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The Clocks Stop Ticking

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Oh for hell’s sake.

It was the Daleks again. It was always the Daleks wherever they went. Jack shot it a moment too late. By then, its laser had already hit the Doctor. He fell on the ground but was alive. Was that what happened when Daleks shot Time Lords? Rose had seen people killed by their lasers before and it was instant. Or was he alive because the ray just grazed his shoulder? Could he survive?

She and Jack dragged the Doctor onto the TARDIS and Donna shut the door behind them. He was still breathing but looked weak and struggled to keep his eyes open. Rose knelt beside him.

“No, I can’t let you die again!” she cried.

“Rose,” the Doctor whispered. “You need to step back. Please.”

She shook her head, tears streaming down her face and onto his jacket.

“You can’t die. I can’t let you,” she chanted. “I’ve come so far. Please don’t die. Please don’t die.”

It would be the fourth time Rose witnessed his death, the second in the space of less than a day. Her mind couldn’t stop racing back to Donna’s universe. He didn’t regenerate there. UNIT brought his body out on a stretcher. Did something stop him? Did he choose not to? Could he always regenerate or was there a limit on how many times he could get away with cheating death? She didn’t have the answers and didn’t want to find out.

Rose cupped his face and pressed her forehead to his. She felt life slipping away from him with every ragged breath and was powerless to stop it. Yesterday, she wasn’t even awake to say goodbye before he went and now he was leaving her again, just as she finally managed to return. A thin golden veil stretched across his skin. That was it.

She gasped when she realised that the light wasn’t coming from within him but rather from her palms. They were burning and glowing and every second the sensation of heat around her fingers was becoming more and more difficult to endure. Rose wasn’t sure what she was doing and whether it would work. She just wished as hard as she could that it would keep him alive. But the time the light dissipated, she felt more drained of energy than she had been for a long time.

The Doctor seemed to have passed out for a few moments, but then his eyes flew open and he sat up, panting for air. Frantic, he looked at his hands and clawed at his face and hair.

“I’m still me!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t regenerate. Why didn’t I regenerate? I was going to regenerate!”

“What the hell was that, Rose?” asked Jack.

“I don’t know. It… It must’ve been the Bad Wolf,” she stammered. “I don’t know, it just happened. I don’t know.”

She was shaking violently, pale golden light still visible around her fingers. The Doctor flinched in surprise.

“Rose, but I removed the TARDIS energy from you back on the Game Station.”

“I…”

The rest of her sentence was cut off when she nearly collapsed, but the Doctor caught her before she hit the floor.

“I’ve got you, Rose,” he murmured, pressing her to his chest. “Hang on, let me just send the TARDIS into the Vortex before it gets swarmed with Daleks and we’ll take care of you.”

“Doctor, what is going on?” Donna asked, running after him as he carried unconscious Rose to the medbay.

“She looked into the heart of the TARDIS once and it filled her with the Time Vortex energy. I thought I’d removed all of it but a few particles must have stayed inside her and grown. She’s just used them to heal me so that I didn’t have to regenerate.”

“So that you didn’t have to do what?”

“Regenerate. When Time Lords die, our whole body changes and we essentially become a different person. It’s a trick to avoid death.”

“You can’t die? How on earth did you die in that other universe then?”

“I don’t know, ask the other me. I thought you’d fixed that universe.”

“No, thank you, not going back there. What’s going on with Rose? Will she be all right?”

“Oh yes,” the Doctor said, lowering her on the examination table. “She lost a lot of energy treating me but she’ll be all right, won’t you, Rose?”

He brushed a lock of her hair off her face gently and proceeded to connect her to the monitors.

“How can we help?” asked Jack.

“Get the Time Vortex energy monitor from the second cupboard on the left, please. Do you know how to use it?”

“Yes, boss.”

“All right. I’ll connect her to the TARDIS for a while so that she can stabilise the level of Time Vortex particles.”

“Doctor,” Jack called. “She’s human. How could she possibly survive with so much Time energy in her body? I’d burn within minutes.”

“I don’t know. For now, we just need to make sure she continues to do so.”

When Rose woke up, the Doctor was still in the medbay. She stirred and moaned and by the time she opened her eyes, he was already sitting on the edge of her bed.

“Welcome back,” he said softly.

She gasped, sat upright, and flung her arms around him.

“Doctor!”

Rose pressed herself to his chest, content to just hold him close and feel him against her skin. She knew it had been years for him since the end of the war, but she’d seen him lose his home mere hours before she lost consciousness.

“You’ve given us all a scare,” the Doctor whispered. “I’m so sorry, Rose. I hadn’t realised there were still Time Vortex particles left in you. I never meant to put you in such danger.”

