The TARDIS was drifting aimlessly through the Vortex, and the Doctor settled himself comfortably into the plush armchair he kept in the console room for just these sorts of lazy stretches of time. The lamp next to the chair cast a warm glow around him, and the hum of the time rotor soothed his ragged edges as much as the slim volume of poetry he was reading.
He missed Charley, more than he’d expected to — which was saying something, because he’d spent most of the time she’d been with him dreading the day she would finally insist on being left behind in Singapore. She was his best friend, and when he made himself be honest, he had to acknowledge that she was more than that in many ways.
The first place the TARDIS had landed him after he left her had been London in the 1930s, and that combined with his missing Charley had him reaching for TS Eliot. “Would it have been worth it after all,” he recited, fingers tracing words he didn’t need to look at to bring to his lips. He closed the book and leaned back against the chair, eyes closed. “Oh, Charley… it was worth it… every second was worth everything we paid.”
With his closed eyes and absolute stillness, someone who didn’t know him might have thought he was napping. Suddenly, the peace of the console room was rudely interrupted by the boom of the klaxon and a series of hard jerks that tossed the Doctor out of his chair and against the console. Clutching at the console to keep from falling once again, he stared up at the monitor and read the symbols that whizzed past at lightning speed.
When he realized what was happening, he groaned. Someone, most likely one of his fellow Time Lords, was traveling between two parallel universes, and the Doctor’s TARDIS had drifted too close. It was now caught in the time stream left by the nameless other Time Lord’s TARDIS, being pulled inexorably through the breach to the other side. After all that had happened because of Zagreus and Rassilon, the Doctor had had quite enough of parallel universes lately, thank you. Even once he’d been back in his own universe, what had happened in the parallel universe he’d inhabited for however long it had been — hard to tell when one is in a universe that doesn’t have time — had continued to affect his life in damaging ways, to the very point when Charley ultimately left him, for good this time.
Unfortunately for the Doctor, it appeared he had no choice. He was visiting yet another parallel universe, and there was nothing he could do about it.
He sighed, and tried to position himself so that when the TARDIS landed, he would fall into his armchair instead of into an unceremonious heap on the floor.
A few minutes later, he was dusting himself off and congratulating himself on his excellent aim whilst falling over. He wandered around the console taking readings and adjusting settings, trying to figure out where he’d ended up.
“At least this universe has time,” he muttered. “Ah, before I forget…” He pressed a series of buttons and then took a small device from a hidden compartment in the console and plugged it into a slot. He pushed a few more buttons, murmured “come on, then, don’t let me down” and then triumphantly pressed another button. “Yes!” He removed the device, which looked like a cross between a compass and a pocket watch, and tucked it into his pocket. “Excellent. Don’t want to miss my ride back to the proper universe.” He patted the console absently. “We’re better off there, aren’t we old girl?”
The time rotor pulsed, and the Doctor chuckled. “Still,” he added with a smile, “since I’m sure we’ve got a little time, it can’t hurt to explore, right?”
He crossed to the coat rack and was just slipping into his coat when someone pounded once on his door before he heard the scraping of a key being inserted into the lock.
“Isn’t that interesting,” he murmured.
All things considered, Rose Tyler mused, she was doing fairly well. It had been a year to the day since the horrible day at Bad Wolf Bay, which she still thought of as the worst day of her life. At least on the day she’d gotten trapped in the parallel world in the first place, she’d still had hope that the Doctor would come to get her, and soon.
Then she’d heard his voice calling to her, and she’d been so sure this was it. She’d packed bags, not just for the trip to Norway but to leave, completely. Mickey and her Mum had watched her like hawks, unable to conceal their concern or completely hide their disbelief that this was going to end well. Rose had refused to acknowledge their doubt. The Doctor was coming, and she was going to go with him.
But he’d only come as an illusion. The man who never said goodbye had burned up a sun to say it to her, but even then it was only an advanced sort of video conference. And worst of all, he’d said can’t. The man who ate impossible things for breakfast and never gave up had looked her in the eye and told her that there was something impossible, even for him. That this was it.
She’d been inconsolable for days, had cried herself to sleep every night for weeks. Then she’d thrown herself into her work with Torchwood with a dedication that even had Pete taking her aside and asking her how she was doing. It wasn’t until she’d seen a man in a brown pinstriped suit with wild hair and had nearly tackled him before she realized that he wasn’t the Doctor that she really dealt with what had happened.
Once she’d sopped up that round of tears, she found herself leading a much more balanced life. She went to work and gave it her best, but then she came home and read books and watched the telly, or she went out with her workmates or had dinner with Mickey and his girlfriend, Alicia. She got together with her mum and Pete, babysat her brother for them when they needed a night to themselves after his birth.
If she still missed the Doctor and the life she’d had with him every day, she didn’t show it to the rest of the world. It wasn’t their business, was it?
So when Mickey dropped by her desk a few minutes before she was due to head home for the evening and asked her how she was doing, what with it being the day that it was, Rose was able to congratulate herself on the believability of the smile she’d mustered.
“I’m fine, Mick,” she said brightly. “I won’t lie, it’s not my favorite day of the year and never will be. But I’m fine.”
“Alicia and I are headed down the pub,” he said, leaning against the edge of her desk. “I think Jake and some of the others will be there as well. You’re welcome to come.”
Rose shook her head. “I’d rather just go home, thanks.” She smiled again. “But you have fun.”
Mickey nodded, dropped a hand on her shoulder. “Call me if you need me,” he said, squeezing gently. “Any time.”
Rose nodded. “I will,” she said, mentally crossing her fingers. She fully intended to mark this day on her own.
Mickey squeezed her shoulder once more and then dropped a quick kiss on the top of her head. “See you tomorrow, then, Rose.”
“Bye, Mickey.” She turned back to her computer and finished up the report she was typing. She saved the document and e-mailed it off to Pete before shutting down the computer and gathering her things.
She was halfway to the tube station when she heard a sound that stopped her in her tracks, a sound she had never thought to hear again as long as she lived. She whipped her head to her left, from where the sound seemed to come, and gasped. She wasn’t sure that her knees would hold her, let alone allow her to run.
But she had to run.
The TARDIS had materialized twenty feet away from her.