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Looking Back

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Rose’s hand slipped a little more, and the Doctor watched in horror as she inched closer to the void, desperately trying to cling to the lever.

“Rose, hold on! Hold on!” He screamed, straining uselessly towards her as the wind beat at them.

Her hand continued to slip and he knew what was coming, could see it happen before it did and his hearts almost stopped in terror. 

Her hand slipped and she screamed, the last thing he saw the heavy sorrow in her eyes as she fell, taking his hearts with her.

“Don’t let go!” 

He bolted upright, panting, eyes darting desperately about before realising he was in his bedroom on the TARDIS. Alone.

Another nightmare, then. They’d been coming more and more frequently of late and they’d been about all kinds of things, all the things he’d done. But the nightmares about her, about the day she’d been torn from him hurt the worst. His last incarnation had chosen to forget, to suppress the memories and store them deep in his mind, unable to face her loss.

It had worked for a few hundred years, although he’d noted that for all its boyish exuberance and maniacal instability, his eleventh self had been emotionally closed off, keeping everyone out with his energy and charm. However, a little after his regeneration into his current body, something had happened, something he couldn’t remember (had he had to erase his memories?) and his mental barriers had slowly crumbled one by one, the memories he’d long suppressed resurfacing. As was her way, Rose Tyler had slowly wormed her way into his mind.

Inhaling deeply, he rubbed a shaky hand over his face, the wrinkles and distinctly un-pretty features reminding him that the events of his dream were long past and he was no longer that man. He hadn’t been that man for a very long time.

Part of him wondered, and not for the first time, whether Rose could have accepted, could have loved the man he’d become. 

He doubted it.

The man he was now, what he’d become in the wake of losing her a second time, the angry, closed off, practically amoral man who routinely left ruin in his wake…he doubted Rose could ever love that.

But then, he admitted heavily, if he hadn’t lost her, he doubted he’d ever have turned into what he had. Since the day he’d met her, Rose had gentled and soothed him, grieving, broken soldier that he’d been. She’d been his light in the dark and the only thing between him and the madness.

And when she was gone, he had fallen deep into its clutches, her loss compounded with that of Donna leaving him unstable and dangerous.

He shuddered, remembering what he’d done as the self-proclaimed Time Lord Victorious, how he had nearly ended the world, his madness an easy rival to that of Koschei at his best. He shuddered to remember how easily he’d condoned killers and villains in his last body, how he’d almost taken their part over the part of good, honest people who acted out of fear and care for their families. How he’d used River’s feelings for him as a weapon against her, playing her, pulling the strings so she’d do as he wanted. He’d become a master manipulator in that body and he’d been glad to think he was going to die at last.

Only he hadn’t. 

The Time Lords, for some unfathomable reason, had granted him another regeneration cycle and he’d changed into the battered, manipulative angry old man he was now, the man whose mind whispered that he had drugged and psychically tormented...someone, someone he couldn't remember, just to test them, the man who’d coldly convinced a man to get himself killed, the man who’d sent River off to die at the library, who’d manipulated and twisted people into doing his dirty work at every turn. The man who’d intended to violate Bill’s mind and take her memories by force. True, he hadn’t, but he’d had every intention of doing so. He was drifting further and further into the darkness, and he was tired, so very tired, now, as he had been once before, long ago.

Only this time, there was no Rose to bring him back.

He exhaled and pushed back the covers, intending to rise. There was no point in sleeping, no rest to be found for the likes of him- only ghosts and old regrets.

And the biggest regret was Rose. It was something he’d admit only here, in the dark silence of his bedroom, but it was no less true for that. As much as he’d regretted sending River to her death, regretted that while he’d cared for her, he’d never been able to love her the way she loved him, it could never eclipse his regret for Rose, now that he remembered her once more.

And for that, he kept River’s photograph on his desk, as a reminder, as a penance for what he’d done, for what he hadn’t given her.

Because he'd left his heart standing on a cold beach in Norway almost a thousand years ago and hadn’t looked back.

His hearts clenched and he growled at his careless, arrogant stupidity.

Oh, he’d been so convinced that he’d been doing the right thing, then, that he was nobly sacrificing his own happiness for that of Rose, that the metacrisis could give her what he couldn’t, what a bloodstained old Time Lord could never offer. 

So he’d left her there, left them, turned his back on her glorious, glorious gift and snuck away like the coward that he was.

Then he’d lost Donna.

He could admit now that he'd gone mad and it had ultimately taken the almost- death of a good man to bring him back from the brink. He’d recognised, with the last few fragments of sense left in him, that if he'd let Wilf die, he’d have been irrevocably lost to the darkness.

So he’d taken the that good man’s place and died in his stead, clinging to the memory of the last face he’d seen, Rose’s face, which was also the first face he’d seen in that body.

The next him had been unable to bear the excruciating pain, the regret at her loss and his own actions, and had chosen to forget, hiding his beloved Rose behind the memory barrier, and with her the best parts of himself.

He buried his head in his hands, running his shaking hands over his face and tugging at his mop of grey hair in angry frustration.

How many times had he been tempted to cross between the universes, to see her, just to look in on her, now that the walls were open again? And each time he’d declined.

Because he was afraid.

Because now he was faced with the consequences of his reckless, stupid actions on that cursed beach so long ago.

He’d tried to cling to the thought that she was happy, that she’d lived a full, long life full of joy with the metacrisis, that they’d had the family he’d longed to give her, that they’d travelled that universe together as bonded mates and spouses, Rose Tyler and the Doctor in the TARDIS as it should be.

But as the dreams had come more and more frequently, so had the doubts, the questions.

The metacrisis had been entirely untested and unprecedented. What if he’d died? Gotten sick? What if there’d been something wrong in his mind? What if, somehow, he hadn’t wanted Rose? Or worse (The Doctor swallowed back bile at the thought), left her? What if the other man had died or gone mad when the walls were sealed and his bond with the TARDIS had snapped? What if he'd long outlived Rose, for hundreds of years?

Or what if Rose hadn’t been able to trust this new man who wore the face of the man who kept leaving her behind? What if she’d wanted nothing to do with him? Or, as he’d chillingly come to wonder, what if Rose was no longer human? She’d swallowed the vortex once, to keep him safe. Even though he’d died to remove it from her, it was more than likely that her body had been altered in some way, changed, as a result. What kind of idiot had he been to think that her little human body could remain unchanged after doing what had never been done before or since? Why had he never thought to check, to look? What kind of idiot had he been to simply jump from one adventure to the next, so he’d never have to think, never have to stop and face it all? 

His breathing grew rapid as his fear increased. What if she hadn’t died? What if she’d lived on, long after the metacrisis and her family were gone? What if it had been noticed? What if she’d been captured or hunted or hurt?

And it would have been his fault. He’d just dropped them there and left- had never even given her a bloody choice!

Because he'd known all along what she'd choose, and he was afraid.

Inhaling deeply, he tried to get hold of himself as he trembled, calming his breathing.

A few minutes later, the panic passed, leaving a weary, cynical resignation in its place.

He huffed and shook his head. He must be getting sentimental in his old age and the sudden influx of dreams were getting to him, that was all. What was done was done, and there was nothing to be gained by dreading up old hurts now. His harsh words to Bill, brilliant Bill who so reminded him of Rose in many ways, came floating back. 

“I care, but I move on. You know what happens if I don't move on? More people die.”

He had to move on.

It was too late to undo the mistakes of the past.

He’d do better to put Rose Tyler in the past where she belonged and get back to doing his job. He had a vault to guard and a universe to protect. He could regret his stupid decisions, his arrogance until the day the universe took him back into itself, but it wouldn’t change anything. Rose would still be gone, and it was still his fault.

He forced himself to stand and strode over to the fireplace, trying to centre himself.

Leaning heavily on the mantle, he sighed. Rose was gone and he couldn’t bring her back, couldn’t rewrite history to erase the worst mistake of his lives and give her her all she deserved- or at least give her a choice.

He froze.

Or could he?

Distantly, he heard a familiar voice speaking, an old memory floating to the surface, and it was as though something had unlocked in his mind.

Time’s in flux, changing every second. Your cozy little world can be rewritten like that. Nothing is safe. Remember that. Nothing.”

Unnoticed, the TARDIS had begun to glow, and suddenly his mind was flooded with a presence he knew oh, so well, telling him, showing him.

He stared, flabbergasted. "I can see it!” he whispered in reluctant awe. “I can see it all, now!”

