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Wayward Son - Chapter 24: Stand Beside Me

It's the morning after their betrothal bonding, with things still to be said.

Title: Wayward Son - Chapter 24: Stand Beside Me

Characters: Jackie Tyler; Ten II; Pete Tyler; Tony Tyler; Rose Tyler; Original Character
Genre: Alternate Universe; Angst; Character Study; Het; Romance
Author's Description: Set mostly in the AU of Pete's World; TenII hits a big snag in his efforts to forge a new life with Rose and finds himself facing an unexpected identify crisis.
Length: WIP
Rating: Teen for slight swearing
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The alluring aroma of coffee and toast gently roused Rose from sleep. She took a deep sniff before opening her eyes a tiny crack, wondering what time it was. Blinking, she squinted at the featureless whiteness in front of her as disorientation took over. The whiteness resolved into a blank flat-painted wall, and her breath caught in a quivery gasp.

The stark whiteness of the Void room wall surged into her mind, the place where her world had shattered into tiny shards of misery and loss. She remembered how cold the surface was against her cheek and hands, how she pounded at its stubborn solidity. The sharp smell of it mocked her with a frank reality that tears could not melt.

She struggled to get up, pinned to the mattress surface as her heart surged and pounded in her chest. She could feel her pulse in her throat as panic rose. Looking down, she could see a plaid pyjama-clad arm encircling her waist, a pale slender hand emerging from the sleeve. Long black hairs protruded from the wrist and were sprinkled over the back of the hand… a hand she knew almost as well as her own.

Rose went limp in relief, suddenly conscious of the fine perspiration covering her face and upper lip. Sighing deeply, she leaned back to twist around slightly. A stubbly neck and jawline greeted her, along with what seemed like an enormous Adam’s apple at eye-level. She smiled as the naturally spicy scent of the Doctor wafted up into her nostrils, mixed with the faint chemical smell of new fleece fabric. The serene hum in the back of her mind told her that he was fast asleep.

Wiggling slowly so as not to wake the somnolent Time Lord, she twisted herself onto her other side. He had thrown his leg, surprisingly heavy, over hers, requiring a deft rotation of her hips to turn over. The cotton pyjamas they both wore stuck to each other like Velcro, she noted with a pout. Shifting up toward the head of the bed, she was finally able to get a good look at his face.

Rarely was he seen so still and quiet. She had only seen him like this one other time, right after he had regenerated. Relaxed in sleep, his face seemed so smooth and youthful; the dusting of freckles across his cheeks and nose only made him seem more so. His thick luscious lashes put hers to shame, she thought to herself. She wondered idly how they’d look with a coating of mascara. Unconsciously, her tongue poked out between her teeth in amusement. Spikes of thick chestnut hair, mussed overnight by a pillow, pointed adorably in every direction. She could definitely stand waking to such a vision every morning.

As she raised her hand to lightly brush the delicate shell of his ear, she suddenly became aware that she was being watched through barely slit, sleepy eyelids.

“Hello,” Rose whispered, a small smile tugging at her lips.

“Hello,” he responded gravelly. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah. Why? Do I look like a banshee?” She reached up to finger-comb her tousled hair into place.

His arm tightened about her waist. “You’re the loveliest sight I’ve ever awakened to,” he smiled gently. “But I thought I felt you upset about something. Was I dreaming that?”

“Oh. It was the wall. Kinda gave me a start when I first woke up.”

He pushed himself up a bit onto an elbow to view the wall behind her, blinking it into focus. “Ah, yeah… can see why. Should really help her to paint that a different colour. Maybe a nice coral?”

Rose chuckled softly. “Hmmm, the Doctor; Interior Design Extraordinaire. Has a ring to it, yeah?”

“The ringing would probably be in my head after Hal gives me a whack for trying to redecorate the place.”

“She wouldn’t! Would she?”

“She does that,” he smiled. “I need someone to keep me in line, you know.”

“I can do that,” Rose said, casually noting the gold flecks in his irises as she stared deep into his eyes. She paused for a second. “Are you ok now?”

“A little less… randy, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Pity,” Rose grinned, wriggling to roll over onto her back.

“Cheeky vixen. Don’t tempt me.”

“That reminds me,” said Rose. “Are you free one night this week? There’s a movie I’d like to see.”