“It worked out all right, didn’t it?” she smiled weakly.

“I’ve run some tests and you seem to be coping well with the energy levels. The TARDIS will keep an eye on them. We’ll work out how to deal with it later.”

“Doctor, the Daleks are still out there. The stars went out in the parallel universe. Something is blocking light from reaching the Solar System.”

“I know. The Daleks have timelocked different regions of the Multiverse. They are trying to use the excess Time Vortex energy from these timelocked bubbles to power some sort of weapon. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.”

“So it was a time lock in the end,” she said wistfully.

“Have you already worked it out for yourselves? You humans are brilliant. You see, a timelocked region does exist, but it exists outside of time and space and as such doesn’t use as much energy as it would have otherwise. So it’s a perfect source of fuel for something that feeds on Time Vortex energy. Provided that something is situated outside the lock, of course.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Stop them. I’m not yet sure how, but we’ll find a way. And then we have a lot to catch up on,” he smiled.

“Oh, you’ve no idea.”



***

“Are you sure you don’t want a lift to the parallel universe, Mickey?” the Doctor asked. “There’s still a chance. We’ve got about an hour before the last breach closes.”

“Nah. My Nan’s died and there isn’t much left for me to do. We’ve sent a message to Torchwood that Rose and I are both fine so that Jacks and Pete don’t freak out. This is home. And Captain Cheesecake says he might have a gig for me.”

“Only if you stop calling me that.”

“We’ll see you three later,” Martha smiled and gave the Doctor, Donna, and Rose a hug. “Take care of yourselves. You know how to find us.”

“Martha, you sure you don’t want to join us?” asked Jack. “Look, we’ve got Mickey Mouse now. We’ll match your pay.”

She shook her head.

“Someone needs to keep an eye on UNIT. And it will be more fun this way.”

“Match her pay?” Mickey asked. “Since when does UNIT pay better than Torchwood?”

Jack wrapped his arm around his shoulders.

“You see, Mickey. You might remember that the Torchwood HQ got blown up by Daleks and Cybermen a couple of years back. It was kind of an eventful day, the world nearly ended. We’ve had to downsize.”

“Downsize how much?”

“Ask Ianto. He deals with the boring stuff.”

“Who’s Ianto?”

“Jack’s boyfriend,” Martha replied. “He keeps the place running ‘cause Jack is rubbish at paperwork. He has a pet pterodactyl.”

“A what?”

“I told you it’s gonna be great,” Jack winked.



***

Rose came closer, wrapped her arms around the Doctor, and buried her face on his shoulder. The TARDIS’s 24-hour clocks indicated it was way past midnight. Donna had gone to bed, exhausted by the day's adventures, but Rose couldn’t imagine being able to fall asleep.

Would he ever remember? Would he ever know she’d been with him there, at the end of the worst war in history, that she held his hand when he died? That they’d spent months together as the world was crashing down? She couldn’t keep it from him. His old self had asked her to tell him.

Rose pulled away and stepped back to see him better.

“The last jump, before I ended up here, landed me on Wyokke in the year two million,” she said.

“That’s a bit off,” the Doctor noted, nothing in his tone suggesting he’d recognised the coordinates. “Sure that cannon of yours needs calibrating.”

“And I met you there.”

“A future me? Did I give you a lift? Hang on, don’t tell me. I’m not supposed to know about my future.”

“A past you. The one you were before I met you.”

The Doctor frowned.

“I’ve never been to Wyokke in the year two million.”

“Well, you have. It had been devastated by the war and all survivors had been taken by Daleks as slaves. You’d intercepted the news about it and went there to see if anyone had managed to escape and needed help but ended up under a time lock. It turned out that the whole war zone had been locked up. I got to Wyokke by accident and the Time Vortex energy left in me from the Game Station let me get through the lock. We later discovered that we were about to cause a paradox if we didn’t create the locks around all Time War locations using old TARDIS software called Bad Wolf, by connecting me to the TARDIS so that we could combine the Time Vortex energy in her and in me. She managed to fly out of the lock and landed in London. I survived but you didn’t. You regenerated. Must’ve been Time Vortex radiation. That’s when you must’ve lost your memory so you didn’t recognise me when we met in 2005.”

She didn’t break eye contact as she spoke, watching the Doctor’s expression go from confused to startled to horrified.

“You are not telling me you’ve just returned from the Time War?”

“Well, I didn’t really see the war itself. Just the aftermath on one planet.”

