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The Clocks Stop Ticking

Chapter Text

The landing was rougher than usual. Instead of gently materialising, Rose’s feet hit the ground with force and she nearly lost balance. It was dark but she could make out the silhouettes of buildings a short distance away — not very tall, two- or three-storey high. There was rubble under her soles and it was eerily quiet.

Wherever she’d landed, it definitely wasn’t Earth. A good portion of the night sky was taken by a semicircle of a ringed planet, so large that Rose’s palm barely covered it at an arm’s length. A bit further away floated two smaller red crescents and their combined light outshone the more distant stars. Their absence had become a familiar sight to her on parallel Earth.

Nothing in her surroundings looked recognisable but instinctively Rose knew she was in the right place. She always did whenever she managed to get through to her home universe. The readings on the dimension cannon confirmed her hunch: the frequency of the Time Vortex energy around her matched that of her TARDIS key.

Before she started exploring, Rose tried to set the coordinates for Earth in case she had to quickly escape. The teleportation device used Time Vortex energy and needed time to recharge, but the rest of the equipment ran on electricity and she’d never experienced issues with it before. Now, the cannon refused to save the coordinates and a few moments later Rose noticed that it wasn’t charging from the Time Vortex field. The battery left after a jump was usually enough for her to send a message or two to the control centre on parallel Earth, but now it was fully drained.

“Of course…” she muttered annoyedly to herself.

Rose hung the cannon on her shoulder and walked through the town to see if she could find people. The jumps often landed her somewhere unexpected, but there was usually a good reason for it and she’d never been stuck anywhere for more than a couple of days. If anything, when she’d previously landed in her home world, the dimension cannon pulled her back to parallel Earth before she could come through properly.

The town looked abandoned and some of the buildings had been destroyed altogether. The only sources of light were the giant planet and the moons in the sky, but Rose’s eyes had started to get used to the dark. No matter how far she walked, there was no sign of life, as if everybody had just disappeared. She checked a couple of buildings that didn’t look like they were about to collapse: they turned out to be just as empty as they seemed from the outside.

Cobblestone hurt her feet even through the soles of her boots and a couple of hours into the walk, Rose was beginning to get desperate. Despite usually needing no more than twenty minutes, the cannon still hadn’t started to recharge and she had no idea how to fix it, especially in such darkness. She did have a small torch, but decided to preserve the battery in case she got stranded in the town for much longer.

The streets were narrow and didn’t give her a good vantage point, but soon she stumbled upon a three-storey building in a street lined up by smaller single-level houses. Excited, Rose ran up the ramp that extended along one of the walls and led to the upper floors and the roof.

She couldn’t see very far as the town was densely built-up and a lot of other buildings around were the same height, but a couple of hundred yards away she did make out an empty patch resembling a town square, and in the middle of it stood a box.

Rose’s heart jumped and she barely remembered how she got to the square: her feet carried her there before she could fully process what was happening. Despite her panic, the TARDIS hadn’t disappeared by the time she got to her. She was still parked there, in the middle of a deserted alien town, surrounded by rubble. Rose pushed the door, but it didn’t budge. Her key still fit perfectly and turned easily in the lock, but it didn’t open the door.

“Come on, old girl. I’ve come far enough,” she muttered.

When she gently put her hand on the door, she could feel a slight vibration in response and a telepathic tickle at the back of her mind.

“You’re back,” Rose smiled. “Why are you not letting me in?”

“She’s not letting anyone in at the moment, myself included.”

She spun around to face the person who had appeared behind her. Something about him was undeniably Doctor-like. He was wearing a long coat (had he always had a thing for dramatic tails?) and a three-piece suit that wouldn’t be out of place in Victorian England or a steampunk film, with a sloppily tied scarf around his neck.

“I underestimated this planet’s gravity field, so we didn’t have the softest of landings,” the Doctor continued. “She’s healing.”

“Oh, poor thing,” Rose said, stroking the wood lovingly. Suddenly, the images of the dead time machine she’d retrieved from the bottom of the Thames in Donna’s universe flooded her mind.

“You seem to be quite familiar with my ship,” the Doctor noted. “Have you travelled with some other version of myself?”

“Yeah. I’m a bit lost, though. Landed in the slightly wrong time and place,” Rose replied, nodding at her dimension cannon. “Was hoping that maybe you’d give me a lift but I see the TARDIS is out of service.”

“That’s curious. I didn’t think there would be a future.”

“Why not?”

“You found a very bad place to land. We are currently in the middle of the worst war the universe has ever seen and probably will ever see if it survives.”

“Hold on, is it… Are we…” she stammered, trying to make sense of what she’d heard. “Are you saying we’re in the middle of the Time War right now?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure that name would stick, but I guess you could call it a time war. Now, I seem to be at a bit of a disadvantage since you know much more about me than I know about you. May I ask your name?”

“Rose. Rose Tyler. I’m from 21st century Earth.”

“Of course. I had just approached the 21st century as the war started. You have a beautiful planet, Rose. Let’s hope it survives this.”

“Oh, don’t worry. Nobody’s even heard about the Time War there. Well, at least in my time.”

“Provided we do manage to make it out alive. Time is in flux, Rose. Nothing is set in stone.”

“Yeah, you’ve said it before. So, where are we and where’s everyone?”

“We are on planet Wyokke in galaxy R42. The people of this planet have been taken by the Daleks.”

“What, all of them?” Rose asked incredulously. “How did they take all the people?”

“Trust me, since the war started, they’ve had many opportunities to perfect their skill.”

“And what are you doing here?”

The Doctor chuckled bitterly.

“It’s a long story, possibly for another day. So, what is this machine you’re travelling with? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these before.”

She sighed and patted it gently.

“It’s called a dimension cannon. We built it to travel between parallel universes.”

“Did you come from a parallel universe? Well, that explains how you know me, or a version of me.”

“How do you mean?”

“This war will most likely be the end of everything. Two greatest and most dangerous forces in the universe have collided. They will destroy all that gets in the way. So you should probably leave while there’s still a chance.”

“Well, I’ve seen a different future in which you survived and the world lived on.”

“You are from a different universe, Rose. Things don’t necessarily develop in the same way.”

“I technically did come here from a different universe, but this is my home world, Doctor. I lived here all my life before getting stuck in a parallel universe a few years ago, but I’m back now.”

“Maybe you should have sat this one out,” he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling up but the smile never reaching his lips.

Rose stepped closer to get a better look at his face.

“Look,” she said. “I met you just after the war ended. You were broken, you were grieving, but you survived and since then you’ve helped more people than anyone can count.”

“I survived,” the Doctor echoed grimly. “What about the rest of the world?”

She pursed her lips, unsure of whether she should or could tell him about his home.

“The world has survived, too. And it continues to do so thanks to you, Doctor.”

“You should leave, Rose. It’s dangerous here. You should at least return to your time on Earth.”

“Yeah, about that… My dimension cannon is not working. Can you check what’s wrong with it? It’s not charging and the Time Vortex battery is fully drained, so I can’t even contact the control centre on parallel Earth.”

“I don’t have many tools since the TARDIS wouldn’t let me go inside but I’ll have a look.”

The Doctor led her into one of the abandoned buildings facing the square. The metal front door was supposed to have an electronic lock, just like the other ones around it, but it opened when he pushed it gently.

“No electricity in the city,” the Doctor explained. “I’ve built a solar panel to harness some but it’s only good for the basics. You don’t need locks here anyway,” he added glumly.

The ceilings and door frames were very high but the corridors were narrow and Rose wondered what the people who had lived in the town looked like. The Doctor pointed his screwdriver at the lamp overhead to turn the light on and once her eyes adjusted after spending the last couple of hours in the dark, she examined her surroundings.

The building they were in looked like living quarters. She saw a long table with a dozen chairs around it, so tall they looked more like bar stools, a few screens mounted on the walls, now turned off, and several bulky machines whose purpose she couldn’t work out. Through the open door to the next room, she caught a glimpse of a row of loft beds with no mattresses.

“There are lots of vicious rodents in Wyokkan forests,” the Doctor explained. “They are not common in towns, but it was a tradition to build furniture that minimises your contact with the ground. So, can I see your teleportation device, please?”

Rose took the strap off her shoulder and handed the cannon to the Doctor, who had sat at the end of the table that housed a large pile of cables, electronic parts, and tools he must have scavenged around the town.

“It’s a curious device you have here. Not 21st century Earth technology, is it?” he noted.

“Well, we built it but we used parts that came through a rift in time and space. There’s one in Cardiff both in this universe and in the parallel one.”

“Really? Don’t think I’ve ever noticed it. Haven’t spent much time in Cardiff.”

“Oh, you just wait…”

After a few minutes of silence, the Doctor said:

“I can’t see what is wrong with it, Rose. Everything seems to be in perfect order but it can’t connect to the Time Vortex field. Maybe the TARDIS is causing interference. I suggest we venture out of town tomorrow and see if we can get it to work.”

“’kay. Thanks for checking.”

“No problem at all. I’ve been stuck here for almost two Earth weeks already, so it’s a welcome distraction.”

“How did you end up here?”

He sighed.

“I’d intercepted the news about Wyokke on the radio. It was too late to try and stop the Daleks but I hoped that maybe there were people left here who needed help.”

“Intercepted? Was it kept secret?”

“A lot of things are being unsuccessfully kept secret by the Time Lords who mistakenly think other planets haven’t worked out for themselves just how devastating this war is.”

“But why would they do it? Everybody knows that the Daleks are evil and only want to destroy everything that’s not like them. I thought the Time Lords were trying to defend themselves and protect others.”

The Doctor snorted at that, unable to help himself, and pressed his fist to his mouth. Rose couldn’t quite work out if he was almost laughing or almost crying.

“Did I tell you that?” he asked.

“Well, no. We never talked much about the war. I didn’t want to bring it up and upset you. I just gathered that the Time Lords would try to stop the Daleks and that’s good for everyone, isn’t it?”

“Rose, the Time Lords are currently ripping this world to shreds just as successfully as the Daleks.”

“But why? Didn’t you say one of the rules was not to interfere with other planets’ affairs?”