Minutes or years later (he wasn't sure which), the presence slowly withdrew, and he shook his head, clearing it.

He smirked.

“Time is a fickle mistress but every now and then she throws you a bone." Chuckling, placed his palm on the nearest wall in thanks. "You cheeky girl, you."

The TARDIS hummed smugly, triumphantly and he chuckled again, feeling something he hadn't let himself feel for a very, very long time.

Hope.

Funny how even the mere thought of Rose could do that, do the impossible. 

He looked around, forcing himself to focus, to think of the many risks he was taking, of what could go wrong.

But then he thought about what could go right.

He grinned.

"Sod it. Let's do this totally reckless, ill-advised thing!"

The TARDIS sang.

It was time.

Chapter Text

“Am I ever goin’ to see you again?”

The Doctor stood, hidden by the rocky outcrop, hearts burning as they hadn’t for a thousand years at the sound of her voice.

She was here.

Rose Tyler.

“You can’t.” 

He flinched as she choked back a sob at the words of his past self. 

“What're you going to do?”

Even as heartbroken as she’d been, she’d been worried about him. She always was.

“Oh, I've got the Tardis. Same old life, last of the Time Lords."

He growled at his past self. Stupid sodding prat! He’d been so determined to play it cool that he’d wasted his last precious moments with Rose. But then, that body had never been able to say the things that mattered. He’d whirled and sped his way through time and space and avoided it all because he was scared.

Coward, every time.

“I….I love you.”

His eyes burned. She’d always been braver than him.

“Quite right too.”

His hands clenched into fists at the arrogance of the git he’d been. Why? he asked himself, a question that had haunted him for a thousand years. Why hadn’t he taken the chance, his last chance, as he’d thought then, to tell her? He’d wasted the few seconds he had and then it was too late. He scrubbed a hand roughly though his hair, wishing he didn’t know what was coming next. 

But he did.

“And I suppose, if it's one last chance to say it, Rose Tyler-” 

And then there was nothing but the sound of Rose’s ragged breaths.

Even the TARDIS was silent. 

Rose drew in one breath, two, and then, finally, let the first sob escape.

His eyes burned, his hearts burned, and he cursed himself in every language he’d ever known. Over the blood pounding in his ears, he distantly heard footsteps slapping across the sand and the soothing tones of Jackie comforting her daughter. 

Why had he been such a selfish bloody prat?

He’d never hated himself as much as he had at this moment, unable to escape the sounds of Rose Tyler’s raw grief. This was his fault,  every action or inaction he’d taken that had led to this running through his mind, every time he could have taken another course.

Every time he’d left her.

Satellite Five, when he’d sent her away.

France, abandoning her on a rusty old space station, after he’d betrayed her with a kiss from a courtesan.

Canary Wharf, when he’d sent her away and she’d come right back. 

Falling into the Void, only to be saved and snatched away, locked away in another universe- and he hadn’t tried to get her back. (He’d searched for a crack in the walls and finding them sealed, he’d left it at that, too afraid to hope.)

Bad Wolf Bay, the second and last time.

Rose had been the one who’d come back to him, who’d blasted her way through universes and time and space to come to him, to save everything- only for him to drop her back here without a choice.  She’d gone and done the impossible and he’d sent her right back into exile without so much as a goodbye, so certain he knew what was best, never thinking to ask what she wanted. 

Because he knew, he’d always known, what she’d choose.

His gut burned with shame as he remembered what he’d said the second time he’d left her here.

Does it need saying? 

Stupid, selfish, arrogant sod! So sure he knew what was best, so willing to hurt the both of them because of some stupid ideal he’d had of the perfect life. She’d asked him to say it, to admit that that’d loved her, and he hadn’t even given her that much. He’d fobbed her off with some glib response and left her here.

He’d been too terrified to look into her timeline, even if he could have (and it had always been far too bright to glance at for more than a moment) and see what he’d condemned her to; whether she’d gotten through the heartbreak of his abandonment to live a happy, human life, the one adventure he was so sure he could never have, whether the Metacrisis had died or left her, whether Rose had been unable to accept him, or, his worst nightmare, whether she had long outlived the Metacrisis and her family, whether Bad Wolf had changed her forever. 

Whether Torchwood- or anyone else- had found out. 

Even now, he couldn’t look, couldn’t bear to know…but what he could do, what he would do, was what he should have done all along.

He’d give her a choice. A real choice. 

And maybe, possibly, that just might put the ghost of Rose Tyler to rest, whatever she chose. But, oh he hoped she’d choose him. Time and space was a very lonely place without a hand to hold. 

Without her hand to hold.

Thinking back on what he’d done, what he’d become, since leaving her behind, he felt his lips pulling in a rare smile. This body so rarely smiled that it was ironic, really, that he’d smile now, when faced with his own unmaking.

But no, that wasn’t right; it wasn’t his unmaking. It would be his rebirth. Rose Tyler had saved him once before and he’d been reborn for her. If she chose him, if she saved him again, he’d be reborn. Again. 

With her to guide him, to stop him, to love him, that man who’d been the Time Lord Victorious, who’d left a trail of death and destruction in his wake, would be no more. Amy and Rory would walk their own path, free of the strife he’d brought. Melody Pond would be born to loving parents, going on to do great things, no doubt, finding her own path instead of dancing to the tune of a manipulative madman who’d lead her to her death.

And Rose Tyler…..Rose Tyler would choose her own path, as she deserved to do.

It was time.

Taking a deep breath, he straightened his jacket and shuffled forward to where a sobbing Rose was clutching a tearful Jackie.

The sight of Rose Tyler, now mere feet away, sent a shard of pain through his hearts, making him feel more awake than he’d been since a New Year’s Day long ago, when a dying, broken Time Lord had seen his hope for the last time.  The problem was, awake though he may be, he’d also gone entirely blank. Faced with another chance, faced with her, he had no idea what to say.

And wasn’t that just ridiculous, he scoffed to himself. The man with words for every situation in the known universe (and a few more besides) was lost for words. What could he say to her, especially now, in her grief? This body had no use for the honeyed words he’d used to spout in his tenth body. But still, he had to say something.

“You’re crying.” 

Internally, he cringed- well done to him for stating the bleeding obvious. Still, he had her attention, at least.

Jackie immediately whirled to face him, ready to protect her grieving daughter from curious eyes. “Who the bloody hell are you?”

He ignored her, his eyes fixed on Rose as she wiped at her face, looking at the ground, and trying to hide her tears. 

“Please don’t cry.” 

His voice was husky and he wondered if he was going to weep with her. It wasn’t generally, particularly, really leaky, this body, but under the circumstances, he wouldn’t take any bets on it.

“Oi! You leave her alone, an’ I’m talkin’ to you! Who the bloody hell are you and where did you come from?” Jackie’s eyes burned. “There was no one here but us, so where did you come from? How did you get here?” 

He briefly glanced at Jackie with a small smile. “Would you believe I’ve missed you too? Wouldn’t have believed anyone if they’d told me I’d be saying that, but there it is.”

Jackie’s eyes narrowed, suspiciously this time. “What you on about, then? Who are you?”

Shaking his head, he turned back to Rose. 

He always turned back to Rose.

“Please, don’t cry.”

Rose huffed a watery laugh, scrubbing at her face and still looking at the ground. “Look mate, I appreciate it an’ all, but I’ve just…” She blinked rapidly. “I’ve just lost someone an’ I…I can’t….” She trailed off, unable to continue as fresh tears ran down her face. 

“He was…important…to you then? This man?” he asked, unable to help himself.

“Oi!” Jackie squawked. “You stop that!”

Rose exhaled, trying to get herself under control. “He’s….everythin’,” she said, her voice wavering. 

 “You loved him, then?” he pressed, unable to stop himself.

“You leave her alone!” Jackie barked. “She’s been through hell an’ back today. Come on Rose, love, let’s go home, you’ve had a day.”

At that Rose burst into sobs. “Home is…it’s gone, mum.”

Jackie cringed. “Oh, love, I’m sorry….” 

“Did you love him?” He cut in, ignoring Jackie’s shout of protest.

Rose finally looked up at him, her eyes red and face swollen with tears.

His breath caught. She was beautiful. He’d forgotten how much. How could he forget?

He was so caught up in her face -her beautiful swollen, tearstained face- that he failed to notice that Jackie had stopped shouting and was now looking at him, wide-eyed. 

“Yeah,” Rose said, voice cracking. “I love him.”

“And does he love you?”  

