with the TARDIS key, her hoop earrings and a wedding ring on her left hand. Susan’s brow furrowed as she took them off carefully. “You didn’t tell me she was married,” said Susan.

“She’s a widow,” said the Doctor shortly. “The scanner’s ready, but I need the R-79 solution. It’s in a jar over by the cupboard.” He lifted Rose off the examination table and situated her inside the scanner. “Susan,” he said sharply when he saw that she hadn’t fetched the solution. He turned around and found her staring at something in her hand with a puzzled look on her face. “Susan!” he said again, letting some admonishment slip into his tone.

She looked up hurriedly and went a little pink. “Sorry, Grandfather,” she said and quickly fetched him the solution that he had asked for. Almost immediately, she returned to looking at the object in her hand.

“Should I ask what interests you so much?” asked the Doctor, sounding a little cross.

Susan held up the object in her hand which turned out to be Rose’s ring. “There’s an inscription in her wedding ring,” she said.

“So?” asked the Doctor. “I understand that it is a human custom.”

“I know that, Grandfather,” said Susan, as she walked up to him. “But look at this one.”

The Doctor took the ring with a sigh and examined the inscription. He felt himself freeze as he read it again, hoping he had misread it before.

“It’s Old High Gallifreyan, isn’t it?” asked Susan, oblivious of the Doctor’s state. “No wonder I can’t read it. I could never quite get the grasp of it, and nobody used it by the time I was born. But does that mean her husband was a Time Lord, Grandfather?” When she didn’t get a reply, she looked at the Doctor and saw how pale he had gone. “Grandfather? What’s wrong?” she asked.

The Doctor tore his eyes away from the inscription and closed the ring inside his fist, tightly enough for it to hurt. “Not a Time Lord,” he said slowly, still sounding shocked. “It is a mark and handwriting that I recognise.”

Susan’s brow furrowed. “Whose is it?” she asked curiously.

The Doctor’s mouth opened but whatever he was about to say was cut off by the ominous ringing coming from the depths of the TARDIS.

“The Cloister Bell,” realised Susan with a gasp.

“Come, Susan,” he said imperiously, and ran towards the console room.

“What’s wrong? We are still on Vermillion, aren’t we?” she asked while the Doctor checked the monitors quickly.

“No, we are in orbit around the planet, and I set an alert to check for any Dalek survivors,” he said, pulling a lever rather angrily.

“And did any of them survive?” asked Susan.

The Doctor looked at her, and she nearly gasped at the sheer terror in his eyes. “No,” he said. “The Daleks are dead.”

“Then what?” asked Susan.

“The Skaro Degradations,” he said. “They have escaped.”

Chapter Text

“You know we ought to move sooner or later. I think I feel the bougainvillea trying to crawl its way around my ankle,” said Rose softly.

The Doctor lifted his head slightly and checked her ankle, in time to see the soft green tendril gently wrapping itself around it. With a smile, he nudged the vine with his toe and it retreated at once, leaving Rose’s foot alone. “There,” he said, sounding very pleased with himself. “Now, we don’t have to move. Why your mother thought that having those ghastly things in her greenhouse was a good idea, I’ll never know.”

“It was a gift from the Verlossian ambassador. It would have been rude to refuse,” said Rose, hiding her smile in his bare chest, feeling his single heart thudding. “And mum and dad will be back any minute. We don’t want to walk out of their greenhouse half-dressed after not seeing them for a month.”

“It’s hardly our fault that we couldn’t warn them of our arrival,” said the Doctor, and Rose knew he would be pouting a little. “The coral is growing faster than I anticipated, and we promised to check the rift in Minsk…”

“I know, I know,” said Rose and raised her chin to kiss him softly. “I spoke to Jake while you were checking on the coral,” she continued when the Doctor released her lips and moved down to her neck.

“Mmm, have we got somewhere new to be?” he asked, shifting aside her blonde hair to access more skin of her neck.

“Iceland,” she said, gasping slightly when his teeth scraped the hollow of her throat.

His head snapped up. “Really? Why don’t we ever get sent to Belize or Cabo, eh? Could use a warm holiday,” he joked.

“It’s not a holiday, you daft man,” giggled Rose. “There’s been some unexplained activity and anomalous energy fluctuations in the vicinity.”

“How is that not a holiday?” he asked with a cheeky smile and Rose had to agree. “We have a mystery to solve, Rose Tyler, and Iceland to explore. We haven’t done that one already, have we?”

“Nope. We’ve done Greenland, not Iceland,” said Rose.

She heard a curious clanging in her ear, but the Doctor continued to talk about their salvage trip to Greenland where they’d found a broken down vortex manipulator which the Doctor had been repairing.

“Rose, are you listening?” he asked and Rose blinked.

“Yeah, just thought I heard something,” she said, shaking her head. “What were you saying?” But the ringing was getting louder, until she couldn’t hear the Doctor’s voice anymore and she awoke with a gasp.

Sitting up, Rose realised that she was in the scanner that she remembered from the TARDIS medbay, which was indeed where she was. The top of the scanner had opened up, as it did when it finished the scans. Good thing too, since Rose would have banged her head otherwise in her rush to sit up and given herself a concussion.

Hissing at the soreness of her muscles that reminded her that she had recently been tortured by the Daleks, Rose got out of the scanner and stretched a little. Her clothes had been left in a neat pile on the examination bed, and she wondered if it had been the Doctor who had undressed her. Deciding to dwell on it later, she took off the hospital gown and got dressed again. The clothes were slightly stiff with her dried sweat, but Rose deduced that there must have been an emergency for the Doctor to have left her in the scanner.

As she laced her boots, she sighed at the memory that she had taken refuge in. It had been about two years after they’d been married, and she and her Doctor had been in Minsk when they’d received a telepathic nudge from their TARDIS coral. They had rushed back to London the same day to check on the coral in her parents’ greenhouse, and after making sure that it had everything it would need, they had left for Iceland only a day later.

It had been their life in that parallel world, rushing around the globe to solve mysteries, sometimes for Torchwood, but mostly when one or both of them inevitably stumbled into trouble. They were rarely ever in London, unless it was for holidays and special occasions or when their TARDIS coral called for them, usually because she needed something. In the years after she had lost it all, Rose relived those wondrous memories in her head time and time again, to remind herself of who she was and keep her sanity.

Shaking away those thoughts, she grabbed her coat and rushed towards the console room, where she could hear the Doctor speaking to a woman. Curious, Rose quickened her steps.

The Doctor was standing at the console, one hand tweaking levers and switches on the console while the other tugged at his own hair in frustration. “...got Amaranthine and Lovat,” he said.

“That brings it to eight planets in total,” said the woman, looking worried. She noticed Rose in the doorway and turned to the Doctor quickly, who followed her gaze and nodded at Rose.

“Rose, this is Susan. Susan, this is Rose,” he said absently. “I’m afraid we have an emergency right now. The Skaro Degradations have escaped.”

“Where did they go?” she asked in horror, simultaneously trying to remember if her Doctor had ever mentioned a Susan before. The answer came crashing into her mind and she gasped as she looked at Susan. “Susan? The Doctor’s granddaughter?” she asked.

Susan looked surprised, yet pleased. “Yes, I am,” she said, noticing how pale her Grandfather had gone behind Rose’s back. She cleared her throat hastily. “The Degradations have escaped onto eight different planets here in the outer reaches. The Time Lords’ delta waves did nothing but knock them out for a while.”

Rose flinched at the mention of the delta wave, but nodded along. “Are these planets close together?” she asked.

“Neighbouring planets,” answered the Doctor, looking surprised at her question. “Why?”

“Because I realised that my first hunch about them was right,” said Rose, through gritted teeth. “Those Skaro Degradations, I will encounter them once again in the future when the void dies out.”

The Doctor stared at her in alarm. “What could possibly destroy the void?” he asked.

Rose shook her head quickly. “It’s a long story,” she said. “Look, if I encounter them in the future, then it means that they were locked up in the void, weren’t they?”

“Perhaps,” said the Doctor, looking displeased at not being given the whole picture. “The question is whether those Degradations are really a threat, now that they are away from the Dalek influence.”

Rose stared at him like he was mad, and even Susan shot him an incredulous look. “Take it from someone who was briefly linked to their minds, and someone who has encountered an even advanced form in the future,” said Rose. “They are very, very dangerous. You cannot kill them, not even with weapons that will reduce a Dalek to smithereens. They are incredibly strong and are capable of bleeding entire planets dry and torture and murder their population. There’s only a dozen of them but they won’t stop at just these eight planets if they are let loose.”

Rose was breathing heavily as she finished, and her fists were clenched, remembering her narrow escape from them. The Doctor looked torn between believing her and the prospect of committing murder, possibly genocide, since those were the only ones of their race in existence.

“Grandfather, I am getting a transmission from the Time Lords,” came Susan’s worried voice.

The Doctor looked away from Rose. “What do they want now?” he snapped.

Susan shot him an admonishing look for his tone. “It’s an alert asking all war TARDISes to destroy the Skaro Degradations. They speak of a possibility of the Skaro Degradations attacking Time Lord outposts if they are not stopped here. The devastation they describe...” Susan trailed off and shook her head.

“What do you mean ‘possibility’?” asked Rose, confused.

“They must have seen it in the Matrix after the timelines changed,” said the Doctor, his mind racing. “If they are indeed as dangerous as you and the Time Lords think they are, then trapping them in the void is our best chance.”

“Except if the parallel worlds are sealed off, there isn’t a way to create a breach in the void,” said Rose.

“We could ask the Time Lords to create a localised breach, that’s not a problem,” said Susan quickly. “But how do we get the Skaro Degradations into that breach?”

“This will help,” said the Doctor, holding up one of the two green dice that Androgar had given him for the delta waves. “It’s keyed to the Skaro Degradations’ molecular structure. If I am very clever, and I am very, very clever, I can reverse the polarity...actually, I’ll forgo the technical jargon for now since we are short on time.”

“I thought the void only attracted void stuff,” said Rose, confused.

“The void stuff, as you call it, is a type of radiation and like all radiations, can infect hosts,” said the Doctor with a bright gleam in his eyes. “All we need is a source, and I am sure the Time Lords…”

“If it’s a source you need,” said Rose and then waved at herself. “Been through the void so many times that I might as well be.”

“Splendid,” said the Doctor, though he did shoot her a curious look at the mention of travels through the void. “This delta wave has enough scope to encompass all eight planets and infect the Degradations. And then…”

“Like calls to like and they get sucked into the void,” finished Rose triumphantly.

“Exactly!” said the Doctor, bouncing on his toes. “Except, we have to act very quickly before they scatter far enough to leave our range.”

“Then you get started on the delta wave, Grandfather,” said Susan, at once. “I’ll go to Gallifrey and inform the Time Lords about creating a breach in the void.”

“How will you get there?” asked Rose curiously.

“I have this,” said Susan, holding up a Time Ring.

The Doctor’s eyes narrowed. “Where did you get that?” he demanded. “I thought you weren’t sent to Vermillion by the Time Lords.”

“I wasn’t,” said Susan, averting her gaze. “Oh Grandfather, can’t this wait?”

“It most certainly cannot,” he said, rounding on her. “Whose orders are you following, Susan?”

“Nobody’s,” she said at once. At his look of disbelief, she shook her head bitterly. “I’d hoped you thought better of me than this, Grandfather. I shall ask the Time Lords for that breach…” she said as she disappeared.

The Doctor grit his teeth in frustration and turned back to the console. He could feel Rose’s concerned gaze on him but he didn’t want to face that either. He decided to focus on tweaking the delta wave.

A beacon lit up on the console and he read the message from the Time Lords telling them that they would be ready to create the breach whenever he was ready.

He turned to Rose. “Hold on to something,” he said, plugging in the delta wave conduit into the console.

A low, whirring noise filled the TARDIS and Rose recognised the sound as being something that had echoed through her head when she had been in that telepathic chamber.

“Alright, give me your hand,” said the Doctor, and waited until Rose placed her hand in his. He stuck something that looked like a clear square of plaster to her palm and took it off almost immediately before sticking it onto the green dice.

The whirr became louder and a triumphant smile graced the Doctor’s face. “Is it working?” asked Rose, guessing the answer already but wanting to make sure.

“It is,” he said. “And here comes the breach,” he added and pulled a lever.

To Rose’s immense surprise, the ceiling became transparent and they could see the eight planets projected in front of them. A blackness was growing behind them, and Rose’s awe slowly transformed into confusion. “Doctor, what’s happening?” she asked.

The Doctor was staring at the sight in horror, before he jumped into action. “Close the breach! Close it at once!” he shouted into the TARDIS communication systems. “Can anyone hear me? Shut it down at once!”

Rose felt a strange sense of numbness envelop her heart and she found herself unable to look away as the blackness converged on all of those eight planets, diminishing their bright glow until they all looked sickly grey. She could faintly hear the Doctor screaming at the Time Lords to stop the breach, but it was too late.

Within moments, the blackness had swallowed all of the planets and left only dark space in its wake. The Doctor fell silent, and Rose slowly looked down at him.

“What happened?” she asked, hating how hoarse her voice had gone. “What went wrong?” she demanded, her voice getting stronger.

“Nothing,” he said, looking pale with disbelief. “It should have only affected the Skaro Degradation, not the people or the planets themselves.”

“How-how many people did we just murder?” asked Rose, her voice trembling with anger. “Doctor,” she said sharply when he didn’t answer.

“Twenty two billion, give or take,” he murmured through stiff lips. “Eight whole planets…”

Rose felt her knees about to give away and she sat down on the stuffed jumpseat next to the console, before she could collapse. “Can we change it?” she asked, knowing the answer already.

“No,” he said, and he sounded angry now. “They are gone. Trapped in the void forever. Or until it apparently dies out, according to your bright knowledge,” he added bitingly.

Rose shot to her feet and glared at him, realising that he was lashing out but was unable to stop herself from retaliating just the same. “Don’t you dare,” she snapped. “You have no idea what you are even talking about.”

“Enlighten me then,” he said, rounding on her, his eyes flashing in anger.

“It is the future. I can’t tell you,” she said, equally angrily.

“That seems to be your excuse for everything,” he said cruelly. “Well, congratulations Rose Tyler, your mistake just led to the deaths of twenty two billion people.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, his eyes widened. “Rose, I did not mean…”

“Yeah, you did mean that,” said Rose, having gone pale at his words. “I must have got it wrong, and I am the reason why those people are dead.”

The Doctor walked around the console until he was standing right in front of her. “Something in the delta waves or my calculations must have been wrong,” he said. “It wasn’t your fault, I promise you, Rose. It was mine.”

“It was neither, actually,” came Susan’s voice from the TARDIS communication systems.

“Explain,” ordered the Doctor as he and Rose turned to the console together.

“The Time Lords filtered the delta wave remotely from Gallifrey,” said Susan. “They did not want to take any chances. Grandfather, I tried to stop them…”

The Doctor turned off the transmission and flopped down onto the jumpseat with his head in his hands. Rose’s eyes softened as she sat down next to him and touched his arm tentatively.

He stiffened at her touch before relaxing a little. “I am tired, Rose,” he said, looking up at the ceiling where the empty sky was still visible. “Tired of seeing what people are capable becoming.” Rose didn’t know what to say to that, but the Doctor reached into his pocket and pulled out her ring. “I saw the inscription inside it,” he said and ignored it when Rose stiffened a little. “My name and yours bound in a symbol signifying union, made by my own hand unless I am mistaken.”

Rose sighed and took the ring from him, wearing it back on her left ring finger. “It isn’t quite so simple,” she said.

“Tell me anyway,” he pleaded. “I need to know. I need to know that something good comes out of all this.”

Rose felt compassion well in her heart and she inhaled deeply. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea but I’ll try and tell you all that I can. Just, promise to hear me out and not interrupt until I am done,” she added beseechingly.

He met her earnest gaze for a moment before nodding. “Alright,” he said.

Rose nodded back gratefully and took another deep breath before beginning. “I was nineteen when we met. I was a shop girl in London, early twenty-first century. We travelled together for a while, almost a year but it could have been more,” she smiled a little. “It’s always hard to tell with the TARDIS. Anyway, we arrived at this place called the Game Station which was being attacked by...these very powerful enemies of yours to control the Earth and build an army. They were going to win, and we would have died, but you sent me away with the TARDIS.”

The Doctor stared at her in shock and almost defied her request of silence to ask a barrage of questions, but then nodded slowly and waited for her to continue.

“I didn’t like it,” she said with a bitter chuckle, grateful for his silence. “Couldn’t just leave you to die like that. So, I...opened the heart of the TARDIS.” She heard his sharp gasp and met his gaze for an instant before looking down at the ring on her hand. “I looked into the TARDIS and the TARDIS looked into me,” her voice was flat as she said it, and out of the corner of her eyes, she saw the Doctor tense. “I destroyed the enemies, but the power of the vortex was too much. It was killing me, so you took it out of me. You had to regenerate immediately afterwards, but we both missed the fact that some remnant of the vortex had remained inside me.”

She had to pause for a moment before continuing. “We continued our travels in the TARDIS as usual. We, um, went from friends to uh, more,” she went a little pink and avoided his gaze entirely, trying not to remember the blissful months after Krop Tor when she and the Doctor had finally become lovers. She cleared her throat and focused on the present. “Then, there was a war,” she said, her voice hitching slightly. “We won but I was trapped in a parallel world with no way back. The walls were sealed. I can’t tell you why,” she said hastily when he opened his mouth.

He closed it and nodded at her to go on. She sighed again and twirled her ring around her finger. “I wanted to find a way back, naturally,” she said. “I had my mum and the parallel version of my dad with me, and they had a son too, but I knew I had to come back. I worked for this organisation that my dad ran, called Torchwood, and we built this dimension cannon to seek travel between universes. It didn’t work for a long time, until suddenly it did. An old enemy was trying to destroy all of reality and the walls between universes had been weakened. It was what killed the void.”

They both flinched at the mention of the void, and were silent for a few moments before Rose gathered enough nerve to continue.

“Anyway, I travelled between universes, trying to find you as well as finding a way to stop all of reality from being destroyed,” she said. “I found you, but you were shot. Instead of regenerating, however, you used the energy to heal yourself and siphoned the rest of it into a living biological receptacle.” She felt his questioning gaze, and smiled a little. “It was your hand that you’d lost in a sword fight soon after regenerating. It grew back and all, but it didn’t half creep me out.” Even he smiled a little at that. “You had a friend. She was so amazing, and she touched that hand causing…”

“An instantaneous biological metacrisis,” he said, breaking his silence in shock as the puzzle pieces began to make sense. “Sorry,” he said when Rose raised her eyebrows at him.

She waved his apology away. “Yeah,” she nodded. “Another Doctor, but with one heart. When the enemies were dealt with and all, the full Time Lord Doctor decided that the metacrisis Doctor and I would be happy together and dropped us off in the parallel world. Didn’t exactly give either of us a choice,” she said bitterly and looked away. “But I loved him and he loved me, and we were so ready to spend the rest of our life together. He was the Doctor, in every way possible, just with one heart instead of two. And we were so, so happy,” her eyes filled with tears. “We eloped only a month after being left in the parallel world and started to grow our TARDIS coral so that we could continue running through time and space as always.”

She stopped then and wiped away her tears and the Doctor felt himself reaching for her before he stopped himself. He didn’t think she would appreciate his touch. Instead, he waited patiently for her to compose herself and continue.

“It happened about five years after we were married,” said Rose, her voice sombre now. “It was the most mundane thing ever, but he forgot our anniversary. I didn’t think much of it, because god, he could be so absent-minded. But then it was other things as well. Forgetting appointments, meals, small things which progressively got worse. Then the blackouts started and we finally did a few scans. The doctors thought it was early onset of Alzheimer’s but we both knew different. The metacrisis was failing and the Doctor’s mind was not strong enough to sustain it. The TARDIS coral started weakening without him and without that link to sustain him, the deterioration accelerated. I could see them both dying away slowly, and there was nothing I could do to help either one of them.”

Rose started sobbing at this point, accepting the handkerchief that the Doctor gave her to blow her nose.

“Around the same time, I found out that my aging had almost stopped. The vortex remnant had been changing me slowly all these years, and those frequent trips through the void had only strengthened the Artron and Huon particles in my system,” she sniffed again before continuing. “The Doctor died a year after his symptoms first started. He spent his last days using the TARDIS coral to enhance that vortex manipulator so I could find a way back, or at least, get away from Earth before people started asking too many questions. He begged me to leave, but I couldn’t abandon him, no matter what. He could barely recognise me in the final weeks, and it got so painful to watch him wither away like that, but I didn’t leave him. I stayed until the end.”

The Doctor stayed quiet as Rose sobbed into the handkerchief and felt his hearts clench with sorrow for her. Then, he remembered the scars she bore and he realised that her story was about to take a turn for the worse. Rose didn’t notice his paleness or his stiff posture before she continued.

“The Doctor asked to be cremated, like the Time Lords, and we arranged for his ashes to be scattered into space. We were driving back from the shuttle base back to London and there was a particularly icy part of the road. I was in the car behind my parents and my brother, when everything went dark. I later discovered that Torchwood had ambushed us, sending the first car crashing off the hill, killing my parents and my little brother,” she sniffed again, and took a deep breath before continuing. “They were careful not to harm me. Not that time at least,” she said bitterly.

Her hands trembled lightly, and yet again the Doctor felt an incredible urge to comfort her, especially since he could guess what had happened next. He stopped himself once again, and waited for her to continue.

“They had this...facility under Torchwood Tower,” she said, her voice almost mechanical now. “I don’t know if my dad or the few friends I had in Torchwood knew about it. I hope every day that they had no idea what was going on in there. I wasn’t the only test subject nor was I the first one.” Her voice shook as she continued. “It wasn’t so bad at first. Blood samples mostly, to see why I wasn’t aging. Then, they noticed how quickly I was healing from their serums and things. It got worse after that. They had salvaged a quantic reanimator on one of their raids, and they’d just found an ideal subject to test it on.”

The Doctor inhaled sharply at the mention of the vile device. It explained the scars on her. Quantic reanimator was a temporal device, one of the worst of its kind. It allowed its subject to be killed in any way possible before the temporal shift righted itself to a time before the subject was killed, making it “alive” again as if nothing had ever happened. Except, the scars remained as a reminder of the “death” that the subject had suffered.

Rose smiled bitterly at his gasp. “Guess you know what that is then,” she said. “Don’t think I have ever died so many times without actually dying. Shot, poisoned, starved, stabbed, you name it and it’s been done. I wish I could say I lost track of time, but time was the one thing I never forgot. It was five years, seven months and thirteen days and I remember every second of it. It became a game to them. Watching me die in agony over and over, and then bringing me back to life to start all over again.”

The Doctor could feel his rage simmering under the surface but he forced himself to tamp it down so that he could listen to her continue. Regardless, his fists clenched tightly, which Rose noticed but ignored.

“It was an ordinary day when I escaped,” she said, her trembling became worse. “I was being carved to pieces when I went numb. It terrified me, because I thought I was dying. You’d think I’d be glad to die after having all of that happen to me, but I couldn’t let myself die. I couldn’t just give up. The next thing I remember is this golden heat and when I woke up, I was alone. I was still in my cell and the torture instruments were still there, but everyone in there…” her breath hitched and she let her face fall into her hands. “They had been turned to dust.”

Stunned, the Doctor stared at her, unable to think of a single thing to say. Rose continued on before he got a chance to respond.

“It wasn’t just the people who were holding me, but all those poor aliens and everybody else in Torchwood Tower. People who had no idea what was going on underneath them, people who were just coming in to work. I-I’ve never hated or scared myself more. So, I ran. Torchwood had kept my possessions safe, including the modified vortex manipulator, and I ran away from Earth as quickly as I could. I didn’t even feel safe to return until nearly fifteen years had passed. I flew under the radar, used aliases and never drew attention to myself for nearly eight decades. Then, a group of Daleks found me on Trenzalore.”

The Doctor hissed at the mention of that place, but Rose was too lost in her memories to register it.

“They wanted me to open a breach between the two universes. I couldn’t do that, so I activated a failsafe on the vortex manipulator and caused an explosion. I thought it would kill me, but I woke up on Karn. Where I met you.” She inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly before raising her red-rimmed eyes to him. “And that’s all.”

The Doctor stayed silent, looking at the sorrow, fear and exhaustion in her eyes. He didn’t know what to make of all the information that had been given to him. He had no doubts that everything she had told him was the truth, despite some of the stuff that she left out.

“I am sorry, Rose,” he said finally. “For everything that happened to you.”

She shook her head bitterly. “You are apologising for the wrong things,” she said. “I will understand if you want me to leave.”

He looked astonished. “Do you want to leave?” he asked.

“Well, no,” she said, averting her gaze. “But you know what I did…”

“You were trying to survive and you had no control over it, Rose,” he said.

“Doesn’t make it right though, does it?” she asked, looking back at him with tears in her eyes.

“Doesn’t make it wrong either,” he said. “Rose, what you went through was terrible, and you reacted in self defense. It is similar to how a-a Time Lord would fight back if they had been backed into enough of a corner.” At her questioning look, he sighed. “There was a reason why Morbius fed on the life force of Time Lords. It is an incredibly powerful energy and what you described may well have been the remnants of the vortex within your life force reacting to danger. You did what any other being does when faced with death and let your self-preservation kick in. You cannot keep blaming yourself for it.”

Rose looked down at her hands and nodded slowly. “So, you are fine if I stay?” she asked.

He nodded. “Yes,” he said. His eyes fell to her ring that she was fiddling with, and he went slightly pale. “Look, Rose, I…”

Rose followed his gaze and covered her ring with her other hand. “I didn’t agree to tell you everything because I want you to be my husband, Doctor,” she interrupted, her voice slightly cold. “My husband is dead, and I have mourned him. I do not expect, nor do I want you to be him.”

“Then what do you want me to be, Rose?” he asked, feeling a little relieved.

She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. “A friend, comrade in arms, whatever you wanna call it,” she said.

He waited for her to open her eyes and nodded slowly. “I think I can do that,” he said.

Rose smiled a little and stood up. “Thank you,” she said, turning to go back to her room.

“Rose!” called the Doctor and she turned around in question. “I have something in the medbay for getting rid of those scars. If you want, of course,” he added hastily.

Rose stared at him for a few long moments before nodding quickly as fresh tears began to flow from her eyes. “Please,” she said.

With a soft smile, the Doctor walked up to her and offered his hand. Rose placed her hand in hers and let him take her in the direction of the medbay.

There would be more questions to answer, and many things to mourn, but for now, Rose let the Doctor get those physical scars off her one at a time, with a gentleness that surprised her.

In the midst of chaos and death, it was a solitary moment of healing. For Rose, and perhaps even the Doctor.

Chapter Text

“There should have been another way,” said Susan, pacing angrily. “Twenty two billion people is not just a number to be written off, Braxiatel.”

Irving Braxiatel, known to everyone else as Cardinal Braxiatel, frowned at her. “It was not my decision, Arkytior,” he said, ignoring her scowl for not addressing her by the Earth name she had chosen for herself. “The War Council…”

“Grandfather had it in hand!” interrupted Susan shrilly. “The Skaro Degradations would have been trapped into the void and the planets would have remained safe. Face it, Braxiatel, this had nothing to do with the War Council. These are Narvin’s machinations.”

Braxiatel raised an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting that Coordinator Narvin sanctioned the deaths of twenty two billion people for his own ends?” he asked, in a tone that suggested he had never heard anything so preposterous.

Susan bristled at the condescension in his voice. “Do not take me for a child, Braxiatel,” she snapped. “Narvin and the CIA’s goals are very well-known.”

“You talk as if their goals are harmful,” said Braxiatel, sitting up.

“If they are willing to go to such lengths for something so…”

“So what? Simple?” asked Braxiatel, glaring at her. “Nothing about this matter is simple. All previous efforts have failed. I personally…” he trailed off and glared at the floor for a few moments. “I may not approve of Narvin’s methods,” he said, with forced calm. “But I certainly approve of what he is trying to achieve. This war is nothing to be scoffed at, and if you do not approve, then you would do well to remember that it was you who came to me in the first place.”

Susan glared at him and looked away. “I-I…”

“You did not expect this to be as bad as it really is,” said Braxiatel, with some kindness. “Arkytior-Susan, I assure you, Narvin is doing what is best for Gallifrey and for all of us. You must have faith, child.”

Susan’s mouth twisted bitterly and she looked away to hide the tears brimming in her eyes. “I don’t know if I can,” she said in a low voice. “Vermillion was one of the planets sucked into the void. I personally spent an extended amount of time there. I knew people on that planet, Braxiatel.”

“Attachments are not good for us, Arkytior,” said Braxiatel calmly, though with no apparent sympathy. “You need to learn how to separate your emotions from your work. This is not a time for weakness.”

Susan chuckled without humour. “Oh, how easy you make it sound, Braxiatel. I would rather cut off an arm than turn into an unfeeling monster that all Time Lords seem to be becoming,” she said.

Braxiatel stood up, the anger on his face making Susan flinch a little. “I have matters to attend to,” he said in a barely restrained voice. “You should reconsider whether you wish to associate with this war, Arkytior, and decide where your loyalties lie. Good day.”

He turned around and stalked off, leaving Susan alone with her thoughts.

~

Rose examined her nude form in the full length mirror and prodded softly at the violently pink skin. The Doctor had healed the scars and then showed her to an enormous water tank that he said contained sentient water from Davidia known for its healing properties.

Three hours ago, he had left her inside it so that her newly repaired skin could heal properly. Rose had a vague memory of being immersed in the water but everything had gone blissfully blank after that. The timer had gone off after three hours and the water had drained out of the tank, leaving the door open for Rose to step out. She hadn’t felt so calm in her life, but she knew it had little to do with her peace of mind and more with the slight sensory deprivation that was the effect of the Davidian water.

Her skin was still a little too pink and sore but the Doctor had told her that she would be fine. She couldn’t bring herself to put on her heavy clothes just yet so she picked up the soft fleece robe that the TARDIS seemed to have left for her and hissed slightly as she put it on. When she returned to her room, she saw a tall glass of cool water and a small saucer with six tiny cubes the size of sugar cubes but in different colours waiting on the bedside table.

The Doctor had left a note telling her to eat each of the cubes and finish the whole glass of water before she got some sleep. Rose had been planning to sleep straight away but the mention of food reminded her how hungry she was, and despite not knowing what the cubes were, she picked up the bright red one first and tasted it cautiously. It didn’t have a taste, and it rather felt like she was eating warm ice. With a shrug, she finished it off and followed it up with the other cubes, getting surprised when she started feeling rather full by the fourth cube. She finished the last two off and drank the water greedily. Her stomach now full, she was reminded of how exhausted she was, and she took off the robe and snuggled under her covers.

She was asleep within moments.

~

The Doctor had not moved the TARDIS from the sight of the carnage just yet. He was running diagnostics on the area, hoping despite what he had told Rose that there was a way to fix it. He didn’t expect anything to turn up but he was doing it more for his sanity than anything else.

He toyed with the comm. link to Gallifrey, going over a thousand and one conversations he wanted to have with the Time Lords but realised the futility of such actions. He doubted there was anything he could say to them that would make a difference. In a rare moment of self-loathing, he wished that he was still like his previous self who would have commended the Time Lords’ actions. Even now there was a part of him glad that the Skaro Degradations had been eliminated completely. Eight planets and twenty two billion people was a small price to pay in the larger scheme of things.

His mouth twisted in a snarl and he turned away from the console in anger. He was the Doctor, not Time’s Champion. Not anymore. He had promised himself a clean beginning when he had regenerated into this life. No more the chessmaster or the man with the plan. Just the Doctor. The man who made people better.

Except, he had failed even at that. His companions, oh, he had lost so many of them. Try as he might, he could not bring himself to forget their faces nor the horrible fates that they had suffered. All because of him. Those that hadn’t been killed, had been driven away by his terrible actions and he had no one to blame but himself. He thought of Charley and C’Rizz, of his years on Orbis, of Lucie Miller and Tamsin Drew and Alex Campbell, of Molly O’Sullivan and Liv Chenka, and he hated himself just a little bit more.

Then, he thought of Rose and his thoughts darkened with the future that he would no doubt be responsible for condemning her to. He could not be certain how much of it would change now, but the fact remained that it had all happened for her already, and he had a nasty suspicion that with how tenuous time already was, it would be difficult to change. For her sake, he hoped she got a kinder future than what she had suffered through.

A bright blue beacon lit up on the console and his eyes turned towards it. The diagnostics had yielded something and it was with surprise in his hearts that he typed in to see the results for himself. What he read made him pause, horror fighting with disbelief as the evidence was clear as day in front of him.

Eight planets had been sucked into the void, but something else had got out. Something quite dangerous.

~

Rose awoke, feeling slightly disoriented when she realised that she had been asleep for a very long time. With how hectic things had been lately, physically and emotionally, she knew she had been exhausted but fourteen hours of sleep was still new for her. She winced when her back cracked as she got out of the bed. The pinkness of her skin had faded and she got dressed in a pair of loose jeans and a long sleeved shirt out of habit before padding barefoot out of her room to look for the Doctor.

He wasn’t in the console room, the kitchen or the library. Rose picked up an apple from the kitchen and munched on it as she looked for the Doctor. The TARDIS was quiet, her ever present hum sounding subdued. After exploring the first few doors in the hallway, Rose started to get a little worried. The TARDIS seemed to be leading her back to the console room and after the three doors she tried opened into the console room, Rose got the message and stepped into the console room.

It was still devoid of the Doctor and the controls were beeping away quietly. Rose checked the monitor to see where they were and was surprised to see that they had landed somewhere called Pazithi Gallifreya. Puzzled, Rose tried the door which opened onto a light coppery surface with breathable atmosphere that seemed devoid of life. Rose turned back to the empty console room and ran to the controls. To her surprise, the TARDIS was conducting scans on Pazithi Gallifreya, which she realised was one of the moons of Gallifrey.

She was debating whether to fetch her shoes and go in search of the Doctor when a beep indicated that the scans had been finished. Rose read the results and felt a chill shoot up her spine. There was only a single life sign on Pazithi Gallifreya, her own. Apart from her and the TARDIS, there was nothing else there.

~

The Doctor groaned lightly and tried to open his eyes that felt far too heavy. He had to blink a few times but the darkness did not disappear. He almost began to panic before he realised that his sight was just fine, and the unnatural darkness came from his surroundings. It didn’t appease him for long though, since there were very few kinds of darkness that his superior eyesight could not see past, and he did not like the implications one bit.

He tried to feel around but the space around him felt empty. He was almost certain that he was on the floor, but the temperature gave no indication of where he was. The smell was oddly familiar though, and he was reminded of the seaside. There was no sound of water but as soon as he thought that, he heard the sound of a wave breaking over the rocks. Startled, he sat up straighter and realised that the smell of the ocean was getting stronger as well. The darkness remained as resolute as ever, but the ocean seemed very close now, almost like he was on the beach.

He felt something digging into the hand that he had pressed to the ground and as he pulled away, he realised that there was now sand below him. He could smell seaweed and the texture of the sand under him was more tangible than ever. It was as if the more he thought about something, the clearer it started to feel for him. The darkness remained steady and he was abruptly reminded of being trapped in the Divergent universe with Charley and the way they had walked through the tube for weeks and weeks without their senses.

Abruptly, the blackness transformed into the blinding white light from that time and he realised that he had stood up without realising. Unlike before, he was still alone, though he could faintly smell Charley’s perfume. As he focused on the scent, it intensified until he felt like he would pass out from the overpowering fragrance. The smell disappeared abruptly and he was left in the whiteness again and he felt a stab of fear in his hearts. His thoughts were being manipulated into reality in a way that should not be possible. He couldn’t remember how he had come to be where he was, and with it came a chilling realisation that he had no sense of how much time had passed.

For a Time Lord, losing their sense of time was akin to losing a limb and the Doctor could feel his panic building when he realised that he could not feel how time was passing or whether it was passing at all. Almost as an answer to his panic, he felt calm settle over him. His time sense was still gone but he wasn’t feeling as agitated as before. He opened his mouth, to scream or just to see if he could even scream but if he screamed, he didn’t hear it. He couldn’t be sure if he was making a sound and wasn’t hearing it, or he was simply unable to make the sound.

Unnerved, he tried to move his hands. He wasn’t tied up, he was certain of it, but if he was moving his hands, he couldn’t feel them anywhere. He remembered that he had felt sand digging into his hands before and he crouched to the ground and touched his hands to the ground but there was nothing there. He was numb, with all or most of his senses gone.

His mind was still working, but he was not sure if it really was working or if he was just thinking that it was. It would be easy enough to decide, he realised. He just had to think of who he was and he would know that his mind was still working. The thought comforted him and he waited for it to come to him.

Who was he again? He had to have a name. Everyone had a name, didn’t they? Did he have a name? Was he called something? Anything?

Frustration grew within him when he couldn’t remember. The closest he could come to was that he was a...no, he had remembered his species when he’d realised that he had lost one of his vital senses. He couldn’t remember it anymore, nor could he remember his planet. He had to have come from somewhere and had to belong to some race in the universe. He had to have a home.

The whiteness began to dissipate and he focused on his surroundings. The smell of ocean came back in full force and he realised that he was in a thatched hut on the side of a beach. He could see the ocean through the open door and the machinery inside his hut which rather looked like a half-built spaceship. His hands were holding a spanner and he was apparently in the middle of fixing the spaceship.

“Old Doctor! Old Doctor, are you there?”

Doctor, he realised with a start. That was what he was called. He was called the Doctor. Of what, he wasn’t sure but it was a start. He focused on the voice and saw a floating jellyfish coming towards him.

Selta. The name came to him very easily and he wondered if he knew her.

“Old Doctor, I am so glad I found you,” said Selta, sounding a little breathless even for her jellyfish-like body.

“I’m not old,” he said automatically. “What do you want?”

Selta paused for a moment. “Don’t you remember me, old Doctor? It’s me, Selta. From Orbis. Do you not remember me?”

He did remember, he realised. Selta was a Keltan from the planet Orbis and he was helping her people fight against the Molluscari who were waiting to consume the Keltans. Except, all of this had already happened.

“You do remember, don’t you old Doctor?” asked Selta. “Do you remember how you left us all to die?”

He flinched back as the breathy voice turned furious.

“The Molluscari fried us in front of you but you just left us to die, didn’t you old Doctor?” asked Selta, her voice echoing around him. “You and your friend, Lucie, wasn’t it? You just left us to die.”

“Oh, don’t worry!” came a Northern voice and he flinched again when he recognised it.

“Lucie,” he breathed as she appeared next to Selta. She had her arms crossed over her chest and legs in those awful contraptions that served to keep her upright.

“He left me to die too,” said Lucie, her eyes blazing in anger as she looked to the Doctor. “First, he didn’t come as I lost my sight in one eye and use of both me legs. Then, he stood by and watched me blow myself up.”

“Is that what you do, old Doctor?” asked Selta. “Do you leave your friends to die?”

He opened and closed his mouth, hoping for words that wouldn’t come.

“Nothin’ to say?” mocked Lucie. “Hear that, Alexander the Great? Your beloved grandfather’s got nothing to say…”

“I can’t say I am surprised,” said Alex as he appeared behind Lucie. “He abandoned mum first, before anyone else. What do you expect from a man who abandons his own granddaughter?”

“You are dead!” snapped the Doctor, surprising himself how loud his voice had become. “You are all dead! This is an illusion!”

“Hark at him!” laughed Lucie. “It’s an illusion, it isn’t real,” she mocked.

“A place for the dead then, is it? My invite must have got lost,” came another familiar voice and the Doctor’s hearts went cold.

“Charley,” he breathed. “No, Charley, you were alive…”

The blonde Edwardian adventuress laughed. “Was I alive, Doctor? Or was I always supposed to be dead? You took that away from me, remember? You took away my death from me and then you tormented with it,” she said. “You couldn’t even let me die like I was supposed to, for your own selfish needs.”

“Don’t know which is worse really,” commented Alex casually.

“I’ll tell you what’s worse,” said a new voice as Tamsin Drew walked up to them. “Being shot by a Dalek and dying for no reason at all. My death served no purpose. I died begging and crying. All because of you, Doctor!”

“Enough!” yelled the Doctor. “This is not real! I refuse to let whatever is holding me manipulate my memories and disrespect my friends.”

“Such ego, eh Doctor?” said Lucie dryly. “Have you considered that maybe you are not a captive of anything?”

“Yes, maybe you are simply having a talk with your conscience,” said Charley brightly.

The Doctor glared angrily. “Oh, no, no, no, something is definitely holding me,” he said. He raised his eyes to the ceiling he couldn’t see and shouted angrily. “Do you hear me? I won’t be swayed by some conjured up memories meant to build guilt into my hearts!”

He got no reply but when he looked back down, he was alone once again. It had gone dark but he could see now that he was in a tiny cell with bars on his doors. With a grim sense of satisfaction, he sat down on the hard bed in his cell. “Come on then, now that the mind games are over, it is time to face me,” he shouted. “Show yourself!”

There was absolute silence before he heard giggling. He sat up a little and peered into the darkness past the bars on his cell door. It sounded like a child, a very young child.

“Who’s there?” he snapped.

The giggling got louder. “Who’s there?” asked a childish voice that he couldn’t know if it belonged to a boy or a girl. “Who’s there, who’s there, who’s there, who’s there…?”

“Stop!” he snapped, starting to feel dizzy at the echoing that followed the voice.

The child giggled again. “Stop, stop, stop, stop, who’s there, stop, who’s there…?”

The Doctor growled but the mocking and giggling stopped suddenly as the child spoke with almost a chilled sense of calm.

“You are mine, mine, mine now! Mine to play, mine, all mine,” said the child, in a sing-song voice. “Been alone, alone, alone for so long. Mine now! Mine, mine, all mine. Sleep now, sleep, sleepy sleep sleep…”

The Doctor started to feel dizzy and the heaviness fell over him again, reminding him of the state that he had woken up in. Before he could ponder more upon it, sleep had taken him over.

~

Rose was going out of her mind with worry. The Doctor had been missing for three days and she was no closer to finding out where he was than she was three days ago. With a growl, she banged her fist on the console. Efforts to trace the Doctor had turned up useless and she was getting desperate. The comm. link to Gallifrey was mocking her and she remembered each of the times that she had reached for it, only to be reminded that she didn’t need their sort of help.

But three days had passed now, and she was getting desperate. Desperate times called for desperate measures, she decided and pressed the comm. link to open communication to Gallifrey.

“This is Rose Tyler calling from the Doctor’s TARDIS. If someone can hear me, I need help…”

~

He was woken up as he always with the sound of ringing cloister bells in his ears. He had no idea how many days had passed or how long it had been. He had a vague memory of hearing Charley, or was it Lucie, talking to him. Then someone had sung him a lullaby. Yes, he remembered falling asleep to a lullaby. He liked the lullaby, it reminded him of being happy.

And he was happy. He was so happy. He did not know his name or where he came from, but he was so, so happy. He wanted to be here. He wanted to play. He only wanted to play. He was happy and he wanted to play.

The darkness died down slightly and he heard laughter. He decided that it was his laughter, because he was happy. Only he could laugh and play and be happy.

NO

The sharp thought slapped him into focus. He was the Doctor, he was a Time Lord. He was not happy. He was a prisoner of this thing that took delight in tormenting him. He had been here for a few days at least, but since he hadn’t regained his time sense yet, he couldn’t be certain.

Every time, he would be woken up with cloister bells, not remembering who or where he was. Sometimes he would see his friends, sometimes he would be alone. The creature that was holding him continued to elude him, though he did hear it once in a while. Its chilling voice would call to him, and the Doctor shivered in terror when he remembered the hypnotic hold the creature seemed to have on him.

He had fought it off each time so far but he wasn’t sure how long he could hold out for. He did not know what it wanted from him, nor what it looked like. Every time he refused, he would hear the lullaby and he would go to sleep. And then it would start all over again.

The Nightmare Child did not like to take no for an answer.

Chapter Text

The halls were silent, interrupted only by the clap-clap of her heavy boots on the floor. The tall, regal pillars on either side of her went up to a ceiling so high that she couldn’t even see where it ended. Muted candlelight lit her path and the eerie shadows around her were unsettling, to say the least.

The double door at the end of hallway was manned by two guards dressed in red with a silver cape flowing behind them. They did not waver in their position as she approached them, merely opened the doors with practiced synchronisation. She nodded back in thanks but they gave no sign of having seen it. Taking a deep breath, she walked past them into an amphitheatre where the fabled Time Lords waited for her.

There was silence as she entered, the hushed whispers dying down until Rose could hear her own heart beating in her chest. She could feel thousands and thousands of eyes on her back as she faced the smaller group of the Time Lords standing in front of her. The urge to turn around and look at them all sitting in the wide amphitheatre was almost overwhelming but she kept her eyes locked on the ones she could see.

Their leader appeared to be a man with a receding hairline and a stern face. He had his arms clasped behind his back as he stood in front of the rest of the Time Lords and appraised her with a neutral expression on his face.

Rose met his gaze unwaveringly, looking away only once to meet Susan’s eye from where she was standing next to a tall man with an impressive moustache. Susan’s posture was stiff but she smiled nervously at Rose. Rose nodded back at her and returned her gaze to the man in front of her.

“Welcome,” he said in a carefully, steady voice. “My name is Narvinectralonum, but you can call me Coordinator Narvin. Am I addressing Miss Rose Tyler?”

Rose’s eyes narrowed at the forced politeness in his voice but reminded herself that she needed their help. Taking a deep breath, she nodded shortly. “Coordinator of what exactly?” she asked.

Narvin’s expression didn’t change and Rose had to give him points for not rising to her impertinent tone. “I am the Coordinator of the Celestial Intervention Agency,” he said. “In these trying times, I am also coordinating our war strategies.”

Rose nodded at that, surprised that she was being given what appeared to be an honest answer. “Any reason why you brought the TARDIS down here?” she asked.

Narvin raised his eyebrows in surprise, though she could tell that it was only for appearances’ sake. “I thought you required our help. What better way but to invite you to Gallifrey?” he asked lightly.

“So you are going to help me?” asked Rose, unable to help the slight scepticism in her voice.

“But of course,” said Narvin, and the faux sincerity in his voice made Rose’s teeth hurt. “What can we do for you, Miss Tyler?”

Taking another deep breath to calm herself down, Rose crossed her arms in front of her. “The Doctor’s missing,” she said, ignoring the whispers that rose from the Time Lords in the amphitheatre. The ones in front of her stayed quiet, confirming her suspicions that they had already known.

“A shame,” said Narvin, in a perfectly rehearsed voice. “Won’t you tell us of the circumstances surrounding this extraordinary outcome?”

In retrospect, Rose couldn’t be certain if it was Narvin’s smug tone or her own worry about the Doctor that made her snap. “How about we just cut to the chase?” she snapped, glaring at Narvin. “What do you want?”

He feigned surprise, though his lips twitched a little. “Why, Miss Tyler, have we given you any indication that we require something of you?” he asked.

“Not in so many words, no,” said Rose, still glaring at him. “But it’s clear that you already knew of the Doctor’s disappearance. I would say you had something to do with it, except it made no sense for the TARDIS to be left where she was. So, how about we stop wasting valuable time and lay our cards on the table, Coordinator Narvin?”

Narvin’s mouth twisted into something that might almost be called a smile. “You are angry,” he said, still in that infuriatingly calm voice. “Have the Time Lords wronged you in some way, Miss Tyler?”

Rose laughed harshly and registered the genuine shock on Narvin’s face for the first time. It gave her some satisfaction before she continued. “Are you seriously asking if the Time Lords have wronged me in some way?” she repeated back at him, in a mocking tone. “Let’s see, you resurrected a maniacal Time Lord who is willing to feed on the life force of anyone with enough energy, sent an equally unstable Time Lady to man him, fed the Monk to the Daleks along with misinformation about me. If you’ve never been tortured by Daleks, let me be the first one to inform you that it is not a pleasant experience. And to top it off, you just allowed the void to swallow eight whole planets and twenty two billion people. So, what do you think, Coordinator Narvin? AM I ANGRY?” she spat angrily, her fists clenched at her sides.

Narvin dropped his veneer of civility and glared back at her. “I will not have a primitive alien question our war strategies,” he said furiously.

“What kind of war strategies require you to create the Skaro Degradations and then murder innocent lives to get rid of your own failures?” shouted Rose.

“Enough!”

Both Narvin and Rose stopped glaring at each other as a woman broke away from the group and walked between them. Looking at her, Rose wondered how she could have possibly thought that Narvin was the one in charge. She was just as tall as Rose, with almost identical blonde hair, but Rose knew it wasn’t the grand robe or the stiff collar that made her appear so regal.

The woman shot Narvin a look, who bowed and stepped back. “I am Romanadvoratrelundar, President of Gallifrey and all her dominions,” she announced to Rose. “I also happen to be a friend of the Doctor’s and I intend to do everything I can do to find him. Whatever help you need, you shall get.”

Rose relaxed slightly but crossed her arms defiantly just the same. “I’ll ask the same question to you, then. What do you want in return?”

President Romana raised her eyebrows. “Why do you think we want something from you?” she asked.

“Because you didn’t have to invite me to Gallifrey to tell me that you were going to help. You could have told me that over the comm. link.,” said Rose shrewdly, before casting a look at the crowd of Time Lords behind her. “You also didn’t have to announce it to everybody.”

The man with the moustache next to Susan smiled to himself, though it went largely unnoticed by everyone. Romana appraised Rose carefully. “Very well,” she said. “We require your help.”

“With what?” asked Rose sharply.

“With the Doctor,” said Romana.

Rose’s brow furrowed at the unexpected answer. “What do you mean?” she asked.

Romana sighed and met Rose’s gaze squarely. “The Doctor refuses to be a part of this war. Nobody has better experience with warfare than the Doctor, and despite our best efforts,” here she cast a look at the moustached man who grimaced. “He has declined to work with us.”

“Can’t imagine why,” snorted Rose, rolling her eyes.

Romana ignored the quip. “We need the Doctor, one way or another, and we would prefer it if he was...persuaded to join us voluntarily,” she said.

“And you think I can do that?” asked Rose, raising her eyebrows sceptically.

“We believe so, yes,” said Romana.

“And if I can’t?” asked Rose.

“Then you shall both have all our deaths and the destruction of Gallifrey on your conscience,” said Romana simply.

Rose rolled her eyes again. “Don’t know what you’ve been hearing, but the Doctor is actually a part of this war,” she pointed out.

“Visiting outposts and sparring with a small group of Daleks does not equate to fighting in this war,” snapped Narvin. “He has to command, he has to….”

“Yes, thank you, Coordinator Narvin,” interrupted Romana with a stern look. She turned back to Rose. “The Doctor can do much to end this war. I admit that mistakes were made, and we do not expect, nor are we asking you to forget our indiscretions. But now is not the time to be fighting amongst ourselves when a greater enemy lurks over the cosmos. This war has to end and the Doctor’s role is vital in ending it.”

Rose held Romana’s gaze for a moment before nodding. “Fine,” she said. “I need to find him first though.”

Romana turned back to look at Narvin and the moustached man. “Coordinator Narvin and Cardinal Braxiatel will accompany you to the Doctor’s TARDIS. They both have experience and intelligence that will help you locate the Doctor,” she said.

“Madam President,” interrupted Susan. “I wish to go with them too.”

Romana nodded. “Very well, Mrs. Campbell,” she said. “You may accompany Coordinator Narvin and Cardinal Braxiatel to help Miss Tyler find your Grandfather.”

“Not that I don’t appreciate the extra hands,” said Rose. “But I think I would work better on my own.”

“I agree with Miss Tyler,” said Cardinal Braxiatel, surprising everyone. “There is not a need for an entire entourage to find the Doctor. I believe I shall be of sufficient help to her.”

Romana’s eyes narrowed at him. “Dismissed,” she said to everyone and they obeyed at once as the amphitheatre started to empty. “A word, Braxiatel?”

Cardinal Braxiatel bowed to her and led her away to a quiet corner. Susan sidled up to Rose and smiled a little. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?” she asked.

Rose shook her head. “Can’t be certain of what’s waiting to face us,” she said with a shrug. “Thought you weren’t working for this lot.”

“I am not,” said Susan honestly. “I only came to Gallifrey because I thought Grandfather would have answered the call as well. But then Braxiatel was here, and while I don’t always agree with him, I do trust him.”

“Why?” asked Rose. “Who is he?”

Susan looked surprised. “You don’t know? Cardinal Braxiatel is Grandfather’s older brother.”

~

“Come on. It’s only just a bit farther…”

The heat seemed to have infused itself into his very bones, and the sand kept burning his eyes as he crawled through the desert. He could see the blood seeping into the sand from his palms, staining the golden sand crimson. His hands had stopped hurting a long time ago, though he couldn’t say how long that had been. He thoughts his knees were skinned too but since he couldn’t feel them either, he did not dare look down and check for himself. He had to keep going, he had to keep moving forward.

“You are doing so well.”

He couldn’t place the voice anymore. Sometimes he thought it was Susan, other times it sounded like Jamie. Or Adric, or Tegan, or Ace. It changed so many times that the only thing he knew for certain now was that it belonged to his friends and companions who had once travelled with him.

“Stop.”

The new voice made him halt, and the desert seemed to shimmer. He came to the abrupt realisation that it had been an illusion and he was still in the cell that he was being held in. He glanced down at his palms and saw that the skin was unbroken and pristine. He stumbled onto his bed in the cell, trying to remember the person that the new voice had belonged to.

He thought he had kissed those lips, or would kiss them. He was still unclear on that part, just as he was unclear about who he was. All he knew right now was that he’d had a lot of friends and he had failed every single one of them.

“I’m not a nice person,” he said out loud, his voice echoing around the empty cell. It wasn’t hoarse from disuse as he’d expected, making him wonder if he had been speaking this whole time and just hadn’t realised it.

“I would disagree with that,” the voice belonging to the mysterious woman said warmly.

“It would help if you showed me who you were, you know,” he said, peering through the semi-darkness to seek her out.

He heard footsteps and the cell door opened with a loud creak. A woman stepped through and her smile reminded him of exactly who she was. A reciprocating smile graced his face.

“Rose.”

~

“Rose,” she insisted.

“If you wish,” said Braxiatel.

“I do,” she said. “Miss Tyler makes me sound like I’m either about to be lectured by a teacher or stalked through an alley by paparazzi.”

Braxiatel seemed a little confused at her words but he didn’t ask her to elaborate. “What was the last known location of the Doctor’s TARDIS?” he asked, examining the controls but not touching them.

“You mean before Pazithi Gallifreya? The opening near the void, I think,” said Rose, looking away to hide her disapproval. She was not going to forget that in a hurry. “He said he was going to run diagnostics on it. But I checked the results of his scan and nothing out of the ordinary turned up.”

Braxiatel was stroking his moustache and nodding along. “May I see these results, Miss T-er, Rose?”

Rose nodded and pulled up the results of the scans on the monitor. Braxiatel peered at them for a moment and raised his eyebrows. “May I?” he asked, nodding towards the console.

She shrugged at him to go ahead, and watched him carefully as he typed away for a minute.

“You are correct,” he said finally. “There was nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Right, so something else must have happened, right?” asked Rose.

“Not quite,” said Braxiatel. “We created a breach to open the void and eight entire planets were swallowed by it.”

“I remember, thanks,” said Rose testily. “What’s your point?”

He ignored her glare. “My point is, an upheaval of that sort should have sent disturbances through the cosmos. But look here,” he pointed at the results. “Everything is perfectly balanced.”

Rose’s brow furrowed. “You’re saying that it should have been all messed up then?” she asked, looking at him questioningly.

“Undoubtedly,” he said in a booming voice that made her jump a little. “For this balance to have remained so constant, something else must have been displaced.”

Rose’s eyes went wide with horror at the insinuation. “You don’t mean…?”

“I’m afraid I do,” he said gravely. “The breach didn’t just swallow those eight planets…”

“It spat something else out,” finished Rose.

~

“Oh good,” she sounded delighted. “You do remember me, then?”

“I think so,” he said as she sat down next to him on the bed. “We are friends, aren’t we?”

“Bit more than friends, I should think,” she said and grabbed his cravat to pull him into a kiss.

He was more surprised than anything at the pair of soft lips on his but after spending who know how long without his senses and by himself, he couldn’t help but reciprocate the gesture. He felt her smile into the kiss right before she pulled away.

“Still remember how to do that then,” she winked. He smiled at her, wishing he could remember more. She seemed to understand his dilemma and grabbed his hand comfortingly. “It’s okay,” she said softly. “Try and remember slowly.”

He tried but kept coming up empty. It was as if every bit of information about who he was and how he had found himself here had erased itself from his mind. Along with all the information about Rose herself, whose name was the only thing he could remember about her.

“Oh, my poor darling,” she crooned and guided his head to her shoulder. He surrendered with a sigh, burying his head in her neck. “It’s alright. Everything will be okay.”

“Will it?” he asked despairingly. “I can’t even remember who I am.”

“Oh, but you do,” she said, stroking his hair. “You remember who you are, don’t you? All this time that you have been here, you have heard all these people haven’t you?”

He pulled away in shock. “How-how do you know?” he asked.

“I just do,” she said lightly with a smile. “But those people, don’t you remember who they were?”

“They were my friends,” he said, but feeling unsure about that just the same.

“No, no, my dear,” she said, as if speaking to a child. “They were not your friends. Try again. You remember how you treated them, don’t you? Do friends deserve to be treated the way that you treated them?”

He shook his head at once. “No, no, they don’t,” he said. “NO,” he shouted in a loud voice. “They were my friends,” he muttered, his voice full of pain and confusion.

“Sshh, shh,” she said comfortingly, stroking his hair gently. “It’s okay. Let’s ask them, shall we? Let’s ask if they were your friends.”

“Not at all,” said the young Scottish man who had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. “Left me without my memories and ran off the first chance he got.”

“Do you remember his name?” she asked in a gentle voice.

“Jamie, oh Jamie,” he gasped. “I am so sorry.”

“There are others too, you know,” she said, still stroking his hair in that same hypnotic motion. “There’s Zoe, see. You abandoned her too,” she added, pointing at the petite, young girl who scowled at him. “Who else? Oh, there’s Ace. The one you famously declared was as good as a daughter to you. How many times did you manipulate her life to your advantage?”

“Far too many by my counts,” said Ace, crossing her arms. “Abandoned me too when he got done manipulating me.”

“Oh dear,” she said, before a loud gasp escaped her. “And there’s Susan. Your own granddaughter. How many times did you leave her behind? You know, I am sensing a theme here. You find all these bright and shining things and leave them behind when a shinier toy comes along, don’t you?”

“No,” he protested, but it was weak.

“Don’t lie, darling,” she crooned. “It’s true, isn’t it? How many of those toys do you break before you are done with them? Do you even a shed a tear, or do you just find another toy as quickly as you can?”

“Stop it, Rose,” he begged, closing his eyes to stop himself from looking at the accusing faces in front of him. “Please stop.”

“But we are only getting started,” she said airily. “How can we stop before you remember who you are?”

“I do,” he said in a low voice.

“What was that, sweetheart?” she asked.

“I do remember who I am,” he repeated in a slightly louder voice.

“Good,” she said in a satisfied tone. “Tell me then, who are you?”

He looked at her with wide eyes. “I am the one who takes these little toys and plays with them until they break. And when they break, I go and find myself a new toy to do the same,” he said, a smile starting to grace his face. “Rose! I know who I am!”

“Yes, you do, don’t you,” she said, triumphantly.

He giggled giddily and nodded. “I am the Nightmare Child.”

~

“What kind of creatures even live in the void?” asked Rose.

“Too many to consider in the short time that we have,” said Braxiatel, looking agitated. “The void has simultaneously been a prison as well as a wasteland for everything unwanted in the universe. Everyone from the Guardians and the Eternals to the Time Lords have used it for that purpose through time. Anything could have got out.”

“Which means that anything could have taken the Doctor,” concluded Rose and rubbed her temple. “We have to go there.”

Braxiatel nodded. “Yes, reckless as it might be, we can glean more if we were at the Gates of Elysium. Now that we know that something escaped from there, we might find a clue as to what it was.”

“Is that what your lot are calling it now?” asked Rose as he piloted the TARDIS. “Gates of Elysium?”

“Seemed appropriate,” said Braxiatel. “It’s Earth mythology, referring to…”

“Yes, I know what it refers to,” said Rose with a scowl. “Don’t think the void qualifies as some sort of heavenly afterlife.”

Braxiatel let the matter drop and they were silent as the TARDIS materialised near the Gates of Elysium. Rose pulled on the lever that she remembered turned the TARDIS ceiling transparent, and the two of them stared in shock in front of them.

“That wasn’t there before,” said Rose, through white lips as they saw the shadow encompassing nearly the entire sky.

“It cannot be,” said Braxiatel, aghast. “Of all the bastard things to escape the void.”

“You know what that is?” asked Rose, staring at the shapeless shadow that seemed to have made even Braxiatel’s carefully kept composure slip.

“That is the Nightmare Child,” said Braxiatel. “It is said it was born of abomination in a war much like this. That...thing...it is known to have destroyed entire systems for the one who managed to tether it.”

“Tether it?” asked Rose, but Braxiatel paid her no mind as he walked around the console, periodically pressing switches.

“It’s already found a host and I would hazard a guess and say that it is the Doctor,” he muttered to himself.

“Hold it right there,” said Rose, slipping between him and the console. “You’re saying that this Nightmare Child has the Doctor?”

Braxiatel sighed in irritation but nodded. “The Nightmare Child needs a host to manifest itself in the form that we see it now. Judging by the fact that this was where the Doctor disappeared, it is likely that he was chosen as the host.”

“How do we get him out of there?” asked Rose, looking up at the shadow which seemed even more sinister now that she knew what was in its depths. “Braxiatel!” she insisted when he didn’t answer.

“The Nightmare Child can be a powerful weapon and if the Doctor is the host then it might be easier for the Time Lords to control it,” he murmured, seemingly to himself.

Rose clenched her fists as his meaning sunk in. “You’re not thinking of controlling that thing,” she said.

He looked at Rose. “The Nightmare Child was a very powerful force which was why the Eternals locked it into the void in the first place. It can easily overcome the Dalek forces if need be. If we could control it, we could end the war right here,” he said.

“And what about the Doctor? What happens to him?” asked Rose, loosening her fists and sticking her hands into her pockets.

“It is difficult to say what would remain of his mind after being under the control of the Nightmare Child,” said Braxiatel. “For all we know, he could die…” he trailed off when he felt a cold point of metal touch his right heart. “Rose…”

She pressed the knife a little harder into his chest, just enough to tear his shirt. “I wonder what happens when a Time Lord is stabbed in both his hearts,” she said seriously, staring at Braxiatel unflinchingly.

“You would kill me?” he asked, with some amusement.

“Without a doubt, if you plan to go ahead with this insane idea of letting the Nightmare Child destroy the Doctor while you parade it around like a weapon,” she said.

“It would hardly be parading,” he said but at a sharp jab from Rose, he sobered up. “The Doctor is one life as opposed to billions upon billions. If his death means that the Daleks are defeated, I am certain that even he would agree to it.”

“Well, the Doctor’s not here right now so I don’t give a fuck about what he wants,” said Rose plainly. “And if you think I believe your little tale about wanting to save billions of lives, you are sorely mistaken.”

“We don’t have time for this,” said Braxiatel, trying to shake her off but Rose merely dug the knife in a little, drawing a bead of blood.

“I wouldn’t move too much if I were you,” said Rose. “Got too much experience with a blade, me. And not when I was wielding it either.” She let her meaning sink in before continuing. “We are getting the Doctor out of there and then we are sticking the Nightmare Child back in the void where it belongs. Capiche?”

Braxiatel chuckled. “And if I refuse to help you?” he asked.

“Then we’ll find out if you can start regenerating before I finish stabbing both your hearts,” said Rose, far more bravely than she was feeling.

Braxiatel’s chuckles turned into full-blown laughter. Rose was taken aback at that but it didn’t seem like he was laughing at her. She patiently waited for him to stop.

“I apologise for laughing, Rose,” he said, still smirking. “I have no doubt that you could kill me if you wanted. But I assure you, I have no desire to do anything other than what you suggested.”

Rose pulled the knife back, but only a little. “Then why the little ruse?” she asked.

“Call it curiosity,” said Braxiatel. “I wanted to see where your loyalties lay.” When she still looked unsure, he looked at her seriously. “I do not wish to see my brother be driven to madness, and even if the Time Lords managed to somehow control that thing, there is no saying that it wouldn’t turn on us once it is done with the Daleks. Rose…”

They were interrupted when the TARDIS beeped loudly, and started flashing every mauve beacon on the console. Braxiatel and Rose sprang away from each other and turned to the console in unison.

“Proximity alarm,” said Braxiatel. “Something’s coming our way.”

“I think I know what it is,” said Rose, looking at a monitor on the console. Braxiatel peered at it over her shoulder and went pale at the sight of the familiar saucer shaped ships.

“The Dalek fleet.”

Chapter Text

Previously

“Proximity alarm,” said Braxiatel. “Something’s coming our way.”

“I think I know what it is,” said Rose, looking at a monitor on the console. Braxiatel peered at it over her shoulder and went pale at the sight of the familiar saucer shaped ships.

“The Dalek fleet.”

“What in the bastard hell are they doing here?” growled Braxiatel.

“I’m guessing they had the same bright idea that you did,” said Rose, her eyes fixed on the monitor.

Braxiatel glanced at her in alarm before looking back at the monitor. “We have to stop them. If they get control of the Nightmare Child…”

“Yes, I know,” said Rose grimly. “Any ideas on how to get the Doctor out of there?”

Braxiatel shook his head and glanced up at the ceiling where the Nightmare Child’s shapeless shadow was gaining a form. “Oh no,” he said.

Rose followed his gaze and gasped loudly. “It looks like…”

“A child, yes,” said Braxiatel hoarsely. “A child that can swallow entire galaxies. We are too late.”

“What do you mean?” asked Rose, alarmed.

“Before, it was only a shapeless form, meaning it had a host but no real power to destroy anything. But now, the host is compliant,” said Braxiatel, horrified.

“The Doctor will never...oh,” Rose broke off, feeling her heart sink to her stomach. The words left unsaid rang in their ears as if she had shouted them out. The Doctor would never willingly help the Nightmare Child, and the only way for this to have happened was if the Nightmare Child had broken the Doctor’s will to resist it.

“I need to contact Gallifrey,” said Braxiatel urgently.

“What are you going to do?” asked Rose.

He paused with his hand on the comm. link. “As much as it pains me, I am asking the Gates of Elysium to be opened,” he said quietly. “Once it opens, it will take the Nightmare Child and if we are lucky, the Dalek fleet with it into the void.”

“The Doctor is still in there,” said Rose furiously.

“The Doctor, even if he is still alive, is not the Doctor anymore,” snarled Braxiatel furiously. “You could draw your knife on me again if you wish, but I intend to stop that thing before it escapes, or worse, the Daleks find a way to control it.”

~

“Not very long now,” it murmured to itself. Already it could feel its form solidifying. The chains that the Eternals had put it in all those eons ago had left their branding and it was still quite weak. But not for long.

Its host was strong, a Time Lord with centuries of experience. Once it had a solid form, the entirety of time and space would be at its disposal to consume. It could see in the Doctor’s mind that the Eternals had vanished in the fear of this war, and now, there was no one left to stop it.

There were those who wanted to try, of course. It could feel two of them quite close by. A Time Lord vessel that belonged to its host, and a Dalek fleet bearing their creator. Some might consider it a mighty challenge but it merely thought of this as a minor inconvenience. Davros, the Dalek’s creator could no more control it than teach his Daleks anything other than to kill and destroy.

The Doctor’s vessel, on the other hand, contained two people. One of whom was the woman it had deliberately overlooked when choosing a host. It did not like her presence and the brands left by the Eternals seemed to rankle every time it thought of her. It had just escaped the void when it had seen her, and it hadn’t dared to take her as a host for fear of what she was. While a Time Lord was not a safe choice either, it was still better than the unknown.

The Doctor had taken longer than it had expected to break, but now that he was fully its, it knew it could take on that woman without much effort. It needed to lure her in, before she could think of a way to stop it. It was still building its strength and it had no desire to be back in its shackles and living out its existence in the Howling. It knew she wouldn’t present a huge challenge, and it had the Doctor’s memories to thank for that. She was no Guardian, or even an Eternal, just a human who had happened onto the vortex.

It would be as easy as swatting away a fly.

~

“I could stop you, you know,” said Rose as Braxiatel reached for the comm. link.

“Then why don’t you?” he asked, looking at her.

Rose gritted her teeth and looked away. “Have you got a Time Ring?” she asked.

“Yes, why?” asked Braxiatel, before his expression became furious. “You’re not going in there,” he said firmly.

“You don’t get to tell me what I can and can’t do,” said Rose fiercely. “And the Time Ring would be for you, not me.”

“I am not going in there either,” he snapped.

“I’m not asking you to,” said Rose in exasperation. “Go back to Gallifrey and let me take the TARDIS to find the Doctor.”

“Absolutely not,” said Braxiatel immediately.

“Hear me out,” said Rose, doing her best to sound calm. “I would only be checking. If there is any chance to get the Doctor out of there, then I will take it. If not, then at least we know we did all we could to try and save him.”

Braxiatel pursed his lips. “And if you do not return?” he asked.

“Then you open those gates and make sure the whole bastard thing goes into the void along with every Dalek heading our way,” said Rose, looking him dead in the eye.

Braxiatel seemed to be at war with himself as he looked between Rose and the console. “Will you know how to pilot the TARDIS?” he asked finally.

“Yes,” said Rose, more confidently than she was feeling.

“The Daleks are one hundred and twenty microspans away at their current velocity,” said Braxiatel. “That’s two hours you have, Rose. I cannot give you anything more than that.”