He shifted a little closer. “Are you askin’ me on a date, Rose Tyler?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

He paused thoughtfully before responding. “How ‘bout Wednesday? We could go somewhere nice for dinner first.”

“Such a long time from now,” pouted Rose.

The Doctor seemed transfixed by her pouty lips, staring at them hungrily. “Need to get reservations, you know. And other things…” he said dreamily. He bent over to capture her mouth in a lazy, sensuous kiss. Rose lifted her head to deepen it, but he pulled back slightly.

“Sorry,” he mumbled bashfully, a pink flush rushing to his ears. “Morning breath. Need to brush my teeth.”

Rose gave him a crooked grin. “Didya worry ‘bout that when you were full-Time Lord?”

He shook his head. “Nah. Never had it, really. Never slept for hours on end, for one. I’ll never forget the first time I slept eight hours after I got here. Woke up, thought something had crawled into my mouth and used it for a privy.” They both burst into laughter just as they heard a sharp rap on the bedroom door frame.

Hal was leaning against the door frame, a smile on her lips. “Good morning. Are you two ever getting up? It’s kind of lonely out here. I can only drink so much coffee before I go Beavis and start vacuuming.”

“Good morning, O’ Great and Argus-Eyed Bundling Board!” saucily intoned the Doctor as he rolled to sit up. “Yon maiden’s virtue is intact still.”

Hal cast her eyes mockingly to the ceiling. “Will wonders never cease.”

“Mornin’, Hal,” Rose said sweetly. “I could use a spot of tea once I clean up a bit.”

“No problem. I laundered your clothes and placed them on top of the dresser over there,” she said, nodding toward a large cherry dresser along the wall. “Linens and toiletries are in the bathroom. It’s rather small, I’m afraid.”

“No smaller than the one in my flat!” chuckled Rose. “Maybe we ough’ta buy a big house together with lots of roomy bathrooms, yeah?”

Rose’s jaw dropped at the audacity of her own suggestion. The Doctor and Hal stared at her in wide-eyed wonder.

“Uhm… too domestic?” she squeaked, face burning in consternation.

She felt the Doctor’s mind brush hers, as if probing gently for her motivations. A faint glimmer of hope and astonishment emanate from him.

“I’d do domestic… if it’s with you,” he breathed. Rose broke into a relieved smile. She and the Doctor glanced together at Hal, who was gazing into nothingness at her feet. A poker face gave away nothing.

“Hal?” asked the Doctor gently, concerned about Hal’s silence.

“Why would you want me hanging around?” she asked flatly. Hal did not meet their eyes or change her expression.

Rose looked pleadingly at the Doctor, not knowing what to say. He rolled smoothly off the bed in response and approached Hal.

“Rose wouldn’t have said that if she didn’t mean it,” he said sombrely, holding Hal by the shoulders. “You already know how I feel. How would moving in with us be any different from living with your sister? You’ve lived with her most of your life, haven’t you?”

“Yeah,” sighed Hal. “She said I was… kind of rubbish… on my own. I thought maybe… I thought perhaps I could prove I’d be ok on my own here.” Hal held her arms out to indicate the flat, her tiny cave for so many years. “I had Sid to keep me sane.” She didn’t meet his eyes, afraid he would see the desperate loneliness that was beginning to consume her. The sudden realisation that the Doctor had blasted through her carefully constructed armour left her uneasy. Her life had irreversibly altered since meeting the strange half-alien being.

“You’ve successfully lived alone for five years, Hal. Isn’t that proof enough that you can do it?”

She shrugged nonchalantly. “Have you even set a date yet?” she asked obliquely, finally meeting his eyes with a wry smile.

“We’re going out Wednesday night to dinner and a movie,” he proclaimed proudly, favouring Rose with a huge grin.

Rose sputtered in mirth, clasping a hand over her mouth. “Oh, Doctor,” she finally choked out. “I think she meant a… uh… a weddin’ date, you nutter!”

“Oh. Ooooh!” he groaned, slapping his forehead. “Am I thick, or what?”

“You really want me to answer that question?” Hal asked, cocking an eyebrow at him.

“Let’s talk about that over breakfast,” Rose said, gathering her clothing. “I’ll take the bathroom first, if that’s ok with you, Doctor.”