“I- I don’t….,” she shook her head, trying to stem her tears. “I thought maybe…but I’ll never know, now.”

“Never say never ever,” he said, his own voice cracking.

Rose jerked. “What did you just say?” 

“What’s goin’ on here?” Jackie demanded again, her eyes filled with suspicion, fear and…was that hope? “Who the bloody hell are you?” 

Looking at Rose, he was lost for words again. But then, there were really only two words that meant anything at this moment. 

He smiled.

“Rose Tyler.”

Her eyes grew wide and she started to shake. “It…you can’t…..It’s impossible!”

 “Oh, I don’t know,” he grinned, tears inexplicably gathering in his eyes. “I like impossible.”

“It…it can’t….Doctor?” Her breath was coming in short gasps and her eyes were full of hope. “’S’at really you?”

Jackie gasped, covering her mouth.

“Hello,” was all he could manage.

“It…it can’t be!” Rose shook her head, too raw, too afraid to hope. 

“Rose, it’s me,” he said softly, shuffling closer.  

Amazingly, Jackie patted Rose on the shoulder and smiled through her tears. “It is, Rose, it’s…it’s Himself. He’s here.”

Rose shook her head, her entire form trembling, and tears running down her cheeks. “I can’t….if this is a trick….”

“It’s him,” Jackie told her, shaking her head. “Got himself aged good and proper this time, but it’s him.” She wiped at her face. “I’d know that look anywhere. Big ears, big mouth or wrinkles, he always looks at you the same.” 

“Honestly, it’s me.” He grinned, suddenly rocking back on his heels at a long forgotten memory of a dodgy regeneration and a terrified companion. “You know, I think we’ve had this conversation before.”

“I can’t….”

“Talk to him, Rose. You need to talk to him.” Jackie wiped at her face and turned to the Doctor. “And you- you don’t even think about moving off this beach until you come and talk to me first, understand? I don’t care if the bleedin’ highway between universes is closin’, you don’t move without my say so, got it?” 

“Yes ma’am.” He managed to restrain the urge to salute. Barely.

“Oi, that’s enough cheek out of you!” Her narrowed eyes were the only warning he had before she let loose with an almighty Jackie Tyler slap. 

“Hey! What was that for?” He growled, rubbing at his cheek. “Three bodies later and I’m still trying to get rid of the imprint of the first one.” 

Jackie glared. “You gave up on her. You said she’d never see you again, and now you come waltzin’ in here….you lied to her!”

“No, no,” he hastened to assure her, fearing for his other cheek. “He, that is, that me, he couldn’t cross between the universes, the walls are definitely sealed shut.” He ignored the all too accurate barb about giving up. “I have…certain advantages he didn’t.”

“You let her break her own heart sayin’ goodbye when you were right there!”

“I had to!” He pleaded. “I had to come at this moment, and I couldn’t show myself until the other me was gone. There are rules, Jackie. If he’d seen me….” He shook his head. “He’d have torn down the walls to get her back.” He looked intently at her. “It had to be this way.” 

“You’d better be tellin’ the truth,” Jackie growled. “I won’t let you hurt her again.”

“Believe me, Jackie, hurting Rose is the last thing I’d ever want to do.”

“Didn’t stop you doin’ it before,” she said pointedly. 

He flinched. “I know.”

Jackie stared at him for a long moment, and he let her look her fill, hiding nothing. Finally satisfied, she nodded once. “You’d better not do it again.” Turning to Rose, she slipped her arms around her and dropped a kiss on her forehead, whispering,  “Talk to him, sweetheart.” Loosening her hold, she gave Rose a little push towards the Doctor before marching towards the Jeep, waving back Pete and Mickey who’d started towards her.

The Doctor turned back to Rose, and stood, waiting and drinking her in.

“You can’t be,” Rose whispered, her eyes filled with a terrible hope. 

“I am,” he said hoarsely.

She shook her head, trembling. “What…what was the first thing you ever said to me?”

He shuffled a little closer, holding out his hand, playing his part in the dance. “I said one word... just one word, I said... “Run"."

“Doctor?” She whispered.

“That’s me!” He smiled, furiously blinking back tears. “Hello!”

 “Oh my God, Doctor!” With a sob, she flew at him and this crotchety old body that couldn’t abide hugs opened its arms wide to grasp an armful of weeping pink and yellow human.

“How?” She sobbed into his shoulder. “What happened? You said it was impossible. I’ve been tryin’ and tryin’ for months an…”

He buried his face in her hair and inhaled the scent of home. “And you’d have found it,” he muttered. “You always find your way back to me.”

“What?” She pulled back slightly. “How…how long has it been for you?” 

He smiled, unable to do anything else at having her there again. “A very long time. Too long.” 

“An’… you still remember me? After all that time?”

 “I could never forget you, Rose Tyler.” He shook his head. “Believe me, I’ve tried and it didn’t work.”

“You tried?” She looked so wounded that he kicked himself. 

“I couldn’t,” he told her again. “Never. Not you.”

“But you tried.” She looked down, and he kicked himself again.  

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, slipping a finger under her chin. 

“Then why?” Her eyes were full of tears, and he couldn’t be anything less than honest.

“It hurt,” he said hoarsely. “I…losing you, I went mad. I did things that…” He took a deep breath. “I went mad.”

Rose tilted her head back, confused and hurt. “Then why did you…why are you here? If it’s so bad…I don’t….I don’t want to keep hurtin’ you.”

He couldn’t help but smile at that. “You know what I love about you?”

She blinked, obviously shocked by his use of the word. “What?” 

“You’re so very, very Rose Tyler,” he grinned. “That’s a compliment, by the way.” 

“What?”

“I think that’s my line, actually.” He sobered. “At least, it was.”

“I don’t understand,” she said. “Please Doctor…I don’t want to hurt you, never, but I can’t…I’ve just lost you and now I’ve found you. If I have to lose you again…” 

“No, no, Rose!” He pulled her close, horrified she’d think he’d come back to taunt her with the idea of going home and then leave her. But then, he growled to himself, he’d done almost precisely that a few times. He couldn’t blame her for thinking he was going to leave her again. “I’m not… Ach, this body is terrible at saying things. I-what? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Nothin’,” she sniffed looking up at him. “’S…just…you’re Scottish.”

“Aye, that I am, lassie!” He thickened the brogue, desperate to get a smile out of her. “I can really complain about things now!”

She tried to smile, wiping at her face. “Never stopped you before.” 

“No, that’s true, isn’t it?” He rested his cheek briefly on her head for moment before stepping back slightly. “I’m doing a miserable job at explaining this.”

“Explainin’ what?”

“Why I’m here.”

Rose took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “Just….just say it.”

“Right, say it, just say it,” he nodded. “Excellent plan.”

She stared at him. “Well?” 

“Oh, the reason! I still haven’t told you.” He shook his head. “I’d say it’s old age, but I think I’d be lying, I’m not entirely sure of the effects of cellular degeneration on my-”

“Doctor.” 

“Sorry.” He shook his head, trying to focus. Rose. He was here for Rose, and she was hurting. It was time to offer her the one gift he still had, the one thing this broken old Time Lord had left to offer. 

“Rose, I’m here because I…I’m here to….” He took a deep breath and tried again. “I’m here to give you a choice.”

 

Chapter Text

“A choice?” Rose frowned. “What kind of choice? If you mean coming with you or staying here, I told you, I made my choice a long time ago.”

He couldn’t help but smile at that. “You’d come with me even now? This me?”

“Of course I would!”

“Even though I’m not the one you knew?”

“S’ not the first time.” She glared at him. “I’ve dealt with you changin’ faces before.”

“Yes, you have.” He really was going to have to find a way to stop smiling around Rose Tyler- he was starting to look like an idiot. A happy idiot. “But this time, it’s different. I’m different.”

“So, what, you sayin’ you don’t want me, because you’re different?” She shook her head in bewilderment. “Then what…?”

“No, I’m not saying that! Why do you keep saying that?” He demanded, tugging at his hair in frustration. Why was this going pear-shaped?

(And he really hated pears. That hadn’t changed.)

“Because you show up after you tell me I can never see you again, an’ then you tell me I have a choice an’ now you’re sayin’ you’re not my Doctor anymore!”

“Oh, no.” He pointed at her. “Oh, no, no, no no, I won’t have that. Let’s get one thing perfectly clear Rose Tyler- I am your Doctor. Entirely. Yours.” He fixed her with a look to make sure she took his point. “Your Doctor.”

