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The Doctor slipped a pendant around Rose’s neck as Pete activated his teleporter, transporting them all to Pete’s world with everyone else. She looked around at the alternate Canary Wharf and said, “Oh no, you don’t. You’re not doing that to me again.”

 

She hit the button and found herself back in her home universe. “That must be the on switch, not so difficult.”

 

The Doctor looked up at her from where he was hunched over a desk, surprised, and went to her. His face was stern and he grabbed her upper arms. “Once the breach collapses, that’s it! You will never see her again. Your own mother!”

 

She knew that, of course she knew that; wasn’t he listening? “I made my choice a long time ago, and I’m never gonna leave you. So, what can I do to help?” They stared at each other; her unyielding and him disbelieving.

 

A computer’s voice interrupted them, “Systems rebooted. Open access.”

 

Time was of the essence. She knew it, he knew it, and there wasn’t time for this argument. “Those coordinates over there, set them all at six.” He pointed and she went. Rose took off the teleporter and resisted the urge to chuck it out a window. “And hurry up!” the Doctor shouted.

 

A notification beeped on the computer she was using. “We’ve got cybermen on the way up,” she told the Doctor.

 

“How many floors down?” he asked, coming to stand behind her, looking at the screen from over her shoulder.

 

The screen showed the cybermen steadily making their way up the stairs to them. “Just one,” she said.

 

The Doctor sprang into action back into Yvonne’s office. He retrieved the magnaclamps and hit a few keys on her desktop and an automated voice said, “Levers operational.”

 

He looked up at her in the doorway and she said, “That’s more like it. Bit of a smile. The old team.”

 

“Hope and Glory, Mutt and Jeff, Shiver and Shake,” the Doctor said, enthusiasm not quite there, but close. He handed her a clamp and she let out an oof when he let go of it. It wasn’t heavy, just awkward.

 

The Doctor left the office to attach his clamp to the wall next to one of the levers. She moved to follow him but noticed a bag on the floor with some strips of thick fabric coming out. Prodding it, she found the bag was full of, what? Rock climbing gear? Ropes, carabiners, a pair of sport trainers, but most importantly: harnesses.

 

Her mind flashed with the image of the Doctor falling through the portal. Him being sucked in and having to watch helplessly as he fell out of her grasp forever, trapped in the void between worlds. Unreachable.

 

She grabbed two harnesses, a couple of the carabiners, and some rope from the bag and followed hm out. “Which one’s Shiver?” she asked.

 

“Oh, I’m Shake.”

 

“Well then, Shake,” she said. “Safety first.” Rose threw half of the gear at him as he finished securing his mangaclamp to the wall.

 

The Doctor grabbed it handily and said, “Oh, brilliant, Rose Tyler! I love safety. Safety first is my middle name.”

 

She laughed, “It is not!”

 

“As far as you know! But where's you find these?”

 

Rose shrugged as she attached her clamp to the wall and then herself to the clamp, with just enough slack to still be able to reach the lever. “Seems like Miss Hartman was a rock climber.”

 

“Suppose we all have hobbies.”

 

“Yeah, and what’s yours? Getting us into trouble?”

 

“Oh, you know that’s just the stuff in between!”

 

They started to hear the mechanical voices of the daleks get closer; time was running out. The Doctor said, “When it starts, hold on tight. Shouldn’t be too bad for us but the daleks and the cybermen are steeped in void stuff. The harnesses will help, but I’d rather not rely on them if we can avoid it. Are you ready?” They both grabbed their levers.

 

She nodded and looked out the window. “So are they.” A group of daleks were floating outside the window, much too close for comfort.

 

“Let’s do it!” the Doctor shouted and they pushed up their levers before grabbing the magnaclamps.

 

The computer announced that the portal was online moments before they started to feel the rush of wind coming from the breach. The daleks from outside the window crashed through it and were pulled into the breach.

 

“The breach is open! Into the void!” he shouted and laughed. Quickly, daleks and cybermen started flying towards the void.

 

It was a struggle for both of them to keep any footing, traction on the floor or the casing for the levers was practically nonexistant, but they smiled at each other through it.

 

That is, until something on Rose’s lever began sparking, and it shifted downwards. With it, the suction started to decrease and the computer intoned, “Offline.”

 

Rose reached for it, and had to let go of the magnaclamp to touch it. She managed to get it back into position and once she did, the wind returned at full force.

 

She tried to keep a hold of the lever, but her fingers slipped off it, and she felt a sharp pain in her ribs as the harness caught her. She dangled from the end of the rope in the wind until it died down, and she crashed down to the floor.

 

The fall knocked the wind out of her and she laid there until the Doctor reached her, sliding on his knees.

 

“Rose? Rose, are you alright?” he said, cupping her face in his hands for a moment before undoing her harness.

 

“Yeah, yeah, I’m alright,” she said after a moment. She sat up and hissed in pain as she did so.

 

One of his arms came around her shoulder and Rose leaned into him. “What’s wrong? What hurts?”

 

“I think I hurt my ribs.”

 

The Doctor’s free hand fumbled in his jacket pocket and he pulled out his sonic screwdriver. He scanned her up and down and looked at the readout. “You cracked ribs eight and nine on your right side, from the harness.” He looked stricken. “Blimey, Rose, I don’t even want to think about—if you hadn’t found the harnesses. You could’ve—”

 

For once, his gob failed him and he pressed a lingering kiss to the top of her head before helping her up. His arm moved from her shoulder to lightly holding her around the waist.

 

Rose leaned her head against his shoulder. “It’s a little funny,” she said. “When I saw them, all I could picture was you falling through the breach. Never once considered it happening to me.”

 

The Doctor kissed her head again. “I’m sure you didn’t.”

 

Rose looked at the empty wall and hoped her mother was safe and not too angry with her. She looked up at him and their eyes met. “C’mon. Let’s go home.”

 

He nodded and asked, “Does it hurt too much to walk?”

 

“No, I’m okay, I can do it,” she said and they started to move towards the lift. The Doctor kept his arm around her waist and she didn’t need it, but she didn’t argue, either.

 

It was a surreal feeling, and she would have thought that this was what it was like to walk through a warzone, but she realized that it walking through a warzone was actually what is was. Walls were blown out, people’s bodies were lying on the ground, destruction and carnage left in the wake of the daleks and cybermen. In the wake of Torchwood’s foolishness.

 

Rose and the Doctor made it back to the TARDIS, and he had to help her into the back of the pickup truck that held it. The TARDIS projected sadness, sympathy, through the telepathic field as they walked through the console room and to the medbay.

 

He double checked her ribs (“Huh,” he’d said, “the sonic said before that you’d fractured these ribs, but it looks like you’ve only bruised them. Should be fine within the week, though.”) and gave her a medication that would speed up the healing. She hugged him after she took it, and they swayed back and forth quietly for a few long moments.

 

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

 

“Sleep for a week. Maybe a year,” she joked and she felt him huff a laugh. “But after that, I’ll need to go back to the flat.”

 

“Oh, right. Of course,” the Doctor said with a flat tone.

 

She pulled away from him just enough to look at him, face to face. “Hey, not forever. Just want to grab a few things.”

 

“Are you sure? I didn’t want to presume.”

 

“Do Time Lords have a different definition of ‘forever’? Because I’m getting the impression that they do.”

 

The Doctor chuckled and shook his head. “Just wanted to make sure. Sleep first, then the estate?”

 

Rose nodded and the Doctor led her out of the medbay by the hand. He held on until they reached the door to her room.

 

“Your stop,” he said and she giggled.

 

He started to walk away when she touched the door handle.

 

“Doctor?” she said before turning the handle.

 

He turned around and hummed at her, an eyebrow quirked upwards.

 

“Will you stay with me tonight? I don’t think I want to be alone right now.”  Rose played with her fingers while she spoke but kept her eyes firmly on his.

 

His face softened and he said, “Yeah. Just let me grab something, I’ll meet you there.”

 

Rose entered her room and grabbed a pair of pajamas from her wardrobe before going into her bathroom. She showered and got ready for bed, and barely registered that she only got out of bed eight or so hours ago. It was hardly six in the afternoon, Earth time, but she felt like she hadn’t slept in days.

 

The Doctor was already sitting on her bed when she came out. He was leaning against her headboard on top of her comforter, glasses on and fiddling with a glass topped interface. He had pajamas on, too, and a glass of water that hadn’t been there before sat on the nightstand on her side of the bed. He put the tablet down when she climbed into bed next to him. He lifted one arm and she curled under it, resting her head on his chest.

 

One of his hands came up to play with her hair, and she mumbled a goodnight to him before falling asleep. She didn’t know if he ended up saying it back to her.

 

She woke up some indeterminable amount of time later. The lights were off in the room, but the Doctor’s face was illuminated by the light of the tablet. He had the device propped up against one of his thighs and was using it one-handed. His other arm was still around Rose.

 

Rose readjusted her head on his chest and looked at the screen. The data was written in his circular language, untranslatable by the TARDIS, and graphs containing various frequencies fluctuated on the screen as well as what she thought could be a scanner.

 

“What’re you doing?” she asked, quiet.

 

“I’m looking to see if there are any weak parts in the walls of the universe to, ah, watch out for. Not sure if there was any additional damage done that could be dangerous. How are your ribs?”

 

She shifted, testing, and hummed at him. “Fine, no pain. Tell me how the scanner works?”

 

“You sure?”

 

She wasn’t sure if he was asking about the pain or the request. “Yeah, no pain. And, I like listening to you talk.”

 

He laughed, her head bobbing on his chest with the motion. “Should never tell me things like that, Rose.” He launched into an explanation on how the scanner worked and she appreciated that he tried to explain the process in as many layman’s terms as possible.