“Oh, certainly,” he replied, still keeping his eye on Hal. He waited until Rose closed the bathroom door.

“Nice deflection, Hal. But you’re talking to a tactical master,” he said in a serious tone. “What’s wrong? I can see that this isn’t enough for you any longer. Sid’s a great computer, but he’s hardly family. What’s holding you back?”

Hal looked away, swallowing hard. “Isn’t it enough that I’ll eventually be separated from you? Now you want me to expand my family… increase the scope of the pain? So, what if you and Rose start having kids? A lot can happen in the five years you’re waiting for the TARDIS to mature.”

“I would want our children to have a loving aunt who understands them; understands what it is to be different and brilliant,” the Doctor said quietly.

“You would do that to me and to them? Hal turned back to search his eyes for an answer. The challenge in her dark sapphire blue orbs blazed boldly, but a mist was gathering that the Doctor couldn’t help but notice. He took both her hands in his.

“Maybe you belong here with us.”

Hal closed her eyes tightly in pain. “I can’t,” she whispered hoarsely. “You know I can’t. Every year that I am here, I age a year-and-a-half compared to Prime.” She looked at him again in agony. “I’’ll be elderly when she’s middle-aged!”

“We’ll have a TARDIS, Hal. We’ll be able to go back later in time so that doesn’t happen, you know that. We’ll just have to be careful not to cross our own timelines,” he tried to assure her.

“You’re assuming we manage to create a safe and reliable passage through the Void. We may not. It may be all that we can do to get you and Rose back here. And even if we could create a stable passage, timing it would only work for a little while. When one of us is gone, it won’t matter what universe we’re in. We’ll know immediately, and I definitely won’t survive it. Maybe Alan and the babies could persuade her… but, I have to go back, I’m sorry! So, please… don’t expect me to add to the pain I know I’m going to feel when you’re back here. It’s too much for me.”

The Doctor sighed sadly. “You’re so, so very much like me, Hal.” He stepped forward and pressed his forehead against hers. “You’ve seen what a misery guts I was; how much the other Doctor still is. He’s terrified of accepting love; completely wrapped up in fear of loss. He’d rather be miserable and lonely for the rest of his existence than watch someone he loves die before him. What kind of life is that? It’s not really living, is it? Time is promised to no one. He never really thought about how unfair he was being to those he loved, either.”

“Oh boy, here comes the guilt manoeuvre,” groaned Hal. “Learn that trick from Jackie?”

“Nine hundred years old, me. I could teach her a thing or two.” He leaned back, fixing Hal with an understanding look. “Perhaps it’s Rose and I who stay in Prime.”

Hal gave him a stunned look. “Are you kidding me? Have you talked to her about taking her back to Prime? Does she even know what you’re planning?”

“Yes, I’ve told her,” he said with a soft smile.

“You’d take her away from her family? Permanently?”

“It’s Rose’s decision, ultimately,” he replied. “She knows that if we survive the trip to Prime, we may be stuck there forever.”

“And the other Doctor?” Hal asked, knowing she didn’t need to explain further.

“That, too, is her decision,” he nodded.

“You’d take that risk, knowing how she feels about him?”

He gazed vacantly into the distance for a second, examining his feelings briefly. “Yes,” he finally answered simply.

“Why?”

“I have to believe in our bond. We’ll have five years together before that happens. If we aren’t strong enough by then to overcome a memory, then something about us is wrong.”

Hal smiled. “If it makes any difference, Doctor, I believe you will be much stronger than that. I just wanted to make sure that you believed that.”

“I hope you’re right,” he smiled back. “Just promise me you’ll consider staying with us. Come with us to pick out the right place. You might find something you like.”

Rose stepped out of the bathroom fully dressed, a towel wrapped around her wet tresses. “Well,” she said expectantly, “is it decided?”

“Not quite,” responded the Doctor with a smirk. “I’m working on it.”

“We could find a place with lots of room on the lower level for Sid,” Rose remarked.

“Yup,” chimed in the Doctor. “And he could keep company with the baby TARDIS. She’ll outgrow the growth chamber at some point. It would be wonderful to have her finish growing in our home.”

“Two against one… not fair,” Hal sniffed.

“What’s that you told me about fair? Something like, it’s where you get a corndog and candy floss?” the Doctor chuckled.

