Pete flew out immediately to meet them.
The old couple that owned a bed and breakfast near the bay had let Jackie use their telephone to call him.
The old couple knew Rose.
She’d been here more than once. She had been here more times than she cared to admit.
But she told him that. “I used to come here sometimes. A lot,” she amended with a desolate shrug.
Rose had not yanked her hand away from him after the TARDIS had disappeared, but she had gently disengaged their fingers and then collapsed onto the sand and cried until her mother pulled her comfortingly to her feet. Then she has cried as they walked to the inn.
He had followed behind, silent.
Her eyes weren’t dry yet.
All that time she had ignored him. She felt him watching her – he didn’t take his gaze off her – but she ignored him.
But she still felt a ghost of his lips on hers.
His patient eyes flickered with something when she spoke to him about the bed and breakfast. But it died away as she turned her head. She couldn’t look at him.
He was more self-conscious than she had ever seen him. Even more so than after he had changed, when he hadn’t been sure if she wanted to continue to travel with him. He was steady – his hands, his eyes – but underneath it all was a hyper awareness.
She didn’t think she had seen him so unsure, either.
But why shouldn’t he be?
They ate while they waited, and sat in silence.
Rose picked at them. She was actually hungry, but she didn’t feel much like eating.
When Pete arrived in a rental car, Jackie pulled him aside and told him in hushed tones what had gone down. “What was it? Biological meta-what?” she incongruously posed to the man no one could quite understand or believe.
“Meta-crisis,” he informed her factually, before he and Rose exchanged an awkward look.
“Right. Meta-crisis,” Jackie continued to explain to Pete.
“I’m impressed she recalled that much,” the Meta-Crisis Doctor commented to Rose. She laughed a little, even though she knew exactly what he was doing: demonstrating for her that he did, indeed, have all of the Doctor’s memories. That he knew Jackie.
She remembered how he made her smile right after he had regenerated. She hadn’t wanted to admit to the smile then either.
Her father was staring at him with the same bewilderment that Rose fought to keep off her face.
“Let’s go,” Rose insisted. She grabbed her father’s hand and began pulling him back out to the car. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
While father and daughter sped ahead, Jackie stayed behind with him for a minute and Rose wondered what they said to each other, but she never asked.
Jackie offered him the front seat but Rose said no. She gestured with strained warmth for him to sit in the back with her.
They stared at each other when the other one wasn’t looking.
He wanted to take her hand again, but he didn’t. He was going to wait until she took his.
She didn’t mean to treat him like a specimen, but she couldn’t very well pretend he was the Doctor, could she? It wasn’t fair to the real Doctor. It wasn’t right.
Jackie slept, or feigned sleep, for the first leg of the trip.
Pete turned on some music and pretended to be in his own world. Rose knew they were trying to give her some privacy but she wasn’t convinced they weren’t going to listen to every word.
“What do I even call you?” she sputtered suddenly.
Rose shook her head. “You’re human now. What are they going to put on your passport? Doctor?”
“John Smith,” he then suggested.
“But that’s not your name!” she complained.
“Doctor wasn’t my name.”
That silenced her for a moment. She knew she was coming across as hostile, but she couldn’t help it. “Will you tell me your real name?” Her voice was delicate and curious but there was no question that this was a challenge.
She knew, of course, how important names were to the Gallifreyans, though she could not say that she quite understood.
“A day will come when I will tell you my name,” he told her softly, and confidently. “On that day you’ll understand why I waited, and you’ll be glad I did.”
Her easy acceptance of that answer momentarily shifted them to her familiar dynamic with the Doctor. She swallowed. “John Smith, then.”
She tried to ascribe the name to him, to force the link. She let the name bounce around in her ears, and float down into her heart, and then it was absorbed into her bloodstream and became a part of her.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. She looked down at his hand, resting on his thigh. She thought to take it, but she wasn’t quite there yet.
“It’s OK. I know you, Rose. I know this isn’t about me: it’s about him. You’re worried about him. I am too: he had to lose you all over again.”
He knew that the Doctor would probably soon lose Donna as well, but he kept that to himself for now.
“He left me. Why would he do that? If you’re him, tell me. Make me understand.”
“You know why, Rose,” he whispered.
He knew (as, of course, the Doctor had) that the Doctor’s life – his song – would be ending soon - but he kept that to himself as well.
“And you agree with him?”
“I’m him. I think what he thinks.”
“You’re not him.”
“I’m him enough.”
“But you wanted to travel with the Doctor; there was so much left to see. I know, Rose. I’ve always loved that about you.”
She bit her lip. “If you’re really him, then you’ve lost something too. Donna. All of the other friends you’ve left behind. The TARDIS, and your traveling.”
“If you were him it wouldn’t just be OK,” she challenged.
“Alright: It’s not OK. But there’s always going to be sacrifice. What I’ve gained…” He looked her up and down. He didn’t feel it was too presumptuous to assume that she would overcome her doubts eventually, but perhaps it was not wise to say so to her face.
Rose felt a light blush creep up her neck. She changed the subject: “What are you?”
“Nothing about this is easy, Rose. Do you think it’s easy for me? I’m a man without a planet, a traveler without a vehicle – not quite human and not quite Time Lord. I have no Gallifrey, no TARDIS. No name. I’m a copy of someone else. All I have is you, Rose, and you’re not sure you can love me because you’ll only ever love him, and I might have his face, his memories, his intelligence, his feelings, his personality – but I don’t have his future and I’ll never be everything he was.”
Tears streamed down Rose’s cheeks. “But you’re not the same. You killed all the Daleks – he never would have done that.”
“No? I almost did. You were there. Nevada. And later on Satellite Five.”
“You let him speak to you like you were a petulant child.”
“Because I knew what he was about to lose.” He paused, and then shifted. “You’ve done this before, Rose. When I regenerated, I became an almost entirely new person. I was so much newer then than I am right now. I remembered you, I even remembered how I felt about you, and how it felt to feel that way, but I had to fall in love with you all over again as this man. Of course, it took all of five seconds.” He winked at her.
Rose smiled modestly.
“You had to do the same,” he continued. “And you did. And you did it for this parallel-universe father of yours. He wasn’t the one who conceived you, or who held you in his arms when you were born, or who gave his life to save you and the world, but he was the same man. I’m not him, Rose, but I’m the same man. I love you the same way he did. But you can have me in a way you could never have him.”
She already knew all of this, but it was not easy to internalize. Clones and parallel-universe counterparts were not things the mind or heart was taught how to handle.
He could see the swirl of emotions in her, though so much more contained in this older Rose than the one he had first met. Her heart was fracturing in front of him, changing and reforming, but her line of questioning was cold: “What would you have done if I wasn’t around?”
“Traveled with him, I suppose.”
“That’s a lot of trouble for one little blue box. Why didn’t you stay with him and the TARDIS?”
He reached out and put his hand on her cheek. “Because I chose you, Rose. The life I could never have. One life. One heart. Why wouldn’t I want to spend them with you? How could any other choice be possible?”
The words broke her. She laid her hand on top of his on her cheek, and closed her eyes and she turned her face into it, taking his other hand with hers.
And then all she did was nod, as her eyes welled, and he pulled her into his arms.
She fell asleep against his chest: exhausted, and possibly perfectly happy.