 

She followed along for a few minutes before being lulled back to sleep, comforted by the sound of his voice and the twin beats of his hearts.

 

------

 

The Doctor managed to park the TARDIS in her mother’s living room the day after Canary Wharf. “Sure you got the year right?” she asked as she stepped into the flat.

 

“Yes, yes. Will I ever live that down?”

 

“No, never,” she laughed and then sobered as she looked around the room. Everything was exactly the same as yesterday, because of course it was. Why should anything have changed?

 

Rose’s duffle bag full of laundry was still in the little entryway, dishes from her mum’s breakfast the day before in the sink, her tea cold and half-finished on the coffee table. She gingerly touched her mum’s favorite throw blanket, strewn across the couch, before picking it up and folding it neatly. She went into her bedroom and grabbed her empty laundry basket and put the blanket in it, carrying it back to the living room.

 

The Doctor stood in the middle of the living room. He looked directionless, standing there without his overcoat, hands stuck in his pockets.

 

“Could you take the pictures down and put them in this?” she asked, putting the basket down on the couch.

 

He nodded and did so while she went into the kitchen. She cleaned the half-empty mug to take with her—it was her mum’s favorite—and grabbed the box of tea from the cabinet. She put that stuff in the basket, wrapping the mug up in a kitchen towel to protect it.

 

Moving onto her mother's room, she lowered a box filled with stuff from her mum’s wedding to her dad (a photo album, a centerpiece from the reception, her wedding dress) from the top shelf of the closet. She grabbed that and some of the more sentimental jewelry from her mum’s dresser and brought them out to the living. Rose handed the box to the Doctor and he took that and the duffel into the TARDIS.

 

She grabbed the rest of the photo albums from the TV stand and put them into the basket as well. She looked around the room; she’d spent her whole life in this flat, she and her mum. Part of her wanted to figure out a way to stuff the whole apartment building into the TARDIS—could she really say that this was home if Jan and Marcus from two units down didn’t let the neighborhood into their domestics, or if old Mrs. Collins didn’t stop by to bring her and her mum biscuits?


Rose wondered briefly if her mum was still seeing Howard, the night eater. Probably not, if she was flirting with that guy from LINDA.

 

“Rose?” the Doctor prompted. She hadn’t noticed him come back into the flat, nor had she noticed her face getting wet from tears. He wiped her cheeks with his thumbs and pulled her into a hug. “Are you okay?” he asked.

 

“Yeah, ‘m okay,” she said. “It’s just hard figuring out what I actually want. To take with me, that is.” She wanted all of it, every scrap of this flat.

 

He nodded. “You know, we could always come back. Time it for a few minutes after we leave, in case you need something.”

 

She liked that idea. Liked knowing that with a time machine, her childhood home could be frozen in time for her to revisit if she wanted, even if her mum wasn’t there. “Bit like threading a needle with a rope though, isn’t it?”

 

“Hey! I’m going to start putting a limit on cracks about my driving. You get two a day from now on! Spend them wisely! And, no, they don’t roll over.”

 

She laughed and it felt like a release of tension, a wave of relief. “Only two?” she asked, stepping out of his arms and into the TARDIS, bringing the laundry basket in with her. The Doctor tried to take the basket it for her, thinking of her ribs, but they felt fine. She wanted to be the one to bring these things to her room, bring her mum.

 

He followed in behind her. “Well, you can have a third on Christmas.” He paused. “If you’re good.”

 

Rose pushed at his shoulder with a laugh. “Oh, shove off!” she said, carrying her basket passed the console towards her room.

 

While they were in her flat, the TARDIS rearranged her room. It grew a little, to accommodate an extra bookshelf next to her wardrobe and a chest at the end of her bed.

 

“Thanks, Old Girl,” Rose said when she saw it. She opened the chest and the Doctor put the wedding box in it and he helped her put the photos and the photo albums on the shelf.

 

“What now?” Rose asked after everything was settled, following him back into the console room.

 

“Well, I have an idea. Nothing big! No adventure involved. Thought we could take it easy for a little while; have a break from the running.”

 

“Alright, that sounds okay. What’s the idea?”

 

He grinned at her, flipping levers and pushing buttons and he danced around the console. The sound of the TARDIS’s flight rang through the room and she held on to a railing to stay upright. He landed with a thud and he walked to the doors.

 

When she met him there, he put one hand on the door and one hand on her back, leaning in. “Beyond this door is the year ninety-nine thousand, eight hundred and seventy-three,” he said with a wide grin, infectious. “It’s the height of the second Great and Bountiful Human Empire, and we’ve landed—” he paused for effect and opened the door. What sounded like chaos and smelled like a hundred different things drifted into the TARDIS. “—right inside a fantastic market that boasts the best fish and chips stand that has ever existed or will ever exist on the planet Earth.”

 

He exited the TARDIS and held out his hand for hers. She laced their fingers together followed him out, closing the door behind her.

 

“And,” he continued, “it’s the only shop still selling it in newspaper.”

 

“Do they still have newspapers?”

 

“Nope! The shop prints newsletters and menus using the same kind of materials, though, so it gives the same effect.” He pulled her along through the crowd.

 

While they waited, the Doctor explained how at the time, humanity had elected a golden retriever named Lucy as their leader, who made decisions using a series of buttons on the floor that she’d been trained to use. By his telling, Lucy had made cabinet appointments by sitting on their feet—and potential appointees had to be searched for treats beforehand and sanitized to prevent potential smells from influencing the decision.

 

It had led humanity into an unprecedented era of peace, he told her, and she didn’t believe a word of it.


“Oh, no?” he said and turned around to the couple behind them. “Excuse me, do you have any paper money on you? I want to show it to my friend here to settle a disagreement.” The two women he addressed looked at each other and shrugged, one pulling out her wallet and producing a bill.

 

A yellow piece of paper featured a smiling golden retriever that moved as she panted through a doggy smile. “Oh, my god. That’s a dog.”

 

“Yeah,” one of the women smiled. “We love President Lucy. Excellent foreign policy platforms, she has. We both voted for her twice.”

 

They thanked the women and turned back around. The Doctor threw an arm around her shoulders and said in her ear, “And you doubted me.”

 

She laughed and put her arm around his waist, keeping him there.

 

They waited in line for an hour, which made the Doctor grabbing her food for her from the counter after they paid and carrying it for her more than a bit upsetting.

 

“Aren’t we eating it here?”

 

“Nope! Come along!”

 

They made it back to the TARDIS and the Doctor handed Rose their baskets. She stole one of his chips in revenge for making her wait.

 

The Doctor was piloting the TARDIS out of her view from the jumpseat and said, “I saw that.”

 

“Did you now?” she said, taking another and propping her feet on the dash. He popped his head out from behind the center column and smiled at her, and she knew he didn’t really care.

 

The grinding stopped and the Doctor said, “Alright, here we are!”  but she hadn’t felt the TARDIS land.

 

“And where’s here?” she asked. “I didn’t feel us land anywhere.”

 

“Very good, Rose Tyler! That’s because we didn’t land anywhere.” He went to the doors of the TARDIS and opened them, and she gasped.

 

The TARDIS floated in space, prime seating for the nearby meteor shower, but something was different about them from the ones on Earth. They flashed in rainbows of color as they entered the planet’s atmosphere.

 

The Doctor sat down at the doorway, dangling his legs out of the TARDIS. Rose sat down next to him and handed him his basket.

 

She bit into a chip and said, “It’s so beautiful.”

 

“Well, it does its best, I suppose. Hard for it to stand out when you’re here, though,” he said, smiling big at her.

 

She bumped his shoulder with hers and said, “Shut it!” She was pleased though, and she knew he could tell. “But tell me, why do they look like that?”

 

“That planet, there? It’s completely uninhabitable by organic life, due to a special combination of elements in its atmosphere. But, those elements are highly reactive to an extremely rare element found in only a few places in the universe.”

 

“Let me guess, that extremely rare element is in those meteors?”

 

“Got it in one! So, the meteors break up in the planet’s atmosphere and explode when the element reacts with the atmosphere.”

 

“Then why are they so many different colors?”

 

“The meteor reacts differently with the different gasses in the atmosphere. It’s a phenomenon that only happens once every nine hundred billion years or so.”

 

They watched the meteor shower while they finished their meals. Rose set their baskets behind her and leaned into the Doctor’s side. He lifted his arm to wrap around her and she leaned further into him.

 

“Thank you,” she said.

 

“For the meteor shower? We can come back for the next one whenever you want. Well, whenever you want and in nine hundred billion years.”

 

She shook her head. “Not just the meteor shower. For offering to take a break. It was thoughtful of you.”

 

“Anything you need,” he said, kissing her forehead.

 

“But I want you to know that I love it—the adventure, the running, the danger. All of it. I love every part of this life with you, even if a break is nice every once in a while.”

 

He smiled at her, big and wide, and said, “It’s all the better for you being here.”

 

------

 

They did a few more of those low-risk adventures, as she’d taken to calling them (just enough to keep the Doctor from going stir-crazy), and spent long hours in the library or the media room. Rose discovered that the Doctor had over five hundred episodes of By the Light of the Asteroid saved in the data files.

 

“I didn’t know you liked soap operas, Doctor,” she’d said to him.

 

“It’s not just a soap opera, Rose. It’s art,” he’d replied.

 

He wasn’t wrong.

 

Two weeks passed this way when, one morning while Rose was making them tea, he shouted for her from the console room. She turned the burner off and left the kitchen.

 

She found him frantically fiddling with some of the settings on the center console, flicking his gaze back and forth between his work and three different monitors.