“Something like that,” Hal said with a roll of her eyes.

“You’re up, Doctor,” said Rose.

“I am?” he asked in confusion, looking down.

“Shower! It’s your turn to shower before breakfast,” she snarked at him in exasperation.

“Oooooh, I see. Did I hear a bit of Jackie in that tone?” he mock-whinged.

“Better get used to it,” Rose snipped in a perfect imitation of Jackie Tyler, hands on hips.

“I see my work here is done,” Hal sang cheekily as she spun on her heels to go back to the kitchen.

Rose followed Hal to the kitchen as a pouting Doctor slipped into the bathroom for his shower.

Breakfast was a peaceful affair, once the Doctor got told off for sticking his fingers into the Nutella jar. He considered it a fair trade-off, considering he got the whole container to himself as a result. Hal decided not to tempt him and secreted the marmalade jar into the cabinet, not unnoticed by the keen eye of the Doctor. He pulled a face, but contented himself with his nearly full jar of ill-gotten goods.

“So, when do you think you’ll want to get married?” asked Hal casually. “You’ll need to tell Jackie so she can start arrangements.”

“We can elope,” snapped the Doctor, a look of complete horror on his face at the idea of Jackie making their wedding plans.

“Mum’ll kill us,” Rose informed him without a trace of amusement.

“Not if she doesn’t know,” he insisted.

“There’s no way we can get married anywhere within the UK without her and Pete knowing.”

“Weeelll, we’ll be in Arizona next week,” drawled Hal.

“How long would it take to get a marriage license in Arizona, Hal?” asked Rose, suddenly excited by the idea.

“If it’s anything like back in Prime, you can buy a license and get married the same day. Seeing that this Arizona is part of Mexico, I’m not too sure. Doubt it would take two weeks, though. It would probably take weeks, if ever, for the news to get back here,” Hal said.

“Oh, that’s brilliant,” breathed the Doctor, eyes wide.

Rose looked a bit dazed. “Next week…” she pondered. “I jus’ thought… We’d spend our weddin’ night in a tent?!?”

Hal burst into high-pitched laughter, almost bending double at the look on Rose’s face. “No, no, no… none of that! I’ll stay in the tent, but I’ll drop you two off at a hotel somewhere. No way would I want you two sharing your wedding night with me, thank you very much! A thousand acres isn’t big enough, even with a separate tent.”

“Where’s the nearest large town, Hal?” asked the Doctor.

“Well, depends on your definition of large. I would say maybe Show Low – Pine Top, although they aren’t exactly large towns. If you want a decent metropolitan area, there’s Flagstaff about two hours away. But the Show Low area has lots of nice, clean hotel chains and isn’t too far away.”

Rose brightened. “I like that idea. What do you think, Doctor?”

“I wish it were this week,” he said wistfully. “But yeah, I think that’s a fabulous idea.”

“Excellent, I’ll do some research to work out the details,” Hal said. “Right now, I need to do some much needed maintenance on Sid downstairs. Think you can behave yourselves?”

Rose and the Doctor looked guiltily at each other. “Uh, yeah,” the Doctor muttered lamely. “We’ll stay here and talk.”

“Hal reminds me of you, always tinkerin’ with the TARDIS,” grinned Rose.

Hal pursed her lips as if suppressing a snide response. “Alright, then. Give me an hour and I’ll be right back.” She trotted into the living room and down the stairs, carefully hiding the knowing smile on her face.

The Doctor and Rose listened as the sound of Hal’s footsteps faded down the stairs. They stared at each other expectantly for a minute, wondering who would start first. Taking a deep breath, Rose flashed him a big smile.

“Are you alright?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.

“I’m always alright,” he answered automatically, examining a small crack in the kitchen floor tiles. He checked himself and looked up. “Stupid answer. You never believed me when I said that, did you?”

“I always thought it was Time Lord-speak for very not alright.”

“You’d have been correct,” he said quietly.

“What about now? You seem kind’a subdued, like.”

“No, really, I’m alright. Just a little embarrassed, is all.” He self-consciously rubbed his neck, a very familiar and very Doctor-like gesture to Rose.

Her brows knitted. “’Bout what, exactly? About us makin’ plans to marry?”