“Fine,” nodded Rose. “Now, go.”

Braxiatel looked reluctant as he drew a Time Ring from his pockets, but at an insistent look from Rose, he activated the Time Ring and dematerialised from the console room.

Rose’s breath escaped her in a whoosh and she turned back to the TARDIS console. “Now then,” she said. “Let’s go find him.”

The TARDIS gave a mournful whine when Rose tried to activate the launch sequence. “Oh, quiet you,” said Rose as she ducked under the console. “I know it’s here somewhere. I remember him telling me about it. Said it was the part that bore his imprint. The briode nebuliser. It’s what held the telepathic bond between him and the coral. Used to feel it from the other side of the world, he said.”

The hum of the TARDIS remained unchanged, but the console room was a little warmer which made Rose smile. “This one time,” she said as she dug around the wires. “This one time, we were trapped in a dust storm in the Australian outback. No cell reception or any other living soul for miles. There we are, trying not to die, and he starts laughing. Said the coral had just strengthened the telepathic connection.”

She laughed to herself at the memory, before shaking her head. “Look at me now, eh?” she murmured with a sigh. “Fighting Daleks at the Doctor’s side again. The more things change...Ah, there it is,” she said triumphantly as she found the tiny component. “This is bound to make things easier.”

The TARDIS started to dematerialise, but the scanner began to fritz out and sparks erupted from the console. Rose was undeterred as she piloted the TARDIS, trying to remember every lesson the Doctor had given her, thankful that she had the TARDIS to nudge her in the right direction when she was getting close to pressing the wrong buttons.

The landing was far from smooth but Rose was glad when the TARDIS started to materialise. The scanner was rendered useless for the time being, so there was no other choice but to step outside.

She opened the TARDIS door cautiously. The creak echoed in the empty darkness beyond it, and Rose was suddenly unnerved at the odd air in the place. The TARDIS navigation systems showed that she was in the belly of the beast, so to speak, but this curious place resembled more of a maze than anything else.

Every instinct in her body screamed at her to go back inside the TARDIS and get the hell away from where she was. It was only the thought of getting to the Doctor that made her close the doors behind her and step into the unknown. The sound of the closing doors had an impending sense of finality to them, but she tried not to dwell on it too much.

The air seemed to get colder as she moved away from the TARDIS, and the complete silence started to press around Rose’s heart. It reminded her of sensory deprivation, but not the relaxing kind that the Davidian water had brought, but rather the chamber created by Torchwood to persuade their captors to spill their guts. Shivering with the memory of that horrible place, Rose drew her coat closer and walked on. The briode nebuliser in her hand seemed to have a strong signal, and she followed it diligently, not daring to venture away from her set path.

She had walked a few yards when she realised that it wasn’t just the silence around her that was causing her to be unnerved, but the fact that she couldn’t hear her own footsteps, heartbeat or even her own breathing. Panic set into her and she stomped her foot loudly, only to realise that no sound had come from the action. The cold seemed to be seeping into her bones, and her teeth were practically chattering now, though she couldn’t hear that either.

A sense of calm stole over her, but Rose flinched away from the unnaturality of it. She knew that something was trying to influence her, which made her quicken her steps. Almost immediately, she found herself at a dead end. A frustrated huff left her mouth, and she jumped in surprise when she heard the sound clearly. Heartened, she turned around and started to jog back to the TARDIS. The journey back seemed longer even though she was running, but when she finally saw the blue box, she broke into a sprint.

She knew she wasn’t going to return just yet but the presence of the blue box helped more than anything, and Rose laid a hand on the doors and caught her breath. The sound all around her appeared to be distorting again, and Rose flinched back involuntarily. She glanced at the watch on her wrist and jumped in shock when she realised that she had been in here for more than an hour. It had felt like mere minutes to her. It wasn’t just sight and sound that the Nightmare Child was distorting, but time as well. The Dalek fleet was only fifteen minutes away, and after that Braxiatel was sure to fling the Gates of Elysium open and send every entity in the vicinity into the void.

Cold sweat broke out on her brow, but Rose pushed herself away from the TARDIS to find the Doctor. She had barely taken two steps when she felt a breeze at her back. She turned around sharply but to her shock, the TARDIS was melting away, as if someone had poured a jug of water on a painting that was still wet. The blue seemed to wash off, mingling in with the darkness, until there was nothing left. Rose found herself unable to move, even after she tried her hardest to run to the TARDIS. She could only stand helpless as the TARDIS melted away completely into the blackness.

“Don’t worry,” came the calm voice and Rose whirled around and saw the Doctor walk up to her. He looked completely unharmed, his clothes no more dishevelled than usual, with not a hair out of place. “It is just an illusion. The real TARDIS is in my possession.”

He stopped in front of her, and Rose searched his face to see any sign of the Nightmare Child but there was none. He looked like the Doctor, spoke like him, had the same warmth to his eyes, and there was no trace of coldness on him. Rose thought she would have been better off if his face had been blank, instead of this facade that she knew wasn’t real.

“We haven’t got long,” she said, her voice shaking badly as she spoke. “Doctor, if you are still in there…”

“Oh but I am the Doctor, my dear,” he interrupted her with a gentle smile. “I am the Doctor, the Nightmare Child, whoever you want me to be.”

Rose ignored his words. “Doctor, please, you have to fight…”

“Shh, Rose,” he said, touching his palm to her cheek softly. Rose felt the unnatural calm try to placate her, but unlike before, she couldn’t fight it this time. She started to relax without her permission. “There,” he added with a satisfied smile. “I see a lot of pain in you, Rose. They hurt you so much, didn’t they?”

The calm seemed to disappear and the darkness around them started to transform into a sterile room that Rose knew far, far too well. The hypnotic beeping of machines hit her ears and she clapped her hands to ears, trying to shut it out.

“Pulse normal, subject seems to have recovered from the effects of the gunshot wound to the abdomen. Apart from a bullet hole, which is well on its way to be healed, there is no additional damage. What is next?”

“STOP!” Rose screamed, squeezing her eyes shut. She knew what was next and she did not want to relieve it. But it was futile, she felt the cold press of the needle in her arm and she screamed loudly.

“Subject is ready for the next round of quantic reanimator testing. Method of testing: Slow slicing.”

She fell to her knees, her eyes still shut and hands covering her ears as her own screams echoed in her ears. She could feel the cut of knife in her skin and the coldness of the blood as it trickled from it. The air around her was getting hotter, and there was something trying to claw its way out of her mind. Something too powerful for her to hold back. She started to feel her body going numb and the panic returned. She did not want to die...she wanted to keep living...the heat was getting worse now...was that a wolf howling…?

A raw scream tore from her throat but then she felt cool arms grip her shoulders and give her a gentle shake. She opened her eyes and realised that they were full of tears. The Doctor, the Nightmare Child, whatever he was, was looking at her. “I can make it go away, Rose,” he said, looking at her with eyes full of compassion. “Would you like me to take it away, Rose?” he asked. “You only have to say, and it will go away.”

Rose could feel herself trembling, and as his words sunk in, her trembling got worse. Any moment now, the energy from the vortex would turn every person in the Torchwood building to dust. She did not want that to happen. Not again.

“Just say it, Rose,” he said again. “You just have to say, Rose, and the pain will stop.”

“Th-The pain will stop?” she asked, her voice sounding hoarse and childlike to her own ears.

“Yes, of course it will,” he said soothingly. “All the pain will go away. It will not hurt.”

“Hu-Hurt…” she murmured. “Hurt,” she said again in a stronger voice. “Because it hurts.”

The grip on her shoulder seemed to falter almost imperceptibly. “Yes, and you don’t want it to hurt anymore, do you, Rose?”

“No,” she said and her voice seemed to be getting stronger with every breath. “No, I won’t. If it stops hurting, then it won’t be real.”

She looked into the face of the Nightmare Child and saw the panic in his eyes. With all the strength she could muster, she tried to shove him away, but he was quicker than her. He had already moved away from her and was glaring at her with venom. “Oh, you stupid creature,” he hissed, with none of his previous kindness. “I was hoping to spare you but you had to go and reject your best chance, didn’t you?”

Rose got to her feet, still feeling a bit disorientated. “Pain keeps me alive,” she said, her breath coming out in pants. “I know it kept him alive too. What did he see that made him hold out to you for so long? What hurts the Doctor the most?”

“Stop it,” he said coldly, but Rose had seen her opening.

“What did you see, Doctor? Was it your family? Or friends?” she asked, casting a quick look at her watch which showed that there were about five minutes before the Dalek fleet was there. She had to hurry. “Did you see the people you travelled with, Doctor?” she asked, and when she saw the rage on his face, she knew she was close. “You did, didn’t you? Did you see Susan? Did you remember leaving her on a Earth that the Daleks had ravaged?”

The Doctor snarled in anger but Rose saw that he was struggling to stay upright, as if he was fighting something powerful. It gave her the strength to keep going. “Or was it Alex, your great-grandson? The one who died because of the Monk? Was it someone else, then? Lucie? Tamsin? Names you can’t even mention because it hurts too much?” she asked, flinching when he screamed loudly in anger.

“I am stronger than this, you simple girl,” he snarled, madness swirling in his eyes as he started to shuffle towards her.

“Did you see me?” asked Rose, her eyes going wide when he fell to his knees. “Did you feel guilty for subjecting me to this life? For leaving me behind?”

“Rose...Rose…” he gasped, and extended his hand towards her.

Rose didn’t move. “You are feeling it right now, aren’t you? The pain, the guilt, you feel it, don’t you, Doctor?” she asked triumphantly. “You are alive, Doctor, you are still alive...and God help me, I’ll not give up on you…”

The Doctor collapsed on the ground unconscious and Rose jumped when she saw the darkness start to clear. The TARDIS was only a few feet in front of her, and Rose hauled up the Doctor’s unconscious form with all her strength. He was a like a puppet without strings, but still breathing as Rose slung one of his arms over her shoulder and started to shuffle towards the TARDIS. It was not easy and she could feel each second tick by like it was an hour, knowing that it meant certain death for both of them if they did not get away.

The sound of a materialising Time Ring made her steps falter and she whirled around in shock when she saw Braxiatel appear. He looked as shocked to see her as she did him, but he jumped into action at once, grabbing the Doctor’s other arm and slinging it over his own shoulder. Between the two of them they moved the Doctor into the TARDIS very quickly, and set him down into an armchair in the wide console room.

“How did you get back?” asked Rose, as Braxiatel started to pilot them away.

Braxiatel stared at the controls as he spoke, looking very embarrassed for some reason. “I did not feel right leaving you to deal with such a powerful entity alone,” he admitted. “Turns out, my help was not required.”

“It is appreciated though,” said Rose with a soft smile and patted his arm in thanks.

He looked at her in surprise but Rose missed that look as she ran to the Doctor to check on him. “Is the Nightmare Child gone from him?” she asked, turning back to Braxiatel, whose face was blank once more.

Braxiatel pointed to the ceiling where the Nightmare Child looked like a shapeless cloud again. “It is without a compliant host for now, but the Dalek fleet is nearly upon us, and that is not the worst news there is.”

“What then?” asked Rose, feeling a sense of dread.

“That fleet comes bearing Davros himself,” said Braxiatel gravely. “Davros is…”

“Yes, I know who he is,” said Rose, her mind whirling. Memories of the Crucible focused sharply in her mind. “Can’t the Time Lords open the void?”

“Davros is smart enough not to get caught in the pull of the void,” said Braxiatel, frustrated. “He…”

“Doctor,” came a gravelly voice over the comm. link and both Braxiatel and Rose stared at it in shock.

Rose looked back at the unconscious form of the Doctor and back to the comm. link where Davros was no doubt waiting for the Doctor to respond. She looked at Braxiatel and tilted her head. Braxiatel inhaled deeply and pressed the comm. link button. “Hello, Davros,” he said, his voice sounding suspiciously like the Doctor’s. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

“You have changed, Doctor,” said Davros. “Your voice has changed.”

“I’m a Time Lord,” said Braxiatel, with all the haughtiness of his race. “Change is something that is quite constant with us.”

“Curious,” said Davros. “It was always my view that change was what the Time Lords feared the most.”

“If you are here for the Nightmare Child, Davros, I am afraid you might be too late,” said Braxiatel, with a look at Rose who nodded.

“Such lies, Doctor,” said Davros. “I can see that the Nightmare Child is without a host for now. I will offer myself as host, and the Daleks will control the Nightmare Child. Victory will be imminent.”

“So you keep saying,” said Braxiatel. He looked at Rose who mouthed something at him. His eyes brightened as he understood what she had said. “Well, if that is what you want, then I won’t stop you. Go ahead, Davros.”

“You will not stop me?” asked Davros, sounding incredulous.

“I want no part of this, Davros,” said Braxiatel. “If it is the Nightmare Child you want, then I won’t stand in your way.”

There was silence on the other end, during which Braxiatel nudged Rose towards the secondary comm. link to Gallifrey. He mouthed ‘Gates of Elysium’ to her, and she nodded.

“This is Rose Tyler, anyone there?” she said in a low voice so that Davros wouldn’t hear.

“This is Coordinator Narvin. What is going on there?” Narvin sounded annoyed.

“Shh,” said Rose. “Be ready to open the Gates of Elysium at my command.”

“Very well,” said Narvin, grumbling something else under his breath.

Rose stuck her tongue out at the comm. link but then Davros spoke again.

“So be it, Doctor,” said Davros. “You shall see the Daleks be victorious and become the new lords of time.”

“Yes, yes, get on with it,” said Braxiatel impatiently.

“The Dalek fleet is in the vicinity,” came Narvin’s voice. “Tell us when.”

Rose met Braxiatel’s gaze, who nodded, and the command was at her lips when they heard a hoarse negative from behind them.

They turned around and saw the Doctor struggling to his feet. He waved away Rose’s help and came to stand at the console, leaning against it for support. “Davros, you’ll die if you go in there,” he said, his voice hoarse.

“What are you doing?” hissed Braxiatel.

The Doctor glared at him. “I should ask you the same,” he snapped weakly.

The two brothers glared at each other, but they looked away when Rose gave Narvin the command. “Now, Narvin,” she said clearly.

“No,” shouted the Doctor hoarsely, but the Gates had opened, and they saw the Dalek fleet and the shapeless cloud both start to get fainter. They heard a gut-wrenching scream erupt from Davros, but the comm. link cut itself off, as did the feed on the scanner.

There was silence in the console room, and the Doctor looked at Rose with a betrayed expression on his face.

She seemed to be ignoring him as she looked at Braxiatel. “Take us away before we get pulled in too,” she ordered calmly.

Braxiatel looked just as shocked as the Doctor but nodded and started to pilot them away. The Doctor was staring at Rose like he was seeing her for the first time. She rolled her eyes at him.

“He won’t die,” she said and the two brothers looked at her in shock. “Don’t ask me how I know. But he is out of the war for now.”

“You can’t be certain of that,” said the Doctor, still looking angry.

“Yes, I can,” snapped Rose. “I thought we agreed that I knew some things that you didn’t.”

“But you can’t be certain that it won’t change things,” said the Doctor, looking like it was an effort for him to stand anymore.

“Not this,” she said, knowing that in every fibre of her being. “This thing with Davros had to happen. A day will come when we will face him again, and that day cannot change. I won’t let it,” she added firmly.

The Doctor’s brain was slow to catch up to it, but he nearly fell down in shock when it clicked. He glanced at Rose’s ring and then back at her eyes, where he saw the confirmation. He nodded and the anger melted away from his face. The fight seemed to leave him then and Rose moved forward to catch him before he fell. He held onto her shoulders as she propped him upright.

“Come on, off to medbay with you,” she murmured.

“No, zero room,” he said.

“What’s that?” asked Rose questioningly.

“Something that will help,” he said as he started walking with her support.

Cardinal Braxiatel watched the two of them leave to find the zero room and raised his eyebrows. They hadn’t even seemed to realise that he was there. Either that, or they just did not care. It seemed as if Coordinator Narvin had been absolutely right about one thing.

Rose Tyler was the key to the Doctor.

Chapter Text

Rose helped the Doctor down the TARDIS corridor until they came to a pair of blank white double doors with a slight pink tinge to them. The Doctor nodded towards it and the two of them stumbled inside the room that lay beyond the doors.

The Doctor stood upright and let go of Rose as soon as the door closed behind them. “That’s better,” he said, no trace of fatigue or pain in his voice.

“This is the zero room?” asked Rose, looking at the pink-tinged room that smelled like roses. “It’s so calm.”

“It cuts off all interference,” explained the Doctor. “Even the gravity,” he added as he jumped playfully in the air and lay down horizontally in mid air.

Rose smiled despite herself as she walked around the room. “Why’s it smell like roses?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, but Rose realised that his lips hadn’t moved. “It always has.”

“Are you talking right now?” asked Rose.

“Yes,” he said and this time, his lips did move. “All interference is cut off and telepathic communication is rather like talking on the phone.”

Rose’s brow furrowed and she thought Hello and got an amused Hello back from the Doctor. She shook away the playfulness and looked at him seriously. “How are you feeling?” she asked.

He sighed and jumped back down so that he was standing in front of her. “Fine, for now,” he said. “Thank you, by the way. For saving me from the Nightmare Child.”

Rose laughed embarrassedly. “I barely knew what I was doing,” she said.

The Doctor’s eyes softened. “You realised that it was pain that fought it off,” he said. “You reminded me that I was alive, Rose. Something that I had forgotten myself.”

She smiled at him. “I’m sorry I used your guilt against you,” she said.

“And I am sorry for making you relive that day,” he said, and he surprised them both by taking her hand.

“You saw it?” she asked, tensing a little.

“As much as you did, yes,” he nodded and squeezed her hand. “I am so sorry, Rose.”

She shook her head. “It’s alright,” she said. “I know I won’t change that future for anything else. It’s real, because it hurts.”

“Yes,” he agreed softly and looked away.

Rose smiled at him. “You are going to be alright, Doctor,” she said, conviction seeping into her tone.

He smiled back sadly. “I don’t know if I am going to be alright, Rose,” he said, words bubbling out of his mouth apparently without his permission. “The only reason why I am so coherent right now is because of the zero room. I am a mess inside, Rose. The things I saw, the people...my mind is all scrambled. I can’t focus, I can’t think.”

“Shh, Doctor, it’s okay,” said Rose, drawing him into a hug. He hugged her back tightly and she could feel the desperation in his grip. “You’re okay.”

“I am not, Rose,” he said, his voice shaking. “It took away my memories, my sense of time, it messed with the memories of my friends. I can’t tell what’s real and what it made me think.”

“It will come back to you, Doctor,” said Rose comfortingly, trying to sound as confident as she could. “You will be alright, Doctor, I promise. You need to rest, your mind needs to rest.”

He pulled away reluctantly and nodded slowly, and Rose was surprised to see that he appeared embarrassed at his moment of weakness. She smiled at him reassuringly and patted his cheek. “I’ll bring you some tea,” she said. “I’ve heard the superheated infusion of free radicals and tannin is just the thing for healing the synapses.”

~

Braxiatel glanced at his pocket watch, more out of habit than a need for looking at the time. He would give them another five microspans before he went in search of Rose. Romana needed an answer, and only Rose could give it.

He straightened up when Rose emerged into the console room bearing a tray of tea. “Made some tea,” she said with a tentative smile. “Thought you’d like a cuppa.”

“Yes, thank you,” he said, more out of courtesy than anything. “How is he?”

She frowned as she poured him a cup. “Not good,” she said. “That thing took away his time sense briefly, and messed with his memories. He isn’t feeling very sure of himself right now.”

Braxiatel nodded along and took the cup with a smile. “Will he be alright?” he asked carefully.

“Yes, I think so,” said Rose and then looked speculatively at Braxiatel. “Are you waiting for an answer from me? About getting the Doctor to join the Time Lords properly?”

Braxiatel did not look embarrassed, just nodded as he sipped his tea. Rose sighed and closed her eyes for a moment.

“I will ask him,” she said finally. “But I will not push him to do something that he doesn’t want to,” she added with a warning look at Braxiatel. “And definitely not before he’s had a chance to rest.”

“That is fair,” conceded Braxiatel. “But do remember that time is precious. The Daleks will not take Davros’ loss lightly. There will be retaliation. The sooner we are organised, the sooner we can start fighting back.”

“I understand,” said Rose with a sigh. “Where have you landed us?”

“Back on Gallifrey,” he said and then handed her back the empty cup. “I shall be on my way. Take care of him, Rose.”

“I will,” she promised. “Thank you, Braxiatel.”

He smiled a little. “Thank you, Rose.”

~

“I come bearing tea,” announced Rose as she stepped into the zero room.

The Doctor was suspended in mid air, his eyes closed like he was meditating. At her voice, he opened his eyes slowly, and floated to the ground to sit down cross-legged. Rose smiled at him and sat down in front of him with the tea tray between them.

“How do you take it?” she asked.

“With lemon usually,” he answered.

Rose nodded and set about making his cup, thankful that she had thought to grab the lemon slices from the fridge in the galley. “Feeling any better?” she asked as she gave him the cup.

He shrugged and sipped his tea. “I know my time sense is back, which is good. I am not yet sure about the other things,” he said.

“Braxiatel said goodbye,” she said. “He’s landed us on Gallifrey.”

“How did he come here in the first place?” asked the Doctor.

“I went to the Time Lords,” said Rose, sipping her own tea. “For help.” The Doctor raised his eyebrows and she shrugged back at him. “You were missing for three days. I had no choice.”

“They agreed to help you?” he asked sceptically.

“Yeah,” she said.

“What did they want in return?” he asked.

“You,” she said simply. “They want you to join them.”

“Ah,” he said, imitating her tone. “What did you say?”

“I said they think too highly of me if they reckon I can make you change your mind,” she said truthfully.

He chuckled a little and refilled his cup of tea. “You underestimate yourself, Rose,” he said. “But you needn’t worry. I have every intention of joining the Time Lords.”

Rose stared at him in shock. “What?” she asked.

His face hardened as he stared into his cup rather than at her. “I promised myself that I would join this war and work towards ending it. I thought I could do it on my own terms. Visiting outposts, dealing with the Dalek Time Controller, tackling the Nightmare Child on my own…” he shook his head. “It hasn’t worked. I have put both of our lives in danger, along with the lives of everyone we ever met. No more.”

“Doctor?” asked Rose cautiously.

He looked at her earnestly. “I have to join the Time Lords, Rose. I have to be the warrior that they have named me to be. I am the Doctor, former President of the Time Lords of Gallifrey, Keeper of the Legacy of Rassilon, Protector of Gallifrey, Ka Faraq Gatri, the Eighth Man Bound, the Oncoming Storm and Time’s Champion. It’s time I lived up to those names, however pretentious they might be.”

Rose stared at him in silence. “So you join the Time Lords?” she asked finally. “And then what? You fight?”

He nodded. “I fight,” he said. “On the frontlines.”

~

“Cardinal.”

“Coordinator.”

“What news?” asked Narvin.

“I must say you were right again, Narvin,” said Braxiatel.

“Oh?” said Narvin smugly. “Do tell.”

“Rose Tyler was the key,” said Braxiatel.

“A key we can control?” asked Narvin.

“No, I am afraid not,” said Braxiatel. “She has her own mind, Narvin, and her loyalty lies with the Doctor.”

“And what of the Doctor’s loyalty?” asked Narvin.

“That remains to be seen. Perhaps she will be able to convince him to join us,” said Braxiatel. “If he does indeed join us…”

“The question remains of what we do with her,” nodded Narvin. “What about Arcadia?”

“Too little to do there,” said Braxiatel. “She is very capable, Narvin. Do not underestimate her. She can be a powerful warrior, as powerful as the Doctor. It would be wasteful to send her to Arcadia.”

Narvin considered that and nodded slowly. “How about Sha-Doctor?” he gasped as the Doctor walked up to them.

“Coordinator, Braxiatel,” he greeted them hurriedly. “I believe it is high time we talked, don’t you?”

Narvin and Braxiatel stared at him in shock before Narvin recovered quickly. “Of course, this way,” he said, exchanging a disconcerted look with Braxiatel.

“Excellent,” agreed the Doctor with a wide smile bordering on maniacal.

“Doctor,” said Braxiatel cautiously. “Are you sure you are alright?”

The Doctor’s wide smile vanished and was replaced with a calm look on his face. “Yes,” he answered. “You asked Rose to convince me to join you in this war and I am keeping our end of the bargain. Enough time has been wasted, hasn’t it?”

“Yes quite,” said Braxiatel, still looking a bit confused.

“In here,” said Narvin, leading him to the High Council’s chamber. Like Braxiatel, he was a little cautious too, but he was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, though that particular phrase would always elude him.

The chamber was empty when they got there and Braxiatel turned to the Doctor. “Would you like me to fetch the President?” he asked, unsure of the Doctor’s sudden decision.

“If you like, but I assure you that I am making this decision of my own volition, Braxiatel. I am willing to be subjected to a full medical examination, including my mind, if that would reassure you that there is nothing wrong with me,” said the Doctor seriously. “Now, bring me up to speed.”

Narvin raised his eyebrows and drew out a key from under the neck of his robes. “Would you step into the Matrix then, Doctor?” he asked.

The Doctor nodded. “I will but before I do, I need to know what happens to Rose,” he said, meeting their gaze. “I don’t want any harm to come to her.”

“We can arrange for her to be sent to a safe zone, but Braxiatel assures me that she is a valuable asset,” said Narvin delicately.

“She is,” said the Doctor firmly, narrowing his eyes at Narvin.

“We considered Arcadia but it is too well-protected and needs only one watcher,” said Braxiatel. “Her abilities would be wasted there.”

“Where then?” asked the Doctor.

Braxiatel turned to Narvin who cleared his throat. “Shada.”

~

“Shada? What sort of a name is Shada?”

“You know, I always wondered that,” he said, brushing his nose against hers before dipping his head down for a kiss.

Rose pulled away before he could kiss her. “Don’t try to distract me,” she said. “So, it was a prison?”

“Something like that,” he said. “It was used to house prisoners who were a danger to themselves as much as the cosmos.”

“And they were locked up? Even though some of them were just ill?” she asked.

He sighed and reclined back on his pillows, running his fingers through her blonde tresses. “They were kept contained, not locked up. Those that were ill, as you say, had damaged their minds with trying to experiment too much with time and had it gone horribly wrong for them.”

“That sounds awful,” said Rose.

“It was,” he said and Rose knew he wouldn’t say much more on it.

“Tell me about the fields again,” she said, looking at him with beseeching eyes.

He smiled tenderly at her and started to talk about the fields of Gallifrey as he plaited her hair gently. Rose closed her eyes under his ministrations letting his words of red grass and silver trees lull her into a peaceful slumber She was teetering on the edge of sleep when her phone rang, jolting them both out of the haven they had created in their room on the TARDIS.

Rose grabbed the phone blindly and frowned at the display. “Mum? Is everything okay?” she asked as she sat up. She listened to her mother with wide eyes. “Elton, did you say his name? ‘Kay, we’ll look into it. You just stay in, alright? Yeah, I love you. Bye.”

She hung up and turned to the Doctor who sighed and decided to look for his clothes. Rose smiled at him fondly as she pulled on her jeans and hoodie, and decided to keep the plaits while they tracked down this Elton who had been prying into her mum’s life.

Rose sat up with a gasp, her sleepy mind still holding onto the remnants of her dream. Not a dream, she realised as she lay back down. It had been a memory. Right before their encounter with the Abzorbaloff. She didn’t know why she should remember that now, but she was awake and she knew she wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep.

Groaning slightly, she got out of her bed and went into the ensuite for a quick shower before getting dressed and going to check on the Doctor. She had retired to her room for a much needed rest after they’d had their tea, and the Doctor had put himself in a healing trance again. The zero room was empty when she got there, and it was with a slightly worried look on her face that she arrived in the console room to find the Doctor sitting on the jumpseat. The ceiling above him showed a vibrant orange and gold nebula and he was staring unseeing at it.

Rose walked up to him slowly, noting with a start that he had changed his clothes. Gone were the slightly steampunk space cowboy-like clothes, replaced by a starched black uniform with bold brass buttons bearing figure eight symbols on them. Rose had seen them on the robes of every Time Lord she had seen on Gallifrey. He was holding a thirty sixth century hair trimmer in his hands, the kind that had about hundreds of different settings and made no mess. He was toying with it absently as he stared up at the view of the nebula.

“I went down to see them,” he said quietly, not moving his gaze from the ceiling.

“I figured,” said Rose, trying to sound nonchalant. “New clothes?”

He finally looked at her and his lips lifted a little. “Standard military uniform,” he said and then showed her the row of seals on his arm. “Rank of the Lord General.”

Rose nodded cautiously. “And the hair trimmer?” she asked.

“A bit long, isn’t it?” he asked her, tugging at his hair.

“Need help?” she asked, keeping her question as ambiguous as possible.

He seemed to hear the ambiguity in her tone as well, and he smiled as he held out the hair trimmer to her. Rose closed the distance between them and took it from his grip. “You know what I am going to ask,” she said, looking down at the hair trimmer as she tried to find the correct setting.

“You can’t come with me,” he said, with a touch of regret in his voice.

“Says the Time Lords?” she asked. “Or you?”

“Me,” he answered. “Even with your unique biology, you would not survive where I am going. Only Time Lords can venture there.”

“And where’s that?” asked Rose, moving to stand behind him and combing her fingers through his hair to see how long it was.

He closed his eyes at her touch, not that she could see it. “An unstable time rift,” he answered. “There’s said to be a very powerful Dalek base in the vicinity and I will be leading a battalion into the destructive rift to influence the temporal shift and hopefully put an end to a substantial number of Daleks.”

“Sounds dangerous,” said Rose, worry slipping into her nonchalant tone.

“It is,” he said, as he heard the buzz of the trimmer behind him. “Temporal warfare at its most destructive.”

Rose focused on shearing the long curls into shorter, military appropriate haircut, though she couldn’t bring herself to get rid of his hair completely. “You’ll be careful, won’t you?” she said, her words sounding more like a statement than a question.

“I shall do my best,” he said and then rummaged in his pockets. “For you,” he said and handed her a scroll tied with a red ribbon.

Rose turned the trimmer off and took the scroll. The Doctor ran his hands through his shorter hair, murmuring his approval while Rose untied the ribbon and unfurled the scroll. Her eyebrows shot up. “Shada?” she asked. “The prison?”

He only looked a little surprised that she knew what it was. “They need someone with your expertise,” he said.

Rose snorted as she looked at him. “What exactly is my expertise?” she asked, derision evident in her voice. “Last I heard, it involved running headfirst into potentially fatal situations.”

“Braxiatel was confident that you would be invaluable there,” said the Doctor, choosing to ignore the painful way his stomach clenched at her words.

“Invaluable, or just out of the way?” asked Rose shrewdly.

“Rose,” sighed the Doctor.

“Fine,” she said, tucking the scroll into her coat pocket. “Just tell me one thing. Would you have still agreed to join the Time Lords if we hadn’t ever encountered the Nightmare Child?”

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” said the Doctor, raising his eyebrows.

“It does, though,” said Rose. “You have to be sure that this is what you want, Doctor. Not as an influence of something you went through.”

His jaw tightened. “You don’t think I’m strong enough to recover?” he asked. “They gave me a full medical exam, including my mind, and I have been declared fit for duty, so to speak.”

“I never said you weren’t strong enough,” said Rose plainly. “I know you will recover, and I appreciate knowing that you have a clean bill of health and all. But I need to know you are okay. I can’t leave knowing that the trauma of what you went through is still affecting you.”

“What I went through,” he snapped. “Is something that will always affect me, Rose. I don’t plan to put my entire life on hold because of it.”

Rose could feel her patience wearing thin. “I am not asking you to put your life on hold,” she said, doing her best to sound calm. “I know there’s a war going on and you have a plethora of titles to live up to and all that. I just want to know that you are alright. Because you and I both know that the Time Lords have made no secret of the fact that they want you on their side.”

“It is my side too,” he said coolly.

“Someone has to look out for you,” Rose went on as if he hadn’t spoken. “‘Cos God help me, I’ll be damned if you put everything else before your own recovery from a traumatic experience. You can’t fight this war if you are unsure about your own mind and you were too stubborn to make sure you were alright. I won’t lose you like that again.”

She was panting by the time she finished, and the Doctor was staring at her with wide eyes. Rose flushed red, and crossed her arms in front of her as if the action would take back the words that she had definitely meant, yet hadn’t wanted to say out loud.

The silence in the console room was getting unbearable, but then the Doctor stood up slowly and walked up to her. Rose met his gaze reluctantly and was surprised to see the tender look in his eyes that she hadn’t quite seen on this face of his before. Her blush deepened at the look, and she went to move away but the Doctor stopped her by cupping her cheek gently.

“Thank you,” he murmured, and pressed his lips to the corner of her mouth. “For caring about me.”

Rose closed her eyes and nodded, before taking a step away from him. It was too much, and too soon. His touch had felt far too familiar, and while everything in her heart and brain knew that he was the same man that she had always loved, the time was all wrong. She pushed back her desire to move back into his embrace and opened her eyes. “We should be leaving, shouldn’t we?” she asked. “Lord General,” she added pointedly.

He looked a little flushed himself as he nodded. “As you were, Lady Commander,” he said.

Rose’s lips quirked up at the new title that she had been given by the Time Lords on that scroll of paper. “You’ll be taking the TARDIS?” she asked.

He nodded and turned to the console. “I will be getting rid of non-essential rooms. I’ll keep your room, but you ought to pack the things that you wish to take with you.”

Rose nodded her head and went towards her room. Despite every instinct in her wanting to crawl up into a ball and weep for a few days, she picked up a pack that was bigger on the inside. She put in a few clothes in it, along with her toiletries and little else. She zipped up the pack and swung it over her shoulder as she went back towards the console room.

The TARDIS materialisation sound could be heard by the time she got to the console room, and Rose knew that they were due to arrive. Presumably on Shada.

The Doctor looked up from the console and smiled tentatively at her. “Shada,” he said.

Rose nodded as the TARDIS landed with a thud. She walked to the doors before turning back to the Doctor, whose smile softened.

“I will be alright, Rose,” he promised, walking up to her. “I have a war to lead, and I promise you, I have every intention of surviving it and most importantly, having the universe survive it.”

Rose nodded again, not entirely convinced but not as anxious either. “See you then, Doctor,” she said, trying to keep her voice from wavering.

The Doctor tried to smile but ended up pulling her into a hug much like the one they had shared a few hours ago in the zero room. Rose held on to him just as tightly as he seemed to be doing, willing herself not to cry. Her pack slipped from her shoulder and hit the floor but neither of them broke the hug for several long moments. Finally, one of them stirred a little though they couldn’t be certain which one of them it had been, and the embrace was broken.

Rose avoided his gaze as she bent down to pick up her pack. “Any idea what I’m going to expect out there?” she asked, trying to sound playful.

“None whatsoever,” he said, his tone sounding much the same. “Be careful, Rose,” he added sincerely.

Rose met his gaze briefly and smiled gently. “Goodbye, Doctor,” she said and opened the doors.

“Goodbye, Rose,” said the Doctor, and Rose didn’t turn around as the doors slammed shut behind her.

Chapter Text

Rose did her best not to look back at the TARDIS when she heard the dematerialisation sound. She closed her eyes briefly, savouring the last sounds of the TARDIS, hoping that it wouldn’t be the last time she ever heard the beloved sound. Trying to distract herself, she glanced around and did a doubletake at the sight in front of her.

The room was in semi-darkness and didn’t seem to have a beginning or an end, only an extensive honeycomb structure of turquoise-coloured cells. Upon further examination, Rose realised that they were quite literally cells, and held a prisoner inside each of them. The turquoise colour came from the liquid that they were suspended in, and through the glass Rose saw that the prisoners were both of humanoid and non-humanoid variety. She briefly wondered how many hundreds of thousands of prisoners were in this place, but her musings were interrupted when she heard footsteps echoing behind her.

She turned around quickly and was surprised to see a Time Lord in heliotrope robes running to her and stopping abruptly in front of her. “You are in a restricted area,” he said, sounding more surprised than reproachful. He looked barely older than Rose, physically at least, and she could tell that he was slightly scared despite his bravado.

“Sorry about that,” said Rose, trying to put him at ease. “My friend’s a rubbish driver. Uh, my name’s Rose Tyler. I was ordered to come here,” she added, making a face at the last part.

His demeanour changed instantly and he bowed awkwardly. “My lady, my apologies,” he said, stumbling on his words a little. “I did not expect you to arrive here instead of the main dome.”

“Right yeah,” said Rose, slightly taken aback at the bow. “What’s your name?” she asked.

His eyes went wide. “Skeltonoquirisuen, my lady,” he said at once.

“Okay, first of all, you don’t have to call me ‘my lady’,” said Rose. “And secondly, do you have a shorter version of your name?” She smiled tentatively at the end to put him at ease.

If anything, his eyes went even wider. “N-no, my lady,” he stammered. Then he realised his mistake and looked even more terrified. “Sorry, my lady. I-I don’t have a shorter name.”

Rose raised her hands slightly as if calming down a spooked animal. “It’s alright,” she said. “Do you mind if I call you Skelton instead?”

He nodded quickly, looking a little relaxed. “No, my lady,” he said.

Rose decided not to press the ‘my lady’ issue when he still looked so flustered. She smiled back. “Well then, Skelton, are you the only one here?” she asked.

He shook his head. “It is just me and Elianazoranumkrys. She is in the dome. One of us has to be in there at all times,” he explained quickly.

“Right, lead the way,” said Rose.

“Yes, my lady,” he said and started walking back the way he had come running from.

Rose shouldered her pack and fell in step beside him. “So, how big is this place?” she asked curiously.

“There are cells covering nearly all of the asteroid, my lady,” said Skelton. “It goes all the way around. The only part of the asteroid that does not contain any cells is the dome, though there is a plan for a subterranean expansion if numbers go up.”

Rose wondered if all Time Lords sounded like they had swallowed an encyclopedia or if she was just lucky enough to meet the only ones who did. She smiled politely at Skelton’s rambling, oddly endeared by the Time Lord, who despite his physical age, reminded Rose of an overeager schoolboy. “Seems like the place is pretty secure,” said Rose, interrupting when he paused for breath. “This dome is like a control room, then?”

He nodded. “It holds all our archives and the controls to the entirety of Shada. Our quarters are also in a part of the dome,” he said.

They reached the end of the row of turquoise cells and Rose relaxed when the almost translucent double doors swung open automatically when they reached them. The dome lay beyond it and Rose could only stare at the magnificent interior. It was a pure white, round enclosure with purple and heliotrope panels and white coral-like pillars that reminded her of the TARDIS console room. There were spiral silver stairs leading to the floor above which was a balcony surrounding the entire dome. The ceiling itself was transparent, with a magnificent view of Gallifrey and its moons.

“Should I cancel the intruder alert?” Rose heard the voice and looked down to see a Time Lady dressed in green. She looked to be the same age as Skelton, and had lovely light brown skin and striking green eyes. Her face, however, held none of the nervousness that Skelton had.

“This is our new Lady Commander, Elianazoranumkrys,” said Skelton.

The Time Lady turned to Rose and raised a delicate eyebrow. “My lady,” she bowed stiffly before glaring at Skelton. “Do not address me by my full name.”

“Just Rose is fine,” said Rose. “And what do I call you?”

“Eliana, my lady,” she said, ignoring the invitation to use her name. “Skelton, take our Lady Commander’s luggage to her quarters while I give her the necessary information about our progress.”

“Eliana, I am technically in charge here,” began Skelton indignantly, only to receive a cool look from Eliana.

“The person in charge here is our Lady Commander,” she interjected calmly. “Now, you will do as you are told.”

Skelton shot her a glare but took Rose’s pack from her and went up the spiral staircase and through the only pair of double doors which Rose assumed were her quarters. She turned her attention back to Eliana.

“Well then,” said Rose. “Bring me up to speed.”

Eliana nodded and beckoned her towards the large computer mainframe. “The SER is at 300. Constant for now, but it may fluctuate. The BAAN is secure with little to no variation. I suggest we begin with the SER first since it’s a matter of greater importance,” said Eliana and looked at Rose expectantly.

Rose blinked at her in confusion. “What exactly did the Time Lords say I was here for?” she asked.

Eliana got a confused look on her face as well. “They said they were sending an expert when the SER started rising so high,” she said.

“Ah,” said Rose, smiling a little bitterly as Skelton joined them. “Hate to bring us all down, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do.”

The two Time Lords exchanged confused looks. “What do you mean, my lady?” asked Skelton finally.

“Well, the Time Lords presumably wanted me out of the way which is why they sent me here,” said Rose, rolling her eyes.

“You’re not an expert?” asked Eliana incredulously.

“I don’t even know what SER is,” said Rose, shrugging apologetically.

“It’s Stasis Energy Reading,” said Skelton while Eliana gaped at her. “The prisoners on Shada are kept in suspended animation and these readings catalogue their brain and other vitals.”

“And it’s at 300?” asked Rose. “What is it normally at?”

“30,” answered Eliana, apparently having shaken off her shock.

“10 times as much. That’s not good,” said Rose, feeling slightly foolish for stating the obvious. “So, you got in touch with the Time Lords on Gallifrey and told them you needed an expert to what? Check what’s wrong?”

“Partly,” answered Eliana. “The SER levels have only been rising for the Travesties.”

“The Travesties?” asked Rose curiously.

“The Travesties are…” Skelton began but Eliana cut him off.

“That information is classified,” she said.

“She’s our Lady Commander,” said Skelton incredulously.

“She doesn’t even know what SER is,” snapped Eliana. “Sorry, my lady, but we swore an oath to protect these secrets.”

“It’s alright, I understand,” said Rose, giving her a small smile.

“Has it crossed your mind that she has been sent here not for her technical expertise but her knowledge of vortex-influenced beings,” said Skelton, glaring at Eliana.

“Hang on, vortex influenced beings?” asked Rose immediately.

Eliana looked at her in surprise. “Do you know about them, my lady?” she asked curiously.

“In a manner of speaking,” said Rose, exhaling roughly. “These Travesties are vortex influenced beings?”

“They used to be Time Lords in power,” said Skelton after he and Eliana had exchanged a long look. “But they had certain traits that led them to abusing their power. They were deposed by their fellow Time Lords. But it was rumoured that they each created a bloodline so that they could mould a future Time Lord or Lady in their image with those exact traits and be reborn.”

“Until recently, it was thought to be a rumour,” said Eliana. “But then President Romana discovered one of them. And entity called the Pandora, in the President’s own bloodline.”

“Pandora was defeated and so Madam President Romana saw fit to seek out every other such bloodline and contained them on Shada,” said Skelton.

“How many of them are there?” asked Rose.

“Including Pandora? Five,” answered Eliana. “They have a physical form of the Time Lord or Lady whose bloodline they polluted,” she added, her voice full of disgust.

“And how are they vortex influenced then?” asked Rose.

“The bloodline traversed the vortex, not the looms,” said Skelton. “Each trait only affected that specific Time Lord or Lady when they gazed into the Untempered Schism.”

Rose nodded along thoughtfully, knowing that the Untempered Schism was pure vortex that all Time Lords were exposed to at the age of eight. “What traits did each of them have?” asked Rose finally.

“Pandora had ambition,” said Eliana. “The other four traits are anger, envy, temptation and pride.”

“Sounds like the seven deadly sins,” said Rose. “Except, you know, just five.”

“I once read that these traits were so powerful that they left their marks all over the universe,” said Skelton. “Is that what you mean, my lady?”

“Something like that, yes,” said Rose. “From where I come from, Pandora’s box was an entity that contained everything that was evil in the universe.”

Eliana nodded. “I have read about the Pandorica Alliance which has built a prison to contain the most dangerous beast in the known universe. So you see, these traits flowed through the vortex and left their marks,” she said earnestly. “The bloodlines that we managed to trace have been contained but recently their readings have been disturbing. We don’t know what’s causing it or if there is some danger to this.”

Rose fell into thoughtful silence which was interrupted by a loud alarm from the mainframe. Eliana and Skelton rushed to check it and exchanged terrified looks when they saw it. “What is it?” asked Rose.

“The SER just went up for the Travesties,” said Eliana slowly. “They are now at 450. Fifteen times what they are supposed to be.”

“Could there be some sort of an external interference?” asked Rose thoughtfully.

“Possibly,” said Eliana. “I could try raising the shields for them briefly.”

“Go ahead,” said Rose and Eliana nodded as she entered the sequence in the mainframe.

“Those shields only hold for a short time,” interjected Skelton but was cut off by Eliana’s exclamation. “SER has fallen back to 300.”

“Still too high though,” murmured Rose. “Are all the Travesties in the same cell?” she asked.

“No, my lady,” answered Skelton. “Why?”

“The SER levels are exactly the same for each of them,” said Rose. “Could it be like a...dunno, a hive mind?”

Skelton and Eliana gaped at her in astonishment. Rose stared at them expectantly, trying not to fidget. “We hadn’t considered that,” said Eliana finally. “It seems so obvious now that you have pointed that out.”

Rose nodded neutrally, trying to fight the blush she could feel crawling up the back of her neck. “So, there’s some external interference but a hive mind might be trying to control some of the most powerful Time Lords in existence,” she summed up, mostly thinking out loud for herself. “Definitely not sent here to be out of the way,” she muttered under her breath. She raised her voice. “How long will those shields hold?”

“They’ve gone down already, my lady,” said Eliana, disappointed. “The SER is back at 450. No, it’s gone up to 500 now.”

“Don’t agitate it for now,” said Rose, thinking quickly. “Can you build extra defence shields around the Travesties?”

“Yes, my lady,” said Eliana at once. “It will take a few days but the least I can do is try and build permanent defences to keep out any external interference.”

“Great,” said Rose. “We also have to deal with the possible hive mind, especially if the levels are rising.”

“Could the Daleks be behind this?” asked Skelton.

“Daleks are not a hive mind,” said Eliana at once.

“Not in the strictest sense,” countered Skelton immediately.

“Daleks don’t have to be doing it themselves,” said Rose neutrally. “They have powerful allies that they have gathered by force or coercion and we can’t be sure that it isn’t one of them instead.”

“How do we know for certain?” asked Skelton curiously and Eliana mirrored his look.

“Alright, here’s what we do,” said Rose, taking her coat off and tossing it on the conference table in the middle of the dome. “While Eliana builds better defences, Skelton, you and I go through the detailed records of each of the Travesties. Everything from who the Time Lords initially were, to the traits they possessed and the new bloodline that they influenced.”

“That would take us weeks to get through,” said Skelton. “It is a lot of information.”

“Good thing there’s two of us then,” said Rose. When the two Time Lords still looked a little sceptical, she sighed. “Look, maybe the Time Lords were having a laugh or maybe they really did want me to help. Either way, I am here now and I want to help, okay? I may not know all the technical stuff but we have a good working theory for now, so let’s just see if we can work it out. And if it helps, I know more about vortex influenced beings than most people.”

“How?” asked Eliana curiously.

Rose smiled. “I happen to be one of them,” she said to the astonishment of the two Time Lords. “Shall we?”

“Skelton,” said Eliana sharply. “Fetch the physical records while I give our Lady Commander access to our mainframe records. It seems we have a lot of work to do.”

~

Rose’s days on Shada fell into a pattern after that. There was no strict day and night pattern adhered to, but Rose found that she could work for twenty hours or so before needing an hour or two worth of rest. She and Skelton had set up in the main part of the dome while Eliana had claimed one of the smaller workrooms to work on the defence shields.

Skelton had not been exaggerating when he had said that it would take them weeks to get through all the relevant information. Rose, true to her old habits of a Torchwood agent, had asked Skelton to bring five different whiteboards, one for each of the Travesties, so they could create individual profiles on them. Skelton had apologised profusely before giving her access to create holographic boards that she could write and type on as she wished.

The Pandora profile was done quickly, mostly because it only required bringing Rose up to speed. There were four others to go through, the ones that were still on Shada. They had decided to start with the trait of anger which belonged to a Time Lord named Lord Kragni, who had been one of the most ruthless Presidents that Gallifrey had ever produced. The catalogued incidents of rage during his term of Presidency were enough to make Rose wince. Even Skelton seemed shock at some of the manners of punishment he used on those who dared to oppose him.

The profile contained the entire background on the original Time Lord, and the current bloodline affected by it. Anything else of note also went onto the holographic board. It was hard work, but challenging and Rose found herself quite tired out after every day of work.

Skelton and Eliana were good company, and Rose soon found out that they were both recent graduates of the Time Lord Academy, having been in the last class that had graduated. As the brightest of their lot, they had been granted this lucrative opportunity to monitor Shada. Rose was only a little surprised to know that the Time Lord Academy had closed down. The war had taken over all aspects of Time Lord life on Gallifrey, and Eliana was quick to inform her that the looms had been stopped long ago and been replaced with War Looms.

The concept of looms was fascinating to Rose. The Doctor had once explained how it worked, but she hadn’t quite grasped it then. She had assumed that the looms created baby Time Tots or even just adult Time Lords, but Eliana explained carefully that the looms could be calibrated in any way required. The most common practice was to loom them at a stage where they were at the human equivalent of a prepubescent age. Their growth was extremely slow and developed, and they were allowed a glimpse into the Untempered Schism eight years after being loomed. They were raised in specific Houses with their cousins with whom they were loomed, until they were ready to attend the Academy. Admission to the Academy usually depended on the level of intellect rather than physical age, as did graduation.

With the looms having been stopped, there were no more Time Tots on Gallifrey, and Skelton and Eliana had been among the last ones to be loomed and graduated from the Academy. The War Looms, as Skelton explained them, were calibrated to produce adult Time Lords imbued with the qualities of soldiers with little to no emotional depth or intellect beyond what was required of them in combat. The way he spoke about them made Rose suspect that they were being used rather like cattles and sent into combat situations. Only the leaders were proper Time Lords, and Rose saw the grudging respect in Eliana’s eyes and the hero worship in Skelton’s when they talked about the Doctor being the Lord General, which meant that he was in charge of all the troops, and commanded the Time Lord Lieutenants and Commanders.

Rose had a brief thought of whether she should salute the Doctor the next time she saw him, before realising that she had no idea when she would see him again. Trying to keep track of days and time on Shada was difficult, but Rose estimated that it had been about a month in Earth terms since she had last seen him. Eliana had finished the defence shields on the Travesties and outside interference was totally cut off for them, but the SER would still fluctuate between 350-450.

The only contact from the world outside came in the form of Lieutenant Nixyce who was in charge of transporting prisoners to Shada. The prisoners in question were Time Lords who had suffered through an unstable regeneration and were now volatile. Rose got to see how imprisonment on Shada worked, as Eliana and Skelton worked efficiently to have the Time Lords sedated and prepped for stasis before placing them in the cell and activating it. The sight of it made Rose sick, since those being imprisoned had committed no crime, but were simply being put away for being a danger to themselves and others around them.

Lieutenant Nixyce wasn’t the chatty type, but Rose was equally stubborn, and asked questions about Time Lord movements, trying not to be too obvious that it was the Doctor she wanted to know about. Nixyce caught on rather quickly, and would update Rose on the Doctor’s fleet every time he came to Shada. From him, Rose learned that the Doctor had led successful attacks on several Dalek fleets, and would make the breach into the rift containing the Dalek base any day now. Rose tried not to worry too much, but couldn’t quite help it when she learned that they would lose contact with them once they entered the breach.

Nearly two months after Rose had come to Shada, she and Skelton had finally completed individual profiles on each of the Travesties. Each of them had been more dangerous than the other, and with the SER still rising even without the external interference, the hive mind theory was looking more and more obvious. It was an ordinary day of Lieutenant Nixyce’s visit when they had their first breakthrough.

“I still can’t find anything to connect them,” muttered Rose in frustration.

Skelton, who was the only one in the dome since Nixyce and Eliana were unloading the prisoners, shot her an apologetic look. “We have finished the individual profiles on them but we cannot find a uniting factor,” he said. “Perhaps, it is a physiological connection.”

“Checked that too,” said Rose, rubbing her eyes in frustration. She spotted the silver charm that Skelton always wore on his wrist tied with black thread. “Skelton, do you mind me asking what that is?” she asked.

Skelton followed her gaze and chuckled lightly when he saw what she was looking at. “It’s nothing, my lady,” he said, looking a little embarrassed. When Rose gave him an interested look, he smiled. “I received this in my first year of the Academy,” he admitted softly, showing her the circular Gallifreyan on the miniscule silver charm. “For excellence in my first project I ever submitted. We would be awarded these for every outstanding grade we received. Eliana says I am too sentimental but I could never bring myself to part with this one. I know it sounds silly,” he said hastily.

Rose smiled gently at him. “It sounds wonderful,” she said, feeling a pang in her heart. She was so very prepared to dislike Time Lords as a whole, but spending time with Eliana and Skelton reminded her how very different the Time Lords were. Her two young charges had no malice in them, and despite the occasional indifference, they were both quite wonderful. They respected her often-outlandish ways of doing things, and were patient when they had to explain something to her. “Hold on to it, Skelton,” she said, sadness overwhelming her for a different reason this time. All these people she was getting close to would be dead one day. Possibly at the Doctor’s hand, or maybe even hers. She didn’t allow herself to think of it often but it became harder to ignore sometimes.

“Thank you, my lady,” said Skelton with a sincere smile. His smile turned a bit fixed as Nixyce and Eliana entered the dome. “Lieutenant,” he greeted with a nod.

“Everything alright?” asked Rose.

“Yes, the prisoners have been settled in,” said Eliana.

“Good,” said Rose. “May we offer you some refreshment before you have to leave, Lieutenant?”

“No, thank you, my lady,” said Nixyce with a polite shake of his head. “There is still an ongoing battle that I am expected to return to.” At Rose’s look of curiosity, he shook his head. “Just a minor skirmish, my lady. Nothing to do with the Lord General’s work.”

Rose nodded back, feeling a little disappointed. “Very well then, Lieutenant,” she said. “How is the SER, Eliana?”

“Rising again, my lady,” said Eliana in frustration.

Rose’s brow furrowed as she looked between the terminal and Lieutenant Nixyce who was affixing his armour with Skelton’s help. “When was the last time there was a prisoner transfer?” asked Rose.

Nixyce looked at her in surprise. “Eight days ago,” he said. “Why?”

Rose turned to Eliana. “And the last major spike?”

Eliana checked the results and her eyebrows shot up. “Eight days ago,” she said.

“The transfer of new prisoners,” realised Skelton, his eyes going wide. “Do you think they are connected, my lady?”

“Check the connection between the days of transfer and the SER spikes,” ordered Rose to Eliana, who nodded at once. “Lieutenant, may I get a full report on the injuries and damage sustained by every prisoner that has been transferred to Shada?”

Lieutenant Nixyce looked a little confused. “You would have to contact the medical unit on Gallifrey for that, my lady,” he said. “I am merely in charge of transfer.”

“Skelton, get on that,” ordered Rose.

“Right away, my lady,” said Skelton, activating the comm. link to Gallifrey.

Eliana gave an exclamation of triumph. “The days line up almost too easily, my lady,” she said. “There has to be a connection between the two.”

“With the external interference cut off, maybe it’s the prisoners who are affecting the Travesties somehow. Making them more active than they are supposed to be,” said Rose thoughtfully. “Skelton?”

“They are sending us the reports now, my lady,” said Skelton.

The theory proved successful several days later when Rose, Skelton and Eliana had gone through the medical report on each prisoner and discovered the common link. “Artron energy,” murmured Rose in wonder. “So obvious, now that I think about it.”

“The unstable regenerations in the prisoners were due to the excess of Artron energy and the Travesties are feeding off that excess energy which is making the SER rise,” said Skelton, shaking his head in awe.

“Essentially, yes,” said Eliana. “The trouble is, there are far too many prisoners who are getting hit with this excess Artron energy. I doubt any Dalek technology could produce that much Artron energy.”

“What if it isn’t Dalek in nature?” said Rose.

“One of their allies like you thought initially, my lady?” asked Skelton.

“Or, Time Lord,” Rose pointed out. “Doesn’t have to be used against them directly to have an effect.”

Skelton and Eliana could not deny the logic behind it and looked at Rose with clear question in their eyes about what their next step should be. Rose sighed and rubbed her forehead.

“Skelton, contact Gallifrey and get me Cardinal Braxiatel on the line,” she said. “I’ll take the call in my quarters.”

“Yes, my lady,” said Skelton.

Rose’s quarters were quite bare and utilitarian and she only ever used the bed for sleeping and the loo when she needed. Otherwise the room remained empty. This time, however, she sat at her desk and waited for Skelton to connect the call.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Rose?” Braxiatel’s booming voice came over the comm. link and an involuntary smile graced her face.

“Hello, Braxiatel,” she said. “I was hoping you had some answers.”

“What a coincidence, I was hoping the same from you,” he said.

“What do you want to know?” asked Rose.

“What have you discovered?” asked Braxiatel. “Are the Travesties becoming a problem?”

“Possibly,” answered Rose. “The Stasis Energy Readings are rising every time there is a prisoner transfer. We had initially thought that they were being affected by an external hive mind but it seems as if the prisoners are the link.”

There was a long pause on the other end. “Are you certain?” he asked finally.

“Yes,” said Rose. “Once we made that connection, we examined the medical reports of the prisoners and discovered that the common link is excess Artron energy. The Travesties might be feeding off it.”

“Ah,” said Braxiatel.

“Ah?” asked Rose pointedly. “Should I assume that it’s because you know what’s causing it?”

“Yes,” said Braxiatel. “It is one of the older temporal weapons that we recently unearthed from the vaults. Very effective to destroy Daleks, but it appears it is equally detrimental to those wielding it.”

“Right,” said Rose. “Well, get them to stop using it then.”

“Did you miss the part where I said it was very effective in destroying Daleks?” he asked.

Rose rolled her eyes. “Get rid of the Travesties then,” she said. “I don’t get why they are alive in the first place.”

“That would be inadvisable,” said Braxiatel. “If the others are anything like the Pandora entity, they would be very, very difficult to kill. They are less dangerous alive than dead, trust me.”

“Well, one of them has to go,” said Rose. “If the Travesties become powerful enough to break out of confinement, I don’t have to explain to you what would happen. I have been through the files with a fine toothcomb, Braxiatel, and I know I don’t like what I see.”

Braxiatel sighed. “Very well,” he said. “I shall let Coordinator Narvin know that we ought to recall the weapons. Thank you for all your work, Rose.”

“Can I ask why you sent me to do it?” asked Rose. “Surely there are people more qualified than me around.”

“More qualified, yes,” said Braxiatel. “But neither of them made the connections that you did.”

“That’s why you sent me here? To connect the dots?” asked Rose.

“Time Lords are good at many things, Rose, but anything other than linear thinking is outside their forte. The two Time Lords in your charge are some of the smartest ones to leave the Academy, yet it was you who made the connection,” he said.

Rose blushed a little, glad that he couldn’t see her. “So, now what? My work here is done?” she asked.

“Not yet,” said Braxiatel. “You have to understand, Rose, that Shada is the largest reserve of the best and the worst weapons that the Time Lords have ever produced.”

“Brilliant but unstable Time Lords hellbent on conquering the universe, I know,” said Rose. “You want me to defend Shada? With two young Time Lords who have never held a weapon in their lives?”

“I want you to hold Shada down by making sure that it stays stable until the Doctor returns,” said Braxiatel.

“And when will that be?” asked Rose.

“The Doctor has recently breached the rift and is heading towards the Dalek base. Once that base is destroyed, we would have dealt an enormous blow to the Dalek forces,” said Braxiatel. “We would be moving on the offensive then, Rose, and if things go our way, these moments would go down in history as the last days of the war.”

He turned the call off then and Rose stared unblinkingly at her desk for a long moment. If what Braxiatel had said was true, then the Doctor’s success would determine the end of this war.

The trouble was, she knew that the end wasn’t going to be what Braxiatel was hoping for.

Chapter Text

The Doctor’s groan of pain was muffled into the pillow, and it was the scent of the pillow that was successful in rousing him. In that, the scent didn’t belong to him at all, and neither did the bed, which he realised when he sat up in it and looked around. Bit by bit, the information trickled back into his brain.

They had just made the breach into the rift, and it had not been an easy journey to get there. Their latest efforts near the breach had been exhausting, and the Doctor’s job had been the toughest one of them all. His mind and body were still smarting from the lingering pain of what he had accomplished, and in his near catatonic state of exhaustion, he had accidentally made his way to Rose’s room rather than his own. His time senses told him that he had been passed out for twenty one whole hours, an eternity for a Time Lord. It was a wonder his Commanders hadn’t come knocking yet, but considering that his brain was still putting together the pieces of the last time he had seen them, he wasn’t sure how many of them were still alive.

He fell back on Rose’s bed and closed his eyes, trying to focus so that he could gather his memories and lift the fog of confusion from his brain. The lingering scent of Rose on the bed was more distracting than anything, but it soothed his agitation faster than probably even the zero room could have. He cast his mind back to saying goodbye to Rose, and let his mind reconstruct the events following it.

The first few days had been irksome. It involved far too much waiting on the Doctor’s part and his natural tendency of impatience did him no favours. It wouldn’t have been as bad if the waiting had meant lack of action, but this kind of waiting involved him staying in safety while the soldiers marched to their inevitable doom.

The Lord General wasn’t to engage in skirmishes, the Lord General couldn’t be in the vanguard for the smaller battles, the Lord General shouldn’t have nearly regenerated from being too close to the point of impact of the Daleks’ energy weapons. Several other such rules followed but he had given up on trying to remember them all. He wasn’t about to sit safely inside his TARDIS with the shields up while his troops ran headfirst into battle. The rules of combat could go hang, as he regularly reminded his Commanders who were perpetually exasperated at their General.

It was only as they approached the rift that the Doctor started to think more strategically rather than foolheartedly. The rift would be complicated to maneuver and it had been precisely for that reason that the Daleks had chosen the heart of it as a base. He knew from his experience in the Matrix that this was thought to house the majority of the Dalek power, perhaps even the Emperor himself. If he succeeded in this, then the war would surely end. All his Commanders seemed to think so, as did Narvin and Braxiatel. The Doctor wished he could be this optimistic but his instincts were all wrong right now. He sometimes wished he had taken Rose’s advice and recuperated better from his time with the Nightmare Child.

The waiting game began again when they reached the outer perimeter of the rift. Crossing into an unstable time rift with seven TARDISes and a fleet of Time Stations was far from an easy feat. The technicians were hard at work, trying to find the perfect part to breach and the precise time to do it. Meanwhile, they were being bombarded by Dalek attacks constantly. There wasn’t a chance he could authorise the use of a delta wave or an energy weapon this close to an unstable rift, which meant they were using good old-fashioned temporal warfare to fight them.

The seven Commanders under him had formed their TARDISes into a seven pointed star around the Time Station containing the technicians. Each TARDIS was guarded by at least five Time Stations which contained the soldiers from the war looms aboard them. It was the Doctor’s TARDIS, the oldest and the sturdiest of them all, that had created a temporal vacuum. The Doctor and his TARDIS were just a minute out of sync with the rest of the troops and would traverse through the vortex, anticipating attacks and guiding their troops like a silent assassin gliding through the night. The vortex became a weapon in itself, turning into a fluid ball that the Doctor and the TARDIS then shaped and reshaped.

Time became almost meaningless to the Doctor after he had begun. People became just a blur, death and destruction just a sound in the background. He could mould time, harden it to fix a possibility or make it collapse if the outcome wasn’t favourable. The TARDIS trampled harshly through the vacuum, binding the vortex that had always bound her and letting her pilot manipulate it.

When the rift was finally breached, the Doctor could scarcely believe what he had pulled off. He had single-handedly prevented the utter annihilation of his troops and destroyed every attacking Dalek force by using the vortex to do it. He felt exhilarated, almost free for the first time since he had looked into the Untempered Schism at the age of eight. He was built for this, he realised. No other Time Lord would have had enough telepathic resilience to bond with a ship as old as his TARDIS. No one else could have bound the vortex to do their bidding and manipulate it like he had done. No one else would have been capable of doing what he did.

It was then that the exhaustion had hit, and it had hit both him and the TARDIS in equal measure. He had barely managed to materialise on one of the surviving Time Stations before stumbling to the closest room and more importantly, the closest bed which had turned out to be Rose’s.

His mind having focused properly, the Doctor got out of the bed and checked himself for any physical injuries, though he knew that there wouldn’t be any. He was still feeling quite jubilant at having successfully made the breach, but the jubilance lasted only until he stepped outside the TARDIS and was handed a list of the dead. All seven Commanders had survived but they had lost a few dozen Lieutenants and countless soldiers from the war looms. More bad news followed in that the base which was supposed to hold the majority of Dalek power was utterly empty.

“They were destroyed?” asked the Doctor sharply.

“No, my lord,” said his first Commander, Lady Trevilik. “It is in disrepair. The Daleks haven’t been there in quite some time.”

“So the intelligence was wrong,” said the Doctor, gritting his teeth in frustration.

“Appears so, my lord,” said Lady Trevilik. “Should I order the troops to search it regardless?”

“Yes,” he said. “No, wait,” he shook his head. “I will lead the search.”

“My lord,” began Lady Trevilik in a tone that preceded a lecture about protocol.

“Lady Trevilik, you are my first Commander and I have tremendous respect for you, but if I required your opinion on every move that I make, I would ask for it,” he snapped, fixing her with a cold look.

Lady Trevilik’s face shut down. “Yes, my lord,” she said. “How many will you require with you?”

“One Lieutenant and ten soldiers,” he answered, raising his eyebrow when Lady Trevilik opened her mouth, presumably to tell him that the number was too low.

“As you command, Lord General,” she said, looking none too pleased about it. “Will there be anything else?”

“Not for now,” said the Doctor shortly. “You will hold down the troops here. I doubt there are Daleks in the vicinity but if they somehow get through the breach, well, all Time Stations have excellent weaponry, so it would be like shooting fish in a barrel, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, my lord,” she said, though she looked confused at the strange phrase. “Lieutenant Qynokos will suffice, shall he?”

The Doctor nodded curtly and went back into his TARDIS, leaving the door open for Lieutenant Qynokos and his soldiers to follow. They did so, bowing their head in respect at him as they filed in. The Doctor gave an absent nod of acknowledgment before setting the TARDIS to make a short hop to the deserted Dalek base. Lieutenant Qynokos had looked at the console once, presumably to ask permission to help pilot it, but the Doctor’s cold look had been enough to deter him.

As Lady Trevilik had informed him, the base was indeed completely deserted. There were no obvious signs of foul play and the Doctor did not expect any to be found, though he didn’t voice that aloud when Lieutenant Qynokos ordered the soldiers to start scanning every inch of the base.

He was proven wrong when every scanner lit up immediately, signalling the presence of the most dreaded phenomenon a Time Lord could encounter.

“What is it?” asked the Doctor when he saw the horror on their faces.

Lieutenant Qynokos looked nearly green when he turned to the Doctor. “Anti-time, my lord.”

“Emergency dematerialisation, all of you,” ordered the Doctor at once.

“What about you, Lord Doctor?” asked Qynokos at once as the soldiers drew out their Time Rings.

“I will follow in my TARDIS. Go back to Lady Trevilik and sound the warning. Now!” he shouted and the Lieutenant and his soldiers dematerialised quickly from the empty base.

Satisfied, the Doctor started back towards his TARDIS but before he could get there, a hologram popped up, startling him. The woman in the hologram was facing the Doctor, and appeared to be looking straight at him.

“Hello Doctor,” she said, in an accent that one would equate to an American accent from Earth.

The Doctor’s eyes went wide when he recognised her. “Perfection,” he said. “Impossible.”

“Impossible is just a word, Doctor,” she said, grinning coyly at him. “You ought to know.”

“You can’t be here, this isn’t possible,” said the Doctor in disbelief.

“You are perhaps wondering how I am here,” said Perfection, making him realise that she couldn’t actually hear him and was just a hologram. “The last time we met, you left me behind in a universe without time. With Daqar Keep, of all people. We actually came to a truce after you left, you know. A truce that was recently broken.”

“Where is Zagreus?” asked the Doctor, cold fury in his voice. “Is he still you?”

“I am not Zagreus, Doctor, if that’s what you’re thinking,” said Perfection airily, and the Doctor realised that the hologram was responding to his words. “Well, not anymore, I should say. He took a different body, a stronger body. He even restored this one for me. A facet of him, he calls me. But, I am wasting my time with such chatter. I’ll just get to the point, shall I?”

“Please do,” said the Doctor, through gritted teeth.

“You should really study your history, you know,” said Perfection with a cold, dazzling smile. “How does it go again? Zagreus sits inside your head, Zagreus lives among the dead, blah blah blah…” she rolled her eyes. “Do you know what the important lines are, Doctor? Zagreus at the end of days, Zagreus lies all other ways, Zagreus sets the skies ablaze, The stars his flame a gleaming…

The Doctor’s hearts froze in his chest.

Perfection laughed her beautiful tinkling laugh that held no warmth. “The King is here, Doctor, and he seeks his army of Never-Weres. Now everyone shall bow.”

~

“Alright, what about Kragni then?” asked Rose.

“Relegated to Section Gamma, my lady,” said Eliana, checking the records on the mainframe. “His SER is back at 100.”

“Good,” said Rose, satisfied. “Defences still holding strong?”

“Yes, my lady,” answered Skelton. “I have also brought you the audio recordings of Kragni’s first Lieutenant like you requested.”

“Thank you, Skelton,” said Rose, picking up the data crystals and entering her energy signature into it. Keyed as it was now, only she would be able to hear it once the recording started playing. Headphones without actual headphones. “I’ll take these to my quarters. I think I need an hour or so to rest.”

Skelton and Eliana both nodded in acknowledgement as Rose went to her quarters with the recordings. She wasn’t all that tired, but she knew she focused better if she was lying comfortably in bed when listening to those recordings. It had become something of a habit to her, and her two young charges had realised that quite early on and would leave her undisturbed.