 

“What is it? Are we okay?” she asked, moving to stand by his side.

 

“Oh yes, yes, but we only have a few minutes for this to work.”

 

“What to work?”

 

“Rose? Rose is that you, sweetheart?” her mum’s voice filled the console room.

 

“Mum?” Rose turned around and saw a hologram of her mother in front of her.

 

“Rose, sweetie, why do you look like a ghost? I can see right through you.”

 

“Oh, I can fix that,” the Doctor said, fiddling with his sonic screwdriver. Her mum solidified and Rose tried to hug her. “No touch, I’m afraid. I’m sorry.”

 

“I can’t touch her?” her mum asked. “Why not? Why can’t you come here?”

 

“The universes would collapse.”

 

“So?” her mum said, and Rose and the Doctor laughed.

 

“We’re burning up a sun to get enough energy to do this. Even then, we only have a few minutes,” he continued.

 

“All that power and I still had to drive out to bleeding Norway?”

 

“Norway?” Rose asked.

 

“Yeah, some place called Darlig Ulv Stranden.”

 

“Dalek?” the Doctor asked.

 

“I don’t know—it means Mad Dog Bay, or something like that. Who cares?” Rose and the Doctor both made the connection to Bad Wolf, but neither could linger on its implications. “Oh, but Rose, I wish you were here! I’m pregnant, three months gone. Doctors think it’s gonna be a boy.”

 

Rose laughed, and she knew she was crying. “You are? So, you and Pete?”

 

“Yeah, it’s been about a year here already. He remembered his vows this time.”

 

“Good, good! It’s only been a couple weeks for us, here.” The Doctor touched her shoulder, a warning that time was running out. “Mum, Mum I love you so much. What are you naming the baby?”

 

“Not sure, yet, but we’re thinking Anthony. Could call him Tony. And I love you, too, sweetheart. So much. So, so much.” Her mum pointed at the Doctor and said, “Doctor, you’d better take care of—” she flickered out before she could finish.

 

Rose started crying in full, and the Doctor held her, tucking the top of her head under his chin.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Rose,” he said. “If I could find a way to take you home I would, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

 

She picked her head up and tightened her arms’ hold around his waist, and felt angry. “Do you think that I’d be happier if I got stuck over there? That I want to be there? That some random universe is more my home than here with you? I’m going to miss my mum forever but, Doctor, believe me when I say that if I were there, I’d be doing nothing but trying to figure out a way to come back here. To come back to you.”

He shook his head. “But, Rose, your mother—”

 

“No,” she interrupted him. “I love you,” she said, desperate, willing him to understand.

 

He breathed out heavily, a smile spread out on his face. The Doctor had a couple tears on his cheeks as well. “Quite right,” he said. “Well, then, Rose Tyler.” He took a deep breath. “I—what?”

 

She looked at him, confused, but he was looking over her head. She turned and saw a woman, fully attired in a wedding dress and veil. “What?” Rose said. Of all the possible timing.

 

The bride turned and asked, angry, “Who are you?”

 

“But—” the Doctor started.

 

“Where am I, eh?”

 

“How?” asked Rose.

 

“What the hell is this place?

 

“What? You can’t do that. I wasn’t—we’re in flight. That’s, that is physically impossible. How did—?”

 

“Tell me where I am. I demand you tell me right now: where am I?” At that point, she seemed to notice Rose standing beside the Doctor. “And you! Did he kidnap you, too? Why are you crying?”

 

Rose sniffled and said, “I’m fine, not kidnapped or anything. You’re in the TARDIS.”

 

“The what?”

 

“The TARDIS,” she repeated.

 

“The what?

 

“It’s called the TARDIS,” the Doctor said.

 

“That’s not even a proper word. You’re just saying things.”

 

“How did she get in here, Doctor?” Rose asked.

 

Before he could respond, the bride said, “Well, obviously, when you kidnapped me. Who was it? Who’s paying you? Is it Nerys? Oh my god, she’s finally got me back. This has got Nerys written all over it.”

 

“Who the hell is Nerys?” the Doctor asked.

 

“Your best friend.”

 

He looked at Rose. “Do we know a Nerys?” Rose shook her head. “And what are you dressed like that for?”

 

“Oh, I’m going ten pin bowling,” she said, in a false tone. “Why do you think, dumbo? I was halfway up the aisle!” She started pacing up and down the grating while she ranted. “I’ve been waiting all my life for this. I was just seconds away, and then you, I don’t know, you drugged me or something!”

 

“We haven’t done anything!” the Doctor said. He tried to look at Rose for help, but she just shrugged at him.

 

“I’m having the police on you! Me and my husband, as soon as he is my husband.” She started heading down the ramp to the door. “We’re going to sue the living backside off you!”

 

The Doctor and Rose followed her. “No, wait a minute!” the Doctor tried to warn her. “Wait a minute! Don’t!”

 

The bride opened the door and saw a pretty nebula, small in the distance. They’d been floating in space, fresh off of burning up a sun.

 

The Doctor and Rose moved to stand beside her in the doorway. “You’re in space, outer space. This is a space ship. It’s called the TARDIS,” he said, soft.

 

“TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It’s an acronym,” Rose adds.

 

“How am I breathing?” the bride asked.

 

“The TARDIS is protecting us,” said the Doctor.

 

“Who are you people?”

 

“I’m the Doctor, this is Rose. You?”

 

“Donna.”

 

“Human?” he asked.

 

“Yeah, that optional?”

 

“For him, it is,” Rose said.

 

They were quiet for a moment before Donna said, “It’s freezing with these doors open.” The Doctor reached over Rose and Donna and slammed the TARDIS doors shut.

 

He walked back to the center console, ranting. “I don’t understand this and I understand everything. This can’t happen! There is no way a human being can lock itself onto the TARDIS and transport itself inside. It should be impossible!”

 

The Doctor grabbed an ophthalmoscope and started examining Donna without a care for her personal space while he continued, “Some sort of subatomic connection? Something in the temporal field? Maybe something pulling—”

 

“Doctor,” Rose interrupted, or rather, tried to. He kept going, “—you into alignment with the Chronon shell. Maybe something macro mining your DNA within the interior matrix. Maybe a genetic—”

 

Donna slapped him.

 

“What was that for?” he asked, incredulous. “Rose, why did she slap me?”

 

“I’ll give you three guesses, first two don’t count,” she said with a laugh. She had tried to stop him.

 

“Get me to the church!” Donna yelled.

 

The Doctor threw the ophthalmoscope over his shoulder and said, “Right! Fine! We don’t want you here anyways! We were in the middle of something! Where is this wedding?”

 

“Saint Mary’s Hayden Road, Chiswick, London, England, Earth, the Solar System,” Donna listed out, spitting each word out in a sing song voice and Rose tried and fail to hide a snicker behind her hand.

 

“And you, missy! What’s so funny?”

 

“I’ve never seen him so scolded before!” The Doctor let out a betrayed noise. “This is really the pick me up I needed.”

 

“Oh, to hell with the both of you! Get me to the church!”

 

“Right, Chiswick,” the Doctor said, flipping levers.

 

“Hold on!” Rose told Donna, gripping a railing. Donna’s eyebrows raised high on her forehead and she copied Rose before the TARDIS began to shake.

 

------

 

The TARDIS landed harder than normal and Rose put a palm on the console in sympathy with the ship. “What’s wrong, girl?” she asked, quiet, while the Doctor and Donna went down the ramp. “Is it his driving?”

 

“Hey! You have one left. But, something’s wrong with her,” the Doctor said. “Recalibrating? She’s digesting. What is it? What have you eaten? What’s wrong?” The Doctor ran back inside to fiddle with the console, using a stethoscope to listen to the mechanisms. Rose could see Donna through the doorway, circling the TARDIS. “Donna? You’ve really got to think. Is there anything that might’ve caused this?”

 

“Could contacting my mum thrown the TARDIS off like this?” Rose asked. He looked at her for a second, thinking, before shaking his head.

 

“No, no, I routed it all correctly and even if I didn’t, the engine would’ve exploded already or worse; it wouldn’t give the TARDIS indigestion.” He ran back outside and Rose followed. “Are you sure there’s nothing you’ve done? Any sort of alien contacts? No matter what, we can’t let you go wandering off—could be dangerous.”

 

Rose saw Donna’s face and knew she was overwhelmed. She remembered looking at the TARDIS like that, knowing for a fact that it was real but not being able to believe it for a second. She put a hand on the Doctor’s forearm and said to him, “You can stop. I don’t think she knows anything.”

 

He did stop, but Donna was already done and she walked away from them.

 

“Donna!” the Doctor called behind her as they jogged to catch up.

 

“Leave me alone. I just want to get married.”

 

“Come back to the TARDIS, please,” Rose said as she and the Doctor caught up and started walking one on either side of her.

 

“No way. That box is too weird.”

 

“It’s just bigger on the inside, that’s all,” the Doctor said.

 

“Oh! That’s all?” Donna said, stopping and turning to them. “Ten past three. I’m going to miss it.”

 

“You can phone them. Tell them where you are,” the Doctor said.

 

“How do I do that?”

 

“Haven’t you got a mobile? All humans seem to have mobiles these days.”

 

Donna took a deep breath and said, “I’m in my wedding dress. It doesn’t have pockets.” She tousled the sides of her dress for emphasis. “Who has pockets? Have you ever seen a bride with pockets? When I went to my fitting at Chez Alison, the one thing I forgot to say is give me pockets!”

 

“This man you’re marrying. What’s his name?” the Doctor asked.

 

“Lance,” Donna said, a genuine smile spreading across her face.