“Then what you talkin’ about?” she shouted. “I can’t take anymore back and forth Doctor, not now. Not today. Just….just tell me.”

“It’s not you, it’s me!” He blinked. “Wait, that didn’t come out quite the way I intended.” He waved it off. “Anyway. I’ve seen too much, done too much. You’d never accept me if you knew…..He swallowed. “I can’t accept me. Not anymore. This….this isn’t who I am. What I am.”

She gasped. “You’re….you’re goin’ to…die?”

“No!” He tugged at his hair again. This body had good hair for tugging on, come to think of it. “Great deal of good that would do. I’d probably muck it up and end coming back as something utterly humiliating- like a cat. Sinister little fluff-pots, cats, always needing to be stroked and petted and all the while they’re plotting your demise.” He shuddered. “Or I might turn into a carrot! Yes, I can just see it now. Do you know how embarrassing it would be to regenerate into a carrot? Utterly demeaning.”

She frowned. “You can become a vegetable?”

“Well… no, actually. Probably not. But that’s entirely beside the point- it’d probably happen anyway and it’d be hideously embarrassing.”

“Ok…..”

“No, Rose, no! It’s not ok! Carrot not ok!”

“Doctor!”

“Oh yes, right, the point!” He rubbed his forehead. “The truth is, Rose, that after I lost you, I…well, I lost the plot. I did things, bad things that you’d never want to know about, I ruined a lot of people’s lives.”

“You already said.”

“Right, well, what I’m trying to say is… if I didn’t lose you- if I-past me, that is- got you back….that would never happen, Rose. None of it would.”

“What, so you want me back to…stop you? Like a minder or something?”

“No!” He paused. “Well, yes, actually. You’re the only one who really can stop me, when it comes down to it. But no! That’s not….that’s not why I came. I came because…” He took a deep breath, willing the words to come. Why was it so much harder now? “Rose, you must know by now that I need you.”

“Need me for what, though?” She rubbed tiredly at her face. “Let’s face it, Doctor- you always kept us from gettin’ too close, fed me that ‘Curse of the Time Lords’ and ‘it’ll hurt when you’re gone’ drivel and pushed me away.  Even now, when it was the end you couldn’t just bloody say it and we ran out of time! What’s changed now?”

“Me,” he said quietly. “I changed. I did exactly what you said, Rose, I pushed you away, I ran, I hid behind excuses, terrified of what would happen when I lost you.” He looked at her then, unable to hide the bleakness of a thousand years without her. “And then I lost you, and all the running, all the hiding was absolutely pointless.” He laughed hollowly. “It destroyed me, Rose, losing you, and the man I became without you was…unrecognisable and unforgivable. But even that….that’s not the whole of it.”

She frowned. “No?”

“No. The truth is, I owe you.”

“Owe me what?”

“A choice. That’s…that’s the reason I’m here Rose.” He swallowed. “Every time I sent you away, or tried to keep you safe, you came right back. You chose me. And in the end I…I chose for you and truly, Rose-” And here he looked her in the eye. “I regret it. I regret it more than I can say.”

“Chose what?” She demanded, exhausted and confused. “Are you sayin’ you- past you, that is, the one I lost- left me here on purpose after all? That you could have come back for me?That you lied?”

“No, he told the truth about that. He didn’t leave you here on purpose.” He met her gaze. “This time.”

“What- you’re saying I get back to him, somehow, and he leaves me here again? That you leave me here again? Forever?” She was aghast.

He nodded heavily. “At the time I thought I was doing what was best. For you and everyone involved.”

The growl of rage was the only warning he had as he was slapped for the second time that day. This time, however, he didn’t protest because he knew he deserved it and so much more.

“You. Utter. Wanker!” Rose seethed, angry tears coursing down her cheeks. “You complete and total tosser! How bloody dare you? I promise you forever and you leave me behind every chance you get! How could you, Doctor? How could you just leave me like that?”

“I don’t have any excuse,” he said quietly. “I could tell you there were circumstances, but in the end, that fact remains that I took the choice from you and I- I’m sorry.”

“You utter arsehole!” She slapped him again and stood vibrating with fury, chest heaving. “If you didn’t want me you should have just said! You didn’t have to go leaving me trapped in another universe!”

He seized her hand as it went to slap him a third time and pulled it to his chest, close to his hearts. “No Rose- say what you will, hit me as much as you like and I won’t say a word of complaint but don’t- don’t you ever say I don’t want you.”

She trembled with anger and grief. “What the hell am I s’posed to think? You just told me that you left me here, on purpose, after I managed to get back to you! What do you think that says?”

“It says I’m an arse,” he said hoarsely. “A total and utter fool, a stupid sod with the intellectual prowess of an immature amoeba, and I admit that freely, Rose. But please don’t think- don’t think it’s because I don’t want you.”

“How am I s’posed to trust you?” She said painfully, tugging her hand away backing away a few steps. “How can I trust this isn’t you bringin’ me back for some secret reason of your own and that you won’t change your mind again and leave me tomorrow?”

He swallowed back his own tears at her painful lack of trust, knowing he deserved it. He kept his hands to himself, much as he wanted to hold her (and since when did this body want to hold anyone?), trying to give her the space she obviously needed. “Because I’ve already done that, Rose, and it destroyed me. I’ve made bad decisions and suffered for them. I’ve lived without you and I don’t want to do it anymore. But more important than that, more important than my miserable lives, I want to know you’re happy. I want to know that, whatever future you have, you’ve chosen it with eyes wide open and that it’s what you truly want.” He took a deep breath. “I owe you the choice that I took from you the first time.”

Rose swiped at her face. “So what, you’re goin’ to let me choose whether I go back with you to past you, or stay here?”

“Yes.” He cleared his throat. “But I’m not asking you to make the choice blind, Rose. I…if you’ll let me, I have something for you.”

“What?”

“Information.” He smiled sadly. “The future. Or the past, depending on how you look at it. I never had the courage to look into your timeline, to see what happened after I left you, but the TARDIS…well, my lovely girl is very fond of you and she has a few things she’d like you to see.”

“How?” 

“Memory transference. I don’t need to enter your mind,” he added hastily, thinking she likely wouldn’t be too keen on that just now. “I just need to touch it. She gave me the memories and I just need to transfer them to you. Like delivering a parcel, really.”

Rose looked at him silently for a moment. “And what, you’ll give me these memories and let me decide what I want to do?”

“Yes.”

“Even if I ask you to leave me here?”

“Yes,” he said hoarsely, hiding his trembling hands in his pockets. “Even if you ask me to do that. Whatever you ask of me Rose, I swear it.”

She nodded, looking away. “What if…what if he doesn’t want me back?”

Right. Sod giving her space.

He lunged forward and pulled her to him. “That’s impossible. He wants you, even now he’s fighting the urge to tear down the walls between the universes to come and get you, Rose.” He pulled back slightly. “He wants you, I want you, I’ve wanted you for a thousand years, and missed you even when I tried to forget you.” He gently stroked a long finger down her cheek. “I love you, Rose Tyler.”

Her eyes grew wide. “What?”

“I love you,” he repeated. “I’m not afraid to say it, not now.” He huffed a laugh. “What’s the point? Holding back didn’t stop me losing you. Holding back didn’t give me the heart I’d left on this sodding beach, and holding back didn’t erase a single regret.” He leaned a little closer. “I’d much rather take what happiness I can, even if it’s just now, even if you’ll only give me this brief moment.”

“You- you mean it? Her voice was shaking.

“I’ve never meant anything more.”

“And you’ll show me everything? And let me decide? No matter what?”

“No matter what,” he swore, holding his breath. What if she refused? What if, after all this she’d decided she couldn’t trust him anymore and she asked him to leave?

What then?

She gazed at him for a long, endless moment, before whispering, “Show me.”

His hearts soared. She was giving him a chance.

“Your wish,” he whispered, “is still and ever my command.” Gently, reverently, he pressed his lips to hers as he touched her mind for the first time in a thousand years. He revelled in her nearness, her touch as their minds and mouths melded and he ever so gently transferred the store of unknown memories into her mind. Unable to help himself, he lingered for moments after, revelling in the taste and smell of Rose Tyler.

But this wasn’t the time. He hoped, he prayed (and he wasn’t a praying man) that this wouldn’t be the last time he kissed her, touched her, that even though he didn’t deserve it, she’d choose him one more time.

And so, he forcibly drew himself back, watching as Rose slowly opened her eyes.