“Other planets, yes. But they have a strategy that demands compliance from others, so it’s Gallifreyan business. Besides, the Daleks are using slave labour for technological advances and the Time Lords would rather there wasn’t anyone to provide it. Wyokkans had two alternatives: becoming slaves to the Daleks or having their planet blown up by the Time Lords. Only one involved the chance of survival and eventual liberation if something extremely unlikely happened and someday the war ended. But it wasn’t their choice. They were completely at the mercy of the two powerful opposing forces and it so happened that the Daleks got here first.”

“Did you manage to find any survivors?”

“Yes,” he answered grimly. “Two people who were hiding in the basement of one of the buildings. They were very badly injured and since the hospital had been destroyed and I didn’t have access to the TARDIS, they didn’t make it. They died within three days of my finding them.”

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” Rose whispered.

“Maybe I should stop going by that name. I haven’t been able to heal anyone since the war began.”

She put her hand on his tentatively.

“It’s not your fault. You did everything you could do.”

“How can you possibly know that, Rose?”

“Because I know you. I’ve seen you. I’ve seen you risk your life, risk everything to help others.”

“I don’t have very much to risk, do I? I couldn’t even return to Gallifrey if the Time Lords won the war. In their book, I’m a deserter, a traitor, that’s who I am. It wouldn’t be the first time they called me a traitor, it wouldn’t even be the first time they exiled me, but we were not at war before. Not at this scale. Now my actions do fit the definition of an actual crime.”

“Is being a conscientious objector not a thing anymore?” Rose tried to offer a smile.

The corners of his lips rose somewhat.

“Not in the current circumstances. The TARDIS makes it difficult for them to track me down but they probably could if they didn’t have better things to do.”

“Well, they’d have to deal with me first,” she said, squeezing his hand gently in reassurance.

“We were rather close in some other reality, weren’t we?” he asked.

Rose dropped her gaze. What was the answer to that? That she’d crossed the universes to find him? That a couple of times she’d thought he was going to say he loved her but he never finished the sentence?

“Yeah. You were my best friend. You still are.”

“What I don’t understand is how you landed here. Of all places not only in this world, in the whole Multiverse. I can’t imagine you were aiming for planet Wyokke in the year two million?”

She shook her head.

“No, but sometimes the dimension cannon lands me somewhere bizarre. Often it seems like there’s a reason. But a couple of times I just got stuck in the middle of nowhere and had to wait for it to recharge so I could leave.”

“And what do you think this is?” he smiled weakly and Rose’s face lit up in response.

“Oh, I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out.”

“Can I see your TARDIS key, Rose?”

She pulled the chain out of the cut of her t-shirt and handed him the key. The Doctor buzzed over it with his sonic screwdriver and hummed pensively.

“What?”

“It looks like the key anchored to the nearest version of the TARDIS it could find once you dived into the Time Vortex and diverted your journey. Sorry about that. We’ll find a way to get you out of here.”

Rose pursed her lips. It didn’t look like leaving him alone in the middle of the Time War was the best idea.

“I can stay,” she said. “Until all of this is over. You don’t have to deal with it alone.”

The Doctor looked at her incredulously.

“Do you realise how dangerous it is?” he exclaimed. “There is nothing stopping a fleet of Daleks from landing here this very minute and we can’t even get on the TARDIS and leave.”

“Yeah. Wouldn’t be the first time we got stuck with a fleet of Daleks.”

“Why do I always find people who are so reckless?”

She grinned.

“It would be no fun otherwise.”

“No,” he answered firmly. “This isn’t your war and you shouldn’t be dragged into it.”

“But it is,” she argued. “The Daleks have attacked my planet so many times. They were the reason I got stuck in the parallel universe in the first place. It’s not like I have nothing to do with it.”

“Skaro is currently at the peak of its technological development and there are more Daleks and more Dalek warships in the universe than there have ever been. It’s dangerous and there’s nothing you or I can do to stop it.”

“Then I can just stay here with you and make sure you don't have to live through it on your own.”

The Doctor sighed.

“Rose. In the darkest hour of my life, you appear and tell me that there will be a future, that there will be more adventures, that I’ll get to meet more people, that one of those people will be so brilliant she’ll build a machine to travel between parallel universes and so kind she’ll offer to stay with me during the war. I’d much rather you went back to whatever version of me is waiting for you instead of getting killed here.”

She smiled tentatively.

“I didn’t build the machine. The institute I work for did. I just tested it. For some reason, I was the only one who could travel with it. Don’t know why but it didn’t work for the rest of the team. It’s not that I minded. Wouldn’t be fair if they found you first.”

“But why would they build it in the first place? Travelling between parallel universes is dangerous and there are so many other things to be explored.”

“We had to find you. In the universe I’ve just come from, the stars have gone out. They’ve just disappeared from the sky and nobody knows why.”

“What do you mean, the stars have disappeared? How can they disappear?”

“Well, exactly.”

“How are you observing them? Are you sure it’s not just light pollution from the satellites in Earth’s orbit or someone misinterpreting the readings?”

“We had observations from optical, radio, and gamma-ray telescopes around the Earth and in orbit. No light, visible or invisible, is reaching the solar system. The Kuiper belt is basically as far as we can see. Then it’s just pitch black.”

“That is extremely irregular. The expansion of space is a natural process and in a very distant future there will be a time when the distances between objects will be far too large for light to catch-up with the stretch of the universe, but there should be hundreds of billions more years before it happens. Something must be blocking light around the solar system.”

“We haven’t been able to work out what it is. One thing we know is that it’s not good. So we thought that maybe you’d be able to help.”

“Is that why you are travelling with the dimension cannon?”

“Yeah. Well, that’s the main reason. But I’ve been trying to find a way back since I got stuck in that universe. I didn’t exactly choose to stay there.”

“What happened?” the Doctor asked and quickly corrected himself. “No, don’t tell me. I’m not supposed to know that.”

Rose chuckled. Considering that his future self had no recollection of her when they met, maybe her telling him about the Battle of Canary Wharf wouldn’t be the biggest of problems.

They heard the rumbling of thunder outside and a few seconds later rain thrummed violently against the windows.

“The weather here is quite changeable,” the Doctor said sheepishly.

Rose got up from the seat and approached the window. The glass under her fingers felt a little strange but she couldn’t quite place it. The window was solid and didn’t let a drop in, but only did so much to muffle the sound of the rainfall outside. Soon it became freezing cold. She wrapped her arms around herself, her thin leather jacket not doing much against the sudden drop in temperature.

“Here, take it.”

The Doctor took his coat off and put it on her shoulders. His Gallifreyan body could always cope with the weather much better than her human one, probably that’s why he hadn’t cared enough to fix the air conditioning in the building.

“I’ll see if I can get some power to the heater,” he said. “For now, there are some blankets in the bedroom. Wyokkan wool is quite valuable because it’s very thick. Or at least was valuable. There won’t be much trade going on now.”

His voice broke and his eyes glazed over for a moment as he got lost in thought. Rose swallowed thickly. Normally she’d take his hand or hug him in reassurance but tonight she’d already initiated a lot of tactile contact with a version of him that hadn’t even met her until an hour earlier, so she hesitated. Finally, she bit her lip, stepped closer, and grasped his upper arms to divert his attention from whatever he was thinking.

“Look. You’ve just said that there’s nothing you or I can do to stop the Daleks. You are not responsible for what happened here. It’s not your fault that the war started and it’s not your fault that it is still going on.”

“But it is. I let them live, Rose. Everything that is happening now is my fault. Centuries ago I was sent to Skaro to nip the Daleks in the bud. The Time Lords knew how dangerous they would become. That was my mission, to make sure that they would never grow and never develop. And I… just couldn’t. I couldn’t kill them, Rose. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the people, all the planets that grew stronger and more united because of them so I let them live. I missed the opportunity to stop them and look at what happened. None of this was ever necessary. The war could have been prevented centuries before it began. The Wyokkans are just a tiny fraction of its victims. There are countless people across the universe who are suffering because of something I chose not to do.”

Rose felt tears glistening in her eyes and squeezed his arms a little tighter.

“You couldn’t have possibly known that,” she whispered.

“I could have taken a wild guess that creatures who’d been made to destroy everything that is not like them and had already committed countless atrocities would continue to do so and the more people would suffer because of that the stronger they got. One Dalek, just one, is enough to devastate a planet. There are hundreds of millions of them out there, and counting.”

“Well, maybe if the Time Lords were so clever, they should have sent a team there instead of just dropping one person in it and then blaming him for everything that goes wrong,” she huffed.

The corners of the Doctor’s lips turned up slightly.

“Maybe I should bring you to my trial if I ever have to stand one.”

“There are lots more things I’d like to say!” Rose nodded. “But for now, I’m starving. Forgot to eat before the jump. Is there any food around or do we have to venture into the rain?”

“I have some here. Brought it in before forest mice work out that it’s safe to go into the city.”

“All right, let’s see it. I should’ve really got myself one of those fifth dimension bags from the TARDIS wardrobe. You never know when you’ll end up in the middle of nowhere.”

“Or in the middle of the Time War,” the Doctor chuckled.

“No. But I told you, there’s usually a good reason.”

Chapter Text

“You trusted me from the start,” noted Rose as they trudged through the ruins to the outer edge of the town. “How come?”

“I can sense it when the TARDIS connects to someone telepathically and when she's distressed or happy,” the Doctor replied without looking up from the road. “She’s not always as happy to see me after I’ve been away for a while,” he chuckled.

They had walked for what seemed like ages. Rose’s watch indicated it had been almost three Earth hours since they left the house. A couple of times they had had to seek shelter from the rain, but it finished after a few minutes of downpour, leaving rivers of rainwater on the pavements. Normally, it would have been drained, treated, and recycled, but the infrastructure had been damaged and there was no one to operate the system.

A quick scan of the Doctor’s TARDIS key indicated that they were still within the ship’s reach but her signal was weakening.

“If we go another mile or so, it should be clear.”

“My offer to stay here still stands, you know,” Rose said.

“It’s a kind and generous offer but I have to decline. I’ve already dragged too many people into this mess.”

Rose hummed to herself in quiet disagreement but didn’t say anything else. The sun was shining again and, with the air humid after the rain, it was getting hot and stuffy. She took her jacket off and wiped the sweat off her forehead: the temperature variations on the planet were way too drastic for humans.