 

“Good luck, Lance,” the Doctor muttered.

 

“Oi!” Donna said, loud, and the Doctor flinched a little. “No stupid Martian is going to stop me from getting married. To hell with you!” She ran away from them down the street.

 

“Think it’s a bad thing I’m having a little fun right now?” Rose asked.

 

The Doctor grinned and held out his hand. She laced their fingers together and he said, “Allons-y, Shiver!”

 

They followed Donna until they made it to the main road. Donna was trying, and failing, to catch a taxi.

 

“No one’s stopping!” she yelled. “They think I’m drunk, that I’m in drag—”

 

“Donna, Donna, here, use my phone,” Rose said, holding out her mobile. Donna grabbed it from her and dialed.

 

“She’s not picking up!” Donna let out a noise of frustration. “Mum, get off the phone and listen. I’m in—oh, my god, I don’t even know where I am! It’s a street, and there’s a WH Smith, but it’s definitely Earth!” She hung up the phone and gave it back to Rose. “Now what?”

 

The Doctor put two fingers in his mouth and let out a piercing whistle, and one taxi cab did a likely illegal u-turn to pick them up. The three of them clamber into the back of the taxi. “Saint Mary’s in Chiswick, just off Hayden Road. It’s an emergency, I’m getting married. Just hurry!”

 

The driver looked in the rear mirror back at the three of them squashed in the back seat and said, “You know it’ll cost you, sweetheart? Double rates today.”

 

“Oh, my god.” Donna said. “Have you got any money?”

 

“Ah, no,” the Doctor said.

 

“I might have a couple quid on me?” Rose added, patting the pockets of her jacket.

 

“Haven’t you?” the Doctor asked.

 

Pockets!”

 

The taxi dropped them back off where he picked them up and drove away. Donna flipped him off and yelled, “And that goes double for your mother!” Walking back to the Doctor and Rose, Donna said, “I’ll have him. I’ve got his number. I’ll have him. Talk about Christmas spirit!”

 

“It’s Christmas?” Rose asked. “Ha! That means I have two left.”

 

“Well, duh. Maybe not on Mars, or wherever you’re from, but here it’s Christmas Eve.”

 

“Ha! Not Christmas Day. Still only one,” he said to Rose. “How come you’re getting married on Christmas Eve?”

 

“Can’t bear it. I hate Christmas. Honeymoon, Morocco. Sunshine, lovely.”

 

While they talked, Rose continued to dig through her pockets and found—“Ah! A tenner! Think it’s my Queen Victoria tenner. Not nearly enough for the fare, though.”

 

“I’ll get cash!” the Doctor said, running to an ATM and getting in the queue.

 

“Maybe if the driver lets me pay the rest when I get there?” Donna questioned aloud. “Do you mind?” Rose shook her head and handed it to her.

 

Rose stopped paying attention to her for a second, distracted by the loud brass music coming from a group of musicians dressed in Santa masks. When she turned back to Donna, she was half into a taxi.

 

Rose ran to catch up and climbed in next to her. “Oh, no way I’m leaving you alone,” Rose said.

 

“I do not care, so long as I get to this church. Saint Mary’s Chiswick,” she said, directing the last part to the driver. "No Martians are keeping me from getting married today."

 

Rose opened the window and yelled out to the Doctor, “Doctor! I’m sticking with Donna!”

 

The cabbie drove away and Donna took off her veil. She said to the driver, “I promise you, mate, I’ll give you the rest when we get there. Oh, I look a mess. Do I look a mess?”

 

“You look lovely, Donna, just need a comb and some touch ups to your make up. It’ll all be sorted once we get to the church.”

 

Donna smiled for a second and said, “Thank you.” She paused and then said louder to the driver, “Hurry up.”

 

Rose noted that the driver was unusually quiet, unnaturally still, and seemed to not actually be heading to Chiswick.

 

Donna caught on, too, “Hold on a minute. I said Chiswick. You’ve missed the turning.” The driver didn’t answer her. “Excuse me, we should’ve turned off back there. We’re going the wrong way!”

 

Rose tapped on the driver’s shoulder and felt metal under the thin Santa costume as the car swerved dangerously through traffic.

 

Donna continued to yell, “What the hell are you doing? I’m late for a wedding, my own wedding! Do you get that?”

 

Rose pulled on the driver’s hood, making the mask fall off and revealing a metallic unarticulated face. She knew, knew, that the Doctor would come for them, but this wasn’t good. She tried to think of what the Doctor would do, what he would say. “One time, I’d like to meet a Santa that isn’t a robot.”

 

“This has happened before?”

 

“Yeah, just last Christmas. They’re pilot fish, working for something bigger,” Rose said, trying to open her window, her door. Donna tried the same on her side, but everything was locked. Rose tried to stay calm, but the cab started going faster, swerving around traffic without any sense of self preservation.

 

They both started to bang on the windows, trying to get someone’s attention, when Rose spotted the TARDIS flying sloppily above the freeway.

 

“Is there some test you have to pass to fly one of those?” Donna asked.

 

“Yeah, and he failed it,” Rose answered to Donna’s snickers.

 

The TARDIS caught up with the car and the door opened. The Doctor had one arm propping the doors open as he braced himself in the door frame. He had some kind of string in his mouth, maintaining control over something on the center console.

 

“Open the door!”

 

“We can’t!” Rose yelled. “It’s locked!”

 

The Doctor dug through his jacket and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. He pointed it at the door and the window opened. Donna stuck her head through the window and yelled, “Santa’s a robot!”

 

“I know,” he said. “Open the door!”

 

“What for?” Donna yelled back.

 

“You’ve got to jump!”

 

Rose went to open the door when the taxi sped up, leaving the TARDIS behind. “I’m not flipping jumping!” Donna said to Rose. “I’m supposed to be getting married.”

 

“You’ll be okay, Donna!”

 

The TARDIS caught up again, and Rose opened the door. The Doctor pointed the screwdriver at the robot, doing something to make it spark. Donna yelled at the Doctor, “I’m not jumping on a motorway!”

 

“Whatever that thing is, it needs you. And whatever it needs you for, it’s not good!”

 

“I’m in my wedding dress!”

 

“Yes, and you look lovely!”

 

“I’ll go first, yeah?” Rose said, gripping the edge of the open car door.

 

Before she could, Donna grabbed her arm. “This man? You really trust him?”

 

Rose smiled. “With my life,” she said and jumped towards the Doctor.

 

With a hand from the Doctor she landed on her feet inside the TARDIS and he yelled, “Ah! She deserved the gold! Rose, hold down that lever!”

 

The Doctor let go of the string and held out both arms to Donna, “Donna, jump!”

 

With a shout, Donna jumped into the TARDIS and the Doctor caught her, the both of them collapsing on the ramp. The TARDIS doors shut behind them and Rose let go of the lever she was holding, sending the TARDIS high into the sky.

 

------

 

The TARDIS didn’t make it very far before the center console started smoking and they landed rough on top of an apartment building. The Doctor gently pushed Donna and Rose out the doors while he emptied a fire extinguisher into the old girl, coughing.

 

Rose saw Donna checking her watch. “Did we miss it?”

 

“The funny thing is, for a spaceship,” the Doctor interrupted, “she doesn’t really do that much flying. We’d better give her a couple hours. You all right?”

 

“Doesn’t matter,” Donna said, sad.

 

“We missed it,” Rose said.

 

“Well, you can book another date.”

 

“And you’ve still got the honeymoon.”

 

“It’s just holiday, now.”

 

The Doctor winced a little. “Yeah, yeah, sorry.”

 

Donna sighed. “It’s not your fault.”

 

“Oh? That’s a change,” he muttered and Rose whispered a “cheeky” at him. He grinned in response.

 

“Wish you had a time machine, though, then we could go back and get it right,” Donna said, stepping away from them and sitting on the edge of the roof.

 

Rose looked at him, questioning, and he shook his head. It made sense, they had a smoking TARDIS, for one. And the timelines for another. They were a part of events, now.

 

“Yeah,” he said, “but even if I did, I couldn’t go back on someone’s personal timeline.”

 

“Theoretically, of course,” Rose added.

 

The Doctor took off his suit jacket and draped it around Donna’s shoulders before they sat down, one on either side of her.

 

“God, you’re skinny, this wouldn’t fit a rat,” Donna said.

 

“Oh!” The Doctor rummaged through his trouser pockets. “You’d better put this on,” he said, brandishing a gold ring.

 

“Oh, do you have to rub it in?”

 

“Those creatures can trace you. This is a bio-damper, should keep you hidden,” the Doctor explained. Good, Rose thought. Better than him giving away wedding bands not even barely a half hour after she told him she loved him. He handed the ring to Donna to put on and said, “With this ring, I thee bio-damp.” He popped the ‘p’ and Rose giggled a little.

 

“For better or for worse, I guess. So, come on then. Rose said the Santas work for something bigger, that you’d met them before, last Christmas. What happened then?”

 

The Doctor furrowed his eyebrows at her. “Great big spaceship hovering over London? You didn’t notice?”

 

“Had a bit of a hangover.” Rose nodded to herself, impressed. Must’ve been some bender.

 

“We spent Christmas day just over there.” Rose looked and she could see the estates in the direction he pointed. “The Powell estate, with Rose’s family—ah, well,” the Doctor interrupted himself, a little too late.

 

Donna noticed, “What? What happened?”

 

“I lost my mum a couple weeks back—she’s not dead, but she’s stuck somewhere we can never go with my dad and a mate of mine. The Doctor found a way for me to say goodbye though, that was this morning.”

 

“So that’s why you were crying. I’m sorry.”