He anxiously waited, uncertain what to expect. Would she be angry? Sad? Hopeful? Perhaps even happy? It’d certainly help if the TARDIS had shown him the memories he’d transferred to Rose, but the old girl had been adamant that it was absolutely none of his business. Come to think of it, she was probably right- but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

“You are such a complete wanker!”

He blinked. Well, he hadn’t expected that.

“Yes, thank you, we’ve established that already!” He raked a hand through his hair. “Any other remarks, perchance? Perhaps something along the lines of what you saw? What you think? What you’re going to do? That sort of thing?”

“Wait, you don’t know what was in there?”

He sighed. “I told you, Rose, I couldn’t make myself look into your timeline. Everything you saw was from the TARDIS and she didn’t share it with me.” He looked her in the eye. “Your future is yours alone, Rose.”

She nodded slowly, conflicting emotions in her expression.

“Before you decide,” he added.  “I want you to know, now that you…well, now that you know, so to speak- you don’t need to choose now. I’m willing wait here with you for as long as you need,”

She stared at him. “You really mean it, don’t you,” she breathed. “You’re really givin’ me the choice.”

“Yes,” he said fiercely, meaning every word. “I owe you that, Rose, and so much more, and I’ll wait as long as you need.”

She pierced him with an intense gaze that made him feel as though she could see inside him. “This is…this you, though. If you take me back, you…you’ll be gone, yeah?”

“Yes. Not immediately, I’ll have a little time, but yes, once the I leave the TARDIS, I’ll disappear, to make way for a new future and a new me.” He smiled. Again! Unbelievable.  “I’ve left instructions and a memory in the time safe, though, just in case, for future me, whatever he’s like, to go back and get you, so there won’t be any paradoxical consequences.”

“Well, that’s good to know, but that’s not what I…” She took a deep breath. “You’ve had a long time without me to think about it, an’ you look at things… differently. Past you though…how do I know he won’t keep pushing me away, or takin’ my choices away? How do I know I won’t end up back here again?”

He exhaled, absently reaching for her hand and twining his fingers with hers, revelling in her the feel of her hand in his own after all this time. No one else’s hand had ever fit quite the same way. “Well, strictly speaking I suppose you don’t know. But I can tell you that after…after I lost you, I kicked myself every day for holding back- hated myself for it- and all I could think of was what I’d do, what I’d tell you if I ever got a second chance.”

Rose glared. “An’ then you got it and you ran off and dumped me here with a half-human Doctor and hoped it’d all work out.”

“Yes, alright, I made a complete mess of it.” He sighed. “I said I was sorry, didn’t I?” He shook his head. “The fact remains, past me wants you back, and he’s so devastated, so paralysed by your loss that the chances of him pushing you away now are astronomically low- impossible, really, loathe as I am to use the word.”

“Even if that’s true, how do I know he- you- won’t try to make my choices for me again?”

“I suppose you can’t know, really. Even I don’t know- time travel is a tricky business, especially when it comes to past selves.” He cupped her face, willing her to trust him, to see his sincerity. “But I can hope. I can hope that this time, I’ll make the right choice. I can hope that I accept the best sodding gift the universe has ever given me. I can hope that seeing me, seeing what I’ve become, past me will stop moping about like some sort of emo Time Lord and enjoy what I have while I have it.” Unable to help himself, he softly pressed his lips to hers. “Enjoy who I have.”

She gazed up at him, a tiny smile on her lips. “I like hope.”

“So do I.” He was utterly unable to help smiling back. It was official; trying not to smile at Rose Tyler was a lost cause. “Hope is brilliant.”

“Yeah.” She paused. “Did you just say 'emo Time Lord’?”

“I may have.”

“Since when did you say stuff like ‘emo’?”

“It’s a  great word, Rose- all the kids are using it these days.”

“What?” She stared at him incredulously. “And did you just call me a ‘sodding gift’?”

“Yes, alright, poor choice of words there, I’m terrible at moments. Is that all you got from what I said?” he demanded.

That tiny, tiny smile on her lips grew slightly wider. “Might’ve got a few other things.”

“I sincerely hope so!” He grumbled. “This body isn’t emotional, Rose and I’m pouring my emotions out for you.” He gestured wildly. “Pouring them, Rose! This is very dramatic for me, and all you can do is fixate on a few mildly inappropriate word choices.”

“Mildly inappropriate?” 

“Oh, come now, there is no need for false protestations of outrage, Rose Tyler!” He was, he was mildly surprised to discover, actually enjoying himself. He hadn’t enjoyed himself since his last trip to the 60’s for a spot of Beatlemania about two hundred years ago.

(Come to think of it, he still hadn’t taken Rose to see the Beatles. One of him should really remedy that.)

She just smirked at him. 

“Why are you looking at me like that?” He couldn’t help but ask (ignoring the fact that he was smiling. Again).

“’S just nice to know that no matter what, every you is rude and not ginger.”

“There’s no need to be cruel about it! The ginger thing is still very much a sore spot, I’ll have you know.”

She giggled, and he couldn’t help but bask in it. He’d missed the sound, and to hear it today, of all days, was glorious. “Only you would think that not being ginger is worse than being rude.”

“I’m not rude! I have manners.” He paused. “Sometimes.”

“Course you do.” She rolled her eyes. “That’s why mum’s made a habit of slappin’ you since the beginnin’.”

“Oh, come on Rose, Jackie Tyler was born slapping! She probably slapped the doctor who delivered her.”

Rose covered her mouth with her hands. “Doctor!”

“What? It’s true! I can just see it now. ‘What’s this, you slappin’ me? I don’t think so mate, nobody slaps a Prentice!’ He declaimed in a high-pitched voice.

Rose threw back her head and laughed.

He stood there and watched, so completely enraptured with Rose’s laughter that he  completely missed Jackie’s tearful smile as she watched the two of them from the jeep.  “That’s better,” he said softly. “Much better. Laugh, Rose Tyler.  No more tears. Not today.”

Rose laughed and and laughed until suddenly, to his utter shock, she was crying again, her laughter turned to tears.

“What?” He stared. “You’re crying again! Why? You were laughing! And now you’re crying! Why are you crying?” He seized her and pulled her fiercely to him. “No more tears, Rose, please, no more tears. Not when I’d turn time inside out to make you happy.” He frowned. “I am turning time inside out to make you happy.”

“I know! She sobbed. “ But I c-can’t help it!”

“Why?” He asked desperately.

She just buried her face and sobbed into his jacket for a time. Eventually, the tears slowed and to his relief, the crying stopped.

“What happened?” He said into the top of her head, terrified that if he let go for even a moment, she might suddenly, inexplicably burst into tears again.

“I dunno, just….everythin’,” she said, her words muffled by his jacket. “Today’s been too much, Doctor, just too much.”

“I’m sorry,” he said hoarsely. “I didn’t mean to make it worse for you.”

She pulled back, shaking her head intently. “You didn’t, Doctor! You didn’t. You gave me hope, an honestly, after…other you disappeared I thought…” she shook her head. “But you came for me an’….an’ you told me you love me and you said you can take my back you want to give me a choice and …” she trailed off, laughing weakly. “It’s a bit much to take in, Doctor. That’s all. I’m just…overwhelmed.”

“Oh.” That made sense, in a very human-ish sort of way.

(He deliberately chose not to think about the fact that instead of letting it out, he tended wallow in guilt and misery for centuries).

“Yeah, oh.” She laughed again, rubbing at her eyes. “Why is it every conversation with you just goes mental?”

Being a Time Lord (and an old one at that) it shouldn’t really give him a warm glow inside to hear her speak the words she’d once spoken to him, the first him she’d known.

But it did.

He tried to cover his pleasure with nonchalance. “Well, sanity is highly overrated anyway, if you ask me.”

She laughed again, shaking her head. “See? Mental.” 

Good mental though?” He couldn’t help but ask.

“Yes, you daft Time Lord, good mental.” She rolled her eyes. “You know, I can’t even remember how we even got into all that before you made me laugh.”

“You were judging my lingo.” That was still a bit of a sore spot, if he was honest.

“Oh yeah! Emo!” She gave him a small smile. “And making choices.”

“Emo and making choices,” he repeated huskily.

She tilted her head, considering. “So really, what you were saying is, you can take me back to past you, you can even tell him off, but in the end, I have to let him make his choices.” She quirked her lip. “Just like he needs to do with me.”

He’d deny it to his grave (well, another grave) if asked, but he was so proud of her at that moment he could have burst.  “Precisely. You can either trust him- me - or not. You can take the chance, or not.”