“Oh, no! Never that, Rose. It was my idea to elope, remember? It’s just that… well… I’m not used to being out of control like I was yesterday. Hate bein’ out of control, really. Even if it’s the most wonderful feeling in the universe.”

“Was it? The most wonderful feelin’ in the universe?” Rose asked, holding her breath and chewing on her bottom lip.

“It was,” he answered, nodding rapidly and emphatically. “I’ve never felt anything like it, ever. I’m still giddy, to be honest. It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught, that Time Lords aren’t supposed to have emotions like this. We were supposed to watch, not participate. We were supposed to observe emotions and their effects, and then objectively catalogue them; not indulge in them.”

“So, you didn’t love your wife?”

He sucked in a deep breath, chose his words carefully. “I did, at least in the beginning. I think I was enamoured of her, more than anything. She epitomised the ideal Time Lady. She was from one of the oldest and greatest Houses, like my own. Everything about her was refined, and her manner and social graces were impeccable, quite unlike my own. She had the type of breeding that every Time Lord sought in a mate. I guess I was lucky, in a way, that our marriage had been arranged when we were children, because I’d never have successfully wooed someone like her.”

“Was she… pretty?” Rose chewed at her bottom lip again after asking the question. She had to know, although she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to know.

“Perhaps I should show you, and you can decide for yourself,” he responded. He reached across the table, fingers held in position to touch her face, and paused. Rose nodded and leaned forward to make contact. She felt his chilled fingers shake a bit as they settled on her temple, then the warmth of his presence in her mind caused their bond to flare up.

She closed her eyes, and immediately the image of a woman arose in her mind. A beautiful woman, appearing about thirty years-old, swam into view. She had high cheekbones, a softly triangular face, and cupid-bow lips that seemed naturally rouged. Her hair was dark, almost black, and fell in soft waves to her shoulders. Most remarkable of all were her eyes, which were a striking clear light blue surrounded by long thick lashes. The contrast between her eyes and colouring was startling. Rose thought her loveliness was only exceeded by the haughty expression on her face. She did not look like she suffered fools gladly, to say the least.

She’s beautiful, Rose said.

She was, the Doctor replied telepathically. She is no more.

And you left her?

Yes, said the Doctor softly. I left her and Gallifrey behind and travelled only with my granddaughter, Susan.

What did Susan look like?

He showed her; a young girl who appeared about sixteen or seventeen. Fresh-faced and innocent with wide doe-like hazel eyes, she seemed too delicate to handle the rigors of life on the TARDIS. Her dark auburn hair was cut in a cute short bob.

She fell in love with and married a human on Earth, the Doctor told her with a mixture of grief, pride and guilt.

Rose was stunned. What happened to her? If she was on Earth, did she survive the Time War?

No, she didn’t survive it, he said sadly. None of them did. The destruction of Gallifrey and the Eye of Harmony reverberated throughout Time and Space to wipe out every Time Lord in existence across the universe. They and many of the other time-sensitive races just… ceased to exist. There were no survivors.

But you survived, Rose stated, struggling to understand the full impact of the Time War. Why did you survive if all the other Time Lords disappeared?

Rose started as a scene faded in around her. She found herself standing in tall blood-red grass blowing gently in a warm breeze. Two suns beat down from an orange-tinged sky surrounded by rocky outcroppings on the horizon. Rising tall and stately in the distance was a domed city of tall spires, some styled in a corkscrew pattern that reminded her of Eastern architectures on Earth. Nearby, tall silver-leafed trees scattered beams of light as the leaves rustled in the breeze. An exotic blend of fragrant unseen blossoms filled her nostrils with a heady, woody and spicy aroma that reminded her of the Doctor. Sometimes, when she buried her face into his neck, a very similar woodsy spiciness wafted from his skin like natural cologne.

“I survived because I wasn’t here… I was at the heart of the storm,” he said.

Rose turned to find the Doctor standing at her side, wearing his blue suit and white trainers, a crimson tie knotted around his neck. Hands in pockets, shoulders slumped, he appeared wearier, sadder, and far older than she’d ever seen him before. His eyes were so dark, so deeply ancient, that it wasn’t difficult to imagine he was hundreds of years old. Without a moment’s thought, she reached to pull one of his hands free and laced her fingers through his.

“This is Gallifrey,” she said with certainty.