 

“Yeah, thanks,” Rose said, meaning it. “But we still don’t know why you were in the TARDIS, or why the Santas want you, right Doctor?”

 

“Not a clue!” He got the sonic screwdriver out and started to scan Donna. “What’s your job?”

 

“I’m a secretary.”

 

The Doctor looks at the read out on the screwdriver, puzzled, and scans her again. “It’s weird. I mean, you’re not special, you’re not powerful, you’re not connected, you’re not clever, you’re not important,” he said, rapid fire.

 

She smacked the sonic away from her. “Stop bleeping me!” Donna turned to Rose and asked, “Do you ever get the overwhelming urge to punch him directly in the face?”

 

“His CV pretty much just says “Rude and Not Ginger”.”

 

“Oi!” the Doctor protested. “What kind of secretary?”

 

“I’m at HC Clements,” she said, “It’s where I met Lance. I was temping. I mean, it was all a bit posh, really. I’d spent the last two years at a double-glazing firm. Well, I thought I’m never going to fit in here. And then he made me a coffee. I mean, that just doesn’t happen. Nobody gets the secretaries a coffee. And Lance, he’s the head of HR! He didn’t need to bother with me. But, he was nice, funny, and it turns out he thought everyone else was really snooty, too. So that’s how it started, me and him. One cup of coffee. That was it.”

 

“How long ago was that?” Rose asked.

 

“Six months ago.”

 

“Bit quick to get married,” the Doctor said.

 

“Well, he insisted. And he nagged me over and over again. Eventually he just wore me down and then finally, I just gave in. Besides, how long did it take you two?”

 

“Oh, oh no, we’re not married,” Rose said. Maybe they’d be a little bit closer to that if Donna hadn’t shown up, but that wasn’t Donna’s fault.

 

“No, but we have been together for a couple years,” the Doctor added, and he smiled softly at Rose from over Donna’s head. She grinned back at him with a tongue touched smile. She knew with absolute certainty that the Doctor loved her, without him needing to say it, but a girl can’t be blamed for liking a bit of confirmation. “What does HC Clements do?”

 

“Oh, security systems. You know, entry codes, ID cards, that sort of thing. If you ask me, it’s a posh name for locksmiths.”

 

“Keys,” he hummed.

 

“Anyways, enough of my CV. Come on, it’s time to face the consequences. Oh, this is going to be so shaming. You Martians can do the explaining.”

 

“I’m not—I’m not from Mars,” the Doctor said while Rose pointed at the Estate and said, “I’m literally from right there.”

 

Donna stood up without acknowledging their protests and said, “Oh I had this great reception all planned. Everyone’s going to be heartbroken.”

 

------

 

They took a cab with the money the Doctor managed to get from the ATM—he explained that he ended up having to shoot out all of the cash stored in the machine as a distraction for the robot Santas, but shoved a couple of bills in his pockets.

 

Donna was still talking about the plans she and Lance made for the reception while they were walking in and saw the party in full swing. Rose and the Doctor stood back, next to each other.

 

“You had the reception without me?” she said, quietly, and a black man in a tux came up to her, after he stopped dancing with a young blond woman.

 

“Donna, what happened to you?” he asked.

 

“You had the reception without me?” she asked again, louder.

 

Rose whispered at the Doctor, gently hitting his chest, “It’s like the third series finale of By the Light of the Asteroid.”

 

I know,” he whispered back, excited. To the room, he said, “Hello! I’m the Doctor, this is Rose.”

 

Donna turned back to them. “They had the reception without me!”

 

“Yes, we gathered.”

 

The woman Lance was dancing with said, “Well, it was all paid for. Why not?”

 

“Thank you, Nerys.” Ahh, so that’s was Nerys. She didn’t not look like someone who would fund someone’s kidnapping as a prank.

 

An older woman came up do them and said, “Well, what were we supposed to do. I got your silly little message in the end. I’m on Earth? Very funny. What the hell happened? How did you do it? I mean, what’s the trick? Because I’d love to know.”

 

Suddenly, everyone started talking at once, demanding answers from her. And what was she supposed to say? Rose empathized internally. That she was zapped into an alien spaceship and then kidnapped by robot Santas? She’d get sectioned.

 

Donna burst into tears, and yeah, that’s reasonable. Lance hugged Donna as she continued to cry and the room applauded, except for Nerys. Donna turned her head, subtle, and winked at the Doctor and Rose. The two of them clapped a little harder for a moment, not for the happy couple, but for the winning performance.

 

The party restarted in full gear and the Doctor and Rose huddle against the bar. Rose pulled out her phone and searched for HC Clements with the Doctor leaning over her shoulder, fully in her space. Together, they held in a breath when they saw HC Clements, sole proprietor: Torchwood.


“Haven’t they done enough?” he asked, disgusted, and she put her phone away. They were silent for a moment, thinking and listening to the sweet music, before he moved to stand in front of her and held out a hand. “Rose Tyler, may I have this dance?”

 

She pretended to think about it and said, “I don’t know—I think there’s some concrete needs resonating.” He laughed and she took his hand, allowing herself to be pulled onto the dance floor.

 

The Doctor spun them around, nothing fancy like the 1940s swing dance her first Doctor led her through, but still sweet.

 

“You know, we were in the middle of something when Donna showed up.”

 

“Were we?”

 

“Yep. I believe you were about to say something to me,” she said after he led her through a spin.

 

“I think you might be right. Rose Tyler,” he said. He leaned down, put his lips against her ear and whispered, “I love you.”

 

They smiled at each other, silly, giddy, for a moment. “What about the curse of the Time Lords?”

 

Still moving them in an easy dance, he said, “When I saw you, dangling from a rope at Canary Wharf—knowing I couldn’t do anything to—” He cut off, and they slowed to a stop, but he kept one arm around her waist while the other hand held hers. “I’d regret it forever, not being able to tell you, not being with you. However many minutes I have to spend with you, I’m not wasting a single one.”

 

Rose took the hand on his shoulder and pulled him down by the back of the neck into a kiss. They couldn’t hold it for long, though, before they dissolved into happy giggles and wide smiles, arms around each other. She tucked his chin onto his shoulder, looked past him for a second and saw—

 

“Cameraman,” she said.

 

He pulled away from her and looked at her, puzzled. “Cameraman?”

 

Rose pointed behind him and gestured with her head. “Cameraman.”

 

He tilted his body to look behind him. He saw what she did, a young man filming the dancers.

 

He looked back at her with a big grin. “Oh! Cameraman!”

 

Rose pulled the Doctor along by the hand and asked the cameraman to show them the video of the wedding.

 

“Oh, I taped the whole thing,” he said. “They’ve all had a look. They said sell it to You’ve Been Framed. I said, more like the news. Ah, here we are.”

 

They watched the clip together, saw Donna walking down the aisle until she started to glow gold, turning into particles and flying off.

 

“Can’t be,” he muttered. “Play it again?”

 

“Clever, mind. Good trick, I’ll give her that. I was clapping,” the cameraman said.

 

“Doctor, that looks like what’s inside the TARDIS,” Rose said.

 

The Doctor looked at her through the corner of one eye. “That’s because it is—Huon Particles. But that’s impossible, ancient. Huon energy doesn’t exist anymore, not for billions of years. Only place it still exists is within the heart of the TARDIS.”

 

“How’d it get inside Donna, then?”

 

“I haven’t a clue. Nothing else uses it, so few even know about—” he paused, realizing something. “Oh! So old that it can’t be hidden by a bio-damper!” he shouted before running out of the room.

 

Rose didn’t have to wait long before he came back. “They’ve found us!” he shouted to Rose before running to Donna. “Donna! Donna! They’re here, they’ve found you.”

 

“But I thought you said I was safe!”

 

“The bio-damper doesn’t work. We’ve got to get everyone out!”

 

Donna looked around. “Oh god, it’s all my family.”

 

The Doctor grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the back exit, Rose following behind. They tried for the back door and found a trio of robot Santas coming up the path. More Santas could be seen through every window.

 

“We’re trapped,” Donna said.

 

Rose saw one of the Santas had a remote control in its hands, and saw that the hall was decorated entirely for Christmas. The Doctor must have made the connection, too, because he said, “Christmas trees.”

 

“What about them?” Donna asked.

 

“They kill,” he said before shouting to the room, “Get away from the Christmas trees! Everyone, stay away from them!” Donna and Rose joined him in shouting, but they didn’t get very far with the guests.

 

The older woman from before—Donna’s mother, if she had to guess—said, “Oh, for god’s sake, the man’s an idiot. Why? What harm’s a Christmas tree going to do?” Some of the ornaments start to float and she said in wonder, “Oh.

 

“Get down!” Rose yelled, and grabbed Donna, pulling them both to the floor and behind a turned over table.

 

The trees starting flinging the ornaments around, each one exploding on impact. The room dissolved into chaos and Donna pulled her fiancé down with them. Rose stuck her head above the side of the table and saw six Santas, pointing their weapons at the DJ booth.

 

The Doctor popped up from behind the booth and said, “Oi! Santa! Word of advice: if you’re attacking a man with a sonic screwdriver, don’t let him near the sound system.” He jammed the screwdriver into the sound desk and the action made a piercing noise ring out through the hall. Rose had to cover her ears in order to tolerate it.

 

When it stopped, the robots were broken apart, sparking, and the Doctor was inspecting one’s of the heads. She went to him, while Donna started directing people around her.

 

“What did you find?” Rose asked, crouched down next to him.

 

He held up the remote control and then pointed at a specific piece of the mechanism. “See here? Remote control for the decorations, but there’s a second control for the robots. They’re not just scavengers, I think someone’s taken possession.”