Surprisingly, Rose smiled- a wide, genuine tongue-touched Rose Tyler smile that almost drove him to his knees. “Makes it pretty easy when you put it that way.” She lifted a hand to gently caress his cheek, and he unable to help it, he leaned into the caress. “I’ve made my decision, Doctor.”

“Rose, you don’t need to-”

“I’ve made my choice,” she interrupted before leaning close to softly press her lips to his, short-circuiting his entire nervous system. “I choose you. I’ll always choose you.” She gave him a pointed look. “Even when you piss me off.”

His knees actually wobbled and he made a mental note to get a proper physical the next time he had (if he had) this body. “Rose, are you sure? Your mother-”

“We can ask her what she wants to do,” she interrupted. “She should have a choice too, but I reckon…I reckon she’s happy here with Pete. Free choice, remember?” 

“Free choice,” he said hoarsely. “And you’re telling Jackie.”

“Oh, I reckon she’s expecting it.” She fixed him with a pointed look. “Besides, I can always come back and visit.”

“I-you what? Rose, the walls are still sealed for past me.”

“For now,” was all she said as she started to make her way towards Jackie and the others while he stood gaping after her.

“What? Rose, what do you know? What did the TARDIS tell you?”

She didn’t answer.

“Rose! You come back here and answer me!”

Nothing.

“She’s keeping secrets from me! I won’t have it!”

Rose had the audacity to laugh.

“Oh, I see how it is- girls together against the poor old Time Lord! You’re ganging up on me! That’s persecution! Unjustifiable persecution”

She laughed again.

He trailed after her, muttering under his breath.

Nearby, the TARDIS, unable to manage much in this foreign universe, hummed smugly.

“Oh, don’t think you’re getting away with this!” He shouted to the TARDIS. “We are going to have a rational discussion about this before I cease to exist, you can be sure of that.”

The TARDIS trilled.

“Blasted wilful time ships,” he muttered. Seeing Jackie ahead, he cringed.

This was not going to be easy.

+++++

“I can’t believe it was that easy!” He said to Rose as they made for the TARDIS hours later, a weeping Jackie being consoled in the little nearby hotel by Mickey and Pete.

“You call that easy?” She looked at him incredulously whilst wiping away her tears. “She grilled us both for an hour, then clung to me and sobbed, then you, then me again and she slapped you twice! Lucky Pete made us all go into that little hotel or else we’d still be standing next to the jeep!”

“That’s what I said- easy!” He shook his head. “I half-expected her to call for a rope and tie you to the jeep.” He paused. “Or possibly me. Although truth be told, I don’t really go in for that sort of thing.”

She choked. “You did not just make a bondage joke involving my mother!”

He stared at her in horror,. “I think I did.” He cringed. “And I never will again. Some things should be forgotten immediately and never spoken of again, and this is one of those things, Rose Tyler.”

“Done.” Her expression was vaguely disturbed. “How did we even get onto that anyway?”

“I was saying I didn’t expect Jackie to let us go that easily.” He never wanted to think about his earlier comment ever again.

“I still dunno how you think that was easy!”

He turned to her incredulously. “She let you go! I expected her to try and talk one or both of us out of it, but once she was sure it was safe to make the crossing and I was really taking you back, she seemed to take it as a done deal.”

Rose looked at him. “Doctor, I’ve done nothing but try to get back to you since I got stuck here. Every day. Even when we got your message to come here, I thought…I hoped you’d found a way to come through and get me.” She took a deep breath. “And mum knew that if you had, I was goin’ with you, no question. Even before she knew I could come back some day.”

He shook his head in awe of her determination and her devotion to him. Even heartbroken and homesick, trapped in a parallel universe, she’d fought to get back to him.

And in the original timeline (actually, if he was being picky about it, it was still this timeline because they hadn’t changed it yet), he’d been content to give up and wallow in misery for four years.

And then send her away when she’d managed to come back.

“Don’t,” she said, as if she knew what he was thinking. “What’s done is done, Doctor, you admitted you were wrong and you’ve doing everything you can to give me a choice now.” She swallowed. “You’re literally unmaking yourself to give me a choice.”

He smiled and took her hand as they trudged. “Easiest thing in the world.”

“You’re mad,” she sniffed, blinking away tears.

“Mad about you.” He smirked at her gobsmacked expression. “It’s a movie.”

She groaned. “Honestly, who let you near pop culture?”

“Ah, you wound me!” He said dramatically as they reached the TARDIS- only for Rose to stop. “What? What is it?”

She stared at the TARDIS with something like longing. “Nothing. ’S just- I’ve missed her. She was….she’s home.”

Feeling the joyful peals of the TARDIS in his mind, he grinned. “I think she’s missed you too. She’s a bit muted in this universe, but can you feel that?”

Rose slowly touched her hand to the wood, and gasped. “Oh!”

“You see?” He beamed. “She’s overjoyed to see you.”

“Hey love,” she whispered, pressing her cheek to the beautiful blue box. “I’ve missed you.”

The TARDIS hummed so loudly that he was sure it could be heard in the next universe, and Rose closed her eyes, content.

Rose was here.

And she was going home.

Taking a deep breath, he took hold of himself and unlocked the door. “Come on, Rose Tyler. It’s time to go home.”

Opening her eyes, she slowly pulled back, looking at the TARDIS, and then at him. Then, taking a deep breath, she strode into the TARDIS, eyes glistening and smile wide, looking round in wonder. “She’s different. But still the same. You’re gorgeous, love,” she smiled, stroking the console.

The TARDIS trilled with joy.

He couldn’t blame her because after all this time, Rose Tyler and the Doctor were together in the TARDIS. As it should be.

He grinned.

“Alright, Rose Tyler, we’ve seen the future, how about the past?”

Beaming at his words from long ago, she held tight to one of the levers. “Sounds more like the future to me.”

“So it is,” he grinned. “So it is. Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“You’re certain?”

“Yes!”

“No regrets?”

“Doctor!”

“Alright. Then hang on, Rose Tyler because we’re about to meddle with time spectacularly!”

Rose laughed as the TARDIS dematerialised, and moments later, they landed with a bump spilling Rose onto the floor. He just managed to stay standing.

He took a moment to admire the sight of her, laughing, blond hair spread on the grating.

He’d missed it.

“Alright?” He couldn’t help but ask.

“Fantastic!” She beamed, kicking her feet happily. “More than.”

“Good.” He held out a hand. “You’d best get up, though. We’re back in the Prime universe and we’ve not got much time before I fade.”

“Oh.” Her smile faded. Taking his hand, she pulled herself up. “I…how long have you got?”

“Oh, enough time to get done what needs doing.”

“What needs doing?” She frowned. “Aren’t we just goin’ to past you?”

“Yes.” He paused, an idea forming in his mind. “Rose, do you trust me?”

“What kind of stupid question is that?” She demanded.

“Alright, yes, as a question, it was slightly redundant, but the point is, I have an idea. It’s a bit unorthodox, but-”

“What are you talkin’ about? She interrupted.

“I have an idea.”

“I got that!” She rolled her eyes. “What idea?”

“Right, well it’s like this. We’re now in the basement at Torchwood, round the corner from the past TARDIS. Upstairs, you and my past self are clinging to the levers. In a moment, you’re-you’re going to fall-” and his voice broke a bit at that “and the breach will be healed and the walls sealed shut.”

She started to tremble. “You had to bring us here because that’s when the walls were open for past you.”

“Precisely!” He basked in her brilliance for a moment. He’d missed that too. “However, just because this is where and when we had to come back to doesn’t mean that this is where and when I have to take you back to me.”

She shook her head in bewilderment. “I don’t understand.”

He gazed intently at her. “I can take you back now, Rose. I can open the door and you can go into the past TARDIS and he’ll find you. Or…”

“Or?”

He took a deep breath. “Or I can take you back to his TARDIS just after he’d finished speaking to you on the beach. About a week after he lost you.”

Rose narrowed her eyes. “But why would you make him- you- wait?”

He seized her hands and gazed intently at her. “Rose, what was the one thing you were afraid of on the beach?”

She took a deep breath. “That you’d keep pushin’ me away when I came back and makin’ my choices for me.”

“Right. So what if, rather than sending you straight back now, we wait until he’s faced with the full consequences of his actions.”

“And then what?”

He looked at her grimly. “And then I have a little chat with him. Call it an intervention.”