Having acquainted herself very well with the Travesties and their history, she had now turned her attention to their associates. After the initial tension of her first few months on Shada, things had settled down, if only a little. They had isolated the Travesties, and kept them away from the recent prisoners with the excess Artron energy and the new shielding that Eliana had crafted was working wonders to bring the SER down. She had talked to Braxiatel again a week ago, and he had been pleased with her progress.

Time had seemed to have gone by in quite a weird fashion lately, and Rose was no longer certain how long she had been on Shada. Even the rudimentary time sense she had discovered she possessed during her years in Torchwood’s dungeons would not help her. She had given up trying to keep up with it a while ago, and was doing her best to educate herself on everything about Shada and the Travesties.

With a sigh, she pulled off her boots and fell onto the small bed. Lifting the first data crystal up, she closed her eyes and began to listen.

~

“Seeks an army?” mocked the Doctor. “What is he going to do? Go and ask the Time Lords to gather in a single file and enter the chamber containing the Oubliette of Eternity one at a time?”

“If it is a demonstration of his power you want, it is a demonstration you shall get, Doctor,” said Perfection. “Do you want to know what really happened to this base?”

The blank mainframe screens around the base lit up with the same recording. It showed the very room that they were standing in now, but it was full of Daleks, going about their business.

“OPEN-ING RIFT!”

A low thrum was heard through the base following the Dalek’s command, and the Doctor realised that the Daleks had foolishly opened the wrong gateway. The rift wasn’t unstable by coincidence; it had been made so due to the fact that it contained the gateway to the Divergent Universe.

In the control room, grey shadows that could turn almost completely invisible and walk through solid surfaces began to surround the Daleks. The Doctor watched in disgust as a single touch of those beings made the Daleks scream and scream until the tops of their Dalekanium covers shot open and the being inside melted into viscous, black matter.

The Daleks died screaming in agony and the recording cut off abruptly, as Perfection spoke once more.

“You see, so easy,” she said.

“Those Neverpeople,” said the Doctor. “How could they do that?”

“Anti Time is poison to everyone, Doctor and Neverpeople thrive in temporal chaos as wonderful as this Time War,” she said airily. “There were only a few of us who could come through from the Divergent Universe and the gateway has now sealed itself. But once our King has his army, well...this war should soon be over, shouldn’t it? The end of Daleks and the end of Time Lords, just like Zagreus always wanted.”

“And where does your King,” he spat the word in disgust. “...plan to get his army?”

“The same place he got his last army from,” said Perfection, her smile sinister. “Where the Time Lords choose to throw away their own once they become too powerful or too broken or too dangerous.”

The Doctor’s hearts went cold and Perfection burst into laughter that echoed around the empty base.

“Shada, Doctor!” she shouted in triumph. “SHADA!”

~

“Do you think we should say something?” asked Skelton, once Rose had retired to her quarters.

“Are you sure you read the tradition, right?” asked Eliana, raising her eyebrows sceptically.

“I think so, though I am uncertain about the regional differences,” said Skelton. “One part of her Earth believes that it ought to be the paper anniversary while the other thinks it’s cotton.”

“Show me that,” snapped Eliana, pushing him away and looking at the screen. “Skelton, these are for wedding anniversaries,” she said in an exasperated voice.

“Oh,” he said. “Do you think it still holds true if it is an anniversary of her arrival?”

Eliana sighed. “I knew this was a bad idea,” she said. “Besides, I doubt she knows that it has been a year since she arrived on Shada. Well, a year by her standards at least.”

“Earth years are odd, aren’t they?” asked Skelton. “365 rotations of their planet around their star. Only one star.”

“There are places in the universe where a planet revolves around five stars and you find this fascinating?” asked Eliana, rolling her eyes.

“You don’t find anything fascinating,” snapped Skelton sulkily.

“Oh do stop acting like a child, Skelton,” said Eliana in a long-suffering tone. “You are one hundred and twenty years old, not a toddler of eighty.”

“At least I don’t...did you hear that?” Skelton turned around abruptly to look towards the doors that led to the chambers holding the cells.

“Sound strategy, Skelton,” said Eliana with an air of superiority. “Try and distract me because you can’t think of a better argument.”

“Shh,” he hissed at her. “I told you I heard something.”

“The alerts would have sounded if there were intruders, Skelton,” said Eliana, casting an almost lazy look at the mainframe. “Perhaps you need rest if you are hearing things,” she added as she moved towards the doors with an exaggerated look of caution on her face.

Skelton turned away from the mainframe and glared at her but the glare vanished when he saw something shimmer in the air behind Eliana. “Eliana, move!” he shouted.

“What? Why?” The words were barely out of her mouth when her body seemed to vanish entirely, leaving a greyish shadow behind.

Skelton stumbled back, terror seizing his hearts. He fumbled shakily with the hand held scanner he was holding and nearly screamed when he saw what the being consisted of.

“Skeltonoquirisuen,” hissed Eliana’s voice that now echoed hollowly around the dome. “Do not be afraid. The Neverpeople will not harm you.”

“Stay away from me,” said Skelton, wishing he was close enough to the mainframe to raise the alarm, but in his moment of fear, he had moved away from it, not towards. He knew that screaming would be futile since the Lady Commander was listening to the recordings and would not hear him. “You are not the Neverpeople, so do not insult my intelligence.”

“You do not think we are the Neverpeople, little child?” asked an amused female voice that held the same hollow quality as Eliana’s voice, but sounded older.

“You register of Anti Time but Neverpeople were created by the Oubliette of Eternity, not by touch,” said Skelton, using his babbling to at least try and distract the intruders.

“Such a smart young boy,” said the same older female voice. “You are right, of course. The Oubliette of Eternity made the Neverpeople, but it was Zagreus who gave us this power. Once, we could only feed on temporal beings but now we can absorb them with a touch and gather them for our King’s army. And where better to come and recruit an army but Shada?”

Skelton started shaking at the implication. If it had taken them one touch to take Eliana, they could take every being on Shada within hours. He racked his brain to think of something, anything that could help stop them, when the idea struck. It was an insane plan and he was certain that had Eliana still been alive she would have mocked him for the stupidity and risk involved with it.

But Eliana was dead, absorbed by the Anti Time and under the influence of the Neverpeople and Zagreus too, if they were to be believed. Skelton was out of options. He took a moment to loosen the knot of his silver charm and let it fall to the floor. This was the only way his insane plan would work.

“So, you want to absorb me into your army?” he asked, his voice tinged with the reckless madness that filled his very being in terror of what he was about to do. “Come and get me then!”

He turned around and ran towards the far end of the dome where his doom awaited. He could feel the amusement emanating from the Neverpeople at what they thought was a foolish gesture, but he heard Eliana’s voice hiss just as he reached his destination. Within a moment, the Neverpeople were upon him.

“Stay back,” he shouted, his hand on the chamber’s door. “You know the range on this thing and I don’t suppose you want to go through the same thing twice.”

“Do not be foolish, Skelton,” hissed Eliana. “The Oubliette will disperse you back to the universe of Anti Time. Join us, and you needn’t be subjected to a life of pain and loneliness.”

“If I activate this, then I get dispersed, which means I was never born,” said Skelton, a mad glint appearing in his eyes. “I would rather live alone in a universe of Anti Time of my own accord than become a perversion such as you and serve a master like Zagreus. This is my last warning, move back or I will take you back to that hell with me.”

The shadows retreated, but not completely, presumably thinking that he would move away too. Skelton, however, was hoping for just that. With a quick flick of his wrist, the chamber opened and he activated it. The Neverpeople howled but Skelton did not hear them over his own screams as his entire existence was wiped from time.

~

The Doctor was a force to be reckoned with as he piloted the TARDIS to Shada. Perfection’s words rang in his ears, and he feared for Rose’s safety. In the moments that it took for him to get to Shada, he spared a thought for how long it must have been for Rose. He still wasn’t certain how long it had taken for them to make the breach into the rift. It could have been days, months or even years since they had parted ways and he had no time to stop and check before he materialised on Shada.

He had ordered the rest of them back to Pazithi Gallifreya, a neutral ground where a protective barrier had already been erected for the returning troops to be examined for Anti Time. The Doctor knew that the Neverpeople could assume the appearance of anyone, and the last thing they needed was letting them past the transduction barrier on Gallifrey. The Doctor himself had refused to be put under quarantine and was marching to Shada to find Rose, a decision that had earned the ire of all his Commanders and the War Council on Gallifrey. But he was beyond the point of caring.

When the TARDIS did eventually materialise on Shada, he burst through the doors immediately, without waiting to check for potential attackers lying in wait. What he did find was Rose, peacefully asleep in her bed. He came to an abrupt halt, staring at the sight before him in disbelief which soon gave way to relief. He wondered briefly how the sound of the TARDIS hadn’t woken her up when he saw the glowing data crystal on her pillow, and he almost laughed at the absurdity of the fact that she had fallen asleep listening to it, and the noise-cancelling data crystal had prevented her from hearing the TARDIS.

He moved towards her cautiously, and touched her arm gently to rouse her. It worked almost too well, and Rose shot up in bed, her eyes going wide at the sight of him. He smiled tentatively at her and she relaxed almost instantly, before turning the data crystal off.

“Hello,” he said, smiling despite himself. It had been far too long since he had seen her, and he realised that he had missed her quite a lot in that time.

“Hello,” she returned just as quickly and then leaned forward to touch his right heart cautiously. “You’re here,” she said, her voice tinged with wonder.

He placed his hand on top of hers on his heart. “Yes,” he said, his smile widening.

That was all it took for her to launch herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck as she squeezed him tightly in a hug. He stiffened for only a moment before pulling her even closer until she was practically in his lap. The scent from her hair permeated his senses, and he realised that this was the saturated version of the scent that he had woken up to after his ordeal with breaching the rift. He brushed the hair away from her neck with his nose and nuzzled her pulse point softly.

Rose froze at the intimate act and pulled away slowly, but only enough to look him in the eye. “How long?” she asked.

The answer came automatically, all his time senses focusing suddenly. “392 days,” he answered. “You?”

“364 days,” she said, looking just as surprised as him that the answer had come so quickly after being elusive for a long time.

“Oh, Rose,” he murmured.

“Yeah,” she said quickly. “Me too.”

The Doctor smiled and his gaze shifted down to her lips before moving back to her eyes, and Rose held her breath as he leaned forward slowly. Their noses brushed and he nuzzled it softly, his eyes falling close. Rose’s eyes fell shut only moments later but before their lips could touch, a loud alert sounded around them.

Rose jumped away from him and climbed off his lap before running out of her quarters. The Doctor blinked in surprise and followed her moments later, realising for the first time that he had landed directly in her quarters. Rose ran down the silver spiral stairs and towards the mainframe in the dome. The intruder alarm was ringing loudly and the Doctor watched in surprise as Rose entered the codes expertly and turned it off. Silence fell over the dome again, and the Doctor sighed in relief.

“I should recheck these damn alerts,” said Rose grumpily as she pushed the buttons moodily. “They were five minutes too late.”

“I assume it was my TARDIS landing in your room that did it,” said the Doctor, looking slightly apologetic.

“Yeah,” said Rose, running diagnostics on the mainframe with well-practised ease. “Apparently it’s bad form to land in the Lady Commander’s quarters directly.”

“Shouldn’t there be a technician to turn it off?” asked the Doctor, leaning against the conference table and watching Rose work.

She turned around and shook her head. “No one here but me,” she said.

He looked surprised. “You’re on your own?” he asked.

“Have been since you dropped me off here,” she shrugged. “Why?”

“That’s unusual,” he said, looking around the dome and registering the silence in a whole another light now. “How did you know what to do then?”

“I had to bring the Stasis Energy Readings down for the Travesties,” said Rose, in an absent tone. “Some extra defence shields did the work, before the link between prisoners with excess Artron energy and the rising SER levels was found. Since then, the Travesties have been isolated and the levels are going down.”

“And you knew this how?” asked the Doctor again, the unnerving feeling growing more intense.

Rose opened her mouth to answer but then stopped. “Huh,” she said. “I-I don’t know.”

The Doctor walked up to her. “Rose, what’s the last thing you remember?” he asked, doing his best to sound calm.

“Going to bed,” she said at once. “I was listening to the recordings about the Travesties and I must have fallen asleep.”

“Was there anyone else here with you?” he asked, still in that same calm voice.

“No,” she said, though she sounded unsure. “There hasn’t been anyone here with me, with the exception of Lieutenant Nixyce who drops off the prisoners every few days.”

The Doctor felt the bottom of his stomach drop, but a beep from the mainframe drew Rose’s attention away. She checked the alert and her gasp brought the Doctor out of his shock.

“What is it?” he asked.

Rose was trembling lightly, her mouth open. “It-It’s empty,” she said finally. “Shada’s empty.”

Chapter Text

Previously

“What is it?” he asked.

Rose was trembling lightly, her mouth open. “It-It’s empty,” she said finally. “Shada’s empty.”

“The Neverpeople, they must have got to them,” said the Doctor furiously.

“Who the hell are the Neverpeople?” asked Rose, looking at the Doctor with wide eyes.

The Doctor sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. “The Time Lords possess a temporal device called the Oubliette of Eternity,” said the Doctor.

“Hang on, I’ve heard that before,” interrupted Rose. “There’s one of those here on Shada. It is supposed to be decommissioned…”

“But it isn’t, yes, I know,” said the Doctor. “It can wipe people out of existence, make it so that they were never born. Instead of simply vanishing, the people executed by such a method find themselves in the universe of Anti Time and become the Neverpeople.”

“Anti Time?” asked Rose incredulously.

“Yes,” said the Doctor. “These Neverpeople once created an Anti Time Bomb and tried to trick the Time Lords into detonating it on Gallifrey, thereby infecting the whole universe with Anti Time. But I stopped them then, by materialising my TARDIS around the Bomb to contain the explosion of Anti Time. But I was inside when it happened, and I got infected.”

Rose gasped, but the Doctor went on. “The Anti Time inside me became sentient and gained the form of Zagreus, a creature from old Time Lord mythology. I isolated myself from the universe after that happened, choosing to go into the Divergent universe so that I wouldn’t damaged the web of time. Unbeknownst to me, the Anti Time was drained out of me the moment I stepped into that universe. It took the form of someone else.”

“Who?” asked Rose.

“Perfection,” said the Doctor. “And now she’s here. She was on that Dalek base we were sent to destroy, except the Neverpeople had already taken care of the Daleks. Perfection left a holographic message of herself telling me that they would attack Shada next and take the prisoners for the army of Zagreus.”

“So, this Perfection is Zagreus?” asked Rose.

“No, she is a facet of him. Zagreus has a new body. I don’t know who it is,” he added to Rose’s questioning look. “But he is calling himself the King and recruiting an army of Neverpeople.”

“And these Neverpeople will fight the Daleks?” asked Rose.

“Not just Daleks, but Time Lords and in time, the rest of the universe too,” said the Doctor darkly. “They have become bitter and twisted in that universe of Anti Time and all they want is for the rest of the universe to suffer just as they have. They have no other purpose but death and destruction.”

Rose’s brow furrowed slightly as she turned back to the mainframe. “What would you say is the opposite of Anti Time?” asked Rose thoughtfully.

“Time,” said the Doctor, like it was obvious.

Rose shook her head. “Even more than that, it would be pure time, wouldn’t it?” she asked.

“There is no such thing as pure time,” said the Doctor at once.

“No, but there are beings comprised purely of time, aren’t there?” she asked, raising her eyebrows meaningfully.

The Doctor’s eyes widened a little. “You said Shada is empty,” he said.

“Relatively empty,” said Rose, showing him the schematics of Shada on the mainframe. “See the orange parts? Those cells are still occupied by their prisoners.”

“And who are housed there?” asked the Doctor, already certain he knew the answer.

“The Travesties in these parts,” she said, pointing to the four corners of Shada. “And the beings infected with excess Artron energy over here,” she added, indicating the central part.

“Two kinds of creatures that the Neverpeople couldn’t convert,” realised the Doctor. “Beings of the vortex and Time Lords who had so much Artron energy in their system that the instability fought off the Anti Time.”

“Explains why the Neverpeople didn’t take me,” said Rose, shaking her head. “Fat a lot of good I was though, sleeping away without a care in the world.”

“There had to have been someone here with you, Rose,” said the Doctor.

“But I don’t remember,” said Rose, nearly growling with frustration. “There is no memory, no hints, not even a clue.”

“Like it was never there?” asked the Doctor.

His words made her pause. “You think the Neverpeople took whoever was here,” said Rose, looking aghast. At the Doctor’s sympathetic look, Rose started pacing, trying her hardest to clear her mind and think.

“I could help you remember, Rose,” said the Doctor delicately.

“How?” she asked, still pacing angrily.

The Doctor cleared his throat and looked a little uncomfortable. “I would have to use telepathy on you,” he said.

Rose stopped pacing and stared at him. “No,” she said finally.

He looked surprised. “Honestly, Rose, it wouldn’t hurt and would only take a moment…”

“I said no,” snapped Rose harshly, turning her back on the Doctor to fiddle with the controls on the mainframe.

The Doctor seemed taken aback at the abrupt response, but for once did not push and demand to know her reasons. He turned away from her and his gaze fell on something glinting on the floor. Curious, he bent and picked it up, recognising it as one of the silver charms that they gave at the Academy for outstanding achievements. They were usually engraved with the name of the person receiving it, along with their accomplishment but this one was completely blank. The Doctor looked at it thoughtfully before walking up to Rose and holding it in front of her.

“What is this, Rose?” he asked.

Rose gave the charm a cursory look and continued her work at the mainframe. “The thingamabob they give your lot at the Academy,” she said absently. “Skelton must have dropped it,” she added and then froze abruptly.

The Doctor had a triumphant look on his face. “Skelton?” he asked. “Who is Skelton?”

Rose bit her lip. “I-I don’t know,” she said, rubbing her forehead. She turned to the Doctor who was looking at her encouragingly. “He must have been here with me, right?” she guessed. “And now I can’t remember him because the Neverpeople took him.”

“I expect so, yes,” said the Doctor. “Or he might have dropped this deliberately.”

“Why?” asked Rose, confused.

“To keep a reminder of his existence,” said the Doctor. “For you, presumably.”

Rose was staring at the charm in the Doctor’s hand. “May I?” she asked, extending her hand. The Doctor gave her the charm and she took a moment to examine it before looping the black thread around her wrist and tying it securely. “Alright,” she said with a sigh. “Go on and have a peek.”

The Doctor nodded with a small smile and touched his fingers to her temple. Rose did her best not to flinch but the Doctor felt it just the same. “You have to relax, Rose,” he said. “Close your eyes.”

Rose looked at his blue eyes with shades of green in them and closed her eyes. He cupped her face gently, holding his index and middle fingers at her temple and framing her face with his palms. Rose felt her face burn red and he surely felt the heat emanating from her cheeks too, though he didn’t comment on it.

She felt it then, the gentle pressure against her mind, so painful in its familiarity that Rose stumbled back from him, the connection dislodging uncomfortably. “Sorry,” she said, taking a few steps back. “I’m sorry.”

The Doctor was staring at her with wide eyes. “Rose,” he said, his voice sounding a bit hoarse. “I-I didn’t realise...I should have known…”

“Stop,” interrupted Rose, looking down in embarrassment. “It’s alright, I just...it’s been too long since we...I mean, not that we, as in you and I now have…” she cleared her throat and wished for a large blackhole to swallow her whole.

“Rose,” he said, kindly. “I understand.”

Rose averted her gaze and nodded slowly. “Let’s try it again,” she said, sounding determined.

The Doctor cleared his throat and nodded before resuming his position from before. This time when he entered her mind, the warm welcoming embrace of her mind was subdued and he could tell that she had developed quite sophisticated mental shields for a human. He was careful in his approach, being mindful of the fact that he could feel Rose trembling with the effort of holding herself back. It wasn’t as if he was faring any better. Her mind was utterly fascinating and he knew that it would be quite easy to lose himself in her.

It was pulling him in already and the mere idea that he would one day share such an intimate part of himself with her was enough to make him dizzy and wanting to make himself at home. He made himself turn away from the alluring memories of his future and decided to focus on his task. He finally found the memories of the alternative timeline and pulled on the thread gently, unravelling the knot so that Rose could have the memory. His work done, he drew on every bit of strength he possessed and eased himself out of her mind.

Both of them shuddered as their minds separated, but neither of them moved even after they had opened their eyes. Rose had tears in her eyes and the Doctor brushed his thumbs just under eyes and Rose blinked, letting the tears fall. Ducking his head and looking at her for permission, the Doctor brought her lips to his and kissed her slowly. Rose froze at the first touch of his lips against hers, an ache building in her heart from the remembered tenderness of every kiss she had shared with the Doctor. It hurt when he kissed her, but only because she kept expecting the guilt to come pouring in and not understanding when it didn’t.

The Doctor realised quite quickly that she wasn’t kissing him back and he started to withdraw but Rose reacted on instinct and moved her mouth against his, parting her lips to kiss his top lip and then his bottom lip, letting her tongue dart past his lips to brush against his tongue. Abruptly the kiss went from a gentle gesture to one of urgency. Rose’s hands tangled in the Doctor’s hair, some part of her brain noting that it had grown longer after she had trimmed it the last time, while the Doctor’s hands glided down her body to span her torso, his thumbs brushing absent circles just under her breasts.

It was only when he felt the conference table hit the back of his thighs that the Doctor realised how far things had really gone. He pulled away reluctantly and tried to control his breathing, realising that Rose looked just as surprised as him. Her face as red as the flower she was named for, Rose untangled her hands from his hair and stuffed them in her coat pockets. The Doctor let his hands fall from her body and cleared his throat, trying to think of a way to say something vaguely coherent.

Fortunately, Rose gasped and stepped back. “Skelton...an-and Eliana,” she said, clapping a hand to her forehead. “Oh my god, how could I have forgotten them?”

The Doctor was about to launch into a long-winded explanation about alternate timelines but he was still feeling distinctly flushed. There was a stern voice in his head telling him that there was a war on that he ought to focus on rather than the woman he had just kissed. “Do you-erm, remember now?” he asked, clearing his throat once again when he heard how low his voice had gone.

Rose blushed deeper at his voice but kept her attention focused on the matter at hand, a feat the Doctor was still having some trouble accomplishing. “Yeah, I think so,” she said. “How do we find out what happened to them?”

That snapped the Doctor out of the haze and he looked grave. “Rose,” he said and that was all it took for Rose to understand.

“No,” she said firmly. “They can’t have.”

“I am sorry, Rose,” he said earnestly.

Rose stumbled back and clapped a hand to her mouth. “They were just children,” she said, looking pale and shaky. “I said I’d protect them, keep them safe…” she trailed off as she sat down in a chair and buried her face in her hands.

The Doctor kneeled in front of her and took her wrists to guide her hands away from her face. “Rose, they knew what they were getting themselves into,” he said softly. “They might not have been soldiers but they were fully aware of the risk involved.”

“You didn’t know them, Doctor,” she said, though not unkindly. “They were so optimistic that this war would be over and they’d be back to doing what they always did. Eliana wanted to join the High Council and become President. Skelton, he wanted to teach at the Academy. They were looking forward to going back to their lives, Doctor,” said Rose, her face contorted with anguish. “They were not prepared to die.”

The Doctor nodded helplessly and folded her in his arms. Rose clung to him tightly and let her tears fall.

“Can we change it?” she asked, her face still buried in his neck.

“No,” he said. “We have to go to Gallifrey. They will be able to isolate the timeline in the Matrix and we can see exactly what happened here.”

Rose pulled away slowly and nodded. “What about the Travesties and those...oh my god!” she jumped up from her chair and ran to the mainframe, hardly noticing that she had almost knocked the Doctor back on his bum in her hastiness.

“Something wrong?” he asked, getting to his feet and walking behind her.

“The SER, it’s rising,” she said, looking at the rapidly climbing reading. “Eliana was using the brain patterns of the other prisoners to act as a scrambler to sever the link between the Travesties and the prisoners with excess Artron energy.”

“And now the buffer is gone,” realised the Doctor. “Come on, we have to leave,” he said urgently, grabbing her hand.

“What about Shada?” asked Rose, looking reluctant to leave.

“Activate the defenses and reinforce any shielding you might have on the cells,” he said. “How fast are the readings rising?”

“Pretty steady as far as things go,” said Rose, following his instructions quickly, slightly unnerved at the two sets of memories that she currently had about operating the mainframe. “At this rate, they’ll regain proper consciousness in about a week, maybe less.”

“That’s good, which means we have time,” said the Doctor, snatching up her hand as soon as she had finished.

“Where are we going?” asked Rose as he pulled her back to her quarters where the TARDIS was still waiting for them.

“Gallifrey,” he answered, unlocking the door and holding it open for her. “Is there anything in particular you need from your quarters?”

Rose looked around the room that had been home for a year and shook her head. “Let’s go to Gallifrey,” she said, walking past him into the console room. “We don’t have a lot of time.”

~

The War Council was already in session by the time the Doctor and Rose got down to Gallifrey’s surface. They had remained stranded outside the transduction barrier for what seemed like ages, and given a thorough examination by the medics to check for any signs of Anti Time.

Rose had been uncomfortable enough at the poking and prodding as it is, and the openly curious and sometimes even fearful looks she was getting was grating on her nerves. She was all too glad when she and the Doctor had both been declared free of Anti Time radiation, and allowed to maneuver the TARDIS onto the surface.

Braxiatel was waiting for them, and he greeted them with a curt nod and a sharp look to follow him. Rose stuffed her hands inside her pockets, clenching and unclenching her fists, hoping to relieve her stress. She wished she could reach over and take the Doctor’s hand, but he had both his hands clasped behind his back, and his head tall, the very picture of the Lord General.

She half-expected Braxiatel to lead them to the amphitheater that she had seen when she had first come to Gallifrey but instead he opened the doors to a darkened chamber that held an ornate scarlet and gold table decorated with swirls and loops of circular Gallifreyan. Golden chairs were placed on either side of the table, some of them occupied by Time Lords and the others empty.

President Romana sat at the head, still as a stone, her beautiful face pale and tired. Narvin sat at her left and kept darting surreptitious looks at her. A few seats down sat an old woman with Gallifreyan writing traced all over her papery skin with black ink. Her hand moved with a speed that belied her age, tracing writing on the parchment in front of her, while she muttered under her breath. The Time Lords seated around her deliberately kept their eyes off her.

When Braxiatel entered, silence fell over the council chambers, with the exception of the old woman who continued to mutter. Without missing a beat, Braxiatel took the seat to Romana’s immediate right, leaving the Doctor and Rose to find their place. The Doctor sat down at the other end of the table facing Romana and nodded at Rose to take the seat on his right.

Rose slid into the stiff-backed chair, keeping her expression as neutral as she could in the face of the openly outraged expressions on some of the Time Lords’ faces at her presence.

“Madam President,” spoke up one of them at once, a Time Lord in green robes much like Eliana used to wear. “I must protest at the presence of an alien in our War Council meetings.”

“Sit down, Lord Valyes,” said Narvin. “She is the Lady Commander of Shada and you will show respect.”

Rose only just stopped herself from gaping at Narvin. Of all the people present, she hadn’t expected him to be the one who rushed to her defence. The Doctor also seemed to have found this curious, but he said nothing.

“Enough,” said Romana when Valyes looked furious at having been told off by Narvin. “Coordinator Narvin’s words go to anyone who disputes the presence of Lady Commander Rose.” The remaining Time Lords dutifully lowered their gaze and Romana nodded in satisfaction. “We reviewed the footage from the Matrix,” she began, addressing the Doctor and Rose.

“Was it the Neverpeople?” asked the Doctor sharply.

“Yes, they took the young Arcalian first,” said Braxiatel. “It only took a touch for them to take her.”

Rose’s fists clenched at the mention of Eliana’s death but she bit her lip and made no sound. “And Skelton?” she asked, her voice surprisingly steady.

“Skeltonoquirisuen was not killed by the Neverpeople,” said Narvin. “He took his own life.”

Rose stiffened. “Why would he do that?” she demanded in a low voice, her knuckles nearly white where she was clenching her fists.

Without moving his gaze from Narvin, the Doctor reached over and placed his hand over Rose’s clenched fist, making her relax her grip.

“We found his charm,” said the Doctor. “I assume he dropped it to leave behind a steady link for us to trace the timeline through the Matrix.”

“Yes, he did,” said Narvin. “The Neverpeople would have taken him as well, but he led them to the Oubliette of Eternity and then activated it, taking a few of the Neverpeople out with him.”

“Then who took the prisoners on Shada?” asked Rose, trembling a little as she listened to what Skelton had done.

“The Neverpeople are many and the loss of a few that Skeltonoquirisuen destroyed did not inconvenience them,” said Braxiatel.

“And now they have the rest of the lunatics on Shada too,” said Valyes sourly.

“Not all of them,” said the Doctor.

“We were under the assumption that Shada had been emptied,” said Romana as everyone sat up a little at that pronouncement.

“The Travesties are still in their cells,” said Rose. “As are the recent victims of the excess Artron radiation.”

“Are their defenses holding?” asked Braxiatel sharply.

“For now, but the Stasis Energy Readings are rising,” said Rose. “We have a week, maybe less before the Travesties are revived.”

“Why were they not taken by the Neverpeople?” asked Narvin curiously.

“They are creatures of pure time, Coordinator,” said the Doctor. “It seems the Neverpeople could not take them as easily as they took the others.”

“That makes sense,” said Romana, nodding along.

“You have the Lady Commander to thank for coming to that conclusion,” said the Doctor, tilting his head towards Rose.

“Does the Lady Commander have a way of dealing with the Travesties too?” asked Valyes in a saccharine voice.

Rose had evidently been thinking deeply, and at Valyes’ words, she gave him a cold look. “No,” she said, hoping she sounded convincing. “I don’t.”

“Then it seems we have a battle on two lines,” said Valyes, sitting back in his chair. “Zagreus and the Neverpeople, and the Travesties of our own history.”

“And the Daleks, don’t forget about them,” said Romana. “Well, I have heard everything that I wanted to hear.” She stood up and everyone hastened to get to their feet. “Lord General, you will call all the troops back to Gallifrey.”

“Madam President?” asked the Doctor, evidently surprised at the order.

“You heard me, Doctor,” she said, fixing him with a steely look. “All the troops come home, as do all Gallifreyans. As of this moment, I am ordering Gallifrey to be locked down. We are now under siege.”

~

Rose sat on the floor with her back against the TARDIS’s side, resting her head on the blue wood. The Doctor had returned only a few hours ago, having carried out the President’s orders. He was currently debriefing his Commanders, but he had promised to come back to the quarters that had been ever so graciously been offered to them in the heart of the Capitol. They were nice enough, but Rose’s attention wasn’t on the decor at all.

She had forgone the comfortable sofa and the inviting bed to sit against the TARDIS in order to gather her thoughts. It helped that she knew what she had to do, but how she could go about doing it was still lost to her. The double doors squeaked open in a sound that was becoming all too familiar to Rose, and she stood up as the Doctor walked in.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“As well as I could expect it to,” he said. “Some of them are glad, the others are indignant at our retreat. Mostly they are all scared.”

“Nothing different there then,” said Rose wryly.

“No, I suppose not,” said the Doctor and then sighed. “I have to go soon and supervise the siege preparations. My TARDIS is one of the few that can wield the vortex well enough to craft some of the more sophisticated defences.”

“How many defences are there?” asked Rose curiously as the two of sat down side by side on the sofa.

“Countless,” said the Doctor. “They extended out from the Capitol in all directions.”

“So the defenses get weaker as you get further away from the Capitol,” said Rose.

“Or get stronger as you get closer,” he countered with a dry smile. “Arcadia guards the Capitol. It is one of our best lines of defence. Nothing can quite compare to it, and as long as Arcadia stands, the Time Lords stand.”

“And what about the transduction barrier?” asked Rose. “That’s over the whole planet, isn’t it?”

“The whole planet and a significant portion of the orbit around Gallifrey,” said the Doctor. “Zagreus couldn’t get past it before, and he won’t be able to now either. We are as safe as we can be for now.”

“But the war is still going on,” said Rose. “Once the Travesties are revived, then what? They are some of the most brilliant minds that Gallifrey has ever produced. They would be able to counter those defences. Probably not immediately, but eventually.”

The Doctor exhaled roughly and closed his eyes for a moment. “I believe Romana expects us to rebuild our defences and come up with better strategies on how to fight back when the time comes,” he explained.

“Yeah, thought it would be something like that,” said Rose. “She is buying you time.”

“Yes,” he said and then opened his eyes. “I have to go. Would you like to join me?”

Rose smiled a little at having been offered the choice but she shook her head. “I have some things I want to catch up on,” she said. “Sleep, most of all,” she added with a wink.

He grinned at her and kissed her forehead. When he tried to move, Rose wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down so she could kiss him properly. He made a pleased sound in the back of his throat at the action, but it turned into a loud moan when he realised just how much ardour was in that kiss. Rose wasn’t holding back at all as she plundered his mouth with her tongue, as if mapping every inch of him with an almost tangible sense of desperation. Lost as he was in the kiss, he did not allow himself to dwell on the desperation of it, and kissed her back with equal fervour.

When they had pulled away, their lips were red and swollen and they were panting to catch their breath. The Doctor smiled and brushed the back of his fingers over her cheek tenderly.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” he said, keeping a grip on her hand as he stood up.

Rose stood with him and squeezed his hand. “See you then, Doctor,” she said, swallowing back the sobs she could feel just waiting to burst forth.

He smiled brightly at her and went inside the TARDIS. Rose closed her eyes and let the dematerialisation sound of the TARDIS wash over her. When she opened her eyes again, she was alone and with a determined look, she went to the cupboard where she had stashed away a bag containing some basic clothes and supplies. She had got them from the TARDIS when the Doctor had been gone, and she double-checked that she had everything that she needed before hoisting the bag on her shoulder.

The door opened before she had taken a step and Rose dropped the bag behind her. Narvin entered the quarters and Rose’s eyes went wide.

“Coordinator?” asked Rose, surprised. “If you are looking for the Doctor you just missed him.” She discreetly pushed her bag behind the sofa.

“I am not here to see the Doctor,” said Narvin, crossing his arms behind his back as he walked up to her. “Going somewhere?” he asked lightly, looking down at the bag.

“Nope, just stuff I brought over from Shada,” lied Rose.

“Ah, I see,” said Narvin. “Has anyone ever told you that you are a very bad liar?”

Rose stared at him. “Yes,” she said.

Narvin nodded. “Yes, I thought they might have,” he said. “You lied earlier too. At the meeting.”

Rose looked a little startled before she glared at him. “You better not have been anywhere near my mind, Narvin,” she snapped.

“I was nowhere near your mind, I assure you,” said Narvin seriously. “But you did lie when you said that you didn’t know of a way to deal with the Travesties.”

“I might have,” said Rose. “So what?”

“So, I need to know,” said Narvin, his voice hardening. “Do you have a way to deal with them?”

“I might have,” said Rose again. “Why do you care?”

“I care because I coordinate our war strategies and unless I am much mistaken you were about to return to Shada,” he said severely.

Rose raised her chin defiantly. “So what if I was? You can’t keep me here against my will,” she said.

“I can, if I tell the Doctor,” he pointed out.

Rose did her best not to scowl at him but her displeasure was apparent on her face. “The Doctor’s not my guardian, nor is he my warden,” she said, crossing her arms.

“No, he is far more important than that to you,” said Narvin. “And you to him. Which is why you did not tell him what you planned to do.”

Rose sighed tiredly and shook her head. “What do you want Narvin?” she asked.

“I want to help you,” he said, looking very uncomfortable at the prospect.

Rose’s brow furrowed. “Why?” she asked.

“Do I have to have a reason?” he snapped, more out of embarrassment than irritation.

“Yes,” said Rose firmly. “Why would you want to help me, Narvin?”

“Because I feel responsible,” he said, his voice rising angrily.

Rose looked taken aback at that. “Responsible for what?” she asked.

Narvin deflated suddenly and looked so tired that Rose felt pity rise in her heart. “Responsible for starting this war,” he admitted in a small voice.

“I don’t understand,” said Rose, her mind whirling at his admission. She had always assumed that the Daleks had started the Time War. It made sense with their policy of destruction and lust for power.

“I started the Time War,” said Narvin. “I sent Valyes back in time with a Time Ring to give to the Doctor so he could stop the Daleks back before their creation on Skaro. The Doctor didn’t succeed, and my actions have brought us to the events we are seeing now.”

Rose fell silent at that, unable to think of a single thing to say. Narvin saw her shocked face and chuckled bitterly. “You can me hate me even more than you usually do, but I assure you that you cannot despise me as much as I despise myself,” he said. “If there is a way for me to set this right, I intend to do it.”

“Alright,” said Rose finally and Narvin looked at her, unable to believe it. “I need to get to Shada, and avoid anyone knowing about my departure. I will need some technical help and access to some archived information too. There are a few things I need cleared up before I can do what I am planning on doing.”

Narvin nodded and drew out a bluetooth-like device from his robes. “This has a private line to me,” he said. “Anything you need, you have to call me and I will find a way to get it to you. You will keep me informed about your progress.”

Rose took the device from him and nodded. “It will take me some time,” she said. “Is there a way to secure Shada to stop the Travesties from escaping?”

Narvin paused thoughtfully but nodded. “There is an old defence in place that will seal Shada to stop anyone from escaping. Or landing on it for that matter. No TARDIS will get past it, not even the Doctor’s Type 40. You would be cut off from everyone but me.”

Rose smiled wryly. “Don’t worry about me,” she said.

At her tone, Narvin looked at her speculatively. “You are not planning to survive this, are you?” he asked in a level voice.

“No,” she said honestly. “If all goes to plan, I will be dead.”

“What about the Doctor?” asked Narvin, still in that level voice.

“Just…” Rose swallowed and blinked back tears. “Just tell him I’m sorry. Tell him that I am so very sorry.”

Chapter Text

A familiar beeping drew Rose’s attention away from her work, and it was with a smile that she put the bluetooth-like device on her ear. “Good morning, Narvin,” she greeted.

“It is not morning,” he said flatly.

Rose rolled her eyes, though he couldn’t see it. “It is morning when I wake up and night when I sleep, Narvin,” she said, having had this argument with him a hundred times.

“If you say so,” he said. “Any progress?”

“Some,” answered Rose. “Gonna give me an ETA for the archives on the telepathic chamber?”

“It will be delivered to you in a day, I expect,” he said. “It is getting a little difficult to get in touch with my contacts since the siege is still holding strong.”

“How long has it been?” asked Rose. “Five years? Six?”

“Nearly six years according to your measure of time, yes,” said Narvin.

“Huh, has it been that long already?” asked Rose playfully, but the strain in her voice couldn’t be mistaken. “Well, time flies and all that, I suppose.”

“No, I do not suppose,” said Narvin. “Rose, if you need help…”

“I’m fine,” snapped Rose and then sighed. “I know you are worried, Narvin, but I am nearly there. It will work.”

“You have been on your own for nearly six years, Rose,” said Narvin. “Meanwhile the situation hasn’t changed at all. We are at a stalemate on all ends.”

Rose sighed again. “I know,” she said in a tired voice. “I honestly didn’t think it would take this long.”

“Will you ever tell me what you are trying to achieve?” asked Narvin, a question he asked every time. “Perhaps I could be of some help.”

“Don’t try and play coy with me, Narvin,” said Rose, rolling her eyes. “You must have figured it out a while ago. It’s not exactly a mystery.”

“No, but I was hoping you would tell me,” said Narvin. “It is very dangerous what you’re planning, Rose.”

“Any less dangerous than what awaits all of us if I don’t do this?” countered Rose.

“Debatable,” said Narvin. “You realise that this isn’t going to kill you, don’t you? It would be an eternal life, Rose. A life full of agony that would never end.”

“I have that already,” said Rose, trying to sound playful. “At least my eternal pain would be of some use.”

“It isn’t a laughing matter, Rose,” said Narvin, his voice rising. “This isn’t like any other pain you have endured. Your mind will be split apart and they would feed on every one of your emotions, every memory of yours, from now until the end of time. You wouldn’t die, wouldn’t be able to make it stop. Ever.”

“But they would gain a viable host and with it a way to fight the King and his Army. How is his ultimatum, by the way? Heard it all the way on Shada,” said Rose, her voice casual as can be.

“If I had known you’d be attempting this madness, I would have never let you leave Gallifrey,” said Narvin.

“Liar,” said Rose, but not unkindly. “You might not have known before I left but you have been helping me all this time instead of dragging me back to Gallifrey or killing me. Whichever was quicker, I guess. Face it, Narvin, this is our best option.”

“Don’t I know it,” said Narvin and sighed. “Using the Travesties against the Neverpeople. I can’t say I hadn’t considered it myself.”

“But you needed a viable host. A being of vortex. And here I am just perfectly made for it,” joked Rose weakly.

“You would be holding four Travesties in your mind, Rose,” said Narvin. “No one is made for this.”

“No,” said Rose seriously. “I know you are worried, Narvin, but I have come this far. I can’t turn back now.”

“You could use a Time Lord for this,” he said.

“A Time Lord would have to be infused with Artron radiation over the course of several years to achieve the same result,” said Rose, remembering her research. “You can’t just irradiate a random Time Lord and expect this to work. All that would do is severely mess them up and earn them a stint with the rest of these poor souls on Shada. So unless you know a Time Lord who has been imbibing themselves with Artron radiation, I am the best you’ve got.”

Narvin was quiet for a moment. “I suppose you are right,” he said. “I shall see about getting those archives to you.”

“Thank you, Narvin,” said Rose softly. “And…”

“He’s fine,” he said without needing her to ask.

“Still thinks I did a runner?” asked Rose ruefully.

“I doubt he ever thought that,” said Narvin. “He did think that we had taken you and were conducting experiments on you. I think I nearly regenerated from the volume of his voice.”

Rose felt her stomach clench painfully. “Sorry you had to go through that,” she said.

“I could tell him the truth if you wished,” he suggested delicately.

“No,” said Rose fiercely. “You know what he’s like. He’d never let me do this and I don’t want to fight him too. You made me a promise, Narvin.”

“Yes, I did,” he said. “Goodbye then.”

“Bye,” said Rose and disconnected the link. With a sigh, she returned to her work. She hadn’t been lying to Narvin when she’d said that she was almost ready. Any day now, the telepathic chamber would be ready for a transfer.

Her eyes drifted over to the orange cells where the Travesties were waiting patiently, having gained their proper consciousness a long time ago. All they needed now was a host.

~

The Lord General trudged back through the Capitol, the permanent scowl etched on his face sending everyone darting out of his way. The previously even-mannered Lord General was really living up to his reputation as the Oncoming Storm and as far as the rumour mills on Gallifrey went, it was because of the mysterious disappearance of the Lady Commander of Shada.

The general consensus was that she’d run away before the siege, though no one would ever suggest it anywhere in the vicinity of the Lord General lest they wanted to wear a new face. There were those who had analysed her DNA and thought that she had switched sides and joined the Travesties, or maybe even Zagreus himself. The War Council was entirely silent on the issue, and no one had dared approach the Lord General to ask for his opinion.

He had taken to supervising each and every aspect of the siege, even the most trivial of tasks. The only time he’d be down in the Capitol was when he was so exhausted that he’d regenerate if he didn’t rest. It was rare to hear him speak, unless he was barking an order, and there had been rumours that he was lending his own life force to power the shields.

He had kept the quarters that had been given to him and the Lady Commander of Shada, though it was only his Type 40 that was kept inside there. No one commented on the odd arrangement, and when he walked through the Capitol and went inside those quarters, he left murmurs of foolish sentimentality in his wake.

The Lord General, for his part, didn’t care anymore. Not about what was being said about him, or the fact that this was the thirty ninth time in nearly six years that he had almost regenerated. None of his previous bodies had been pushed to such a limit and he was only grateful for the fact that it was Gallifrey and the rest of the Time Lords’ energy that was sustaining his near-suicidal attempts. If in the future there was no Gallifrey and the protection it afforded, he might regenerate from a sneeze.

He opened his TARDIS and brushed a hand over the console in comfort as he passed through the room and went straight to the only bed he had slept in for the past six years. Her scent was almost gone from it, but he still threw himself on top of it and inhaled deeply. The ache in his body receded and the spots behind his eyes quieted down enough for him to relax bonelessly on the bed.

It was ridiculous really, the power that a bed she had slept in briefly held over him. He would have been ashamed of it, had he cared. For now, all he cared about was the fact that for a few moments he could trick himself into thinking that she was still around. Enough for him to sleep and regain his strength. Then it would be back to being the Oncoming Storm and the Lord General and all the other things that he had once thought to be more important than the name he had chosen for himself. But here, in her bed, he was always him.

He was always the Doctor.

~

Rose looked around at her handiwork and sighed deeply. She had no doubt that a professional technician would have made it look better, but it didn’t look too bad as far as things went. The project had been her entire life for nearly six years and she had put everything she had learned into it.

It looked rather like the operator’s chairs she had seen on the Game Station the first time around when they had taken the moron Adam on his first trip. She would have to be lying down on it, but instead of opening a hole in her head, she would be putting on a helmet-like contraption made from wires on her head. The probes in the contraption which were retracted for now would pierce her skin and inject themselves into her brain at precisely the right places to open her mind up for the Travesties to make themselves at home.

The prospect was less than ideal, and Rose had checked the contraption itself for years and years, making sure that she didn’t actually brain herself or pierce in the wrong place. Narvin hadn’t been lying when he’d said it would hurt. The physical pain would recede after a certain point but the mental pain would be unthinkable, and to say that she was terrified would be an understatement. She was also well aware that the final stages would be difficult to finish on her own. Not only would she need someone to strap her down and operate the mechanism, they would also have to stay behind and make sure that her brain was strong enough to sustain being the controller of the Travesties.

Rose walked around the empty dome, trying to prolong the inevitable as long as possible. The once pristine white surfaces were greyed and charred in some places, usually the result of her exploding something. Rose wasn’t a technical person at all and tinkering had firmly been in the Doctor’s territory but she had lived without him for so long that she’d had to learn things on her own that were essential to her survival. She walked up to her quarters and systematically packed up her belongings. Her clothes had gone threadbare from use, but she found the sturdiest jumpsuit she could find and changed into it, packing the rest away.

She finally sat down on her freshly made bed, having run out of things to do, and entered the key to contact Narvin on their usual frequency. He answered almost immediately as he always did.

“Rose,” he said, sounding surprised. “Is everything alright? We only spoke two days ago.”

She didn’t answer for a moment but then spoke in a voice that was barely trembling. “It’s ready,” she said.

There was silence on Narvin’s end. “I’ll be there soon,” he said finally.

“You will?” asked Rose, surprised.

“Of course,” he said. “I need to make sure it is functioning properly and it will help to have a second pair of hands in case of an emergency.”

“Yeah, I was going to ask you anyway,” said Rose and then shook her head. “How are you going to bypass the siege on Gallifrey and the shields on Shada?”

“Coordinator’s privileges,” he said, with a touch of arrogance. “Though you would have to allow me access to Shada from your end. I doubt the Travesties want to escape, now that they are so close to getting what they want.”

“They are quite happy,” nodded Rose as she walked downstairs. “How soon can you get here?”

“Quite soon,” said Narvin and then disconnected the link.

Rose shook her head, used to his abrupt manners, and went over to the mainframe to monitor Narvin’s arrival. She would have very much liked to say goodbye to the Doctor or even see him one last time, but it wouldn’t be possible. The Doctor would never let her go through with it, and she knew that it was very likely that he would volunteer himself in her place. She couldn’t let that happen, not when it was vital that the Doctor should survive this war even if she couldn’t.

She heard the light beeping from the mainframe and she lifted the shields from Shada, praying that the Travesties stayed put. As she had predicted, they stayed in their cells and Rose turned around when she heard the materialisation sound of a Time Ring and saw Narvin appearing inside the dome. He looked the same as ever, though Rose thought there were a few more grey hairs on his head. His face still held the same, neutral look which didn’t change when he saw Rose.

“Hello, Narvin,” said Rose, offering him a small smile in welcome.

“Rose,” he nodded. “Show me?”

Rose nodded towards the chair. “You’ll have to strap me down on that,” she said, pointing to the clamps on the chair. “Make sure I don’t struggle too much. And this is the most important thing of all,” she added, holding up the contraption that would go on her head.

“May I?” asked Narvin, his eyes glittering as he looked at the contraption.

Rose handed it to him and waited patiently while he examined it externally first, and then checked the circuits and wires on it meticulously. Once he was done, he set it back down and nodded at Rose. “Seems to be in order,” he said.

“Glad to hear it,” said Rose. “I guess, there’s nothing else but to get this over wi…” she trailed off when Narvin drew out a blaster from his robes and pointed it at her. “What are you doing?” she asked warily.

“You will not be the host for the Travesties, Rose,” said Narvin. “I will do it.”

“What?” asked Rose in disbelief. “Narvin, don’t be ridiculous.”

“I am not being ridiculous,” said Narvin calmly. “We both know what it means to be the host and the prospect isn’t pleasant.”

“So why exactly do you want to do it?” demanded Rose incredulously. “And even if you wanted to, you couldn’t. You won’t be able to sustain it.”

“Actually I would sustain it better than you would,” said Narvin.

Rose stared at him aghast. “Narvin,” she said slowly. “What have you done?”

“Nothing too drastic, I assure you,” he said wryly. “I have been slowly imbuing myself with Artron radiation ever since I figured out what you were planning. The Travesties were always meant to have a Time Lord host, not a human one, however much your physiology has changed.”

“It would be suicide, Narvin,” said Rose, realising that Narvin had made up his mind quite well. “I am disposable, the Coordinator is not.”

“Actually, a new Coordinator can take my place within hours,” said Narvin. “You, on the other hand, are a bit difficult to replace. And either way, you would be a lot more useful alive and functioning than becoming a host for the Travesties.”

Rose’s brow furrowed at the strange way he said it. “How so?” she asked.

“Because it isn’t just the Travesties I would be controlling,” he said. “Those Time Lords with excess Artron energy in their systems would make excellent footsoldiers for the Travesties. The Horde, so to speak, will be easy to control once I become the host. They will march against the Neverpeople and the Daleks.” He trailed off and let the implications sink in. “Such power is dangerous if it isn’t monitored and controlled. No one knows this better than you do, Rose. You built this and you have worked on this for the past six years. You need to make sure that things don’t go too far, Lady Commander.”

Rose stared at him in silence. “The Horde of Travesties, that’s what you’ll be leading then?” she asked finally. “And spend the rest of your existence in agony, only to be killed by my hand if you go too far?”

Narvin gave a tired smile. “Basically put, yes,” he nodded and then put the blaster away. “Rose, you know this is the best way to do this.”

Rose chuckled bitterly and shook her head. “When did you figure out what I was doing?” she asked.

“A few weeks after you left Gallifrey,” he answered. “You are smart, but you are no match for a Time Lord, least of all me.”

“Yeah, I am getting that,” said Rose, sitting down on top of the conference table. “You’ve planned this all along, knowing that you would be sacrificing yourself the moment that it was ready.”

“Yes,” he answered, without a hint of guilt.

“You could have told me,” she pointed out.

“Would you have agreed to it if I had?” he asked.

“Maybe,” said Rose.

Narvin shook his head. “I couldn’t take the chance,” he said.

“Then why not have another Time Lord build this for you? Or even build it yourself?” asked Rose.

“You know about the Travesties better than any Time Lord I could pick out and I could hardly leave Gallifrey for so long without arousing suspicion,” said Narvin, like it was obvious. “Besides, you figured out the way before I did. I only caught on because I was helping you get the supplies.”

Rose fell silent and nodded slowly. “So, now what? I just return to Gallifrey?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. “I will need your help in making sure that the process goes smoothly and then you must go back to Gallifrey. We know Zagreus has set his base on Pazithi Gallifreya. Tell Madam President Romana to send Zagreus an ultimatum. Either he and his Neverpeople choose to return to the Anti Time universe of their own accord or I send the Horde of Travesties after them.”

“I don’t think he’ll go for that,” said Rose, having heard the ultimatums that Zagreus had been sending out which ranged from demands to surrender control of the Eye of Harmony to lowering of the transduction barrier.

“Then he will die along with the rest of the Neverpeople,” said Narvin with a glint in his eye. “If there is to be a battle, you must be on the frontlines, Rose. You have to make sure that my control does not slip and that I do not harm fellow Time Lords. You have to give me your word that you will intervene, should that happen.”

“Narvin,” said Rose, shaking her head slightly.

“Your word, Rose,” he insisted.

She looked at him piercingly and then nodded. “You have my word,” she said.

“Good,” he said, satisfied. “Now, let’s get started here.” He emptied out his pockets and set the contents on the conference table. “Time Ring to take you back,” he added as he put the device down next to the blaster he had pointed at Rose. When he saw Rose’s gaze linger on the blaster, he rolled his eyes. “It does not function.”

“You had to make me listen,” said Rose flatly and he nodded as he lay down on the chair.

“Do me a favour, and don’t waste your time with emotional goodbyes,” he said as Rose jumped off the table and started strapping him in.

“Figures you wouldn’t like emotional things,” said Rose, trying to keep her tone as light as possible. “What else don’t you like? Music? Art? Fun?”

Narvin snorted. “You’d be surprised,” he said, when she finished strapping him in and picked up the contraption.

“Thank you, Narvin,” she said sincerely.

His stern face softened momentarily and he nodded as much as he could with him being strapped down. “Remember what you promised me,” he said, holding her gaze steadily.

“Yeah,” said Rose softly. “Good luck, Narvin.”

“Nothing to do with luck,” he said, and Rose lowered the contraption onto his head.

It activated instantly, the probes branching out quickly and positioning themselves over Narvin’s skull. Rose checked the scanner to verify that they were indeed the right places to pierce, and realised that they were positioned perfectly. Her finger hovered over the button which would begin the process.

“Do it,” came Narvin’s insistent voice. “Rose, do it.”

She closed her eyes briefly, before snapping them open and pushing the button down. A loud scream tore through the air and Rose forced herself to look at Narvin as the probes entered his skull none too gently. Her hands were shaking as she checked the scanners once again, doing her best not to react to the whimpers of pain that fell from Narvin’s mouth. She knew that the pain was only about to get worse.

She pressed the second switch which dug the probes firmly into Narvin’s mind and cracked the telepathic receptors wide open. The whimpers turned into screams, but Rose kept going, knowing that the final step would stop the physical pain for him. The Travesties rejoiced as all the cells on Shada were thrown open by Rose, leaving all the Travesties and the Horde free. She felt their telepathic energy thrum in the air as they sought to find their host.

Narvin was no longer screaming, nor did he look to be in pain any more. But Rose could see his telepathic receptors firing energy rapidly on the scanner, and she knew he had to be in agony as the Travesties made themselves at home in his mind. The transfer was almost complete and Rose could do nothing but keep her eye on the scanner, making sure that the mental strain wasn’t putting a physical toll on Narvin. At least, not enough that he would regenerate.

Finally, after what seemed like years but had only been two or so hours, the scanners abruptly went quiet. The probes withdrew themselves from Narvin’s head, the puncture wounds healing themselves quickly as they did. Narvin’s eyes opened but it was no longer the Narvin she had known, or even Coordinator Narvin that everyone was familiar with.

He was now the Host who controlled the Horde of Travesties.

~

The Lord General’s sleep was disturbed by the telepathic call from the Madam President to all the members of the War Council. Emergency telepathic calls were rare, and it was the shock of it more than anything that roused him from his deep slumber. He got out of bed and put his uniform back on, having shed it just before he had fallen asleep.

Gulping down a glass of water and running a hand through his hair, he left his TARDIS and found a young Lieutenant waiting for him outside the quarters.

“My lord,” greeted the Lieutenant whose name he couldn’t remember for the life of him.

“Well?” he asked shortly.

Her eyes went wide at his abrupt tone. “The Madam President has requested your presence at once, my lord,” she said, stammering a little.

“Yes, I realise that,” he snapped. “Do you know what it’s for?” he asked as the two of them nearly jogged all the way to the War Council’s chambers.

“N-no, my lord,” stammered the Lieutenant. “Just that it was urgent.”

“Fine,” he said, having reached the War Council chambers. He dismissed the Lieutenant without glancing at her, and pushed the doors open to enter. “Romana, what in the…” he trailed off when he saw the woman sitting next to Romana. “Rose?” he whispered in disbelief.

She looked just the same as she had six years ago, but no longer wearing the dark, foreboding clothes she had favoured before. Her hair was loose down her back and the jumpsuit she was wearing cut a very lovely figure when she stood up.

“Hello, Doctor,” she greeted, her voice soft.

He stared at her wordlessly, unable to think of a way to respond. Fortunately, the arrival of the rest of the War Council knocked him out of his stupor and he took his usual seat without taking his eyes off Rose who moved dutifully to sit at his right. The Chancellors gave her a curious look but she had her gaze fixed on the Doctor, as if she was just as unsure as him about what she should say.

As soon as the Council was full, Romana stood up. “As you can see, we are missing one of our numbers,” she said and the Doctor looked away from Rose long enough to see that Narvin’s seat was empty. Romana turned to Rose. “Lady Commander Rose, you have the floor.”

Rose stood up as Romana sat down, a grave look on her face. “I know many of you are wondering where I have been for the past six years,” she began, glancing at the Doctor frequently as she addressed the Council. “I have been on Shada, devising a way to fight this war. Coordinator N-Narvin has been helping me and we have finally succeeded.”

There were murmurs from the Council at that, and the Doctor could feel his hearts speeding up and his mind going thousands of miles an hour. Rose was now completely avoiding looking at him.

“Narvin is now the Host of the Travesties,” she announced to gasps from everyone. “He has asked President Romana to send Zagreus an ultimatum. If he doesn’t withdraw his presence from this universe, the Horde of Travesties will attack him and the Neverpeople.”

“Zagreus will never…” interrupted Lady Genelia but Romana shook her head.

“It is a sound plan,” said Romana. “Even if Zagreus does not agree to it, we have an obligation in good conscience to give him a choice.”

“If we can drive Zagreus and the Neverpeople away, we can turn our attention back to the Daleks,” nodded Braxiatel in agreement. “I concur, Madam President.”

“How stable is Coordinator Narvin now?” asked Valyes, looking at Rose suspiciously.

“Very, considering everything,” said Rose honestly. “If there ever comes a time when he isn’t, there’s a failsafe in place.”

“What failsafe?” demanded Valyes.

“It would no longer be a failsafe if I tell you,” said Rose, with just a hint of smile.

“Well, I never,” blustered Valyes. “Madam President, I demand…”

“Calm down, Lord Valyes,” said Romana sternly before turning to Rose. “Is there anything else?”

“Just that should a battle happen with the Horde of Travesties and the Neverpeople, I have to be on the frontlines,” she said.

“That is up to the Lord General,” said Romana, looking at the Doctor who hadn’t moved his eyes from Rose and had gone very, very pale. “Well, if that is all,” she stood up as did everyone else. “Braxiatel, I think it’s time we spoke to Zagreus.”

Braxiatel nodded at once and the Chancellors began to disperse, muttering amongst themselves. The Doctor was one of the first people to move and he walked up to Rose and took her elbow none too gently. “Come on,” he whispered roughly as he led her out of the War Council chambers towards their quarters.

Rose could feel him shaking and she would have brushed off his grip on her if she hadn’t seen the terrified look in the Doctor’s eyes. She decided to go along with it for the time being, and when the doors to their quarters swung open, Rose gasped as she realised that it had remained unchanged, right down to the TARDIS in the middle of the room.

The Doctor released his grip on her but only long enough to unlock the TARDIS and usher her inside. Rose felt the warm hum of the TARDIS and closed her eyes to hold back the tears. She had missed her so much. She stayed that way until she heard the Doctor walk past her to the console.

Rose’s eyes opened and she took in the sight of the Doctor facing her with a curiously blank look on his face. She crossed her arms in front of her and braced herself for what was about to come.

And the Doctor broke.

Chapter Text

Previously

Rose’s eyes opened and she took in the sight of the Doctor facing her with a curiously blank look on his face. She crossed her arms in front of her and braced herself for what was about to come.

And the Doctor broke.

Rose felt her back hit the TARDIS doors with a thump but her moan was lost in the Doctor’s mouth as he delved into her with gusto. She arched into him without hesitation, letting her hands roam his body while his tongue mapped the inside of her mouth. There was a palpable crackling of energy in the air as mouths and lips and teeth and tongues moved wildly against each other designed to cause pleasure and pain in equal parts.

It was Rose who broke away first, her head falling back against the doors to catch her breath, but the Doctor didn’t pause in his ministrations, kissing down her neck, leaving pink marks with his teeth against her pale skin. He sought out her wandering hands and raised them over her head, holding them up with one hand while his other ghosted over her breasts in permission. Rose’s eyes sprang open and she met his wild gaze with a nod, and that was all the answer he needed as he touched her breasts through the thin material of her jumpsuit, the oddly gentle movement in stark contrast with the urgency of his mouth moving over her lips and neck.

A loud groan of pleasure escaped Rose’s mouth when the Doctor sucked sharply at her pulse point, and she tried to move her hands to tug on his hair like she wanted. The Doctor merely tightened his grip, soothing the red mark on her neck with a gentle caress of his tongue. Rose gave up trying to free her hands and wrapped one of her legs around the Doctor’s hip and pulled him against her sharply, delighting in the way the Doctor groaned into her neck when their hips aligned just right. In retaliation, he pinched her nipple through the jumpsuit before moving his hand to the zipper holding her jumpsuit closed. The question was once again evident and Rose arched towards him in answer, thrusting her chest out for him to pull the zipper down all the way to her waist.

There was nothing but bare skin underneath, Rose having opted out of wearing a bra since the jumpsuit had built-in support. The Doctor ran his finger over the sliver of bare skin revealed, before following the path with his tongue. Rose dropped her leg from around his waist and tugged her hands away from his grip, choosing to bury them in his hair like she had wanted to do from the moment he had kissed her. The Doctor kissed his way all the down to her belly before moving back up until he reached her breasts. Rose removed her hands from his hair and met his gaze boldly as she worked the sleeves of her jumpsuit off, making it fall around her waist, leaving her top half completely bare.

For the first time since they had come back to the TARDIS, the air around them was completely still, as if standing on the precipice of something quite major. The Doctor took the plunge, just as he had when he’d decided that snogging Rose against the doors was the very first thing he wanted to do upon seeing her after six years. He was gentle when he kissed her this time, taking his time to run his hands over her bare torso with the most gentle of touches. Her skin was smooth under the rough calluses of his hand, but he imagined he could feel the ghosts of scars that had marred her skin before.

Rose was idle by no means, working through the myriad of complicated buttons on the Doctor’s uniform until his bare chest was revealed to her. At the first touch of their bare chests against each other, the Doctor broke the kiss and picked Rose up with a firm grip on her waist. Rose’s gasp was muffled in his neck as she wrapped her legs around his hips. She fully expected him to take her to one of their bedrooms, but he carried her over to the console and set her down on top of it. Rose yelped when she felt odds and ends digging into her but the Doctor shot her a warm look as he took off his heavy uniform jacket and draped it over the console. Before Rose had a chance to question it, he picked her up again and sat her down on top of it.

It was much more comfortable, the flatter surface and the heavy material of the uniform masking the unevenness of the console. The Doctor did not move his gaze from Rose as he knelt in front of her and unlaced her boots, pulling one off and then the other, before standing back up again. Rose parted her knees so that he could stand between them and bent her head to kiss him, her perch on the console offering her a slight height advantage over him. It didn’t matter for long though, as the urgency from before hit them in full force and the Doctor’s hands were on her breasts, pinching and pulling at her nipples until she was gasping into his mouth.

When he finally did tear his mouth away from hers and wrapped his lips around her nipple instead, Rose threw her head back and groaned loudly. She could feel the lights of the TARDIS rotor behind her closed eyelids as the Doctor mapped her breasts with his lips and tongue, sucking sharply on the rosy nipples until she cried out. Her hands clutched at his hair before finally finding the grip in the tight muscles of his shoulders, her fingernails digging into him until she felt wetness on her fingers. The shock of it made her open her eyes and the Doctor looked equally startled at the five perfect beads of blood on each of his shoulders. The surprise slowly morphed into a smoulder that would have made Rose weak in the knees had she been standing. Keeping her eyes locked on his, she scratched her fingers down his back, leaving pink lines in her wake, a few of them drawing blood.

The fascination in her eyes seemed to break what was left of his control and he lifted her off the console and started to push the jumpsuit from her waist until it dropped down enough for Rose to step out of. He went to his knees in front of her and lifted one of her legs over his shoulder. Rose gripped the console for support when she felt the Doctor move the black knickers out of his way before his tongue delved inside her warmth with hunger. She felt him hum appreciatively and almost cried out in disappointment when he pulled away abruptly. It dissipated a moment later when there was sound of tearing fabric in the air before cool air hit her bum.

She was almost reeling with the shock that he had literally ripped her knickers off, but his tongue was moving into her folds again and it was all she could do to stay upright and not fall. She gripped his hair tightly, feeling herself getting embarrassingly close. It had been so very long since she’d had a lover, and the fact that it was the Doctor between her legs who was driving her towards oblivion in that oh, so familiar way, Rose knew she was ready to explode. It was with great effort that she tugged on his hair to pull him away and he all but whined at having to stop.

When he stood back up, Rose attacked his mouth with hers, her hands going to the buttons of his trousers to remove the last of the barriers between them. He kicked them off quickly along with his shoes, groaning deeply when Rose stroked him once, twice, while her teeth nibbled at his neck. He thrust into her hand, seemingly unable to help it, but when her nose brushed against his shoulder, he hissed in pain. Rose would have apologised for it, had his face held anything but pleasure after the initial pain had passed.

He spun Rose around to face the console and kissed her neck as he pressed into her from behind, cupping her breasts and rolling her nipples between his fingers. Rose could only stand for a minute or so before she dropped her elbows onto the console, grateful for the heavy jacket yet again. She looked back at the Doctor and parted her legs, moaning when she felt the head of his cock brush against her folds. The Doctor ran his hands over her back, tangling them briefly in her golden locks before gripping her hips and moving himself into her slowly. Despite knowing how aroused she was and how close she had been before, the Doctor moaned in surprise when he slid in without much resistance, feeling his moan echoed by Rose when he was sheathed inside her.

They didn’t move, couldn’t move, for several moments, and when the Doctor finally pulled all the way out before pushing into her again, matching grunts of pleasure escaped the two of them. The Doctor stayed inside her and bent down to lick the perspiration off her back, smiling when she cried out in impatience. She clenched around him in retaliation and he nipped at the skin in the curve of her spine until there was a red mark on the soft skin. But he did start to move again, alternating between long, languorous strokes and shorter, quicker ones. He placed one of his hands on the time rotor to brace himself as he thrust into Rose, the other guiding her hips with his movements.

The pads of his fingers digging into the skin of Rose’s hips were leaving marks but Rose pressed closer to him, moving her hips in the motion that he had set, whimpers of pleasure escaping her lips. She was doing her best not to say anything, not wanting to break the spell that had fallen over them but as the Doctor changed the angle of his hips slightly and moved into her, she cried out his name loudly. “Doctor!”

He stopped, not paused, but stopped completely, and pulled out of her. She was about to turn around to look at him when he thrust back into her with a renewed sense of vigour, murmuring her name as he removed his hand from her hip to reach her clit and rub it in time with their movements. Rose closed her eyes and gave in to the pleasure, screaming his name loud enough to echo into the console room, her whole body convulsing as her orgasm crashed through her. The Doctor continued to move into her until he was coming too, her name the only thing escaping his lips, mingled with his gasps and pants.

Rose’s elbows gave and she collapsed onto the console, and the Doctor caught her hips to stop her from falling as he fell on top of her, still inside her. He kissed the back of her shoulder lightly and buried his nose into her hair, eyes closing in contentment. It was Rose who shifted after a few moments, the stickiness between her thighs becoming impossible to ignore. The Doctor seemed to realised her discomfort and he fished for her jumpsuit with his foot, smiling in triumph when he found it. He held it between her legs as he pulled out of her, and Rose smiled gratefully at him before cleaning both of them off.

She tossed the dirtied jumpsuit away, but before she could move, her legs nearly gave out from under her, and the Doctor caught her before she fell. She flushed in embarrassment but the Doctor picked her up and finally carried her inside. Rose was surprised when he took her to her room instead of his but when he set her down on the bed, all she could smell was his scent. Her eyes stung with the realisation that he had been sleeping in her bed. The Doctor smiled at her and got into the bed next to her, propping himself up on his elbow to gaze down at her.

“I thought you’d be angry,” were the first words out of Rose’s mouth.

“I am angry,” he said in a gentle voice, wrapping his finger around one blonde strand of hair. “You left without a word. You asked Narvin to help, of all people. And I had no idea if you were alive or dead for these past six years.”

Rose traced the marks on his shoulder with a gentle finger. “Would you have let me leave if you had known what I was doing?” she asked, meeting his gaze seriously.

“Maybe,” he said.

She shook her head. “I couldn’t take the chance,” she said, smiling sadly when she realised that she was echoing Narvin’s words.

“I could have helped,” he said.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “But you would have also stopped me from becoming the host and offered yourself in my place.”

He tensed and looked at Rose gravely. “I should have known,” he said finally. “You were going to become the host.”

“Narvin tricked me in the end,” she admitted. “He had been imbibing himself with Artron radiation, and the Travesties were always conditioned for a Time Lord host.”

“But if he hadn’t, you would have killed yourself,” he said, in a calm voice that rankled on Rose’s nerves.

“Yes,” she said honestly.

“You would have sacrificed yourself,” he said, still in that infuriatingly calm tone. “Just like that.”

She met his gaze squarely, no hesitation evident in her eyes. “Yes,” she said again.