 

Donna came up to them. “Never mind all that. You’re a doctor. People have been hurt.”

 

Rose stood, shaking her head. “They’re only here for you. The best way we can help is figuring out who, why, and stopping it.”

 

“Exactly!” he said, standing up and tossing an ornament at Donna. “See? Not active now.”

 

“But you could still do something, all I’m saying.”

 

“Sorry, Donna,” he said, preoccupied with the robot head. “We’ve got to think bigger picture. Oh! There’s still a signal!” The Doctor ran out of the room, Rose behind him.

 

The Doctor used the sonic screwdriver on the head once they got outside. “Someone’s behind this, directing the roboforms.”

 

Donna caught up to them and asked, “But why is it me? What have I done?”

 

“If we find the controller, we’ll find that out.” His face shifted, from puzzled to curious. “Oh, it’s up there!” The three of them looked up, searching for movement in the clear afternoon sky, but saw nothing. “Ah! The signal’s lost. Donna, we’ve got to get to your office. HC Clements, I think that’s where it all started.”

 

The Doctor looked around and saw Lance coming out of the reception hall. “Lance! Can I call you Lance? Lance, can you give us a lift?” Lance looked like the last thing he wanted was to give them a lift, but Donna cleared her throat and he went along.

 

------

 

The four of them ran into the office building and the Doctor explained, “To you lot this might just be a locksmith, but HC Clements was bought up twenty years ago by the Torchwood Institute.” He found a computer and started sifting through its data.

 

“Who are they?” Donna asked.

 

“They were behind the battle of Canary Wharf.” At Donna’s blank look, he added, “Cyberman invasion?” Nothing. “Skies over London full of daleks?”

 

Recognition sparked, but in an unexpected way. “Oh, I was in Spain.”

 

Rose added, “They had cybermen in Spain, all over the world.” How did she miss it?

 

“Scuba diving?”

 

“The big picture, Donna. You keep missing it.” The Doctor moved on, “Torchwood was destroyed, but HC Clements stayed in business. I think someone else came in and took over the operation.”

 

“But what do they want with me?”

 

“Somehow you’ve been dosed with Huon energy—and that’s a problem, because Huon energy hasn’t existed since the Dark Times. The only place you’d find a Huon particle now is a remnant in the heart of the TARDIS.” He picked up a mug and a pencil. He held up the mug and said, “Say, that’s the TARDIS,” and then with the pencil he said, “And that’s you. The particles inside you activated, and the two of you magnetized and—whap!” He shook the pencil and mug before dropping the pencil inside. “You were pulled inside the TARDIS.”

 

“I’m a pencil inside a mug?”

 

“Yes, you are. 4H, sums you up. Lance?” he said, turning back to the computer. “What was HC Clements working on? Anything top secret? Special operations? Do not enter?”

 

“I don’t know!” Lance answered. “I’m in charge of personnel. I wasn’t project manager. Why am I even explaining myself—what the hell are we talking about?”

 

“They make keys, that’s the point. And look at this, here.” He pointed and the screen, and Rose leaned over his shoulder. “Underneath reception, there’s a basement, yes?” The Doctor looked at her face, devious, and she made the connection. “Then how come when you look on the lift, there’s a button marked lower basement?”

 

He stood, grabbed Rose’s hand, and ran back towards the lift, Donna and Lance following behind. As he ran, he continued, “There’s a floor which doesn’t exist on the official plans. So, what’s down there, then?”

 

The Doctor and Rose entered the lift and Lance asked, “Are you telling me this building’s got a secret floor?”

 

“No, I’m showing you this building’s got a second floor.”

 

“It needs a key,” Donna said.

 

The Doctor pulled out the sonic and used it on the button for the lower basement.

 

“Right, thanks you two. Rose and I can handle this from here. See you later!” he said as Rose entered the lift.

 

“No chance, Martians! You’re the ones who keep saving my life. I ain’t letting either of you out of my sight!” Donna climbed into the lift with them and Lance made a noise of hesitation.

 

“I think maybe I should go to the police…”

 

Donna said in a sing song voice, “Inside!”

 

“To honour and obey?” the Doctor quipped and Rose rolled her eyes at him.

 

“Tell me about it, mate.”

 

“Oi!” Donna shouted.

 

The lift let them out in a creepy green-lit corridor, quiet and empty. “Where are we?” Well, what goes on down here?” Donna asked.

 

“Let’s find out!”

 

“Do you think Mister Clements knows about this place?”

 

“The mysterious HC Clements? Oh, yeah, I think he’s part of it. Oh, look!” He pointed at a line of segways parked near a wall. “Transport!”

 

“There’s only three,” Lance said.

 

“Ah, me and Rose can buddy up. Come one!”

 

The four of them rode down the hallway, the Doctor pressed up behind Rose on one. Rose looked from Donna to Lance and said, “I feel like a kid on a trolley.” Donna cracked up laughing first, the Doctor and Rose joining her shortly after.

 

They made it to a bulkhead door labeled Torchwood Authorized Personnel Only. The Doctor scoffed at the sign and opened the door, showing a ladder going up behind it. “Wait here,” he said. “Just need to get my bearings. Stay here with them, okay Rose?”

 

“Yeah, alright, be careful.”

 

“Always am!” he smiled at her and climbed up the ladder.

 

Rose watched him climb up the ladder, appreciatively, while Lance and Donna spoke.

 

“Donna, have you thought about this? Properly? I mean, this is serious! What the hell are we going to do?” he asked.

 

“Oh, I thought July!” Rose snorted, quietly. Donna may be missing the big picture, but she makes up for it spades with fire and enthusiasm. The image of the Doctor’s face after Donna slapped him came to mind; Rose’d never seen him so thrown off his rhythm.  I like her, Rose thought.

 

The Doctor climbed back down and said, “Thames flood barrier right on top of us. Torchwood snuck in and built this place underneath.”

 

“What, there’s like a secret base hidden underneath a major London landmark?” Donna asked.

 

“Oh, I know,” he said. The Doctor laced his fingers with Rose’s and pulled her down the corridor, smiling big at her. “Unheard of!”

 

They made it to a laboratory, a large open room filled will big glass tubes of bubbling liquid. The Doctor reacted like a kid in a candy store, bounding over to one and saying, “Ooh! Look at this. Stunning!” Rose wandered away from him to look around.

 

“What does it do?” Donna asked.

 

“Particle extrusion. Hold on, brilliant! They’ve been manufacturing Huon particles. Course, my people got rid of Huons. They unravel the atomic structure.”

 

“Your people?” Lance asked, finally showing interest. “Who are they? What company do you represent?”

 

“Ah, I’m a bit of a freelancer. But this lot are rebuilding them. They’ve been using the river! Extruding them through a flat hydrogen base so they’ve got the end result: Huon particles in liquid form!”

 

The Doctor grabbed a bottle of the liquid Huon particles and twisted the top. Donna started glow gold, but Rose felt odd.

 

Not bad, she thought—no, the opposite. She felt like she could run a marathon, no, no, like she already had run a marathon and could run two more, easy. Like she had the biggest sugar rush, the biggest caffeine high.

 

The Doctor must have deactivated the Huons because the feeling went away and she felt no different than she had before, but she’d missed most of what he said—only that Donna slapped him for it.

 

“What did I do this time? Rose? What did I do?”

 

“Are you enjoying this?” Donna asked, and the Doctor looked like he was about to say, Well. “Right, just tell me: these particles, are they dangerous? Am I safe?”

 

“Yes,” the Doctor said without hesitation. He was probably lying, Rose thought, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that, about what it meant for either of them.

 

“Doctor, if your lot got rid of Huon particles, why did they do that?”

 

“Because they were deadly,” he said with sympathy.

 

“Oh, my god.”

 

The Doctor leaped into action, moving quickly around the room. “I’ll sort it out, Donna! Whatever’s been done to you, I’ll reverse it! We’re not losing anyone else, today!”

 

A voice came through over an intercom, loud and mocking. “Oh, she is long since lost!” The wall in front of them lifted into the high ceiling, revealing a large hole in the ground and a ceiling full of cobwebs. The voice continued, “I have waited so long, hibernating at the edge of the universe until the secret heart was uncovered and called them to waken!”

 

Rose joined the Doctor and Donna next to the hole, watching Lance sneak away with an eyebrow raised. As they approached, more robots entered the lab, pointing guns at them.

 

He looked over the edge. “Someone’s been digging. Oh, very Torchwood. Drilled by laser—how far does it go?”

 

“Down and down, all the way to the center of the Earth!”

 

“Really? Seriously? What for?”

 

“Dinosaurs,” Donna said?

 

“What?”

 

“Dinosaurs?”

 

“That film, Under the Earth, with dinosaurs. Trying to help.”

 

“That’s not helping.”

 

The voice continued, “Oh, how sweet!”

 

“Only a madman talks to think air and trust me, you don’t want to make me mad!” he shouted at the ceiling. “Where are you? I didn’t come all this way to talk on the intercom. Come on, let’s have a look at you!”

 

“Who are you with such command?”

 

“I’m the Doctor!”

 

“Prepare your best medicines, doctor man, for you will be sick at heart!”

 

A giant, red arachnid with a humanoid torso and face teleported into the room on the other side of the hole. The Doctor clutched at Rose, pulling her to his side. “Racnoss? But that’s impossible!” he said. “You’re one of the Racnoss?”

 

Empress of the Racnoss,” she said, writhing around.

 

“If you’re the Empress, where’s the rest of the Racnoss? Or, are you the only one?”

 

“Such a sharp mind!”