Her eyes filled with comprehension. “You want him to face up to it before…”

“Before he turns into me. Before he ends up here.” He looked steadily at her. “My choices led me here, Rose and my choices can prevent it. He needs to understand that. Then, it’s up to him.”

She bit her lip, and he had the strangest urge to do the same. “Isn’t that cruel, though? To make him- you!- suffer for a week thinking I’m gone forever when I’m right here?”

He couldn’t help but smile at her compassion. “The Bard said it it best, Rose. ‘I must be cruel only to be kind.’ If I feel the consequences of my actions, I might just choose better next time.” He cupped her face gently. “Sometimes, the only way to learn is to feel the full weight of our actions.”

“I don’t want you to hurt him just for me,” she said softly.

“I’m hurting me for me,” he told her just as quietly. “For us. This is something I need to do, Rose.”

Her eyes filled with tears and she smiled, finally understanding what he’d been driving at. “Growing pains, yeah?”

“Something like that,” he muttered, pulling her into his arms for a moment. Swallowing back his own tears, he braced himself and pulled back. “Right! Lots to do, busy busy!”

She shook her head. “Daft Time Lord.”

Your daft Time Lord, though. No returns policy I’m afraid,” he muttered as he dashed to the console and began to adjust levers and dials. He watched them intently as he calibrated the temporal scanner, needing to time this particular landing just right.

The TARDIS hummed at him, indicating she’d take care of it, and he smiled, patting the wall. “Always takes me where I need to be.” Coming back himself, he clapped his hands. “Right! Are we ready, Rose Tyler? One week into the future.”

Taking a deep breath, she clung to one of the levers. “Are you sure about this, Doctor?”

He looked her in the eye. “I’ve never been surer.”

Inhaling, she nodded. “Allons-y?”

Allons-y!” He shouted, flicking the lever, absently thinking that he really had to start improving his catchphrases.  A Time Lord jumping through time and space shouting geronimo was just mortifying.

Moments later, the TARDIS had landed.

“Right, let me just confirm…..yes!” He shouted exultantly. “We are precisely where and when we meant to be, which I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, Rose Tyler, is an extraordinarily rare and exceptional occurrence!”

“You can say that again,” she muttered.

“Oh, come, on, it was one time,” he protested guiltily. “Three bodies ago!”

She raised an eyebrow. “One body for me, and it was a lot more than once, no matter which body!”

“Alright, so perhaps my estimations about my accuracy may be slightly overstated.” Clearing his throat at her smirk, he broke down and smiled. (Again. If he weren’t about to vanish from existence he’d give himself a thorough once over in the infirmary.)

As if reading his mind, Rose poked him. “Didn’t you say we have to hurry?”

He sobered. “Right, yes, we’re on a time limit here.” He looked at her, drinking her in. “Are you ready?”

“I, yeah.” She nodded. “I’m ready. Gonna miss you though.”

Smiling he took her hand and guided them out. “No you won’t, because I’m right outside, Rose. You’ll see me in a moment- the same man, who loves you the same way. Don’t forget that Rose- he loves you just as I do, even if the sod was too stupid to admit it.”

“Even if he doesn’t,” she said softy, drawing closer. “Thank you for sayin’ it. An’ just so you know, I love you too. Always my Doctor.”

He blinked back tears as he fixed that same expression in his memory, burning it into his mind. “Always your Doctor.” Unable to help himself, he pressed his lips to hers for a moment, savouring her taste and her smell, her bravery and her strength and her compassion. 

Clearing his throat, he stepped back. “Shall we go?”

“Yeah. I’m ready.”

“So am I,” he whispered, squeezing her hand.

Opening that door for the last time (until it wasn’t), he lovingly patted the TARDIS, whispering his thanks. The TARDIS hummed triumphantly at him as he led Rose out.

She frowned at the familiar hallway. “Where are we? This looks like…it feels like…”

“The TARDIS,” he confirmed happily. It hadn’t been easy to land so precisely but the old girl had helped. She was very invested in fixing his past, it would seem. 

“We’re home?” She asked, voice trembling. 

“Home,” he confirmed, hearts swelling at her beautiful smile. The door to the console room loomed up ahead and he could hear the voices of his past self and Rose.

He’d timed it perfectly, and he couldn’t help but smile as he turned to Rose. “Would you wait here for a moment?”

She nodded, swallowing.”S’pose you’ll want a word with you, eh?”

“Precisely. Astute as ever, Rose, astute as ever. You’ll know when it’s time to come in.”

“Good luck,” she sniffed, leaning against the wall. 

Drinking her in, he smiled. “I don’t believe in luck. If there’s one thing I believe in, Rose, it’s you.” With that he turned and strode into the console room, finding his past self bent heavy with grief over the console, tears running down his cheeks.

Glancing about the room, he smiled at the beautiful organic layout of his TARDIS, basking in her welcome, before turning back to the man he’d been. It was time to drive home a few truths.

“Bit late to be crying now, isn’t it?”

The younger man looked up and whirled around, scrubbing the tears from his cheeks. “What?”

The Twelfth Doctor rolled his eyes. “Oh, don’t start that. I said-”

“I heard you the first time! I meant who are you and what are you doing on my TARDIS?”

“Well, I’d have thought the answer to the former was obvious, and as to the latter, the answer to that is extraordinarily long and complicated.”

The Tenth Doctor glared. “What are you blathering about? How is it obvio-” His eyes bulged. “Oh, no. Oh don’t tell me.”

“Precisely,” the Twelfth Doctor smirked. “It’s just like looking into a mirror.”

“You’re absolutely joking! I regenerate into that? What happened?” The younger man demanded. 

“Oh, well I like that!” The Twelfth Doctor huffed. “What’s wrong with me?”

“What’s wrong with- you look two hundred years old!” The Tenth Doctor shouted. “We haven’t been that old since our first body! 

“Actually, I’m about two thousand years old, take or leave a century.”

“And you’re Scottish! Why are we Scottish again?”

“Here, now, don’t be racist!” He said indignantly.

“Racist?” The other man stared incredulously. “We’re not Scottish! We’re not even human!”

“Nonetheless, the point still stands- there’s nothing wrong with the Scots!” He growled. “Now, if we’ve finished the critique of my form, can we get back to the point?”

“What point?” The Tenth Doctor demanded. “You just showed up on my TARDIS blathering about it being too late.”

“Yes, that, point.” The Twelfth Doctor fixed his past self with a glare. “And it is a bit late to be regretting our stupidity over Rose, isn’t it?”

The other man’s eyes burned. “Don’t. Not now. Not today.”

“And why not today? Oh yes!” The older Doctor slapped his forehead. “Now I remember! Because I managed to waste the last two minutes I had with the woman I loved and didn’t have the guts to tell her until it was too late!”

“That’s enough,” the other man growled.

“Oh, I’m just getting started.” The older Doctor strode towards the younger man. “After all, it isn’t as though you cared, is it? Time Lords don’t get attached. Curse of the Time Lords, remember? We live on, everyone dies!” He shook his head, all the weariness of his years showing. “Except we did care. We loved her, and we never told her, never showed her. All that dancing around, all that evasion, and where did it get us?” He shook his head. “Take a good, long look at your future, Doctor, because this is the future you’re walking into if you don’t wake up.”

“What do you mean?” The other man growled, his every word heavy with grief.

“I mean that Rose Tyler made us better! I mean that without her, we truly become the Destroyer of Worlds.” He gazed into the other man’s face. “We become everything we loathe, everything we stand against. Now do you understand?”

“Yes.” The other man took a deep breath, swiping at his cheeks. “But it’s too late now. She’s-she’s gone.”

The Twelfth Doctor look at him in disgust. “You really are a pathetic sod! You haven’t even looked!”

“I checked the walls!”

“And you didn’t do anything else! You just gave up as if she didn’t matter!”

“What would you have me do?” The Tenth Doctor shouted. “Tear down the walls between the universes? Believe me, I’ve come bloody close, and only Rose is keeping me from it!” He shook. “She’d never forgive that.” He absently rubbed his cheek. 

Unbidden, a smile spread across the Twelfth Doctor’s lips. “No, she wouldn’t.”

“Then why are you here?” The other man asked painfully. “Why are you asking all of these pointless questions? I know what I was before I met her and I know what I’ll likely become without her, but Rose is gone!” The shout echoed around the console room. “She’s gone,” he whispered. “Forever.”

The Twelfth Doctor cocked his head. “What if she wasn’t? What difference would it make?”

“What?”