He was trembling now and Rose knew that she was about to be faced with the anger she had expected before. “How dare you,” he said finally, in a low voice. “How dare you, you fool. How dare you do something so foolish?” His voice was rising with every word, though the trembling couldn’t be missed.

Rose felt her anger flare at his words, despite everything. “How dare I?” she demanded. “If I don’t dare, then who does? People like Eliana? Like Skelton? Children?” she spat angrily before taking a deep breath to calm herself down. “I had to do it, Doctor. There was never any question of me choosing my own safety over everyone else’s.”

He gritted his teeth and gripped her wrist tightly before pressing his lips to the inside of it. “Why must you make it so difficult for me, Rose?” he asked. “Why couldn’t you choose to stay by my side instead of running headfirst into danger?”

“‘Cos I wouldn’t be me if I did,” she admitted sadly, cradling his cheek in her palm. “I would love nothing better than to be by your side always, but I also have to make sure that you are safe.” At his look of confusion, her smile got sadder. “The only person whose timeline isn’t in flux in this entire Time Lock is yours, Doctor,” she said. “I know that the war is important, but so is you surviving it.”

“And you,” he said, raising his eyebrow when she shook her head.

“I am in flux, just like everybody else,” she said. “You have a future, Doctor. I am living proof of that. The universe needs the Doctor. I don’t think it needs me.”

The Doctor stared at her silently for a moment before getting up. Rose thought he would leave and couldn’t quite help the disappointment that rose in her heart at the thought. But he merely raised himself up so he could grab the duvet and pull it over them. Rose was once again hit by his scent from the duvet.

“This is the only bed I have slept in since you have been gone,” he said, tugging her closer into his arms. “Do you know why?”

Rose looked at him in surprise, touched by his admission. “Why?” she asked softly.

“Because outside these walls, outside this bed even, I am the Lord General and all those titles I once told you about,” he said, keeping his gaze locked on hers as he spoke. “I have to be the Oncoming Storm, Time’s Champion, and it is so easy to lose myself in those titles when I am wielding the vortex or manipulating time so efficiently. Such power,” he murmured to himself, his eyes losing focus slightly before they snapped back to hers with an intensity that made her breath catch. “But then I would return to this bed. Your bed, not mine. It still held some of your scent, but more importantly, it held a reminder.”

“Of what?” asked Rose, her voice shaking slightly.

“Of who I was,” he said, taking her left hand and squeezing it. “A reminder that I was the Doctor, and despite how much power I have or what a powerful Time Lord I make, you, Rose Tyler, you had the power to remind me of my humanity, my compassion, my love for the universe.” He ran his thumb over her wedding ring.

“Does it bother you? The ring?” she asked, her mind still reeling with his admission.

“Far from it,” he said and kissed her ring. “It is a symbol of my future, Rose. So, you are right, the universe needs the Doctor. But I need you and I suspect I always will.”

“You have lived without me before,” she pointed out, trying to squash the euphoria that rose in her heart at his words.

“Yes, I have,” he nodded. “But I have never lived through anything like this war. I don’t know what I will be like once this is all over, if I will even be the Doctor, but the one thing that gives me hope is you. So, don’t you ever dare assume that you are replaceable. A thousand Time Lords could die and I would mourn them, but it is nothing compared to what would happen to me if you were to die, Rose.”

The sincerity of his heartfelt words made Rose tear up and he brushed the tears off gently. “I don’t want to be your weakness,” she admitted slowly. “You have been the Doctor long before you met me, and I know you will always be the Doctor.”

“Perhaps,” he agreed. “But I have always found it hard to believe in myself so profoundly. You will never be my weakness, Rose, but my strength. Someone I believe in completely.”

Rose stared at him wordlessly in wonder, and he smiled as he brushed his thumb over her lips.

“And,” he said. “I would be willing to bet that there is a me in the future who spends his days thinking of you every time he saves someone or reunites lost lovers.”

Rose snorted a little at that. “It has to have been centuries,” she said, shaking her head.

“Irrelevant,” he said and kissed her slowly. “So, here’s what I plan to do, Rose Tyler,” he said confidently, once he had broken the kiss. “From now on, the two of us fight in this war side by side. We do our best to end this war, and we both survive it. Then, once the time lock is broken, I will make sure you find your way to my future self who is no doubt missing you with every core of his being.”

“And what if the end of the war isn’t so simple?” she asked, sadness filling her heart despite the joy his words brought her.

He smiled sadly and ran his fingers through her golden tresses. “Did you know that the Time Lords have foreseen the end of this war a long time ago?” he asked.

“What?” asked Rose, shocked.

He nodded. “They keep calling it the darkest possibility but the longer this war goes on, the more likely it looks,” he said.

“What’s it say?” asked Rose, her heart thudding.

He glanced at her darkly. “The end of Time Lords as we know them, and the destruction of Gallifrey,” he said.

Rose stared at him in disbelief, but didn’t say anything, knowing that she had promised never to tell him how the war ended. He searched her eyes for a moment and then chuckled bitterly.

“It’s alright, Rose,” he said gently. “Even if that is the end, I know it would have been the Time Lords’ last option. And if I have a future, then a few others ought to as well, right?”

Rose bit back her whimper of pain. It had never even occurred to him that it wouldn’t be the Time Lords who would spell their final doom, but the Doctor himself. The Destroyer of Worlds, Davros had called him. And here he was, so utterly unaware of the choice he would make one day. The slightly hopeful in his eyes was Rose’s undoing and she steeled herself and smiled. “Yes,” she said, her heart aching.

He beamed at her and kissed her again, the happiness he was conveying feeling bitter in Rose’s mouth. She closed her eyes and ripped the duvet away from their bodies, rolling on top of him. He looked surprised but when Rose started kissing her way down his chest, he gave in to the arousal that was already building. “Does this mean you like my plan?” he asked, gasping when Rose ran her tongue over his hardening length.

Rose repeated the action a few times before she answered him. “Yes,” she said, positioning herself over him. “Let’s fight to end this war and survive it,” she added, guiding him inside her with one smooth stroke. “Together.”

~

“Your hair’s longer,” said the Doctor some time later, wrapping his finger around a ringlet before releasing it gently and smiling when it bounced back as a curl.

“Not a lot of time to get a haircut,” said Rose, drinking her tea and smiling fondly at him. “You can talk though. Your hair’s longer than it was when I met you.”

He drained his cup of tea and ran a hand through his hair. “I had hair like this when I regenerated into this body,” he admitted. “I’ll do yours, if you do mine,” he winked.

Rose laughed and tossed a biscuit at him. “Fine,” she said. “Any idea where the hair trimmer is?”

“I’ll go look for it,” he said, getting up from the table in the galley. The galley and their individual rooms and a bathroom was all that the TARDIS had left, the rest of the rooms having been deleted by the Doctor with only an imprint of them being stored in the TARDIS matrix. After their latest bout of shagging, they’d taken a shower to clean off and Rose had made tea while the Doctor had scrounged up some biscuits and sandwiches. He had also checked with Romana through the TARDIS comm. link and it turned out that the ultimatum had been delivered to Zagreus. All they were waiting for now was an official response, since they were all but certain what the answer would be.

The Doctor returned to the galley, holding up the hair trimmer like a prize. He held his hand out to Rose, and she giggled as she took it and let him lead her back to her room. He sat her down on the seat in front of her vanity and gently began to clip off her long hair. Rose closed her eyes and let him work through it, comforted by the mundane nature of the task in the chaos surrounding them.

“You are still wearing Skelton’s charm,” he commented after they’d been quiet for a while.

Rose glanced down at her wrist where the charm was still tied up by the black thread. “Yeah,” she said. “Couldn’t bear to take it off. A reminder, you know.”

“Yes,” he said. “What do you think?”

Rose looked at the mirror and smiled. Her hair was now brushing just past her shoulder blades instead of the long hair that had been hitting her waist. “It’s perfect,” she said.

“Glad to hear it,” he said and handed the trimmer to her. “My turn?”

She nodded as she got up and made way for the Doctor to sit. “I have to be on the frontlines when the battle starts,” she said, shearing off his long curls.

He sighed. “Rose,” he said.

“Doctor,” she interrupted softly. “There is a chance of Narvin losing control.”

“Doesn’t mean you have to be there,” he said, though there was no fight in his words.

“I made this weapon,” she said. “I have to make sure it doesn’t blow up in our hands.”

He sighed but agreed. “I will be there with you,” he said.

“Is that advisable, Lord General?” she asked, with deliberate use of his title.

“Probably not,” he said. “But I am the Lord General and no one gives me orders on a battlefield.”

“Alright then,” said Rose. “You’re all done.”

He nodded at her in thanks and the two of them glanced at the bed where a fresh pair of clothes was waiting for both of them. “I suppose it is time to face the world again,” he said.

“Yeah,” said Rose softly.

The two of them shed their dressing gowns and got dressed almost silently. The Doctor was back in a fresh set of his uniform, his newly cut hair fitting right in with his attire. Rose took longer to get dressed, having chosen to wear black tights, a grey shirt and a faded black cable knit sweater with heavy boots on her feet. Her short hair no longer needed to be bound, but she still braided a lock of it away from her face and decided to use Skelton’s charm to keep it tied up. The Doctor didn’t comment on her odd accessory, just helped her to braid the black thread through her hair so that the charm dangled next to her cheek.

When they emerged out into the console room, they could feel all their titles weighing on their shoulders, taking away the carefree joy that they had found inside the TARDIS mere hours ago. They exchanged quiet looks, but before they stepped outside the doors, they kissed each other, again and again, softly and tenderly, as if unwilling to lose that peace they had found in each others’ embrace.

The alert sounded loudly through all of Gallifrey and everyone knew that the War Council was meeting. To the Doctor and Rose, it meant that Zagreus had sent his answer and the battle was about to begin.

Exchanging a final kiss, the Doctor and Rose dropped their hands and squared their shoulders. When the doors opened, the Lord General of Gallifrey and the Lady Commander of Shada left the TARDIS, ready to lead the troops in battle.

Chapter Text

“Who's that?” asked Clara, her eyes blurry with tears.

The Doctor stiffened, the familiar silhouette making his hearts go cold. “Never mind. Let's go back,” he said, trying to pull her away.

Clara wasn’t ready to let it go so easily. “But who is he?” she asked insistently.

“He's me,” he said finally. “There's only me here, that's the point. Now let's get back.” He tried yet again to pull her away before she tried to ask more questions.

Clara shook her head. “But I never saw that one. I saw all of you,” she stressed, looking at him with wide eyes. “Eleven faces, all of them you. You're the eleventh Doctor.”

“I said he was me,” he said darkly. “I never said he was the Doctor.”

Clara was swaying lightly on her feet, the exhaustion getting to her. “I don't understand,” she mumbled, trying in vain to keep her eyes open.

“Look, my name, my real name, that is not the point,” he said, frustration lacing his voice as his vision swayed. It was not a good idea for him to be inside his own timeline. He was resonating and it was hurting to concentrate. He gritted his teeth and continued. “The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, it's like, it's like a promise you make. He's the one who broke the promise.”

He looked down at Clara but her brain had already overloaded with the events of everything she had gone through. She fainted in his arms. “Clara? Clara?” he called but her body sagged bonelessly. “Clara!”

She didn’t answer, didn’t move, but she was breathing regularly which gave him some heart. He carefully lifted her in his arms and stared at the ghost of his past. “He is my secret,” he murmured.

“What I did, I did without choice,” said the other one.

“I know,” said the Doctor, no mercy in his tone.

“In the name of peace and sanity,” he said and turned around slowly, showing the face of him that haunted his nightmares.

“But not in the name of the Doctor,” said the Doctor viciously.

The other one smiled sadly. “No,” he agreed.

He started to say something else but the Doctor could no longer hear his voice. His image started to flicker as well, and the Doctor took an involuntary step towards him.

“What?” asked the Doctor. “I can’t hear you.”

The not-Doctor continued to speak, but he was getting fainter and fainter, no matter how much the Doctor tried to move towards him. He was fading, and fading fast. That stopped the Doctor in his tracks. Something was wrong.

The image of his past self faded away completely and the Doctor could feel his headache getting worse. He laid Clara down carefully before she got hurt and he stumbled to the ground after her, his head pounding out a rhythm he had once heard in the Master’s mind. With a guttural cry, he forced himself to stand. He was in his own timeline and something had changed. He wasn’t certain yet if him entering the timeline had done it, or if the Great Intelligence had interfered somehow, but he had to fix it and fix it fast.

He glanced down at Clara, and saw her beginning to stir. He bent down to rouse her, trying to smile through his pain when she opened her eyes.

“Doctor? Wha-what’s happening?” she asked, her words still a little slurred.

“Clara, you have to stay awake,” he said, smiling through gritted teeth. “Something’s gone wrong.”

She looked at him in confusion before looking around. “Are we still in your timeline?” she asked, sitting up with his help.

“Yes,” he answered, unable to hold the smile any longer. “Clara, my head…”

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” she said, grabbing his shoulders gently. “Doctor, we are going to figure out what’s wrong, alright?”

He nodded, his eyes screwed up in pain. Clara looked worried for a moment before getting a determined look on her face. She stood up and hauled the Doctor up with her, steadying him when he swayed a little.

“My past, something has changed in my past,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper.

“When?” she asked. Her head was still buzzing with the memories of what she realised were her other selves with the Doctor’s previous selves. She wasn’t certain if they really were her or mere echoes and ghosts, but she couldn’t let her mind dwell on it. The Doctor’s timeline was very, very complex, and if one thing had changed, then it could spell disaster. She could feel him losing focus though, so she shook him slightly. “Doctor! What has changed?”

“The war,” he said, a light sheen of sweat covering his forehead. “My face...in the war...different...Clara...Gallifrey...burning...war…”

Clara realised that he had become delirious, and she looked on helplessly as she eased him down to sit back on the ground. “It’s okay, Doctor,” she said, petting his hair comfortingly. “I’ll figure it out.”

The Doctor didn’t show any indication of having heard her, but Clara didn’t let it discourage her. She started walking along tentatively in the direction of where the Doctor had been looking to go before, hoping that there would be some obvious sign of something being wrong. The heat that she had been feeling on her skin was getting worse as she moved forward, and she heard snatches of voices that she couldn’t quite place.

She stopped then, the heat around her getting worse, making it hard for her to focus. Clara contemplated moving further, but she jumped when she felt someone pull her away. She whirled around and saw the Doctor, breathing heavily, but looking determined as he got her out of the way. “It’ll hurt you if you keep going,” he told her, his voice sounding steady despite his uneven breathing.

“What about you?” she asked, still unconvinced that he was fine. “Won’t it hurt you?”

He smiled wanly. “Go back, Clara,” he said. “Just keep going back the way we came from and you’ll find a way back out. The TARDIS is programmed to take you back home,” he said.

She raised her chin stubbornly. “I am not leaving you,” she said. “Whatever’s gone wrong, we’ll figure it out together. ‘Kay?”

His eyes softened and he nodded. “What do you remember of my eighth life?” he asked.

“I think you brushed past me in a park once,” she said. “Long curly hair, green velvet?”

“Anything else?” he asked.

“No,” she said, her brow furrowing. “Why?”

“What about my next self?” he asked, looking at her carefully.

“Short hair, leather jacket,” she said, closing her eyes briefly to remember.

“Anyone else between the two?” he asked.

“No,” she said, confused. “Doctor, what’s going on? Who was that man we saw before?”

He looked down and scrubbed a hand over his eyes. “I-I’m not sure anymore,” he said. “I always thought...the war...but not anymore...maybe it’s changed…”

“Doctor,” interrupted Clara, sounding uncharacteristically sharp. “Finish your sentences.”

“I fought in the Time War,” he said, his eyes flashing darkly.

Clara nodded. “Yes, you told me, remember?” she reminded him. “You said your people and your planet are all gone now.”

“I did that,” he said. “I ended the war. I destroyed Gallifrey and the Time Lords.”

Clara looked stunned. “You can’t have,” she said, her voice sounding small. When she saw the raw sorrow on his face, her heart broke just a little more. “Oh, Doctor.”

“That was the face of me that ended the war,” he said, nodding back the way they had come from. “I-I can’t even bear to call him the Doctor. Everything he did…” He shook his head and fell silent.

“Which number was he?” asked Clara finally, unable to bear the silence.

“Nine, I suppose,” he said. “My eighth self never joined the war. He regenerated and went to the war as him. After the war...I couldn’t...I had lost the right to call him the Doctor. He broke our promise.”

Clara touched his arm, tears welling in her eyes at his pain. “I’m sorry, Doctor,” she said.

The Doctor hardly seemed to notice it. “But something’s changed now,” he said. “I have new memories. Or rather there is no trace of my old memories and there is a closed nexus of memories instead.”

“What does that mean?” asked Clara.

“Time Lords have a tendency to go through time non-linearly at times. Me, even more so with all my travels in the TARDIS,” he said. “Time isn’t a straight line, it’s all bumpy and wobbly, or was it wibbly and wobbly.” He shook his head and focused on Clara. “Sometimes things happen in our lives that we are not meant to learn until there is no longer a threat that foreknowledge will lead to a disturbance in the timelines. That’s why all Time Lords have a natural defence to stop them from learning too much about the events that are still in flux.”

“So, something in your past has changed and you don’t know what it is, because if you did it would mess with your future?” asked Clara, trying to wrap her mind around it.

“Exactly,” he said, his eyes shining brightly, despite the sweat still covering his brow. “Come on.”

He started leading her through his timeline and Clara heard his tenth self, followed by the Northern burr of his ninth self. However, when that voice got fainter, they came across a tightly packed box that was nearly as tall as Clara herself and covered in several layers of packing material.

“Those are the new memories?” asked Clara, looking a bit confused at the odd object in the middle of the bare path. “In a box?”

“It’s not really a box,” said the Doctor and she could practically hear him rolling his eyes at her. “We are in my timeline. I am just envisioning it in a way that you would understand. It can be a packed box, a locked door or one of those little yellow ‘Keep Out’ signs. I never knew why they were yellow. Seems to be a universal thing that. Point is, it can be anything I want it to look like.”

“Right,” said Clara. “So, you think that the Doctor that fought in the war has been replaced by this new box of memories instead?”

“Yes,” he said distractedly, examining the box. Clara wondered what it was exactly that he was doing since the box was apparently abstract, but thinking about it was giving her more of a headache than she already had, so she looked on quietly, waiting for the Doctor to figure out what he needed to before he could explain it to her. “It’s strange, this box,” he murmured after a long moment of silence. “I don’t think the Great Intelligence had anything to do with it.”

“So, if not them, then who?” asked Clara, before a horrible thought struck her. “Was it me? Did I do something wrong?”

He looked at her in alarm. “No, no, no, Clara,” he said gently. “It wasn’t you.” He turned back to the box and grimaced. “I think this one is all on me.”

“Will it have affected the future?” asked Clara, feeling a little bit of relief.

“One way to find out,” he said, shooting her a boyish smirk though his eyes were anything but. “I am going to crack it open.”

It was Clara’s turn to look alarmed. “Thought you said it had to stay sealed until it opened of its own accord,” she said.

“Well, they are my memories and we are in my timeline,” he said. “I get to decide what I do in here.”

Clara noticed the mad glint in his eyes and the anger in his tone, and she felt a shiver of fear. She didn’t like it when he got this way, as if there was nothing he would stop at to get what he wanted.

“Doctor,” she said, her tone cautious. “What if you make it worse by opening those memories now?” He ignored her completely, but Clara pressed on. “You already said it could change the future. What if the new memories are even worse than what the Doctor in the war really was?”

He glared coldly at her. “There can be nothing worse than what he was,” he said darkly. “He killed them all, he made the choice to kill them all.”

“But he was you,” she implored. “You would never have done it if you thought there was another way. Maybe this box is meant to be that. Something that might not be any better, but at least not as bad as it could have been.”

The Doctor’s glare faded away as he looked away. “The universe is not that kind, Clara,” he said, his voice sounding so very old.

“Maybe it will be kind this time,” said Clara, reaching towards him.

He jumped back abruptly and shook his head. “No,” he said firmly. “I have to know. I have to know now.”

Clara almost screamed in frustration, wondering how she was going to stop him when the Doctor jumped back from the box with a yelp. Clara’s eyes went wide when she saw that a magnificent golden wolf had seemingly materialised out of nowhere and was standing on top of the box, growling at the Doctor with the dark, earthy eyes that seemed more intelligent than Clara would have believed.

She looked at the Doctor and saw him staring at the wolf like he had seen a ghost. The wolf settled itself on top of the box protectively, eyeing the Doctor in what looked like disgust, still growling ferociously.

“No,” said the Doctor finally. “You are not really here.”

The wolf’s hackles were raised and it was growling in a way that made Clara fear for the Doctor’s safety, though he seemed confident enough that he was in no danger.

“Did you hear me?” he demanded angrily. “You aren’t here. She isn’t here.”

The wolf continued to bar its teeth until the Doctor dropped his angry stance. Clara was shocked to see how tired he looked. She had never seen him like this, ever. She couldn’t even bring herself to speak as she just kept watching, the fascination she felt overriding her inquisitive nature. What surprised Clara even more was the way the wolf relaxed, though it did not leave its protective perch atop the box. The Doctor’s eyes were so soft and desperate as he looked at the wolf that Clara had to clap a hand on her mouth to muffle her sound of sympathy.

“Look at you,” he murmured. “Still keeping me from doing something stupid. I know you won’t really be in here, but how I wish you were.” The wolf just blinked at him and he sagged, the fight leaving his body. “I am going mad. The mad old Doctor has finally cracked. Wishing for someone who isn’t there anymore.” He shook his head and bowed his head, his eyes falling shut.

To Clara’s enormous surprise, the wolf stood up and looked at the Doctor for a long moment before throwing its head back and howling loudly. The Doctor’s eyes sprang open but the wolf had seemingly vanished in a dust of golden particles. He sighed and started to shake his head when he saw something resting on top of the box. Clara had to rise on her tiptoes to see what it was and she gasped when she saw that there was a bright pink and yellow rose where the wolf had been. She turned to the Doctor to ask him what it meant but found tears flowing down his cheeks as he gazed at the rose with such longing that it made Clara’s stomach hurt.

He reached over to pick it up but it dissolved into gold particles before he could touch it, and Clara couldn’t stop the tears in her eyes when she saw the utter hopelessness in the Doctor’s eyes. She blinked them back and moved towards him cautiously, taking his hand in comfort. He looked a little startled at the action as if he had forgotten that Clara was even there, but a small, sad smile graced his face and he allowed her to lead him back the way they had come from.

The place they were in seemed to cool down and the bright light simmered down to a dim glow as they made their way back. They glanced back only once to see the box engulfed in darkness, signifying that the secrets inside it had remained safe and unknown to them for now. Clara couldn’t help but feel relieved when she saw that. They reached back to where they had started, and to their surprise, there was something akin to a portal there with a silvery glow emanating from it.

“Should we?” asked Clara, speaking for the first time in a long while.

The Doctor merely nodded and the two of them walked through it, gasping in surprise when they felt something cool trickle over them as they emerged back onto the surface of Trenzalore. The planet was still in ruins, but the Doctor merely turned his gaze skyward and smiled when he saw that the stars were safe and twinkling like they were supposed to. He glanced down at Clara, and saw that she looked very much the picture of pure exhaustion.

His gaze turning concerned, he picked her up and carried her inside the TARDIS despite her weak protests. Inside, he found Vastra and Strax fussing over Jenny who was awake but lying down on a makeshift stretcher that the Doctor knew was Sontaran technology. When they saw him carrying Clara inside, Strax reached inside his armour and drew out a flat disc which quickly opened up into an identical stretcher.

Nodding gratefully at the Sontaran, the Doctor set Clara down on it. Strax reached for his scanner and started to examine Clara. Jenny took the opportunity to escape Madame Vastra’s and Strax’s combined fussing and got to her feet. “Is she alright then, Doctor?” she asked, looking down at Clara.

“The boy is fine,” said Strax grouchily. “There is some dehydration. Providing solution now,” he added, reaching into his suit and pulling out a cylindrical vial with orange fluid in it. He inserted the vial into what looked like the frame of gun but a needle shot out the front of it and Strax inserted it into Clara’s arm, and injected the orange liquid into her. Clara’s eyes sprang open and she blinked a few times, looking slightly disoriented. Strax nodded to himself satisfactorily and put his supplies away.

“What happened?” demanded Vastra, keeping a firm grip on one of Jenny’s hands.

“It doesn’t matter,” said the Doctor, helping Clara stand. “It’s over now.”

“What about Dr. Simeon and those...things?” asked Jenny, shivering as she remembered the Whisper Men.

“They failed,” he said. “Clara stopped them.”

Clara smiled at him, but she knew that he wasn’t going to tell the others about the change in his timeline and the new box of memories in place of an old self that he hadn’t thought of as the Doctor at all. She jumped slightly when he clapped his hands and whirled over to the console.

“Come on then,” he said. “Let’s get you lot home. You three must have something or other to investigate and Clara has to look after Angie and Artie.” He began his usual dance around the console, pressing switches, flipping levers and keeping up a running commentary about the benefits of bowties or fish fingers or something equally mundane as they said goodbye to the Paternoster Gang and were on their way to the Maitland home.

“Doctor,” Clara interrupted his tirade finally when she heard the TARDIS starting to land near the Maitland home.

He stopped his rambling and looked at her questioningly. “Yes, Clara?” he asked, looking apparently unbothered.

Clara almost stomped her foot in frustration but settled for crossing her arms in front of her. “What was that wolf back there?” she asked bluntly.

He smiled suddenly, a genuine smile that was more sad than happy. “That was an old friend,” he said. “Stopping me from doing something that I may not have regretted later, but wasn’t especially good for me.”

“And your timeline? It’s changed now,” she said.

“Yes,” he agreed. “Like you said, it may have changed for the better, or maybe it has got worse. I won’t know until a time comes when it is safe for that box for open.”

“Are the Time Lords…? And your planet?” asked Clara in a small voice.

He shook his head. “Still gone,” he said. His voice took on a soft, sad tone. “There is nothing that could change the fate of my planet and my people, Clara. There are temporal tipping points and there are fixed points, and then there is the Last Great Time War. That event is so deeply embedded in the scope of the cosmos that it cannot change without the entire universe collapsing in on itself. Several times over. And trust me, no one wants that.”

“But all that destruction,” said Clara.

“Ah yes, all the destruction in the war,” nodded the Doctor. “As much as it pains me to admit it, things would have been a lot worse for everyone if the war hadn’t ended when it did.”

“And what about you?” she asked. “Technically, you no longer exist in one of your lives.”

He chuckled lightly at that. “That life of mine wasn’t a proper regeneration. The Sisterhood of Karn gave me a potion to make me into a warrior. That’s what that body was, a warrior. I think that was why it was so easy to not think of him as the Doctor. Didn’t stop my last two selves from blaming only themselves though.”

“So what changed with you?” asked Clara, wondering if he would answer.

“They had someone who made it all better,” he said, a soft smile on his face.

“And you don’t?” asked Clara, feeling a stab of hurt.

“It isn’t like that, Clara,” he said gently. “When I regenerated into this life, I was all alone. I didn’t know if I would find someone to make it better. I could no longer shoulder the responsibility of it.” He sighed deeply. “I think it was easier to just place the blame on someone who wasn’t truly me.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “What are you going to do now?”

He took a deep breath and pretended to mull over her question. “Same as always,” he said. “Running about madly, trying to solve trouble and getting into mysteries. Or is it the other way around?” he joked.

Clara smiled reluctantly and gave him a long hug. “Don’t be a stranger,” she said.

He hugged her back tightly. “Oh Clara,” he murmured. “Of course, I won’t.”

Clara pulled away and pinched his cheek affectionately. “I will wait for your call,” she said, starting to walk towards the door.

He inclined his head in agreement, the smile on his face a promise that he would definitely call. Clara nodded back and turned to go before looking back at him.

“That friend of yours,” said Clara. “The one you said stopped you from doing something stupid and who made it all better. What was her name?”

The Doctor’s eyes twinkled. “Her name was Rose.”

Chapter Text

The soldiers dutifully cleared a path when they saw the Lady Commander of Shada stride forward with purpose. Only a few hours ago, a blue Police box had appeared in the middle of their Time Station and everyone knew it would only be a matter of minutes that someone would inform the Lady Commander of the capsule’s arrival. It didn’t matter if she was in the thick of battle or not on Pazithi Gallifreya at all, she would always return to the blue box as soon as the word came from one of her Lieutenants. After decades of warfare, everyone had stopped questioning it and they were far too busy to speculate.

A quick look at the Lady Commander now told the soldiers that she hadn’t been in battle at all, but in a meeting with the High Council. The spotless sweeping white dress stood out like a sore thumb in the midst of armour-clad soldiers, and they only had to see the anger in her eyes to know that the meeting hadn’t gone well, not that they had expected anything otherwise. The Council had split a few years ago, with the War Council now comprising solely of Commanders and Cardinal Braxiatel who was now Coordinator Braxiatel, to the delight of some and dismay of the others. The High Council, on the other hand, was made up of Chapter Cardinals and Chancellors who had never set foot outside the Capitol, let alone into battle.

On the battlefields, the High Council was a matter of contempt. The Lieutenants would whisper of the Commanders having to fight the Council on every step to get even the basic supplies and support for their troops. The two Councils clashed often on matters of strategies, and the political machinations were a frequent hindrance to the war. If the Lady Commander had visited the High Council in full robes, then the soldiers knew that she had been going for an important negotiation, though the angry look in her eyes was not encouraging. She finally reached the box and opened it with a key she drew from under the neck of dress. The doors slammed shut after her, and the soldiers dutifully went back to their respective duties.

Inside the TARDIS, Rose loosened the frightfully tight knot that her hair had been tied up in and shook her head. She was so tired after locking horns with the High Council yet again, that the word of the Doctor’s arrival had come as a blessing. It had still taken her a few hours to be able to leave politely, and there was no sign of the Doctor in the console room. Rose ran her fingers through her hair and shuffled towards the bedroom.

Sure enough, she was greeted by strewn clothes on the floor and the Doctor fast asleep on the bed. There was a healing bandage around his left wrist that was a worrying dark colour, indicating that it was a barely healed wound. She slipped her dress off, the silky material sliding down her body in a single swoop, and worked the rest of her clothes off before crawling into bed next to him. He stirred a little when the bed dipped, but didn’t wake. Rose examined his wrist carefully, wondering why he was using something as primitive as a healing bandage, but gritted her teeth when she remembered the Medical Commander arguing with the High Council for more supplies and the Council’s indifference to his demands.

Her huff of irritation woke the Doctor and he turned slightly to wrap an arm around her shoulders so that she could rest her head over his bare chest. It was ridiculous really how quickly she relaxed when she felt his hearts beating under her cheek. He stayed quiet and ran a hand through her hair and Rose felt her eyes starting to droop. She hadn’t slept in nearly a week but the gentle motion of the Doctor’s fingers in her hair and the steady beats of his hearts lulled her into slumber quite easily.

The Doctor continued to stroke her hair long after she had fallen asleep. His wrist was throbbing and he really wanted to get up and find a painkiller, but at the same time he didn’t want to move. He hadn’t seen Rose in months. He had been commanding a battalion of soldiers, fighting off the Daleks in the skies while Rose had been dividing her time between fighting Zagreus’ army of Neverpeople on Pazithi Gallifreya and working with the Councils down on Gallifrey. While he didn’t envy the latter part of her duties, he worried constantly about her on the frontlines.

As much as he hated the thought of it though, having Rose on the frontlines was an advantage like no other. The Doctor had almost screamed in terror when on the first day of battle, Rose’s eyes had glowed golden. But then he had seen the way she could move the Horde and command them to fight even though she wasn’t the Host. They seemed to flock to her like a moth to flame and the Host himself seemed to either still have some remnant of Narvin left within him, or was simply drawn to the vortex energy in Rose. Whatever the reason, she was the only one apart from the Host who could effectively control the Horde of Travesties, though the way her eyes were always golden when she did that, worried the Doctor to no end.

His wrist twinged again and this time the Doctor had to reluctantly untangle himself from Rose to fish around in his clothes to find the painkiller. The Daleks had unleashed one of the creations of the Deathsmiths of Goth and he had been unfortunate enough to be reinforcing the shield at the moment their first attack had come. The onslaught of antimatter had turned half the troop with him to dust, but he had been lucky to escape with only a gash across his wrist. Antimatter was almost as poisonous to Time Lords as Anti Time, and he had been advised to use the healing bandages to let his lifeforce heal the wound naturally rather than a quick fix with the dermal regenerator.

He found the small green pill in his jacket and he dry swallowed it quickly, sighing when the pain started to abate. His eyes drifted over to Rose’s discarded clothes and he felt a twinge of sympathy at the sight of the white dress. The split between the councils had been bound to happen. Valyes and many others like him had disliked the way the War Council was relying on aliens and methods that were unbecoming of Time Lords (according to them) to fight this war. The War Council, on the other hand, was merely trying to make sure that the war didn’t end in the destruction that they had foreseen. Poor Romana was caught between the two, trying her hardest to reconcile the two Councils as well as ensuring the safety of Gallifrey and the Time Lords.

Rose whimpered in her sleep, and the Doctor recognised immediately that she was having a nightmare. He slid into bed next to her and gathered her in his arms, biting back a cry of pain when he accidentally jolted his injured wrist. The momentary stab of pain dulled and the Doctor relaxed slowly, but Rose’s whimpers were getting louder. The Doctor did his best to soothe her but when he felt her skin go cold and saw sweat beading on her forehead, he shook her gently to wake her.

Her eyes sprang open, her mouth ready to scream, but the Doctor tilted her face up to meet his gaze, and Rose calmed down a little, though her pulse was still racing. The Doctor ran his fingers through her hair until her pulse slowed down, and Rose sighed as she buried her face in the Doctor’s neck.

“Thanks for waking me,” she murmured and he nodded slightly before kissing her forehead. She looked back up at him and gave him a weak smile. “What happened to your wrist?”

“Dalek attack,” he said. “I am on mandatory leave for a week so that it can heal naturally.”

“My week, your week or the war week?” she asked.

He almost smiled at the way she put it. “Your week,” he answered. “7 days. 168 hours. I could give you the minutes but I think you got it.”

Rose glared at him with no real heat. “Not my fault I don’t have an advanced time sense like everyone around here,” she pointed out. “Even with that people get confused these days.”

“Temporal warfare has a way of doing that,” he said wisely. “And nobody uses Gallifreyan measures of time unless they are writing a thesis.”

Rose didn’t say anything. They both avoided the uncomfortable topic of the ‘war time’, which was a direct consequence of temporal warfare. Time loops, altered realities, closed nexus...if Rose had ever not believed that time was a complex entity, she did now. She and her troops had been caught in a skirmish with the Neverpeople for nearly two decades until they had broken through the sealed nexus, and realised that only a year had passed outside their battle. She had also been trapped into a time loop once, but fortunately it was only a few months long and they had managed to break it by the third loop.

In reality, Rose had no idea how long it had been since the day she had returned from Shada. Despite her title as the Lady Commander of Shada, she hadn’t been back there after Narvin had become the Host. Her point of command was from Pazithi Gallifreya, and she and three other Commanders had managed to hold Zagreus off from breaching the transduction barrier on Gallifrey. As far as she knew, the general consensus was that they had held them off for a century, though Rose was not certain how many years in that century she had actually lived through. She supposed it could be more than a century or less, and with no discernible aging in her, it was difficult to gauge the passing of time. Ironically, she never had time to ponder over these matters.

The only respite in these years were the rare days she got to spend on the TARDIS in the Doctor’s embrace. They didn’t speak much about the war, talking about the basics when needed, but mostly they just used the time to shut out the rest of the world and lose themselves in each other. There were a lot of things they didn’t tell one another, the close calls and near death experiences prominent among them, but the comfort they derived from each other was unquestionably helpful.

“Does it hurt?” asked Rose, looking at his wrist.

“They gave me some painkillers,” he said.

Rose nodded, though the concern in her eyes was evident. “Tell me what happened,” she requested in a soft voice.

“The Daleks have found some weapons left behind by the Deathsmiths of Goth,” he said. “I think it was an antimatter cannon that they used. Nasty things.”

“You were hit with antimatter?” asked Rose in alarm.

“Yes, which is why the medics want me healing naturally,” he said, running a soothing hand through her hair.

Rose’s eyes fluttered shut at the comforting action, she really was quite tired, but she forced herself to keep her eyes open. “Let me have a look at that,” she said, no longer requesting it.

He looked exasperated but showed her the bandaged wrist. Rose ran a gentle finger over it a few times before her eyes took on a gold shine. The Doctor almost scrambled back in alarm, but his wrist suddenly felt like it was on fire, and he clenched his teeth to bite back his scream. The pain was gone the next moment, and the healing bandages had gone from a dark colour to a khaki, showing that it had healed quite significantly. He looked at Rose, ready to berate her, but her eyes were half-closed and she was covered in a light sheen of sweat.

“Damn it, Rose,” he muttered, cupping her neck and brushing his thumbs over her cheeks. “I told you not to do that, you silly woman.”

Rose looked drowsy but she still managed an impish smile and wink before her eyes rolled up and she fell asleep. The Doctor knew she would be out for a few more hours and he settled deeper into the bed, holding her tighter in his embrace. He hated when she did that, particularly when he wasn’t certain if she could die or not. If a being who couldn’t die was in the presence of a Time Lord, they would dislike the sensation entirely, but the Doctor got no such discomfort from Rose’s presence and neither did the other Time Lords as far as he knew.

That meant that Rose was somewhat mortal, though she was not aging at all. The Doctor had got a few chances to see some of her scans when his visits had coincided with the instances of Rose getting injured in battle. The Artron radiation seemed to be replenishing itself and no one was really sure if it was the war and the exposure to Artron energy that was causing it or if her body had become so used to producing it that it had become a part of her lifeforce. Once Rose realised that, she was even more aggressive in using her lifeforce to fight and defend, or even heal herself and others on occasion. It always left her drained but there was no stopping her from putting her life in danger over and over by tapping into the vortex energy inside her.

It terrified the Doctor, but whenever he brought it up, Rose would quickly point out that he often lent his lifeforce to power the shields even though it was expressly forbidden. The Doctor would usually rebuke this by reminding her that he was only in his eighth life and had regenerations to spare, unlike her. To which Rose would remark quite rightly that they had no idea if she could regenerate, but if she could heal perfectly from a near death situation which would normally cause a Time Lord to regenerate then it meant that it was not very easy to kill her. It was an ongoing argument between them and a part of the Doctor was amused at how domestic that argument really was.

The Doctor closed his eyes and decided to sleep for a little while longer. Rose’s steady breathing and her comforting scent naturally eased him into sleep and for once, there were no nightmares for either of them. When he woke again, it was to the sound of Rose moving around the room. He may or may not have made a sound of protest when he saw that she was getting dressed.

She heard it anyway and laughed. “I have to go down to the planet,” she told him. “The Councils are meeting again.”

The Doctor left the bed and wrapped his arms around her waist before she could put her dress back on. “How bad is it?” he asked.

“Worse than it was before, and that is saying something,” she said, turning around in his arms to rest her head on his shoulder. “How’s your arm?”

“It will be healed in a day or so now,” he said, unable to keep the disapproval from his tone.

She nuzzled his jaw and kissed it softly. “Antimatter should only take two or three days to heal. The fact that the medics said it would take you a week means that you were weak already,” she said shrewdly. “Just because you have regenerations left doesn’t mean you ought to throw them away.”

“This is about you, not me,” he said sternly.

Rose pulled away to look him in the eye. “It’s about the both of us,” she said. “We agreed that we would survive together, remember?”

“I do remember,” he said. “Which is why I worry about you, Rose.”

She smiled wryly. “Don’t you think I do the same?”

“It isn’t the same,” he shook his head. “I know how far I can safely push myself.”

Rose glared coldly at him and left his embrace. “If you are worried that I will lose control, I assure you I learned my lesson with Torchwood,” she hissed.

“That is not what I am saying, Rose,” said the Doctor, drawing her closer. “I don’t want anything to happen to you because you pushed yourself too far when there could have been another way. A safer way.”

Rose sighed and nodded. “I understand, I do,” she insisted. “But I’m gonna need you to trust me to know what I am doing.”

“I suppose that’s fair,” he sighed.

Rose smiled as she hugged him. “Thanks,” she said. “I really do have to go, you know,” she said when he continued to hold her against him.

“Why are the Councils meeting again?” he murmured into her neck.

“Zagreus hasn’t attacked in a while,” she said with a sigh. “Our last battle with them was brutal. The High Council thinks we have fractured his forces enough and are advising us to retreat.”

“You don’t agree?” he asked.

“No, of course not,” said Rose, huffing as she left the Doctor’s arms and sat down on the edge of the bed. “He’s planning something. I don’t know what yet, but he is. The last battle, it was brutal, yes, but it seemed like...I dunno, a distraction.”

“Perhaps he’s gathering more forces,” said the Doctor, sitting down next to her.

“Maybe,” she agreed. “Or he’s doing something worse.”

“Worse like?” he asked.

“Like trying to breach the transduction barrier,” said Rose. “The Council seems to think that is impossible. The words impenetrable might have been used. Told them I didn’t like to say impenetrable because it sounded too much like unsinkable. Got blank looks in return.”

The Doctor smiled, despite himself. “If Zagreus tries to breach the transduction barrier, he will be in for a shock,” he said. “I was personally responsible for heightening the defence of the barrier when we were under siege. A Dalek would have a better chance of getting in than a being of Anti Time and right now, Daleks are far too scared by what the Neverpeople did to their base in the rift.”

Rose nodded, slightly reassured. “I am still worried about what he will do to try and get past it,” she said. “He might not succeed, but we don’t know what would happen to those of us who aren’t inside the barrier because of his attempts.”

The Doctor put an arm around her shoulder and Rose sighed as she melted into his embrace. “Zagreus likes to think he is clever and that is always his downfall,” he said. “We’ll defeat him, Rose.” Rose mustered up a smile and the Doctor tilted up her chin to kiss her. “Go on then,” he murmured against her lips. “Tell those pompous arses about what needs to be done.”

Rose kissed him again and stood up. “Take it easy, you,” she said. “Rest. Heal.”

He tossed her a wry salute and she responded by sticking her tongue out at him as she pulled on the white dress. The charm in her hair had come loose when she had been sleeping, so she tightened the braid and then put her shoes on. The Doctor watched her get dressed with a practiced sense of efficiency and frowned to himself. Her concerns were valid, and if Zagreus really was planning something, it would be better if she had help.

“On second thoughts,” said the Doctor, getting up. “I think I’ll come with you.”

Rose looked at him in surprise. “You’re supposed to be resting,” she pointed out.

“It’s not as if I’m going down to the battlefield,” he said, putting his uniform on. “As much as I hate bureaucrats, if there is anyone they would listen to about Zagreus, it would be me.”

Rose had to concede his point. “Thanks,” she said. “Want me to fly the TARDIS down to the surface?”

“Be my guest,” he said, buttoning up his uniform jacket.

Rose nodded at him and went out into the console room. She’d had to take lessons on piloting a TARDIS, although on a TT-270 rather than the Doctor’s Type 40. Time Lords in general were disgruntled at the Lord General’s choice of time capsule, but Rose always felt more at home piloting the beloved Type 40 than any other advanced TARDIS. The Doctor had been absurdly pleased when Rose had told him that one time, and he had been letting her pilot them now and again.

The Doctor emerged into the console room just as the TARDIS was landing on Gallifrey. Rose pulled the handbrake and then did a quick check of the console to see if there were any problems. When she found none, she shot the Doctor a quick thumbs up and the Doctor grinned at her as he opened the doors.

“Perfect landing,” he declared when they found themselves back inside “their” quarters in the Capitol.

The doors to the quarters opened before they had even closed the TARDIS doors behind them, and a harried-looking Lieutenant Qynokos ran up to them. “Lord General,” he said, slightly out of breath. “My lady.”

“What is it Qynokos?” asked the Doctor.

“Lady Trevilik has been brought to Gallifrey. She has been injured,” said Qynokos.

The Doctor’s jaw clenched. “Where?” he asked.

“Down in the medical wing,” said Qynokos. “The Daleks...after you left...they had another one of the Deathsmiths’ creations.”

“Which one?” asked the Doctor, anger blazing in his eyes.

“The Apocalypse Device, my lord,” said Qynokos, looking very pale.

The Doctor cursed under his breath and glanced at Rose who nodded at him quickly. “Go,” she told him, knowing that Lady Trevilik was his first Commander and that he had to deal with whatever new danger the Apocalypse Device had brought. With a quick nod at Rose, the Doctor and Qynokos left immediately.

Rose locked the TARDIS after herself and headed towards the War Council’s chambers. The chambers themselves were empty but there were murmured voices coming from the lab next doors, so Rose went inside and found Braxiatel supervising a few technicians.

“Coordinator,” she greeted and he looked at her in surprise.

“I did not expect you back here just yet, Lady Commander,” said Braxiatel. “The High Council has been adjourned for another day.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Typical,” she muttered. Her eyes drifted over to what Braxiatel was supervising and her eyes went wide. “The Genesis Ark.”

Braxiatel looked at her in alarm. “How could you possibly know that?” he asked.

Rose hardly heard him as she walked over to the pepperpot-like structure that was just the size of a Dalek. The metallic surface on the outside was spotless and shining, unlike the broken and tarnished surface that Rose remembered from Canary Wharf. It was also completely empty. “You’re building it,” she realised.

“You still haven’t answered me,” said Braxiatel sharply. “This has been kept strictly under wraps.”

Rose blinked and then shook her head at Braxiatel. “Don’t worry, no one leaked the information or anything, I promise. I just...I know what it is,” she said, trailing off and looking at the structure that would one day be responsible for such destruction.

“Rose, a word?” said Braxiatel, giving her no chance to refuse as he took her elbow as gently as he could and led her back to the empty Council chambers. “I gather you have seen it in the future,” he muttered in a low voice.

“I have, yeah,” she nodded. “You are going to use it as a prison for Daleks, aren’t you? Time Lord science...it’s bigger on the inside.”

Braxiatel stared at her contemplatively and nodded. “We were planning that, yes,” he said. “Only trouble is, we planned to use Artron energy to lock it. Now that the Daleks have incorporated it to fight back in this war, we are admittedly stumped about how it should be locked so that the Daleks could never open it.”

Rose’s eyes went wide for a moment before she threw her head back and laughed uproariously. Braxiatel looked at her in surprise, as if fearing for her sanity. “I’m sorry,” she said, trying her best to stop. “I am just marvelling at time travel.”

Braxiatel merely raised his eyebrows. “I assume you know how we can overcome this particular difficulty,” he said.

Rose nodded, amusement still shining in her eyes but Braxiatel thought it rather looked like tears. “Touch,” she said. “Something the Daleks can’t do.”

Braxiatel’s eyes went wide. “That...could work,” he said. He was about to return back to the lab when the Doctor walked in with a grim look on his face.

“How is Lady Trevilik?” asked Rose.

“She has regenerated and is currently recovering from it,” he said. “The blast of antimatter stopped one of her hearts.”

Braxiatel winced and Rose’s eyes turned sympathetic. “She’ll be alright though?” she asked.

“Yes,” nodded the Doctor. “I am going to have to return to battle soon. If the Daleks have got their hands on an Apocalypse Device…” He shook his head and glanced around. “I assume the Council has been adjourned?”

“They thought that all pressing matters had been addressed,” said Braxiatel, displeasure evident in his voice. “Excuse me, I have to inform the technicians about something quite important.”

He nodded at the two of them and left the Council chambers. The Doctor looked at Rose questioningly but before she could say something, the Doctor’s eyes shut in pain and Rose felt the device on her wrist spring to life. It was used to catch telepathic alerts and messages that other Time Lords could hear without a device to help them do it. Despite what telepathy Rose had, she never ran on the same frequency as the rest of them which was why she wore the device on her wrist which doubled as a comm. link when needed.

She hastily opened the message and the three words in bold red letters popped up as a hologram in front of her. Rose might have made a wordless sound of horror, but her eyes remained fixed on the glowing letters, even as alarms rang all around them. The three words were being transmitted to every Time Lord in existence and it was the worst that had come true.

TRANSDUCTION BARRIER BREACHED

Chapter Text

TRANSDUCTION BARRIER BREACHED

The words were still pounding against Rose’s forehead as she and the Doctor ran towards the TARDIS. It didn’t take an empath to feel the panic in the air, and everyone was scrambling in fear. As soon as they had entered the TARDIS, the Doctor was pushing buttons frantically, his mouth drawn in a thin line.

Rose was idle by no means, using her comm. link to speak with her fellow Commanders on Pazithi Gallifreya who confirmed what the Doctor’s readings were telling him. The barrier had been breached but only on the far side of the planet. However, it was still enough for Zagreus and his army to enter Gallifrey. To add to the bad news, the Doctor’s readings told him of the second pressing danger.

“Daleks are hovering over the breach,” he said sharply. “They are wielding the Apocalypse Device.”

“What the hell is it?” asked Rose.

“The ultimate weapon,” said the Doctor, grimacing at the console. “It contains every disease and virus in the known universes and is capable of telepathic nightmares. It’s just a single creature but its only purpose is to kill. Whether by infecting them with something deadly or driving them insane enough to claw their own brains out.” He looked at Rose in fear. “And there is no way of stopping it.”

Rose felt herself go cold. “If the Daleks enter the planet now, there will be bloodbath,” she said, her voice shaking. “We won’t even know who to fight first.”

The Doctor nodded grimly. “Which is why I intend to hold them off in the skies,” he said.

Rose nodded quickly. “I’ll fight Zagreus and his army on land,” she said, moving towards the door.

The Doctor’s nostrils flared and Rose only had a split second to brace herself before he was upon her, kissing her like he was seeing her for the last time.

“DO.NOT.DIE,” he stressed, punctuating his words with kisses to her mouth.

“I don’t intend to,” she said, closing her eyes. “Same goes to you.”

She opened her eyes again, just in time to see the Doctor nod. With a final peck against his lips, Rose left the TARDIS, entering the coordinates given to her by the Commanders into the device on her wrist. Even before the TARDIS could dematerialise, she had vanished from the Capitol.

~

The skies were in mayhem. The Dalek ships had descended over the singular breach in the transduction barrier, but were waiting, as if they were too afraid to cross the barrier and enter Gallifrey.

The Doctor had once described the transduction barrier to Rose. Unlike Arcadia, which could be envisioned as a bubble, the transduction barrier was like a thin film stretched tightly over Gallifrey. All it took was one tear for the barrier to be breached, and the tear would get wider from the source, pulling a gaping hole apart until it was lost. The transduction barrier had held off collective Dalek and Anti Time assaults for over a century in this war alone, not even counting the years before the war. Despite all its fortifications, it was bound to break.

The Lord General’s TARDIS sent out a beacon to his forces, getting them to converge over the breach and prepare themselves to defend it from the Daleks. For all that he knew about the Dalek’s hesitation to battle Anti Time, he knew there was no such fear in them when it came to facing Time Lords.

They had to prepare for a carnage.

~

Down on the surface of Gallifrey, it was pandemonium. The Horde of Travesties had converged on Rose as soon as she had arrived, and what scared her more than anything was how terrified the Horde was.

“Where’s the Host?” demanded Rose, unable to stop trembling at the fear emanating from the Horde. They had never been afraid, not even while battling armies of Neverpeople. To see them shaken up was frightening to Rose unlike anything else.

“He’s gone, my lady,” said Lady Veriszani.

“How can he be gone?” asked Rose, her eyes flashing in anger.

“It’s how they got in,” said Veriszani quietly. “They engaged him in skirmish, driving him and the Horde he was fighting with towards the barrier. It’s how they caused the breach.”

“How is that even possible?” asked Rose. “The Host cannot be killed by Anti Time.”

“He wasn’t killed by the Neverpeople, my lady,” said Veriszani.

Rose’s eyes went wide but before Veriszani had a chance to elaborate, Rose saw the usual silver glow that signalled the arrival of the Neverpeople. What made her pause though, were the beings alongside them, who were nothing like the silver shadows, but appeared to be flesh and bone humanoid surrounded by a red mist.

“What the hell are those?” asked Rose, as the Horde seemed to shrink in fear at the mere sight of them.

“They are calling themselves the Meanwhiles,” said Veriszani, her voice shaking.

Rose could guess why they called themselves that, but she didn’t have time to discuss it with Veriszani. “Where’s our closest shield?” she asked.

“Not too far away from here,” said Veriszani. “I assume you mean not counting the one in front of us now.”

Rose nodded absently. “Evacuate everyone from here. Every organic being goes behind the other shield,” she ordered. “We don’t want an Anti Time epidemic on top of everything else.”

Veriszani’s eyes sharpened. “What are you planning?” she asked.

Rose looked at her and Veriszani took an involuntary step back at the vortex shining in her eyes. “I plan on leading the Horde into battle,” she said, her voice having an echoing quality to it that struck fear in the hearts of every Time Lord in vicinity.

“You heard her,” said Veriszani, raising her voice. “Retreat!”

Rose turned to face the approaching army of Meanwhiles and Neverpeople, as the troops retreated. She moved out towards them, her eyes taking on a furious golden gleam. The Horde was still afraid but as the vortex inside Rose surged angrier than ever, they moved to her side, ready for her command.

She had always promised the Doctor that she would be careful, and that she would never put herself in a position where she might lose control. That went out of the window when she saw what they were faced with and that they had killed Narvin. The burn had always been there in her mind, held back by bonds she had put in herself. She only had to loosen them and it was the same euphoria that had enveloped her when she had burst from the confines of Torchwood. Or when she had destroyed the Dalek Emperor.

A feral smile lit her face and the golden glow brightened in her eyes. The Bad Wolf was ready.

What happened next could only be described as carnage. Those behind the shields were stood in awe, watching as the Lady Commander sliced vortex energy through the air, turning everything in her path to dust with a swipe of her hand. The Horde surrounded her, cradling her almost protectively, holding off attacks around her.

A lot of them fell at the hands of the Meanwhiles, the red energy almost as visible as the golden vortex energy. Time started to distort and anyone with a lick of time sense could feel a vacuum forming around the Lady Commander. She was altering time, moving it to shield herself, the vortex merciless in its slaughter of beings that it deemed unworthy of existence in this universe of time. The army had consisted of hundreds of Neverpeople and Meanwhiles, but by the time the vacuum burst, the only person left standing was her. Even the Horde had fallen, turned to dust at their own hands once they had served their purpose.

Veriszani was the first to recover. “Medics!” she shouted. “Get our Commander back to the medbay.”

Nobody moved, still staring in shock to where the Commander was still standing, the golden glow around her getting duller and duller, until she stumbled and fell to the ground. It propelled the medics into action and they transported to her side in an instant, checking her vital signs.

“Well?” demanded Veriszani, having come with them.

“She’s still breathing,” said Surgeon Lieutenant Zadermose. “We have to get her to the medbay. She’s suffering from exhaustion.”

“Any other injuries?” asked Veriszani. “Or infections?”

“She’s clean for Anti Time,” said Zadermose, shaking his head. “No other injuries.”

“Move her,” nodded Veriszani.

“Yes, my lady,” said Zadermose, preparing Rose’s unconscious form for transport. “How many did she kill, do you think?” he murmured to Veriszani as he worked. “My lady?” he asked when Veriszani didn’t reply.

Zadermose looked up and saw how frightened Veriszani looked. He followed her gaze and nearly fainted.

“She killed only the welcoming party,” said Veriszani, her voice trembling.

The rest of the Neverpeople and Meanwhiles were now gathered in troop formation, standing quite still as if waiting for command. Unlike the mere hundreds that lay dead, the army was lined up as far as the eye could see.

~

The Lord General’s TARDIS received an emergency beacon, calling all the troops to defend Gallifrey on land. He was told that the potential bloodbath it would cause if the Daleks followed them would pale in comparison to the alternative. When he saw Zagreus’ army lined up and ready to attack, he went pale and ordered the troops to return to Gallifrey through unmoving lips.

He himself went towards the first shield, and was met by one of Rose’s fellow Commanders, Lady Veriszani.

“Lord General,” she greeted, her composure slipping in her fear.

“Do we know why they have not started attacking yet?” he asked sharply.

“No, my lord,” she said. “But that’s not all,” she added quickly when he moved to walk past her to the medical enclosure. “We have lost the Horde of Travesties and the Host.”

The Doctor’s jaw clenched and he nodded shortly. “Has the War Council…?”

“They know,” she nodded quickly. “They need you to decide if we must withdraw behind Arcadia now.”

The Doctor’s nostrils flared and he was silent for a few moments. “Yes,” he said finally. “Give the order, Lady Commander Veriszani.”

“My lord,” she nodded and hurried over to the comm. link in their Time Station.

The Doctor went inside the medical enclosure, having heard that Rose had been injured in battle. But he found her sitting in bed, trying her shoes back up. Her white dress was in tatters, torn at the hem and muddied beyond belief.

She looked up when he entered and nodded. “Give me a moment,” she said, gathering the hem of her dress and tying it into a knot to the side so that she wouldn’t trip over it. The enclosure was empty, but for the two of them, and she found a threadbare cable knit sweater and put it on quickly, huffing when the zip broke and she had to simply let the ends of the grey sweater hang to her side.

“We are retreating behind Arcadia,” said the Doctor.

Rose jumped down from the bed, wincing when the old black tights she had dug out ripped again just above her knee. “I heard,” she nodded. “They aren’t attacking. I don’t like it.”

“Maybe they will ask for a surrender yet again,” said the Doctor, rolling his eyes.

Rose checked the device on her wrist and smiled wryly. “Zagreus would have asked by now,” she said. “When have you known him to pull punches when it comes to declaring his victory?”

The Doctor frowned thoughtfully at that. “It’s true,” he agreed. “Tell me about the new creatures.”

Rose looked down at her wrist device as she spoke. “They are humanoid,” she said in a small voice. “Flesh, bone...blood. They…” she cleared her throat and looked up at the Doctor, a calm mask in place. “They are beings whose existence has been stuck in limbo because of the war. That’s why the Horde was so scared of them. The Meanwhiles are uncertainties, existing in our universe for a moment and gone the next if the timeline is altered.”

The Doctor grasped her hand tightly, and squeezed it when she tried to pull away. “You did what you had to,” he said.

“What about the Daleks?” asked Rose abruptly, not wanting to talk about it. “Did they use the Apocalypse Device?”

“No,” he said. “Just their energy weapons and things. They must have had some idea of Zagreus’ forces since they don’t seem too eager to come down to the planet as long as they are here.”

“Wouldn’t it be great if they took each other out?” asked Rose as the two of them left the medical enclosure together.

“I don’t think we are quite that lucky,” he murmured to her before walking over to Lady Veriszani. “Are we ready to withdraw?”

“Yes, my lord,” she said. “Are you alright, my lady?” she asked Rose.

“Yes, thank you, Lady Veriszani,” said Rose with a small smile. “The army hasn’t changed its position?”

“No, my lady,” she answered. “They are still just waiting.”

“Alright, we are withdrawing,” said the Doctor. “My TARDIS will be the last thing beyond Arcadia. After that our shields will fall to provide support to Arcadia. Understood?”

“Yes, Lord General,” said Veriszani, the sentiment echoed by the Commanders who had heard his orders via comm. link.

“Withdraw!” He ordered in a sharp voice and the air was filled with the sound of dematerialising Time Stations and TARDISes. The Doctor and Rose made their way to his TARDIS, though he didn’t dematerialise just yet. Zagreus’ army still didn’t move, as they half expected them to.

“I don’t like it,” Rose muttered under her breath yet again, watching the army on the scanner. They had higher numbers, it was obvious to see, so why weren’t they attacking?

“Neither do I,” said the Doctor, his eyes fixed on the scanner. A beep alerted him to the fact that everyone had gone past Arcadia and into the safety of the Capitol. It was only him and Rose outside the shields, and with quick precision, he piloted them to Arcadia and beyond into the Capitol, the TARDIS materialising inside their quarters.

“Waiting on your command, Lord General,” came the voice over the comm. link.

“Divert energy on my count,” said the Doctor, his eyes fixed on a monitor that held the schematics of the shields on Gallifrey. The concentric shields that he had described to Rose a long time ago were marked in blue, but the shield of Arcadia was shaped like a bubble around the Capitol and was a deep red colour. “And 3...2...1...now!”

Rose watched in wonder as the blue shields fell one by one, and Arcadia got stronger until the last of shields was gone and Arcadia was a bright orange colour. “Is it done?” she asked, just to confirm.

The Doctor exhaled sharply and nodded. “Come on,” he said and the two of them left the TARDIS, only to find someone waiting for them in their quarters.

“Susan,” said the Doctor in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“Braxiatel asked me to fetch the two of you as soon as Arcadia was fortified,” said Susan, attempting a smile that fell a little flat in the face of her exhaustion.

Unlike the Time Lords and even Rose, Susan was mainly human, and despite not having aged due to Gallifrey’s shields, she was beginning to feel old. At the Doctor’s request, she had stayed inside the Capitol, but it was quite certain that she did not have long to live. She couldn’t regenerate and had already lived past the average life expectancy of a human, and even with the Doctor’s and Braxiatel’s connections, they couldn’t alter her physiognomy when she was in such a frail state.

On the rare occasions when Rose saw her, she got the feeling that Susan was annoyed at being reduced to doing virtually nothing that she deemed important. She wanted to be on the frontlines fighting, but the nature of her duties had lessened in their danger over the years until she was left performing administrative duties and coordinating communications for the War Council and the troops on the frontlines. To her credit, she didn’t complain, nor did the quality of her work suffer, but Rose knew she was unhappy that she couldn’t help more.

“What now?” asked the Doctor, looking worried.

“He didn’t say,” said Susan, shaking her head. “He’s waiting.”

The Doctor nodded, and he and Rose followed Susan as they went down to the War Council’s chambers. The whole council was there and they stood up and bowed as the three of them entered.

“Where’s Romana?” asked the Doctor, directing the question to Braxiatel.

He pointed at his ear where a bluetooth-like headset was resting. “She’s with the High Council,” he answered.

“What’s happened?” asked Rose at once, knowing that it must have been important if both councils were meeting, albeit separately.

“Androgar,” said Braxiatel and the Time Lord nodded quickly, switching the screen for all of them to see.

“As you may see,” said Androgar, pointing to a small speck on the screen which seemed to be heading for Arcadia. “Our scanners picked up this projectile a few microspans ago.”

“What is the projectile?” asked the Doctor sharply.

“Based on its trajectory, velocity and schematic, I would say it’s a one-man spacecraft,” said Androgar. “Very primitive.”

“Any weapons?” asked Rose.

“None on the exterior,” said Androgar. “The occupant could be carrying something though.”

“How soon before we have a clear visual?” asked Braxiatel.

“45 microspans,” said Androgar and bit his lip before proceeding. “That’s not all.”

“Well?” asked the Doctor.

“We traced its flight path,” said Androgar. “It came from Zagreus’ command post.”

“Blow it out of the sky,” came the response from one of the younger commanders.

“It is not that simple,” said Androgar, shooting a glare at him. “We have no inkling of who is onboard that craft.”

“Sending an envoy isn’t Zagreus’ style,” said Rose. “Doesn’t he like to broadcast his voice?”

“You are not wrong,” said Braxiatel, inclining his head towards her. “So, how do we…?” He was cut off by an alert notifying an incoming transmission. Androgar looked at Braxiatel who nodded. “Answer it.”

“There is no need,” said Androgar. “It is broadcasting all over Gallifrey.”

The confusion was palpable in the room, but when the static on the monitor cleared, a man dressed in full robes of the High Council was visible. He had a balding head of grey hair, but his eyes were sharp and unwavering, as was the firm set of his mouth. The Time Lords seemed stunned as they stared at him, before each one of them sank down to their knees in unison.

Rose glanced around in shock, but a firm pull on her hand by the Doctor propelled her to imitate them. She glanced at the Doctor, who shook his head, asking her to be silent. He was shaking lightly and Rose had never seen him quite so furious yet scared. She looked at the screen and saw that the man was now smiling, as if the sight of the Time Lords on their knees pleased him.

“I will speak to the Coordinator,” the man announced and Braxiatel got to his feet.

Rose couldn’t help but admire the calm mask on his face as he approached the screen and went back down on his knees. “My lord Rassilon,” he said, his voice dripping reverence. “How may we serve you?”

“The question is not how you would serve me, Lord Coordinator,” said Rassilon. “The question is how do we end this farce of a war and regain our rightful place as the supreme power of this cosmos.”

“I apologise, my lord,” said Braxiatel at once. “But without your guidance, we are afraid we might not succeed.”

“I understand,” said Rassilon, relishing the words with a twisted sense of glee that made Rose’s stomach churn. “Which is why I am now here.”

Braxiatel’s calm mask wavered for a moment before the reverence was back. “May we ask how you managed this incredible feat, my lord?”

Rassilon raised an eyebrow and Rose could feel the Doctor holding his breath. She herself was tense, unsure of how Rassilon would react to being questioned. As she had guessed, his jaw clenched and his chin tilted up in arrogance.

“I have my ways,” he said in an icy tone. “But I will elaborate since I assume everyone is curious to know.” He smiled that arrogant smile once more. “I come from the camp of Zagreus, but not as a hostage or an infected abomination, but as his slayer. Once, I was trapped with him in a universe without time, but now, I come back to my home, to my greatest creations, and I bring you the death of Zagreus as a gift!”

There was a resounding cheer that echoed through the Capitol. The two Councils though were completely silent, though a lot of the Commanders were looking relieved. Rassilon’s smile widened at the sound, but far from reassuring her, it gave Rose an unpleasant sensation in her stomach.

“But how do we rid Gallifrey of his army, my lord?” asked Braxiatel, choosing his words cautiously.

Rassilon looked like Braxiatel had asked just the right question. “Watch,” he commanded, and the screen split to show them the part where Zagreus’ army of Neverpeople and Meanwhiles was still waiting. Rassilon raised his hand that had a gauntlet on it which glowed blue, and the beings began to scream in horror. The echoes of their screams rang through the Capitol, as every one of the Neverpeople and Meanwhiles died in horrible agony, until there was nothing left of them on Gallifrey. No bodies, no remains, just dust.

Rassilon lowered his hand as the gauntlet stopped glowing blue and smirked at them, his face the only thing visible on the screen once again. “All that, without the use of my staff,” he said arrogantly. “Think what I can do once I take my place as the rightful President of Gallifrey and have all my artefacts. This war shall be no more. Gallifrey shall be feared and revered, just as it has always been. We shall ascend! The Time Lords shall rule! For Gallifrey!”

“For Gallifrey!” The cry rang out clearly, as even the people in the Council chambers repeated it, and Rassilon’s cold smile became wider and wider at the triumphant cheers. Rose glanced at the Doctor and he looked sick. She didn’t have a chance to question it though, as Rassilon held up a hand for silence.

“Prepare your welcomes for me now, Time Lords of Gallifrey,” he said.

Rose felt a hand over her shoulder, but a voice whispered in her ear before she could turn around and look at who the person was.

“Do not look,” said a woman’s gentle voice. Rose glanced at the Doctor but he hadn’t appeared to have seen anything. “He can’t see me,” said the woman. “None of them can.”

Rose nodded slowly, trying to make it look like a natural movement.

“For all our additional senses and telepathy, we are quite unable to see the obvious,” said the woman and she appeared in Rose’s periphery. She was quite old, had short black hair with a single streak of white, and was dressed in a spotless white pantsuit. “Time Lords,” she added as if that was a joke enough.

Rose looked at her best as she could without making it too obvious that she was seeing someone who was invisible to everyone but her. Rassilon was still speaking but all Rose could hear was the blood rushing in her ears and woman’s gentle words.

“This is the only time you shall see me,” she said, a small smile on her face. “As soon as Rassilon gets to the Capitol, he shall see fit to resurrect me. I am not certain how he plans to end this war, but if I know him at all, it will not be a good way. I know how my words shall be received. He will probably punish me by making me cover my face like the Weeping Angels. Arrogant idiot.”

Rose’s lips twitched and she did her best to swallow her amusement. None of this was truly funny.

“You’re right,” said the woman, playing with the simple pearl necklace around her neck. “It is not funny. But you must fight to do what is right. Do not falter, Rose Tyler. And more importantly,” she paused here and Rose saw her eyes drift over to the Doctor. “Do not let him falter. Tell him…” the woman had tears in her eyes and she swallowed before continuing. “Tell him that he is forgiven. That he will do the right thing. That I was always proud of him. Always.”

Rose blinked, tears gathering in her eyes at the softness of the woman’s tone as she spoke of the Doctor. She had a fair idea of who the woman was now, which was only confirmed when her eyes roved over Braxiatel for a moment, unspeakable sorrow etched on her face.

“You are something incredible, Rose Tyler,” said the woman finally. “I leave my dear boy in your capable hands. I am afraid I shall see the other one die.”

Rose nodded once again, the tears spilling from her eyes when the woman ran a comforting hand over her head.

The loud cheering of Time Lords made Rose jump and when she glanced around, the woman was gone. She looked at the Doctor, who wasn’t joining the cheering, and looked tense.

Rose looked at the screen hastily and saw that Rassilon had gone. Around her, there was talk of a welcoming committee and the High Council had walked into the War Council’s chambers, and the Commanders were still cheering as the Chapter Cardinals, Chancellors, Romana and Braxiatel conversed in hushed tones, looks of happiness on everyone’s faces except Romana and Braxiatel.

She got to her feet and saw the Doctor whispering something to Susan. She frowned but left the chamber. The Doctor caught Braxiatel’s gaze once and at his nod, he took Rose’s elbow and led her out.

“Where are we going?” asked Rose in a whisper.

“Away,” he said.

“What about the war?” asked Rose.

“Listen to them!” said the Doctor harshly and Rose finally focused on what the chant was.