 

“That’s it, the last of your kind.” To Rose and Donna, he said, “The Racnoss come before the Dark Times, billions of years ago. Billions. They were carnivores, omnivores. They devoured whole planets.”

 

“Racnoss are born starving! Is that our fault?”

 

“They eat people?” Donna asked, horrified.

 

“HC Clements, did he wear those, ah, those black and white shoes?”

 

“Yeah, he did! We used to laugh, called him the fat cat in spats.” The Doctor pointed up to wear a pair of black and white shoes stuck out of the cobwebs on the ceiling. “Oh, my god!” Donna said, and Rose covered her gasp with her mouth.

 

“Mmm, my Christmas dinner!” said the Empress.

 

“You shouldn’t even exist! Way back in history, the fledgling Empires went to war against the Racnoss—they were wiped out!”

 

“Except for me!” the Empress said, and they saw Lance sneaking up behind her, wielding an axe. He made a shushing gesture at them.

 

“But that’s what I got inside me, that Huon energy thing.” The Empress started to look away and Donna yelled, “Oi! Look at me, lady, I’m talking. Where do I fit in? How come I get all stacked up with these Huon particles. Look at me, you! Look me in the eye and tell me.”

 

“The bride is so feisty!” she said as Lance got closer to her, preparing to strike her.

 

“Yes, I am! And I don’t know what you are, you big thing, but a spider’s just a spider, and an axe is an axe! Now, do it!”

 

Lanced raised the axe and the Empress turned to him, hissing. He froze, mid swing, and put the axe down. Lance started to laugh and the Empress joined him.

 

“That was a good one; your face!” he said.

 

“Lance is funny,” said the Empress.

 

“I’m sorry,” the Doctor said to Donna, quiet.

 

“Sorry for what? Lance, don’t be so stupid! Get her!”

 

God, she’s thick. Months I’ve had to put up with her. Months! A woman who can’t even point to Germany on a map,” he said, voice full of venom.

 

Rose thought he was the bigger monster, between him and the Racnoss.

 

“I don’t understand,” Donna said.

 

“How did you meet him?” the Doctor asked. He let go of Rose and put a hand on Donna’s shoulder.

 

“In the office.”

 

“He made you coffee,” Rose realized, following the Doctor’s lead.

 

“What?”

 

“Every day, I made you coffee.”

 

“You had to be dosed with liquid particles over six months,” the Doctor explained.

 

“He was poisoning me?

 

“It was all there in the job title: the head of Human Resources,” the Doctor said without humor.

 

“This time, it’s personnel,” Lance joked, and he and the Empress laughed.

 

“But we were getting married.”

 

“Well, I couldn’t risk you running off,” he said. “I had to say yes. And then I was stuck with a woman who thinks the height of excitement is a new flavor Pringle. Oh, I had to sit there and listen to all that yap yap yap,” Lance mocked.

 

“Hey!” Rose interrupted him. “You shut it! I just met Donna today and already I can tell she’s wonderful! If you can’t see that, you don’t deserve her!”

 

“I deserve a medal,” Lance retorted.

 

“Oh, is that what she’s offered you? The Empress of the Racnoss? What are you, her consort?” the Doctor asked.

 

“It’s better than a night with her.” Rose pictured it in her mind’s eye for a moment, Lance and the Empress, and regretted it near instantly. Ew.

 

“But I love you,” Donna said, helpless.

 

“That’s what made it easy,” he said with an arrogant tilt. Donna teared up, and Rose put an arm around her shoulder as the Doctor started to pace. “It’s like you said, Doctor. The big picture. What’s the point of it all if the human race is nothing? That’s what the Empress can give me. The chance to go out there. To see it. The size of it all. I think you understand that, don’t you, Doctor?”

 

“Who is this little physician and his companion, Lance?”

 

“She said they’re Martian.”

 

“Oh, more homeless at the moment. But the point is, what’s down here? The Racnoss are extinct. What’s going to help you four thousand miles down? That’s just the molten core of the Earth, isn’t it?”

 

“I think he wants us to talk,” Lance said to the Empress.

 

“I think so, too.”

 

“Well, tough! All we need is Donna.”

 

The Empress ordered her robots to fire on them, and Donna started yelling, protesting. Rose looked all around for cover, for anything, but the Doctor took the bottle of Huon particles out of his pocket.

 

“Just, just, just, just hold on, okay? Just hold a tick,” the Doctor stalled. “Just a tiny little, just a little tick. If you think about it, the particles activated in Donna and drew her inside my spaceship. So reverse it, and the space ship comes to her.” He smiled and twisted the top of the bottle and the TARDIS materialized around them.

 

Rose had that strange feeling again, of excitement. It felt nothing like the burning she felt when she was Bad Wolf. That was fire and pain and desperation, while this felt easy, comfortable.

 

When it dissipated, Rose laughed and touched the coral struts while the Doctor ran to the center console, dematerializing the ship and sending them into the vortex.

 

“Oh, do you know what I said before about time machines? Well, I lied. And now we’re going to use it. We need to find out what the Empress of the Racnoss is digging up.” The Doctor seemed to be oblivious to Donna sitting on the jumpseat, crying. Rose went up to her and put her arm around Donna’s shoulder, and Donna rested her head on Rose for a moment before shrugging her off and turning away. “If something’s buried at the planet’s core, it must’ve been there since the beginning. That’s just brilliant. Molto bene! We’ve seen the end, Rose, now we get to see the beginning!”

 

Rose walked over to him and put a hand on the Doctor’s arm, gesturing at Donna. He let out an oh and settled a bit with a cough.

 

“Doctor, I wanted to say really quick,” she started and the Doctor looked up at her from the console. “When you turned on the Huon particles, I felt really weird both times.” He looked panicked, and grabbed at her, cupping her face. “Not bad! Just odd.”

 

He pulled out the sonic screwdriver and scanned her. “No, it’s impossible for you to have any residual energy left in you from the vortex, I took the whole of it out of you on Satellite 5—nothing could’ve remained. It would’ve killed you already.” He stopped scanning her and looked at the readout. “Nothing. Nothing off whatsoever, completely stable. You said odd. Odd how?”

 

“Like, like an adrenaline rush, maybe?  Nothing like the vortex, I promise.”

 

Something on the console dinged, announcing their arrival, and the Doctor looked torn between stopping the Racnoss and figuring out what’s wrong with her.

 

“I’m okay, I feel fine; great, even.”

 

He nodded and kissed her forehead. “Okay, but once this is settled, we’ll take a closer look. Whatever’s going on, it’s been there for over a year already. Should be fine for a couple more hours,” he reasoned, sounding like he was trying to convince himself more than convince her. “Alright, we’ve arrived. You ladies want to see?”

 

Rose huddled next to him at the scanner and Donna said, dejected, “I suppose.”

 

“Oh, that scanner’s a bit small. Maybe your way’s best, Donna.” He went to the doors and gestured them over. “C’mon! No human’s ever seen this. You’ll be the first ones.”

 

“All I want to see is my bed,” Donna said and Rose hooked her arm around Donna’s elbow.

 

“I get it, but this is going to be fantastic,” Rose said, leading her down the ramp.

 

The Doctor opened the doors and said, “Donna Noble, Rose Tyler, welcome to the creation of the Earth.” Outside was nothing but a bunch of rocks and the sun in the distance. “We’ve gone back four point six billion years. There’s no solar system, not yet. Only dust and rocks and gas. That’s the Sun, over there, brand new, just beginning to burn.”

 

“Where’s the Earth?” Donna asked.

 

“All around us in the dust.”

 

“Puts the wedding in perspective,” Donna said, derisive. “Lance was right, we’re just tiny.”

 

“No, but that’s what you do! The human race, making sense out of chaos. Marking it out with weddings and Christmas and calendars. This whole process is beautiful, but only if it’s being observed.”

 

“So, I came out of this?” Donna asked, looking at them both.

 

Rose nodded, big smile on her face, and the Doctor said, “Isn’t that brilliant?”

 

They watched for a moment, huddled in the doorway, when Donna pointed at a rock floating by and said, “I think that’s the Isle of Wight.” The three laughed.

 

“Eventually, gravity takes hold. Say, one big rock, heavier than the others, starts to pull other rocks towards it.” The Doctor ran back to the console and pushed a few buttons, speeding up time. “All the dust and gas and elements get pulled in. Everything, piling in until you get—”

 

“The Earth,” Donna finished.

 

“But the question is, what was that first rock?” the Doctor asked.

 

Rose saw a gleaming ship in the distance and pointed at it, “Look! A ship!”

 

“The Racnoss, hiding from the war. What’s the ship doing?”

 

“Exactly what you said,” Donna said.

 

“Oh, they didn’t just bury something at the center of the Earth,” the Doctor started.

 

“They became the center of the Earth!” Rose finished.

 

He smiled at her and said, “Gold star!” before the TARDIS jerked them around. The Doctor closed the doors and ran back to the console.

 

“What is it?” Rose asked at the same time Donna said, “What the hell’s it doing?”

 

“Ah, well, remember that little trick of mine? Particles pulling particles. Well, it works in reverse. They’re pulling us back!” the Doctor said, frantically hitting buttons and pulling levers as the TARDIS continued to shake.

 

“Well, can’t you stop it? Hasn’t it got a handbrake? Can’t you reverse or warp or bream or something?” Donna asked while the Doctor continued to try and control the TARDIS.

 

The Doctor went to hit the console with a mallet and Rose took it out of his hand, mid-swing. “Be nice to her!” she said.

 

“Backseat drivers! Oh, wait!” The Doctor ducked under the console to grab something. He pulled out a large interface and shouted, “The extrapolator! It can’t stop us, but it should give us a good bump!”