In the part of town where they’d found themselves, there was rubble all around. Some buildings had survived the attack, but holes now gaped where there used to be windows. They soon walked past where a Dalek ship must have landed. A dark mark a good two hundred yards across was burned into the ground. Despite the heat, Rose wrapped her arms around herself. She tried not to look around too much to avoid laying her eyes on the lifeless bodies. The previous night she’d been curious about what Wyokkans looked like. Now she wished she hadn’t found out.

“No more interference here,” announced the Doctor another half an hour or so later.

Buildings there had become rarer, with most of them intact, and there were large patches of grass between them. In some way, the sight was just as disturbing as the epicentre of the Dalek bombardment. While there wasn’t much visible damage or signs of struggle, it looked like a ghost town.

Rose checked her dimension cannon.

“It still isn’t charging.”

“Can I have a look, please?”

The Doctor placed the device on the ground, crouched down next to it, and buzzed the sonic screwdriver over the console.

“It’s a clever thing, this dimension cannon. Too clever for its own good. There’s a safety mechanism built into it that is currently overreacting. The Time Lords are using war TARDISes, so there’s a lot of activity in the Time Vortex field and the ripples must be spreading all over the universe. That must be what is stopping it from connecting. I’ll try to override the settings but I suggest we test it across a short distance in spacetime first to make sure it works as intended.”

“‘kay. Thanks.”

Rose watched as the Doctor worked on the device, armed with his sonic screwdriver and a regular one he’d retrieved from his pocket. The case he’d taken off revealed a tangled mess of cables and chips. While the best Torchwood scientists had worked on the cannon, it had been built hastily and wasn’t the most delicate gadget.

“All right, there you go. I’ve increased the threshold for the safety mechanism. Let’s see if it charges now.”

He picked the case up and clicked it back in place. The display lit up but that was electricity powering it. The Time Vortex energy level still appeared drained.

“Hang on, there may be a problem with the display,” the Doctor said. “I’ll check manually if it’s charging.”

After some scavenging around, his bottomless pocket yielded a small monitor that he connected to the sonic screwdriver before taking the reading of the energy level. The display declared it was zero and not budging.

“Why is it not working!?” the Doctor exclaimed. “Everything is in perfect order. Has anything like this happened before?”

Rose shook her head.

“No. It’s the first time.”

“I’m sorry, Rose. We’ll find a way to get you out of here. The TARDIS should let us in in a couple of days. I’ll drop you off on Earth first thing and we can charge the cannon manually from the TARDIS console.”

“Do you think I’ll find some clothes round here? I don’t have anything on me.”

“Wyokkans don’t wear clothes but I’ve come across a house where humanoid aliens must have lived. Maybe even humans. Let’s see if we can find anything there.”

By the time they got back to the district where the Doctor was staying, Rose’s feet were sore and she couldn’t think about much more than collapsing onto a pile of Wyokkan blankets. She’d been used to walking a lot when she’d travelled on the TARDIS with his future self, but it had been almost four Earth years. While an occasional Weevil chase had kept her in shape, she hadn’t walked nearly as much for a long time.

“It’s just around the corner,” the Doctor said.

Rose stepped through the door and looked around. The building had been badly damaged in the attack. There was rubble on the floor and pieces of broken furniture were scattered across the room. It was drafty and she soon realised that a fragment of the wall on the other side was missing.

“There are some clothes in the closet,” the Doctor said. “It isn’t much but see if any of it fits.”

Rose looked through the pile of clothes he’d retrieved. Most of them were way too large for her. She tried a pair of trousers on but there was no way they’d stay on her waist. She did manage to find a washed-out jumper that was too long but didn’t limit her movements, and a khaki gilet that fit surprisingly well. Her thin trousers were not enough to protect from Wyokkan weather when it got chilly, so she put a long skirt on top of them and tied it up at the waist to prevent it from falling.

“That is… quite a post-apocalyptic look, I daresay,” the Doctor noted with surprise when Rose emerged from the room. “Rather fitting.”

“Don’t laugh. I know it looks ridiculous but everything else was just too big.”

“I’m not. It looks good on you.”

“Yeah,” she responded sarcastically. “So, what do we do next?”

“I can have another look at your dimension cannon. In the worst case scenario, we’ll just have to wait another couple of days until the TARDIS finishes mending herself.”

“Fine by me.”

Shortly after they returned to the house, the sun set. Rose hadn’t yet worked out the length of the day on Wyokke but it appeared much shorter than on Earth. 

After some fiddling around with the Wyokkan equipment, she worked out what the closest equivalent to a cooker was. What the Doctor had rescued from the forest mice was mainly tinned food that didn’t require saving, unless the mice had evolved to read labels and open metal containers. There were some vegetables, too, but Rose was too tired to deal with them.

“So… How long has the war been going on now?” she asked as she placed two bowls of food on the table and sat down next to the Doctor, who was nose deep in the disassembled parts of the cannon scattered around him.

“It’s really difficult to say. Time travel is involved. I don’t think anyone really knows. It’s probably fair to say that it has been going on forever since there are battles across all of time and space.”

“When did you find out?”

“A few Earth years ago in linear time. I’m not sure, lost count. May be a couple of decades now. I really didn’t think it would get this bad. There have always been conflicts between Time Lords and Daleks.”

“Wow. That’s a long time.”

“Yeah,” he sighed.

They ate in silence interrupted only by the occasional howling of the wind outside. Other than that, it was eerily quiet. There wasn’t even any sort of background noise save for the buzzing of the sonic screwdriver when the Doctor was struck by a new idea on how to fix the dimension cannon, only to soon be met with disappointment.

Rose looked out of the window. No light pollution meant the night was bright and clear, but the neighbouring planets and the now fuller moons were way too bright to make out anything else. Red-tinted clouds came and went, like watercolours splashed across the sky.

“There are thousands of habitable planets in R42,” the Doctor said. “Hundreds of them are populated. The world out there is teeming with life. Organic, robotic. Humanoids, quadrupeds, molluscs, avians, gas bodies. Many of them have rich cultures and well-developed science. Dozens have already joined in space travel. There were even more of them before the war started. There will be fewer, if any, when it ends.”

“Why do they want to kill? I mean the Daleks. It makes no sense. What will they do if they conquer the universe and there isn’t anyone else left to murder?”

“I’m not sure they’ve thought it through that far ahead. That’s just how they were programmed. To kill everything that is not Dalek.”

“But they are not robots, they are living, organic beings. I’ve seen them.”

“Yeah. But they were created to think that they are a perfect, pure race. They take a lot of pride in it.”

“Reminds me of some people back on Earth…”

“I’m not convinced they are capable of thinking through the implications for them of there not being anyone else in the universe. They are an incredibly clever, technologically advanced species, but they are fixated on the idea that nobody else is worthy of existence.”

“I’ve met a Dalek that was able to change. It turned out I’d transferred some of my DNA to it. It didn’t live much longer, though.”

“How did the war end, Rose? You’ve mentioned a few times that you’ve seen Daleks before and yet in the future you’re from, there is no more war.”

She stammered.

“I thought you were not supposed to know about what will happen.”

“It hardly matters if it’s quite possible there won’t be any future at all, does it?”

“I don’t know what ended it,” Rose answered honestly. “You never told me.”

“I’m sorry you have to witness all this, Rose. The universe is much more beautiful than this horrible, ugly war.”

“I know. You’ve shown me.”

The TARDIS finally opened at the end of Rose's third day on Wyokke. They both sensed that she was ready to welcome the passengers back through the telepathic link. By that time, they’d been thoroughly bored, so they jumped off their feet and rushed to the ship.

“Wow, this looks different,” Rose noted as she stepped through the door.

Instead of the soft orange glow, the console emitted a slightly eerie blue light. The familiar corals had been replaced with metal columns connecting over the rotor. Around the control panel, the room looked more like part of a Victorian mansion, with old wooden furniture, intricate rugs, and lots of candleholders. The TARDIS Rose had been used to did have rooms with all sorts of decor, from Earth-style libraries to vast parks, but the only piece of furniture in the console room was a jumpseat despite them spending a big chunk of time aboard there.

“Now and then, I redecorate. She enjoys getting a makeover,” the Doctor said, patting the console lovingly. “How have you been, old girl? Sorry we had such a rough landing.”

The ship hummed appreciatively and her lights momentarily flickered.

The Doctor turned to Rose.

“So you're saying you're from the 21st century? When exactly?”

“It would be great if you could drop me off in 2009 London. Maybe in June? I’ve already crossed paths with someone who's travelling with you earlier that year.”

“June 2009 it is then. Hold tight.”

The Doctor entered the coordinates, pulled a few levers, pushed a couple of buttons and… nothing happened.

“Come on, you've had plenty of time to mend!” he exclaimed.

“What's wrong?”

“Not sure. Let me try again.”

Running around the console, the Doctor grew more and more frantic. Finally, he grabbed a toolbox and dived under the control panel.

“Let's see what's wrong with you.”

After a few minutes of the clanking of the tools and annoyed huffs, the Doctor emerged again.

“All right, I’m going to take her into the Vortex first and then set the coordinates for Earth. Maybe we’re just not having much luck on this planet. Oh, I know. I’m going to fly her out of Wyokke’s gravity field. Hold tight. She’s not a massive fan of actually flying through space.”

Rose grabbed one of the metal columns as the TARDIS wailed loudly and shot up into space. The image of Wyokke on the monitor was growing smaller and smaller until it turned into a tiny dot and finally disappeared in the darkness.

“There you go,” murmured the Doctor. “Now, let’s see if we can jump through the Vortex from here.”

“Do you think it was something with the planet’s gravity field?” asked Rose.

“Not sure. Let’s find out.”

The TARDIS wheezed and groaned and trembled, but no matter how many times the Doctor tried, he couldn’t send her into the Vortex. Finally, he gave up.

“Could you please hand me your dimension cannon, Rose?”

He sat down cross-legged on the floor, placed the cannon in his lap, and connected it to the TARDIS console with a cable. Rose waited patiently until he finally said: 

“I don’t think it’s a problem with the cannon or the TARDIS. Something is wrong with the Time Vortex field and I don’t yet understand what. I think I may need some time to work it out.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“I don’t know yet but it may turn out to be a longer stay than I originally planned, so let’s find you a room.”