“Gallifrey rises! Gallifrey rises! Gallifrey rises!”

“They think they have their saviour,” he said, his words still harsh when he whispered them in her ear. “They couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“He destroyed Zagreus and his army,” she protested weakly, her mind still whirling with everything.

“Because they had outlived their use,” he sneered. “Rassilon doesn’t care for anyone but his own sense of superiority. He shall see the entire universe perish if it means he remains all-powerful.”

“So, what?” asked Rose as they went inside the TARDIS. “Are we just going to run away?”

“Far from it,” said the Doctor grimly. “You heard him, he wants the troops to kill every Dalek in the sky. We are going to do just that but before he has a chance to enact whatever his insane plan is.”

“It will be a hard thing to do,” said Rose, realising that she had completely missed that part of Rassilon’s speech.

The Doctor smiled wryly. “You could always refuse,” he said.

Rose managed not to roll her eyes but it was close. “No,” she said. “I never could.”

Chapter Text

“Where have you been?” asked Rose when the Doctor finally returned. “And where’s your uniform?”

“I gave up my rank,” he said. “Just a commander now,” he added, pointing down at his clothes.

An hour ago, they had landed outside Arcadia, where the Time Lords were preparing to battle the Daleks. The Doctor had left as soon as they had arrived, leaving Rose to speak with her commanders, which she would normally have been fine with, but it was now obvious that they were uncomfortable in her presence. She had thought that the Doctor had been exaggerating the significance of the chants and triumph of Rassilon’s arrival, and Rose felt a bit foolish for having assumed that things wouldn’t change.

Truth was, things had changed completely. There was a new sense of vigour in the air, but far from putting her at ease, it merely tightened the knots in her stomach. The vigour wasn’t about ending the war or even just defeating the Daleks, it was about supreme control, about ultimate power. She now understood why the Doctor had looked so terrified the moment he had seen Rassilon. He had known that the tide was about to turn and not for the better.

When the plans for battle were being drawn, Rose realised that she and the Doctor were to be sent to one of the farthest posts from the main command post, and while it would have annoyed her before, it merely filled her with a sense of relief that she would be as far as possible from the Time Lords who had nothing but lust for power in their hearts. She had been waiting for the Doctor by the TARDIS and when he had come back, he was no longer in uniform.

“I wore this a while ago,” he said, looking down at the navy leather pea coat which looked truly battered. His trousers and shirt were black, as far as she could tell, and she wondered if it was just her imagination or he truly looked more forbidding than he ever had in his uniform.

“Who’s the General now?” asked Rose, trying to focus.

“Lord Verne,” he said.

Rose remembered the bald, stoic man who said very little during Council meetings, but was known as a good strategist, if a little bit of a traditionalist. He had been next in line to be the Coordinator, had the job not gone to Braxiatel. She nodded quickly. “We are to lead from…” she began, only to have the Doctor interrupt her.

“Let me guess, from the furthest end?” he asked. At Rose’s shrug, he rolled his eyes. “Yes, I suppose I expected that. Come on then, let us be on our way.”

Rose followed him into the TARDIS and in no time, they were materialising at their new command post. The soldiers from the war looms were standing at attention when they arrived, and they barely had time to park the TARDIS and take inventory of their forces when the first round of Dalek attacks came.

The fight started in earnest then, energy weapons and vortex shields clashing with the Daleks’ ray guns and Dalekanium shields. It was utter bloodbath, as numbers fell in equal measure on both sides. A quick check of the remaining command stations told Rose that theirs wasn’t the only post being attacked.

“Doctor, we need another plan!” shouted Rose.

Abruptly, the Daleks around them stopped fighting. It was such an unprecedented and sudden occurrence that it halted the soldiers too, though if the noises were to be believed, the battle was going on in full force at other posts.

“DOC-TOR?” said one of them slowly and they only had a moment before the battle recommenced, but this time the Daleks were focused singlehandedly on getting to the Doctor.

Rose was doing her best to shield the Doctor, firing off the energy weapon and holding up a vortex shield as she tried to move him towards the TARDIS. It wouldn’t hold the Daleks off permanently, but the Doctor would be out of the line of fire. He seemed to not care, however, and was fighting back furiously and unreservedly, sometimes locking his shield with Rose’s, their combined life forces being more able to withstand collective attacks.

The whirring sound started low, but they all heard it. Even so many years later, that sound froze Rose up, and the Doctor had to pull her out of the line of fire before she got hit. The delta wave calibrated to full power and then blasted across all the posts around Arcadia in a single moment. Rose glanced at the Doctor, who looked horrified.

“Rassilon,” he hissed under his breath, as he bent over trying to catch his breath.

It wasn’t just him though, as nearly all Time Lords looked a little out of breath and slightly dazed. What confused her even more were the Daleks were rapidly becoming agitated that their ray guns were no longer functioning. Rose attempted to fire her energy weapon, but it too wouldn’t fire.

“What did he do?” asked Rose, as the battle came to a literal standstill, the air still filled with Daleks screaming about their non-functional weapons. “It was a delta wave, wasn’t it?”

The Doctor nodded. “It took out all the projectile weapons,” he said. “No more guns, or cannons, or missiles. For either side. But that isn’t the worst of it.” He took another deep breath and Rose realised that the light abrasions he’d had on his hands during the battle had healed. “He’s changed the atmospheric composition. It will cause Time Lords to heal faster.”

“Isn’t that good?” she couldn’t help but ask.

The Doctor shook his head darkly. “It will also accelerate regeneration quicker. No regeneration sickness or even disorientation after regeneration. They’ll be getting right back up and continuing to fight,” he said. “It’s wrong, it’s so wrong.”

Rose felt sickened, but the new Lord General announced that their new weapons were being transmatted over to them now, and Rose could have laughed in astonishment at the weapons that appeared at their post. The delta wave had taken out all the projectile weapons, which left only melee weapons and suddenly, the war had devolved into a bloody fight with the Time Lords wielding swords and clubs made of metals strong enough to break through Dalekanium casing, while Daleks were fighting back with using their plungers to kill their opponents when they came in close proximity.

The other posts seemed to be doing the same, and the Doctor and Rose were watching in horror as the war around them had gone from temporal and spatial warfare to a bloodbath in the middle ages quite quickly. The Lord General had already ordered all Commanders to stay out of the immediate fighting, and tasked them commanding from behind whatever shield they could muster up.

With all the rapid changes that had taken place, it took the Daleks a few minutes to focus back on the Doctor. But curiously enough, they did not try and attack him directly. Instead, they cleared a path between them and the Doctor. Rose barked out an order to the soldiers, asking them to block whatever was coming their way, but when the thing appeared, everyone was nearly frozen in shock.

It was a humanoid being, but entirely translucent, looking rather ghostly in appearance. It was laughing menacingly, swiping soldiers out of its path like they were nothing more than flies, and causing the soldiers to either start regenerating at once, or sending them to their knees, screaming in agony.

“What the…?” asked Rose as some of the soldiers, began to claw their own eyes out, screaming the entire time.

“The Apocalypse Device,” said the Doctor. “Forget the shield. We have to fight, c’mon.”

Rose had half a mind to hold the Doctor back, but she squashed it down and joined him as they picked up the antiquated weapons, doing their best to keep the Apocalypse Device from coming into contact with them. They both knew that there was no way to defeat the thing, and a part of Rose was preparing her for the possibility of this being where it all ended. The Doctor could regenerate, and maybe even escape, since the TARDIS was only a few yards away between them and the Apocalypse Device, who was slaughtering even the newly regenerated soldiers. The numbers were falling in high numbers on their side, when it finally happened.

Rose had honestly expected a crash, or perhaps a cataclysmic explosion, but when Arcadia fell, it was a simple matter of one Dalek entering through the sky trenches, before the bubble shimmered once and vanished completely. The fight didn’t stop this time, but Daleks started their attempts to make it past the now-destroyed shield.

The obvious message of ‘Arcadia has fallen’ was being broadcast, but their post was honestly only concerned with holding back the Apocalypse Device. They were being sent more soldiers to help, but it was getting pointless. She and the Doctor were one of the few still left fighting, thanks to Rose wielding a shield she was projecting by channeling the vortex inside her. But she was getting steadily exhausted, and when her shield faltered for a moment, an angry swipe of the Apocalypse Dvice sent three soldiers crashing into her, flinging her across the field.

“ROSE!” shouted the Doctor, but the Apocalypse Device had no interest in her and was now advancing on him. He could feel its telepathic waves trying to find a way into his shields, and he was fighting with all his might.

“Kill...you…” it said, laughing in delight at the fear it could feel from the Doctor. “Kill...you...slowly…”

The Doctor knew it was futile, but he refused to stop fighting, feeling surprised when Rose hobbled up to him, trying in vain to project a shield. The Apocalypse Device batted the shield away without hesitation and just as they thought this was how it would end, the TARDIS door opened, and Susan ran out of it.

“SUSAN!” shouted the Doctor in horror, knowing that he had asked her to stay inside the Capitol in safety.

She ignored his shout and tossed a silver sphere at the Apocalypse Device, the sphere casting a blue energy mesh around it, trapping it temporarily.

“Susan, get away from it!” shouted the Doctor, but Susan was holding Rose’s old vortex manipulator in her hand and was muttering to herself.

“Programming it into the nearest sun,” she murmured and glanced at him for only a moment before pressing down the button, effectively encasing her and the Apocalypse Device into an energy cell together. She met his gaze tearfully. “Goodbye, Grandfather,” she said and started vanishing slowly with the Apocalypse Device in tow.

A guttural scream escaped the Doctor and he lunged for her, but Rose reacted on instinct and threw herself in front of him, holding him back with all her strength. He screamed and struggled to escape and Rose could hear the vortex manipulator beeping sluggishly, presumably due to the Time Lock, but she knew Susan must have tweaked it a little for it to work now. She couldn’t see Susan, her only view being the Doctor’s solid chest which she was pushing back against, but she knew the moment she was gone, since the Doctor stopped struggling.

She turned around and saw that both Susan and the Apocalypse Device were indeed gone. The Doctor was staring at the empty space in silence with a blank look on his face, before he turned around abruptly and went into the TARDIS. It dematerialised a moment later.

Rose saw the Daleks trying to reconvene the battle, but she didn’t care at this point. She took the first transmat device she found and went to the Capitol to find the Doctor.

~

Romana was looking at the woman sitting opposite her, her face holding the same impassive look that was mirrored on hers. Rassilon sat at the head of the table, the heavy sash resting around his neck, the magnificent staff held at his side and the key on his other hand. Romana had an insane urge to burst into hysterical laughter at the hypocrisy on show.

As long as she could remember, the President of Gallifrey was only ever allowed access to two of the artefacts belonging to Rassilon, typically the Sash of Rassilon and the Rod of Rassilon. Even in ceremonies, the Presidents were merely expected hold their hand over empty air when they spoke of the Great Key of Rassilon. The lore said that Rassilon had deemed that no one person should hold the combined power of all three of his artefacts, since it would lead to tyranny and destruction.

Of course, the reality was much simpler than that. Rassilon did not want a challenger to his power, and had there been time, Romana would have broken the Laws of Time herself to go back in time and scream at her own naive young self, who had believed the lie. There had been rumours of one other person holding all three artefacts at one time, and Romana remembered her beloved friend telling her that the Doctor had once held all three. But Leela was gone, back when this war had first started, and Romana would never get to ask her if the Doctor had really done that.

She could ask the Doctor himself, but she had been told that he had no memory of the incident. She didn’t find it as hard to believe as she once might have had. If Rassilon had gone to such trouble to keep one of his artefacts out of the hands of all Presidents, he wouldn’t want them to remember what that power felt like. She hoped her anger didn’t show on her face, but the years had tempered her tempestuous countenance, and no one had an inkling of what she was thinking.

No one, except perhaps the woman sitting opposite her. Romana had been surprised when she had been resurrected by Rassilon, but it hadn’t come as a surprise. The woman had died young, but had an abundance of wisdom, and it was common for most Presidents to seek her out in the Matrix and get her counsel. Romana herself had done it a lot of times, and when she had realised the woman’s connection to Braxiatel and the Doctor, she had only been a little surprised.

What surprised her though, was how uncomfortable Braxiatel looked sitting next to the woman. His posture was tense, back ramrod straight and he was looking anywhere but at her. The woman seemed unconcerned at his discomfort, almost like she had expected it. In another time, Romana would have been fascinated by the dynamics between them.

“...and so it comes to this. Arcadia has fallen, and this remains our best and only choice,” said Rassilon, building the anticipation before he revealed his grand plan. “The Final Sanction.”

Romana pinched her own thigh so that she wouldn’t get up and start screaming at Rassilon. Opposite her, the woman merely gave a sigh and Braxiatel’s face remained unchanged as ever, but if Romana had to guess, he would be clenching his fists under the table.

“An excellent suggestion, my lord,” said Valyes, joy and smugness radiating from him in degrees. “With it, Time Lords shall ascend beyond even the Eternals or the Guardians.”

Rassilon seemed to bask in the approval as others nodded along to Valyes’ words. Romana wished she could muster up shock, but she only felt resignation, and perhaps a little pity. How could they call themselves the superior power of the universe, if they were willing to destroy the universe and their own mortality to exist for eternity. How were they any different from the Daleks then, if they wanted to destroy everything else that wasn’t them. Romana wanted to weep for her people, and she wished they could see what their fear of defeat had made of them.

“You do not agree, Lady Romanadvoratrelundar?”

Romana managed not to jump at being addressed directly by Rassilon. “It isn’t my place to bestow approval, my lord,” she said primly, years of Time Lord etiquette supplying the words automatically. “The President must do what they think is right.”

Her words seemed to placate him and he nodded. Romana glanced at Braxiatel, who had tensed even more when Rassilon had spoken to her, and she knew he had been half-expecting her to forgo all etiquette and speak her mind. Romana could honestly say that she had been tempted to do just that, but her being dead would be of no use to anyone.

“Very well then,” said Rassilon. “Let us reconvene in the morning. We shall discuss the technical aspects then.”

Everyone stood up and bowed to him, and the chamber started to empty. Romana walked out woodenly, knowing that he was right behind her. Sure enough, when she entered her chambers, he followed her and secured the door behind him.

“It’s too dangerous for us to be alone now,” she said, looking out of the glass wall which showed the carnage happening outside their precious Capitol.

“Do I look like I care?” asked Braxiatel, walking up next to her.

“You should,” she said, sounding a little harsh. “Rassilon is looking for an excuse to kill me. I would hate to bestow the same fate on you.”

Braxiatel fell silent as they stared out of the glass wall together. “How soon do you think the Daleks will be here?” he asked finally.

“Soon,” said Romana quietly. “I assume the Final Sanction will be enacted immediately after that. Which doesn’t give me a lot of time, I admit.”

“To do what?” he asked, looking alarmed.

Romana turned to him and shook her head. “A way to stop it,” she said at Braxiatel’s imploring look. “And then run.”

“You’re running?” he asked.

“I’m thinking of going to Lake Abydos,” she said, her eyes far away. “It is a good place to die as any.” At the look Braxiatel gave her, she smiled a little. “Rassilon is bound to kill me. I knew about his allegiance to Zagreus and the Neverpeople. The only reason I am still alive is because I have kept my head down and my mouth shut. When that changes, an energy blast from Rassilon’s gauntlet is how I will die. Unless, I find a way to stop him and choose how I die.”

Braxiatel sighed deeply. “I cannot change your mind?” he asked.

She shook her head. “You know the answer to that,” she said and turned to look at him, knowing that this was perhaps the last time she would ever see him. “Braxiatel,” she said softly and he looked at her. “I know we never said…”

“Don’t, please,” he said, recognising her tone. “Not now.”

“There won’t be another time,” she said sadly. “I just wanted to say…”

“I know,” he said. “And you know?”

“Yes,” she said. “I know.”

The two of them stared at each other for a long moment, before Romana smiled widely at him and nodded. “Goodbye, Braxiatel,” she said and raised her hand to rest it on his cheek.

He closed his eyes at the contact and grasped her wrist for a moment before opening his eyes and nodding firmly. “I will keep Valyes and the others away,” he said. “Do what you have to.”

Romana withdrew her hand and swallowed back words she wanted to say and walked past him before she lost her resolve. She felt his eyes on her back as she walked away, but she didn’t turn around and this time, he didn’t follow her.

~

Rose did her best to block out the screams of dying and regenerating Time Lords, the horrible sound echoing inside the nearly silent Capitol. All she wanted to do was curl up and howl in misery. The image of Susan in the energy cell with the Apocalypse Device kept flashing behind her eyes every time she even blinked, but the worst had been the Doctor’s gut-wrenching scream.

She had heard him scream before, in pain, in joy, in the aftermath of a nightmare...but she had never heard that sound in her life. It made the hairs on her arms stand in fear, just thinking about it. She wouldn’t forget that sound for as long as she lived, nor the desperate whimpers that had escaped his mouth when she had been holding him back.

The Time Lords out there were losing, and Rose felt sickened knowing about their manner of death. Rassilon’s additions to the shields helped them regenerate faster, but the Daleks would kill them as soon as they were back. The battle had devolved into a bloody massacre where each side was scrambling for survival, and time was screaming in agony at the abuse they were inflicting on the universe by their mere existence. It was doing its best to wipe them out, but like everything else, even time had lost its control. The Time Lock was the only saving grace for now, but if it broke in the midst of a battle like this, the war would spill out into the universe and unleash the nightmares with it.

Her tracking device showed that the Doctor was currently in their quarters, no doubt trying to get the TARDIS to locate Susan’s energy signature and look for a way to bring her back. Rose knew there was no chance of that happening. If the massive energy transfer hadn’t killed Susan immediately, the sun she was aiming for would have burnt her up mere moments later. Even a Time Lord in the prime of their health wouldn’t survive long enough to regenerate, and with Susan’s frail state, Rose knew in her heart that she was dead.

Rose understood why she had done it. She could have stayed safe and wasted away slowly, dying a little everyday, until she was just a shadow of her former self. Or she could have taken the enemy head on and fought with her last breath. She knew the Doctor didn’t want to hear it, but Rose could see that Susan had followed in his example, having chosen the safety of the universe over herself. And Rose couldn’t help but admire her for it.

She was almost to the quarters, when she felt someone grab her arm and pull her through one of the doors lining the corridor. Rose reacted on instinct, grabbing the hand holding onto her and turning it around until she had her captor in a chokehold. However, upon seeing that it was Romana, Rose released her slowly.

“Don’t ever do that,” growled Rose, crossing her arms. “I could have killed you.”

“Yes, I realise,” said Romana, adjusting her robes and trying to regain her breath. “My mistake for trying to ambush a combat veteran.”

“Don’t call me that,” said Rose, rolling her eyes. “You wanna tell me why we are meeting in what appears to be a dusty old office?”

“Privacy,” said Romana, like it was obvious. “Rassilon has announced his plan.”

Rose immediately went on alert. “What is it?” she asked.

“The Final Sanction,” she said, giving a weight to the words that Rose didn’t understand. Upon seeing her blank look, Romana shook her head. “Just trust me, it is as bad as it sounds.”

“Alright,” nodded Rose. “What are we doing about it?”

“And here I was thinking I would have to convince you to help,” said Romana, drawing out a key from her robes.

“Is that the key to the Omega Arsenal?” asked Rose, her eyes going wide.

“So, you have heard of it? Good,” said Romana.

“Yeah, I’ve heard of it,” said Rose. “I thought we had used pretty much everything that was in there,” she added, bitterness lacing her tone.

“All but one,” said Romana. “It’s called the Moment.”

“And what?” asked Rose. “You want me to steal it? Hate to break it to you, but I can’t get into the Omega Arsenal with its ‘Only Time Lords allowed here’ shields.”

“Yes, which is why I need the Doctor to steal it,” said Romana and took a deep breath before continuing. “And use it.”

“What does it do?” asked Rose.

“It destroys everything within the Time Lock,” said Romana. “In a single moment.”

Rose fell silent and scrubbed her hands over her face. “Fine,” she said finally, holding out her hand. “Give me the key.”

Romana looked surprised, but gave her the key hastily. “I thought you would have more questions,” she said.

“I do,” said Rose, pocketing the key. “But I’m guessing your life is in more danger than anybody else’s right now and you’re in a hurry. Where will you go?”

Romana gave her a watery smile. “Lake Abydos,” she said. “I used to take my summers there when I was young. It seems like a good place to await death.”

Rose nodded sadly. “I guess this is goodbye then,” she said.

“I suppose it is,” said Romana. “It was very nice knowing you, Rose.”

“And you,” nodded Rose, and turned to leave

“Tell the Doctor…” said Romana, and Rose turned around. “Tell him he has to do it. For all of us. And the rest of the universe.”

Rose gave her the most heartbreaking smile. “He knows,” she said and walked out. She heard the sound of a dematerialising Time Ring and knew that Romana was gone as well. With the key feeling like it weighed a ton in her pocket, Rose walked towards their quarters.

~

The Doctor glared at the console furiously when the TARDIS refused to dematerialise once again. If he could just catch Susan before she could...he growled in anger and yanked a few more cables from the console. Far from berating him, the TARDIS merely remained silent. It irritated him even more when she was quiet, because it felt like pity, and he neither wanted nor cared for her pity. He wanted his granddaughter back.

The TARDIS stayed resolutely silent as he systematically pulled out cables and wiring from the console and used the sonic screwdriver to sever and solder odds and ends, hoping for a different outcome. But the TARDIS gave no response, not even when he stopped trying to dematerialise and was merely pulling out the wires hoping for something other than silence.

“Come on then,” he shouted finally. “Say something, you old machine! You knew she was here, but you said NOTHING!” His words were followed by him violently yanking out a row of levers which controlled the stabilisers. He tossed them away in disgust and glared viciously at the rotor again.

“You could have told me,” he hissed. “I could have kept her safe. She might still be alive. My little Susan…” For a moment it looked as if he would collapse in tears, but then he gave a roar of anger and started pulling out the wood panelling on the console with his bare hands. The splinters dug into his hands and drew blood but he didn’t notice, or rather he didn’t care. The TARDIS made no sound as the wood panelling was removed and the coral beneath it was visible.

The Doctor was panting with the effort of having nearly destroyed the TARDIS console. His hands were raw and bleeding, and he could see the glow of the TARDIS coral from where he had removed the wood panelling. The coral was too strong to be destroyed by hand but he didn’t care as he lunged for it, fully intending to rip it out as well, even if it was more likely that he would shred his hands instead. He just wanted to hurt, wanted to blame someone...but before he could dig his hands into the console, he was pulled back quite roughly.

It took him a moment to register that it hadn’t been the TARDIS who had finally decided to respond by throwing him away, but Rose who had walked into the TARDIS unnoticed and pulled him away. She was staring between him and the console in horror, and he just stared back defiantly, refusing to see the pity and understanding in her eyes.

“Leave,” he said, looking back at the console. “It doesn’t concern you.”

“When you are ripping the TARDIS apart with your bare hands, believe me, it concerns me,” said Rose, before her eyes drifted down to his hands. “You are bleeding,” she said, reaching for them but he jerked away.

“GO. AWAY,” he said, trying to lunge for the console again but Rose threw herself in front of him, just as she had before and pushed the Doctor back.

“You need to calm down,” she said, sounding out of breath, but holding out her arms in front of herself as if approaching a wounded animal.

The Doctor glared viciously at her. “My granddaughter is dead, my ship refuses to help me save her, and you want me to CALM DOWN?” he demanded, advancing on her angrily.

Rose crossed her arms in front of her and held her ground. “You said it yourself, Doctor,” she said softly. “She is dead. You can’t change that. Susan made her choice.”

“Don’t you dare,” he said, in a dangerous voice. “You didn’t know her.”

“You’re right, I didn’t,” said Rose, managing not to flinch but just barely. “But I know you, and I know Susan loved you very much. She would never have chosen to die quietly when she could save the world instead. She was very much like you in that regard.”

The Doctor was still trembling but Rose could see his anger abating. “She shouldn’t have followed us,” he said, his aggressive stance drooping.

“What should she have done instead?” asked Rose gently. “Waited quietly for death behind locked doors? She made her choice, Doctor, and as much as it hurts, you have to accept that.”

He stayed silent, and when Rose approached him and took his hands, he let her. She carefully removed the splinters from them, and used the last bit of disinfectant and healing solution she had in her pockets to treat his wounds. It wasn’t painful, but tears welled up in his eyes just the same and when she was done, the Doctor wrapped his arms around her and broke down.

Rose blinked back her own tears and held the Doctor to her chest as he wept bitterly, tears soaking into her dress, his hands holding onto her as if he was clutching onto his sanity. She pressed kisses into his head and let him grieve for his granddaughter. No words were spoken, and eventually, they sat down on the floor, leaning against the console, the Doctor’s face still buried in her neck, though he was no longer crying. Rose still held him tightly, and ran her fingers through his hair in a soothing gesture.

“The war is lost,” he said after a long while, his voice still thick with grief. “Arcadia has fallen, and the Daleks will be inside the Capitol soon. End of the Time Lords.”

“Not if Rassilon has anything to do with it,” she said, remembering what Romana had tasked them to do.

“Hope his plan involves blowing us all sky high along with all the Daleks,” he said flatly, still speaking into Rose’s neck instead of looking up.

“It’s something called the Final Sanction,” said Rose and nearly jumped when the Doctor pulled away abruptly and looked at her with bloodshot eyes wider than she had ever seen them.

“What?” he asked faintly. “What did you say?”

“That’s what Romana called it,” said Rose. “She told me…”

“She said the Final Sanction?” asked the Doctor, interrupting her. “Think! It wasn’t anything else?”

“No, it wasn’t,” said Rose. “What is it?”

The Doctor looked startled for a moment before shaking his head. “I can’t...it’s too…” he stood up and started pacing frantically. “It’s just too…”

“Too what?” asked Rose, getting to her feet and walking up to him, halting his pacing. “Doctor, tell me.”

“They are going to destroy it,” he said, looking pale. “The Final Sanction, some call it the Ultimate Sanction. It’s a temporal paradox, so strong it can create a rupture in the space-time continuum enough to…enough to rip the Vortex apart.”

Rose stared at him in horror. “Bu-but that would mean...everything would die,” she said, looking aghast.

“The whole of creation, yes,” he said. “Time Lords would survive though. But not in our corporeal forms.” He shook his head, his eyes far away as he described the horrible fate to Rose. “Creatures of consciousness. An eternal existence in a dead universe,” he added, disgust evident in his voice.

“Romana gave me this,” said Rose, pulling out the key from her pocket and holding it to him.

“The key to the Omega Arsenal?” asked the Doctor in confusion as he took it. “What’s even left there now?”

Rose took a deep breath. “Romana called it the Moment,” she said and watched the Doctor’s face tighten in anger.

“And she wants me to use it?” he demanded harshly. “Where is she? I have to give her a piece of my mind…”

“She’s gone, Doctor,” said Rose gently. “Her life was in danger the minute she told me about this.”

The Doctor deflated visibly and nodded. “I can understand, but I cannot use the Moment,” he said. “The Time Lords put it away in the Time Vaults for a reason.”

“Which was?” asked Rose curiously.

“It’s said the weapon developed sentience,” he said, lips quirking up in a sad smile. “They were afraid of it. Afraid that the greatest weapon ever created could not be wielded by anyone because it would make its own judgment of what was right and wrong.”

Rose grasped his hand and he looked at her in question. “The other option is to standby and do nothing,” she said. “If this Final Sanction is what you said…”

The Doctor was shaking his head even before she had finished. “You don’t know what you are asking, Rose,” he said. “The Moment would destroy Gallifrey. Destroy the Time Lords. And it can never be changed. It will be firmly embedded in the scope of the cosmos.” He tilted his head and sighed. “Though I suppose, there will be no cosmos left if Rassilon succeeds.” He looked at Rose and smiled sadly. “You always knew,” he said, and it wasn’t a question.

Rose didn’t bother to deny it. She was too tired. “I hoped different,” she said instead.

He nodded in resignation. “I asked you never to tell me how it ends,” he said. “Personally, I always thought the darkest possibility was the likeliest, even as I hoped otherwise. But I never thought it would fall to me to push that final button.”

“You don’t have to do it alone,” said Rose, tears gathering in her eyes.

He shook his head and cupped her face. “I can’t place the burden on you as well, Rose,” he said.

“I’m not asking,” she said firmly. “We said we would end the war together. That we would protect the universe. I don’t break my promises.”

He sighed and nodded finally. “Get the TARDIS prepared to leave. I doubt she wants me touching her right now,” he said, glancing sorrowfully at the destroyed console. “I will break into the Omega Arsenal but it won’t be long before the alerts are sounded. They will know it’s me right away. We have to be ready to escape.”

“Where should I aim for?” asked Rose.

“Far side of the planet,” he said, running a hand over his face before moving towards the doors. “I’ll be back soon.”

Rose mustered up a small smile at the faux confidence in his voice and waved as he left. The Doctor moved through the Capitol stealthily, taking advantage of his knowledge of all the hidden passageways that he had discovered during his numerous escapes from the Time Lords throughout his lives. He reached the Vaults easily and gained access to the Omega Arsenal with Romana’s key. The massive space was empty and he had to walk all the way into the depth of the chamber to find it.

When he saw it, he could have laughed. It was a small wooden box with gears all over it. So innocuous, almost artistic, yet strong. No one could look at that exterior and see it as the most dangerous weapon in existence. He didn’t pause to admire it for long though, knowing that it would take him precisely eight minutes to get back to the TARDIS and the alarm would be sent off at four minutes. Taking a deep breath, he picked up the box and stuffed into a sack. He broke into a run a moment later, the sack thrown over his shoulder as he escaped. The alarm sounded just as he left the Vaults and he took off through one of the passageways leading into the Capitol.

He didn’t know who would come after him, since most soldiers were fighting outside, but he didn’t want to take a chance of one of the commanders catching him. It took him a while to maneuver through the maze of passageways and when he finally reached their quarters, he all but burst inside the TARDIS.

Rose took one look at him and at his nod, she started the dematerialisation sequence. The TARDIS vanished from the Capitol, just as the first Dalek got into the Citadel, and the High Council locked themselves into an emergency meeting.

The final day of the Last Great Time War had dawned.

Chapter Text

Clara rearranged her things in her old room, hoping very much that this situation would be short-lived. The Maitland family had finally hired a full-time nanny, and though Mr. Maitland had been very grateful for all her help, it was always understood that the arrangement had been temporary.

While Clara would miss Angie and Artie, she knew truly that she was always meant to be a teacher, not a nanny. Unfortunately, opportunities weren’t so easy to come by, especially since Christmas was only a month away, and no one was looking to hire a teacher with virtually no classroom experience straight out of university, although she did have a few interviews lined up in coming weeks. Meanwhile, she’d had to move back to the Powell Estate with her Dad and Gran.

She didn’t have many fond memories of the Estate, having moved there after her mum had passed, and she had only stayed a year longer, choosing to go away for university, especially since Linda had become a fixture in their lives since then. But she found that she liked it a little better than she did before, and even though it meant that Linda was still around, the company of her Dad and Gran made it worthwhile. With everything that had happened, Clara treasured her family more than ever, even Linda, as much as she irritated her.

“Telephone for you, dear,” came her Gran’s voice, and Clara grabbed the phone from her Gran with a quick kiss to her cheek.

“Thanks, Gran,” she said. “Hello?”

“Oh, hello, Clara,” came the ever-jovial voice and Clara’s heart jumped at hearing the Doctor. “Was that your grandmother? I might have accidentally mistaken her for you and told her about getting dressed for cocktails on the moon.”

Clara’s eyes went wide and she glanced at her Gran, who was shaking her head and muttering about young men, though there was a palpable blush on her cheeks. Clara carefully avoided every thought about that, and decided to change the subject. “I thought you said you were going to call,” she said, trying not to sound accusing. “It’s been a month.”

“Oh, has it?” he asked lightly, though she suspected he had known that. She briefly wondered how long it had been for him, but she knew he wouldn’t be honest if she asked. “Well, you know how time flies. I plan to do something, and whoops, it’s suddenly a hundred years later and there’s all these questions about why there is a tyrannosaurus-rex in 11th century London.”

Clara couldn’t help but smile at his absurd ramblings. “Tell you what,” she said mischievously. “You can make it up to me if we can get those cocktails on the moon you were talking about.”

“Clara Oswald, I believe we have a deal,” he said, laughing. “See you in an hour.”

~

“An hour at most, I promise,” said Rose, shooting him a smile. “Just a quick drink with Mickey and the lot.”

“Right, off you go then,” said the Doctor, looking at the console and pretending not to notice her smile. “Don’t wanna be late on your date,” he couldn’t help but add scathingly.

Rose had been on her way out, but she turned around and bit her lip to hide her smile. “You could always come,” she said.

He finally looked up and snorted derisively. “Now why would I do that?” he asked, crossing his arms over his leather-clad chest. “Watch a bunch of apes get sloshed? No, thanks.”

“Fine,” said Rose, rolling her eyes. “Stay here and sulk. I’ll be back soon.”

He tossed her a sarcastic salute that she pretended not to notice, and slammed the door after her as she left the TARDIS. If he wanted to act like a child, she wasn’t sticking around for his tantrum. Things had been tense as it is since their disastrous visit to see her father back in 1987. A night out with some friends was what she needed, and if the Doctor was annoyed, he could keep it to himself.

Inside the TARDIS, a part of the Doctor was berating himself for being so curt with Rose, but the thought of her spending time with her own friends unsettled his hearts. He had been so paranoid ever since their visit to 1987, he was certain that one of these times she would walk out of the TARDIS and would not return. It was a foolish thought, and logically, he knew that she was only going out for a while, but he also knew he wouldn’t be calm until she was back inside the TARDIS.

What a child he had become, he snorted to himself, and then glanced at the console, debating if he should just skip forward an hour instead of being alone with his paranoid thoughts. If he did, he would see Rose sooner, but there was always a chance of him getting the coordinates wrong. It would be easier to just lock onto the TARDIS key, which was what he decided to do and skipped forward for an hour, keeping his location the same.

The TARDIS dematerialised briefly and materialised back again, and the Doctor nodded to himself. If Rose did actually see him materialising, he could always make something up about a short trip he had taken. She would be mad, but it was better than telling her that he couldn’t last an hour without her and needed to use time travel to avoid having to wait.

He heard the key scrape into the lock, but the door didn’t seem to open, and his brow furrowed in confusion. Rose wasn’t the sort to get so drunk she couldn’t remember how to use a key. He was at the door in quick strides and opened the door, only to see a petite brunette in a red dress, staring at him with wide eyes.

“Oh,” she said, shocked. “Sorry.”

She turned around to try and leave, but he had seen the key in her hand and he stopped her with a firm grip on her elbow. “Now, hang on,” he said, fixing her with a glare. “Where did you get that?”

“That?” she asked, looking at the key in her hand. “Oh, you know, nowhere.”

The Doctor tried not to roll his eyes. She was a worse liar than Rose. “Inside, now,” he ordered, pulling her into the TARDIS none too gently.

“Oi, steady on,” she said, shaking her arm from his grip but following him into the TARDIS.

He turned around and glared at her. “Who are you?” he demanded.

“Clara Oswald,” she said, going for a nervous smile.

His eyes narrowed at her. “I have seen you before, haven’t I?” he asked. “Always there, scurrying around the corner of my eye.”

Clara crossed her arms. “Well, bit of a rude way to put it, but yeah,” she said. “I am the real deal, though. The original.”

Her wide smile had no impact on him. “What year is it outside?” he asked.

“2013,” she shrugged. “I was expecting you. Not you, you,” she clarified hastily.

The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Right then, must have got the coordinates wrong,” he muttered under his breath. “Off you go then,” he told her in a louder voice. “And try and stay away from temporal paradoxes.”

Clara started to nod, but the console room seemed to flicker, and the Doctor tensed which immediately put her on alert. “What’s going on?” she asked, when the coral console room started to seem smaller, darker, more blue than green.

“You said you were waiting for me to show up?” he grimaced. “Here I come.”

The TARDIS jolted violently and Clara barely had time to grip the railing near the door so she wouldn’t fall and hit her head. It did give her painful whiplash, and when she finally righted herself, the console room was the one she had known, with the rotating rotor and the dim blue lighting.

The Doctor in leather looked just as disorientated as her, though far more irritated than before. The other Doctor, her very own Doctor, with his floppy brown hair and daft bow tie was beaming at her, apparently not having seen his irate younger self.

“An hour, on the dot, just as I promised, Clara,” he declared, holding his arms out for a hug.

Clara cleared her throat and tried to turn his attention to the Doctor in leather, but he took it upon himself to alert his older self of his presence.

“Did you also check the spatial coordinates so you wouldn’t land inside my TARDIS?” he growled and the Doctor whirled around in shock.

“Oh,” he said. “Clara,” he asked, keeping his eyes fixed on his younger self. “Am I seeing double again?”

“No, Doctor,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Yeah, thought not,” he said and then walked right up to his younger self. “Blimey, those ears really were something, weren’t they? Not to mention the nose.”

“You can talk, ya bloody clown,” said the Ninth Doctor. “Ever heard of eyebrows? Or a regular chin?”

“At least I don’t have that horrendous Northern accent,” he snapped.

“Oi!” Both Clara and the Ninth Doctor took offence to that.

“This is getting us nowhere,” said the Ninth Doctor irritably. He wondered what manner of death had brought on this hyperactive child with an asymmetrical face as his future self. “We shouldn’t be here like this at the same time.”

“Right, you are,” said the Eleventh Doctor quickly. “I mean, of course you are right. You are me, and I am always right. Aren’t I, Clara?”

“Not even close,” said Clara, shaking her head at once.

“‘Course I am,” he said, waving a hand dismissively. “Now then, let’s see. You are grumpy, but not too grumpy. Must be after you met Rose then. Where is she?” He glanced around as if expecting to see her. Or hoping, Clara realised when she saw the longing beneath the cheerful smile.

“Visiting her mates,” said the Ninth Doctor, crossing his arms uncomfortably. His floppy-haired self was quite a bit older than him, and Rose would surely have not lived that long, let alone stayed with him for that time, but it still set his skin prickling at the confirmation that he would be left without her one day. And clearly miss her too, if the look on his older self’s face was anything to go by.

The Eleventh Doctor nodded at that and looked almost relieved, though the disappointment was equally evident. “Just as well,” he murmured to himself and shook his head. “Come along, Clara. We have tempted the web of time enough for one day.”

“First sensible thing to come out of your mouth,” said the Ninth Doctor, his irritation flaring once again. “Is that the wisdom I have to look forward to in my old age?”

The Eleventh Doctor did not deign to reply to that, but the TARDIS gave a spectacular lurch then, sending Clara crashing into the Ninth Doctor.

“Oomph,” she groaned, having banged her nose into his leather-clad back.

“Careful,” he snapped at her, but righted her before heading to the console.

His older self, on the other hand, headed towards the doors and opened them slowly. “I wouldn’t dematerialise, if I were you,” he told his younger self.

“What?” demanded the Ninth Doctor. “Why the hell not…?” He trailed off and looked out of the doors to see the TARDIS being raised higher and higher over the buildings of Powell Estate, the air filled with the unmistakable sound of a helicopter.

“Are we hooked to a helicopter?” asked Clara, holding onto the console tightly as the TARDIS swung back and forth like a pendulum.

“Humans!” thundered the Ninth Doctor angrily. “What do they think they are doing?”

“I think they are trying to take us somewhe...aaaarrrgghhhhh,” the Eleventh Doctor screamed as he fell out of the open TARDIS doors.

“DOCTOR!” shouted Clara, trying to run towards him, but the Ninth Doctor got there first.

“Hold on,” he shouted down to his Eleventh self who was dangling out of the TARDIS, holding on for dear life.

“I AM!” shouted the Eleventh Doctor, somehow managing to glare back at his younger self for stating the obvious.

The Ninth Doctor paid him no mind as he extended his arm out to him, keeping a firm grip on the solid doorway of the TARDIS. The Eleventh Doctor took the hand gratefully and let himself be pulled back into the TARDIS. The two Doctors fell onto the TARDIS floor next to each other and kicked the doors shut in unison.

“Are you alright?” asked Clara as she ran to her Doctor and hugged him.

“Yes, yes, just a bit of fresh air,” he said, patting her back before running over to the console.

“Trafalgar Square,” said the Ninth Doctor, who had already been checking their destination on the monitor. “What’s in Trafalgar Square?”

“UNIT,” said the Eleventh Doctor, looking at the uniforms.

“Fantastic,” said the Ninth Doctor sarcastically. “Can’t wait to hear their reason for this. Who’s in charge now? Benton? Bambera? Please tell me the Brigadier is still refusing retirement.”

The TARDIS was set down on firm ground and the Ninth Doctor missed the slight sorrow in his older self’s eyes. The two Doctors and Clara were out of the door almost immediately and were met by an apologetic Kate Lethbridge-Stewart.

“Doctor, I am so…” she trailed off as she stared between the two Doctors. “Oh, oh dear.”

“Ah, Kate,” said the Eleventh Doctor, shaking his head like a disapproving teacher. “That was not a nice thing to do at all. I do not like being picked up.”

“That probably sounded better in his head,” said Clara, smiling apologetically.

“Kate Lethbridge-Stewart,” said the Ninth Doctor, looking at her as if seeing a wonder. “You were just a little girl the last time I saw you.”

Kate stared at him unabashedly. “It is very nice to meet you, Doctor,” she said. “Blimey, a whole world of difference in seeing photographs of two of you in the same place and actually seeing it. Again, I am sorry for the hasty pick-up. I’m afraid we have something of a crisis.”

“Isn’t that always the case with you little humans?” asked the Ninth Doctor, rolling his eyes in almost fond exasperation. “What is it this time? Not the Slitheen again?”

“No,” said Kate. “No Slitheen, I promise. I’m afraid, this time it’s a message from Her Majesty.”

“Lizzie?” asked the Eleventh Doctor. “What did I do this time? I didn’t even park on the grounds. Not that she minds, I tell you.”

“No, Doctor,” said Kate, shaking her head fondly. “The other Queen Elizabeth. The first one.”

“Queen Bess left a message for the Doctor?” asked Clara, her eyes wide.

“Technically, she left it for her husband, but essentially yes,” said Kate. “Do follow me.”

“Husband?” thundered the Ninth Doctor and glared at his older self.

“Don’t look at me, mate,” he shrugged. “It was the idiot that came before me and after you.”

“And he married the Virgin Queen?” asked the Ninth Doctor, looking concerned for his future regenerations.

“What we get up to in the privacy of our own regeneration is our business,” said the Eleventh Doctor as Kate led them into the National Gallery and then downstairs into the Under Gallery.

“Welcome to the Under Gallery,” said Kate. “This is where Elizabeth the First kept paintings and art deemed too dangerous for public consumption. She left this for you.”

The Eleventh Doctor snatched up the letter that Kate offered before his younger self could and broke the seal. He read the words rapidly and stuffed the parchment into his pocket quickly, his face impassive.

“Aren’t you going to share?” asked the Ninth Doctor, crossing his arms in front of him.

“Not important,” he said, smiling jovially. “Just an old love letter. Would make your ears blush and trust me, nobody wants to see that.”

“Anyway,” interrupted Kate. “That’s not the pertinent part. That was merely to confirm Elizabeth’s credentials. This way, please.”

They walked down a narrow, low-lit path towards their destination. There were statues lining the path, all of them covered with thick muslin sheets. The ground was littered with stone dust, which both the Doctors examined with raised eyebrows but neither of them commented on it. They did spot a fez, which the Eleventh Doctor claimed at once to an exasperated eye-roll from Clara and a disgusted look from the Ninth Doctor.

They came to a wide, white room with paintings hanging on the walls, each one depicting a different alien landscape. The wood-panelled floor of the room was covered in broken glass.

“Oh my God,” said Clara, looking at the paintings. “They look like they are moving.”

“3-D paintings,” said the Ninth Doctor, his jaw clenched. “Time Lord technology.”

“Look at this glass,” said the Eleventh Doctor, eyes fixed on the ground instead of the paintings.

“I know,” said the Ninth Doctor. “Something broke out of these.”

“How is that possible?” asked Clara, seeing the same look of incredulity mirrored on Kate’s face.

Before either Doctor could answer, a time window opened up above their heads, glowing bright and silver.

“What on Earth is that?” asked Kate in alarm.

“Impossible,” declared the Ninth Doctor.

The Eleventh Doctor took off his fez and tossed it into the portal. “Did not return,” he said when the fez disappeared but did not reappear. He turned to his younger self. “Shall we then?”

“Age before beauty,” he told his older self with a sardonic smile.

“Fair enough,” said the Eleventh Doctor and jumped into the portal.

“Doctor!” shouted Clara in alarm, but the Ninth Doctor followed after him immediately.

Clara looked at Kate, who seemed just as shocked. Both the Doctors had vanished completely.

~

The walk had been very long. The Doctor had insisted on leaving the TARDIS behind, claiming that it would be too risky if the Time Lords decided to track them through it. Tracking the TARDIS would be difficult and they doubted anyone would have time to do it, but it was just one more risk they couldn’t afford to take. Which was why they had left it behind and continued to walk through the wasteland that was now Gallifrey, for miles and miles.

Hardly any words were spoken between them, apart from the occasional inquiries about tiredness. Even those were mere courtesies, since they both knew the task that awaited them. The Moment was still in the sack thrown over the Doctor’s shoulder, and even though Rose had offered to carry it more than once, the Doctor had stubbornly borne the burden himself. They walked for what felt like several hours, until they found themselves in an abandoned village with dilapidated houses and sheds.

The occupants of the village had died out years ago. They hadn’t been Time Lords, not even proper Gallifreyans, the Doctor explained. They were mere Shobogans. The Time Lords did not bother themselves with them and had simply let them die when the war had started. Rose wished the thought could churn her stomach, but she had run out of energy to muster up any more disgust for the Time Lords. Or pity, for that matter.

They chose the first shed with a door that could close, and while the Doctor set the sack down on the ground littered with straw, Rose examined the partially boarded up windows to check for any approaching intruders. When she found none, she turned to the Doctor, who was sitting down on a large rubber wheel, the kind that would be fitted on a tractor on Earth. He was staring intently at the sack he had set down, though he looked up when Rose walked up to him.

“Take a look,” he said, waving a hand towards it.

Rose raised her eyebrows, but knelt to the ground so she could tip the small box out of the sack. It rolled out gently and landed on the ground, and Rose jumped back in shock at the sight of it.

“What?” asked the Doctor, seeing the alarmed look on her face.

Rose turned to him with wide eyes. “Can’t you hear it?” she asked.

The Doctor’s brow furrowed. “Hear what?” he asked.

“Hear that,” said Rose, looking terrified as she waved a hand towards the Moment. “It’s like...I know that sound. I’ve heard it before.”

The Doctor looked at her in concern but as he went to touch the box, Rose grasped his arm and stopped him. “Wait, look,” she said and the Doctor’s eyebrows shot up when the gears on the outside of the box began to shift, though the box remained as tightly closed as ever.

“Can you still hear…?” he asked and Rose nodded slowly, her eyes fixed on the box.

“It’s like the first time I looked into the TARDIS,” she said, kneeling down in front of the box. “Stronger, though. Clearer too.” Rose reached a hand to the box and touched the gears on top, which were still spinning. “There are words here.”

The Doctor leaned over her shoulder to peer at it and realised that the gears were parting to spell a word. Two words, to be precise. “Bad Wolf,” he read, noticing Rose stiffen. “You know what it means?”

Rose stared silently at the words, unable to think of a way to respond. “Yes,” she said, finally just as the gears stopped spinning.

The Doctor was alarmed to see tears in her eyes. “Rose,” he murmured, touching a hand to her shoulder.

She jumped at the contact and stood up. “It wasn’t a conscience,” she said, starting to pace. “The Time Lords got it wrong. It doesn’t have a conscience.”

“How do you know, Rose?” asked the Doctor, unnerved at how scared she sounded.

Rose stopped and stared at him, and the Doctor realised that her eyes had taken on a golden sheen. “Because it’s me,” she said. “The Moment is me.”

“You can’t be,” said the Doctor, staring at her in horror.

Rose shook her head and looked at the box. “The box is nothing but a power source. Like the Travesties, like the Horde, it needs a Host. But not just any being of the vortex. It needs me. The one that ended the Time War.”

“I am the one who ends the Time War,” said the Doctor, still unwilling to believe her.

“Everything must come to dust. All things. Everything dies,” murmured Rose, her voice echoing in an ethereal manner around them. “The Time War ends.” She looked pained as she turned to the Doctor. “It was always me who would do this.”

“No,” he said, grasping her shoulders firmly when she started to shake her head again. “You might be the Moment, but the Moment could not be wielded until it had someone to push that final button.”

“But—” protested Rose but the Doctor cut her off.

“Listen to me, Rose,” he said. “Just because you can hear the damn thing doesn’t mean that you are it. You are Rose Tyler, not some ancient weapon in a box.”

“Who says I can’t be both?” she asked sardonically and then tilted her head towards the box. “Huh, that’s different.”

“What is?” asked the Doctor quickly.

“We can create time fissures with this,” she said, trying to assimilate the information being conveyed into her mind. “But why would we want to?”

“Time fissures?” asked the Doctor eagerly. “In my future?”

Rose looked at him and nodded slowly. “If you wanted, yeah. But why?”

The Doctor looked at the box. “I need to know,” he said finally. “I need to know the man that today will make of me.”

“Are you sure?” asked Rose.

He met her gaze and nodded. “I am,” he said confidently.

“Alright then,” said Rose, her eyes blazing golden. The air around them shimmered until a portal of vortex energy slowly unfurled in front of them. Rose winced in discomfort and the portal vanished abruptly, leaving her clutching her head.

“Rose, are you alright?” asked the Doctor, moving towards her in concern.

Rose nodded, trying to regulate her breathing. “It requires more energy than I thought,” she said. The gears on the box started shifting again and Rose knelt in front of it, her eyes fixed on the changing gears. “Hang on, this might work better.”

“What will?” asked the Doctor, trying to read the words but the gears shifted back into place before he could.

Rose didn’t answer. She simply placed both her hands on the box and closed her eyes. The portal started to unfurl yet again, brighter and stronger than before. “It will not last for long,” said Rose, her eyes still closed and her voice echoing again. “And I will need to regain my strength before we can journey back here.” She stood up and opened her eyes. “Are you sure you want to see where we end up? It could be years into the future, or just tomorrow.”

“I am sure,” said the Doctor, assuredly. “I need to see what it holds.”

As if on cue, a red object came hurtling out of the portal and fell at their feet. “Is that a…?” asked Rose.

The Doctor picked it up and looked at it in puzzlement. “It’s a fez.”

~

It was a sunny day in England when the Tenth Doctor was enjoying a leisurely picnic with Queen Elizabeth the First. Or rather, he would have been, had the Queen been real and not a Zygon. He had been tracking the damned blighters across the galaxy, and when they had finally arrived on Earth in the 16th century, he had been annoyed to say the least. That they were now impersonating one of the most infamous monarchs of England only further grated on his nerves.

Things had not been going well lately. His disastrous visit to Bowie Base One aside, he had Ood Sigma’s summons hanging over him like the sword of Damocles. He wanted to put off his visit to the Ood Sphere for as long as he could. So the distraction had come in the form of a Zygon disguised in the form of the Queen of England. Well, he would soon be done with that too.

“Elizabeth,” he said, getting on his knees. “Marry me?”

Elizabeth beamed at him. “Oh sweet love, of course I will,” she said.

“Aha, gotcha!” he said, pointing a finger in her face. “I knew it! I mean, there’s no way Good Queen Bess decides to marry some bloke from space just because he wears a tight suit and has great hair. Oh, I have got you now and I will…” he trailed off when he saw a Zygon standing where the horse had been tethered before. “Oh, no.”

“What is that monstrous thing?” asked Elizabeth, looking at it with wide eyes.

“Your Majesty, I suggest you run. Run very far from this thing,” he said.

“But what about you?” she asked him.

“Oh, I will be just fine,” he said, reaching for his sonic screwdriver just the same. “Run, Elizabeth!”

Elizabeth turned and ran, and the Doctor took off towards the woods after the fleeing Zygon. The device in his hands beeped frantically until he got into the woods, but it went suspiciously quiet immediately. He stopped and searched for signs of any living beings and saw a rabbit in his line of sight.

“Whatever you've got planned, forget it. I'm the Doctor. I'm nine hundred and four years old. I'm from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I am the Oncoming Storm, the Bringer of Darkness,” his threatening voice tapered off slowly when he realised that it wasn’t the Zygon. “And you are basically just a rabbit, aren't you? Okay, carry on. Just a general warning.”

He heard a crackling of energy behind him and he whirled around in shock, just in time to see a time fissure opening near him, the portal getting brighter as he approached it cautiously. A fez popped out of it, and he picked it up and put it on his head, moments before two figures came barrelling from the portal and landed in front of him.

“Oh, no,” he said, when he saw the man in the leather jacket.

“He can’t be,” said the Ninth Doctor, upon seeing him. “Can he?” he asked the Eleventh Doctor.

“’Fraid so, mate,” said the Eleventh Doctor, clapping his Ninth self on the shoulder.

“I become him?” he hissed. “This pretty boy?”

“Oi, who you callin’ pretty?” demanded the Tenth Doctor, taking the fez off and tossing it to the Eleventh Doctor who caught it expertly and observed it thoughtfully. “And who is he?” he asked.

The Eleventh Doctor responded by holding up his sonic screwdriver. “Who do you think?” he asked.

“Wonderful,” said the Tenth Doctor, in a voice full of sarcasm. “Any reason why we are having this lovely reunion?”

“The time fissures, for one,” said the Ninth Doctor, looking extremely disgruntled at the Tenth Doctor’s appearance. “We didn’t make them and judging from that surprised look on your mug, I am guessing you didn’t either. So, question remains, who did?”

“Doctor,” came Clara’s voice from the portal. “Doctor, can you hear me?”

“Ah, Clara,” said the Eleventh Doctor. “Hold on, just need to check something. Think fast!” He tossed the fez into the portal and waited for her reply. “Well? Anything?”

“What?” asked Clara. “Was something supposed to happen?”

“So, we know it doesn’t work both ways,” said the Eleventh Doctor, with a look at his two younger selves. “Right then, if you two have suggestions, I am all ears. Well, not me, but you certainly are,” he added with a mirthful look at his Ninth self who rolled his eyes.

“What Chinny here means is that there has to be another one of us who is creating these fissures,” said the Tenth Doctor. “The fez would have gone to him if it didn’t end up on that other side.”

“Yes, we all worked that out, pretty boy,” said the Ninth Doctor, rolling his eyes. “Question is, which one is it going to be?”

The portal flared once again and the three Doctors backed away from it in unison. They stood facing it, holding their sonic screwdrivers ready for whatever was now coming through. The light of the portal continued to crackle and shine for several long moments before a bright flash all but blinded them.

Two people fell out of the portal, a man and a woman, both of them looking like they had been through hell and back, judging from their clothes and general appearance.

“Blimey, my head,” said the woman, her blonde hair obscuring half her face as she held onto the man’s shoulder for balance. “Did we make it?”

“Can’t you tell?” the man asked her.

“I’ll tell you once I stop seeing in fours, Doctor,” she joked and looked up to see the Doctor looking away from her.

“I don’t think that will happen, Rose,” he said and Rose followed his gaze to see three gaping faces at her.

“Oh,” she said, her eyes going wide. “Hello.”

Chapter Text

Previously

“I’ll tell you once I stop seeing in fours, Doctor,” she joked and looked up to see the Doctor looking away from her.

“I don’t think that will happen, Rose,” he said and Rose followed his gaze to see three gaping faces at her.

“Oh,” she said, her eyes going wide. “Hello.”

“Oh, big mistake,” said the Tenth Doctor, advancing on them with a furious look on his face. “I don’t know how you knew that face, but change back RIGHT NOW!”

Rose looked shocked for a moment at the hostility on his face before she glared right back at him. “Don’t point that thing at me,” she snapped, looking at the sonic screwdriver in his hand. “And what the hell are you talking about?”

He looked utterly taken aback at that, but schooled his features back into a scowl. “Don’t you dare!” he threatened. “You’re not her, d’you hear me? You are NOT her. Change back into your usual form, Zygon, or I will do it for you.” He raised his sonic screwdriver threateningly.

Rose swelled in anger, but the Eighth Doctor stepped between the two of them and glared at his older self. “You will do nothing of the sort,” he said firmly. “I will not have you harming...aargh!”

The Eighth Doctor’s back slammed into a nearby tree trunk as the Ninth Doctor grabbed the front of his pea coat and hauled him into a near-chokehold. “You bastard!” shouted the Ninth Doctor, spit flying from his mouth in fury. “You utter bastard! How dare you!”

“Doctor!” shouted Rose, bounding up to them. “Doctor, stop!” She grabbed the Ninth Doctor’s arm, realising that he was using his full strength to choke his younger self.

His grip didn’t falter, but he looked at Rose, ice blue eyes crackling in anger. “Stay away,” he said, in a deathly calm voice.

“I will do nothing of the sort,” said Rose furiously, gripping his wrist until he loosened it. She glanced behind her quickly to check on the Eighth Doctor, who was looking at his older self with wide eyes as he tried to catch his breath. Rose turned back to the Ninth Doctor and saw him glaring at his younger self with venom. “Why are you trying to kill yourself?” she asked, moving between the two of them and laying a hand on the Ninth Doctor’s chest as if to stop him from lunging at the Eighth Doctor.

“Because he didn’t die,” spat the Ninth Doctor angrily. “The bastard didn’t die. He made me live. He made me live when we should have just died.” He tried to move towards him again, but Rose held him back with a steady hand to his chest.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” wheezed the Eighth Doctor, still trying to catch his breath.

“He probably doesn’t,” interjected the Eleventh Doctor, who had been suspiciously silent the whole time. “Why would he know?”

“Are you mad?” asked the Tenth Doctor, looking away from Rose finally to glare at his older self. “Who else would know if not him? He was the one who did it.”

“Did what?” demanded Rose.

To everyone’s utter surprise, the Tenth Doctor snorted. “Oh, that’s it, isn’t it? I have finally gone round the bend. I am seeing and hearing things that aren’t real. I wonder where I fell asleep this time,” he murmured the last part to himself but everyone heard it just the same.

“What is he talking about?” asked Rose, looking at the other Doctors for an explanation.

“Skinny might have lost his mind, I think,” said the Ninth Doctor, looking at him in disgust.

“But he raises a good point,” said the Eleventh Doctor quickly. “You shouldn’t be here, Rose Tyler. If you really are her.”

“’Course I am me,” snapped Rose, glaring at him. “Who else would I be? The bloody Queen of England?”

“No, that would be me, I expect,” came a posh, feminine voice and the five of them whirled around to see a redheaded woman dressed in 16th century finery approaching them along with a small guard behind her.

“Queen Elizabeth the First,” murmured the Eighth Doctor in shock.

“The usual custom is to kneel when you see the Queen,” she said sharply, glaring at all of them.

“They would,” came an identical voice from the other side and they turned around to see another Queen Elizabeth approaching them with her own guard, both of them identical down to the colour of their gowns. “If you were the real Queen,” she added with a sneer at her duplicate.

“Don’t trust them,” said the Tenth Doctor, moving closer to Rose instinctively. “One of them is a Zygon.”

“A Zygon?” asked Rose.

“Yeah, you know, big red things with suckers,” said the Eleventh Doctor and Rose rolled her eyes.

“Yes, I know what a Zygon is,” she said. “Why are Zygons impersonating Queen Elizabeth? And which one of them is real?”

“Why, I am, of course,” said one of them.

“Hardly,” snorted the other. “I am the real Queen.”

“The Doctor knows I am real,” said the first one, turning her nose up at her duplicate. “He asked me to marry him.”

Rose turned to the Tenth Doctor and raised her eyebrows, making him sputter in disbelief. “I only did that to prove you were a Zygon,” he said.

“But I wasn’t,” she pointed out with a smile.

“You are a liar,” snapped the duplicate. “He asked me to marry him. And he knows that I am not a Zygon.”

“Oh god,” muttered the Tenth Doctor under his breath.

Fortunately, the portal decided to spark back up again, startling everyone but the Doctors and Rose.

“Doctor, are you still there? Who are you talking to?” came Clara’s voice.

“Just myself,” said the Eleventh Doctor jovially. “But I could use your help actually.”

“What sorcery is that?” asked the captain of the guard, looking terrified.

“That is a portal of the witch,” said the Eleventh Doctor. “Isn’t that right, witch? Witch?” he said again pointedly.

“Oh, right, yes,” came Clara’s voice. “I am the witch!” she said, making her voice appear menacing. “Now, do as I say, or I will turn you all into...into frogs!”

“Ooh, frogs, scary,” said the Eleventh Doctor with a bright smile. “Your Majesties, I think while you two sort out your identity crisis, it would be an excellent idea to lock us all up in the Tower of London.”

“What?” asked Rose and the Eighth Doctor in unison, looking at him like he was mad.

To their surprise, the Ninth Doctor nodded at once. “Yes, that sounds fantastic,” he said. “My good Captain,” he said. “Would you be kind enough to take us to the Tower?”

“Er, I…” He looked between the two Queens, unsure as to whose orders he should follow.

“Lock them up!” The two Queens said it in unison and then glared at each other.

“Yes, your Majesty,” said the captain of the guard, looking a little relieved. “And what about…?” He left the question hanging about the two Queens.

“I believe we shall settle this between ourselves,” said the first Queen. “Won’t we?” she asked her duplicate threateningly.

“Of course,” said the duplicate, rounding on her.

~

“The Tower of London?” asked Clara, looking at Kate. “Why would he want to be locked in there?”

“Oh, he is good,” said Kate. “Come on.”

Clara ran after her, catching snippets of a conversation Kate was having with someone named Osgood. Something about accessing the Black Archives.

“Sorry, what are the Black Archives?” asked Clara.

“The only place on Earth that is entirely TARDIS-proof,” said Kate proudly. “Contains quite a lot of things the Doctor would not approve of. Fortunately, it also contains a vortex manipulator, although we don’t know the code.” She checked her phone and smiled. “Well, we didn’t until now.”

She showed Clara a series of numbers that looked like they had been scratched onto an old column. She started to smile back until she saw two other people walking into the Black Archives, one of them a UNIT soldier with a gun and another a young woman wearing an enormous scarf.

“What are they doing here?” asked Clara, slightly unnerved at the blank looks on their faces.

“Oh, Osgood and McGillop have probably finished disposing of the humans a bit early,” said Kate.

“What?” asked Clara in shock.

“Dear me,” said Kate. “I really do get into character, don’t I?” She transformed into a Zygon and Clara reared back quickly, feeling slightly grateful when she encountered the vortex manipulator.

“Activation code, right?” asked Clara, remembering the numbers she had seen. She quickly typed them into the vortex manipulator. “Thanks for that.” She pressed the button and vanished.

~

“Hmm, cheery,” said Rose, looking around at the gloomy cell that they had been thrown in. “Tell me it was your plan all along to get us in here.”

“It was my plan all along to get us in here,” said the Eleventh Doctor as he immediately made his way over to a column and started scratching on it.

“Rose,” whispered the Tenth Doctor, staring at her. “Is it really…? I mean, how…?”

Rose avoided his gaze and looked at the ground instead. “Doesn’t matter,” she shrugged.

“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?” thundered the Ninth Doctor, walking up to her and grasping her shoulders firmly. “You look like you’ve been through hell, Rose, and not two hours ago, I was saying goodbye to you because you were going out with your mates for a drink.”

Rose’s brow wrinkled for a moment before she punched his shoulder lightly. “I knew it!” she said. “I knew you used the TARDIS to jump forward an hour. You could have just come with me, you know.”

The Ninth Doctor didn’t react, not to her punch or her words. He was staring at her hand in silence. “Married,” he said, and lifted her hand up.

Rose flinched and withdrew her hand sharply from his. The Ninth Doctor looked at her in question, but Rose moved to the farthest wall from the Doctors, crossing her arms over her chest and looking away.

“Married?” asked the Tenth Doctor, his eyes wide as he looked at his older self who was also staring at Rose in silence. “But that would...so where is he?”

Rose fidgeted briefly before looking up with a steely look on her face. “He passed away a long time ago,” she said.

“Long time…?” asked the Tenth Doctor weakly before he abruptly went quiet and then looked at his Eighth self who was standing tensely, as if waiting to jump between his older selves and Rose if need be.

“Someone explain plainly what the hell is going on,” said the Ninth Doctor, his eyes glittering dangerously.

“I married you,” said Rose, looking at him. “Well, technically a human-Time Lord biological metacrisis version of you. But still the Doctor.” She turned to the Tenth Doctor who looked pale. “After you left us in the parallel world, things were fine. For a while, at least. But the metacrisis failed. He…” Rose’s voice shook and the Doctors could fill in the gaps themselves.

“Oh, Rose,” said the Tenth Doctor, moving towards her but Rose took a step back, stopping him in his tracks.

The Eighth Doctor moved to her side silently and took her hand. She smiled gratefully at him and took a deep breath before continuing.

“I also realised that I wasn’t ageing,” she said, looking at their clasped hands as she spoke.

“How?” asked the Eleventh Doctor. Unlike the Ninth and Tenth Doctors who looked positively pale and shaky, he was relatively calm, his green eyes sharp and focused on her.

Rose shrugged. “Bad Wolf,” she said, by way of answer.

“What…? the Ninth Doctor started to ask, but the Tenth Doctor cut him off.

“You’ll know soon enough,” he said impatiently, looking at Rose to finish telling her story.

“Well, I had a vortex manipulator and a universe to explore, so I was fine,” she said, smiling brightly though it fell away when the Eighth Doctor made a noise of dissent.

“What?” demanded the Tenth Doctor, looking at him angrily for interrupting.

The Eighth Doctor glared right back at him. “You left her there,” he snarled. “In that world. With Torchwood.”

The words hung in the air for an inordinate amount of time, until the Tenth Doctor’s jaw clenched in anger, the dimple making an appearance. “What did they do?” he asked, the barely concealed fury of the Oncoming Storm evident in his tone.

“What do you think?” the Eighth Doctor shot back, looking at his older self furiously.

“Enough,” said Rose sharply. “It’s in the past and not something we can change. Besides, that is not why we are here.” She directed the last part to the Eighth Doctor who looked very much like he wanted to argue.

“I don’t bloody care,” said the Tenth Doctor, advancing on her. “Did they hurt you?”

Rose bit the inside of her cheek, trying to calm herself down. It didn’t do well for her to lose her temper when the Doctor got like this. One of them had to have a cool head at all times, and it didn’t look like the Doctor was going to calm down anytime soon. She took a few deep breaths, and left the Eighth Doctor’s side to move towards the Tenth Doctor and placed a hand over his cheek gently.

He closed his eyes at the contact and the dimple in his cheek became deeper, making Rose realise that he was trying to calm down as well. She stroked her thumb over his sideburn and with a sigh, he turned his head to touch his lips to her palm and then down to the inside of her wrist, before burying his face in her neck and wrapping his arms tightly around her.

A low cry escaped Rose’s mouth involuntarily as she returned his embrace just as eagerly, eyes falling shut at the feel of those familiar arms around her. She could hear the Doctor holding back sobs as he squeezed her close until she could barely breathe. The impatient shuffling of feet from the others brought her slamming back to the present and she tried to disentangle herself from his arms, but he didn’t seem to want to let her go, and it took several tries and a very pointed throat-clearing from the Eighth Doctor for him to release Rose.

Rose turned to the Eighth Doctor. “Can’t you do your telepathic conference thingy and tell them the rest?” she asked, the pleading note in her eyes evident.

“Of course,” he nodded and looked at his older selves.

The Ninth Doctor looked very much like he wanted to hold Rose the way his Tenth self had, but he seemed to have realised that there was a lot of it he still wasn’t understanding. The Eleventh Doctor, on the other hand, looked calculating, his eyes moving between Rose and his Eighth self in quick succession, though his fists were clenched tightly, which he didn’t seem to be aware of.

The Tenth Doctor had a look on his face that said quite clearly that he wanted to be alone with Rose and talk to her without his other selves interrupting them. He had his hands stuffed in his trouser pockets, as if having them out would mean they would reach for her without his permission.

Rose looked at the Eighth Doctor, who raised his eyebrows to make sure it was fine to share everything with them, and she nodded softly at him. “Alright then,” he told them. “Contact.”

“Contact,” said the Tenth Doctor at once, closing his eyes quickly.

“Contact,” said the Eleventh Doctor, following suit.

The Ninth Doctor looked at Rose and at a small smile from her, he sighed and closed his eyes. “Contact.”

Rose fiddled with her ring while the Doctors were brought up to speed. She looked at the column where the Eleventh Doctor had been scribbling and saw that he had written a series of numbers, which she thought looked like a code. She would have examined it further, but she realised that the Doctors were almost done being caught up. She moved subtly between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors, praying that it wouldn’t come to blows again.

The four Doctors opened their eyes in unison and then glanced at each other briefly before their eyes fell on Rose. They were quiet for an unnerving amount of time, so Rose looked at the Eighth Doctor. “Just how much did you tell them?” she asked.

The tension broke slightly and the Doctors relaxed a little. “Everything from the moment I met you on Karn until we saw them back in the woods,” he answered.

“You fought in the war,” said the Ninth Doctor, looking like he very much was going to pass out. “Oh, my precious girl.” Rose only had a moment’s warning before she was swept up in his arms, feeling the leather-clad arms wrapped solidly around her. She could feel him trembling, but unlike her pinstriped Doctor, she knew that it wasn’t because he was holding back sobs. He was downright furious, and even though she couldn’t see his face, she knew his eyes would be spitting blue fire. She rubbed her hand soothingly over his back, trying to get him to relax but it was only partly helpful.

“It makes no sense,” came the Eleventh Doctor’s quiet voice, which finally got them to separate.