“Yes,” he said simply. “The Shining World of the Seven Systems, it was called; the birthplace, home and burial ground of the entire Gallifreyan race. The city you see is the Capitol; also known as the Citadel, the home of the Time Lords.”

The scene faded, and they appeared on the floor of a gigantic auditorium of some type. Stairs and huge turquoise flying buttresses surrounded them in-line with the six-sided floor. Oval seating platforms projected from seemingly nowhere along the walls. In each corner, a dark statue austerely stood guard, each figure a different person. On one open area of a wall, a large gold and black symbol was conspicuously affixed and back-lighted. It looked to Rose somewhat like an Infinity symbol turned on end, but in a restrained Baroque style.

“This was the Panopticon, the meeting place of the Council of Time Lords. Beneath our feet lay the Eye of Harmony, a controlled, artificially-created black hole put in place by the Time Lord founders, Rassilon, Omega and the Other. It was the source of power for all of Gallifrey and TARDISes, allowing us to travel Time and Space,” he told her.

“The Time Lords were a very arrogant and xenophobic people, Rose. Most of them refused to leave Gallifrey and travel. I led many of the field forces in the War, and it was one of the most vicious, grisly and bloody series of battles the universe ever saw. Most of the younger and non-time sensitive races were totally oblivious to what was going on around them. When the Daleks beat the Time Lords back to Gallifrey, we were virtually sitting ducks. Once Gallifrey fell, there was no defence against them. They broke through the protective barrier dome and overran the Citadel.”

He turned to Rose, a picture of abject misery and regret. “We knew we had lost. Once Gallifrey was defeated, the Daleks would conquer and enslave every race in the universe, and destroy what they couldn’t conquer. I was given orders from the High Council to destroy the Eye of Harmony and all of Gallifrey, and to time lock Gallifrey so that no one would ever be able to go back to it.”

Rose gasped, dropping his hand and clasping both hands over her mouth. Eyes widened in horror, she shook her head vociferously in denial.

“No! No!!” Rose backed away, tears springing to her eyes and streaming down her face with impossible speed.

The Doctor visibly deflated, rocked by intense waves of disbelief, disgust and horror echoing through the bond. In an instant, all hope evaporated as Rose spun around and presented her back to him. He couldn’t blame her for not wanting to look at him. With nothing more left to lose, he continued on.

“Yes. I killed all of my people, including my entire family. I was the one who destroyed Gallifrey, the Daleks and billions of other lives in one swift press of a button,” he stated mournfully in a quavering voice. “I don’t know why I survived; I didn’t expect to, nor did I want to. And the worst part is that the Daleks still survived somehow. It was all for nothing. I lived up to my name: The Destroyer of Worlds; Ka Faraq Gatri, the Bringer of Darkness. The greatest murderer who ever existed.

He closed his eyes, no longer able to watch the heaving shoulders, or listen to the racking sobs, of the woman he loved. He didn’t deserve her. She didn’t deserve the pain he had put her through; the disillusionment of seeing her hero had base brass feet. Worse, actually. He was a devil in disguise. He held the bond open, allowing her violent emotions to lash him as he felt his single heart shatter into a million sharp irreparable pieces. He hoped the unbearable pain would push him over the edge, stop his heart, and end his tortuous existence.

He let out a started gasp as he felt arms wrap around him, warm tears soaking into the fabric of his oxford. Confused, he looked down to see the top of Rose’s blond hair, a quarter inch of new brown growth peeking up from her scalp. She was still sobbing hysterically. Not knowing what to do, not understanding why she would want to touch him or be anywhere near him, he embraced her anyway. He dared not hope, so he held her quietly and silently. After what seemed like a lifetime, Rose’s choked cries slowed.

“Why would they… do… that… to… you?” she asked between choking sobs. “Why did they… make you… choose?

Shocked speechless, he could only stare at her agape, his mind reeling in turmoil and astonishment.

Rose looked up to his face, her reddened eyes swollen almost shut. “Why, Doctor? Why did they make you choose? Between the universe an’ your people? Your planet? Your entire family? Billions of others? WHY?!? How could they do that?” She clutched his shirt, pulling at it in agony, demanding an answer to her question.

His lips move soundless at first. Finally, he found his voice.

