Nearly eight months after they left Chicago, the Doctor found a way to unbind Cassandra from Rose’s mind. There was some discussion of what should be done with her, if it would be morally acceptable for her to take up residence in someone else’s body, but while the Doctor was very invested in it, Rose didn’t much care. She was free of Cassandra one way or another.
They finally found a brain-dead young supernatural woman whose brother was convinced to allow them the use of. Cassandra had her body, and Rose was her own woman again. Before she and the Doctor left town, Cassandra pulled her aside.
“You have to find a balance,” she said, utterly serious, “between forgetting him and never letting him go. Otherwise you’ll tear yourself apart.” Rose hadn’t had a chance to recover from the shock of Cassandra giving her what seemed like honest, heartfelt advice before the woman was insulting her, the Doctor, and everyone they’d ever known and taking her leave of them.
Rose wasn’t sure she was entirely glad to see her go.
“So, where to next?” the Doctor asked her. They had to rely on hitchhiking and mundane transportation, but it was still moving, and the Doctor didn’t like to stay in one place for long. They hadn’t wanted to travel too far while they were trying to solve the problem of Cassandra, though, and even the west coast was too close to Chicago for Rose. With Cassandra gone, they could go anywhere.
“Far away,” she said finally. “Let’s just run.”
It’s what the Doctor did best. It’s how he’d survived as long as he had, how he’d kept everything that threatened to break his hearts beyond repair from doing just that. Keep running, don’t stop, because if you stop, it has a chance to catch up.
And so they ran.
It couldn’t last, of course, and she knew it couldn’t, but it lasted longer than she’d expected, and the Doctor didn’t disappear until two and a half years after they’d left. Maybe it had been pessimistic to assume it would happen, but she knew how this universe worked - nothing good lasted forever, even less so than it had back home. So he was gone, and she was left with nothing of him but the leather jacket he'd lent her.
Rose didn’t cry. She felt as if she didn’t have any tears left in her, after everything that had happened. She sat on a bench in some country she couldn’t remember the name of, staring at nothing, wearing the Doctor’s leather jacket, twisting her engagement ring round and round her finger, unable to cry.
She sat there for what felt like hours before pulling her mobile out and staring at the one name she had saved. Her hands shook as she stared at it, and eventually she put the phone back in her pocket and walked away.
She didn't have a passport, or money, but in the pockets of the jacket, Rose did find the Doctor's psychic paper. She used it with a smile that was more his than hers, getting herself on a train to whatever the next country over was - she didn’t even care, so long as she was moving.
Keep running, the Doctor had taught her without meaning to, and you can escape anything. It was surprisingly easy, once she started to get the hang of not being the assistant, once she started figuring out how to use the sonic screwdriver. She learned to always smile like nothing matters, to laugh in the face of danger, to run just fast enough to stay ahead of everything. She wasn’t as brilliant as he was, she didn’t have as much raw knowledge or scientific intuition, but she managed. Just barely, careening just on this side of control, but it was control enough.
She started wearing her ring on a chain around her neck, under her shirt so it wouldn’t get caught on anything, and tried to forget it and where it came from. She ran through so many parts of the world she couldn’t remember them all, keeping ahead of everything for long enough that she couldn’t remember how long it had been. A year? Two? Three? It didn’t matter as long as she could just keep running.
And then, as effortlessly as if he'd taught her to do it, she picked up an assistant of her own - a young girl who wanted to see new things, have adventures. They had mad, wonderful, beautiful adventures that seemed to last for years, even if it was really only a few weeks. Rose couldn't run fast enough to keep her safe, in the end. In the end, trouble caught them, chewed up the poor girl who didn’t know any better, and left Rose behind to try to run from this as well.
It was shockingly easy, given how she’d come to care about the girl, for Rose to close off her hurt, to just pick up and run again. It was a good thing, she tried to tell herself as she left the tragedy behind. She hadn't made the girl come with her. She'd been warned of the dangers. Rose didn’t need to get caught up in guilt and heartache and loneliness.
But in the middle of the night, when the silence and guilt threatened to overwhelm her, she pressed a hand to the ring that lay at her chest and wished she were better at lying to herself.
The next morning, she pulled out her mobile for what felt like the hundredth time since she'd started running and stared at the one number in it, the number she’d been given in case she ever wanted to contact him. She had no idea if it still worked, if he still had the phone, if he were still alive or in this universe. For all she knew, it could be absolutely useless.
Rose called the number anyway. It went to voicemail, didn’t even ring, and gave no indication of who any message might go to.
“I’ll be in Chicago in three days,” she said without preamble. “I need to see you.” That was all. Not much, but enough, if he was still around to get the message.
It was so simple, going back to the one place she’d avoided for so long. The city was vastly different than she remembered it, though she couldn’t be sure that wasn’t just her memory playing tricks on her through her nostalgia.
She hadn’t specified a date, time, or place, but some part of her knew he would. The part of her that was still the wide-eyed teenager who trusted him completely just knew he’d find her, logic be damned. She stood on the shore of Lake Michigan, hands in the pockets of her leather jacket. And he found her, against all logic and rational thought, which was so like him.
“Rose?” he asked, uncertain and worried, and she turned to look at him.
He looked worn, and tired, this man who had her lover’s face, but he looked a little hopeful, too. He’d missed her, then, and clearly was hoping she’d called him here so she could tell him she’d healed and wanted to travel with him now (even if it couldn’t be through time and space anymore).
She slipped the chain and ring over her head as she stepped toward him.
“He was a lie,” she said flatly. “He knew he was a lie, and he tried to be real, but in the end, it was just you and your fictions.” She took his hand and pressed the chain into it.
“This is yours,” he protested softly, trying to give the ring back.
“No,” she told him. “It belongs to a man who never existed.”
Rose walked away, ignoring him as he called after her. She didn’t look back.
Everyone in Norfolk agreed that the history teacher’s wife was a bit odd and a bit sad, but she was a kind young woman, and was so good with the children. She had such an imagination, telling fantastical stories about aliens and time travel and other universes. And their little John was such a well-behaved child, Mrs. Thomas was raising him to be such a little gentleman. A few folk said it was strange, her bringing him up to act so old-fashioned, but no one could find fault with his manners or his sweetness, so nothing was mentioned where Mrs. Thomas might hear.
And if anyone ever saw her out in the fields outside of town - crying as if her heart was broken - every November 9th, they never said anything.