He had moved away from everyone else and was staring at his own hands like he didn’t quite know what they were. Rose looked at him in concern, a look she saw mirrored on the faces of the other Doctors.

“What doesn’t?” asked Rose softly, moving towards him.

He looked at her, and Rose was surprised at the utter devastation she saw in his eyes. “Oh, Rose,” he said and took both of her hands in his. “I always thought...but Karn...and the Moment…” He shook his head and Rose squeezed his hands.

“Use your words, Doctor,” she said and he chuckled a little at that.

“Words, yes,” he said, and then turned to his other selves, still holding onto one of Rose’s hands tightly. “My memories changed some time ago,” he said.

“What?” asked the Tenth Doctor, shocked. “How could that happen?”

The Eleventh Doctor shot him an irritated look for interrupting. “Someone thought it would be good idea to open up my timeline and meddle with it. Thankfully, Clara managed to fix it.” He looked at his other selves pointedly. “You might have seen her. A short brunette. Always scurrying around the edges?”

“Hold on, what?” asked Rose, confused.

“She splintered through time,” said the Eleventh Doctor. “The pieces were scattered throughout my timeline. Fragments of her, other selves of her whom I sometimes met but who always, always died.”

“But how did your timeline change if Clara managed to fix it?” asked Rose curiously.

“I don’t know,” he said. “In the original timeline, you died on Karn,” he told his Eighth self. “You took the potion that the Sisterhood gave you and forced a regeneration onto yourself to become a Warrior. He fought in the war, not you.”

The Eighth Doctor looked incredulous at that and looked at the Ninth and Tenth Doctors who looked equally surprised at that information. “An entirely new regeneration?” asked the Eighth Doctor finally.

“I-I think so,” said the Eleventh Doctor, rubbing his head. “It’s fading now. Like a dream.”

“Or an untapped timeline,” said the Ninth Doctor sharply. “If Clara fell into our timeline, how is she still alive?”

“I got her out of there,” said the Eleventh Doctor.

“You entered our timeline?” thundered the Tenth Doctor. “Have you lost all sense?”

The Eleventh Doctor ignored him. “While I was there, I saw him. The Warrior,” he clarified. “But then he vanished. Like it never happened.”

“It never did,” said the Eighth Doctor. “I was certainly not dying when I was on Karn, though the Sisterhood tried to claim I was. I refused their potion, and like you can see, it’s the last day of the war and I am certainly not wearing a new face yet.”

“Was I there?” asked Rose quietly. “In that old timeline?”

The Eleventh Doctor looked at her sorrowfully and nodded slowly. “You were the interface that the Moment chose. The memory is vague, but the interface looked just like you do now.”

“The Moment doesn’t have an interface,” said Rose, confused. “It’s just a power source.”

“The Moment has a conscience,” corrected the Tenth Doctor and Rose shook her head again.

“The point is,” interjected the Eighth Doctor before Rose could disabuse him of that notion. “None of this ever happened. Either your mind conjured up a whole new self,” he told his Eleventh self. “Or it was an echo of a timeline.”

“When you went into our timeline, did you encounter a sealed nexus of memories?” asked the Tenth Doctor.

“I did,” said the Eleventh Doctor. “It unfurled when our minds touched just now.”

“What was in there?” asked Rose.

“The truth,” he said sadly. “There was no Warrior, there never had been. It had always been me. I was the one who pushed that final button.”

“‘Course it was,” said the Ninth Doctor gruffly, crossing his arms and glaring at the floor. “We aren’t fortunate enough to have a magical regeneration bear all our burdens. We have to carry them on our own.”

“You never have to carry anything alone,” said Rose firmly. She turned to the Eleventh Doctor. “I was there, wasn’t I? With you when you pushed that button?”

The Eleventh Doctor looked over her shoulder discreetly at his Eighth self. An inscrutable look passed between them before he beamed at Rose. “Of course,” he said, taking both her hands and squeezing them. “You were right there with me.”

Rose nodded back, satisfied at that. She looked at the other Doctors behind her, who smiled back at her. “So, you knew all along that you would see me?” she asked the Eleventh Doctor.

“Not until I saw this,” he said, drawing out a yellowed parchment from his purple tweed jacket.

“What is that?” she asked.

“Queen Elizabeth’s love letter for her husband,” sneered the Ninth Doctor, glaring at the Tenth Doctor.

“I said I proposed to her because I thought she was a Zygon,” the Tenth Doctor protested immediately.

“That doesn’t make it sound any better, trust me,” said the Eighth Doctor, looking slightly revolted.

The Tenth Doctor huffed and looked at the Eleventh Doctor and Rose, both of whom looked a little amused. “What does the damn letter say?” he asked.

The Eleventh Doctor handed the parchment to Rose, who opened it with slight trepidation. She really, really did not want to read a letter written to the Doctor by a Queen whom he may or may not have had a dalliance with. The situation was entirely familiar, and for all the wrong reasons.

However, it wasn’t a love letter that she found. It wasn’t even a complete letter. Just two words written plain as a day in Rose’s own writing.

“Bad Wolf,” she read.

The Tenth Doctor made a noise in his throat that may or may not have almost been a giggle and the Eleventh Doctor beamed at her as he took the parchment back and put it back into his pockets after folding it with great care.

The Eighth and the Ninth Doctor were still a little confused. “What is the Bad Wolf?” asked the Eighth Doctor finally.

“It’s not a what,” said the Tenth Doctor, smiling.

“It’s more of a who,” finished the Eleventh Doctor with a pointed look towards Rose.

“You are the Bad Wolf?” asked the Ninth Doctor, looking at Rose in surprise.

“You’ve seen the words, haven’t you?” she asked him shrewdly. “Everywhere we go.”

“Didn’t think it was a name,” he shrugged back. “Not yours in any case.”

Rose smiled sadly. “You, of all people, should know how much more important the name you give yourself is than any name you might be born with,” she said.

“How did this never come up in more than a century we spent together?” wondered the Eighth Doctor.

“You know, I really have no idea,” said Rose. “I think there was simply an overload of titles for us to add even more to that.”

He grinned at her in agreement, and the tension in the air seemed to have all but disappeared when the door to their cell slammed open and a frantic Clara rushed in.

“Oh hello, Clara,” said the Eleventh Doctor as he stood up and smiled at her. “How did you get in?”

“The door was unlocked,” she said and then looked at all of them with wide eyes. “Did neither of you check?”

“Yeah, sorry, think we missed the obvious,” said Rose, standing up from behind them and smiling tentatively at Clara.

“Oh my God,” said Clara, her eyes going wide when she saw her. “You’re Rose Tyler.”

Rose looked taken aback, as did the Doctors. “I’m sorry, have we met?” she asked.

“No,” said Clara quickly. “I just...I recognised you from all the missing persons posters. They were all over the Estate.”

“Missing?” asked Rose before realisation spread across her face. “Yeah, that was his fault,” she said, nodding towards the Ninth Doctor who rolled his eyes fondly at that. “Said it had been twelve hours when it had really been twelve months. Everyone thought I was dead.” She looked at Clara for a moment. “I don’t really remember you seeing around the Estate.”

“Oh, I wasn’t,” said Clara. “We moved to the Estate around the time you went missing and I was only there for a year before I went away for uni. Don’t think our paths ever really crossed.” She bit her lip. “Last I heard was that you were...erm…”

“Dead?” guessed Rose, ignoring the way the Tenth Doctor tensed next to her.

Clara nodded. “The Battle of Canary Wharf,” she said. “Bunch of people from the Estate were gone. So…hang on,” she turned to the Eleventh Doctor. “Your friend, Rose? The same one you told me about?”

“The very same,” said the Eleventh Doctor.

“But...how did you get here?” asked Clara curiously.

“More importantly,” interrupted the Eighth Doctor. “Why wasn’t the door locked?”

“Because I was fascinated to see what you would do upon escaping,” came the voice from the shadows before Queen Elizabeth emerged from them. “I understand you're rather fond of this world. It's time I think you saw what's going to happen to it.”

~

“I don’t like any of this,” murmured the Eighth Doctor in Rose’s ear as Elizabeth led them through the dungeons over to the Zygon control centre. “It’s too…”

“Perfect,” she whispered back and he nodded.

“What are you two whispering about?” asked the Ninth Doctor suspiciously.

“Just admiring the decor,” replied the Eighth Doctor cheerfully. “A bit red, but there you go.”

“The Zygons lost their own world,” Elizabeth was saying, drawing their attention back to her. “It burnt in the first days of the Time War. A new home is required.”

“So they want this one,” nodded Clara.

“Not yet. It's far too primitive. Zygons are used to a certain level of comfort,” said Elizabeth just as a Zygon approached them.

“Commander, why are these creatures here?” it asked.

“Because I say they should be,” said Elizabeth imperiously. “It is time you too were translated.” She turned back to the others. “Observe this. I believe you will find it fascinating.”

The Zygon put its hand on the glass cube and vanished, reappearing in a 3D painting nearby.

“A stasis cube,” said Rose. “Very clever.”

“What’s that?” asked Clara.

“Time Lord art,” answered the Ninth Doctor brusquely. “Frozen instants in time, bigger on the inside, but could be deployed as…”

“Suspended animation,” finished the Eleventh Doctor. “Oh, that's very good. The Zygons all pop inside the pictures, wait a few centuries till the planet's a bit more interesting, and then out they come.”

“May I ask why you would tell us all this, Your Majesty?” asked the Eighth Doctor, looking at Elizabeth.

“Because she is a fake,” said the Tenth Doctor, rounding on her. “Do you know why? Because the real Elizabeth would never be stupid enough to reveal her own plan. Honestly, why would you do that?”

“Because it's not my plan. And I am the real Elizabeth,” she said, fixing him with a glare.

“So how did you defeat your duplicate then?” asked the Ninth Doctor suspiciously, still not convinced.

“Honestly Doctor,” interrupted Rose, shaking her head. “She’s the Queen. She probably carries a knife at all times.”

“A dagger, actually,” said Elizabeth, regarding Rose with a pleased look.

“Even better,” nodded Rose. “May I see it?”

Elizabeth nodded back and pulled out the small dagger from the folds of her heavy clothing and handed it to Rose.

Rose examined it briefly and walked up to her to return it, but instead of putting it back in Elizabeth’s outstretched hand, she pinned her against the nearest wall and held the dagger at her throat.

“ROSE!” shouted the Tenth Doctor but Rose smirked at Elizabeth.

“Do you want to change back or should I make you?” she asked.

“Let go of me,” shrieked Elizabeth. “I am the Queen and I shall have your head for this.”

“You are not the Queen, not even close,” said Rose, glaring viciously at her. “Do you know how I know? Because I was there. At the fall of Zygor.” Elizabeth stopped struggling and looked at Rose with wide eyes. “When you spend your days tending to Zygons as they die, you pick up on things. So, don’t insult us both, and change back into your usual form.”

She released Elizabeth and stepped back, throwing the dagger to the ground. There was utter silence before Elizabeth slowly morphed into a Zygon.

“You were there at the fall of Zygor?” hissed the Zygon.

“I was,” nodded Rose. “We tried to save as many as we could, but the Neverpeople had ravaged it far too much before we could stop them. I know we sent off the survivors to safe zones as best we could, and I guess you lot were some of them.”

“We fell through the cracks,” said the Zygon. “Fell to Earth in this primitive time.”

“I understand,” said Rose and looked back at the Eighth Doctor who nodded. “You can go into your painting then. We’ll see you in a few centuries.”

“Won’t the humans resist?” asked the Zygon.

“Not if you work together to co-exist instead of colonising the planet,” said the Eighth Doctor.

The Zygon gave a short nod. “Very well,” it said and placed a hand on the cube. It vanished from the control centre and reappeared in the painting behind them.

“Blimey,” said Clara. “So, where’s the real Queen Elizabeth?”

“I don’t think she is here at all,” said the Eighth Doctor, crossing his arms over his chest. “Both those Queens we saw were Zygons. Intended to trick us, no doubt.”

“But why?” asked Clara.

“You saw them, they are terrified that the humans would rather start a war than coexist with them,” said Rose. “I’m pretty sure they wanted ‘Queen Elizabeth’ to charge the Doctor with defending the kingdom.”

“And by that, defend Earth from a war between humans and Zygons,” nodded the Eleventh Doctor and then clapped his Tenth self on the shoulder. “No wonder she wanted your head. When the real Queen returns, the kingdom will be rife about you having plans to marry her.”

The Tenth Doctor shot him a glare. “Oh, do shut up,” he snapped.

“I don’t know if this is a good time to say this,” interrupted Clara. “But Kate was a Zygon.”

“Yes, I thought she might be,” said the Eleventh Doctor. “Come on, gang, let’s go back to the TARDIS.”

“Gang?” mouthed Rose to the Eighth Doctor, who was looking at the Eleventh Doctor in disgust along with the other two Doctors.

Regardless, they started to find their way out of the dungeons and towards the Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS, but Rose felt one of the Doctors grab her arm lightly and pull her behind the rest. She turned around and saw that it was the Tenth Doctor, who smiled tentatively at her.

“Doctor, what--?” she started to ask but he cupped her face and stopped her words by kissing her softly.

The others stopped walking and turned around but the two of them didn’t notice as Rose melted into the kiss slowly, her hands tangled lightly in his really, really great hair. He made a soft noise in his throat at that, wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her up slightly so that she didn’t have to rise on her tiptoes as much. Rose had her arms around his neck for balance and when her lungs burned with the need to breathe, she let her head fall to his shoulder.

“Wanted to do that since the moment I saw you,” he murmured in her ear as he set her down carefully.

She regarded him with a sly smile. “You thought I was a Zygon when you first saw me,” she reminded him.

“Wellll,” he said in that all-too-familiar way, a wide cheshire grin on his face and Rose couldn’t help but smile back.

“If you two are done,” came the irritated Northern voice and Rose jumped slightly, having forgotten that they had been in the middle of something.

“Right,” she said, disentangling herself from the Tenth Doctor and fighting the blush she could feel rising in her cheeks. “Back to the TARDIS then?”

Chapter Text

The TARDIS had been moved into Elizabeth’s quarters, and it only took a very reluctant Tenth Doctor ordering the guards to let him and his friends into his future bride’s quarters for them to get inside. He frowned dramatically once they had gotten past the guards and was trying to catch Rose’s eye but she had moved towards the ornate desk in the corner and was biting her lip in concentration. The Eighth Doctor walked up to her and whispered something in her ear too low for anyone else to hear and she nodded quickly.

“What are they doing?” asked Clara, looking at the Eleventh Doctor in question.

“Writing a very important letter,” said the Eleventh Doctor, having caught on better than his Ninth and Tenth selves. “Well then, let’s go into your TARDIS, sandshoes,” he added with a grin at his Tenth self who rolled his eyes.

“You better not have changed the inside,” said the Ninth Doctor as the Tenth Doctor unlocked the TARDIS.

“I haven’t,” said the Tenth Doctor absently, still watching Rose and his Eighth self. “Rose liked it. I did too.”

Rose had finished scribbling the words on the parchment and was now blowing on it to dry the ink before she could roll up the parchment. The Eighth Doctor was melting wax over a candle so they could duplicate Elizabeth’s seal and have the ‘love letter’ written. Once they had the letter tightly sealed, Rose picked it up and handed it to the Tenth Doctor.

“You might want to get one of the guards to put this…” She looked at the Eleventh Doctor in question.

“In the Under Gallery,” he said promptly.

The Tenth Doctor looked none too pleased about having to play up the role of Elizabeth’s future husband, but he took the letter from Rose and went outside to speak to the guards. He returned moments later, scowling in irritation.

“Now that this is all done,” he said, leading the way into his TARDIS. “I think we have a war to stop.”

They filtered into the TARDIS with the coral background and Rose felt a wave of nostalgia pass over her before the warm welcoming hum of the TARDIS brightened in her mind. She grinned as she walked over to the console and placed her hands on the rotor, which moved gently as if acknowledging her touch.

“She’s missed you,” said the Tenth Doctor, watching Rose with longing.

Rose went pink but before she could respond coherently to it, she noticed the way both the Eighth and Ninth Doctors had stiffened. They were both looking at the console and Rose realised that the green glow of the coral that had always been so familiar to her was that way only because of the Eighth Doctor ripping out the wood panelling in his rage about Susan’s death. It brought her crashing back to the reason why they were here in the first place and she felt the joy seep out of her. It was too easy, she decided as she moved quietly to stand between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors, to think of this as just another adventure in the TARDIS.

The Ninth Doctor sighed and held her hand tightly, entwining their fingers together. The Eighth Doctor was immobile, and Rose shifted lightly to rest her head on his shoulder, still holding onto the Ninth Doctor’s hand. Clara seemed a little confused at the suddenly subdued air in the TARDIS and looked at her Doctor, who had taken one look at Rose and his younger selves and then gone back to examining the console. She had so many questions she wanted to ask him, but the TARDIS console room they were in shifted sharply to one with roundels and partial wood panelling before turning back into the one she was familiar with.

“What’s happening?” asked Clara.

“It’s the TARDIS trying to compensate for the paradox,” said the Tenth Doctor in explanation as he examined the dim, blue lighting and the white rotor with the Gallifreyan writing on it. “You’ve redecorated.”

“I don’t like it,” said the Ninth Doctor gruffly. “It’s too…”

“Blue,” finished the Eighth Doctor. “And flashy.”

The Eleventh Doctor made a face, but didn’t rebuke them. “Right then, 21st century, London, here we go,” he said, throwing two levers down in synchronisation. The TARDIS started to dematerialise but then seemed to stall, groaning pitifully as if in pain. “Well, that’s not supposed to happen,” he frowned.

The Ninth Doctor left Rose’s side and went over to the controls. “She can’t seem to land for some reason,” he said, examining the console.

The Eighth Doctor’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Did you try—?”

“Yes,” said the Eleventh Doctor.

“What about the—?” asked the Tenth Doctor.

“Yes,” said the Eleventh Doctor irritably, glaring at his younger selves. “If you have thought of it, it means that I have thought of it too. And tried it. But it’s not working.”

“Maybe ‘cos Kate told me that the Black Archives were TARDIS-proofed,” interrupted Clara. The Doctors stopped glaring at each other and turned to Clara. “Okay, so you have heard of that.”

“Space-Time telegraph,” said the Ninth Doctor, looking at his other selves.

“Oh, does that mean the Brigadier is still…” The Eighth Doctor’s enthusiasm died down when he saw the look on his Eleventh self’s face. “Right,” he nodded sadly.

“It’s his daughter in charge,” said the Ninth Doctor.

“Kate?” asked the Eighth Doctor. “Surely, she wouldn’t…”

“Let’s hope not,” said the Tenth Doctor as the Eleventh Doctor activated the Space-Time telegraph.

“Too late,” said the Eleventh Doctor. “She’s already started the countdown. Five minutes and counting down.”

“Kate, listen to me,” said the Ninth Doctor. “We know about the Black Archives and the bloody security protocol. Turn it off before you do something unbelievably stupid.”

“I'm sorry, Doctor,” came Kate’s voice. “I can’t do that.”

“Kate, please,” said the Eleventh Doctor, pleadingly. “Just listen to me!”

While the Doctors tried to get Kate to see sense, the Eighth Doctor glanced at Rose. “Well?” he asked her.

Rose met his gaze and nodded shortly. “Might work,” she said.

“Not very reassuring,” he said.

“Best thing we’ve got now,” she countered.

“Mind letting us know what you two are going on about?” asked the Ninth Doctor, regarding them with narrowed eyes.

“Right,” said Rose, striding towards the console purposefully. “Cut the Space-Time telegraph and stand back.”

“What are you—?” the Tenth Doctor asked but she paid him no mind.

“I said, get back,” she ordered calmly, placing her hands on the console. The rotor whirred to a stop and the dim blue light in the console room went even dimmer before being engulfed in a burnt orange light. The Doctors glanced at Rose and found her focusing on the console, her eyes half-closed.

“What is she…?” Clara started to ask, only to be shushed by the Eighth Doctor who was hovering near Rose as if to make sure she was alright.

The time fissure opened slowly and sluggishly, and Rose could be seen trembling visibly with the effort of controlling it. They could hear the ominous beeping of the countdown coming from the other side and with gritted teeth, Rose opened her eyes and stabilised the portal.

“Through it, quick,” said the Eighth Doctor, propelling everyone into action. “She will be alright, just move!” he added when his older selves seemed to hesitate.

The Eleventh Doctor took charge and jumped into the portal first, pulling Clara after him. At an insistent look from the Eighth Doctor, his Ninth and Tenth selves went through the portal. The Eighth Doctor could see Rose weakening and he grabbed her as the two of them jumped through the portal together.

“Go ahead, she’ll be fine,” said the Eighth Doctor, holding Rose to him as they arrived safely in the Black Archives.

The other three Doctors seemed reluctant to leave but the giant clock counting down left them with little choice and they went out to the table where Kate and a Zygon duplicate of Kate were sat. The Eighth Doctor supported Rose and led her to the small break room, which contained a solitary stuffed recliner and piles of packed boxes.

“Rose,” he murmured, sitting down on the recliner and pulling her onto his lap so she could lie down. “Can you hear me?”

She nodded slowly and nuzzled her face into his chest. “Give me a minute,” she slurred.

He stroked her back until she stopped trembling. “Feel better?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “It seems more difficult than I remember.”

“It’s because we are out of the Time Lock,” he said. “Without Gallifrey, or rather the stability of a well-maintained Web of Time, channelling the vortex will be difficult. Not to mention, the actual power source is so far away from us, relatively speaking.”

Rose nodded. “I’ll need some more time before I will be strong enough to attempt a return,” she said.

“I know,” he said and stroked her hair. “Take as long as you need.”

“Did you learn what you wanted to know?” she asked, closing her eyes under his gentle ministrations.

“Yes and no,” he said.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

He smiled gently. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I know the important things.”

“Such as?” asked Rose persistently.

“Such as I was right,” he said. “I do still miss you very much.”

Rose looked up at him. “What about the bow tied Doctor? He’s been looking at me like I’m a box of riddles and not the fun kind either,” she pointed out.

“You looked cosy with the pinstriped idiot, though,” he grumbled. “Even Big Ears over there. Do I really become him?”

“That was the first you I met,” said Rose fondly, looking at the Ninth Doctor who was apparently rolling his eyes at whatever one of the Kates was saying. “Believe it or not, you were worse when we first met. If I am guessing the timeline right, I am off with my mates for a drink and I invited you along to which you said you didn’t want to come and watch a bunch of apes getting sloshed. Or something like that. It was a long time ago.”

The Eighth Doctor looked even unhappier at that. “And the pretty boy?” he asked.

Rose raised her eyebrows at him. “You know, you really can’t go calling other men pretty,” she said pointedly.

“I am handsome,” he pointed out primly. “He looks like he escaped from a mental asylum.”

Rose chuckled and he grinned at seeing her smile. “What’s the other thing you learned?” she asked.

“That whatever happens now, I still remain the Doctor,” he said. “Annoying and not as good looking versions of me,” he amended with a grin. “But still me.”

Rose smiled but didn’t say she could have told him as much because she knew he would have needed to see it for himself to understand. “Good,” she said instead. “I’m glad.”

He smiled back tenderly and kissed her forehead. Their rare moment of quiet was broken by a loud, angry comment from Kate.

“If this is the way things are going, then I am afraid we can’t reach an acceptable agreement between Zygons and humans,” she said furiously.

Rose sighed and started climbing off the Doctor. “Looks like my area of expertise, doesn’t it?” she said, when he made a low noise of protest.

“Yes, of course,” he agreed.

“Be right back,” she said and then walked out of the tiny break room.

The Eighth Doctor watched Rose join the negotiations between the Zygons and the humans and bit back a sigh. She was made for this life, he thought, as she efficiently began calming both parties down and effectively got the negotiations back on track. He raised his eyebrows when his Eleventh self ambled over and sat down next to him.

“Something you needed?” asked the Eighth Doctor.

The Eleventh Doctor fiddled with his bow tie for a few moments and didn’t answer. “How soon do you have to return?” he asked.

“As soon as Rose feels up to it, I suppose,” he shrugged, watching his older self carefully. “But that’s not what you wanted to ask me.”

“No,” said the Eleventh Doctor, but didn’t elaborate.

The Eighth Doctor shook his head. “Just spit it out,” he said, irritably. “The silence is driving me insane.”

The Eleventh Doctor glared at him, and the Eighth Doctor finally saw the weight of his age in those really young eyes. “She is not going to be happy with what you are planning,” he said finally.

The Eighth Doctor glared right back. “And you suggest that I not do it?” he demanded, keeping his voice low but furious all the same. “Have you lost your mind?” Then his brow furrowed. “Unless,” he began tentatively. “You don’t...I mean, about Rose…”

“Watch your tongue,” snapped the Eleventh Doctor, his voice like ice. “You have no inkling of what she means to me.”

The Eighth Doctor wasn’t deterred. “How would I?” he asked. “Those two can barely take their eyes off her, but you look like you are seeing a puzzle. Nothing but a puzzle.”

The Eleventh Doctor chuckled without humour. “A puzzle?” he asked. “See, the thing about me is that I love puzzles. You should know, you are me after all. But Rose is not a puzzle.” His voice hardened. “She is not something to be solved or analysed. I have spent so long without her and there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t felt her absence like a shard in my hearts. So, don’t you ever assume that I am looking at her like a puzzle or that I don’t want her safe. You would be very, very wrong if you ever thought that.” All of this was spoken in a quiet whisper but the Eighth Doctor felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise just the same.

“I thought I would never see her again,” murmured the Eleventh Doctor, no longer in that harsh voice, but a soft, sad tone. “I was so tempted to cross my timeline, just to catch a glimpse of her smile. There were times I had the coordinates in...but I didn’t. Because I knew I wouldn’t stop at a glimpse. But do you know what the worst part is?” He looked at his Eighth self who was watching him intently. “The worst part is the person I became without her. The very thing you were afraid of becoming in the war when you didn’t have her. I became selfish, so very selfish. I put my pain above everything. Above the safety of the universe, above the lives of my companions, above every promise we made to ourselves.”

The Eighth Doctor looked pale. “Then how can you not want me doing what I am about to do?” he asked.

“I never said I didn’t,” said the Eleventh Doctor. “How long have you loved Rose? A century? I spent two of those without her. Do you know what that’s like? Loving someone for so long and not having them by your side? I do. It hurts. It hurts more than you think it would. I longed for a regeneration that wouldn’t feel her absence, I wished I was a man who would look back on her as nothing but a memory, but like the grumpy leather one said, we are not that fortunate. I missed her so much. But I had some consolation that at least she was happy and safe. Now I know even that isn’t true. That what I did was so much worse. Imagine doing that to someone you loved as much as we love Rose.”

The Eleventh Doctor was breathing heavily but his Eighth self was looking past him at the doorway. The Eleventh Doctor felt his hearts stutter and he turned around to see Rose standing there, tears rolling down her cheeks and a hand clapped to her mouth.

“Rose,” he said, getting to his feet and trying to plaster a smile onto his face.

“Give us a minute?” She directed the question to his Eighth self who raised his eyebrows but got up and walked past her, touching her shoulder as he did.

The Eleventh Doctor looked like a deer caught in headlights as Rose walked up to him and placed a shaking hand between his hearts. He relaxed at her touch but his hearts were still pounding underneath her hand, belying his nervousness.

“I’m sorry,” said Rose.

He looked taken aback. “No, no, I am sorry, Rose,” he said, moving closer to her without thought. “You have nothing to apologise for.”

“You don’t have to apologise either,” said Rose, realising that the distance between them was almost non-existent. “There have been too many apologies already.”

“I agree,” he said, resting his forehead on hers.

“Doctor,” she murmured, inches away from his lips.

“Yes?” he asked, his eyes closing as he waited — no, hoped — for her to kiss him.

“I like the bow tie,” she whispered and kissed his smile. She felt his fingers comb through her hair as he kissed her back, the feel of those new lips becoming familiar again when he brushed his lips over her cheeks, brows and nose before returning to her lips and kissing her exactly the way he knew she liked. “And,” she said, pulling back slightly to look up at him. “I missed you too.”

He beamed at her and bent his head to kiss her again but a nervous throat clearing from Clara interrupted them. “Sorry,” she said, her eyes wide as she looked between them. “Rose, they need you back there again. Something about negotiating disguise protocols.”

“Right,” said Rose, leaving the Eleventh Doctor’s embrace. “I’ll just go and fix that.” She smiled gently at the Doctor and went back to where the negotiations were happening.

Clara looked at her Doctor, at the sorrow and longing on his face, and felt her heart squeeze painfully. “You love her,” she said.

“I always have,” he admitted.

“But she is going to leave, isn’t she?” asked Clara.

“Yes,” he sighed.

“And you are fine with that?” she asked incredulously.

“No,” he said and then smiled at her. “Of course, I am not fine with that, Clara Oswald. I have finally found her after so long. I don’t plan on losing her again and it doesn’t matter what I have to do to make it happen.”

Clara nodded and gave him a gentle smile. “Did you find out what was in that box?” she asked.

His eyes softened. “I did,” he said but wouldn’t say anymore.

Clara didn’t push. She left him in the break room with his thoughts and returned to the negotiations. Rose was standing with her arms crossed, shaking her head.

“We can’t have Zygons wandering into human inhabited areas,” Kate was saying. “There would be chaos.”

“Zygons will not be confined to their dwellings like prisoners,” insisted the Zygon Commander.

“The Zygons have excellent camouflage devices,” interjected Rose. “It will not be too difficult to create a system where any Zygon who wishes to venture outside their dwellings has to register with a UNIT office in the area. Like a visa when you visit countries abroad.”

“What if Zygons do not wish to be confined to their dwellings at all?” challenged the Zygon Commander while Kate pondered Rose’s idea thoughtfully.

“Then they would have to wear their disguise, but I think UNIT should be able to provide them with the necessary papers to create new human identities,” said Rose. “Like a reverse witness protection program.”

Clara marvelled at how easily she said it, as if she had done this a hundred times. Both Kate and the Zygon Commander seemed to be considering her suggestions. What got Clara the most was the proud look on the faces of the Doctors as they looked at Rose. When her Doctor has first mentioned Rose, he had called her his friend. Now it was plain to see that she was much, much more than a friend. Clara blushed as she thought of the Tenth Doctor snogging Rose, and the passion that had been behind it, making her wonder how close they had really been.

“That could work,” said Kate slowly.

“Yes,” agreed the Zygon Commander.

“We have a lot of work to do before we have anything functional,” amended Kate hastily.

“But we do have a place to start,” said the Zygon Commander.

“Excellent,” said Rose with a grin, leaving them to their negotiations once again.

Clara walked over to the Eighth Doctor who had found an armchair in the corner and had been watching Rose with a small smile. With her own Doctor still back in the break room and the Ninth and Tenth Doctors and Rose wandering to different parts of the Black Archives, she quickly made her way towards the Eighth Doctor and sat down on the rickety coffee table in front of him.

“Hello,” she said. “I'm Clara. I think I brushed past you in a park once.”

The Eighth Doctor regarded her with a small smile. “1968, wasn’t it?” he asked. “I remember it was a particularly nasty Hoix that was giving Charley and I a proper chase.”

Clara didn’t know what a Hoix was or even who Charley was, but she smiled back just the same. “Could you-I mean, how did you…?”

The Eighth Doctor raised his eyebrows. “How did I what?” he asked.

“Get here?” asked Clara.

“The same way we got here from the TARDIS,” he said. “A time fissure created using a power source known as the Moment.”

“The Moment,” repeated Clara. “What’s it for?”

He looked down at his hands thoughtfully. “It’s to end a war,” he said.

“The Time War,” she guessed, looking at him with wide eyes. “You haven’t done it yet. It's still in your future.”

“Yes,” he said.

“And Rose?” she asked.

“Rose plans to be by my side, just as she has over the last century or so,” he said with a sigh.

“But you’re not planning to let that happen,” guessed Clara shrewdly.

“You’re very sure of yourself,” he said, raising his eyebrows.

“You love her,” she said. “Even my Doctor. I saw him when he looked at her. You couldn’t let her die with you. Because that’s what is going to happen, isn’t it? It’s going to kill you.”

“Death, my dear Clara,” he said with a sad smile. “Death is very easy. But I won’t die. I will live on. Because that is my punishment and it will be my burden to bear in the days to come.”

“But you can change it,” she said earnestly. “You can keep Rose safe and you don’t have to destroy your people. You’ve seen your future selves and the guilt they carry. Why not change it then?”

He chuckled a little. “Change it to what, exactly?” he asked, but it didn’t sound like he was mocking her. “The future is so because of the decision I made. How many worlds have I saved since, do you think?” Clara didn’t answer and the Eighth Doctor regarded her warmly. “Look over there. Humans and Zygons working together in peace.” He sighed sadly and sat back. “Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame, whatever the cost.”

Clara’s eyes filled with tears as she saw the utter sadness in his eyes. He smiled at her and tapped her nose lightly.

“Don’t cry for me, Clara Oswald,” he said. “After a long time, I finally have clarity about what I have to do.”

~

“That scowl will become permanent if you keep doing that,” said Rose dryly as she leaned against the desk next to the Ninth Doctor.

“Look at all these things,” he said, waving his hand at all the artefacts. “They shouldn’t have half of them.”

“Yeah well, humans never did know better,” shrugged Rose.

The Doctor looked at her and shook his head. “And this over here,” he said, leading her to a corkboard that had pictures of various companions pinned to them. “Where do they get off keeping a record of this?”

Rose was staring at the picture of a teenaged Susan and didn’t answer immediately. “They have to keep track,” she said slowly. “Mankind will touch every star one day, you said. They can hardly do it in one day. People who have been out there and seen all those wonderful, terrible things and returned back to Earth with all that knowledge are invaluable.”

“Not all of them return,” said the Ninth Doctor darkly. Rose rested her head on his shoulder and didn’t say anything. “What did I do to you, Rose Tyler?” he asked, after a long moment.

Rose closed her eyes briefly before looking up at him steadily. “You saw something special in a shop girl from London and more importantly, you helped me see it,” she said. “I never regretted meeting you and if I had to do it again, I still would.” He stared at her strangely and Rose’s lips quirked up. “And you know I am a bad liar so you know I am telling the truth.”

He cupped her face, just as he had in that church back in 1987 and allowed his manic grin to light up his face. Rose couldn’t help but beam back at him and buried her face in his leather-clad chest as he wrapped his arms around her tightly.

“The negotiations are going well,” said the Tenth Doctor as he walked up to them, making them break apart slowly. “You were amazing,” he told Rose.

“Yeah, well, a century or so of dealing with the High Council has given me incredible patience. Valyes makes Zygons look like a walk in the park,” she said and then could have smacked herself when she saw them both visibly flinch.

The awkward silence hung in the air, before it was the Ninth Doctor who spoke. “I remember nicking one of his ridiculous hats and replacing the fabric padding with metallic filling. He couldn’t figure out why he had a backache the day after,” he said.

The Tenth Doctor laughed shakily and even Rose managed to giggle at that. “Hope you didn’t get caught,” she said.

“Nah,” said the Tenth Doctor, regaining some of his enthusiasm. “I think he blamed some of the upperclassmen for that.”

“Borusa knew though,” said the Eleventh Doctor, as he joined them. “Made us work in the archives for a full relative year.”

“Yeah, remember that one painfully,” said the Ninth Doctor with a groan.

“Why was it painful?” asked Rose, her eyes wide with confusion.

“Because it was the most boring punishment ever,” said the Tenth Doctor. “I would have rather written a thesis about it, but Borusa was insistent.”

“I think he was insistent because he knew how much we hated doing it,” said the Eleventh Doctor. “All that order,” he shuddered dramatically.

They all shared a small laugh over it, which wasn’t completely joyful but wasn’t as sad as it could have been either.

“Reminds me of Tony,” said Rose, her voice shaking only a little as she spoke. “My little brother,” she added for the sake of the Ninth Doctor. “Mum always made him do chores as punishment instead of timeouts.” It had been years since she had spoken about Tony to anyone, even the Doctor, and she was surprised that she wasn’t as swamped with sadness as she expected to be.

“Could imagine Jackie doing that,” said the Ninth Doctor with a shudder. “Poor old Tony Tyler.”

“Oh, he was a right cheeky monkey,” said Rose with a grin. “Got along with the Doct—” she stopped abruptly and fidgeted with her wedding ring out of habit. “Got along with the Doctor like houses on fire every time we were in London,” she finished, proud of herself for not stumbling again.

“You, uh, you didn’t live in London?” asked the Eleventh Doctor hesitatingly.

Rose shook her head with a small smile. “Travelled all over the place. Only time we were in London was to check up on the TARDIS coral or holidays and things,” she said. “Mum wasn’t best pleased, especially since we eloped after only a month and didn’t return for three whole months after that.”

“Eloped?” squeaked the Tenth Doctor.

“Got married in international waters when we were investigating a Bermuda triangle sort of thing near Papua New Guinea,” she said.

She would have said more but she didn’t feel like rehashing the details of her life with her Doctor. Those moments felt more private than anything else, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to discuss them now even though technically they were the same man. Maybe if they’d had more than these short, stolen moments, she would have felt better about opening up, but the task that awaited her and the Eighth Doctor on Gallifrey was still hanging over her like a heavy cloud. She looked for him and found him talking to Clara.

The other Doctors seemed to have noticed her attention drifting but they didn’t say anything. Rose knew there would be guilt in their eyes if she looked, but if these were the last memories they would have of her, she didn’t want to leave them feeling guilty. So, she buried her hurt and smiled brightly. “So, do you think UNIT has some tea around here? Haven’t had tea in decades,” she said.

“Decades?” asked the Tenth Doctor. “Oh, that is just shameful, that is. A good cuppa is what you need, Rose Tyler.”

“Are we talking about tea?” asked the Eighth Doctor as he and Clara walked over to them. “If so, I could definitely use a cuppa.”

“I think the break room back there has some,” said Rose, nodding towards the tiny room.

“Ah, excellent, excellent,” he said. “Coming then?”

“Fetching your tea now, am I?” asked Rose teasingly.

“I wouldn’t mind if you were,” he teased back with a smirk as he boldly took her arm.

Rose started slightly at the action and the Doctor’s smirk softened when their eyes met. With a small nod, the two of them found themselves back on Gallifrey.

“Bet it was a shock for them,” said Rose, looking around the shed and finding the box containing the power source sitting innocuously just where they had left it.

“They knew what we were doing,” he said, smiling sadly. “Besides, I hate goodbyes.”

“I know,” said Rose.

“Yes, I suppose you do,” he murmured and drew out his old sonic screwdriver that he hadn’t used in years. “Let’s see what’s in box number one, shall we?”

Rose didn’t smile at his attempt at humour. Her eyes were fixed on the box and the gears on top of it, which started shifting when the Doctor pointed his sonic screwdriver at it. A long stem of metal rose out of it bearing a gold encased globe on top of it. The Doctor lowered his sonic screwdriver and the globe started unfurling slowly, the metal falling open like petals to reveal the ruby red gem in its depth.

“Now it’s just mocking me,” said Rose, looking at the Moment, which looked less like a power source and more like a rose.

“At least there is a big red button,” said the Doctor quietly. “Something to be said about classics.”

Rose looked at him tearfully but he was looking behind her at the empty shed with a frown. “What’s wrong?” asked Rose.

He didn’t answer but his expression cleared a moment later when a low, wheezing noise echoed through the shed. Rose’s eyes went wide and she turned to him in horror as the TARDIS started materialising inside the shed.

“Doctor,” she said, aghast. “What have you done?”

Chapter Text

Previously

“What’s wrong?” asked Rose.

He didn’t answer but his expression cleared a moment later when a low, wheezing noise echoed through the shed. Rose’s eyes went wide and she turned to him in horror as the TARDIS started materialising inside the shed.

“Doctor,” she said, aghast. “What have you done?”

He didn’t answer immediately, choosing to take both her hands in his instead. “Rose,” he murmured.

Rose stared at him in disbelief. “How can they be here?” she asked, her voice shaking.

“I broke the Time Lock,” he said softly.

“What?” asked Rose hoarsely. “Have you utterly lost your mind? With the Time Lock broken, what’s to stop the war from spilling into the rest of the universe? How could you be so careless?”

He didn’t look annoyed, merely pensive in the face of her anger. “I only created a small tear,” he said. “Enough for one TARDIS to get through. The war won’t be spilling into the universe, Rose, I promise you.”

Rose looked far from placated. “But why?” she asked. “Why would you want them here?”

The TARDIS had landed and the three older Doctors emerged from it with Clara not far behind. Rose did not look at them, choosing to keep her eyes fixed on the Eighth Doctor, who seemed to be steeling himself for saying his next words.

“I want you to go, Rose,” he said.

“No,” said Rose reflexively.

The Eighth Doctor tightened his grip on her hands. “The power source can be operated without your help. There is no need for you to be here.” When Rose continued to stare at him in shock, he mustered up a weak smile. “Please, Rose,” he said. “This isn’t any easier for me…”

Rose snatched her hands away from his and glared at him. “Oh no,” she said, her voice rising in her anger. “Trust me, this comes to you far too easily.”

Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors flinch, but the anger, the anger that had built over all these years, was finally coursing through every fibre of her being.

“How long have you planned on leaving me behind? The minute we got the Moment? As soon as we realised that I was the Moment?” she demanded, the vortex energy crackling around her furiously. “Or when you lied right to my face and told me that you wanted to see your future selves when all you wanted to create a viable fissure to break open the Time Lock?”

“I just want you safe,” said the Eighth Doctor, his own voice rising in uncharacteristic anger.

“Don’t you think I get a say in any of it?” asked Rose. “All these years, we have been right by each others’ side and now of all times you decide to take this upon yourself and send me away because you want me safe?” She waved an enraged hand towards the older Doctors. “Ask them how it went each time they tried to send me away for my safety.”

The Eighth Doctor did not spare his older selves a glance. “In a few moments, I am about to have so much blood on my hands that I shall never, I repeat never, have them clean again,” he said, his voice trembling though he still looked furious. “If you think I am going to have your blood on my hands as well, then you know nothing about me after all these years.”

“We don’t know if I will die,” shouted Rose.

“I can’t take that risk,” he shouted back. “I will not let you die.”

Rose deflated suddenly. “What if I want to?” she asked, sounding exhausted.

“Rose,” murmured the Tenth Doctor painfully but neither the Eighth Doctor nor Rose paid him any mind.

Rose seemed to shrink in on herself, her young face looking so old yet more vulnerable than any of the Doctors had ever seen her. “What if I want it to be the end? Just this one time.”

The Eighth Doctor seemed too stunned to move at first, but then he propelled into action and wrapped his arms around Rose tightly. “Don’t say that,” he murmured into her neck. “Please, please, don’t say that.”

Rose started shaking with stifled sobs. “I am so tired, Doctor,” she said. “I watched my husband wither and die, my family murdered. I endured years of torture, spent decades all on my own, fought in this war for over a hundred years. I need it to stop now. Please, I just want it to stop. For once, I want to close my eyes and not open them ever again.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” he repeated, tightening his grip on her painfully. “You can’t give up. I love you too much to ever lose you. A universe without you is not something I would want to live in.”

Rose pulled away and looked at him with a watery smile. “But you will see me, won’t you?” she asked, nodding towards the Ninth Doctor. “When you are him, you will meet me when I was younger. Let me have this, Doctor. In a few moments, I’ll be nothing but a memory.”

“I refuse,” he said stubbornly. “I absolutely refuse to let you be a memory in the forgotten reaches of my mind. You are much more than that to me.”

“But you won’t remember me if I leave the Time Lock before you press the button,” said Rose. “All the time we spent together will be forgotten.”

“At least, there will be some consolation that you are alive and well. That won’t stop being true even if I no longer remember,” he said. “Please, Rose, I beg you. Please don’t give up. You and I still have so much to do. So much to see.” He grinned weakly, though his eyes were still alarmed. “You have seen how hopeless I am without you.”

“I am tired of fighting,” said Rose.

“So am I,” said the Doctor, smiling sadly as he kissed her forehead gently. “But by the last breath left in my hearts, Rose Tyler, I won’t watch you die here.”

“But you expect me to leave you to die instead?” she asked.

“I won’t die,” he said. “Not really.” His lips quirked up and he cast a look at his three older selves. “Look at that lot with their abysmal fashion sense and absolutely none of my good looks. How do you think I feel, eh? At the prospect of becoming them.”

“I love you anyway,” said Rose sincerely.

“I know,” he said. “Which is why I suppose I won’t mind so much when I do turn into them.” Rose chuckled through her tears and the Doctor grinned at her. “Say you will go, Rose,” he pleaded.

Rose looked pained, but at his beseeching eyes, she nodded shortly. His answering grin was bright and beautiful and he kissed her like he never had before. There was a bitter taste of farewell on his mouth as he branded Rose with his goodbye, engraving the final moments of his passion into her heart, thanking her for everything she had done for him, for the war, for his doomed planet and its equally doomed people. He kissed her until even his respiratory bypass seemed to struggle to keep up, until he felt both him and Rose sway with light-headedness, until he was certain that he had gathered enough courage to do what he was about to do.

“Go,” he panted as he rested his forehead on hers. “Go before I lose my courage. Before I keep you with me forever.”

Rose trembled and kept her eyes closed as she backed away until she felt the Eleventh Doctor’s chest at her back and the tweed covered arms wrapped themselves around her waist.

“We have to leave,” he said, keeping a tight grip on Rose.

“But we can’t leave him on his own,” said Clara, tears flowing down her eyes as she looked at the Eighth Doctor, who had turned his back on them and was gazing single-mindedly at the red gem in front of him.

“He won’t be on his own,” said the Ninth Doctor gruffly. “They’ll be here soon.”

“Who?” asked Clara.

The sound echoed loudly as seven blue police boxes started materialising at the other end of the shed, facing the Eighth Doctor. None of the Doctors present seemed surprised, merely resigned.

“What’s happening?” asked Rose, her voice shaking.

“The end,” said the Tenth Doctor grimly. “One that we knew from the beginning.”

“The future has no place in what I must do,” said the Eighth Doctor, his voice oddly blank as he spoke without turning around to look at them. “It was always the past who would accompany me. The future bears the consequences, not the action itself.” His fists clenched and unclenched but he still did not turn around. “Leave.”

The Tenth Doctor moved first, holding the TARDIS door open for the others. The Ninth Doctor gritted his teeth and looked at his Eighth self with a mixture of pity and loathing before walking into the TARDIS with long strides. The Eleventh Doctor was still holding onto Rose and he led her away gently, keeping his grip on her steady even when she turned around a few times to look at the Eighth Doctor who seemed to be fighting every instinct to look at her. The Tenth Doctor and Clara followed them into the TARDIS after shooting pitying looks at the Eighth Doctor.

The TARDIS dematerialised a moment before the other seven TARDISes materialised fully. The Eighth Doctor took a deep breath as his seven younger selves emerged from their respective TARDISes and stood in a semicircle in front of him.

“It has come to this,” said the Third Doctor, looking at the gem instead of any of his selves.

“So it seems,” said the Sixth Doctor, with none of his usual snarkiness.

“We always knew this was where it would come to,” said the First Doctor sternly.

“Yes, we knew it the first time we ever looked into the Untempered Schism,” said the Second Doctor sorrowfully.

“The Last Son of Gallifrey indeed,” murmured the Fifth Doctor.

“Well, get on with it then,” said the Fourth Doctor. “It is yours to do.”

The Seventh Doctor, the most devious of them all, moved forward slightly to look at his Eighth self. “The war is still raging. Soon Rassilon will have enacted the Final Sanction. Make your move, Doctor. Fulfil the future we ran from our whole lives. Earn the true meaning of your title of Ka Faraq Gatri.”

The Eighth Doctor closed his eyes briefly before he raised his hand over the red gem. “Tell me one thing,” he said softly. “Will there ever be forgiveness for what I am going to do?”

Seven voices spoke in unison with the same pity in their voices. “No.”

The Eighth Doctor nodded. “Good,” he said and brought his hand down to the button. “Physician heal thyself.”

The Moment, so aptly named, took only a moment to activate and through the slightly damaged Time Lock, Daleks and Time Lords alike screamed as they burned and burned at the hands of the Doctor. The younger Doctors melted into the times of their past while their Eighth self fell to his knees, screaming at the top of his lungs as he heard the destruction he had brought upon the Time Lords and Daleks, of the fate he had condemned Gallifrey to.

Time sang and rejoiced as the abomination of the Time War started to erase itself from the cosmos and it fought back triumphantly, no longer bound by ambitious Time Lords or temporal weapons of the Daleks. The inferno of the Moment raged through skies and in that tiny little shed, the Doctor was all alone at the Eye of the Storm. He could hear the screams in his head as time consumed everything in its path ruthlessly and there was heat on his skin and he could no longer tell if it had been ten seconds or ten centuries since his hand had touched the button.

The Eye of the Storm was starting to close but the Doctor just wanted it to end. The screaming had long stopped and there was nothing but silence in his head. A cold, deathly silence that had him clawing his own skin as he screamed, wishing the screams to come back. Anything but the silence in his mind. The heat was no longer coming from the power source of the Moment, but from him. His body had been through so much already, but now without Gallifrey, without a stable Web of Time, it had started changing already.

He vaguely remembered a box materialising around him and falling onto the hard grating that pinched his rapidly changing face. Memories of a love lost, of a planet consumed by fire, of death and blood on his hands...the Doctor, the killer, the Destroyer of Worlds, the Last Son of Gallifrey…

...and then nothing.

~

The Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, Rose and Clara had returned to the Under Gallery once more, to the white room with the empty alien landscapes. No one was talking and all eyes were fixed on the device around Rose’s wrist. That device had been capable of transmitting telepathic messages relayed by the Time Lords, but that wasn’t why they were all looking at it now.

The usual bright green glow of the device was vividly visible to them, but as time ticked forward, the light blinked twice before going completely dark. They all knew what that meant. With no more Time Lords left, there was nothing of the telepathic network left. A single Time Lord’s consciousness wasn’t strong enough to sustain it and it told them what they had known. The Eighth Doctor had pressed the button.

Rose removed the device from her wrist wordlessly and tossed it away before burying her face in her hands. She wished she could cry but she just felt numb all over. The Doctor was dead. Died alone, with only his younger selves to watch over him as he made the choice to protect the universe by taking the burden of genocide of his people on his own shoulders.

“I-Is it over?” asked Clara tentatively.

“Yes,” said Rose before any of the Doctors could. She stood up and paced the length of the room. “Have the timelines changed?” she asked sharply before the momentary bit of fight left her and she looked at the Doctors feebly. “Has anything changed?”

“No,” said the Ninth Doctor, standing up and placing his hands on her shoulders comfortingly. “It wasn’t yours to change, nor was it ours. It was always fixed.”

Rose stared at him with tears in her eyes. “Did you remember me at all?” she asked, her voice shaking. “Is that why you asked me to travel with you?”

He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. “I didn’t remember you,” he said finally, honesty evident in his tone. “With how badly my mind was damaged after...everything, I could barely remember who I was.” He kissed her forehead slowly. “I asked you to travel with me because you saved my life by swinging over a pit with the Nestene Consciousness. Then I asked you again, because no matter how much I tried, I could not get over you.” He seemed embarrassed at having admitted so much but he looked at his future selves, who were watching their interaction keenly, and took a deep breath. “I knew I didn’t deserve you. I don’t think I ever will. But for what it’s worth, I think the world of you, Rose Tyler, and I can say that I am grateful for your compassion, for your care...for your love.”

Rose smiled softly at that, despite the sadness enveloping her heart.

He grinned his beautiful manic grin and kissed her chastely, just a gentle press of his lips against hers. “My precious girl,” he murmured, looking at her as if memorising her carefully. “I have to go now.”

Rose took a deep breath but nodded. “Goodbye, Doctor,” she said, smiling bravely.

He nodded back and turned to his older selves. “Can’t exactly say it was a pleasure,” he said, looking at them with slight disdain. “But I am glad I remain somewhat like myself even if I turn into a skinny pretty boy and a bowtie wearing clown.”

“And I thought we were doing so well with avoiding trading insults,” said the Eleventh Doctor, rolling his eyes though he seemed to be smiling.

“It’s almost tradition now,” said the Tenth Doctor cheerfully. “Be seeing you, Big Ears.”

“Hopefully not,” said the Ninth Doctor with an exaggerated shudder. “Clara, nice to meet someone with a good accent for once.”

“Likewise,” said Clara, grinning back in delight. She shook his hand vigorously and waved when he went into the single TARDIS sitting in the room they were in. They heard the TARDIS dematerialise and a shadow of it seemed to leave, but the box stayed solid and right where it was.

“Very complicated,” said the Eleventh Doctor to a questioning look from Clara. “I might explain one day.”

“Guess, I should leave as well,” said the Tenth Doctor with a sigh. “No point in straining the timeline any more than we already have.” He looked at Rose. “Speak to you alone?”

Rose nodded and let him lead her away from the Eleventh Doctor and Clara to the opposite end of the room. He seemed nervous, fidgeting with his tie or his hair until Rose gently grabbed his hands.

“I am going to die soon,” he blurted out.

Rose’s eyes went wide. “Oh, Doctor,” she said.

“No, shh, just let me tell you,” he said, cupping her face and waited until she nodded to continue. “I am going to die and I am scared. No, I am terrified. For the longest time, I thought that it would be the end of me completely. I know differently now but as soon as I return to my proper timeline, I shall forget this entirely.” He took a deep breath. “I did something horrible. Really, truly horrible. Rose, if you knew, you would hate me with every fibre of your being.”

“I could never hate you,” said Rose, a tear slipping down her cheek and onto his hand.

He brushed her tears away and shook his head. “How could you not?” he asked. “After everything. How do you not hate me, Rose?”

“I don’t blame you for what you did,” she said. “I was angry after he died, I really was. But I have had years to think about it and I knew even then that I would forgive you eventually. You did what you thought was right and while I don’t like you going behind my back to make my decisions for me, I know it comes from a place of concern a-and…”

“And love,” he finished when she hesitated. “I never told you, did I?”

“Don’t say it,” said Rose, closing her eyes. “You are going to forget this soon. Don’t say it now.”

He looked pained but nodded slowly. “Will you really be alright with Chinny over there?” he asked. “You could always come with me.”

Rose smiled and shook her head. “You know I can’t do that,” she said. “Established events and all that.”

“I know,” he said sadly. “Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” He pulled Rose closer and whispered something in her ear, despite her request that he shouldn’t say it now.

“I know,” repeated Rose, surprised by how those words still set her heart racing like nothing before.

He smiled toothily at her and ran his lips over her forehead, cheek and nose, repeating the motion a few times until Rose tilted her chin up and caught his lips with hers.

~

Clara watched the Tenth Doctor and Rose kiss languidly, looking so content and blissful in their little shared moment that she had to look away, lest they see her gaping at them. She glanced at her Doctor, who was sitting down on one of the benches and doing a very poor job of concealing the fact that he was peeking at what Rose and his younger self were doing.

She sat down next to him and nudged his shoulder with his and smiled brightly. He grinned back at her and pulled her into a one-armed hug.

“You okay?” he asked her.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “Bit of an eventful day, but can’t complain.” She was silent for a bit, trying to gather her thoughts. “I know you told me that you ended the war, but seeing it happen was something else entirely.”

The Doctor sighed. “I know you wished we could change it, Clara,” he said wisely.

“But you couldn’t, yeah, I know,” said Clara, squeezing his arm reassuringly. “Just wish you’d got a happier ending.”

“Oh, but I did,” he said.

“Rose,” said Clara, nodding slowly. “Will she travel with you now?”

He shrugged. “If she wants to, yes,” he said. “For all I know, she might never want to see me again.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Clara, looking to where the Tenth Doctor and Rose were still kissing.

The Doctor saw where she was looking and shook his head with a sad smile. “A different regeneration is a completely different matter,” he said. “She spent over a century with my Eighth self, my Ninth self was the one she had first known and you see how close those two are.” He sighed. “My feelings have not changed, but hers might have. And even if they haven’t, it doesn’t mean she still wants me around her.”

“Why wouldn’t she?” asked Clara curiously.

“Rose married me,” he said. “A human-Time Lord biological metacrisis me.”

Clara gasped. “She said before...that he…”

“Died, yes,” said the Doctor sadly. “And then she went through hell after that. And it was all my fault.”

“She will forgive you,” said Clara sympathetically. “She loves you, you silly Time Lord. Just ask her,” she added as the Tenth Doctor and Rose returned.

“Finish talking her ear off, sandshoes?” asked the Eleventh Doctor, standing up and regarding his Tenth self with a sardonic smile. “I remember being quite the babbler when I was you.”

“Oh, like you don’t talk enough for England,” snapped the Tenth Doctor good-naturedly. “Try and stay out of trouble, will you?”

“Cross my hearts,” said the Eleventh Doctor, crossing his fingers over both his hearts.

The Tenth Doctor rolled his eyes at him and offered Clara his hand instead. “Nice meeting you, Clara,” he said.

“Yeah, you too,” she said.

He winked at her over her hand and then with a final soft look at Rose, he went inside the TARDIS which vanished like before, leaving just the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS. An awkward silence fell over them for a bit, until Clara clapped her hands together once.

“So, guess I’ll get some tea,” she said, realising that the Doctor and Rose probably needed time to talk. Without a backward glance at them, she went into the TARDIS.

“Subtle,” said Rose with a small smile as she sat down on the bench.

“Clara’s very straightforward,” he said, sitting down next to her. “It’s the teacher in her. No fuss and no nonsense.”

“She sounds amazing,” said Rose sincerely. “All the better to keep you in line.”

“Yeah,” he agreed with a nervous laugh. “Though, I think she would like it if you were there too. On the TARDIS, I mean.”

Rose raised her eyebrows. “Clara wants me on the TARDIS?” she asked.

“Yes, she insisted, in fact,” he said, looking flustered.

“And what about you?” asked Rose, feeling a little amused.

He stopped fidgeting and looked at her steadily. “I always want you with me,” he said.

Rose smiled at that but looked down. “It sounds nice, it really does,” she said.

“But you don’t want to,” he finished her sentence, feeling his hearts sink. “Right, sorry, I shouldn’t have…”

“Doctor,” said Rose gently, taking his hand. “I am not saying no. I am just saying not now.”

“Why?” he asked before he could stop himself.

Rose exhaled thoughtfully. “I know it’s been a long time for you since the war ended, but for me, it’s still very fresh. As you probably saw, I am not in the best shape in terms of everything and I am certainly no longer the Rose Tyler you first knew,” she said. “And I am sorry. I am really sorry but I can’t just let you whisk me away in the TARDIS like nothing’s changed.”

“What do you want to do instead?” he asked her curiously.

“I want to return to the area around the Time Lock,” she said, holding up a hand when he opened his mouth. “We saw the Zygons today who had survived the war. Planets in vicinity of Gallifrey were the worst affected but not all of them died and with the Moment now, I am sure some of those worlds are rebuilding even if they might not know the full extent of what has happened. I want to help, Doctor.”

“We help people when we travel in the TARDIS,” he pointed out.

“Not like this,” said Rose with a small smile. “I know you don’t like to look back, but I can’t do the same. I need to look back if I ever am to move forward.”

The Doctor was silent for a long time and Rose was just starting to fidget when he spoke again. “Alright,” he said. “We just have to make a quick stop at Clara’s house and then we can start making a list of affected planets and figure out ways of helping them out.” Rose looked at him in surprise and he smiled at her. “Clara doesn’t travel full-time with me, so if she doesn’t want to come with us, we can always come and see her when we can.”

“You don’t have to come with me,” said Rose.

“Yes, I do,” he said. “I have spent a lifetime without you. Now that I have a choice, I want to be by your side. And you are right, I don’t like to look back. But maybe this time I should. If only to feel more like myself, like the Doctor, than I have in this life of my mine.”

Rose smiled slowly. “Are you sure?” she asked.

He grinned and planted a smacking kiss on her forehead. “I have never been more sure of anything.”

Chapter Text

Previously

“You don’t have to come with me,” said Rose.

“Yes, I do,” he said. “I have spent a lifetime without you. Now that I have a choice, I want to be by your side. And you are right, I don’t like to look back. But maybe this time I should. If only to feel more like myself, like the Doctor, than I have in this life of my mine.”

Rose smiled slowly. “Are you sure?” she asked.

He grinned and planted a smacking kiss on her forehead. “I have never been more sure of anything.”

“Tea’s ready!” announced Clara cheerfully and the Doctor and Rose sprang apart.

“Ah, wonderful!” said the Eleventh Doctor getting to his feet and pulling Rose up with him. “What do you say we have it in the library instead?”

Rose looked down at herself. “Think I need to clean up a bit first,” she said, realising for the first time that she probably looked a right mess.

“Tea will still be warm,” said Clara brightly and Rose smiled back at her as she walked past her into the TARDIS. Clara looked at the Doctor, who was watching Rose like he was afraid she would disappear. As if she knew what he was thinking, Rose turned around and shot him a reassuring smile before walking into the depths of the TARDIS.

“So, Clara Oswald,” said the Doctor, clapping his hands together as he went to the console. “Where is this infamous tea?”

Clara closed the TARDIS doors behind her and walked up to him. “Did you and Rose talk?” she asked him bluntly.

He looked a little startled before it was smoothed over. “‘Course we talked,” he said, spotting the tea tray that had been balanced precariously on top of the console and narrowing his eyes at Clara who just smiled. “You know me and how much I talk. Even sandshoes said I can talk enough for England and...”

“Doctor,” interrupted Clara firmly. “Tell me you are alright.”

He smiled at her. “I am alright,” he admitted. “I really, truly am alright.”

Clara looked relieved and wrapped her arms around him in a hug. “I’m glad,” she said, closing her eyes tightly.

“Clara,” he said softly.

“It’s okay,” she said, willing herself to sound calm. “You love her, I know. You really, properly love her.” She smiled bravely as she broke the hug and met his gaze. “Besides, you and I, we weren’t really…”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Clara looked a little surprised, but pleased. “Don’t know why you are apologising,” she said. “It wasn’t your mistake.”

“We both know that’s not true,” he said, uncharacteristically honest.

Clara’s lips trembled but she nodded. “I know,” she said and then adjusted his bowtie. “Just take care of yourself, will you?”

He nodded back with a tender smile. “I will,” he promised.

“And will I ever see you again?” she asked, pulling away and crossing her arms as if preparing to hold herself together.

“Yes,” he said. “If you want, of course. I’ll even call before.”

Clara laughed at that, despite herself. “Provided you get the time right,” she said.

“When have I ever got the time wrong?” he asked, looking outraged.

“You brought Rose home a year late. People thought she was dead,” she reminded him.

“One time, that was one time,” he said, shaking his finger at her.

“I’m sure there’s many more,” grinned Clara. “Rose will tell me.”

“Oh, I’d rather you were fighting,” he grumbled.

“Hah! I know you would,” laughed Clara. “Sorry to disappoint you, chin-boy, but I think Rose and I are going to get along just fine.” He stopped pouting and smiled softly at her. Clara’s eyes twinkled as she smiled back. “Drop me off home then. The same day, if you don’t mind. I’ve got interviews I can’t miss.”

“What sort of interviews?” he asked, looking up from the controls.

“Job interviews,” she said, doing her very best not to roll her eyes at his obtuseness.

He looked at her thoughtfully before a wide grin lit up his face. “I can help with that,” he said.

“You can?” asked Clara, trying not to sound sceptical.

“Coal Hill Secondary. A very lovely school, from what I know,” he said. “If you are interested?”

“I’ve got an interview with them...how did you know?” asked Clara.

He just grinned at her and pulled a lever to start the dematerialisation process. Clara considered him thoughtfully but then decided not to ask. “I’m just gonna go say bye to Rose. Let me know when we are there, yeah?”

“Sure,” he nodded and Clara left to find Rose. The Doctor waited until she left to pick up the phone and dial a familiar number.

“Chatterton, guess who it is…”

~

Leaving the Doctor and Clara to talk, Rose had wandered down the unfamiliar hallways of the TARDIS, waiting for a door. She didn’t know what she expected to find when the TARDIS placed a solitary door at the end of the hallway for her. Her old room from the war, her room from when she was travelling with the Doctor as a young nineteen year old, the Doctor’s room now or a brand new room altogether?

When the door opened, Rose had to take a step back when she saw what was inside. It was their room. The one she and the Doctor had been sharing when they had first become lovers after Krop Tor. It was undisturbed, untouched, no dust on any of the surfaces, no extra creases on the covers...just perfectly suspended in time from the moment they had stepped out with the bazoolium.

She moved into the room slowly, sidestepping a black heel tossed aside after a night of dancing and sat down gingerly on the soft bed. There were tiny clumps of blue fluff on the duvet from the jumper she had been wearing. The Doctor had pulled her back onto the bed after she had got dressed and in their playful rolling, the jumper had moulted everywhere…

Rose closed her eyes and breathed deeply, marvelling at how easy it was for that memory to come to her after all these years. She considered falling back onto the bed and immersing herself in memories, but realised that it would only hurt, so she started to get up, only to see a shadow in the corner of her eye. She whirled around on instinct and saw a woman in a flowing, white dress leaning against the dresser, smiling softly.

“It’s the first time I have seen this room,” said the woman, walking towards her until she was sitting down on the bed next to her. “Personally, I think he guarded this room better than he guards his hearts.”

Rose raised her eyebrows at the strange woman. “Am I seeing things again?” she asked, her instincts going on high alert.

The woman smiled. “No, sweetie,” she said. “I am just as much here as you are, though not for much longer. The TARDIS is helping me with this bit and it’s not exactly easy for her, but I wanted to meet you. At least once.”

Rose’s brow furrowed. “Who are you?” she asked.

“River Song,” she answered. “It is very nice to finally meet you, Rose Tyler.”

“And you,” said Rose, her eyes going wide. “I thought you were…” Then she realised what she had said and she nodded. “Right.”

River grinned at her. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I’m surprised you know who I am.”

Rose smiled a little. “The library was before...before the metacrisis. There weren’t any secrets between us,” she said. “I am more surprised you know about me.”

River’s smile became a little sadder. “He didn’t tell me about you,” she admitted. “I had to find out for myself.”

“Why?” asked Rose, genuinely curious.

River sighed deeply. “I wanted to know,” she said simply. “When the man you love more than anything in this universe still looks like he sees a ghost in your place, it tends to make a girl curious.”

Rose looked away awkwardly, wondering what she could even say to that. “I’m sorry,” she said finally.

River laughed loudly. “You don’t have to apologise to me, sweetie,” she said. “You did nothing wrong.”

“Maybe not, but I am guessing that he wouldn’t have apologised for that either,” said Rose.

“He did, actually,” said River. “All he ever did was apologise.” At Rose’s look of disbelief, she chuckled bitterly. “Not in words, no. For the longest time, he didn’t know who I was and when he finally found out, all he did was apologise to me.”

“I don’t understand,” said Rose.

“He would take me away in the TARDIS,” said River, her eyes far away. “To all these wonderful places. Even called them dates. I was ecstatic, of course. This man, this legend woven through all of time and space, was taking me out on dates. Until I got a little older, a little wiser, and saw those dates for what they really were. Apologies. He was apologising to me.”

River took a deep breath before continuing. “By the time I finally understood, it was too late. I had grown used to it. And I was too scared to confront him, because I was afraid that he wouldn’t return for me.” She chuckled again, but there was no humour in it anymore. “I was a coward. He was happy to pretend, so I learned to be happy with the same charade. We would flirt, go on dates, tease each other, and I would mean every word and all I would get in return was his guilt.”

“That’s cruel,” said Rose, her eyes filling with tears when she saw River’s pain.

“It was,” agreed River. “It was so very cruel. I think he knew it too. But we were both afraid of breaking the illusion. I called myself his wife and he let me. I told him to tell me his name, and he did. But not once did he take my hand just because he wanted, or smile at me without that look of guilt in his eyes.”

She looked at Rose with a sad smile that was more like a grimace. “Do you want to know how I knew your name?” Without waiting for Rose to respond, she continued. “He whispered it once. In his sleep.” River looked down at her hands as she spoke. “It was the first time I had seen him sleep. He looked so quiet, so peaceful, the happiest I had ever seen him. When he started to mumble, I was eager to know what secrets he would let slip in his vulnerable moments. But all I heard was a name. Tied with his.”

Rose’s eyes went wide and she looked down at her wedding ring. The symbol her Doctor had inscribed inside the ring had sounded wonderful when he had told her what it was. He had murmured those words in her ear far more frequently than he had told her he loved her, which was saying something. He had confessed once when they had been looking at the Aurora Borealis that the sound of their names wrapped together as they were, was the most beautiful thing to him in any universe. Rose had begged him to teach her how to say it and it had taken her months to perfect and say without stumbling.

River saw her eyes go wide and smiled. “I was furious,” she said. “It isn’t something you want to hear the man you love say when he is asleep next to you. But then I got curious. I wanted to know who you were. This woman who was so special to him that he would gladly tie his name with hers and keep her a secret.” River’s smile turned sardonic. “I was expecting a goddess.”

“And you got me instead,” said Rose, tilting her head.

“Yes,” said River. “It would have been easy if you had been a goddess, I think. Maybe I would have been able to convince myself that I could never have compared to a goddess. Instead, Rose Tyler was just an ordinary human being. Not a queen or a goddess or an empress, just a young woman from London. At least that’s what I thought, until I learned about the Bad Wolf.”

Rose looked a little startled. “He didn’t ask me to come with him because of it,” she said defensively.

“I know,” said River sadly. “I think that made it worse. You weren’t a curiosity to him. You just had to be Rose Tyler and he loved you.”

“I can’t...I won’t apologise for that,” said Rose.

“Don’t expect you to,” said River honestly. “I am not here to pick a fight. Least of all with you.”

“Then why are you here?” asked Rose, not unkindly.