“Because I was the only one who could. Because I was the only one who would do it. I was a rebel. I was the least Time Lordish of the Time Lords.”

“’Es not FAIR!” she shouted angrily. “They made ya do it, and YOU HAD NO CHOICE! It was them or the universe! What bloody choice did ya have, Doctor?!?”

He shook his head, his mind still spinning out of control. “But I did have a choice. I could have refused and tried to find another way. I was a rebel who, for once in his life, didn’t rebel.”

“NO, YOU DIDN’T HAVE A CHOICE!” Rose shouted at him. “I wouldn’t be here now if you hadn’t done what ya had to do. None of us would be here! But why did they pick you? Why did it hafta be you??? Why wasn’t it one of them that made the decision who got picked to do it? One of the High Council? They’re a buncha COWARDS, that’s why!!”

Struck dumb once again, he simply stared at her enraged, reddened face. Her lips were pushed out in grim righteous anger, her brown eyes flashing a fire he’d never seen before in her features, and he marvelled at the sight.

“All of this time, you been carryin’ around all that pain, all that guilt. You been hidin’ it and tryin’ to ignore it. You said you were always alright, when any fool could see ya weren’t. You been pushin’ away love ‘cause you didn’t feel you deserved it, and it ain’t your fault! You didn’t start the War. None of this was your fault,” she said, gradually lowering her voice. She placed her hand on his cheek.

“But… but it was, Rose,” he protested. “The Time War was my fault. I was sent to Skaro to try to handicap the Daleks. To erase them from the timeline, if necessary. It’s because I tampered with them that they declared war on the Time Lords, Rose. I started the War.”

Rose snorted, the fire in her eyes burning brighter. “Then it’s their stupid fault, again! They sent you there on a mission, so it’s the Time Lords’ fault an’… an’ they brought it on themselves. It wasn’t your fault, Doctor. Nothin’ you can say will ever convince me otherwise. They used you! ‘Es not your fault. You here me? ‘Es… not… your… fault.”

He trembled as his legs suddenly lost their strength. He felt his heart pounding in his chest, swelling to the bursting point with myriad emotions he couldn’t put words to. His breath came in ragged gulps that he couldn’t bring under control. The scenery around him blurred, began to spin as he lost the ability to project the vision and fell out of it.

They were in the kitchen again, his hand having disconnected from Rose’s face and fallen to the table. Red-rimmed eyes met his as he gasped, his eyes wide as saucers and visage so pale that his freckles stood out like liver spots. Sliding bonelessly from the chair, he dropped to his knees and keeled in slow-motion, face-forward onto the floor.

“Doctor! What’s wrong?!” Dropping to the floor in front of him in anguish, Rose tried to pull his torso up, but he wrapped his arms around his head and neck, groaning and refusing to budge. She could feel the tumultuous whirlpool of extreme emotion flooding the bond, but she couldn’t make sense of it. Terrified, she reached out psychically to Hal in a wordless plea for help.

She could hear Hal’s footsteps as they pounded up the stairs two at a time. She appeared at the doorway, panting and taking in the scene at her feet.

“Help me,” Rose whispered, locking eyes with Hal. “I… I dunno what’s wrong with him.”

“I knew he was upset, but I thought he had it under control.” Hal dropped to her knees next to the Doctor and placed her hands at his temples, closing her eyes.

“Oh, you fool… let go!” she whispered into his ear. “It’s ok. You don’t need the pain any longer. It served you well, but now it’s time to let it go.”

He sucked in a breath and held it, rocking to and fro. Straightening, Hal grabbed Rose’s hands and brought them up to his face.

“Reach out to him, Rose. He needs to let go of the pain he’s bottled up since the Time War. He doesn’t know how to live without it. He’s afraid to let it go! He’s afraid it might consume him if he doesn’t control it. He needs to know you are truly there for him.”

Rose nodded and placed her fingertips on both sides of his face, scrunching her eyes together as she concentrated on their bond. She pushed herself against the wall of terror, calling to the Doctor as she swam against the tide of bitter anguish.

Doctor! Doctor, I’m here! Don’t do this to yourself, please. Let it go! Let me share this with you. You don’t have to do it alone anymore. I promise you, whatever happens, I’m here for you! Do you hear me?!?

She felt him respond, ever so faintly; like a tiny voice lost in a hurricane, she heard him.