As they walked down the TARDIS corridor, which looked more like an old English mansion than a spaceship, they saw a door with a picture of a rose painted on it. The Doctor laughed.

“I don’t think she could have made it any more obvious.”

Rose grinned, pushed the door open, and stopped in her tracks.

“This is my bedroom,” she said in astonishment.

“Well, of course, you can stay here until we work out how to escape.”

“No no, I mean, literally, this is my bedroom. My room when I travelled with the future you.”

She ran to the nightstand and grabbed the digital photo frame that was showing the pictures she’d taken during their adventures.

“Look! This is on Woman Wept. And this one, I took it a couple of days before we got separated!” she exclaimed, pointing at a photograph showing a rocky ocean shore. “But how is it possible?”

The Doctor looked thoughtful. After some consideration, he said:

“The TARDIS is a time machine. To her, everything that has ever happened and will ever happen exists at the same time. She doesn’t perceive the flow of time in the same way as you or I do. That’s how she recognised you even though she’d technically never met you. So to her, this room has always been here, in all its possible states.”

“All my stuff is here,” Rose uttered longingly. “It’s like I’ve never been gone.”

“In some bizarre way, you haven’t. No one has.”

“Well, at least I can change from these rags now,” she said, pulling at the hem of her oversized jumper with frustration.

“I’ll be in the console room,” the Doctor replied. “Will try to work out what’s going on with the Vortex field. It must be all those war TARDISes knotting up the timelines, and it’s only the beginning. That’s exactly what I meant by the end of everything, Rose. Not the Daleks or the Time Lords, or both, destroying all life in the universe, but them making the universe unlivable, ripping time itself apart. But then they’ll probably just move on to the next one, and the next, until the whole of the Multiverse ceases to exist as we know it. Except there won’t be anyone to witness it.”

“There’s still a chance it won’t happen,” Rose noted.

“Yeah. A slim one, considering that now not only the Daleks but also the Time Lords are impossible to reason with. I wish the future was just fixed, like your scientists like to theorise. The block universe and everything. I like the sound of it. Much less complicated than it is but that’s the beauty of it.”

“Isn’t it good that nobody’s future is decided? That we can still change things for the better?”

He shook his head.

“It’s not that simple. Every single event is influenced by an impossibly large number of factors, every single event in some convoluted way is connected to everything that is happening and will ever happen everywhere in the universe. You never know the full consequences of the things that you are trying to change.”

“Is that why you couldn’t kill the Daleks while there was a chance?”

“Yes. The Time Lords had prediction models, incredibly complicated ones. The computational power that went into them was unimaginable. Except you just can’t take everything into account. They couldn’t predict this war and how far it would go either, it was just too far-fetched in the circumstances. If they had, I don’t think I would have hesitated. But at the time, I couldn’t stop thinking I would also be killing all the people who’d been born in conditions influenced by the existence of the Daleks. And look where we are now.”

“Doctor, you never know what would have happened if you had killed them,” argued Rose. “What makes you so sure it wouldn’t have been worse?”

He let out a short, anguished laugh.

“Than this? I think the universe would have had to try very hard to top it.”

“But it’s not impossible, is it?”

“Highly improbable.”

“The war was so highly improbable that the most complicated models in the universe couldn’t predict it. You know, my Dad died when I was a baby. Once I tried to save him and it nearly wiped out the whole of the human race. I would never have even imagined that because we are so ordinary. And you’re talking about the two most technologically advanced species in the world here.”

“I’m sorry about your Dad and that you couldn’t save him, Rose. And no one, not a single creature in the universe is ordinary. Not sure he could imagine in his wildest dreams his daughter would grow up to travel through the Multiverse and fight Daleks, yet here we go. Think about all the people you’ve met in your life, even briefly, and all the things you’ve done, all the buses you’ve missed, all the coffees you’ve spilt. If one of those events went even marginally differently, it’s entirely possible we wouldn’t have met. And now think about everyone who’s had the slightest influence on the person who made your coffee. On all the bus drivers who’ve ever given you a ride. Every single thing that happens can be traced to the beginning of the universe. So there’s no such thing as ordinary.”

“Well,” she smiled. “Good thing I’ve taken all those buses, then.”

“Yeah. I guess it is.”

Chapter Text

“You didn’t recognise me when we first met in my timeline, you know,” Rose said.

It had been over a week since they returned to the TARDIS. The world was in ruin and all they could do was watch. She knew that somehow that horrible war would end and that he would make it out alive but it didn’t make things seem much better. Besides, he always said that time was in flux. Rose didn’t even want to think about it as a possibility. She’d come way too far to lose him again.

“You’ve been so sure from the start that you’re in the right universe, Rose. Why?” the Doctor asked. “The TARDIS recognised you, but she could have mistaken you for your double.”

He looked so tired and so so ancient despite his face having a younger appearance than the first one she’d seen. Rose could understand. She’d never felt as desperate in her life as she did now. He’d told her stories about Davros and the Nightmare Child, about the Horde of Travesties and the Skaro Degradations. He’d told her that he’d overheard the Time Lords’ conversations about ripping the Time Vortex apart to end everything else in the universe as they hoped to survive as ethereal, timeless beings. Suspended in space in the vicinity of a fallen planet, all they could do was wait for the fate of the world to be decided by beings much more powerful than themselves.

“Well… That’s what the readings on the dimension cannon said when I landed. We used my TARDIS key to work out the frequency of the Time Vortex energy here, in my original universe. And then, I just sort of… know? It sounds odd but I’ve been to so many universes now and I usually just feel it when it’s the right one. It’s the first time I’ve been able to stay, though, because previously I couldn’t come through properly and was sucked back into the other world before I could find you.”

The Doctor chuckled.

“Of all places, this is where you came through. That’s quite an impressive talent to find trouble.”

“Torchwood must be worried sick now that my cannon is not working. I don’t even know what I would say to Mum if I could get in touch.”

“That you are stuck in the middle of the worst war in history?”

“Not sure how well that would work.”

He sighed.

“I’m sorry, Rose. You should never have landed here. I wish I knew how to get you back home.”

Rose squeezed his hand and put her head on his shoulder.

“We’ll get through this, Doctor. I promise you. We’ll make it out of here, you and I.”

“It’s very curious that you can sense changes in the Time Vortex energy, Rose,” he said. “Normally, humans are not able to perceive it. I think even I would have a difficult time trying to distinguish between different universes just by being there. And you must have exposed yourself to dangerous levels of Time Vortex radiation travelling with the dimension cannon so much but the TARDIS doesn’t seem to detect any adverse effects on your body.”

She raised her head in alarm.

“Hang on, the TARDIS has given me a checkup?”

“Well, she always does when there’s someone onboard. Can’t risk getting someone killed when all medicine in the universe is within reach.”

“I'm not sure I can distinguish between different universes, per se,” said Rose. “It’s just that when I’m here, I can usually sense it. Like, it feels a bit off in the other universes.”

“In what sense?”

“I don’t know. It’s difficult to explain. Just feels kind of wrong. Like, everything looks exactly the same but it’s like there’s something in the air. Even in the universe where I got trapped. At first I thought I just didn’t like it there, that’s why it felt so strange. But then, when I started travelling with the dimension cannon and got through to this universe for the first time, I just knew . Mickey and I thought it might have something to do with my looking into the heart of the TARDIS.”

“With your what?”

Rose squirmed in her seat.

“We ran into a bit of a problem with the Daleks once. You sent me away and stayed behind to fight them. I couldn’t find a way to get back because I can’t pilot the TARDIS, so I looked into her heart and she took me back to you.”

“Rose, you absorbed the Time Vortex energy!” he exclaimed in disbelief. “No one is meant to do that! It could have killed you!”

“Well, it worked out all right for us. I can’t really remember it but you said I disintegrated the Dalek Emperor and his army while I still had that energy in me. I doubt the universe missed them.”

“What happened to the energy after that?”

She hesitated.

“Am I supposed to be telling you all this?”

“You said I didn’t recognise you when we met. If we do manage to get out of this alive, something will probably happen that will make me lose my memory of you. So I don’t think it’s the biggest of our problems right now.”

“You took the energy from me. It made you regenerate.”

“Maybe that was for the best. Can’t say I’d regret losing this face. Too many memories are attached to it.”

Rose pursed her lips, unsure whether to tell him, and placed her hand on his wrist.

“I’m sorry, Doctor.”

“Don’t be. You did what you had to do, however reckless.”

“Why don’t we just do it again?” she asked.

The Doctor froze.

“Excuse me?”

“Why don’t we use the TARDIS energy to get rid of the Daleks?”

With a grunt, he covered his face with his hands and collapsed on the back of the sofa.

“I wish it was that easy, Rose. There are hundreds of millions of them spread across spacetime and they are at the peak of technological development. Let’s say it was possible to turn them into dust, let’s say it was possible to do it in every point of the universe where they exist, which I don’t believe it is. Time is relative, so for whoever was performing it, it wouldn’t happen instantaneously even if it did for the Daleks. No one is capable of holding the Time Vortex energy in them for so long. And then, can you imagine the implications? How can you possibly isolate those and only those Daleks who exist in the timeline of the war? How about all the Daleks who haven’t reached it yet? What if destroying them changes history to the point of unrecognisability, what if it makes things a million times worse? What if it results in a paradox that ends the universe?”

“So what do we do then?”

“I don’t know. And I’m not sure how much time we have. At the moment we can’t even go anywhere. I’m currently checking a very far-fetched idea but I have to wait for the TARDIS to finish running some tests.”

“What’s the idea?”

“That we’re under a time lock. At first I thought neither the TARDIS nor your dimension cannon worked because the Time Vortex field was overloaded by all the war TARDISes, but it occurred to me a couple of days ago that what we are experiencing is also consistent with a time lock.”

“What’s a time lock?”

“It’s a state in which a point in spacetime is isolated from the rest of the universe. In theory, nothing can get in and nothing can get out. But you did, so it’s unlikely but still worth checking. I’ve set the course for the next star system. We are currently moving away from Wyokke.”

The TARDIS stopped abruptly, nearly throwing them off the sofa, and all lights went out.