“I am not really sure myself,” she admitted. “I have said my goodbyes to him and he has as well. I am ready to finally let go and move on. Guess, I thought I couldn’t exactly do that before I met you.”

“But why?” asked Rose insistently. “Why put yourself through this? All I can give you are apologies and something tells me you have had more than enough of those already. I could tell you about me but you have already found that out too. I could assure you that the Doctor loved you but you know that too. You do, don’t you? That he loved you?”

“I know,” nodded River.

Rose nodded back. “It took me a while to understand, but he loves his friends dearly, just as they love him. Sometimes he falls in love, sometimes they do and sometimes, very rarely, that love is reciprocated. It isn’t easy, believe me, I know it isn’t easy to be in love with him. He can be cruel, closed off and flighty one moment and loving, kind and wonderful the next. That doesn’t change, no matter the incarnation.” She took a deep breath.

“I know you think it was easier for me, but it wasn’t,” she said. “And I don’t mean all the things I went through without him. That doesn’t really matter. It’s all the years we spent together, be it in the middle of the war or a different universe, or just being young lovers in this very room. None of it was ever easy. He might have put me on a pedestal but it is easy to love a ghost. You don’t remember the fights and the pain; you only remember the good moments. No one can compete with a ghost but more importantly, no one should have to. And I am truly sorry that you had to.”

River had tears in her eyes. “Thank you, Rose,” she said finally.

Rose was still breathing heavily and it took her a moment to register River’s words. “What for?” she asked curiously.

“For everything,” she said with a bright smile that made her look years younger.

There was a knock at the door and Rose turned towards it abruptly. “Rose?” called Clara from the other side. “You in there?”

Rose glanced back towards River and saw that she was gone. In her place, was a diary with a blue TARDIS-like cover. Rose picked it up and opened up to the first page.

The Diary of Melody Pond River Song Doctor River Song Professor River Song

“Rose?” called Clara again and Rose set the diary aside as she went to the door and opened it.

“Hi,” said Rose. “Sorry, I was just…” She trailed off, not knowing what she could possibly say she had been doing.

Clara decided not to push. “Can I come in?” she asked instead.

“Yeah, sure,” said Rose, letting her inside.

“Thanks,” said Clara. “The TARDIS had me running around corridors for ages until I found you.”

“Yeah, I guess she knew I needed time,” said Rose.

Clara grinned at her and looked at the room. Her eyes inevitably drifted to the collage of photographs on the wall next to the dresser. “May I?” she asked.

“Sure,” nodded Rose and Clara approached the wall cautiously.

“Who are they?” she asked, pointing to a photo of Rose with Jack and Mickey on either side of her.

Rose smiled when she saw the photo she was indicating. “That’s Captain Jack Harkness. He used to be a Time Agent from the 51st century. And that is Mickey. We grew up together. Even dated for a bit,” she said.

“Seriously?” asked Clara, clearly surprised.

“Yeah,” nodded Rose. “Why is that surprising?”

“Just thought that you and the Doctor…” she trailed off awkwardly.

“Me and the Doctor didn’t exactly happen for a long time,” said Rose with a smile.

“Right, sorry,” said Clara, dropping the matter. “Anyway, I just came to say goodbye.”

“You don’t have to leave because of me,” she said honestly.

“I know,” said Clara, though she felt relieved that Rose had said it. “But I have a life that I really do want to go back to. Saving the universe is fun, but I’m not sure I would want it to be my life full time.”

Rose smiled. “I understand,” she said. “The Doctor said you are a teacher?”

“He’s being nice, I’ve never actually been in a classroom yet,” said Clara. “Don’t know how it’s going to go, really. Could be a complete disaster.” She looked worried for a brief moment.

“You’ll be fine,” said Rose. “If you have faced down Daleks and god-knows what else, a classroom full of children will not be as scary.”

Clara crossed her fingers. “Here’s to hoping,” she said. “Although, I’d rather deal with Cybermen again, I think.”

Rose smiled but they both looked up when they heard the TARDIS starting to land. “Guess this is goodbye for now,” said Rose.

“Yeah,” said Clara. “Don’t be a stranger though. I’d like us to be friends. If you want.”

“I’d like that,” said Rose honestly.

The TARDIS landed and the two women smiled at each other as they went out to the console room together. The Doctor was checking the monitor and looked up when they appeared. “Ah, there you two are,” he said. “We are back, Clara. Just an hour after you left, as a matter of fact.”

“Great,” said Clara and grinned at Rose. “See you then.”

Rose waved at her and Clara bounced over to the Doctor and hugged him tightly for a moment. With a bright grin, she opened the doors of the TARDIS and winked at them over her shoulder before leaving the TARDIS.

The Doctor sighed and sent the TARDIS back into the vortex in quick, absent motions. He realised that Rose had been very quiet and he turned to her, only to see her clutching the railing around the console, looking deathly pale.

“Rose?” he asked, concerned.

Rose opened and closed her mouth wordlessly, before she swayed precariously and started to fall. The Doctor ran to her and caught her before she collapsed to the ground. He could hear her heart racing and her skin had gone colder than even his. Alarmed, he lifted her up into his arms and ran to the medbay.

The TARDIS had moved the medbay closer and the Doctor laid Rose down onto an examination bed, his hearts thumping frantically in his chest. He ran a quick diagnostic over her, noting that her breathing had gone shallow. When the scanner beeped with the result, he had a brief moment of relief before he nearly smacked himself. He had been so stupid to forget this. Still berating himself, he found a temporary restorative bracelet which he fastened around Rose’s wrist. She gasped loudly and her eyes sprang open.

“Hey, hey, hey, it’s alright,” he said, running a gentle hand over her forehead.

“What happened?” Rose tried to ask but the words came out all slurred like she was drunk.

The Doctor seemed to have understood it, though. “I should have realised sooner,” he said, sounding genuinely regretful. “I am so sorry.”

“Doctor,” slurred Rose impatiently, wanting him to get to the point quickly.

“Your body is going through a crash,” he explained. “When you were inside the Time Lock, the shields of Gallifrey and the stability of the Eye of Harmony were keeping your physiognomy stable. More than stable, actually.”

Rose nodded, remembering how people didn’t seem to age naturally on Gallifrey. Even Susan, despite her frail state, had stayed looking like she was middle-aged through the years. Slightly alarmed, Rose lifted her hand weakly to see if she had started to age spontaneously but her skin had remained unchanged.

The Doctor squeezed her hand briefly. “You’re okay, Rose,” he said. “Your body just needs time to recuperate. The bracelet I have on your hand will restore your strength temporarily so you can get cleaned up before I induce a healing coma.”

Rose managed to nod and the Doctor helped her sit up. “Need help,” she said, her words still heavy though she wasn’t slurring them as badly.

The Doctor nodded and untied the charm from her hair and set it onto a medical tray, which had floated up to them helpfully. He unfastened the chain from around her neck with the TARDIS key and dropped it on top of the charm. Her wedding ring was next to go. Rose slipped out of her shoes and the remains of her tattered sweater until she was wearing only her ripped tights and white dress.

“Will you be alright with the rest?” asked the Doctor, oddly nervous.

Rose nodded and jumped down from the exam table with his help. The TARDIS had brought the bathroom just next door for which they were both grateful. “I’ll call if I need help,” she managed to say and the Doctor nodded as he let her hobble the last few steps into the bathroom on her own. She smiled reassuringly but he looked far from convinced and Rose was certain that he would be pacing outside the door the entire time she was inside.

Sure enough, as Rose got rid of the remainder of her clothes and stepped into the shower which had a small bench connected to the wall, she heard the Doctor’s footsteps outside the door. Rose sank down on the bench gratefully and fumbled for the taps. The TARDIS seemed to take pity on her since the water came out just the right temperature instead of freezing cold or scalding hot.

Rose managed to relax under the thick spray of water, feeling the dust and grime that was coating every inch of her wash away slowly. She wanted to scrub her skin raw to get rid of the guilt she could feel but there was no way she had enough strength in her at that moment to consider the implications of the years spent in the war. She decided to focus on cleaning herself up in an almost mechanical manner. Her hair was lathered in shampoo, her body scrubbed by fragrant soap before it all washed away, leaving her sitting in the shower, as clean as she could get. Physically, at least.

“Rose?” came the Doctor’s concerned voice and the door knob moved slightly as if he had placed his hand on it, ready to rush in at her slightest call.

“‘M fine,” she said. “Need a minute is all.”

The TARDIS sent a blast of warm air, which dried her enough to slip into her towelled bathrobe, and she used another towel to wrap around her hair. She started to get up but the fatigue set in, making her almost fall. She cried out a little, more startled than anything, but it was enough for the Doctor to rush in. His eyes widened a little when he saw her, though he composed himself quickly enough to help her out of the bathroom.

“I’ve got you,” he murmured and led her into an unfamiliar room, which was dominated by a massive bed that looked immensely inviting.

“Nice room,” Rose managed as the Doctor helped her sit on the bed.

“It’s mine,” he said, unravelling the towel from her hair. “Though the bed is new. I had hammocks in here before.”

“Hammocks?” asked Rose in amusement, closing her eyes when he began to dry her hair gently with the towel. He had done it for her countless times, even braided her hair at times.

“Hammocks are cool, Rose Tyler,” he said, as if her implying otherwise was akin to blasphemy.

“If you say so,” said Rose, her words starting to slur again.

The Doctor stiffened in alarm and checked her bracelet. “Alright, haven’t got long,” he said, tossing the towel away and picking up the pink fleece pyjamas that the TARDIS had left on the bed. He got the bottoms on Rose with help from her but she could barely stay upright as he untied her bathrobe and helped her put the top on. He buttoned it up carefully, his eyes never straying from hers.

Rose smiled drowsily at him and all but collapsed against the pillows. “Need sleep,” she slurred.

The Doctor quickly reached for the box of thin, plastic-like neon orange squares that had been sitting on the nightstand. He plucked one out of it carefully and leaned over Rose. “Rose,” he murmured. “Open your mouth, please.”

She moaned in exhaustion, too far gone to register his words. He pressed his thumb against her lower lip and pulled her mouth open, enough for him to place the square onto her tongue. It fizzled and dissolved instantly and he sighed in relief. It wasn’t a proper food substitute, but until she’d had time to heal, her body wouldn’t be able to deal with traditional foods. The little squares, a medical innovation from beyond the 83rd century, would suffice as sources of food and hydration for the moment. The Time Lords had developed their own substitutes during the war, but he remembered him and Rose often using the 83rd century version instead, purely because it tended to taste better than the bland stuff the Time Lords had come up with.

Rose’s breathing had evened out and it looked like she was asleep, but the Doctor knew better. It appeared that she hadn’t needed him to induce the healing coma after all. She had managed to do it all on her own.

He snapped off the bracelet from her wrist and pulled the duvet over her carefully. The absurd cartoon figures of frogs on lily pads on Rose’s pink pyjamas made him smile at the whimsical humour that his TARDIS seemed to have. The tray from the medbay which held all of Rose’s jewellery floated into the room, pinging along melodically and settled itself onto the nightstand on Rose’s side. The Doctor smiled again. His painstaking efforts to renovate the entire medbay with new equipment, while borne out of boredom, had seemed to pay out.

The Doctor rummaged through his pockets and found another bracelet, this one not quite a restorative as much as it was a monitoring bracelet which would relay Rose’s stats to his sonic screwdriver directly. He fastened it around her wrist carefully and examined the results briefly. At the present rate, it appeared that she would be out of it for quite a while.

With a sigh, the Doctor found the book on quantum mechanics that he had been reading and went onto his side of the bed and sat up leaning against the headboard. Feeling like his hearts would burst with the pure joy coursing through them that Rose was by his side after all this time, he settled in to wait for Rose to wake up.

Chapter Text

When Rose awoke, it was because she was thirsty. A low moan escaped her parched throat and even through half-closed eyes, she registered someone moving from her side.

“Doctor?” she managed to mumble, licking her dry lips.

“Open up,” he said and it was slightly jarring to her when she heard his relatively unfamiliar voice. But she obeyed nonetheless, feeling relieved when something light and paper-like was placed on her tongue. It dissolved a moment later and Rose felt her thirst quench itself almost immediately. “Better?” he asked, looming over her.

“Yeah,” said Rose, relishing the slight citrusy aftertaste left in her mouth. “Orange?” she guessed.

He looked surprised for a moment but nodded. “Yeah, I picked up the usual box just a few months ago,” he said.

“I can tell,” said Rose, trying to sit up. The Doctor helped her up and arranged the pillows at her back so she could be comfortable. “You tended to eat the better flavours first. All that was left in the end was liquorice.” She made a face at that and he beamed so much that it was almost audible.

“I know,” he enthused, jumping back onto his side of the bed. “There wasn’t exactly time to replenish my supplies with a new box before…”

The good mood dimmed abruptly at the mention of ‘before’. Rose swallowed lightly, trying not to think about it just yet. She still wasn’t ready to think about the war. “So,” she said instead, feeling proud when there was only a small quaver in her voice. “How long was I out?”

The Doctor smiled at her, relief palpable in his eyes. “Not long,” he said. “Only about ten hours.”

“That’s not bad,” nodded Rose and then surprised them both by yawning loudly. “Sorry,” she chuckled.

The Doctor laughed. “You still need a lot of time to recover fully,” he said. “Is there something else you need before you turn in?”

Rose didn’t answer for a few moments and looked down at her hands. “Where’s my…?” she started to ask but the Doctor pointed towards the tray on her bedside. Rose saw her ring, TARDIS key and Skelton’s charm laid out neatly on the tray and nodded gratefully at the Doctor. When she continued to stare silently down at the duvet instead of easing back into sleep, the Doctor looked concerned.

“Rose?” he asked, taking her hand gently. “What’s wrong?”

Rose nibbled on her lip nervously. “I don’t think I can fall into another healing coma,” she said.

“No, I suppose not,” said the Doctor. “But you are sleepy. I can tell you are.”

She didn’t say anything and it took a few more moments for the Doctor to realise what she had implied. He smacked himself sharply with his free hand, which made Rose jump and look at him oddly.

“What was that for?” she asked, torn between amusement and concern.

“Nightmares,” he said understandingly. “You are afraid of nightmares.”

Rose’s eyes looked down at the duvet. “I am more afraid that I won’t have them,” she said in a small voice. She could practically hear the question in the Doctor’s quizzical gaze and she took a deep breath before answering. “Sounds stupid, I know. But it’s like this different energy from inside the Time Lock and outside of it. When we created the time fissure to come back, we both felt...lighter. It was easier to laugh, to joke, to smile...even to flirt. But when we went back, the heaviness returned. The anger returned. The pain returned.” She looked at the Doctor and saw the understanding in his gaze, which encouraged her to continue. “And yet somehow, the war felt more real than this does right at this very moment. There was...clarity. Everything was very bright. And as odd as it sounds, clean.”

“And this looks grey,” said the Doctor in a soft voice as if continuing her thought. “Even if you may have felt lighter here, you felt freer when you were in the war. Through the heaviness, through the pain and anger, everything was still vivid. This feels like a dream and the life inside the Time Lock feels more like the truth than anything else.”

Rose nodded with tears in her eyes. “I keep wanting to clear the grey,” she said. “I am scared that if I dream, I will dream in grey.”

The Doctor eased himself down so he was lying down on the bed and pulled along Rose gently so she could do the same. She was a bit reluctant to follow, but she rested her head on the same pillow as the Doctor and met his gaze. “Rose,” he murmured, wiping the few tears that had rolled down her cheeks. “After I pressed that button but before I regenerated, I heard their screams. All of them, Daleks and Time Lords, screaming inside my head.” He breathed deeply and closed his eyes for a moment before opening them. “Then came the silence. Complete and utter silence.” His voice started to shake. “And I wished for the screams to come back. I wished with my dying breath for those screams to come back.”

Rose’s breath hitched and she placed a hand on his cheek, wishing she could comfort him still. He nuzzled the inside of her wrist lightly before kissing it tenderly. “And I got my wish. The screams came back, Rose,” he confessed. “They came to me every time I dared to close my eyes long enough to dream. You were there sometimes when it happened, do you remember? After we met that Dalek in Van Statten’s bunker? Or that time when…”

“Yeah,” said Rose. “I remember.” She stroked his cheek. “Do the screams still come back?”

“Sometimes,” he answered honestly, as he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close until they were entwined tightly around each other, their legs tangled together. “But when we were together, you kept the screams away. You managed to erase the grey in my world, Rose. Let me do the same for you.”

Rose nodded slowly and the lights dimmed at the Doctor’s gentle telepathic plea to the TARDIS. Wrapped around each other, the Doctor and Rose fell asleep.

~

Days passed in a similar fashion as Rose continued to recuperate and heal from the trauma of the war. She still woke up screaming from her nightmares on most nights, but having the Doctor there right next to her, pulling her closer and whispering words of comfort in her ear, helped her immensely. It was slightly odd since Rose knew that she’d had nightmares during the war as well and the Doctor had been there next to her at the time too, but things seemed different now. Perhaps it was because the Doctor in the war had been hurting just as much as her, while now that hurt for him had taken a back seat through passage of time. It was still there, of course, but he had started to heal.

Rose wondered if the same would happen to her. The world still felt grey to her and she was scared that she would never see it as brightly as she could before, but she kept those fears to herself. The Doctor did his best to help her recover, even suggesting a telepathic coma he could induce which would give her a dreamless sleep for once, but Rose declined the offer each time. She knew she had to face her trauma, and knew there would be no sidestepping it.

Her physical stress, on the other hand, had healed quite quickly. She was no longer confined to bed rest, though the Doctor refused to take them out of the vortex just yet. Rose didn’t make a fuss and was privately grateful for it. She didn’t think she could face the universe just yet. So they spent their days lounging inside the TARDIS, sometimes together but mostly on their own.

It wasn’t exactly by choice, but Rose had noticed the slight awkwardness that seemed to fall over them when they weren’t discussing her recovery or talking about the war. It was as if the Doctor had no idea what to say to her, and for that matter, even Rose wasn’t quite sure what she ought to say. They had been friends, lovers and so much more for so long, yet it was as if they were strangers again. They were both older, hardened by time spent together and apart, and it was like they were yet to find out where they stood with each other.

Rose hadn’t told him about seeing River yet. She felt guilty keeping it from him, but the more she read River’s diary, the obvious the hurt became hidden under the cheerful words. He had confessed to her that he had turned selfish in this life, but Rose hadn’t had any idea just how bad things had gotten until she had read River’s diary. She had told River that the Doctor could be cruel towards the ones he loved, but when she had read about him yelling at River to break her wrist to free herself from the Weeping Angel, Rose had felt something akin to doubt when it came to this Doctor. She thought of the incarnations of the Doctor that she had known, all three of them, with almost a palpable sense of guilt and wondered what they would have done in that situation.

She had avoided the Doctor for the rest of the day and had chosen to forgo sleep in favour of swimming laps in the pool until she could barely move. He seemed to register her obvious evasive actions but he didn’t push her to talk. Rose continued to read River’s diary, nearly weeping when she read how excited she had been to lead the excursion to the Library. The diary ended there, and Rose closed it and put it away carefully in a box she had found in her old bedroom. The box also contained Skelton’s charm, which was something she felt she couldn’t wear anymore, but was unwilling to part with it just yet. When she came back to their current room, she found the Doctor sitting on the bed. His tweed jacket was gone, his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows and his bowtie untied around his neck. On his lap was a diary identical to River’s and when Rose met his gaze, he smiled a little.

“Thought you’d want to read the other side as well,” he said.

Rose moved closer to the bed but didn’t climb in. “When did you know?” she asked.

“When you started avoiding me,” he said before sighing. “There are a lot of regrets I have when it comes to River and most of them stem from guilt.”

“Guilt that you couldn’t love her like she loved you?” asked Rose, not harshly as she sat down on the edge of the bed tentatively.

“Among other things,” he nodded. “Her entire life was my fault. She wouldn’t have had the life she was subjected to, if it hadn’t been for me. Amy and Rory would have gotten to raise their child instead of having their baby taken and raised to be an assassin to kill me. Melody Pond would have gotten to live, instead of having to become River Song. And if I had been a better man, I would have been able to make myself love her the way she deserved.”

“Do you know what gets me the most having read her diary?” asked Rose. “How much she protected you. And not from enemies or things like that. She protected you from her own pain. She buried her feelings so you wouldn’t feel guilty. She suffered because she would rather endure your pain instead of letting you face it. But do you know what the worst part is, Doctor? The worst part is that you let her.”

He flinched at her words but nodded. “I know,” he said in a tired voice.

“Then why?” asked Rose.

“I don’t want to make excuses now,” he said. “You know what they say about hindsight.”

Rose nodded a little. “Guess you’re right,” she said, before climbing into bed until she was sitting next to him. “For what it’s worth, I am glad I got to meet her. And I’m sorry about everything.”

The Doctor smiled tentatively at that before reaching over and cupping her face. Rose nearly stopped breathing, rather aware that this was the most contact they’d had while not in the throes of nightmare since she had come on board. The Doctor’s smile turned soft as he brushed his thumb over her cheek and leaned forward to kiss the corner of her mouth with such softness that Rose wasn’t certain if he really had kissed her or not. He started to move away but Rose nudged his nose with hers to stop him and the next kiss was just as soft as their lips moved together in what felt a lot like absolution.

That night, they both had nightmares.

In the morning, the Doctor was in the kitchen when Rose walked in, freshly showered...and fully dressed. He looked up in surprise and she shifted a little under his scrutiny. The past few days, she had stuck to casual wear inside the TARDIS, fluffy pyjamas and tank tops and shorts. For the first time since she had come aboard after the war, Rose was dressed in a pair of fitted black trousers, a dark pink peasant blouse, her hair combed and shiny, and smart black boots on her feet that clicked when she walked.

“Are you sure?” the Doctor asked.

“Yes,” she said, smiling reassuringly to assuage his concern.

“Okay then,” he said. “Breakfast first? I made toast.”

Rose glanced at the stack of toast, which was nearly charred to ash, and bit her lip. Two days ago, he had cooked her a full breakfast which had been simply sublime. But even then, the toast had left much to be desired. “How about just a quick supplement?” she suggested instead.

He frowned comically but took a pink coloured square from Rose, murmuring approvingly at the taste of strawberries. Rose popped one into her mouth and then offered him her hand, which the Doctor was quick to take.

“Do we know where we are starting?” asked Rose as the two of them walked out to the console room.

“The TARDIS has done something very useful for us,” he said, bounding over to the console and pressing a few buttons in succession. The massive scanner near the doors lit up, showing a wide array of stars. In the upper left corner was an ominously dark shadow, which stayed unmoving and unchanged.

“Is that…?” asked Rose. “That’s the Time Lock?”

“Yes,” he answered. “But that’s not the important part.” The view zoomed away from the shadow of the Time Lock to show the different star systems in the vicinity. “It is impossible to pinpoint the range of the area affected but this is a place to start.”

“How many systems are there?” asked Rose.

“Fifty eight thousand,” he answered. “Quite a low number for such a vast area, but they have plenty of open space.”

Rose’s eyes went wide. “And how many planets?” she asked.

“Nearly 350,000,” he said. “Not all of them inhabited, of course.”

“Because of the war?” asked Rose.

“Some of them,” he nodded. “Others, however, were not inhabited before. The shockwaves of the Moment terraformed a few of them, prompting the arrival of new life.”

Rose’s lips quirked up a bit at that. “Life prevails,” she murmured to herself.

The Doctor smiled at her for a few moments before jumping into action. “Well?” he asked her. “Where do you want to start?”

Rose stared at the viewing screen for a few moments. “I-I wouldn’t even know,” she admitted finally.

“This might make it easier,” he said, beckoning her to come and look at the smaller monitor near the console. “This is a list of all the inhabited planets.”

Rose gave the list a cursory glance before looking at the Doctor. “You already have something in mind, don’t you?” she asked shrewdly.

He opened his mouth to deny it but at Rose’s smile, he nodded slowly. “Epsilon III,” he said.

“Why Epsilon III?” asked Rose, no longer smiling when she saw how pensive he looked.

“Do you remember the day I met you on Karn?” he asked her quietly.

“Yeah,” said Rose.

“I had been in a crash. The gunship that I was on, it only had one person on board,” he said. “Cass. She refused to come with me, Time Lord that I was. She died, as the ship crashed through the atmosphere on Karn.”

“I’m sorry,” said Rose.

He took a deep breath before his usual jovial smile appeared on his face. “Cass was from Epsilon III and that seems to be a good place to start,” he said, one hand already on the lever.

“Alright,” agreed Rose, smiling when he looked at her to make sure it was fine with her. “Coordinates?”

“Already entered,” he said and threw the lever up, propelling the TARDIS through the vortex.

Rose had to grab onto the console at the unexpected lurch, but she could barely suppress her smile as the TARDIS moved seamlessly with only the occasional bump in flight. The Doctor was looking at her face more than he was at the console and more than once, Rose’d had to reach over and press a button or pull a lever which he had neglected to do. Each time it happened, his smile just got wider, and by the time they had landed, they were both wearing matching, silly grins.

The TARDIS doors opened onto a warm planet with dull amber soil and a muted, grey sky. The Doctor and Rose walked out slowly, realising that they were in what was essentially a wasteland, with no signs of life around them. Their smiles dimmed as they closed the TARDIS doors behind them and examined their surroundings.

“Barren,” said the Doctor, touching his hand to the ground and smelling it. “Nothing has grown here for...I don’t know, maybe a few decades.”

Rose, who had been examining the sky, looked back at him. “How many suns does it revolve around?” she asked.

“Just one,” he said. “It is one of the closest planets to their sun, from what I remember.”

“Doesn’t look like it though, does it?” asked Rose with a frown. Her gaze locked onto something in the far distance. “Is that a city?”

The Doctor followed her gaze and squinted briefly before nodding. “Yes,” he said. “It is pretty far away though. Fortunately, I have got just the thing.” With a quick grin at her, he went back inside the TARDIS.

Rose only had a brief moment to ponder before she heard the revving of an engine and she barely moved out of the way as the Doctor came flying out of the TARDIS atop a hover motorcycle.

“What do you think?” he asked, grinning brightly. “Isn’t she a beauty?”

“I’m not even going to ask,” said Rose, taking the shiny black helmet that he tossed her and plopping it onto her head.

The Doctor frowned dramatically but gave her a hand so she could climb up behind him on the motorcycle. “Hold on tight,” he said. “This baby can go speeds you wouldn’t believe.”

“Heard that before,” said Rose, wrapping her arms around his waist.

“Ooh, cheeky,” he grinned and without warning, pressed down on the pedal to launch them ahead. A loud whoop of laughter escaped him when Rose squealed and tightened her grip on him.

The dreary surroundings of Epsilon III rushed past them and their mirth slowly morphed into determination as they arrived on the outskirts of the city. The buildings towered over them and they saw the first signs of people on the grey streets. All the shops seemed to be boarded up and temporary kiosks had been set up along the side of the streets, each of them selling an array of goods. Vendors were advertising their wares in loud voices, often trying to outbid their competitor’s offers to sell their goods.

Their arrival garnered shocked looks and the Doctor had barely stopped the motorcycle before they were all but mobbed by the vendors shouting out offers for various things.

“...gravity modulator for your vehicle, sir?”

“Triple armour enforced helmets. Best in the galaxy, madam, I assure you…”

“Sparkling cherromile cider...extracted it myself. Your tastebuds will thank me, I promise…”

“Sir…”

“Madam…”

“Back off!”

The vendors all stopped and retreated a few paces as a bustling, middle-aged woman walked up to them. “I apologise for this lot,” she said. “They seem to have forgotten their manners.”

“Not a problem, believe me,” said Rose, taking off her helmet and smiling tentatively at the woman. “I’m Rose, this is the Doctor.”

“Name’s Jinna,” said the woman. “I guess you could say I run this little bazaar. You are both off-worlders, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” said the Doctor. “Just visiting, as a matter of fact.”

“Well, you chose some place to visit,” said Jinna. “Come along, I’ll show you where you can park your little vehicle before someone comes along and strips it for parts.”

The crowd of vendors around them dispersed slowly, though they were still pointing and muttering in hushed voices as the Doctor and Rose went after Jinna, who led them to a small empty shop which she opened with her keys.

“Used to own this thing,” said Jinna as the Doctor parked the motorcycle inside it.

“What happened?” asked Rose curiously.

“Government foreclosed when I couldn’t afford to keep it any longer,” shrugged Jinna, not looking particularly bothered by it. “Mine stayed in business long after everyone else in this part had closed down, so there’s something to be said for small mercies.”

“And the rest of the planet?” asked the Doctor. “What happened to it?”

Jinna shook her head. “The barrier, of course,” she said. “It all comes back to the barrier.”

The Doctor and Rose exchanged confused looks. “What barrier?” asked Rose.

“The barrier above Epsilon III,” said Jinna, unsurprised at their lack of knowledge. “Being this close to the sun, we need all the help we can get to keep the barrier up, unless we all want to burn down. But then something happened to the barrier. Nobody really remembers what anymore, but it is weak now.” Jinna sighed and shook her head again. “Nothing grows on land anymore and all our moneys go into supplying the power plant to keep the barrier up. The government says they sent envoys off-world, but so far, no one has shown up to help.”

“What a coincidence,” said the Doctor and drew out the psychic paper with a flourish from his coat pocket. “That is exactly why we are here.”

Jinna stared at the psychic paper with a frown. “John Smith and Rose Tyler,” she read. “Earth Energy Services? Never heard of it.”

“That’s ‘cos it’s off-world,” said Rose hastily. “Earth is really far from here, so it took us some time to get here.”

Jinna opened her mouth to argue the point, but they heard a commotion outside and she jumped into action. “Stay here,” she hissed. “Don’t come out unless I say so.”

The Doctor and Rose exchanged looks but stayed where they were while Jinna went outside to investigate. They heard her arguing with someone, before she came back wearing a scowl on her face and leading three men dressed in military clothing behind her.

“Doctor John Smith, Rose Tyler, this is Commander Alder,” she said, introducing the man in charge. “He is in command in this zone.”

“Jinna tells me you are off-worlders who are here to help,” said Alder, narrowing his eyes suspiciously at them.

“That’s right,” said the Doctor and flashed the psychic paper once again. “If you are in charge of this zone, it must mean you can show us to a place where we can get to repairing the barrier, can’t you?”

Alder’s face registered some shock. “Do you mean to say that you will provide your services?” he asked.

“Of course, we will,” said the Doctor jovially. “Won’t we, Rose?”

“In return for what?” asked Alder, still suspicious.

“Nothing,” said Rose. “Apart from maybe supplies that we might need to repair the barrier.”

“Taken the words from my mouth,” said the Doctor, regarding her with twinkling eyes. “So, what do you say, Commander Alder?” he asked, turning back to the stoic man who was doing his best not to look hopeful.

“Very well,” said Alder. “You can leave your vehicle in Jinna’s care. We will take you to the power plant.”

“Good,” said the Doctor but they were once again interrupted by disgruntled voices coming from the streets.

“Oh, the youths these days,” complained Jinna. “It’s alright, I will get them to calm down,” she added when the Doctor and Rose looked worried.

“Doctor, how about you go ahead?” said Rose, turning to him. “I’ll stay here for a while.”

“Rose,” he said, frowning.

“I’ll be fine,” said Rose. “Besides, you hardly need my help over at the power plant. I can always come find you.”

He looked none too happy about it and it was clear as day on his face. Grasping both of Rose’s hands, he led her away from the others so they could talk in private. “Rose, are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m sure,” said Rose. “I’ll find something to do, you know I will. You go and do what you do best.”

He sighed and rested his forehead on hers. “One thing out of place and you come find me,” he said. “Promise me,” he added when she didn’t say anything.

Rose nodded. “Alright,” she agreed.

The Doctor looked far from satisfied but he pressed a kiss to her knuckles and walked up to Alder with a massive smile plastered on his face that no one but Rose knew wasn’t real. “Alright, Commander Alder, lead the way,” he said.

“Your...wife won’t be joining us?” he asked, doing his best to conceal his surprise.

“No,” said the Doctor, ignoring the way his stomach swooped at those words. “She wants to sightsee.”

Commander Alder looked like he wanted to say something, but he snapped his mouth shut and nodded at his two men to lead the way out. The Doctor met Rose’s gaze and at her assuring nod, he followed Commander Alder out. Jinna looked between them and Rose with a shrewd look on her face, but she waited until they were gone to turn to Rose.

“You don’t seem the type to sightsee,” she said.

“No,” said Rose. “But he is better at the technical aspect of things. It’s firmly in his area of expertise.”

“And what’s your area of expertise?” asked Jinna curiously.

Rose smiled at her. “People,” she answered truthfully. “Come on, I’ll help sort out whatever’s annoyed this lot out here.”

Jinna’s eyes narrowed for a moment but upon seeing nothing but honesty on Rose’s face, she nodded. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll introduce you to them then.”

~

They had been travelling in the hover pod for about twenty minutes when Commander Alder turned to the Doctor. “I don’t mean to overstep my bounds, Doctor, but I think you should have insisted upon your wife accompanying us,” he said.

The Doctor didn’t blink. “Rose is capable of looking after herself,” he said flatly. “Besides, Jinna seems to know what she is doing.”

“Jinna is only one woman,” said Commander Alder. “She runs the bazaar, that is all. She isn’t a soldier. She doesn’t even carry a weapon.”

“Knew there was a reason I liked her,” said the Doctor lightly, pretending not to see Alder rolling his eyes. “Now, Commander Alder, I appreciate your concern, but I’d rather talk about the barrier. Tell me what you can about it.”

Alder huffed but nodded. “It was constructed with the terraforming of Epsilon III…”

~

“That’s the last of them then?” asked Rose as she and Jinna returned to Jinna’s stall which was set up in front of her old shop.

“Yes,” said Jinna, examining her inventory with a sigh. “It’s mostly these kinds of disputes everyday. Someone stealing customers, encroaching on their territory...petty stuff, you know.”

“And they come to you to solve it?” asked Rose.

“Nobody else they could go to,” said Jinna with a shrug. “The government doesn’t care. Alder certainly doesn’t. If we want to stop an all-out war in the streets, someone has to step up.”

“War?” asked Rose. “Surely, nobody here…”

“No, nobody here,” said Jinna darkly. “Despite these little fights, everyone sticks together. If we are divided, it just makes it easier for Geo’s lot to pick us apart.”

“Who’s Geo?” asked Rose curiously.

Jinna shook her head. “Pray you never find out,” she said. “Calls himself the new order in this zone. He owns a warehouse just ways away from here. Stockpiles goods, weapons...and slaves.”

“Slaves?” asked Rose, horrified.

“They take women, mostly,” she said, mouth curling in disgust. “They fetch good price, he says. Most folks in this zone up and left when he started coming for their wives and daughters. Better to live in the wasteland than live in fear of their women being snatched from their homes, they said. Can’t say I blame them either.”

“Aren’t you scared?” asked Rose, realising for the first time how few women she had seen since coming to the city.

Jinna snorted. “They don’t want the likes of me, girlie,” she said. “It’s the younger, prettier ones they want.” At Rose’s look of worry, she placed a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, I won’t let them near you.”

“It’s not me I’m worried about,” murmured Rose, jumping in shock when they heard a loud scream.

“It’s them,” said Jinna, looking scared for the first time. “Come on, back inside. Before they see you.” Rose had half a mind to disobey but she followed Jinna, and the two of them went inside the shop. “Stay out of view,” hissed Jinna, locking the door securely.

Rose ducked under the window, but raised her head enough to see what was going on outside. The bustling marketplace had gone deathly quiet as a group of men in black jumpsuits with yellow armbands wandered through the streets. They each had a gun held in their hands, which they were using to point at anyone who was unfortunate enough to be outside. They weren’t shooting, nor were they really harming anyone, but they were threatening them just the same.

It all seemed harmless until the last of their group passed by, and Rose saw that they had taken a group of five or six women, who had been bound by chains and were being dragged along. The oldest in the group could not have been more than twenty and the youngest had to be barely ten. Rose’s fists clenched in anger at her sides.

For the first time since she had left the Time Lock, the grey seemed to vanish until there was only red. It was clarity. She had her clarity back. Heat coursed through her veins like liquid fire and her lips drew back over her teeth in a snarl. She heard Jinna hiss something in her ear, but she didn’t care. She stood up straight and walked out of the shop and onto the street without a single tremor in her step. The group of soldiers seemed to pause in shock at the sight of her, but she merely raised her arms in surrender and spoke in a chilling voice.

“Take me to your leader.”

Chapter Text

Previously

For the first time since she had left the Time Lock, the grey seemed to vanish until there was only red. It was clarity. She had her clarity back. Heat coursed through her veins like liquid fire and her lips drew back over her teeth in a snarl. She heard Jinna hiss something in her ear, but she didn’t care. She stood up straight and walked out of the shop and onto the street without a single tremor in her step. The group of soldiers seemed to pause in shock at the sight of her, but she merely raised her arms in surrender and spoke in a chilling voice.

“Take me to your leader.”

The walk to Geo’s warehouse was short. Rose had been added to the group of shackled women, many of whom were looking at Rose like they had never seen anything like her. She had no trace of fear on her face, just a cold anger that emanated from her very being. Even her captors seemed nervous around her, despite being very well armed.

More guards dressed in similar uniforms and holding guns surrounded the warehouse. In the compound in front of the warehouse was a makeshift cage made from mesh wire that held the women captive. They were dressed in rags and looked malnourished. Many of them had visible bruises on their bodies, a sight which infuriated Rose to no end.

Their group was unceremoniously pushed into the cage as well, but Rose was stopped from entering it.

“You’ll come before Geo,” said the guard.

“Fine,” said Rose curtly, not noticing the curious and downright scared looks she was receiving from the women in the cage.

The guard looked uncomfortable as he gestured for Rose to walk towards the warehouse. Inside, there were crates and crates of goods, being packed by more of the men dressed in the same uniform as the guards. They looked up curiously when they saw Rose but her guard didn’t stop until they had reached the office right at the other end of the warehouse.

“Inside,” he said.

Rose walked into the office and found a man sitting at a desk, scanning a pile of credit sticks. He looked up when Rose was ushered into his office and regarded her with a lascivious smirk.

“An early gift for me, Darius?” he asked.

Darius shook his head. “She gave herself up, Geo,” he said. “Said she wanted to see you.”

Geo’s eyebrows shot up and he got to his feet. “Did she now?” he asked, walking around the desk to stand next to her. “Why would you do that?” he asked, leaning in close to whisper in her ear.

“I heard you liked them young and pretty,” said Rose, her eyes flashing golden unbeknownst to either Geo or Darius.

Geo laughed, though Darius merely smiled politely at his boss. “She is fiery, isn’t she?” he asked and grabbed a fistful of Rose’s hair tightly. “But you will break. Everyone does.”

Rose didn’t wince at the painful action, but turned her head to look at him. “You might find it a bit difficult to break me,” she said and Geo’s smile faded when he saw the bright golden light in her eyes. She smiled sweetly and grabbed the wrist that was holding her hair and twisted it around with the well-practised ease of a combatant.

Geo cried out in pain and Darius tried aiming his gun at her but Rose spun around and kicked him in the ribs, sending him and his gun crashing to the floor. Geo got to his feet and Rose grabbed the back of his neck and pounded his nose straight into the wall of the office until she heard a satisfying crunch. Darius was stirring and Rose picked up his gun to hit him across the head with its butt, knocking him out cold. Geo was howling in pain, his nose spurting blood.

The commotion had brought the others from the warehouse, but Rose grabbed Geo in a chokehold and held him in front of herself as a shield, and pointed Darius’ gun at his head.

“I wouldn’t come closer if I were you,” she told the arriving guards. “Not unless you want his brain decorating the walls.”

“Don’t shoot, you idiots,” shouted Geo, realising that her grip on him was tighter than any woman of her stature should have been capable of. His broken nose and Darius lying unconscious was proof that she could fight and Geo was aware that even his best men were only half as good as her in combat. “Look, what is it that you want?” he asked Rose.

“Call the rest of your men to the warehouse,” said Rose. “All of them and all their guns. I would like to do this without bloodshed.”

“You won’t kill us?” asked Geo in shock, having been half-convinced that she had been sent to kill him.

“Not if you do as I say,” said Rose. “Go on. Give the order.”

Geo was still in shock but she jabbed the gun at his side and he nodded. “You heard her,” he said. “Xio, call everyone inside.”

“B-but she’s just one girl, Geo,” protested the man who was presumably Xio.

Rose responded by firing a shot that missed Xio’s foot by inches, making him jump back in shock. “The next one goes through your heart,” she said calmly, as if discussing the weather. “Do as he says or I might change my mind about the no bloodshed rule.”

Xio looked at her warily as he took the comm. device from his belt. “Everyone to the warehouse. Boss’ orders,” he said.

“Make them line up away from the door,” said Rose. “If I see a single one out of place, I start shooting. And trust me, I don’t miss.”

“Stay clear of the door,” said Xio.

Rose nodded shortly. “Alright, your turn,” she said, looking at the group of guards in front of her. “Start walking. Try anything stupid and you’ll feel a bullet through the back of your skull.”

She watched them turn around and start walking away. Rose looked at Geo who was still being held at gunpoint. “They have weapons but they are untrained,” she said. “Any idiot can tell.”

“What is your plan exactly?” asked Geo. “Because there is only so much they care about my well-being. They’ll start shooting.”

“I’ll be done before then,” she said. “Come on, let’s go and join them.”

She jabbed his side to make him walk and Geo started walking slowly through the warehouse. Mercifully, no one had decided to be stupid enough to try and ambush Rose. Still, Rose made Geo walk ahead of her, keeping her gun trained on him the whole time. Even if Geo’s men weren’t as loyal as he thought them to be, Geo still cared about his own life and he would be damned if he did something that put that in jeopardy.

They came to the main warehouse floor and Rose grabbed Geo in front of her as a shield again. “Don’t shoot!” shouted Geo when some of the flighty ones pointed their guns at Rose. “Let her go.”

Rose kept a sharp eye on the group of men as she led Geo out of the warehouse through the door. She let go of him once she was outside. “Close the door,” she ordered. “Lock it.”

Geo closed the door and locked it from the outside. “Now what?” he asked.

Rose glanced around the compound and relaxed when she saw that Geo’s men had been good enough to obey. There was no one else there except the women in the cage who were staring at Rose with something akin to admiration.

“Let them out,” she told Geo, nodding towards the cage.

He looked at her like she was mad and Rose fired a shot just past his ear, making him jump violently.

“Did you not hear me?” she asked, pointing the gun at him again.

Geo hurried towards the cage and unlocked it, looking at Rose in fear. The cage door opened and Rose motioned for him to move away.

“Run,” she told the women.

For a moment, none of them moved but at Rose’s imploring look, some of the older ones took charge and started ushering everyone out of the cage.

“Go towards the market and find Jinna,” she told them. “Go!”

The women started to escape and Rose finally relaxed. Geo was still staring at her, but she wasn’t concerned about him. She had done it, she had got them out.

A loud shot rang through the air and Rose spun towards it instinctively, just in time to see a group of guards emerging from outside the compound, all of them well armed. The recently escaped women were being led back at gunpoint and Rose was horrified to see that the shot had been aimed at a poor little girl no older than twelve who was now dead on the ground just outside the compound wall.

“Pherric, well done!” said Geo when he saw his guards. He went towards Rose to take her gun and she didn’t even resist as he snatched it from her hand. She couldn’t take her eyes off the dead form of the little girl.

Rage swirled within her, the heat that she had kept buried for so long rose up in her and with a loud cry, she sent Geo crashing to the ground as golden energy erupted from her hand.

The congratulations being thrown around by the guards for recapturing the women went silent when they saw Geo writhing on the ground in pain, surrounded by a golden ball of light. They stared at Rose in utter horror, but she didn’t notice.

“ROSE!”

The Doctor’s voice broke through the cloud of rage and power, but Rose did not ease her torment of Geo. She felt the Doctor come up next to her.

“Rose,” he said in a softer voice. “You can stop now, Rose. The reinforcements are here.”

“They killed her,” said Rose, looking as Geo’s screams became quieter and quieter. He could only take a little more before he passed out from the pain. “They did god-knows what to those poor women.”

“I know,” he said, still in that calm voice, and touched her shoulder. “But you are not like them. You won’t kill him.”

Rose turned to him with eyes radiating vortex energy. “Won’t I?” she asked.

The Doctor didn’t flinch. “No, you won’t,” he said and grabbed the hand that was radiating the energy causing Geo’s pain. “Please, Rose. Just stop.”

At his reassuring touch, Rose dropped her hand and stumbled into him. The Doctor wrapped her in his arms tightly. “That’s it, Rose,” he murmured into her hair. “I’ve got you, my darling. I am not letting you go. I am right here.”

Geo let out a low groan from the ground and Rose flinched violently. The Doctor shushed her gently and stroked her hair. “Commander Alder,” he called over Rose’s head. “I think you can deal with this matter now.”

Without waiting to see if the Commander had listened, the Doctor picked Rose up in his arms and started carrying her away. Rose kept her head buried in his neck, unable to look anywhere but as they passed through the compound gate, Rose saw Jinna comforting the women and handing them food and water. When she saw Rose, Jinna’s eyes widened and she looked away quickly. Rose felt her heart sink and she closed her eyes tightly, opening them only when they reached the motorcycle parked just down the path from the warehouse.

“Okay?” asked the Doctor, setting her down carefully.

Rose nodded mutely and put her helmet on her head. The Doctor smiled softly at her and climbed onto the bike before helping her up.

The ride back to the TARDIS was entirely silent. The Doctor, despite his calm exterior, was barely holding himself together. He kept picturing scenarios where Rose would be shot or worse. He could see the crimson blood staining her pink blouse every time he even blinked. Despite the reassuring presence of her sitting behind him on the motorcycle, he couldn’t stop seeing her dead in his mind’s eye.

Lost as he was in his worry and fears, he didn’t notice that the trembling he could feel at his back wasn’t just the motorcycle’s engine revving through the wasteland, but Rose barely holding herself together. Her hands were shaking violently and she was biting her lips until she had nearly bloodied it. When the motorcycle finally stopped in front of the TARDIS, Rose climbed off it before the engine had completely stopped.

The Doctor watched in surprise as she walked away from the TARDIS with unsteady steps and bent over to empty the meagre contents of her stomach. The Doctor rushed over to her, shocked at the fact that her clothes were drenched in cold sweat and she felt unnaturally cool to touch.

“Rose,” he whispered, holding her hair back as she retched violently again. “Come on, back into the TARDIS.”

Rose didn’t move, her trembling becoming worse until she was shaking violently. Her throat felt like it was closing up and she looked up at the Doctor with tear-filled eyes, feeling the world around her slipping out from under her feet.

“Rose!” She heard her name escape the Doctor’s lips sharply and she felt pain on her arms and saw that he was clutching her upper arms in a painful grip.

“You have to breathe, Rose,” he said, managing to sound calm despite the panic she could see in his green eyes. “Rose!” he said again when she didn’t obey.

Realising that she was not responding, the Doctor released her arms and took her hands instead, holding them both to his hearts. “Breathe,” he instructed, using his heartsbeat to try and bring her breathing to normal.

It worked slowly, and Rose started breathing in and out in a pattern, her gaze never wavering from the Doctor’s. Eventually, her heartbeat evened out and she stood straight, no trembling evident. Abruptly, she walked past the Doctor and went inside the TARDIS. The Doctor sighed and moved the motorcycle back into the TARDIS and sent them away from Epsilon III before going in search of Rose.

It took him a while to find her and when he finally came upon her, she was sitting at the edge of their bed dressed in a towelled bathrobe, wet hair dripping onto her shoulders. He walked up to her and stood in front of her, regarding her with concern.

“How can you even look at me?” she asked him, looking at her hands instead of him.

“Because you never flinched when you saw the darkness inside me,” he said, kneeling in front of her and taking her hands. “How could I turn away from you when you needed me?”

“I wanted to kill him,” she admitted. “I-I saw that girl an-and I j-just…I wanted to make him suffer. Like he did to all those women.”

“I know,” he said and kissed her hands. “It’s okay.”

“It’s not,” said Rose, shaking her head. She tugged on the Doctor’s hands so that he could stand up. “What if you hadn’t been there to stop me? After Torchwood, I promised myself I would never lose control. What good am I?”

“You have been through a lot, Rose,” he said.

“That’s an excuse,” she said.

“No, it’s a fact,” he said seriously. “Yes, you could have killed him. But you didn’t. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t kill him because I stopped you. What matters is that you stopped.”

Rose withdrew her hands from his and looked down. “Do you know why I went there in the first place?” she asked, shame lacing her tone. “Because the anger cleared away the grey.”

The Doctor was silent for a moment. “Yes, I thought it would,” he said and sat down on the bed next to her. “You think that the only way it will stop hurting is if you make someone else hurt instead. Someone who deserves it.” He took a deep breath. “Like I did with the Dalek in Van Statten’s bunker.”

Rose looked at him tearfully. “I thought I could do it,” she said. “I felt...alive, properly alive for the first time.” She shook her head. “But after it was over, my guard dropped. And then seeing that girl...I just lost control.” She looked down at her hands again. “Maybe I should be left alone somewhere. Away from everyone.”

“Don’t say that,” he snapped without thinking and felt ashamed when Rose flinched at his tone and started to withdraw. “Don’t say that,” he repeated in a hoarse tone, standing in front of her. “I don’t ever want you to think that. There is so much good in you still, Rose. Much more than I ever had, even before I went into the war. It will take far more than Torchwood and the Time War to wipe that good from your heart.” He rested his forehead on hers and closed his eyes. “You saved all those women today, Rose, and you did it without killing anyone. Even Geo is still alive and you single-handedly shut down his vile operation. I managed to repair the barrier and the people of Epsilon III have a chance once more to begin anew. So don’t you dare say that you should be kept away from someone. Because there is such good in you, my Rose, that the universe deserves to have that good unleashed on it.”

Rose nodded slowly and swallowed back her tears before lunging forward to kiss him. The Doctor kissed her back fiercely, wrapping his hands in her golden hair as if to draw her as close as possible.

It took a while for Rose to realise that the Doctor was murmuring something every time their lips parted for even a moment. It was only when he started bestowing lingering kisses down the side of her neck that Rose understood what he was saying.

“I love you...I love you...I love you...I love you…”

Rose drew his face back towards her and smiled weakly. “I know,” she said.

He shook his head with a smile and kissed her again. “I should have told you a long time ago,” he said. “I should have said it every second of every day that we were together. I love you, Rose Tyler. I love you so much.”

Eventually, they managed to undress for bed and settle in for a well-deserved night of sleep. It took the longest time for Rose to fall asleep, but when she did, she didn’t have a nightmare.

~

Despite their rocky start, they were determined to continue their initial plan. They were both a little off-balance, with Rose trying to rein in her recklessness while the Doctor had become even more overprotective. They had a few trips where they fought viciously after either Rose wandered off on her own or if the Doctor left her behind to keep her safe. Eventually, they laid down ground rules, the cardinal rule being that the two of them stayed together whenever possible, and their fights tapered off.

Not all places they visited were like Epsilon III. Caracaturus Beta had been desolate and overrun by mutated fauna, the Bennegal colony had been wiped from existence, leaving behind primordial soup showing signs of a new life and the asteroids in the Alignment of Luxor had birthed entirely new species altogether.

Some planets resembled Epsilon III all too easily. The sentient beings on those planets had been impacted by the shockwaves of the Time Lock, which had irrevocably damaged their ecosystems and technology, plunging them into poverty and anarchy. Factions fighting for survival, leaders who didn’t care about the people and general chaos ruled the proverbial streets.

However, every now and again, there were planets like Mandalay where entire fields had bloomed with vibrant flora. Life was indeed prevailing.

The Doctor and Rose made sure to keep to the sidelines. They would help when needed, but left the decisions concerning the planet’s future to the inhabitants of that world. It was a tricky responsibility to balance and they were doing their best to do what was in the interest of everyone concerned.

The Doctor also insisted on taking Rose away to places that didn’t need their help. Rose had tried to protest at first, but given in when the Doctor had insisted. They hiked up the mountains of Heera, swam in the Falls of Astra, watched a symphony on Kirrily II and attended a banquet near the swaying forests of Yaligra.

It felt like they were courting again; going on dates and then returning to the TARDIS in high spirits before kissing each other and going to bed. Rose always had fewer nightmares when they’d had nights like those, which encouraged the Doctor to continue planning more of those dates. It felt like a good way for them to be comfortable with each other again.

Things changed when they arrived on one of the asteroids in the Alignment of Luxor three hundred thousand years after their first visit. Asteroid IV, better known as Celestia, had evolved into a wonderful colony of humanoids whose primary trade was art. Artists from around the Alignment and beyond came to Celestia to show their craft, and hoped to be showcased in the numerous prestigious galleries.

The Doctor and Rose had spent five weeks on the disease-ridden planet of Wynn, working hard to devise the cure for a mysterious illness. Hundreds of people had died even before they had got there and several more had died while they searched for the cure but they had successfully developed a cure, and the people of Wynn now had hope that they would survive. Five weeks of sickness and death and hospitals had put a strain on both of them, so when the Doctor suggested a visit to one of the art galleries on Celestia, Rose agreed easily.

It had started out in the wardrobe room when Rose was getting dressed. The sweeping ivory gown with the halter neck that the TARDIS had picked out for her had turned out to be a bit complicated to fasten. The Doctor had wandered in and tied the string around the back of her neck seemingly without thought. His hands had lingered afterwards, touching the back of her shoulders and arms in fluttering touches, almost like he wasn’t aware of it. It was Rose’s hitched breath that had broken the tension of the moment and they had finished getting ready in silence before heading out.

The tension followed them out of the TARDIS though. Their hands were brushing each other more than usual and quiet words were being exchanged in slightly breathless whispers. If asked later, neither one of them would be able to recall a single art piece they had seen that evening, even though they went to three different galleries.

In the last gallery that they visited, there had been a section on the legends of lost worlds. When they came upon the very last painting, they read that it had been a world where time had ruled. The colours were a bit wrong, the structures a little different but it was still unmistakably Gallifrey.

“How is it possible?” asked Rose finally, after the initial shock had worn off.

The Doctor turned to her with a smile full of wonder. “Morphic resonance,” he said. At her look of confusion laced with curiosity, his smile became wider. “Every living species has exhibited the existence of some form of a collective memory throughout nature.”

“Like the Matrix for Time Lords?” asked Rose.

“Very much like it,” he nodded. “Often, it was embedded in the planet’s morphogenetic field. Take the Eurasian blue tit for example. In 1920, those pesky little birds learned to peel off the seal from milk bottles to lap at the cream underneath it near Southampton. By 1945, blue tits all over Britain were doing it. Like a form of race memory.”

“So, you are saying that Gallifrey is a memory in the morphogenetic field of the universe?” asked Rose.

“Yes,” said the Doctor with a soft smile. “Some species might remember it completely, others might have a vague recollection of it and there would be those who would not know what it was but the memory would resonate with them for reasons they couldn’t explain.”

Rose listened to his explanation with fascination and turned to look back at the painting. “That is amazing,” she said, her voice hushed with awe. “Can you imagine being so intrinsic to the universe?”

“I don’t have to,” said the Doctor, smiling gently at her. “You and I, we are embedded in the scope of this cosmos. Intimately.”

“The stuff of legends,” said Rose with a nostalgic smile.

“Yes,” he agreed and then tilted his head for a kiss.

Rose closed the distance and the two kissed languorously in front of a painting depicting a world they had protected for so long and the universe that they had sacrificed it for. The Doctor seemed unwilling to part from her lips but when Rose chuckled breathlessly and rested her head on his shoulder instead, he cleared his throat.

“Right then,” he said. “Time for some dinner?”

Rose looked up at him with a small smile. “Let’s go back to the TARDIS,” she said.

“Of course,” he agreed quickly. “We are both tired after Wynn and rest will do us good…”

“Doctor,” interrupted Rose gently as she ran her fingers over his bow tie. “I’m not tired.”

He looked a little surprised but when he saw the blush on her cheeks, he grinned brightly and planted a fervent kiss on her mouth that left her slightly weak in the knees.

They got back to the TARDIS in record time, having run the last few yards. Rose moved towards the console and started the dematerialisation sequence with practised ease. When she realised that the Doctor wasn’t helping her, she turned around and saw him standing with his back to the doors, watching her with a soft smile. There was such emotion on his young-old face that Rose paused in her ministrations and returned his smile with a shyness that seemed to have eclipsed her earlier boldness.

The TARDIS groaned and interrupted their stalemate, but before Rose could resume the dematerialisation sequence, the Doctor crossed the distance and started pressing switches and levers with a determined sense of urgency. Rose’s brow furrowed when she realised that he was navigating them to somewhere in particular and she was about to ask him where they were going, when he silenced her with a reassuring smile.

Deciding to be patient, Rose waited until the TARDIS landed and the Doctor threw on the handbrake. He grinned at her and offered his hand, which she took without hesitation, though she did look at him with narrowed eyes as if trying to discern what he was up to.  

When the doors opened, Rose stared at the view outside in wonder. They appeared to be on top of a massive cloud, which somehow felt solid when Rose stepped out tentatively. She looked at the Doctor with wide eyes, but he merely grinned and walked out as if walking on firm ground. That gave Rose some confidence and she followed him, still a little hesitant as she walked. It reminded her of the time that she had stepped onto Jack’s Chula ship for the first time.

“Where are we?” she asked him finally.

“Earth,” he answered. “Late nineteenth century.” At her look of surprise, he walked up to her and took her hand. “I built this. For reasons I am not proud of.”

Rose’s brow furrowed and she squeezed his hand comfortingly. The Doctor’s lips quirked up a little at the action and he sighed before he spoke again.

“I gave up,” he admitted softly. “After Amy and Rory and River. I just...I gave up.”

“How’d you mean?” asked Rose, looking slightly confused.

“I was tired,” he said. “So very tired of losing my friends. People I loved, who were the closest I would ever get to a family. After you, Mickey and Jackie, Martha, Donna, Wilf...and then Amy, Rory and River...it got too much.” He sighed again and shook his head. “It sounds like an excuse now, but back then, I was just tired. So I came up here and...stayed.”

“You can’t have just...stopped,” said Rose, disbelievingly.

“I did,” he said. “I asked some friends of mine who live down there to keep my secret. They didn’t like it, but they did as I asked.” He smiled a little. “It was here that I met one of Clara’s selves. She jolted me back into action, so to speak.”

“And then she died,” said Rose softly, remembering what he had told her about Clara’s story.

He nodded sadly. “She did,” he said. “But I remembered a version of her from the Dalek Asylum too. So, I got curious. Curiosity is what finally got me moving from here.”

Rose digested that information and looked around at their surroundings. It was beautiful, no doubt, but it seemed less so, now that she knew what it truly was. The Doctor had used it to hide away, to run from his responsibilities, to give up on the universe he had sworn to protect…

Some of her feelings must have shown on her face, because the Doctor sighed again. “I’m not proud of it, Rose,” he said. “It is one of the things that I am most ashamed of in all of my eleven lives.” He met her gaze steadily. “The reason I brought us here now is so I could tell you. Because I refuse to begin again without you knowing the truth about me.”

Rose’s eyes softened and she nodded. “Okay,” she said.

“Yeah?” he asked, smiling tentatively.

“Yes,” she said.

He grinned back in relief and kissed her softly, unable to stop smiling as he did. “Want to see something else?”

Rose regarded him with a sly smile. “Is that a line?”

He laughed and shook his head. “Come on,” he said, pulling her further away from the TARDIS. He seemed to be looking for something in the wispy white cloud and he let out a triumphant shout when he found it. “Right here,” he said, letting go of her hand and offering his arm to her instead.

Rose resisted the urge to ask and took his arm. For a moment, nothing seemed to happen and then they were suddenly rising up higher. Rose nearly lost her balance and the Doctor tightened his grip on her elbow to stop her from falling. The small piece of cloud they were on kept ascending higher and higher until they saw another layer of clouds above them, these ones slightly pinkish instead of white in colour.

“Close your eyes,” whispered the Doctor and Rose obeyed on instinct, smiling slightly when the air around them became slightly warmer.

The cloud stopped moving and Rose’s eyes opened. For a moment, she merely blinked because the view in front of her seemed impossible. She turned to look at the Doctor slowly and at his beaming smile, she looked back at the view of the beautiful little garden nestled on top of the pinkish clouds with awe.

The green grass was soft and springy under her feet when she stepped onto it tentatively and the air was thick with the fragrance of honeysuckles and freesias. Unlike the darkness of night on the clouds below, the sun was shining brightly on top here, casting warmth over them.

“It’s an artificial sun,” murmured the Doctor behind her and Rose spun around to look at him. “The garden started out as a bit of a hobby and then gradually, I started coming here to reminisce. Or when the TARDIS got too empty for even my own thoughts.”

“It’s so quiet,” said Rose, realising that sound was noticeably absent from the air.

“I had to put up several shields and I wanted there to be peace and quiet,” he said by way of explanation. “Although,” he added, taking out his sonic screwdriver and twirling it in his hand before pointing upwards. The air instantly filled with the sounds of chirping birds and a gently flowing stream. “I can pick and choose the sounds.”

Rose regarded him with a smile. “You think you are so impressive,” she said.

“I am so impressive,” he said, smiling so widely that it looked like his face would split in half.

When Rose laughed brightly at that, his smile morphed into something much softer. He walked towards her and took her hand, leading her towards the solitary sprawling tree at the edge of the garden. The ground underneath the tree was softer than the rest of the garden, cushioned as it was by soft, velvet-like silver leaves that had been shed by the tree.

“How did you get the Ulanda tree to grow here?” asked Rose in surprise, looking at the bright silver foliage of the tree that she had seen only on Gallifrey before.

“The TARDIS had the biodata for some of the flora,” said the Doctor. “Ulanda trees, schlenk blossoms, you know. The usual.”

“Oh, schlenk blossoms,” said Rose, closing her eyes briefly. “They smelled so good.”

The Doctor was silent for so long that Rose opened her eyes to look at him, wondering if she had said something wrong, but found him looking at her with the softest look on his face. “Yes, they did,” he nodded and then sat down under the Ulanda tree. “Join me?”

Rose nodded and sat down next to him, closing her eyes as the crisp, spicy scent of the Ulanda tree assaulted her olfactory senses. Behind her closed eyes, she could picture Gallifrey again in the early days of the war when some of the flora was still standing, when they still put freshly cut schlenk blossoms in vases in the council chambers, when the land had not gone barren...

“I try and remember only the good in this garden,” whispered the Doctor and Rose opened her eyes to look at him sadly. He cupped her face and pressed his lips to her forehead. “Let me make love to you here, Rose. I can think of no better place to begin again.”

Rose tilted her head and brushed her lips against his cheek and proceeded to kiss down his jaw. At the same time, she took his hands and placed them on her hips, smiling against his chin when his fingers began exploring her body in tentative strokes. The Doctor shifted slightly and helped ease Rose onto her back. The Ulanda leaves were soft enough to lie down on and Rose giggled lightly when some of them tickled her back that had been left bare by her gown.

“Something funny?” inquired the Doctor with a smile, continuing to bestow butterfly kisses down the side of her neck.

“Tickles,” said Rose, gasping when he dipped his tongue into her clavicle. She arched towards him, her eyes closing in pleasure. The days of chaste kisses and shared beds had taken their toll and she was eager for more.

The Doctor seemed to be unhurried in his actions, so much so that Rose wrapped her arms around his neck and flipped them over so that he was the one below her. He laughed at the unexpected change in position and Rose winked at him before reaching back and untying the strings at the back of her neck holding the halter gown up. The strings came undone after a tug and the front of the gown slid down until it rested at her waist.

The Doctor’s laughter stopped as he looked at her bare torso with a slack-jawed expression on his face. It had been so long since he had seen her like this that it took him a moment to propel his body back into action. Fortunately, Rose seemed to understand and was patient as he looked his fill of her with the same look of awe she caught him looking at her with these days.

“You can look away, you know,” murmured Rose softly. “I won’t disappear.”

He shook his head slowly. “You say that now,” he said, a rare note of vulnerability in his voice.

Rose took both his hands and intertwined their fingers together tightly. “Not this time,” she said. “I am not going anywhere. Not without you, at least.”

“Promise me,” he said, his voice low and rough like he was holding back tears.

“I promise,” said Rose.

The Doctor nodded once and Rose smiled as the two of them undressed each other slowly before Rose lay back down on the Ulanda leaves, beckoning the Doctor with a smile. The Doctor gazed at her with darkened eyes and slowly slid down her body, touching her body in feathery touches of his hands as he did. He lifted one long leg to his mouth and kissed it, keeping his eyes on hers the whole time.

“So beautiful,” he murmured, kissing his way along her leg. “I dreamed about this every time I closed my eyes. Wondered if I remembered the feel of your skin as well as I thought. If it would feel just like it used to against these new hands.”

Rose barely suppressed the moan threatening to escape her lips as the Doctor settled himself between her thighs and inhaled deeply.

“Wondered if you would smell just as good with this new nose, whether you would taste the same,” he said, parting her lips and tasting her with a long lick.

“And?” moaned Rose, enjoying the way he dipped his tongue into her core in slow, deliberate actions.

“My imagination could never do you justice, Rose Tyler,” he said, punctuating his words with sharp flicks of his tongue against her clit. “No memory can compare to this moment, Rose, and I would never want it to.”

“Me neither,” gasped Rose, as he sped up his actions and pushed a long finger inside her. “All those years before I came back to this universe, I wondered what you would be like…” Her words tapered off into a long moan as the Doctor added another finger and sucked her clit into his mouth. “If you would still want me.”

The Doctor looked up at her for a brief moment before returning to his task with renewed vigour. “I will always want you,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I regenerate yet again or if I keep this body until I go grey. Getting to touch you like this and feeling you come apart under me is incomparable to anything else in the universe.”

His words, coupled with his expert fingers and tongue, were bringing Rose closer and closer to the brink, and it was with great effort that she pushed herself up on her elbows and stopped him. The Doctor looked at her in surprised, but Rose pulled him up so she could kiss him thoroughly. She could feel his slight confusion at having been made to stop and she smiled at him as she broke the kiss.

“I need you to be inside me,” she said. The Doctor looked a little pink around the cheeks when she said that and Rose tilted her head at him. “Something wrong?” she asked.

“First time in this body,” he blurted out.

Rose laughed, thinking that he was joking but when he merely turned redder, she stared at him in shock. “You were married,” she said before she could help it.

The Doctor’s face was redder than she had ever seen it before. “It never came up,” he said.

“Well, it’s definitely up now,” said Rose, feeling him pressed up against her hip.

He shot her an admonishing look though his embarrassment was still palpable. “It wouldn’t have been fair. I was still in love with you and she knew it,” he said seriously. “I would have felt like I was taking advantage, even if she was willing.”

Rose stroked the side of his face. “Okay,” she said. “We’ll go slowly.”

The Doctor smiled gratefully and nodded. Rose grinned at him and manoeuvred him until he was sitting comfortably with his back against the thick, but pliable trunk of the Ulanda tree and climbed onto his lap. Immediately, the Doctor could see the beauty of this position. Not only could he guide the movement of Rose’s hips, he could also gaze at her face unimpeded.

Rose moved up slightly and sank down on him carefully, taking him inside her with deliberate slowness. The Doctor’s hands gripped her hips tightly as he buried his moan into the side of neck.

“Oh god, Rose,” he groaned. “I had forgotten how good this felt.”

“I hear you,” nodded Rose, holding onto his shoulders for balance. “Whenever you are ready...oh my god, Doctor!”

The Doctor sucked at the skin of her neck as he pulled her down onto himself fully. “Okay?” he asked.

“Better than,” panted Rose. She rocked her hips tentatively and was rewarded by a deep moan that rumbled from the Doctor’s chest.

He tightened his grip on her and began to guide her hips in a rhythm that felt right. Rose caught on quickly and she moved on top of him without requiring much guidance and the two of them fell into a natural dance of their bodies. Despite the cool shade cast by the Ulanda tree, they both began to sweat as the heat built up between their bodies. The Doctor’s hands were roving all over Rose’s back, occasionally moving down to her bum to knead the flesh. Rose buried her fingers into his still great hair and tugged him into a kiss, their mouths and tongues clashing together messily.

Rose could feel herself getting close again, and this time, she increased their pace instead of slowing down as the Doctor leaned down to capture her nipple into his mouth and Rose came with a loud shout that people on Earth would have heard, had the sound barrier not been in place. The Doctor allowed himself a pleased smile as Rose rode out the aftershocks of her orgasm. His own climax was building up and his head fell onto Rose’s sternum as she tightened around him deliberately and brought him over the edge with a scream of pleasure.

The two of them stayed as they were until they caught their breaths and Rose reached over to pick up his discarded shirt so they could clean themselves up. Once they were done, they fell back down onto the fallen Ulanda leaves side by side, basking in the glow of their lovemaking. The Doctor glanced at Rose and smiled lovingly at her, admiring the way she looked gloriously dishevelled as she lay naked without an ounce of self-consciousness.

Rose, on the other hand, was staring at the foliage with a puzzled expression. “Do these leaves look odd to you?” she asked him.

The Doctor reluctantly looked away from openly admiring Rose and glanced up at the foliage, which promptly made him blush. He had forgotten he had done that.

Rose was still staring at it, turning her head this way and that way, trying to see it. “It looks like...is that…?” She looked at the Doctor, who looked sheepish. “Does that say ‘Rose’?”

The Doctor cleared his throat in embarrassment. “Artificial sun,” he mumbled. “I could manipulate it to let the foliage grow out the way I wanted. And I missed you...so....”

Rose cut him off by rolling towards him and kissing him gently. “I love you too, Doctor.”

~

“Still haven’t found a Maths teacher,” grumbled Headmaster Armitage as the end of term meeting ended. “Certainly won’t find someone before Christmas now. Andrew could have given bit more of a notice.”