Rose… Rose… I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve your love. I don’t deserve forgiveness, he whispered into her mind. Such sadness, such pain and regret poured from him that her heart broke.

Please, Doctor! Don’t leave me alone!! I’ve only jus’ found you again. I can’t bare it! Why do you always leave me behind? What do I keep doin’ wrong?!? PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME AGAIN!!

At Rose’s final cry, the mental maelstrom buffeting her suddenly dissipated and died away. She pushed deeper into his mind, not caring if it was an intrusion or violation. He was her Doctor, and she would make him safe.

Yes! Yes, that’s it, Rose, she heard Hal’s voice reverberate in her head. Go after him. You are the Bad Wolf, and he is yours. CLAIM HIM!

Rose felt a familiar power rising within her, golden tendrils of fire sweeping through her from an inferno buried deep within her mind. She surged into him, lighting the darkness and burning away every obstacle that dared to oppose her. In the distance, she could hear his ragged breath as she honed in on his centre like a guided missile, determined to find the very core of him. She poured herself into him, filling every nook and cranny of his enormous mind, flinging dusty, long-forgotten doors open along the way, dismissing their contents as irrelevant to her goal.

Awestruck, the Doctor could do nothing against the onslaught of Rose’s advance. He could only submit in dazed wonder to her relentless power. Dropping all of his defences, he opened himself completely in welcome as she raced through every iota of his being, laying claim to all that he was and all that he would ever be. He groaned as she penetrated the very core of his being, impossibly stretching and filling him with the power of her love.

He was a Time Lord, and she a human woman. She shouldn’t be able to take on his consciousness so fully, and yet, she was. A new core formed, burning impossibly hot and bright as a supernova. It ignited, and for a brief instantaneous moment they transmuted into One. As One, they saw all that ever was; all that is; all that ever could be in a flash of blissful insight that quickly faded as they drifted slowly apart, but not entirely apart.

Rose blazed in his mind, a presence so deep and so right that he wondered at how he had existed without it. He opened his eyes and sat up to stare into hazel eyes that reflected the same wonder. Their bond flared with an unspeakable joy that they could barely contain, and for the first time in his life he knew contentment. He was still the Doctor, and his pain would always be with him, but it no longer ruled him. His heart and soul now belonged to the pink and yellow vision of light before him.

“Rose,” he said quietly.

“Doctor.”

He reached up to tenderly clasp her chin before leaning forward to whisper into her ear and into the bond.

Rose heard and felt a musical series of sounds fall from his lips; lilting Gallifreyan words of import that burned their way into her soul. She smiled as the vision of the Doctor in all of his incarnations, the very essence of his being, and all of his future potential sprang into her mind. She knew the name as well as she knew her own, and she leaned back to kiss him gently on the lips.

Rose leaned forward again and, without a single stammer or pause, whispered her Gallifreyan name into his ear and through the bond. She saw the Doctor’s eyes mist with the knowledge that this was the first time it was ever spoken. It embodied all that she was, all that the human name Rose Marion Tyler could not, and it seared itself onto his willing heart. They smiled broadly as the Doctor rose to his feet, pulling Rose up before planting a kiss on each hand.

He turned around to Hal, who sniffled and daubed at her eyes.

“Are you actually crying, you old softie?” he asked, laughter in his eyes.

“Yeah,” she sniffed, “but not for the reason you think. Do you have any idea what hard work you two are? I’m just glad it’s finally done.”

“Bet she cries at our weddin’,” teased Rose.

“You’re already married, so what’s there to cry about?”

“Yup,” laughed the Doctor. “She’ll cry.”

“Shut up or I’ll give you a basket of pears for your wedding present,” Hal huffed. “Oh, and congratulations Mr. and Mrs… whatever it is.”

Rose and the Doctor glanced at each other and chuckled. “Hadn’t thought about that one,” Rose said.

“Just tell me it won’t be Longbarrow,” Hal sighed.

“Weeelll, uhm…” the Doctor started to say.

“Absolutely not!” snapped Rose, hand on hip.

The Doctor looked back at Rose in mild shock, clamped his mouth tightly shut, and turned back to Hal with a smile.

“Yup, you are definitely a married man, Doctor,” Hal chortled with a crooked grin. “Good boy. You learn quickly.”