Face pale, he opened and closed his mouth a few times, but, despite his usual loquaciousness, no sound came out. Thoughts were probably racing through his brain as he worked through the implications of what she’d just said. Rose tried her best to imagine what it must feel like, losing a chunk of your memory and being given it back years later, after so many things had already happened without it, but she couldn’t.

“Rose,” the Doctor finally said, his voice serious. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

He stepped closer and pulled her back into his embrace.

“I can’t remember any of that. I’m sorry.”

“I know. We realised something would happen to make you lose your memory.”

“Yeah. When did it happen for you? When did we close the locks?”

“The night before I found you.”

“So barely two days ago.”

“It must’ve been the Bad Wolf that led me there. I probably saw it when I looked into the heart of the TARDIS and made it so I would end up on Wyokke. And the name of the program. You said you remembered it because it’s a strange name for time lock software.”

“The TARDIS doesn’t have it anymore. After what happened on the Game Station, I thought I remembered seeing that name on the list of programs, but when I checked, it wasn’t there, so I thought I was mistaken. I’m sorry, Rose. You should never have been involved in it.”

“You said it like a thousand times, but what if I always have been? In your timeline, by the time I looked into the heart of the TARDIS, it had already happened.”

“Yeah. The problem with time travel.”

The Doctor sighed and kissed the top of her head. She didn’t know what to say. That she was sorry he had been the one to deal with something so insurmountable that no one person, or two people, should ever have to handle? That she wished she hadn’t had to abandon him after his regeneration? That they shouldn’t have got separated on Canary Wharf in the first place but bloody Daleks always ruined everything? That she really hadn’t thought they’d make it through today, that it was too much and unfair on them to always have to take the responsibility when the universe was about to collapse? She was too tired to voice any of that and yawned quietly into his shoulder.

“Would you like to get some sleep?” the Doctor asked gently.

Rose nodded. She wouldn’t really, but if he wanted to be alone to process what she’d just told him, that was fair enough.

“Yeah.”

“All right. I’ll be around if you need anything.”

Her room was exactly the way Rose had left it two days earlier. She hadn’t spent much time there, mostly being with the Doctor, so it was a bigger mess than usual, clothes everywhere and her bed unmade. She scrubbed off the memories of the day on the Crucible in the shower, willing the endless swarms of Daleks and Davros’s croaky voice out of her consciousness, and got into the bed.

The previous night, she’d stayed in the medbay, too exhausted to even attempt to process anything that had happened, and the night before that the Doctor had held her as she fell asleep, his arms wrapped tightly around her, and when she woke up, he was still there. That Doctor was now dead and she would never see or hear him again.

Rose tossed and turned in bed. She tried not to think of anything, but her mind was racing back to the old TARDIS, to Wyokke, to the blinding light that almost consumed her, to the Doctor’s lifeless face, to the regeneration, to leaving him in the TARDIS to wake up all alone and confused. Soon she realised that she couldn’t stay on her own. Dealing with everything she’d been through was too much and she wasn’t ready to face it just yet. She got out of the bed, put a dressing gown on top of her pyjamas, and went to look for the Doctor.

Eventually, she found him in the library. Hands in pockets, he looked out of the faux window showing a colourful nebula that appeared vaguely familiar: they must have seen the real one at some point.

“Doctor?” Rose called hoarsely.

He spoke without looking at her.

“Shortly after I woke up with that new face, I learned that there was no more war, no more Time Lords, no more Daleks, but I couldn’t remember anything. I realised it must have had something to do with me since I was the only survivor but it was terrifying to even think about it as a possibility.”

Rose came closer.

“You weren’t the only one responsible for it. We had no choice.”

“I’m sorry I dragged you into it.”

“You didn’t. I just happened to be there and I couldn’t leave anyway until we did it.”

“I wish I could remember, Rose. I thought it was a blessing I couldn’t.”

Rose hugged him tightly and buried her face on his shoulder. For a moment she could imagine that he still had curly hair and wore a Victorian suit and that his shirts smelled of lavender and he made her Darjeeling tea. Letting go of each version of him was difficult, even though she knew he was still him. A sob shook her frame and then she couldn’t stop.

“Rose, what is it?” the Doctor asked in a panicked voice, pulling away to see her face.

The other him would have called her his darling girl and pressed her close to his chest and things would have instantly become so much better. She missed him while he was right there, in front of her, and she couldn’t even grieve for him properly.

“Come here. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Rose,” the Doctor whispered, his arms back around her. “I’ve got you. You can talk to me. You can have everything you need.”