“Oh don’t start that again,” he said in disgust. “Really, it makes us sound like an utter clod. I said, what if she wasn’t? What difference would it make?”

“How can you ask that?” The other man’s eyes burned. “It would make all the difference! She’s everything!”

Hiding his triumphant smirk, the Doctor pushed on. He could feel his timeline starting to come apart, and he wanted to make sure that his work here was finished. “You never told her that, though, did you?”

The other man blanched. “You know why. You know why we couldn’t get too attached. It was for her good and mine!”

The Twelfth Doctor laughed mockingly. “Couldn’t get too attached? How’s that working out for you? I suppose it’s a great comfort now that she’s gone that you didn’t care too much!”

“Stop!”

“Stop what? Telling you the truth?” The Twelfth Doctor demanded. “You pushed her away, you held back, and for what?”

“She’s human! You know what that means as well as I do!”

“How does it feel?” He demanded.

“What?”

“I said, how does it feel?” The Twelfth Doctor demanded furiously. “How does it feel having held back and never telling her how you felt? How does it feel pushing and pushing her away, hurting her, never enjoying the time you had with her? How does it feel now that she’s gone? Do you feel protected? Does it hurt less?”

The room was silent as the two Time Lords faced one another, one grey and weary, desperate to change his fate and the other heartbroken and grieving, weeping silent tears.

“Well?”

“Why are you doing this?” The Tenth Doctor growled. “Haven’t we lost enough?”

“Answer the confounded question! Does it feel better? Do you feel vindicated for hurting yourself ? For hurting her?”

“Enough!” The Tenth Doctor shouting, chest heaving. “Don’t you think I hate myself for every moment I wasted, every chance not taken? Don’t you think I hate myself every time I hurt her, pushing her away?”

“I suppose that answer will do well enough for the present.” The Twelfth Doctor exhaled. “What if you had another chance?”

The other man froze. “What? What are you talking about?”

“If we had another chance with Rose,” he said intently, watching the other man. “If you could have her back, would you do it differently?”

“What’s the point in these questions?” The Tenth Doctor shouted. “She’s gone and she’s not coming back.”

“Just answer the question and I’ll leave you in peace,” he said quietly. “If you could have her back, would you tell her?”

The other man looked away. “Does it need saying?”

“Yes!” The Twelfth Doctor growled, hating the very sound of those words, even in, this timeline, they hadn’t been said yet. “It bloody well needs saying! She deserved your honesty then and she deserves it now! Sodding speak up!”

The other man was silent for a long moment and the Twelfth Doctor worried that his time would run out before his past self spoke. 

“Yes,” he said quietly. “I’d tell her. There’s so much I’d…” He shook his head. “But it’s all pointless now. She’s gone.”

“And if I told you I could bring her back, without destroying the walls?”

“You what?” The other man began to shake. “Can you? Will you?”

“Yes, I can and I’m not going to tell you how, so don’t even ask. Do you want me to bring her to you?”

The Tenth Doctor began to shake. “What about Jackie, though? And Mickey?” He shook his head. “We can’t take her away from her family, ask her to leave her mother behind forever.”

“Oh don’t start that!” The Twelfth Doctor spat. “You really are a stupid sod! I could just as easily bring those two, if they wanted to come, and you know it! You know what this is about- you thinking you know what’s best for her, deciding she’s better off without you.”

“You don’t know-”

“No, you don’t know! You don’t know your head from your arse, by the sounds of it! You stood here and heard her breaking her heart because you couldn’t come and bring her back! She drove out to that cursed. beach ready to go with you and she’s miserable because now she can’t! She made her choice and it’s about time we started honouring it!”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means every time we sent her away against her will, we ignored what she wanted! It means we tried to make her choices for her!” The Twelfth Doctor glared. “You bloody hypocrite- we’ve dedicated our lives to preserving the power of choice, the voice of the individual and you want to take it away from her? From Rose, of all people?”

“You know we were trying to keep her safe! It had nothing to do with taking her choice!”

“It was precisely that! We decided what was best and sent her off, no matter what she said and left her to live with the consequences! Only her sheer perversity got her back to us each time. And honestly, what’s all this nonsense about safety ? You know that we can’t promise her safety no matter what. No matter where we send her, bad things can and will happen.”

The Tenth Doctor bowed his head. “I can’t ask her to give up her family for me, never to see Jackie again.”

The Twelfth Doctor growled. “If she came, it would be because she wants to, and if she stayed, it would be because she wants to. It would be her choice, Doctor. Don’t we respect her?”

“Of course we do!”

“Don’t we love her?”

“Yes, I-”

“Don’t we trust her?”

“Yes!”

“Well then, I have a really novel idea- why don’t we let her choose what is best for her own life! If you insist on choosing for her, instead of giving her the choice, then you will have hurt her, you will have hurt her and you will be the one condemning her to misery for the rest of her life.” He trembled, seeing his fingers start to fade out of existence. He pushed his hand into his pocket. He was so close, he was sure of it. “Give her a choice, Doctor. Give her a chance. This…this is the fork in the road. Either you’ll give her the choice or you’ll make it for her and the both of you will suffer for it….and you for much longer than her.”

The Tenth Doctor gazed at his future, seeing the guilt, the heartache, the loneliness and regrets, and seeing the timelines shifting around him. He was teetering on the brink, now.

The Twelfth Doctor looked urgently at his past, summoning words from his past, words he still lived by. “Believe in her, Doctor. I've seen a lot of this universe. I've seen fake gods and bad gods and demi-gods and would-be gods, and out of all that, out of that whole pantheon, if I believe in one thing, just one thing….

…I believe in her.” The other man finished quietly, reverently. Taking a deep breath, he bowed his head. “Do it.”

The Twelfth Doctor smiled, feeling at peace for the first time in his existence. Ironic that it would come at the end. “Well now, you see, about that…”

“You can’t? Then why did you come to torment me with-”

“Hello, Doctor.”

The Tenth Doctor froze, his back to the door.

And Rose.

The Twelfth Doctor nodded towards the doorway. “As I was saying, about that- you might want to turn around.”

“I can’t,” the Tenth Doctor said hoarsely. “Every time I think she’s there, and and it turns out to be just another dream. I can’t do it again.”

“Turn,” the older Doctor said. “Trust me. Trust her.”

Slowly, painfully, the younger Doctor turned to see a smiling Rose Tyler waiting at the door, wearing the clothes he’d just seen her in on the beach not moments before.

“Rose,” he whispered, eyes wide. 

“Hello,” she said again, eyes full of tears and trembling. “You just gonna stand there?”

“Oh, Rose!” And with that, the younger man was off in a whirl of pinstripes seizing Rose and crushing her to him. He seemed to be utterly lost for words, only able to whisper “Rose, Rose,” again and again, dropping kisses on her face, her hair, anywhere he landed. His eyes were squeezed shut, tears slipping down his cheeks into her hair, and he was shaking so much that Rose seemed to be shaking too.

The Tenth Doctor suddenly pulled back. “Rose, the beach- when I..”

“It was today- a few hours ago,” she broke in, gently brushing the tears from his face. 

“Yes, but, that’s not…Rose Tyler,” he said, gasping a breath, and another, and another, so that he almost appeared to be hyperventilating. “If it’s my last chance to say it- Rose Tyler, I …I love you.”

“Quite right too,” she choked, tears trickling down her face. “You stupid arse, you couldn’t have said that before? I thought…I thought….”

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” the younger man whispered, his voice heavy with grief. “I’m so sorry Rose.”

“Just don’t…don’t, anymore, alright?” She looked at him, and the pinstriped Doctor nodded, hanging his head, burying his face in her hair.

The Twelfth Doctor smiled at the sight of them. He knew they still had a long road ahead of them, faults to admit, past wrongs to right and secrets to bare, but for now, for this moment, it was enough. He had every hope he’d choose better, this time. Slowly, he turned and made his way, unnoticed (or so he thought), to the doors, stroking the TARDIS in thanks.

“Thanks for delaying Donna in transit for a bit, old girl,” he whispered. “I think that will go a lot better this time. Don’t let me make too many stupid choices. And do something about those wretched chucks, will you?”

The TARDIS chimed  merrily at him as he opened the door and, unable to help himself, turned to look at Rose one last time, only to find her looking straight at him. She smiled- a beautiful, heartfelt smile that told him everything he needed to know- and with an answering smile, he turned and walked out of the doors, vanishing from existence.

Inside the TARDIS, the present was waiting to become the future.

It was time to move forward.

Fin