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The Magician and the Painting

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Rose took his hand and the Doctor smiled, a lovely surprising smile on that face, under that silver hair. He bent over her hand and brushed his lips against it, and was that a tremor she felt? But he'd straightened and was tugging her after him. Down the hall, up the stairs, to a corridor she hadn't noticed, and a door marked *staff only* that he opened with a moment of whirring from the screwdriver. He was elegant in this face, all tall and slender in his black trousers and jacket. A little bit of a showman.

The door opened, and there she was: the TARDIS, as blue and as improbable as ever. Something in Rose had reserved a tiny bit of herself until she saw the TARDIS, until she laid a hand on it and felt it speak to her. Bad Wolf Girl would always be a tiny bit connected to this ship, this strange little police box, this relic.

The door opened for her and she smiled.

"You still have your key," the Doctor said. "She still knows you."

"Yeah." Rose pulled it out from under her shirt. The chain it hung from was more posh in this life, because of all the money her father had, but that was the only difference. TARDIS key, over her heart. He reached out and touched it. His hand over hers again, a warm dry touch. He smiled briefly and turned away to the door, turned back to bow her over the threshold.

"You've redecorated!"

"Yeah, had a bit of a crash. Needed repairs. It all came out a bit different."

"I like it! It's-- it's very you."

"You think?"

Rose nodded firmly. "Yeah."

He looked pleased. He gestured toward the console, so very different to how it had looked, with technology that looked so much newer than anything she'd seen even in her current life, with its strange path through time. The console was as different to the one she remembered as the the rest of the decor. Sleek, glowing, like something from the Sixties when the future was an exciting place.

"Fish and chips," the Doctor said. "Brighton. 2005."

His fingers danced over buttons that hadn't been there the last time she had, threw a lever she'd never seen, and set his hand on a lever she knew. Eyebrow up, looking at her. She set her hand on his and they pulled together. The rotors spun, the TARDIS growled, and they were moving.

"So long since I heard this! Thought I never would again. Yeah, love it!" Rose laughed. He was watching her as if transfixed, with an odd expression. "Is something wrong?"

"Oh, Rose. It's been a long time. So long since I've seen you. Your smile. I--"

"How long?"

He shrugged. "More than a thousand years." Now that voice was casual, but it was a cover for something.

"That's a long time. Long enough to forget me?"

"Forget you? Never. I never forget anyone who's traveled with me. Long enough to travel with others. To, to be with others. If you can forgive me."

Rose remembered Sarah Jane Smith, and how she'd pitied her at first, before she'd realized they were the same. "There's nothing to forgive. You thought, I thought, that was it. We were separated. Forever. Moving on is something we had to do."

"It took me a while."

"Yeah. I get it."

His hands were in his jacket pockets. "Forever is-- difficult for me. I find it hard to believe in." That smile again, a little bitter, visible for a moment and then gone.

"Where are they? The people who travel with you? Can I meet them?"

And now his face was utterly bleak.

"They're lost to me. In time. When I realized you weren't, when I figured out how to use the painting, I nearly didn't come. I thought it would be better not to. To leave you to your new life. Unfixed, for me. A choice unmade. Forever unmade."

He spun away from her and marched up the steps to the catwalk. He leaned against a bookshelf and was still. Rose hesitated, then followed him quietly. His hand was over his face and his shoulders were trembling. She touched him, and he flinched.

"Sorry. Sorry. I just--"

Her arms were around him without thinking. It was the Doctor, and it didn't matter to her in the least what face he wore. She'd loved two of his faces so far and probably she would love all of them if she met them. And this one, this one was weeping because like her he'd thought they'd never see each other again. His last words cut off, a hologram she couldn't touch on a beach she wanted never to see again. Down, down onto the catwalk, holding each other close, clutching at each other. His hands, with those long fingers, touching her face reverently. His own face was wet.

"It's really you," he said. "You're really here again."

She smiled at him. "Some choices need to be made. Some choices are good. Some days, you have somebody to hold your hand."