“Wonderful,” muttered the Doctor, reaching for his sonic screwdriver to use it as a torch.

The ship let out an annoyed hum and a few moments later the lights blinked a couple times and eventually stayed on. He approached the monitors.

“We must have hit the edge of the time bubble. We can’t travel any further and we are not receiving signals from the rest of the universe. It’s taken some time but I’ve ruled out interference from the TARDIS, the leftover radiation from the dimension cannon jump, and the rest of the activity in the Time Vortex field. It’s complete radio silence. I still haven’t got the results of a couple of analyses the TARDIS is performing but I think we have quite a lot of evidence already.”

“But if we’re under a time lock, how come we’re experiencing time? How come we can move and talk and everything?”

“It’s technically a spacetime lock. A pocket in the fabric of the universe. While we can move around this pocket and feel the passage of time, relative to the rest of the universe, we are frozen. Not even starlight is reaching us. On Wyokke, the nearby celestial bodies are just too bright and it’s hard to make out the more distant stars anyway. But look, we are at the edge of the solar system now, facing away from the sun.”

“Oh my god, but this is what happened on parallel Earth!” Rose exclaimed. “We stopped receiving signals from the rest of the universe. That’s why there was no starlight. It just never reached us.”

“But if this theory is correct, you managed to go in and out of the lock. Hold on. Didn’t you say you were the only one who could travel with the dimension cannon?”

“Yeah. I don’t know why. Mickey, Jake, and Gwen all tried but it just didn’t work.”

“Rose, can I please check something?”

“Of course.”

“Please come with me.”

The Doctor strode decisively to the medbay. Unlike many of the other rooms on the TARDIS, it wasn’t too different to the one Rose had seen before.

“I just want to check the level of the Time Vortex energy in you,” he explained, retrieving different pieces of equipment from the cupboards.

It beeped, ticked, and hummed and numbers flickered on various monitors across the room. Rose tried to follow his movements and the direction of his gaze but it didn’t get her very far as she’d never seen such equipment before and wasn’t sure what it did.

When the Doctor set the tools aside and met her eyes, there was a baffled look on his face.

“What is it?” she asked nervously.

“Rose, it’s been almost two Earth weeks since your last jump with the dimension cannon and the leftover Time Vortex radiation must have already faded, but you are practically glowing with it. Hold on. I’ll make it visible.”

The Doctor pointed his sonic screwdriver at her hands, pressed the button, and a faint yellow haze wrapping her fingers slowly came into view. She gasped and flinched.

“Is it dangerous?”

“At this level? It’s deadly. A human body can sustain no more than a couple of minutes of this kind of exposure. And a jump, or ten jumps in a row, through the Vortex without a proper vessel wouldn’t result in such high levels of radiation anyway.”

“Then what’s causing it?”

“The only explanation that comes to mind is that I didn’t manage to fully remove the energy from you after you looked into the heart of the TARDIS and it’s been growing in you ever since. A few stray particles wouldn’t harm you and could potentially adapt to developing in your body without killing you, provided you’ve had prior exposure that has given you a bit of immunity to them. Like travelling on the TARDIS and surviving a large dose of Time Vortex particles after looking into her heart. The dimension cannon jumps must have accelerated their growth. That explains why you can sense it when you’re in the correct universe. You’re on the same wavelength with it, if you will.”

“But if there’s a high level of Time Vortex energy in me, is it dangerous for the people around me?”

“No more dangerous than being in the vicinity of the TARDIS. The amount you radiate is too small to cause harm. It might have also allowed you to get in and out of the time lock in the parallel universe and into this one but if that is so, I don’t understand why you can’t escape now. Maybe it’s a stronger lock than the one around the parallel Solar System, penetrable from the outside but not from the inside. We’ll have to find a way around it.”

“Do you think there’s a connection between the time lock here and in the parallel universe?”

“I don’t know. Time locks are not uncommon technology. It just takes enormous power to generate one.”

“But why have we been timelocked here? What’s the point?”

“I’m not sure, Rose. I’ll see if I can get any information on the signature of the lock. It may give us some clues.”

When Rose appeared in the console room in what they designated as the morning, the Doctor was sitting in one of his ridiculous Victorian chairs by the console with a tablet in his hands. The three monitors suspended from the ceiling displayed a quickly updating sequence of numbers and circular symbols. Rose recognised Gallifreyan but the TARDIS didn’t translate it.

“Morning,” she said. “Any luck?”

“I wouldn’t exactly call it luck, dear Rose. We are indeed under a time lock and as far as I can tell, TARDIS technology was used to create it, which is slightly better news than us being timelocked by Daleks. So I can see two alternatives. One, Time Lords might have tracked me down and this is my punishment, and in that case I’m really sorry that you happened to be here, too. But it would be quite uncharacteristic of them to just lock me up without making a dramatic scene, preferably with the High Court involved. So that brings us to the second alternative.”

“Which is?”

“You said there was no more war in the future you came from, Rose. But at this point I don’t think it would be possible to defeat the Daleks. They are just way too strong. They have way too much technology that is extremely difficult to match. But this. This is what might have just ended the war. A time lock. Or rather a series of time locks throughout the universe. The only way to stop the Daleks from destroying everything that I can see is to isolate them from the rest of the world.”

“But why lock us up in an empty star system?”

“Well, it was one of the war locations and the Daleks had only just visited it. Rose, what I’m proposing now is a wild, outrageous idea, but that’s the best that I’ve got. It would be exceptionally difficult to just isolate all the Daleks at the precise moments they were involved in the war. This time lock might have missed them by a few days but we’re lucky it didn’t capture the Daleks as well as ourselves because there would have been no way to escape them.”

“But would it not mean the Time Lords would also end up under the locks?” Rose suggested, deliberating whether to reveal what she knew about the destiny of his planet and his people.

“There are so many battles between Time Lords and Daleks going on throughout spacetime that it’s quite likely every Time Lord has been involved at least at some point in their existence. So yes, just like we got trapped here, it’s entirely possible they did, too.”

“Then who created the locks?”

“The High Council of Gallifrey? I don’t think anyone else would have enough resources to do it. They must have realised that the idea to rip the Time Vortex apart might not play out as well as they thought and that they would be the first victims.”

“So if the locks are already there, doesn’t it mean that the war is over?”

“It is in a way. Relative to the rest of the universe. There might be battles going on within the locks, especially if they haven’t yet realised what’s going on. Although I doubt that would stop the Daleks. So maybe I was wrong all along and the Time Lords were indeed willing to sacrifice themselves if it was the only way to save the world.”

“So what are we going to do?”

“I don’t know, Rose. We still need to find a way to send you home. It’s not fair for you to stay here. Maybe your Time Vortex energy will help, like it helped you break out of the lock in the parallel universe.”

“What about you? I met you in the future. Somehow you escaped.”

“I don’t know. We might both be able to make it out of here. Good thing is that by the look of it, we’re in an isolated time lock and won’t risk letting the Daleks out as well.”

“If it’s isolated, can’t we just, I don’t know, break it altogether? If you can put something under a time lock, there must be a way to reverse it.”

He shook his head.

“I’ve tried and we just don’t have powerful enough technology here. This lock would have been created with Daleks in mind and I can’t tell you how much they’ve advanced during the war.”

“Well, there must be a way. Otherwise I wouldn’t have met you, would I?”

“I’ll do what I can, Rose.”

Soon after, they returned to Wyokke. However desolate the planet was, experiencing the change of day and night was more grounding than being suspended in space. This time they landed in a forest, far away from cities devastated by the Daleks and bearing constant reminders of what had happened. Sometimes, they were even able to imagine that there had been no war, that the universe hadn’t been ravaged, that they were not confined in prison, left to live their days unknown to the rest of the world. It had been weeks and each day pretending was becoming more and more difficult.

Nonetheless, Wyokke was a beautiful place. Mirror-like lakes with water so still you didn’t know where it ended and the sky began were surrounded by bright-coloured rocks and hills covered by emerald grass. The far ends of valleys disappeared over the horizon and when it wasn’t cloudy, the freezing tops of the mountains offered breathtaking views. Wyokkan woods were home to hundreds of species, from the enterprising rodents that Doctor had mentioned to larger creatures Rose couldn’t think of Earth analogues to.

Her teeth were chattering but it was a rare clear day, so she didn’t want to miss the view. They’d moved the TARDIS to the highest peak in the vicinity of where they’d been staying and it was numbingly cold. The occasional gusts of wind pierced her to the bone.

“Come back in, we don’t want you to get frostbite,” the Doctor said as he appeared in the TARDIS doorway. “It’s freezing even for me.”

“It’s because you never wear anything warmer than that coat.”

He came closer and hugged her tightly, offering the limited warmth he could, his normal body temperature being lower than hers.

“True, but how ridiculous would I look if I wore what you’re wearing?”

Rose looked at the giant down coat she’d discovered in the TARDIS wardrobe.

“Oi, what’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing, you look lovely but I don’t fancy resuscitating you if you get hypothermia.”

“It’s just so nice here. And so peaceful. Like nothing bad has even happened.”

The Doctor sighed.

“Let’s come back inside. I’ll make us a nice cup of tea.”

She giggled.

“You and your tea. It’s written all over you that you’re into tea.”

“Well, it has a very pleasant taste and I daresay, it’s one of the best things that Earth will have to export to other planets for hundreds of years. You know, in the 39th century it will become quite a precious commodity in the Milky Way.”

“All right, I’m sold,” Rose mumbled, her jaw getting numb from the cold.

She placed both her palms on the mug of steaming tea the Doctor had put in front of her on the table, savouring the heat. It was too hot to drink yet but just perfect to warm her hands. He sat down across from her.

“Rose, I think I might have found a way.”

“Oh my god, that’s amazing,” she exclaimed excitedly. “What do we need to do?”

“I can direct your Time Vortex energy to strengthen the impulse the TARDIS can give you. I’ve used the readings I took when I gave you a checkup and it should be enough for you to break through the lock.”

“Hang on, what about you?”

“Well, if I don’t eventually make it out, when you leave the lock, you will never have met me. You’ll be able to live a normal, happy human life, Rose, without having to risk it every day.”

“Why can’t we both leave?” she frowned.