Rose tried to swallow the lump in her throat but each attempt to stop crying only made it worse. Soon she wasn’t even sure what she was crying for. Her mind was flooded with images of devastated Wyokke, dead bodies lining up the streets, rubble under her feet, and the complete, utter, terrifying silence; a growing mushroom of smoke where London had been, lorries full of people driven to secret locations they were never to return from, and his body on a stretcher, covered with a sheet. The empty marshes and wild forests and airless deserts that made her beg for the dimension cannon to recharge before her emergency oxygen supply ran out. And the Daleks, always the Daleks everywhere.

“It will get better. It will get better, Rose, I promise you,” he murmured. “Come here.”

The Doctor gently sat her down on the sofa and crouched down next to her.

“I’m going to get you a glass of water. I won’t be a minute. Is that all right?”

Rose nodded frantically but the second he disappeared from the room, she felt like she was suffocating. A sob constricted her chest. She was wheezing but couldn’t do anything to stop.

The Doctor reappeared with a glass of water and a box of tissues.

“Here, drink some.”

Until the first sip, Rose hadn’t realised how quickly she’d become dehydrated and gulped the water down thirstily. When she set the glass aside, the Doctor pulled her back to his chest.

“How are you feeling?”

“Crap,” she answered honestly.

“Would you like to talk?”

Would she? She wasn’t sure. Somewhere in the world, there was a version of him that had been with her all those long, horrible months in a time prison, the version of him she’d just committed one of the cruelest acts imaginable with to make sure the rest of the universe could live on, the version she’d said goodbye to. At that very moment but an eternity away, there were people — Time Lords and accidental victims — being killed by Daleks in impenetrable time bubbles with no means of escape, and it was all their fault. But he couldn’t remember and she couldn’t tell him because he was just as guilty as she.

Rose shook her head.

“No, it’s okay.”

The Doctor sighed and wrapped his arms around her tighter.

“I wish it was.”

“How much time passed between you waking up and us meeting?” she asked a few minutes later.

“I’m not sure. I think it was a few weeks. Maybe a couple of months. It’s all a bit of a blur. I didn’t really leave the TARDIS for a while.”

Rose snuggled against him as her mind conjured up the images of her first Doctor, short hair and kind blue eyes, trying to make sense of what had just happened and having to come to terms with it all on his own, with no one to hold his hand and tell him that it wasn’t his fault.

“I’m sorry you were alone. I had to leave so that I didn’t change the past.”

“I know, Rose. But you were with me during the worst time of my life. That’s already way too much to ask.”

“I’d stay with you there if it was forever. You always try to send me to safety, but it’s never occurred to you that I may just prefer to get stuck somewhere with you, has it? Even if we may not make it out alive at all.”

“Rose… I can’t watch you sacrifice your life for me, knowing that it’s my fault and that I have a way of sending you home.”

“I don’t have a home anymore. It’s been years since Canary Wharf even in this universe and someone else probably lives in our flat now. The joke’s on the council if they found all the weird alien things I’d brought,” she chuckled. “And Mum’s chosen to stay with Pete in the parallel universe. She has a good life there. A much nicer life than she’s ever had here. But it’s not my life and not my home. It’s never been. I spent years trying to get back. I’d much rather travel with you forever, even if it means it’s a very short one.”

“It won’t be, Rose. We’ll be fine, you and me.”

“And Donna.”

“And Donna,” he smiled.



***

For the next weeks, they chose the coordinates carefully, all three of them being too tired to carry the weight of the world again. It was difficult to avoid occasional minor trouble, the universe being the chaotic place that it was, but on the whole, they were successful at not putting their lives in danger. They also spent more time on Earth, with Donna’s grandfather and occasionally with Martha and Torchwood, but never stayed for longer than a couple of days at a time.

It was a quieter day, with the TARDIS suspended in space just outside a majestic gas planet surrounded by a ring of rocks it had captured in its orbit over the billions of years of its existence. Rose wandered around the library, longingly stroking the spines of the books she recognised from the three months spent almost exclusively on the ship.

The library was one of the few rooms that hadn’t changed. When the Doctor hadn’t been working on devising ways to get them out of the time lock, they’d spent a lot of time there. Rose had never been a voracious reader, but he had many beautifully illustrated books and sometimes he would read his favourite stories out to her. The library also stored his extensive collection of films and music and boy, did he like to talk about music in that incarnation. Rose smiled to herself and, lost in thought, missed it when the Doctor entered the room.

He pressed his chest to her back and clasped his hands on her stomach, looking over her shoulder at the book in Gallifreyan she’d opened at a random page, filled with overlapping golden circles.

“It’s a technical manual for wind turbine operators,” the Doctor said.

“Really?”

“No. Something about the relative passage of time in the higher dimensions of the Void. I missed it when it was covered in the Academy. Never been too studious, me. Prefer working things out in practice. It’s more fun that way.”