Clara said nothing. Being the new English teacher, not to mention one of the youngest teachers in the school, meant that she was quite low on the totem pole at Coal Hill. She gathered up her books quietly and shot a quick grin at Beth before making a hasty exit.

Christmas was closer than ever and there would be no returning to Coal Hill until the New Year. Clara had generously decided to make Christmas dinner this year for her Dad, Gran and Linda. Usually, it would be her Dad making the turkey as he did every year, but this time, Clara had insisted on doing it herself.

She had briefly considered ringing the Doctor and inviting him and Rose along for Christmas, but then changed her mind. She had no idea how long those two might need to recuperate, especially Rose. Coming to Christmas dinner with a bunch of strangers who loved to argue over the table hardly sounded like a relaxing experience.

One of the things that Clara had done upon returning home had been to try and find out as much about Rose from around the Estate as she could. It hadn’t been difficult; people around the Estate had good memories. A picture had slowly formed in Clara’s mind of a free-spirited, popular girl who had always had a kind word and sunny smile for everyone. Thinking about the Rose that she had met, Clara had seen glimpses of that girl in her, but age and war seemed to have hardened her spirit. She had reminded Clara more of the Doctor than Rose Tyler of the Powell Estate.

Some days it felt as if it had all been a dream. Four Doctors, Zygons, Queen Elizabeth I, Gallifrey, the Time War...it all felt like a bizarre other-life, especially when she was walking home on a cold December evening in London, and she knew that those aspects of her life would never touch it. She wasn’t sure if that thought filled her with relief or sadness.

Shaking her head at herself, Clara continued to walk home, making a note to find a flat of her own as soon as the new year had started. She was walking past a darkened alley when she saw a blue glow emanating from the alley.

Clara turned towards it on instinct, feeling the familiar spike of adrenaline in her system. The blue glow seemed to be coming from a single round source, the size of a cricket ball, which was around Clara’s eye-level. When she walked towards it, two more of those blue lights lit up on either side of the first one, and Clara stopped in her tracks.

“CLA-RA OS-WALD.”

The harsh, metallic voice made Clara step back on instinct. The three Daleks moved forward menacingly.

“YOU WILL COME WITH US!”

Chapter Text

The Doctor chuckled and inched his fingers under Rose’s top, tickling her ribs lightly. She squealed at his touch and burst into laughter. The two of them had spent a few more hours in their cloud garden before returning to the TARDIS for a much needed shower. They had gotten dressed, eaten a widespread of breakfast foods (no toast, though) and were currently trying to ascertain their next destination from the list that the TARDIS had made for them but they kept getting distracted by each other.

“Stop it,” laughed Rose. “We have to get something done today, besides each other.”

“Where’s that rule then?” he asked cheekily, pressing her against the console and kissing the side of her neck. “Who says we can’t spend today and maybe even a few more days exploring each other instead?”

Rose’s protest died on her lips when the Doctor found that spot on her neck and began lavishing attention on it with his lips, tongue and teeth. “God, you drive me mad when you do that,” she gasped, tilting her head back to allow him better access.

“I know,” he said, smiling smugly against her neck. “Fair’s fair, really. You manage to discover my weak spots so easily in every body.”

Rose hummed in agreement and then pulled his head up to kiss him instead. “But I’ve barely discovered what you like in this body,” she said, holding his gaze when she pulled away. “Don’t be in a hurry to change it.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he said, grabbing her waist and lifting her to sit on top of the console.

“Ouch,” said Rose, shifting to avoid the lever digging into her hip. “This hasn’t gotten any more comfortable, you know.”

The Doctor opened his mouth, ready with a retort, but the sound of the Cloister Bell echoed through the TARDIS, sending a chill down their spines. Rose met his gaze and hopped down from the console as they both started checking the console to see what was causing it. Their previous playful mood was gone, replaced with a sense of foreboding.

“Here,” said Rose, pointing to the receiver on the console. “There’s an incoming transmission.”

The Doctor walked up to her and examined it with a frown. “It’s being broadcasted to everyone. All over the universe.”

“Not many beings in the universe with that sort of technology,” said Rose, the feeling of foreboding getting worse at the ominous three beeps being repeated over and over again. “Why isn’t the TARDIS translating?”

“I don’t know,” said the Doctor. “It might be encrypted which means it needs a key to unscramble it. It’s not uncommon, especially if they are broadcasting all over the universe.”

“They don’t want everyone to know what it says, yeah,” she nodded. “We should track it, shouldn’t we?”

“Don’t see any other way,” he said lightly and reached around her to activate the tracker.

Letting the tracker do its job, Rose turned around and snogged the Doctor deeply, her hands fisting into his tweed jacket with alarming strength. The Doctor cupped her face gently and returned the kiss until she relaxed her hold.

“I’m here,” he said, resting his forehead against hers. “Whatever you are feeling, you won’t lose me. Okay?”

Rose nodded and wrapped her arms around him, feeling comforted when he returned her embrace and held her close to him. “Maybe it’s nothing,” she said, unconvincingly. “I have been getting a bit jumpy at times.”

“Either way, I’m not going anywhere,” he said, brushing his lips over her hair. “Wouldn’t want to be anywhere without you. Love you too much.”

The tracker beeped with the result and they broke their hug reluctantly and turned to the console to look at it. A light blue planet with ice rings around it was visible on the scanner. Surrounding the planet were a myriad of ships, all of them in orbit.

“Oh my God,” said Rose, staring at the scanner.

“Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Draconians, Judoon...ooh, this is not good,” said the Doctor, looking at the individual ships. “This is not good at all.”

“Why are they all just parked around the planet?” asked Rose, finally tearing her gaze from the scanner to look at the Doctor. “What are they waiting for?”

“The planet’s shielded,” realised the Doctor. “They can’t get in.”

“Who shielded it?” asked Rose.

“Give me a moment,” said the Doctor. “The TARDIS can run a loop to see who was the first to arrive.”

Rose nodded and let the Doctor get to work. She saw the Dalek ship on the scanner and had to clench her fists to stop them from trembling. She had known that some Daleks had survived the war, but being so close to them now was bringing up unpleasant memories, not to mention, her tenuous control on her recklessness was slipping. The Doctor, concerned as he was about her these days, noticed the state she was in and brushed a comforting hand up and down her arm until the tension receded slightly.

“I should be stronger than this,” said Rose in a low voice as they waited for the TARDIS to work her magic. “I have faced Daleks before I even knew what they were. This shouldn’t be hard.”

“You are stronger than you think,” said the Doctor gravely. “This is the first time you have been around Daleks since the war. It should be the most difficult thing to face them and trust me, you are holding up far better than I did.”

“That’s ‘cos I’m here,” she said, looking at him. “What happens when we leave the TARDIS?”

The Doctor smiled easily. “Do you really think I’m going to let a Dalek anywhere near you?” he asked, the protective gleam in his eye apparent even as he smiled jovially.

Rose smiled back weakly, feeling heartened despite her misgivings. It was easy to forget the darker persona that this Doctor seemed to possess, hidden as it was underneath layers of childishness and bright smiles.

The Doctor beamed when he saw her smile and he turned his attention back to the TARDIS. His smile dimmed when he saw the first ship to arrive at the planet.

“What?” asked Rose curiously.

The Doctor grimaced before answering. “The Church of the Papal Mainframe,” he said.

“Never heard of ‘em,” said Rose, shaking her head.

“51st century, weird traditions. Biggest security hub of their time,” he said. “I knew their Mother Superious. She has been very helpful at times.”

“Okay” said Rose. “So, I suppose we need to get dressed up for church then?”

The Doctor shook his head in amusement. “Dressed down, actually,” he said. “Visitors have to be in the nude.”

Rose’s mouth fell open. “Seriously?” she asked.

The Doctor laughed. “No,” he said. “They used to, until a few years ago. Now you only have to be nude if you are going in for a confession, which I don’t suppose either of us are.”

“We’re not exactly the confessing types, are we?” chuckled Rose as she turned back to the scanner. “Do we know what planet this is?” she asked suddenly.

“Oh,” said the Doctor. “No, but we could find out. Ah, here we go. Basic diagnostics tell us this is…” He stopped talking and stared at the screen in front of him with wide eyes.

“Doctor?” asked Rose, looking at him in concern.

“It’s wrong,” he said, his voice low and rough with anger. He smacked the side of the screen sharply, making the TARDIS hum in irritation. “Your analysis is wrong,” he added in a louder voice, glaring at the console.

“Doctor,” said Rose sharply as the TARDIS lights above the rotor flickered angrily. “What does it say?”

The Doctor moved away from the console and did not answer. Rose shot him a worried look before checking the scans herself and a sharp gasp escaped her when she read the name of the planet.

“It can’t be,” whispered Rose. “It doesn’t...it’s not…”

“I know,” snapped the Doctor. “Gallifrey, indeed. Does that look like Gallifrey to you?” he asked loudly, yelling at the rotor.

The TARDIS stayed silent and Rose absently reached for the Doctor’s hand. “Maybe it’s a mistake,” said Rose, shaking her head. “I’ll run it again.”

“Don’t bother,” said the Doctor, taking her hand despite his tone of irritation. “We both know that’s not Gallifrey.”

“Well, the TARDIS thinks it is,” said Rose.

“I destroyed Gallifrey,” he said, eyes flashing in anger. “You know I did. So it can’t be down there.”

“I know,” said Rose, closing her eyes briefly to keep her temper. “I know,” she repeated in a softer voice. “Maybe it’s a remnant of something from the Time Lock. All communications during the war were encrypted, weren’t they?”

The Doctor stared at her with wide eyes and nodded slowly. “Yes,” he said. “It’s not completely impossible for a comm. device or a stray weapon to have fallen from the Time Lock. They were all built with homing beacons so they could be recalled to Gallifrey rather than fall into enemy hands.”

Rose nodded along. “So, maybe it’s not Gallifrey down there,” she said. “Just stray technology.”

“Right, stray technology,” said the Doctor, his anger starting to recede. “Nothing more than stray technology.”

The two of them nodded yet again, as if pushing back every thought about Gallifrey to the backs of their mind. Rose wasn’t certain if they were hoping to be right or wrong about it. But the Doctor was right. He had destroyed it. He had pressed that button and ended the Time War.

“How did you get out?” asked Rose curiously, her eyes far away.

The Doctor looked at her sharply. “What?” he asked.

Rose looked at him with a frown on her face. “How did you get out of the Time Lock after you pressed that button?” she asked.

“Rose,” he said sternly, as if that was all he would say on it.

Rose ignored it and pressed on. “You said you created a small tear in…”

“Rose,” he said again, his voice much sharper this time. “Gallifrey did not survive through the tear I made. It was barely enough for one TARDIS to get through and I’m pretty sure it closed behind us when we left.”

“But it didn’t though, did it?” asked Rose. “You still got out.”

The Doctor stared at her unblinkingly and then looked down at the console, shaking his head in confusion. “The TARDIS got me out,” he insisted as if that was enough of an answer.

“How? We left the TARDIS behind before we walked all the way to the shed,” said Rose persistently.

“I don’t know,” he said. “She must have found me. Honed in and materialised around me...it doesn’t matter,” he added sharply and looked up at her pleadingly. “Rose…”

Upon seeing the look of utter hopelessness in his eyes, Rose decided to let up and nodded instead. “Alright,” she said and walked over to him. “I’m sorry. Just...let’s just deal with this, ‘kay?”

The Doctor nodded and Rose smiled back softly as they started to work the console in silence. “I can’t let myself think that, Rose,” said the Doctor when they were in the final moments of the dematerialisation process. “I can’t let myself hope.” He snorted humourlessly. “Or dread it, as is the case.”

“Doctor,” said Rose gently. “You told me how empty it is in your head. Wanting to fill that silence...it doesn’t make it wrong.”

“Except what we did...what I did...they are not likely to forgive either of us if they survived by some impossibility,” he said darkly.

Rose wished she could assure him that some of them might, but she knew the words would sound hollow and falsely optimistic. Even if Gallifrey had survived by some miracle, she was certain their arrival would be met by anything but forgiveness.

The TARDIS materialised on the gigantic ship belonging to the Church of the Papal Mainframe and the Doctor and Rose shook themselves out of their individual trains of thought. The doors opened to a darkened church hallway with a high ceiling. A row of military personnel stood on either side of the hallway, unmoving and staring straight in front of them. None of them had reacted to their arrival, apart from the man at the far end of the hallway who beckoned them with a nod.

“The Mother Superious will receive you now,” he said, as the massive double doors swung open into a spacious altar chamber decorated in purple silks.

A woman dressed in swathing black and blue gown smiled at the Doctor in greeting. “I was just about to extend you an invitation,” she said. “Welcome, Doctor. It is nice to see you again.”

“And you, Tasha,” said the Doctor, bowing deeply. “Rose Tyler, meet Tasha Lem. She is the Mother Superious. Tasha, Rose is…”

“Your wife,” finished Tasha, with a smile towards Rose. The Doctor and Rose opened their mouths to deny it but she waved it away. “You may not have formalised the arrangement but you forget that the Church sees everything, Doctor. You two have been doing quite a lot to rebuild the universe. You have our gratitude and our congratulations on having found each other again after much time apart.”

Rose seemed a little astonished at how much Tasha knew about them but the Doctor merely smiled and nodded. Tasha offered them both seats and sat herself down in front of them with a pensive look on her face.

“I wish we had met under more pleasant circumstances, but I’m afraid I require help from you,” she said. “Both of you.”

“The planet down there,” said Rose, sitting up in interest. “Do you know what’s happening to it?”

“No,” answered Tasha. “Which is why I need you both. The first thing we did upon arriving was seal off the planet to stop anyone from landing on it, including us.”

“What about the signal?” asked the Doctor.

“We haven’t been able to decipher it,” said Tasha, shaking her head. “Again, with limited knowledge of what it is, it has been difficult. All we know is that those three beeps are being broadcast all over the universe and eliciting the same response in all species.”

“What response?” asked Rose warily.

Tasha met her gaze gravely. “Dread,” she said. “That’s why they have all come here. To find whatever it is and stop it from ever leaving this planet.”

The Doctor and Rose exchanged a long look before the Doctor turned back to Tasha. “That planet downstairs,” he said. “What is it called?”

Tasha stood up slowly, motioning them to do the same. “Trenzalore,” she said. “It’s called Trenzalore.”

~

Clara awoke with a sharp gasp, as if someone had screamed loudly in her ear. She appeared to be flat on her back on a hammock that was swinging back and forth listlessly. The smell of metal and burnt soufflé permeated the air and there were loud shouts in the distance that ought to have sounded familiar, but her brain was far too scrambled to understand it.

She sat up slowly, careful not to jostle the hammock too badly. She appeared to be inside a tiny mechanical room, with a wide, comfortable-looking black chair. She glanced to the other side and was surprised to see the door boarded up by wood planks. The place seemed eerily familiar but it swayed before her eyes, making her stumble.

When her eyes opened again, she appeared to be sitting comfortably in a wide conference room dominated by an oval-shaped glass table. The chairs lining the table were all empty, except for the one directly opposite Clara, which was occupied by a well-dressed woman in black, with an odd eye patch covering one of her eyes.

“Identity confirmed,” said the woman in a cool voice before resting her elbows on the table. “Hello, Clara Oswald. It is nice to meet you.”

“Where am I?” asked Clara, trying her best to think of the last thing she remembered properly.

“You’re in church,” said the woman with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. She leaned forward slightly. “Don’t fret, it is the quiet part of the church. Just us girls.”

“Who are you?” asked Clara warily.

“You can call me Madam Kovarian,” she said.

The conference room door opened and Clara turned towards it. A tall humanoid with an elongated, bulbous face and long fingers walked in, dressed in a well-tailored black suit. Clara stared in horror at the creature.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Madam Kovarian and Clara’s eyes snapped to her.

“Don’t worry about what?” she asked, feeling confused.

Madam Kovarian smirked. “Exactly,” she said. “Now, dear Clara, just sit back and enjoy the show.”

The screen on the far wall of the conference room lit up and Clara was shocked to see the Doctor and Rose talking to a dark-haired woman. She couldn’t hear what they were saying but it seemed to be a serious discussion.

“Where are they?” asked Clara, turning to Madam Kovarian.

“They’re here,” she answered, examining her nails with a bored look. “But they won’t be, for long. Our Mother Superious is sending them out on a mission.”

“Then why did you…” Clara trailed off as her memories finally snapped back into place. Daleks had confronted her on her way home. “Where are they?” she asked Madam Kovarian who was staring back at her impassively. “I know the Daleks brought me here. Are you working for them?” she demanded, getting to her feet.

“Working for them, dear Clara?” asked Madam Kovarian, smiling widely as the skin of her forehead parted and a Dalek eyestalk protruded out of it. “Yes, you could say that we are.”

Clara jumped back in shock, staring in horror at the repulsive sight. She looked ready to bolt but Madam Kovarian stood up and held up a Dalek ray gun coming out of her hand.

“Sit down,” she said in a pleasant voice that was colder than ice.

Clara considered the merit of disobeying her and just running, but the fact that she hadn’t been harmed yet gave her some heart. Silently, she sat back down in her chair.

“Good,” praised Madam Kovarian, and the hideous Dalek parts withdrew themselves back into her body as she sat down. “Isn’t it nice when we keep things all civil?”

“Why am I here?” asked Clara, glancing at the screen where the Doctor and Rose appeared to be getting ready to leave. “Do they know I’m here?”

“You are here as insurance, Clara Oswald,” said Madam Kovarian. “Not that they are aware of it. If the Doctor is foolish enough to disobey the collective might of the Dalek Empire and the Church of the Papal Mainframe, then we have something valuable that would make him obey.”

“What is it that you want him to do?” asked Clara.

Madam Kovarian looked like she might answer but a cool ping chimed through the room and she turned her attention to the screen. Clara followed her gaze and saw the Mother Superious smiling. She appeared to be alone in the wide altar chamber.

“How is our guest doing, dear?” she asked lightly.

“Being very cooperative so far,” answered Madam Kovarian, looking at Clara with a small smirk. “Have they gone?”

The Mother Superious nodded. “The Doctor and Rose Tyler reacted as expected,” she said. “They have been told to discover the mystery of the planet and that it is vital to the survival of the universe. They agreed to the task and I teleported them down to the planet through the shields. It is all going to plan.”

“And what of the Doctor’s machine?” asked Madam Kovarian in a hard voice.

The Mother Superious smirked. “It remains here,” she said. “They have no way out.”

~

“Doctor,” called Rose as the Doctor began striding forward with purpose as soon as Tasha had teleported them down to the planet. “Doctor, hold up, will you?” She caught up with him and grabbed his arm. “Oi, what’s going on?”

He didn’t answer but Rose was equally relentless and with a sigh, he gave in. “This is Trenzalore,” he said, giving a weight to the name that Rose didn’t quite get.

“I know,” she said, looking around at their snowy surroundings. “Looks mostly like what I remember it.”

The Doctor looked alarmed. “You’ve been here before?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “I told you, remember? Trenzalore was where the Daleks caught up to me and the explosion brought me back to this universe. To you, on Karn.”

The Doctor blinked as he remembered her telling him the story after the event at the Gates of Elysium. Her story had raised so many more pertinent questions that this little factoid had gone past without much thought. He had been a little shocked that the weak spatial point had been on the planet with his own grave, but apart from that, he had dismissed it immediately. Never ignore a coincidence. Unless you’re busy.

“Doctor,” said Rose, looking at him questioningly. “Doctor, what is it?”

“Probably nothing,” he said, his brain racing to connect the dots.

Rose didn’t buy that for a moment. “Doctor,” she implored.

He ran a hand over his face and exhaled deeply. “It’s my grave,” he said finally.

“Your grave?” asked Rose in surprise. “I don’t understand.”

He smiled sadly. “I can’t live forever, can I? Some day, I’ll run out of my regenerations,” he said. “And when that day comes, Trenzalore shall be my grave.”

“Why Trenzalore?” asked Rose, trying not to dwell on the notion of him dying and not regenerating.

“I don’t know,” he said, with a gentle shake of his head. “It hasn’t happened for me. But I have always been curious, so I discovered my gravesite a long time ago. A sort of youthful curiosity in my seventh life to remind myself of my own mortality.”

Rose’s eyes softened. “You’re not going to die just yet, Doctor,” she said. “You still have regenerations left, not to mention many more years in this body.”

“I can still die if I am killed before I can regenerate,” he said, feeling compelled to point it out.

“But you won’t,” said Rose, with such conviction that it would have seemed childish coming from anyone else but her. “You aren’t done yet. We are not done yet.”

The Doctor met her fierce gaze and surged forward to capture her lips in a short but intense kiss. “I don’t know what I would do without you, you know that?” he said, linking his hand firmly with hers as they started walking along together.

Rose smiled and swung their joined hands between them. “You are far too ready to jump to the worst possible conclusion, you know that?” she teased back.

“Perils of old age,” he said, only half-joking.

“There’s life in you yet, Time Lord,” said Rose, tossing him a cheeky wink. “Besides, you promised not to change in a hurry, remember?”

“Yeah,” he agreed softly and kissed her temple briefly.

The snow crunched under their shoes as they walked through the ever-present twilight that was typical of the planet. They were yet to leave the wooded area that they had beamed down to and the silence was pressing down heavily around them. While Trenzalore was not a heavily populated planet, it was still unusual that they hadn’t encountered anyone yet.

“Should have worn sturdier shoes,” murmured Rose after a while, scowling at the fact that her thin boots were soaked through because of the snow.

The Doctor smiled a little as he glanced down at her feet but the smile abruptly vanished and he grabbed Rose’s arm to stop her from walking forward. Rose turned to him with an inquisitive look on her face and followed his gaze to where an arm made from stone was poking through the snow a mere foot from where Rose was about to step.

“What in the world is that?” asked Rose, as she bent closer to take a better look.

“No, don’t,” said the Doctor, pulling her away before she got too close. His eyes scanned the snow around them quickly and he bit back a curse. “We have to run. C’mon.”

Rose barely had time to shoot him a bewildered look before he was dragging her behind him as he ran. She heard shuffling behind them as they ran and she glanced back briefly to see the stone arms dragging themselves through the snow. Alarmed, she picked up her pace and they didn’t stop until they emerged out from the woods and into the small town square. The town appeared to be deserted and the tiny houses looked like they hadn’t been inhabited for years.

Rose glanced at the Doctor and found his mouth pressed into a thin line. “What were those things back there?” she asked.

“Weeping angels,” he said and then hastily corrected himself. “Broken weeping angels. They must have attempted to pass through the Church’s shield.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out his sonic screwdriver to scan their surroundings. “Huge mistake.”

“They still seemed to have some consciousness as far as I could see,” said Rose, fighting back a shudder as she remembered those stone hands trying to grab at their ankles. She glanced around at the snow-covered ground to see if any more of them had crawled their way here but found a rusted brass plaque instead. “Christmas,” she read, once she had picked it up. “Looks more like Halloween, if you ask me.” She got a puzzled look on her face when she said the last part, feeling like she hadn’t quite meant to say that out loud.

The Doctor seemed to have thought so too, and had turned to look at her with raised eyebrows. “You always look so beautiful in snow,” he said and then his eyes got wide when she stared at him. “I didn’t mean to say that. I mean, you do look beautiful, but I hadn’t meant to tell you that right now. Also, I can’t seem to stop talking and all I want to do is tell you how much I want to…” He clapped a hand over his mouth to silence himself.

“Truth field,” said Rose, remembering it suddenly. “There’s a truth field here. It even affected the Daleks. I thought it was only around the tower but it seems to be covering the whole place in this universe. Which is a bit inconvenient because I don’t think I can stop talking either now that I’ve started. Incidentally, did I ever tell you that I really do want to take off your bowtie with my teeth…” She winced and covered her mouth too, a hot blush rising on her cheeks.

The Doctor slowly raised a finger, still covering his mouth with his other hand. He reached into his tweed jacket and fumbled around briefly before pulling out two plain gold rings, one slightly wider than the other. He handed the slimmer band to Rose and wore the other on his left ring finger. Rose followed his lead after hesitating for a brief moment and felt the urge to babble subside significantly. She lowered her hand from her mouth cautiously and saw the Doctor do the same.

“They are a special brand of bio dampeners,” he explained. “They ward off telepathic interferences. The truth field is still working so we can’t lie, but at least we won’t babble incessantly.”

Rose nodded and then examined the ring more closely. Her heart jumped when she saw the same symbol from her wedding ring carved onto it. She raised her head to look at the Doctor questioningly, who rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.

“I made them a few days ago,” he said. “I thought we could...one day, maybe.”

She smiled softly in return. “Think we are a bit past planning weddings,” she said. “Didn’t exactly do it the first time around either. We know what we are, and that’s enough. Isn’t it?” she asked softly.

His eyes softened and he nodded. “Yes,” he said and then placed a lingering kiss on her temple. “C’mon, let’s see what else there is.”

Rose slipped her hand into his and the two of them walked towards the tower that Rose indicated. It was identical to the one in the other universe and looked just as abandoned as everything else. They halted at the rusted gate briefly before pushing it open and walking inside with slow, measured steps as if expecting to be attacked at any moment.

However, nothing did, and when they shoved together to open the rotting wooden door that opened the base of the tower, they found themselves in a dusty room piled high with junk, and a strange glow emanating from the far wall. The beeps were louder inside the room and when they finally managed to navigate past everything to reach the far wall, Rose felt the Doctor inhale sharply at the sight of the large, glowing crack in the wall.

“What the hell is that?” asked Rose, trying to move towards it to examine it further only to be yanked back by the Doctor’s firm grip on her hand.

“Don’t,” he said fiercely, regarding the crack with loathing. “I know what it is. I’ve seen it before.” Rose looked at him questioningly but he grabbed her hand to lead them back outside. “We need the TARDIS,” said the Doctor urgently.

“I thought Tasha had put up shields to prevent anything from materialising on the planet,” said Rose as they emerged back out into the snowy town square.

“She has,” nodded the Doctor. “The Church’s shields keep everything out. Not the old girl, though.”

He pointed the sonic screwdriver at the sky and brought it back down with a flourish. Nothing happened, but then Rose felt the key around her neck getting warm and she drew it from under the neck of her blouse. The air filled with the low, wheezing materialising sound of the TARDIS and the Doctor grinned at Rose as he ran inside as soon as the materialisation had finished. Rose followed him a beat later and already found him re-examining the signal through the TARDIS systems.

“Doctor?” asked Rose. “What was that crack back there?”

He took a deep breath before answering. “It’s a crack in the fabric of reality. Two parts of space and time that ought to never have touched,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “I closed it and nearly wiped out my own existence making sure it stayed closed.”

Rose laid a hand on his arm to soothe him and he relaxed a little. “Okay, so how come it’s still here?” she asked.

“It’s just a remnant but someone is knocking from the other side, making it a viable entry into this universe,” he said. “And I ran the diagnostic program once again. The only reason why the TARDIS would identify this planet as Gallifrey was if…”

“If it was Gallifrey that was knocking from the other side,” finished Rose, her eyes going wide. “What are we going to do?”

“Well,” he said, digging through his jacket pockets. “First things first, let’s find out what they are saying, shall we?” He held up a gold, round disk with the mark of Rassilon on it.

“The Seal of Rassilon? Where did you even get that?” asked Rose. “Seals like those haven’t been in used in…”

“Oh, ages,” he agreed. “But they still work on decoding encrypted transmissions.” He raised his hand to insert the Seal of Rassilon into the comm. circuits of the TARDIS.

“No, wait,” shouted Rose, but the Doctor brought his hand swiftly and hit the comm. circuits. The beeps went silent and the Doctor looked at Rose questioningly. She swallowed roughly before speaking. “It’s being transmitted all over the universe,” she said. “They will all hear the translation.”

The Doctor looked horrified as realisation swept over his face, but at that very moment, the air was filled with the sound of the same two words echoing over and over, being broadcast all over the universe.

“Doctor who?”

Chapter Text

Previously

“It’s being transmitted all over the universe,” she said. “They will all hear the translation.”

The Doctor looked horrified as realisation swept over his face, but at that very moment, the air was filled with the sound of the same two words echoing over and over, being broadcast all over the universe.

“Doctor who?”

“Doctor who?”

Clara jumped in shock at the echoing message and saw Madam Kovarian’s face tighten imperceptibly across from her. “What’s that?” she asked.

Madam Kovarian didn’t answer. She touched a holographic panel on the table and the screen lit up with the Mother Superious’ face. “So, it is confirmed now?” she asked.

“Yes,” nodded the Mother Superious. “We have to proceed as planned.”

“Understood,” said Madam Kovarian, glancing at Clara out of the corner of her eye. “Something else?” she asked when the Mother Superious did not look as pleased as the situation warranted.

“His machine is gone,” she said.

“It went past the shield?” asked Madam Kovarian, in surprise.

“Yes,” answered the Mother Superious, tightly.

“No matter,” said Madam Kovarian. “We will know if they try to leave the planet.”

“Of course,” nodded Mother Superious and the link turned off.

“What was that about?” asked Clara, at once.

“None of your concern,” said Madam Kovarian dismissively. “You just sit here nice and pretty until we need you.”

Clara had no intention of doing that at all. “The TARDIS is gone, isn’t it?” she guessed. Madam Kovarian said nothing, but Clara leaned forward eagerly in her chair. “You said I was here as insurance in case the Doctor did not listen to you. And if you know him at all, you would know he is not all that fond of listening to other people. Especially when you hold his friends hostage.”

Madam Kovarian turned to her sharply and then laughed. “My dear Clara, there is still a viable chance that he will do exactly what is expected of him with no prompting from us.”

“Do what?” asked Clara insistently.

Madam Kovarian’s smirk widened. “There is a planet down there. I believe you have been there before, although this is a few years before you were here,” she said. Clara looked confused. “Trenzalore,” said Madam Kovarian, in a singsong voice.

“Why?” asked Clara. “If we are early then his grave isn’t even there on the planet.”

“No, but there will be several graves once we are done,” said Madam Kovarian with a sinister smile. “Every Time Lord who crosses over to this side.”

“Time Lords?” asked Clara, in shock. “But they’re all dead. They’re gone and can never come back.”

“Oh, Clara,” said Madam Kovarian in a falsely sweet voice. “You and I have so much to talk about.”

~

“How?” asked Rose.

“I don’t know,” said the Doctor.

“But the Moment an-and…”

“I don’t know,” interrupted the Doctor in a louder voice, bringing his fist down on the console, which immediately shut down the echoing ‘Doctor Who?’ message being broadcast. He looked at Rose who was staring at him stunned and sighed. “The fields of Trenzalore, the fall of the Eleventh, and the question,” quoted the Doctor. “The first question. The question that must never be answered, hidden in plain sight.” He sighed again and shook his head. “I always thought it meant my death.”

“But it’s not though, is it?” asked Rose, softly. “It’s a way for the Time Lords…for Gallifrey, to come back into this universe.” She exhaled and nodded slowly. “So, first things first, how did they survive? It could have been through the small gap you made in the Time Lock…”

“I told you, it wasn’t enough…” interrupted the Doctor.

“Alright, alright,” said Rose, raising her hands to stop him. “Then, maybe the Moment was never meant to burn Gallifrey.”

The Doctor looked at her in shock. “What?” he asked.

“The Time Lords made it, didn’t they? Well, the power source, at least,” she amended. “Why would they make a weapon that could kill them and their world?”

“It doesn’t matter how they survived,” said the Doctor. “They chose the question only I can answer so that they would know it is safe to come back.”

“But it isn’t though,” said Rose, with a quick nod towards the scanner which still showed the ships hovering over the planet.

“No, it is not,” agreed the Doctor with a short nod. “I’ll have to warn them off somehow. Close the crack for good.”

“And you’re sure you want to do that?” asked Rose delicately.

He stared at her with raised brows. “You want them to come back? Have you forgotten the last days of the war?” he asked.

Rose glared at him icily. “I remember them very well,” she said, her lips drawn together.

He looked immediately chastised. “I know, I’m sorry,” he said sincerely.

Rose nodded at him, her glare softening into a look of pensiveness. “They are your people. We don’t know how they survived, or how long they have been wherever they are now, or even who survived,” she said. “What if we close this crack right now and you never get to know the answers to those questions?”

The Doctor looked down at the console for a long moment. “You’re right,” he said finally. “Like always,” he added with a wry smile. “But I’m not going to risk starting the Time War anew for the sake of my curiosity. I’m going to close that crack and if Gallifrey is out there somewhere, then we will find another way, a safer way for them to make it back here. Until then, I won’t speak my name.”

“Okay,” said Rose, holding his gaze steadily. “How do we close it then?”

“They are only broadcasting that one question and unfortunately for us, we are the only two people in the universe who cannot lie about that answer,” he said. “But fortunately, I am also very clever. I just need to…”

They were cut off by the echoing sound of a homing beacon and they exchanged confused looks before walking out of the TARDIS cautiously. They saw a hologram of Tasha’s face in the sky, the look on her face serious.

“Doctor, Rose,” she greeted tightly.

“Alright, Tasha?” asked the Doctor, looking a bit uncertain.

“So, it is true? It is the Time Lords?” she asked.

“How did you know?” asked Rose but the Doctor chuckled humourlessly.

“Oh, Tasha,” he said, shaking his head. “I am so sorry.”

It was her turn to laugh. “Sorry? You are sorry?” she asked bitterly. “I died, Doctor. The Daleks showed no mercy.”

“Daleks?” hissed Rose, looking at the Doctor. “How?”

“You gave me the answer yourself, Rose,” said the Doctor. “This is where you crossed over from the other universe. It is a weak spatial point in this universe. No wonder Gallifrey chose this spot too. But the Daleks, they knew it too. They recognised the transmission as Gallifreyan, just like we did. Only thing was…”

“They could not translate, though they suspected that it would be a message only you could decode,” said Tasha. “The last survivor of Gallifrey.”

“But if I say my name, then I’m no longer the last, am I?” asked the Doctor shrewdly.

Tasha shook her head with a smile. “You will not bring them back, Doctor,” she said. “The Daleks will not tolerate the return of the Time Lords.”

“So, you’ll lower the shields and let them attack us, is it?” asked the Doctor. “Ruthless but efficient, just like the Daleks.”

“No, Doctor,” said Tasha. “The Daleks do not want blood. Not this time. If you walk away and let us destroy Trenzalore then you and your friends will be spared.”

“I can’t let you do that,” said the Doctor, talking as if they weren’t discussing the fate of the universe but having a simple chat among friends. “If you destroy the planet, then it could cause a cataclysmic explosion. Ruin any chance of the Time Lords ever returning.”

“Exactly,” said Tasha.

“Hang on,” interrupted Rose. “You said his ‘friends’ will be spared.”

“Oh,” said Tasha. “Didn’t I mention?”

Another hologram appeared in the sky, this one showing Clara walking down an alley and being taken by three Daleks. The Doctor and Rose stared in horror as the hologram dissipated.

“She is still alive,” said Tasha. “Leave in your TARDIS and let the Daleks destroy Trenzalore and she shall be returned to you, unharmed. If you disobey, we will kill her, then the two of you, and destroy the planet anyway. You have an hour to evacuate.”

“What about any of the people on this planet?” asked Rose.

“We released a plague that wiped them out,” said Tasha, in a matter-of-fact voice. “One hour. No more.”

She vanished from the sky, leaving the Doctor and Rose in silence. The Doctor looked back at the tower, and then between his ship and Rose. Rose grabbed his hand and made him meet her gaze.

“What do you need?” she asked, her voice sounding much like the commander in the war.

He lifted up her left hand and kissed the ring. “I need time and a diversion,” he said. “Also, getting Clara out is a priority.”

“Do you need the TARDIS?” asked Rose.

He considered it for a moment and then shook his head. “I need a few things from the TARDIS and then she’s all yours,” he said.

Rose nodded and then kissed him fiercely for a moment. “Be careful,” she whispered, resting her forehead on his.

“You too,” he said and kissed her again lightly. “I mean it. You are the one walking into the lion’s den.”

“I’ll be fine,” said Rose, with a bright smile that didn’t fool him for a second. “I’ve done the walk before. It’s practically my favourite walk at this point.”

He returned the smile shakily and pulled her towards the TARDIS. In the back of his head, he felt an ominous ticking that he had only felt ten times before.

The fall of the Eleventh…

~

Clara sat back in her chair, her mind reeling. The Time Lords and Gallifrey had somehow survived and they were trying to come back through Trenzalore. She looked at Madam Kovarian who was sitting opposite from her, calmly letting her process it all.

“So, the Daleks took you over so they could stop the Time Lords from coming back?” asked Clara, just to make sure.

“Yes,” said Madam Kovarian. “I was just coming back from a mission, you see. Ever heard of River Song?”

“Yeah, of course,” said Clara.

“She was my creation,” she said, sighing wistfully. “Well, Madam Kovarian’s, at least. It took time and patience to turn Melody Pond into River Song, let me tell you. But I succeeded. If only that little psychopath hadn’t fallen in love with him.”

“Why did you?” asked Clara. “Why go to all that trouble to kill the Doctor? Was it the Daleks that made you?”

“Oh, not at all,” she said. “This was before the Daleks ever attacked the church. The church watches, Clara Oswald. And it foresaw a time when Silence would fall and the Doctor would speak his name and bring forth chaos. We did everything we could to stop him from ever getting to Trenzalore. But we failed. Our psychopath failed and here we are.”

“Why would the church not want the Time Lords coming back?” asked Clara, curiously.

“Because the Daleks still exist in this universe and it would have meant the beginning of the Time War yet again,” she said. “And this time, we weren’t sure if the universe would survive.” She chuckled bitterly. “Turns out it was all for nothing. The Daleks destroyed us all and there will be no stopping them.”

“The Doctor will stop them. If not today, then some other day,” said Clara confidently.
Madam Kovarian’s candid demeanour vanished and she sat back in her chair. She opened her mouth to say something but there was a cool chime and she touched the holographic device on the table.

“Yes?” she asked, in a tight voice.

“The Doctor’s ship is materialising in the Mother Superious’ chambers,” came a male voice, sounding urgent.

Madam Kovarian got to her feet. “Take reinforcements. I’m on my way,” she said and left without looking back at Clara.

Clara remained stunned for a moment, but then got to her feet and started looking for any guards around the conference room but the hallway outside was empty. With quick and cautious steps, she made her way through the hallway and came across several other corridors with no indications as to where the Mother Superious’ chambers were. As an afterthought, she dug into her pockets to look for something to defend herself with, but only found her keys. Nevertheless, she held it between her fingers, ready to jab any potential guards right in the eye.

“You’re gonna need more than that to defend yourself,” came a voice from behind her and Clara whirled around in shock to see a grinning Rose leaning against the hallway wall.

“Rose?” she asked, in shock. “How did you even-?”

“Doesn’t matter how,” she said, but Clara saw a heavy black device strapped to her wrist. “We have to find a way back to the TARDIS.”

“They said it was in the Mother Superious’ chambers,” said Clara at once.

Rose nodded, fiddling with the device on her wrist. “That makes sense,” she said. “The Doctor merely activated the recall button and the TARDIS materialised at the last location she was in.”

“Hang on, so where’s the Doctor?” asked Clara as she followed Rose down a hallway.

“Still down on the planet,” she answered. “Doing some jiggery pokery to close the crack.”

“Wouldn’t that stop the Time Lords from coming back?” asked Clara.

“For now, yeah,” said Rose. “Until there’s a safer way.”

“Madam Kovarian ordered reinforcements to the chamber. How are we even going to get past them?” asked Clara.

“Madam Kovarian?” asked Rose, turning to look at Clara in shock. “She’s here?”

“Yeah,” said Clara. “I mean, sort of. It’s her body but the Daleks…”

“Yeah, know what that’s like,” said Rose, suppressing a shudder but Clara saw her fists clench. “They rarely took prisoners during the war but the ones that did get caught ended up as Dalek drones. Some even kept their intelligence or thoughts and memories. Not that it helped in the end.”

“Sorry,” said Clara and Rose shook herself to smile shakily at her.

“No, it’s alright. Good thing is, I know how to deal with them,” she said. “Madam Kovarian, though? There’s someone I would have liked to meet before the Daleks got to her.”

“You might just get your wish,” they heard and rounded the corner straight into Madam Kovarian, the Mother Superious and a few guards.

“You didn’t really think that we wouldn’t notice an additional teleport device bringing someone aboard our ship, did you?” asked Tasha, raising her eyebrow.

“Actually,” said Rose with a wide smile. “I was counting on it.”

There was a loud explosion that rocked the entire church and Rose grabbed Clara’s hand, prompting her to run.

“What the hell was that?” asked Clara as Rose pulled her down a long hallway that ended in a large archway with double doors.

“A diversion,” said Rose, pushing the doors open to find the TARDIS sitting innocuously in the middle of the chamber. “Get in,” she told Clara. “And press the blue, glowy switch next to the helmic regulator. It will take you down to the planet.”

“What about you?” asked Clara.

“I’ll be fine. Just go,” ordered Rose.

Clara seemed reluctant to leave but they could hear footsteps coming towards them, so at an imploring look from Rose, she unlocked the TARDIS and went inside. The switch was just where Rose had said it would be and she pressed it, hoping it was the right one. The TARDIS started to dematerialise and Clara’s heart thumped frantically in her chest, hoping that Rose would make it out safely too.

The TARDIS landed with a thud and Clara ran outside the doors, only to wish that she hadn’t a moment later, when she realised how cold it was. Fortunately, she saw the Doctor run out of a tall tower, a large beaming smile on his face. Clara ran over to him and hugged him, feeling relieved for the first time since she had walked into that alley to investigate.

“You have no idea how good it is to see you,” she said, still holding onto him tightly.

“I think I do,” he said and then pulled away to tap her nose playfully. “Where’s Rose?”
Clara froze and the Doctor’s smile vanished. “She stayed back, didn’t she?” he asked, sounding like he already knew the answer.

“Yeah,” said Clara. “Doctor, I’m so…”

“No, she must have a plan,” he said firmly, cutting Clara off. She rather thought that it sounded like he was reassuring himself, so she didn’t see fit to contradict him.

“Yeah, I know,” she said, plastering on an encouraging smile instead. “So, what jiggery pokery have you been doing down here?”

He smiled at her, though it wasn’t the bright beaming smile from before. “Something that will keep the Time Lords safe for the time being,” he said. “Come on, I’ll show you.”

Clara fell into step beside him as he walked to the tower in the middle of the deserted town square. She was shivering lightly from the cold but didn’t want to complain. However, the Doctor noticed and started taking off his jacket as they reached the base of the tower.

“Here,” he said, offering it to her.

Clara took it with a grateful smile, which dimmed when she saw the ring on his finger in the low light. She tried to stamp down the slight hurt she felt but her mouth seemed to have lost its filter. “You got married?” she asked, and felt like wincing at the accusatory tone of her own voice.

The Doctor looked at her carefully and then shook his head. “Not exactly,” he said. “No, hang on, yes,” he said, correcting himself almost immediately. “Yes, Rose and I got married. Just when we came down to this planet, in fact.”

Clara had more questions to ask about that and she could feel them right at the tip of her tongue, and she had to clamp a hand down on her mouth to stop herself from speaking. She saw the Doctor’s eyes widen before he grimaced apologetically.

“Truth field,” he said. “I’ll tell you what you want to know but you might not want me to hear what you are about to ask, so I’ll change the subject, okay? You can ask me anything after we are out of here.” Clara nodded slowly and the Doctor smiled at her, nodding towards the tower. “Come on, I’ll show you what I’ve been working on.”

~

Rose heaved a sigh of relief as she watched Clara disappear with the TARDIS. She turned around as the doors were thrown open and Madam Kovarian, Tasha and the guards entered the chamber. To say that they were furious was an understatement.

“What did you do?” spat Tasha, going over to her personal controls near the altar to check for the damage that Rose might have caused with explosions.

“Nothing drastic, just minor explosives to your vents. The air might have been turned up just a tad,” said Rose, playing with a golden chain around her neck, which held a delicate glass vial, about an inch in length. There were barely distinguishable Gallifreyan symbols carved onto the glass, which were invisible unless you knew where to look.

“Why didn’t you escape?” asked Madam Kovarian, looking at her shrewdly.

“Well, personally, I wanted to meet you,” said Rose, sounding pleasant though her eyes were hard. “You featured quite a bit in River Song’s journal.”

Madam Kovarian smirked. “Oh, don’t tell me you actually like her,” she said. “She could quite possibly be the only one who could compete for the Doctor’s affections with you.”

“Not really,” shrugged Rose. “He has loved plenty and a lot of people have loved him. It isn’t a competition. But I really wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

“The ventilation systems are undamaged,” said Tasha, looking up from the controls. “There was apparently a blockage but it has been resolved.”

“What I don’t get,” said Rose, continuing on as if Tasha hadn’t interrupted, “is your whole insane plan to use River to stop the Doctor from getting to Trenzalore. Why does the church care if the Time Lords return or not?” Then she got a shrewd look on her face. “Or did you just not want the competition to return? The Time Lords were the original watchers of the universe, weren’t they? You lot wouldn’t even have been a blip on the radar. But no more Time Lords meant that you could take up that position with ease. The Daleks want to conquer, but you just want to watch and interfere. Shape the universe into what you would want it.”

“It doesn’t really matter,” said Madam Kovarian, seemingly unfazed at Rose’s revelation but Rose saw Tasha stiffen imperceptibly.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” said Rose and turned to Tasha. “You are still in there somewhere Tasha Lem, though I can’t say the same for you, Madam Kovarian. And that’s why I stayed behind. To make sure I was doing the right thing.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Madam Kovarian but Rose didn’t look away from Tasha.

“You just have to say the word,” said Rose, looking at Tasha imploringly. “Tasha Lem, I am speaking to you.”

“I have had enough of this,” snapped Madam Kovarian. “Kill her,” she ordered the guards.

“Tasha,” said Rose. “You know what must happen. You are the Mother Superious of the Church of the Papal Mainframe. You have to make the choice.”

Tasha raised her hand and a Dalek ray gun emerged from it. Rose tensed visibly at the sight of it but held her ground. Without missing a beat, Tasha turned the gun on Madam Kovarian and shot her point blank. Madam Kovarian let out a bloodcurdling scream of pain and fell to the ground, dead.

“Do it,” said Tasha as the guards rounded on her. “Do it now, Rose Tyler.”

“I am so very sorry for this,” said Rose, and with a quick flick of her fingers, she broke the glass vial that was around her neck. A fine, odourless blue mist escaped from the seemingly clear vial and the guards and Tasha fell to their knees in pain, screaming at the top of their lungs. Elsewhere in the church, every person turned by the Daleks was suffering the same fate. Rose blocked out the screams as best she could and ran to Tasha.

“The ventilation systems,” gasped Tasha through the pain. “That was very clever. And you had the activation agent around your neck. The Dalek conditioning in my head said that it was familiar the moment I saw you hold up the vial.”

“It was used in the war to take down turned Dalek soldiers and their ships,” said Rose.

“What happens next?” asked Tasha as the pain started to dissipate. “The Dalek conditioning did not include that part. How long will it be till I die?”

“Any moment now,” said Rose softly. “I’m sorry, Tasha. You know this is…”

“Irreversible, yes,” she nodded. “I knew that before I shot Kovarian.” She looked at her dead form and choked back a sob. “We were married once, you know. Before she became so twisted in her agenda that she forgot what we stood for.” Tasha looked up at Rose with wide eyes. “You have to tell the Doctor that I had nothing to do with River Song. I tried to stop Kovarian. I promise I did.”

“Sshh, it’s okay,” said Rose gently, as silence fell around them, indicating that the Dalek soldiers on board the church’s ship were now all dead.

“Why am I still alive?” asked Tasha, her voice very weak.

“The poison affects the central nervous system where the Dalek conditioning is,” said Rose, reciting the explanation quietly. “You broke through the conditioning so it’s taking your body longer to…”

“To die,” she finished and then closed her eyes. “Thank you.”

Rose sat on the floor, holding Tasha’s hand as she took her last few breaths. When Tasha’s final breath escaped her body, Rose got up slowly and picked up a purple shroud from the altar and covered Tasha’s body with it. As an afterthought, she moved Madam Kovarian and the guards so that they were lying side by side and used as many shrouds as she could to cover up their bodies too. If there was one thing that the war had taught her, it was to always treat the dead with respect.

Once the bodies were respectfully covered, Rose went over to Tasha’s controls and activated the comm. system to the planet.

“Doctor?” she asked, choosing not to activate the hologram. “Doctor, are you there?”

“Rose?”

She could hear the worry in his voice and her heart clenched. “Yeah, it’s me,” she said. “You can come up now.”

“What about-?” He cut himself off mid question and there was a long silence that followed. “I thought those samples had perished in the war.”

“I found some in my old clothes on the TARDIS,” she said, knowing he had realised that she had used the nerve agent.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “Tasha, she uh, she almost recovered…enough to give permission…”

“Rose,” interrupted the Doctor. “You did the right thing. They were already dead. It was obscene to have them masquerading as puppets controlled by the Daleks.”

“I know,” said Rose, though she closed her eyes in relief at hearing it from him. “Are you coming up here?”

“Yes, I’ll need their ship’s power to finish this last bit,” he said. “Clara and I will be right there.”

“Alright,” said Rose and ended the communication. Moments later, the TARDIS materialised behind her.

The Doctor stepped out first and cast a grim eye around the chamber, his head bowing quietly in the direction of the bodies covered by shrouds. Clara followed in his wake and looked shocked at the sight of the bodies but didn’t say anything. Rose greeted them with a nod, and to Clara’s enormous surprise, the Doctor rushed over to her and, without an ounce of hesitation, kissed her full on the mouth.

Clara looked away as they kissed but felt an odd urge to cheer. She had never seen the Doctor look so happy, and despite the severity of the situation, she was very happy for the two of them. The Doctor had stopped her from asking questions down on the planet because of the truth field, but she had only wanted to know if he was alright and happy about the decision to marry Rose. She had her answer now and it filled her with joy for her friends.

She cleared her throat, unable to stop a smile from gracing her face when they pulled away from each other and blushed deeply. “Alright, you two?” she asked cheekily.

“Right, sorry, Clara,” said the Doctor, going over to the controls. “This will take some time.”

“You going to tell me what you’ve been doing?” asked Rose.

“I built a receiver on the planet,” said the Doctor.

“What for?” asked Rose, confused.

“The crack can only be closed from the other side and since that isn’t an option, I have decided against closing it,” said the Doctor. “But everyone now knows the location of Trenzalore. So, logically, the only solution is to hide Trenzalore.”

“Yeah, you said that to me before,” said Clara while Rose lapsed into a thoughtful silence. “I still don’t know how you’re going to do that.”

“Oh, Clara, you know the answer to that,” said the Doctor. “How do we hide a planet?”

“In a painting,” said Rose, her eyes going wide. “Stasis cube?”

“Stasis cube!” confirmed the Doctor with a wide smile.

“Like the Zygons?” asked Clara, realisation spreading across her face. “That’s brilliant.”

“I know!” crowed the Doctor. “I contacted our Zygon friends on Earth as I was navigating back up here and they are standing by with Kate to capture Trenzalore in a stasis cube.”

“Hold on, that would take a massive amount of power,” said Rose. “We are transporting a whole planet across time and space.”

“Oh, the power required is colossal,” nodded the Doctor. “But we also happen to have the Zygons doing much of the heavy lifting. The TARDIS has enough power and I can use the church’s ship to create a conduit to allow the transfer of energy.”

“And that will be enough power?” asked Rose, still unconvinced.

“Of course,” said the Doctor, easily. “Rose, I need you and Clara to go into the TARDIS. Keep an eye on the power transfer and if it wavers, call for me. Understand?”

“Okay,” said Rose. “Be careful.”

“Yeah,” he said as Clara echoed Rose’s sentiment.

The two women went into the TARDIS and the Doctor waited until the doors had closed to pull out his sonic screwdriver. The TARDIS doors locked firmly and the sonic screwdriver dead bolted the doors from the outside. He knew there would be hell to pay if he survived this, but he chose not to dwell on it for the time being.

“Kate, can you read me?” he asked, activating the comm. link from the church’s systems.

“Reading you loud and clear, Doctor,” said Kate. “The Zygon leader is waiting for your signal.”

“Yeah,” he said. “On my count, five…four…three…two…one…”

He saw the planet on the screen flicker lightly and he breathed in relief at the fact that the connection had been established. “Link active,” he transmitted to the Zygon leader. “Wait on my mark for activation.”

“What is the power reading?” asked the Zygon leader.

The Doctor held up his sonic screwdriver and frowned. “Power at 68%,” he relayed to them.
“That is insufficient power for the transfer,” said the Zygon leader.

“I know,” said the Doctor and then glanced back at the TARDIS. “The power will be rising soon. Just be ready to make the transfer.”

“Affirmative,” confirmed the Zygon leader.

The Doctor gripped his sonic screwdriver tightly and focused the energy. He started glowing golden and he almost felt the ghost of River’s slap against his cheek for using his regeneration energy. But this was important, and as the heat around his body started inching up, he could see the power rising steadily. He grinned and focused even more and the energy from his Time Lord body was more than sufficient to generate the power necessary. Inside the TARDIS, he heard Rose’s exclamation of surprise at the fact that she couldn’t get the doors open.

The power continued to rise: 87%...88%...89%...

“Doctor!” He heard Rose shout, followed by frantic banging against the door. “Doctor, what the hell is happening?”

The Doctor could barely hear her over the pain that he was in and the hand not holding the screwdriver closed around a defunct lever to support himself. He didn’t even notice how badly his hand was getting cut on the metal lever or the blood dripping onto the controls.

96%...97%...98%...99%...

“N-now!” ordered the Doctor and wrenched his gaze up to look at the planet. Trenzalore seemed to vibrate imperceptibly at first but then it started vibrating so intensely that it was a blur of blue in the dark sky. It continued to vibrate until it became difficult for even the Doctor’s superior vision to keep up before vanishing abruptly.

“Transfer complete,” said the Zygon leader and the Doctor fell to the ground on his back, his vision swimming.

He vaguely heard the TARDIS doors slam open and Rose bending over him, assessing him frantically. A moment later, he could focus again and had to smile at the berating words escaping Rose’s mouth mixed in with colourful swearing that would have made a sailor blush.

“…ought to murder you myself…” she muttered and the Doctor grinned.

“You would miss me,” he said, surprised that his voice was steady, considering everything.

“Don’t be so sure,” said Rose but helped him sit and hugged him tightly as soon as he was upright.

“You would too,” he murmured into her neck, smiling smugly when she shivered. With a sudden burst of power, he stood up, picking Rose up with him. “See, I’m fine.”

“I see blood,” said Clara from behind them, looking just as annoyed as Rose.

“Just a cut, see,” he said, holding up his hand, only to realise that the cut was gone. “Oh.”

Rose stared at him as tears filled her eyes. “No,” she said. “Please, we just started. Please, no.”

He cupped her face with his newly healed hand and kissed her mouth softly. “I’m sorry,” he said, rubbing his nose against hers.

“What? What’s going on?” asked Clara, looking scared.

“He-he’s regenerating,” said Rose, fisting her hands in his waistcoat as if she could keep him from doing that if she could hold him tightly enough.

“You can’t,” said Clara, shocked.

A loud explosion that shook the church’s ship cut them off. “I think our friends just noticed that the planet they were orbiting is no longer there,” said the Doctor. He grabbed Rose around the waist and took Clara’s hand, leading them into the TARDIS. He made it all the way inside before he felt the first of the shocks indicating the impending regeneration.

From the expressions on Rose and Clara’s faces, they hadn’t missed his grimace of pain. He smiled brightly and leaned against the console subtly so he wouldn’t fall over like he was feeling he might.

“Clara,” he said. “Come here.”

With a sob, Clara ran to him and hugged him tightly. “Please, don’t go,” she said.

“I’m not going anywhere, Clara Oswald,” he said. “I’ll be right here. Just with a different face. But it will always be me. I promise.”

Clara shook with her sobs but nodded. “Really?” she asked, her voice trembling.

“Really,” he said. “Cross my hearts.”

“Not funny,” she said, punching his arm half-heartedly but hiding a chuckle, which was his aim.

She hugged him again and then moved away from him, wiping her tears. The Doctor beamed at her before looking at Rose who hadn’t bothered stopping the tears flowing from her eyes.

“Rose,” he whispered.

“Thought I made you promise not to go changing on me anytime soon,” she said, walking towards him.

“I am bad at keeping promises,” he said. “I’ll try and do better with this next one.”

“Shut up,” said Rose, hugging him. “You are lousy with promises. It has nothing to do with regeneration.” She pulled away slightly to brush his hair away from his forehead. “Promise you will still love me?”

“Oh, Rose,” he said, with a beautiful smile. “There is nothing in the cosmos that can ever change that.” He ran the back of his hand over her cheek gently. “Promise you won’t leave me?”

“Not unless you want me to,” said Rose, meaning it completely.

“You promised forever. I intend to hold you to that,” he said. “I’m sorry I locked you in the TARDIS.”

“We’ll talk about it later. Just focus on this now,” said Rose. She felt him trembling and her heart clenched. “Are you scared?”

“Yes,” he said with a smile and the regeneration energy shook him violently, disrupting their embrace. Rose moved away a step, knowing that it would not be pleasant for either of them if she was close to him when he regenerated.

“I’m here,” said Rose. “I’ll never leave you.”

“And that will carry me through this,” he said, slowly pulling off his bowtie. “We all change, when you think about it. We're all different people all through our lives.” He placed the bowtie in Rose’s hand and lifted her fingers to his lips for a quick kiss before moving away again.

The golden regeneration energy was engulfing him almost entirely now and he looked between Clara and Rose with a wide smile. “And that's okay, that's good, you've got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this.”

He held Rose’s gaze as he spoke his next words. “Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor...was me.”

Chapter Text

The Doctor closed his eyes and rested his head back on the headboard of the bed. It had been the longest day in recent memory. The last time he had been in this bed, he’d had a different body and he had thought that Gallifrey was lost forever. He had also been with Rose, but that was a different matter entirely.

Regeneration had been quick this time around. It had started healing him easily and given him enough time to make a dramatic speech which his previously self had been rather keen on giving. He doubted that this new body was as verbose. Or as young, apparently.

“I will always remember when the Doctor…was me.”

The regeneration energy coursed through him, lighting his entire world on fire in an instant. The change felt like it always did, but that didn’t make the pain any less significant.

“Doctor?” asked the brunette cautiously when he had straightened up. He knew her name but it eluded him in the moment.

The TARDIS shook violently in that instant and it confused him immensely.

“I think the church’s ship is getting attacked,” said the blonde one and he gravitated towards her involuntarily. “I’m going to send us into the vortex.”

Everything from that point had been a blur. The next thing he remembered was waking up in a bed. He had been dressed in what looked like a threadbare nightshirt, and he could hear a hushed conversation outside the door of the room that he was in.

“How long will it take?” asked a woman and he recognised her voice as the brunette woman from before.

“Dunno,” answered the other woman and the Doctor sat up in bed at her voice. “The TARDIS used a lot of power for transferring Trenzalore and if we had stayed in the vortex any longer, it would have been too dangerous. It doesn’t help that he’s passed out. Those two are like part of a circuit. One doesn’t work if the other can’t.”

“Yeah and I guess getting swallowed by a T-rex didn’t help either,” said the first woman. “Although, that is trapped here too.”

In hindsight it had been a bad idea to jump out of the window and onto horse without telling Rose or Clara. But he had heard the words ‘trapped T-rex’ and run to find it. He had seen the worry on Rose’s face and it had made him slightly dislike his new self for putting it there. Instead of running off to do his own investigating like every instinct of his was telling him, he let Rose and Clara take him back to Vastra and Jenny’s house.

The ride back to Vastra’s house was entirely silent.

The Doctor glanced at Rose, who was looking out of the window of their carriage with a grim look on her face. She hadn’t said much and he hadn’t had a chance to ask her anything about his new body.

He stared at her unabashedly, admiring the black and green Victorian dress she was wearing. A memory was tugging at him but he couldn’t focus on it. He glanced down to where her hand was gripping his in a loose grip and felt his hearts sink. His hand looked old, much older than he had seen it in a while. Her hand, on the other hand, looked as young and beautiful as he remembered it.

He must have been staring at their hands for a long time, because he felt Rose’s gaze on him before she tightened her grip on his hand, linking their hands together firmly. Something loosened in his chest at the action.

The day had been saved in the end. He, Rose and Clara had investigated Mancini’s family restaurant together and discovered their sinister secrets. Fortunately, Rose and Clara had managed to disable the spaceship and the droids while he kept the half-face man occupied with philosophical talks. In the end, he had let the Doctor disable him as mercifully as possible. They had returned to Vastra’s house after saving London’s people from apparent spontaneous human combustion but the Doctor was already itching to move.

Goodbyes had been quick and the Doctor, Rose and Clara had left together in the TARDIS.

“So, where to next?” he asked.

“Home, I think,” said Clara.

He looked up at her and then back down at the console. “Okay,” he said, gruffly.

“Not for good,” she said, with a smile in her voice that made him look up. “It’s Christmas soon and I have been tasked with making the turkey.”

“Oh,” he said, trying to look indifferent but unable to hide the slightly pleased look in his eyes. “Very important for humans that. Personally, I don’t understand it though I think I did at one point.” He looked at Rose but she was busy examining the new bookcase and armchairs that had materialised in the console room.

“Okay, it’s settled then,” said Clara. “You and Rose are coming to Christmas dinner.”

“We will,” said Rose before the Doctor could say anything.

The Doctor nodded and took Clara home, promising to see her in time for Christmas.

His eyes opened when he heard the bathroom door open. Rose emerged from a cloud of steam, wet hair thrown over one bathrobe covered shoulder. She stopped when she noticed him staring and smiled tentatively before sitting down in front of her vanity. The Doctor watched her silently as she patted her hair dry and combed through it carefully. With a pang, he was hit with a memory of his Eighth self cutting Rose’s hair for her.

He was out of bed and standing behind Rose before he knew it. Rose paused in her actions and looked up at him inquiringly. His hands twitched at his sides, feeling too clumsy this time around. He wanted to take her hand again because it seemed like the only natural thing to him. Even hugging felt odd to him and he was half convinced that he was probably a little defective this time around.

“Doctor?” asked Rose, setting the hairbrush aside and turning around in her seat to look at him in concern.

His utter helplessness must have shown on his face because she stood up and took his hand. The action relaxed him and he let her lead him to the bed so they could sit down side by side.

“Are you still having trouble remembering?” she asked, no doubt recalling that he had called her his pink and yellow girl at one point that day.

“No,” he said honestly. The regeneration sickness and mild amnesia had passed, not long after they had gone to Mancini’s.

“Good,” said Rose and to his surprise, glared at him angrily. “Don’t think I’m not mad about you locking me in the TARDIS while you pulled that stunt with the regeneration energy.”

He nodded uncomfortably. “Yes,” he said.

“And for jumping out of a bloody window to ride off on a horse when you had barely recovered from regeneration,” she continued. “Do you know how worried I was?”

“Yes,” he said again.

“And stop saying ‘yes’,” she said.

“I can’t!” he said, surprising even himself at his raised voice. “Everything feels wrong. I can’t do anything right. It’s too much or too little. Everything has changed and I don’t understand it.”

Rose stared at him as he deflated at his own words. “Okay,” she said, finally. “Let’s start with what feels right. Tell me what feels right, Doctor.”

Instead of answering her, he surged forward and kissed her deeply. Rose gasped in surprise and he pulled away, mistaking her reaction.

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” he said.

He jumped up from the bed and started to walk away but Rose grabbed his arm to stop him. He looked at her warily as she stood up in front of him, and without moving her gaze from his, untied her bathrobe and let it fall to the floor. The Doctor’s eyes widened and glided down her body of their own accord.

Rose took his hand and placed it on her bare hip, and his finger immediately curved into the soft skin. He heard Rose’s breath hitch as he slowly moved his hand up the curve of her waist, until it was resting just under her breast. His eyes were fixed resolutely on the progress of his own hand and the slight flush forming on Rose’s body. That gentle pink flush gave him the courage to look up at Rose’s face which confirmed what his other senses had already told him. Rose was aroused, and it was because of him.

A slow smile formed on his face and he tilted his head towards her. Rose closed the distance between their mouths with a sigh, and the two of them kissed languorously, savouring their first proper kiss after the Doctor’s regeneration. As their lips and tongues remained occupied with each other, the Doctor’s hand drifted away from Rose’s torso and ventured boldly between her legs.

Rose muffled a moan in his mouth but parted her legs, allowing him to caress her with a confidence that defied his earlier hesitancy and uncertainty.

“This, Rose Tyler,” he whispered, pulling his mouth from hers to let her catch her breath. “This feels right.”

“Don’t stop,” said Rose as two of his fingers moved in and out of her while his thumb brushed against her clit.

“I won’t,” he said, the dark promise in his voice making her shiver. “I don’t think I can. You are intoxicating. Even more than before.” He moaned deep in his throat. “Fuck, I need you.”

Rose stared at him in shock, utterly confused at the rare cuss word falling from his lips, despite the fact that her body shuddered in pleasure. He smirked at that and withdrew his fingers from her, making her cry out.

“Patience, darling,” he whispered in her ear. “We are just getting started.”

“I would love it if we get there soon,” said Rose, incredibly floored by how in control he seemed to be and how much she was enjoying it.

“Oh, we will,” he promised with a wink and eased her backwards until they were both on the bed. “I am still brimming with regeneration energy. And since this is technically our wedding night, I plan on making it very long,” he elongated the syllables in ‘long’, “and incredibly pleasurable for us both.”

“Wedding night?” asked Rose, gasping when he found his favourite spot on her neck and laved it with his tongue.

“Don’t you remember?” he mumbled between kisses to her neck and shoulder. “Down on Trenzalore. Still have the rings to prove it.” He brought up his left hand to show off the ring before settling his hand on her breast. “I would be very disappointed if you wanted to back out now.” He squeezed her breast, drawing a moan from her. “Especially since it would make my next request rather moot.”

“R-request?” asked Rose, lying back down on the pillows and pulling him with her, sighing in contentment at his solid weight on top of her.

The Doctor didn’t answer immediately, choosing to use his tongue to map her breasts thoroughly. Rose tried to reach towards him to bring him back up to kiss him, but the Doctor caught her hands and held them down on the mattress as he continued to kiss up and down each breast, drawing pleasured gasps and sighs from her. “Do not make me tie you down,” he warned as she tried again to draw him up.

“That something you think about?” asked Rose, a smile curling on her lips.

The Doctor looked up at her with a wicked look in his eyes. “Ever since my eighth life when I bent you over the console and fucked you,” he said.

Rose wrenched her hands from his grip and rolled them over so that she was on top. “Enough foreplay,” she said. “You need to be out of these clothes and inside me now.”

The Doctor stared up at her with a lazy smile. “Undress me then,” he said.

“With pleasure,” said Rose, starting with his new jacket with the red lining that reminded her of a magician. She raised her eyebrows at the buttoned up cardigan but didn’t comment as she took it off him. When she got to the white shirt that had been buttoned up all the way to his neck, she sighed. “Should I even ask?”

“Touch,” he said as she started to unbutton his shirt. “I thought I didn’t like touching this time, hence my choice of outfit. But,” he ran his hand up her bare hip, “since that’s clearly not the case, I think it’s only some forms of touching that I don’t like.”

“Is that why you don’t like hugs then?” asked Rose, removing his shirt and tossing it aside.

“If they are from you and of the naked variety, I absolutely like them,” he said. “Otherwise, yes, I don’t like hugs. It’s too,” he waved his hand in a motion meant to indicate closeness, “human.”

“Too human?” asked Rose amused, as she moved on to remove his trousers.

“Too human,” he nodded. “Did not think it would be a bad thing, but I do, this time around.”

Rose smiled a little. “You are so different,” she said.

“Yes,” he said. “But not good different or bad different. Just different.” He said it without arrogance like it was fact.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “What were you going to ask me?” she asked, finally ridding him of his trousers so that they were both naked.

He looked confused for a moment because Rose had intentionally rocked herself against his erection but he recovered remarkably quickly. “You said we knew what we were and that was enough,” he said.

“Yeah, so?” asked Rose.

“Then, would you want to truly be husband and wife?” he asked and Rose caught the glimpse of his earlier hesitance. Now that she knew him a bit better, it was obvious that it was being unsure that made him feel off-balance in this new regeneration of his.

“Of course,” she said, reassuring him. “We already are, for all intents and purposes.”

“Not all,” he said and it was Rose’s turn to be confused.

“Doctor, just say it,” she said.

“Our minds,” he said calmly. “We haven’t connected our minds.”

Rose stared at him in silence. He hadn’t touched her mind since the time on Shada when he had gone in to extract her memory of Skelton and Eliana’s death. Rose had been adamant that her mind was to remain her own through the war and they hadn’t initiated a connection since the war had ended either.

But now things were different and it was new beginning for both of them. She inhaled deeply and nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “Okay.”

He looked greatly relieved and rolled Rose onto her back. “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

The Doctor brought his hands to her face and gently touched her temple. He entered her mind with ease and felt her welcome him in deeper. He lowered his own barriers in return and invited Rose. There was no tentativeness from either end as they soared through each other’s minds, just touching and caressing each other, like exchanging lazy butterfly kisses. They stayed entwined in their mental embrace for a long time before the Doctor lowered his fingers from Rose’s temple and opened his eyes. Rose took a bit longer to open her eyes but kissed him as soon as she did.

The two of them moved in sync so that they could finally, finally come together completely, and as the Doctor entered Rose, he felt their minds connect just as perfectly as their bodies did.

“Okay?” he asked, even though he could feel her pleasure as clearly as his own.

“Yeah,” said Rose, eyes shining with love. “I love you, Doctor.”

His gaze softened as he started to move. “I love you too, my Rose,” he said. “Forever.”

“Forever,” repeated Rose.

And so they did. Just as they promised.