“There won’t be enough power. I can harness all the TARDIS can yield and the energy in you should be just enough to top it up, but I don’t have nearly enough of it in me.”

Rose shook her head violently.

“No. I can’t leave you here. Look at it!” she yelled desperately and threw her hands in the air, as if he could see the ruins of cities hundreds of miles away. “There must be a way. When I met you, the war had just ended. Somehow you’d managed to leave the lock. There must be a way!”

“Possibly. If I can find it, I’ll follow you.”

“Well, you better hurry because I’m not leaving alone.”

The Doctor stretched his hand out and placed it on top of hers.

“We won’t win anything if both of us get stuck here.”

“What do we win if only one of us leaves!?” Rose exclaimed.

“You having a normal life. I know you want to stay here with me so that I don’t have to face it alone, and I appreciate it, Rose, I really do. But I’d much rather you were back in the real world, not in this forsaken fantasy land.”

“Well, I told you, I’m not leaving alone. How am I supposed to just leave and then live a life as if nothing has ever happened?”

“Rose, if I can’t break out, you won’t even remember anything because it won’t ever have happened to you. There won’t be a Doctor for you to meet.”

“Are you kidding me!?” she exploded. “You’re telling me to just forget that you exist, while you’re stuck here, in this bloody forsaken fantasy land!”

“Rose…”

“No.”

He closed his eyes in defeat.

“All right. I’ll keep looking.”

“You better.”

She hadn’t felt as useless as now for a very long time. The Doctor spent his days reading the extensive Gallifreyan archives that the TARDIS didn’t translate, running tests, and performing calculations. The console room soon became so cluttered with books, tablets, scattered pieces of paper, cables, tools, and various gadgets that Rose doubted he could still remember where everything was.

She was there most of the time, listening to the Doctor explain at length concepts she could barely grasp, handing him tools, and helping with minor tasks that didn’t require Time Lord understanding of mechanics, but mostly she felt idle and helpless. 

At Torchwood, she could do only so much to help with assembling the dimension cannon, but there were always Weevils to track down, suspicious activity somewhere across the country to investigate, equipment that had appeared through the rift to test, aliens to threaten with reporting them to the Shadow Proclamation — all the things she had much more experience with than an average 21st century human. Now, she felt restless and had itchy feet but the lake a couple of miles away was the most exciting place she could travel to.

“Rose? Could you please come here?”

She got off the chaise-longue and knelt down on the floor next to the Doctor, who had hunched over a giant tablet filled with formulas and circular symbols.

“Any luck?”

“I have an idea and I think it might work.”

“Yeah? What is it?”

The Doctor jumped on his feet and Rose followed. As he talked, he made a few laps around the console, pressing buttons, adjusting levers, and checking readings on the monitors.

“The thing is, we’re in a time bubble so technically we don’t exist. Look, imagine this is my timeline,” he said, pointing at a tangled thread on the screen. “It loops and loops as I travel through time and now it’s trapped in this lock. You are saying that in some other reality I’m supposed to come out of it, just like this.”

He traced his finger over the thread that reappeared on the other side of an empty patch on the screen.

“So, if I can just clip it, detach it from the rest, technically it becomes two different timelines. So it is possible for me to get stuck here and for you to meet some other version of me in the future. It’s a paradox but considering what we’re working with, it may not be too big a problem.”

Rose stared at him in disbelief.

“You want me to go out there and meet some other version of you , not knowing if you ever break out of here or not? How’s it any better than what you suggested before?”

“There is a future me who you love, Rose. I don’t know what he’s done to deserve it but you’ve made it quite clear. And if he’s in any way me, he loves you, too. You can go back to him and live your life, far away from this mess.”

“Don’t you get it, it’s not about me meeting you, it’s not about me finding you again!” she exclaimed. “It’s about you not getting stuck here forever! We’ll find a way out of it, together, whatever and however long it takes.”

The Doctor came closer and cupped her face with his hands, his thumbs brushing over her cheeks gently.

“Rose,” he pleaded. “I can’t let you get trapped here. I can’t let you live the rest of your life and die in a time prison. I’m not worth this kind of sacrifice. There are better things in the universe. I want you to be able to enjoy them.”

“That’s what I want for you, too,” she whispered, her voice too broken to speak out loud.

The Doctor leaned in and pressed his lips to her forehead.

“I know, my dear.”

With that, he reached for the lever on the TARDIS console and stepped back. A ray of golden particles flooding in from the top of the rotor encapsulated Rose. She struggled to escape but it felt like trying to move through a wall.

“No!” she yelled. “You can’t, you can’t do it!”

“I’m sorry, Rose. I promise I’ll try to find a way to leave, too. Maybe I will see you soon.”

The light became so bright the Doctor had to close his eyes and when he opened them again, Rose was still standing in front of him, real and furious.

“You tried to send me away! I said I wasn’t leaving, I repeated it a thousand times, and you still tried to send me away!”

The Doctor swallowed thickly and turned away to face the rotor. His back hunched and his hands pressed into console, he muttered:

“Rose. You can’t die here, in this goddamn reality where everything is falling apart. I can’t make you wait for months, years, or decades for something that may not ever happen. I just want you to live on.”

“You’ve never bothered to listen to what I wanted! For hell’s sake, we’ve been through it so many times and you just keep doing the same bloody thing! I don’t know if I should just tattoo on my forehead that I don’t want to be sent away at the first sight of danger!”

“Well, it didn’t work and I still don’t know how to get you home. I’m sorry, Rose.”

“I’m not. I’m not leaving you here like this. When we leave, we leave together. I know it’s hard to stop being a bloody martyr but it’s high time you did!”

“Is it not what you would have done!?” he shouted back desperately.

“No! Imagine that, I would have actually listened to what you wanted because you’re a big boy and can decide for yourself! For hell’s sake, you keep going on about me having a normal life! What if I don’t want a normal life!?”

“Well, there you have it! You wanted to get stuck in a time lock and here you are!” he retorted.

“Fine!”

With a huff, she stormed out of the control room and shut the door to her bedroom so hard the TARDIS emitted a disapproving sigh.

“What!?” Rose exclaimed in exasperation. “I want you to get out of here, too! We are not the only two stuck!”

She threw herself on the bed and curled up in a ball. From the digital frame on the nightstand, the Doctor, Mickey, Jack, and her nineteen-year-old self smiled brightly from the timeless moment that in their current reality was neither the past nor the future. In a few seconds, they were replaced by a landscape of a faraway planet: bright purple grass under the sky illuminated by twin suns. There was no need to remind her how beautiful the world was. She remembered it painfully well.

Several minutes later, her crying was interrupted by a timid knock on the door. It didn’t open until Rose, still pressing her face into the pillow, yelled out a muffled permission to enter.

When the Doctor stepped into the room, she sat up and wiped the tears off her cheeks, smearing her mascara even more than it already was.

“C’me in, don’t just stand there,” she said hoarsely.

“Rose, I’m sorry.”

“‘kay. I’d normally ask you to promise not to do it again but I know you will.”

He gave her an anguished smile.

“Can’t teach an old dog new tricks, can you?”

“Apparently not. You don’t change much when you regenerate.”

“You should have met some of my older selves. The grumpy old man in particular.”

Rose smiled despite herself.

“Can’t see how that would be any different.”

After some deliberation, the Doctor sat on the edge of her bed.

“I wish I could honestly tell you I regret trying to send you away, but as much as some part of me wants you to stay, I can’t. It had taken me days to gather enough courage and convince myself to let you go. The best I can do is apologise for not listening to what you wanted.”

Her lips turned up slightly in response.

“I’ll take it.”

With a sigh, Rose wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged him tightly.

“That timeline nonsense is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard,” she said. “I believed it in the first moment but it just falls apart as soon as you start to think about it.”

“I’m sorry, Rose. I just didn’t know how to convince you to take the chance and leave. I shouldn’t have lied to you. I thought if I told you that you’d still meet the future me, it might just work. I was clearly wrong and I’m sorry.”

“You said I’d forget everything if I made it out of here and you didn’t. It’s my whole life since I was nineteen, Doctor. You can’t just take it away from me like that. I don’t even know who I’d be without it.”

“Someone just as brilliant,” he whispered into her hair.

“We’ll find a way out of here, both of us,” Rose said. “There will be some sort of sign, there always is. You know, before I looked into the heart of the TARDIS, we’d been followed by signs for months. It turned out that I’d sent all those messages to let myself know that I could still get back to you. When I ended up in the parallel universe, there was another one of the same message. That’s how I knew I’d be able to come back.”

“And what was the message?”

“Bad Wolf. It’s silly but it was just something written on…”

The Doctor pulled away and gave her a startled look.

“Bad Wolf? Are you serious?”

“Well, yes. Why?”

“Rose. I think we are in very big trouble.”

Chapter Text

“What? What’s wrong?” Rose panicked.

“Come with me, please. I need to show you something.”

Barely managing to keep up with the Doctor, she followed him back into the control room. He bent over the console and his fingers quickly tapped on the touch screen monitor.

“It is a very old ship,” he said. “This model was taken off production ages ago and it has a lot of legacy software. There’s one for creating time locks. I’ve never used it because there are newer alternatives available but it’s such an odd name for a program on a time machine that I just remembered it when you said it.”

A few more taps and swipes of his fingers, and the all too familiar words shone on the monitor. Rose’s eyes went wide.

“Hang on, it’s important. Bad Wolf is important!” she cried. “It can’t just be a coincidence!”

“I doubt that it is. I think we are about to either cause a paradox to happen, or the time locks to collapse, Rose.”

“Why?”

“Because I think we created the locks in the first place.”

“But they are already there. We can’t leave because of the lock.”

“Exactly. Normally, all things have a start and an end. That’s just how time works. But the point of a time lock is that it exists outside of the four dimensions of the universe and as such doesn’t need to have a definitive beginning and a definitive ending. You managed to get through the lock that already existed, but in a way it has always existed and always will, just like your room on the TARDIS.”

“I don’t understand. What are we supposed to do now? How can you start something that has always existed?”