Rose threw her head back on his shoulder and closed her eyes, enjoying his embrace. Much to Donna’s amusement, they’d quickly fallen back into their usual routine of hugs and hand-holding, but after four years of not knowing if she’d ever see him again, she still treasured every touch.

“I promised I would wait for you however long it took,” the Doctor said.

Startled, Rose froze for a moment and then spun around to face him.

“What?”

“You told me I wouldn’t remember the time we’d spent together but I said I would still love you anyway.”

“You remember,” she whispered.

“I really didn’t know if you would make it through. I’d done calculations but I just didn’t have enough information about what your body was able to endure, so they weren’t much help. I was begging the universe to lose my memory, like you said I would, in case you didn’t survive. I didn’t want to think about it as a possibility.”

“When did you remember?”

“It started coming back over the past few weeks. Mostly in short flashbacks. Time Lords are telepaths and we can work through our memory. You gave me just enough clues to know what to fish for. It’s still hazy, but beginning to make sense.”

Rose swallowed.

“And how are you doing?”

With a sigh, the Doctor pressed a kiss to her forehead.

“Rose, I suspected what had happened ever since the war ended. I just didn’t know how exactly the time locks had been created and until recently I never wanted to find out. I’ve had time to come to terms with it. It was you who helped me survive it and move on. Now, for you all of it happened just a couple of months ago. I don’t think how I’m doing is the right question here.”

“I didn’t think you would ever remember,” she said softly.

The Doctor touched his temple with the index and middle fingers of his right hand.

“Time Lord brain. Took a bit of fiddling around but I’m getting there.”

Rose giggled into his neck.

“Always boasting.”

“Just stating the fact,” he smiled.

“You’re different but also the same,” she whispered, her voice slightly muffled by the fabric of his jacket but he heard anyway.

“It’s a complicated process, the regeneration. Sometimes I want to preserve some things. Sometimes I just want to get rid of them. I don’t remember how I regenerated after we created the time locks. I’d probably passed out, so I didn’t have much of a choice.”

“It worked out well,” Rose smiled.

“Nah. Still not sure about the ears.”

“You didn’t have as big a gob, that’s for sure.”

“Oi! Not my fault that it’s easier for me to think when I talk it through. How many times has it saved the world?”

“Maybe marginally more than it’s got us in trouble.”

“Fair. So, back to the important question. How are you doing, Rose?”

She stared blankly at his lapel she’d been mindlessly playing with and then sighed.

“Better. I still don’t think I’ve properly realised what happened. You know, we spent three months there, it’s kind of a long time, but still everything… happened so quickly? Maybe it’s just me because you were doing all those tests and calculations and everything.”

“It did happen quickly.”

“And then when we decided what to do with the locks, it’s like…” she sniffed. “Like I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to you properly. I know it’s silly because you’re right here and I knew you were gonna regenerate, and I was gonna find this you anyway.”

The Doctor kissed the top of her head.

“It’s not silly, Rose. I also felt like I was losing this you, even though I knew I wouldn’t remember. There were so many things I wanted to tell you, so many things I wished we could do once we got out of the lock. I wished you could stay and I could keep my memories but that would have caused a paradox. I’ve had to wait years to tell you this but I also never knew.”

“What kind of things did you want to tell me?”

“That I love you. That at the worst time of my life, when I didn’t think there was a future and didn’t want to live to see it if there was one, you came and saved me in so many ways. That I’m grateful to every missed bus and every spilt coffee that brought you to Henrik that night but also that part of me wishes it had never happened and I’d never put you in danger. That I’ll never forgive myself for making you go through what we went through under the time lock but at the same time, however selfish it sounds, that I’m thankful you were there with me. That I’m terrified of what the Time Vortex energy can do to you but if there’s a fleeting chance it means I won’t have to lose you so soon, I’ll take it. That you are the bravest person I’ve ever met and that I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you.”

“Saved me and the universe about a million times?” she smiled weakly through her tears.

The skin around his eyes crinkled and his lips turned up slightly.

“It was me who put you in danger all those times anyway, so that hardly counts, and as for the universe… I wouldn’t count on it having anything apart from a really bad sense of humour.”

Rose threw her arms around him, settling more comfortably in the cocoon of his arms.

“I love you too, Doctor. I thought I’d never see you again.”

“You told me something a few days before we got separated. Remember, at the London Olympics?”

“What?”

“They keep trying to split us, but they never ever will. Maybe you were right.”

“You reckon?”

The Doctor smiled.

“We’ll just have to make sure we don’t end up trapped in different universes.”

“Nah. Not doing that again.”