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this strange woman

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The silence after the Void closes is deafening.

Rose fills it with noise, with sobs and desperate words, nos and bring him backs and the like. She slams her hands against the wall where the Void was until they throb in retaliation, rests her mascara-damp cheek against that wall long enough that she starts to imagine he's right there on the other side, listening to her.

He's not, of course. There's nothing on the other side but the outer wall of Torchwood Tower, six hundred feet up.

Eventually even her own sounds can't fight the silence of this dead, empty building, and she returns to the storage floor where the TARDIS is.

If anyone survived down here, they've long since fled. All that's left are bodies - Torchwood soldiers, and a handful of recently converted Cybermen - and Rose has to stop for a moment and be ill. She finds the TARDIS soon enough, though she's moved a bit from where Rose remembers. It's then that she realizes that if they had been covered in Void stuff, the TARDIS must be too. She must have been pulled along towards the Void like everything else, only surviving because she hadn't gone through as many times, hadn't been pulled as fast.

"Hey," she says gently, brushing a hand against the door. It takes her a minute to find her key, but she lets it drag on so she doesn't have to think about what comes next.

The central tube glows its familiar aquamarine. It'd be a comfort, except for this itch in the back of Rose's mind almost like a question when she lets the door shut behind her.

"I'm sorry," she says at last, "but he's gone." The knot in her stomach turns into a lump in her throat turns into tears burning at her eyes until she has no other choice but to fall on her knees and cry. "He's gone," she says brokenly, "trapped in that other world, and there's no way to get to him, no way, no - "

It occurs to Rose suddenly that she's weeping on the TARDIS console, and that there is a way.

"I could..." Could what? Borrow another tow truck - or some alien gizmo Torchwood's got around here? Crack open the TARDIS again? Absorb the Time Vortex, become that god-thing and break the rules of the universe, again?

Possibly destroy two worlds and the TARDIS, and definitely kill herself in the process?

And to what - maybe see him again, for a minute, before dying? Or worse, to watch him kill himself to save her, again.

The itch at the back of her mind warning her against it is hardly necessary.

"No," she concludes feebly, "I guess I couldn't."

The question remains, though, the one she's been avoiding: what is she supposed to do next?

As if on cue, the hologram with his old face pops up. "This is Emergency Program One." It hurts to look at, to hear his old voice. "Rose - "

"No! Cancel program!" She stands up, walks through it, shouts, "Cancel program! God, just shut it off, please!" It freezes, for a moment, on an almost hurt expression, then collapses. "Don't take me back, please don't take me back," she begs the empty air. "There's nothing left for me there. There's... there's nothing left for me anywhere."

A sobering thought. And a little familiar - like something her mum had mentioned, earlier. Rose remembers the rest of that conversation, and it firms her resolve. What's she supposed to do next? What the Doctor always did, of course: keep traveling, keep changing. See amazing things, and help people.

But to do that, she's going to need help herself. She looks up at the central tube, cautiously hopeful. "Can you...?"

Something pops out of the console. When Rose looks at it closer, she realizes it's the end of a sonic screwdriver. "Thanks!" She tugs it out, feeling the warning itch in her head too late, and the screwdriver explodes in a burst of sparks.

"Guess that was still charging," Rose concludes, sucking on her stinging fingers. The itch in her mind - the TARDIS, she figures - turns a little smug and mad in a way that says obviously. It reminds Rose terribly of him, and for a moment that's overwhelming. Then something on the console beeps, and she snaps back to attention. "Right. Sorry! I'll listen better next time, promise."

The TARDIS feeling gets more approving.

"So, to get us into the Vortex, I press... this?" Rose hovers over a few buttons, listening to what she thinks are the TARDIS's suggestions, careful not to press anything until she's sure she's got it all right and memorized. When she finally gives it a try, a series of pressed buttons and pulled levers and one valve that needs to be turned clockwise twice and counterclockwise once, nothing seems to happen.

Then she opens the door and nearly walks into the pastel rainbow that is the Time Vortex.

"B-but it didn't make the - you know, the sound! The..." Rose tries to find words that fit and fails. "The sound you make!" The TARDIS feeling then is complicated - dismissive and fond and a little smug again in that way that reminds Rose of him. She takes a minute to parse it. "Is... what, did you only make that sound for him?" It's hard for Rose to explain later how something intangible feels like a nod, but it does. "Alright then, if that's how you want to do it, that's fine."

Rose looks around, at all the screens and keyboards and consoles, none of which she fully understands, and at the hallway leading to all the rooms beyond, only a handful of which she's ever visited. She could spend her whole life in here just wandering from room to room, probably.

But that's not what she aims to do.

"Right, that's one thing down. If this is going to work, you and me, I'm gonna need some teaching." A questioning kind of feeling. "I don't need to know where I'm going - honestly, I don't care. Wherever you want to go, wherever you think needs us or looks interesting. But I need to know things. Stuff. What's out there, what might want to hurt you, how I can stop them, how I can help people, things like that. Can you teach me?"

A new screwdriver end pops up.

Rose smiles for the first time in hours. "I'll take that as a yes."