“Think about changing something in the past. In your past, it has always been like that because you made it so, but in order to do that, you came from what was the future relative to that point in time. And now eliminate the concept of past and future in relation to the rest of the universe. Outside this time bubble, we are frozen, we are not moving, we are simply not alive, and for us, the rest of the universe doesn’t exist in the same way as we don’t exist for them. Take your TARDIS room as an example. The picture frame you’ve shown me has always been on your nightstand, but only because you put it there. It only exists because on some completely different time plane you took those pictures.”

“So you’re saying there will be no more time locks if we don’t make them?”

“In the best case scenario,” the Doctor nodded. “If my guess is correct and all points in the universe where the war was happening are currently timelocked, us not creating the locks will simply cause them to disappear and set all the Daleks free.”

Rose raised her eyebrows.

“That’s the best case scenario?”

“Yes. In the worst case, the paradox it will cause will wipe out the entire world much faster than the Daleks ever could. Although I’m not sure whether a quick death or a slow one that keeps giving you hope and taking it away is worse. So it’s probably the other way around, my apologies.”

“So what do we do?”

“I need to work out how to operate this program. If it’s indeed what was used to create the locks, I may be able to access their map so that we know where to aim.”

“How can I help?”

“I don’t know if you can, Rose. It’s Gallifreyan technology. I don’t think I understand it well enough myself.”

“But it says Bad Wolf. It’s got to have something to do with me.”

“Oh, for sure, my darling. Without you here, I would never have realised it. I still don’t know if I’m right but give me a few hours and hopefully I’ll get more information.”

“‘kay. Do you want anything from the galley?”

“Oh, a cup of tea would be splendid, if you don’t mind. Thank you.”

She giggled.

“I knew it.”

Rose realised she was of little use in the console room but she couldn’t bring herself to leave it in case she missed something important. Besides, the Doctor always babbled away when he was working. This version of him didn’t talk nearly as much as the one she got separated from a few years ago, but that was hard to match.

They had dinner on the floor by the console, surrounded by the pile of notes the Doctor had been writing while flipping through books and digital archives. A few times he would drop his fork to check yet another source or jot something down when a new idea suddenly struck him.

Cosied up in a chair hours later, Rose had nearly nodded off when the Doctor jumped off the floor with a victorious “aha!” and rushed to the monitors. She hurriedly followed him.

“Found anything?”

“Give me one second, I’ll just… oh yes.”

A few clicks and taps and swipes and presses of buttons as he stared at the Gallifreyan writing on the monitor and then the Doctor sighed.

“It’s true, Rose,” he said dolefully. “I was hoping that I was wrong but it’s true. Look at it. Every single timelocked war zone in existence is shown here.”

The image of the monitor changed to a myriad of little bubbles.

“Of course they are not to any kind of scale because these locks are not situated within the fabric of the universe and their internal dimensions make no sense relative to the real world or the other bubbles, but I could use them to work out what locations they were snatched from.”

“Doctor, what happens to the locations that are timelocked?” Rose asked. “For example, what happened to Wyokke in the real universe?”

“Oh, it just is and has always been empty space. You can go there but there won’t be much for you to see.”

“What are we gonna do now?”

“I’ll try to recreate the locks. I’m not sure how the power of one TARDIS would be enough but we have to give it a go. We can’t risk setting the Daleks free.”

Rose slipped her hand into his and squeezed it reassuringly.

“We can do it. We’re closer to finding the answer and maybe making it out of here than we’ve been for many weeks.”

The corners of his lips turned up slightly as he looked at her and wrinkles formed around his eyes.

“Of course, Rose. I don’t believe for a moment that all of this has been in vain.”

For the many long days that followed, the Doctor almost didn’t leave the control room and when he did, it was mainly to bring more materials from the library. When he needed to sleep, he usually dozed off on the sofa by the console, only to be woken up by yet another idea he wanted to try out.

Rose was desperate to understand at least some Gallifreyan so that she could make the slightest sense of what he was doing, but there wasn’t a single dictionary in the library translating Gallifreyan into a language the TARDIS could help her with. She thought she’d started to recognise some of the symbols the Doctor often pointed at when he tried to explain the principles behind the program to her, but then they would appear in a completely different context and throw her off course again.

“I was never good at languages,” Rose confessed, stroking the Doctor’s hair as he looked up at her from her lap. “We did some French at school but it just always seemed so confusing. I wished people would invent some translation devices so that you could speak with anyone,” she laughed.

The Doctor chuckled.

“Well, it was a conscious choice by Time Lords not to let TARDISes translate Gallifreyan. They argued that no other language in the universe could convey its complexity.”

“Gosh, it would’ve been better if they’d just said they didn’t want other people to know their secrets.”

“Yeah. Sorry it’s making things more difficult for you.”

“Nah, I don’t think I would’ve understood anyway.”

The Doctor caught her hand and interlaced their fingers.

“You underestimate yourself, Rose. Even after everything that you’ve done, after helping so many people, after crossing universes to save the world, you still don’t see just how brilliant you are, do you?”

Her cheeks turned pink and she looked away, trying to hide her embarrassment behind a smile.

“Trust me, if I’d stayed behind to live on the estate and work in a shop, I’d’ve been useless. It’s just that travelling with you puts you in a situation when you can be brave and you can help people.”

“Oh Rose, humans are a wonderful, fascinating species and many of you are braver and kinder than Time Lords could ever dream of being. Most humans just need a chance to shine and to use their talents and then they do so gladly. But the circumstances alone are not enough.”

He brought her hand to his mouth and pressed his lips to her fingers.

“You’ve chosen to put your life in danger time and time again because you know you can do so much more that way than if you stay at home. So many people have got the chance to live in peace and safety thanks to you. And I can’t even count the number of times you knew just the right thing to say to make the situation better when I was completely lost for words.”

Rose laughed.

“You just wait till you become the you I last travelled with. If anything, you’ll never shut up.”

“I look forward to it. As long as you’ll be there with me.”

Something in her stomach twisted and turned at the thought that if they were successful, very soon he would lose the memory of everything that had happened since she landed on Wyokke many weeks ago. His future self couldn’t have possibly pretended not to know her. But it was a good thing, him not remembering the details of the ordeal he’d had to go through.

“Always,” Rose whispered.

Head still in her lap, the Doctor drifted off to sleep soon, exhausted by the days without rest. It would only be a couple of hours before he woke up again, fresh and ready for another long sleepless stretch. The TARDIS dimmed the lights and Rose yawned, only just realising how tired she was, too. She’d slide from under him soon and go to her bedroom to get proper sleep, but not just now. For now, she was content to hold him as he slept.

It looked like each day the Doctor was getting closer and closer to finding a solution. The frenzy and desperation that marked the first couple of weeks of his work with the Bad Wolf software were gradually replaced by calmer determination. He sounded more hopeful, at times he would even manage to distract himself from work for more than a couple of hours at a time. So at first Rose wasn’t surprised when she didn’t find him in the console room in the morning. She checked the library and the galley and even ventured outside, but he was nowhere to be seen. A few hours later, she started to worry.

Silently pleading with the TARDIS to give her a clue about his whereabouts, Rose entered every room they’d used sometimes, and then some she hadn’t even known existed. Finally, when she opened the door to what turned out to be the tackiest late 19th century English salon, a grand piano and floral print everywhere, probably promptly erased from the ship plan by his next self, she saw him sitting on the floor in the far corner of the room. His back against the wall, his arms resting on his knees, the Doctor stared into the empty space in front of him and appeared not to notice her presence.

“Doctor?”

Rose walked over, sat down next to him, and touched his shoulder lightly. The Doctor spoke without turning his head.

“I’ve tried it and the TARDIS simply doesn’t have enough power. It’s one time machine, and a very old one. Compared to the kind of technology Time Lords and Daleks have been using, it’s laughable.”

“Well, there must be a way.”

“Yes. But it’s not something I would ever want to do.”

“What is it, Doctor? Tell me,” she prompted gently.

“The only way I can see is combining the Time Vortex energy in the TARDIS and in you to power the locks.”

“And what’s the problem with that?”

The Doctor looked at her, the first eye contact he’d made since she entered the room. His eyes were red and dark circles had formed around them.

“Rose. I don’t know if it would be possible for you to survive it.”

She hesitated for a moment, but then said:

“We won’t know until we try, will we?”

“And that’s it? ‘We won’t know until we try’?”

“You say you can’t see another way. And it doesn’t mean that I’ll necessarily die, does it?”

“No. But you may. Just imagine the amount of Time Vortex energy it will take. I can’t do it to you, Rose. I can’t lose you like this. I can’t let the future me lose you.”

She squeezed her hand on his shoulder reassuringly and forced a smile.

“Doctor, we’ve no choice. Everything’s screaming that that’s what we need to do. Why else would have I ended up here? Why else would the program be called Bad Wolf? We’ve got to end the war while we still can. We can’t let the Daleks escape. It’s not fair on the rest of the world. And I may not die.”

“It’s too risky.”

“Yes, and so is the war. Who told you I’ll survive if we don’t create the locks and all the Daleks that are now contained by them start flooding in?”

“We can hide. We can go to a different universe. I have this thing called a bio-damper. It can mask our biological code and no one will ever know I’m a Time Lord and you are the Bad Wolf.”

His panic was visible on his face and audible in his voice. Rose inched closer and cupped his face in her hands.

“Doctor. They won’t stop at this universe. They will try to destroy everything in existence. You know it. You know it better than I do.”

He closed his eyes, a moment too late to stop the tear that ran down his cheek.

“Of course they will.”

“And we’ve got to stop them. We’ll risk so much more if we don’t.”

“But it’s… oh Rose…”

The Doctor pressed his knees to his chest and hid his face in his folded arms to avoid looking at her.

“It will kill them, Rose. It will kill so many Time Lords. If they are locked with the Daleks, so many of them won’t survive. And think of all the other people who’ll end up in the locks by accident, trapped with them, unable to escape. But any other scenario I can think of is so much worse.”

She swallowed.

“I’m so sorry, Doctor.”

“Tell me about the future, Rose. Please.”

“Well…” she faltered, unsure of what to say. “What do you want to know?”

“Something. Anything. I need to know it will work.”

“It’s… I don’t know. We’ve been to the year five billion and saw New Earth and there were cat nuns running the hospital. There were so many different people from all over the universe. And we watched the 2012 London Olympics. Just a bit ahead of my time.”

“Have I ever introduced you to another Time Lord?”

Rose pressed her lips together. She couldn’t lie to him.

“There’re no more Time Lords where I came from,” she whispered. “Only you.”

“Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

The Doctor leaned on the wall behind him, closed his eyes, and let the tears stream down his face. Her heart racing, Rose squeezed his hand in both hers. She didn’t know what to say, what could be said to make it any better. Not this time.

It was difficult to fully comprehend what was happening and what they were about to do. As long as she’d known the Doctor, the stakes had always been high, but that was the scale her human brain couldn’t put into perspective. Besides, since she became aware of the existence of aliens and time travel, for her, it was a tragic fact of life that the Time Lords were no more. For the Doctor in front of her, their disappearance was still in the future and it had barely been three weeks since he found out that the two of them would be responsible for the demise of his planet and people.

“I’m so sorry,” Rose said. “It’s not fair that you’re the one who has to deal with it.”

He squeezed her hand in his.

“No, I’m sorry. Maybe you shouldn’t have taken all those bus rides.”

“Mmm?”

“Remember we talked about chains of events? Maybe it would have been better if you’d never met me, Rose.”

She shook her head.

“I could never regret meeting you and I don’t regret being here with you. Not if I can help. I’d hate for you to have to face it alone.”

“Of course you don’t,” the Doctor whispered, his thumb stroking her cheek and his other hand buried in her hair. “You’re too reckless for your own good.”

Rose pressed her forehead into his.

“That makes two of us.”

“As we close the lock, we may just be able to pilot out of it before it’s sealed. I’ll program the TARDIS to take us out. But whatever happens, I won’t see you after that, will I? I will lose my memory and the you that I’ll meet won’t even know me.”

“I’ll find you, Doctor. I promise you. We’ll both survive this.”

He pulled her closer and pressed his lips to hers.

“I’ll wait for you. However long it takes.”

“You won’t remember anything that’s happened over the past three months.”

“No. But I’ll still love you.”

“How do you know that?”

“It would be very hard for me not to.”

Rose pressed into his chest, hiding her tear-stained face on his shoulder. His curly hair tickled her forehead and his shirt smelled like lavender. She’d teased him for it before but now the thought of never seeing him like that again, lavender-scented shirts and Darjeeling tea, a gentle voice and soft arms around her, made a lump form in her throat.

“It’s not a goodbye, Doctor,” she said, her voice husky from crying. “You’ll see me very soon and I’ll see you, too.”

“Rose, my darling girl, I don’t even know if what I’ve suggested will work.”

“We have to try.”

“I’m so sorry. I wish we didn’t have to do it. I’d give anything.”

“I know.”

Rose raised her head and kissed him again, his lips meeting hers eagerly with apology and desperation. They’d done it before in her timeline, even though she could barely remember their first kiss, the second was stolen, and the third happened too quickly and was never brought up again. But never like this, not with his arms holding her close, his fingers stroking her hair, his double heartbeat against her chest.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, my darling,” the Doctor whispered. “We can never just have it easy, can we?”

“Maybe not,” Rose cried.

What could she say? That they would be all right? That things would get better? That they just needed to murder every single Dalek and Time Lord in the universe and all the unlucky people who happened to be in the way and then they could get on with their lives? The realisation was slowly coming to her but she fought hard not to let her mind fully comprehend what they were about to do.

“We don’t have a choice, do we?” Rose asked softly, limp in his arms.

“I once said to someone that I didn’t want to be my old self anymore, I didn’t want to be calculating and practical, I didn’t want to sacrifice one life to save a million because it’s a dangerous, cruel morality. But I can’t turn away from it anymore. I can no longer pretend to be good by inaction. Not if it will mean the end of everything. I’m sorry that you have to be part of it, Rose. It was never meant to be your war and your decision.”

“Maybe it was,” she sighed. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

They didn’t dare lose sight of each other, clinging to one another for warmth and reassurance. Preparations didn’t take long as the Doctor had done the bulk of them while trying to create the time locks without Rose’s assistance. They couldn’t delay it much longer. The fate of the universe depended on two people in love being able to say goodbye, if only to be reunited again someday.

“What if it doesn’t work?” Rose whispered, her back pressed into the Doctor’s chest, her fingers intertwined with his.

“I don’t know, my dear. It must. I have no idea what to do if it doesn’t. It is the only chance we have to ensure the future you’ve come from will happen.”

Rose rolled over to face him.

“I don’t know if I can sleep tonight. I don’t want to lose these hours with you. I’ll wake up and they’ll be gone and then I’ll never see you again.”

“You’ll see me very soon. I’ve programmed the TARDIS to take you to 2009 London if we are successful. You’ll find me.”

She shook her head.

“No. I won’t see this you ever again. I know you’re still you, but…” she sniffed and closed her eyes to stop her tears from spilling.

The Doctor touched her lips with his.

“When you find me, tell me everything, Rose. I want to know. I’d hate to lose this.”

She forced a smile.

“Will it not result in some giant horrible paradox?”

“No,” he laughed. “No, darling girl. Not you if you return to the me who lost you, for whom everything has already happened. I promise you I’ll still be me. And somewhere at the back of my mind, even if I never remember anything we’ve been through together so far, I’ll know.”

“Can we have one last adventure together?”

“Of course. What do you want to do?”

“Let’s fly to the other side of Wyokke. Somewhere we haven’t been yet. Let’s explore. We can watch the sunrise.”

“Anything that you want, Rose.”

They sat on the ocean shore, copper sand beneath their feet and the moons overhead, almost full, outshining the thin crescent of the neighbouring planet, like a cut through the dark night sky. Rose put her head on the Doctor’s shoulder. It had been almost twenty-four hours since she last slept and she couldn’t resist a yawn.

“You need to sleep,” the Doctor said gently. “We can do it whenever you wake up. You’ll need energy to power the locks and we don’t know what you’ll have to face when you’re back on Earth. You shouldn’t be tired.”

“Will you stay with me?” she asked.

“Of course. I’ll stay with you as long as I can.”

When they entered the console room later, the lights flickered mournfully, the TARDIS’s sigh echoing in their heads. The Doctor gently stroked the control panel, both reassuring the ship and seeking her comfort.

Rose swallowed as she looked at the headset he’d put in front of her on the console.

“I’ve never experienced it myself but it will be a similar sensation to the time when you looked into her heart,” the Doctor said.

“What do I need to do?”

“Nothing, the TARDIS will lead you. I’ve programmed the coordinates of the locks. She knows what to do.”

The Doctor waited for Rose to sit down in a chair and secured the device on her head. Then he got on his knees in front of her, cupped her face, and pressed his lips to hers.

“Find me, my love. I promise I’ll find you, too.”

His hand trembled when he placed it on the lever. Was it the end? The end of the war? The end of Gallifrey? The end of Time Lords? The end of the world as he’d known it for a long time? A sob broke out of his chest and Rose put her hand on his.

The Doctor turned his face to look at her.

“I guess this is the moment,” he whispered.

Together, they pushed the lever down. The TARDIS shook violently and emitted a loud, deafening sound. Originating in her eyes, a flood of golden particles soon encircled Rose and spread further, taking every corner of the room.

It was like floating, the sensation of weightlessness. If she stretched her hand out and wiped the golden haze blocking her view, it would reveal every single future that could happen but never would, every single past that had slipped away or had been luckily avoided, every version of the present they could be living.

It was so simple — one flick of her hand and they would both be all right. Just one breath and the world would never have crumbled. She could always keep him safe, she could erase everything that had ever harmed him and ever would. How wonderful would that be?

“Rose, listen to me! Listen to me! Please!” she heard through the thick walls of light that separated her from the control room of the TARDIS.

She opened her eyes to find the Doctor on the floor, clutching the console, the symbols that now made sense but didn’t matter flashing on the monitors.

“Rose, please, follow the TARDIS. She knows what to do. I beg you, Rose. You can’t change reality!”

What a strange thing to say.

“But I can,” she argued. “I can make everything fine.”

The Doctor shook his head with desperation on his face that she couldn’t quite place.

“You’re dying, Rose. You will never have enough time. Please, let the TARDIS close the locks and leave it. It’s dangerous. You can destroy everything in existence if you keep trying to change it. Nobody should ever assume to be a god. It has killed the Time Lords and it will kill you.”

The locks were easy — just insignificant specks on the fabric of the world. Rose reached out to touch that fabric but her hands drowned in the ocean of golden light and her mind was on fire. It was difficult to focus when it hurt so much. Why did it hurt? Could it not wait a little longer? What was the point of being able to mould time if it still had control over you?

The Doctor didn’t know how much longer he could withstand the Time Vortex radiation, but tried to hang on long enough to switch the system off. He checked the readings on the monitor to ensure the locks were in place and pulled the lever back up. The blinding light that had filled the room slowly subsided and with a loud wail, the TARDIS launched the dematerialisation sequence. He started to make his way to Rose but collapsed before he could reach her.

When she opened her eyes, the ship was in mid-flight, shaking from side to side, sparks spraying out of the rotor and lights blinking. She grabbed hold of the console when her chair tipped over and noticed the Doctor’s unconscious figure on the floor.

“Doctor!” Rose exclaimed, removing the headset as she tumbled down beside him. “Doctor, please, look at me!”

He didn’t respond. A swarm of golden particles, just like the ones that her own body contained, began to envelope his figure. Rose dropped her head on his shoulder and cried out in despair. She knew she couldn’t change the past, she knew that the Doctor was always going to die and regenerate, but it didn’t make watching him do so any easier.

“Don’t go, please don’t go. Doctor!”

It was too late as the regeneration process had begun. Rose had to let go of his hand when the Time Vortex particles fully consumed him, undoing the damage they’d just caused, only to soon reveal the face she’d known and loved.

Rose realised that she had to leave but she couldn’t resist pressing her lips to his forehead before walking away.

“I’ll see you very soon, Doctor. You’ll be okay. I promise you, you will.”

She picked up her dimension cannon, gave the Doctor one more look, and stepped outside. It was a quiet London night, the familiar Moon shining against the backdrop of stars. Rose took a deep breath. She couldn’t quite explain it but it smelled like home.

Chapter Text

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.”