 

The TARDIS jerked once more before landing with a thud, sending the three of them crashing against the railing.

 

They exited the TARDIS, back in the same greenlit corridor as before. “What do we do?” Donna asked.

 

“I don’t know; don’t usually have a plan. We mostly make it up as we go, but trust me, I’ve got history,” the Doctor said, using a stethoscope on a Personnel Only door.

 

“But I still don’t understand. I’m full of particles, but what for?”

 

The Doctor launched into an excited explanation, focused entirely on the door. So focused, in fact, he didn’t even notice when Rose and Donna were grabbed from behind, metal hands covering their mouths.

 

Rose kicked and struggled all the way back to the lab, until she and Donna were strung up on the ceiling in cobwebs next to Lance.

 

“I hate you,” Donna snarled at Lance.

 

“Yeah, I think we’ve gone a bit beyond that now, sweetheart,” he replied.

 

“I hate you, too, Lance,” Rose added for good measure. “Just wanted to make that clear.”

 

“Feeling’s mutual, I’m sure.”

 

“My golden couple, together at last!” the Empress said with a laugh. “Your awful wedded life. And a witness to your union! Or, perhaps the main course? Tell me, do you want to be released?”

 

The three of them said, “Yes!” in unison.

 

“You’re supposed to say, ‘I do.’”

 

Lance scoffed, “No way.”

 

“Say it!” the Empress said, angry.

 

“I do,” Lance said, begrudging and dismissive.

 

Donna stared at him for a long moment before turning her head and saying, “I do,” at the Empress.

 

The Empress looked at Rose, expectantly. “What?” Rose asked. “I’m not getting married.”

 

“Say it!”

 

“Fine, fine, I do.”

 

The Empress laughed, “I don’t! Ha! Activate the particles. Purge every last one!”

 

Donna and Lance started to glow and Rose felt that odd burst of energy again, her muscles warming, heart rate increasing. An idea formulated in her head while she looked at the cobwebs—her idea was absurd, impulsive, and everything her muscles screamed for in that moment.

 

The cobwebs were strong, but they started to loosen as she wiggled. Rose got an arm free and wrapped her forearm around a long strand. She managed to struggle against the webbing enough to put an arm around Donna’s waist as the webbing around Donna started to pull away.

 

“What the hell are you doing, Blondie? We’re gonna fall!” Donna yelled.

 

“Yep!” Rose yelled back. “Hold onto me!” Rose kicked the rest of the cobwebs away from them and they fell, swinging down over the pit and landing in a tumble on the ground near a set of industrial stairs.

 

They laid on the concrete and Rose cackled, relishing in the buzz of energy before it left her. Donna laughed, too, and said, “You’re mad! The both of you! Completely off your rockers!”

 

“Rose!” she heard the Doctor yell from above her. She looked up and saw him in one of the robes the robots were wearing, looking down at them in a panic. “Rose, are you okay?”

 

“Yeah! Yeah, we’re great!” Rose stood and pulled Donna with up her. The two ran up the stairs to join the Doctor. “Did I ruin your surprise entrance?”

 

“Nah, just the functioning of one of my hearts,” he said, taking off the robe.

 

“The bride escapes!” the Empress yelled. “No matter! The secret heart unlocks, and they will waken from their sleep of ages!”

 

“Doctor, what’s down there?” Donna asked.

 

“How thick are you?” Lanced asked from the ceiling.

 

“My children, the long lost Racnoss, now reborn to feast on flesh! My webstar shall come to me! My babies will be hungry, they need sustenance.” The Empress made a motion with her claws and the webbing around Lance loosened.

 

“No!” he shouted. “I did everything you asked!”

 

“Oh, my funny little Lance! You were quite impolite to your lady friend. The Empress does not approve.” The webbing around Lance disintegrated, and he fell into the pit.

 

“Lance!” Donna called after him as he fell.

 

“Harvest the humans, reduce them to meat!” the Empress called out. “My children are climbing towards me and none shall stop them—not even you, my clever little doctor man.”

 

“Empress of the Racnoss,” the Doctor intoned, “I give you one last chance. I can find you a planet. I can find you and your children a place in the universe to co-exist. Take that offer and end this now.” The Empress laughed and called them funny. “What’s your answer?”

 

“Oh, I’m afraid I have to decline,” she said with another laugh.

 

“I’d really prefer you reconsider—what happens next will be your own doing.”

 

“I’ll show you what happens next: At arms!” the Empress commanded her robots. “Take aim! And—”

 

Relax,” the Doctor said and the robots slumped over.

 

“What did you do?” Donna asked, looking around.

 

He smiled, cheeky, and asked, “Guess what I have, Donna?” He revealed the remote control and said, “Pockets!”

 

“How’d that fit in there?”

 

“They’re bigger on the inside!”

 

“Oh, you are absolutely making me a jacket with pockets like that,” Rose said.

 

“Roboforms are not necessary!” the Empress said. “My children may feast on Martian flesh.”

 

“Oh, but we’re not from Mars,” the Doctor said, leaning on the railing towards the Empress. “Rose, here, she’s from Earth, but my home planet is far away and long since gone. But, its name lives on: Gallifrey.”

 

The Empress shrieked at the name. “They murdered the Racnoss!”

 

“Have you reconsidered my offer, Empress?”

 

“I will never take your help, not from a child of Gallifrey! Never! I shall have my revenge! The Racnoss will feast on the flesh of our murderers and we shall take this world by force!” the Empress screamed at them.

 

“Then I’m sorry, Empress,” he said, taking out tree ornaments from his other pocket. He threw the ornaments in the air, using the remote to control them. Some blew holes in the corridor wall, flooding them with water, and others he used to surround the Empress.

 

Sprays of water and explosions of fire filled the laboratory and Donna yelled at the Doctor, “You can stop now!”

 

Rose put a hand on the inside of the Doctor’s elbow and pulled. “We have to get out of here.”

 

The Doctor nodded and grabbed them both by the hand, leading them up and leaving the Empress screaming for transport out.

 

He led them back to the door with the ladder and then up onto the flood barrier. Rose laughed when she saw the Thames, pulling Donna up behind her. Donna laughed, too, when she saw it, and then the Doctor behind them.

 

The three of them leaned on each other as they cackled. “We’ve drained the Thames!” Donna yelled.

 

“What about the Empress?” Rose asked.

 

“She’s used up all of her Huon energy,” he said. “She’s defenseless!” They stood on the edge on the barren Thames and watched the Racnoss’s webstar be destroyed by tanks on the ground.

 

------

 

The Doctor parked the TARDIS gently on the street outside of Donna’s house.

 

“Ah, that was practically pleasant, Spaceman!” Donna said walking down the ramp, referring to the landing.

 

Rose bumped into the Doctor with her shoulder. “See what happens when you put the mallet away?” Rose teased and the TARDIS’s lights flashed.

 

The Doctor slung is arm around Rose’s shoulder while they followed Donna. “Ganging up on me! That’s what you three are doing, ganging up on me!”

 

Outside, Donna asked, “Are you sure I’m gonna be okay?”

 

The Doctor scanned her one more time, head to toe, and looked at the read out. “All of the Huon particles have gone. No damage, you’re fine.”

 

“But, I heard you and Rose talking and—”

 

He interrupted her, “No, what happened to Rose was completely different. You’re safe, I promise.”

 

Donna nodded and sighed. “Yeah, but I also missed my wedding, lost my job, and became a widow on the same day. Well, sort of.”

 

The Doctor looked apologetic. “I couldn’t save him.”

 

“He deserved it,” Donna retorted, then sighed. “No, he didn’t.” Donna looked back at her house and saw her anxious parents through the window. “I’d better get inside. They’ll be worried.”

 

Rose smiled. “You’re gonna be the best present they could get.”

 

“Oh, but she hates Christmas, remember?” the Doctor teased. 

 

"Yes, I do," Donna said difinitively.

 

The Doctor asked, “Even if it snows?” He reached inside the TARDIS and hit some mechanism that send a burst of energy into the sky, causing snow to immediately fall.

 

Donna laughed and shouted, “I can’t believe you did that!”

 

Rose stuck her hand out, letting a few flakes melt on her skin. “Much better than last Christmas’s snow, I’ll tell you that.”

 

He grinned, full of himself, and said, “Ah, just a basic atmospheric excitation.”

 

Donna looked between them and said, “Merry Christmas.”

 

“And you,” the Doctor said for him and Rose, an arm still around her shoulders. “So, what will you do with yourself now?”

 

“Not getting married, for starters. And I’m not going to temp anymore! I don’t know, travel? See a bit more of planet Earth. Walk in the dust. Just go out there and do something.”

 

Rose looked up at the Doctor and he met her eyes. They had a silent conversation (She’s great. I think so, too! Should we invite her along?) and the Doctor said, “Well, you could always…”

 

“What?”

 

“Come with us!” Rose finished.

 

“No,” Donna said quickly.

 

“Okay,” the Doctor said.

 

“No, but really. Everything we did today? Do you live your life like that?”

 

The Doctor and Rose looked at each other again before looking back at Donna. Rose said, “Not all the time. Trouble’s just the stuff in between.”

 

“I don’t think that’s true. And I just couldn’t.”

 

“But you’ve seen it out there; the universe is a beautiful place,” the Doctor said.

 

“And it’s terrible. That place was flooding and burning and they were dying and I get that they would’ve eaten the world, but I saw them all die! And then you made it snow! The both of you, you scare me to death.”

 

The Doctor nodded sadly. In this life, their life, everybody living is not a guarantee, or even what’s expected, whether or not they did the right thing. “Right,” he said.

 

“Besides,” she added jokingly, “the two of you are disgusting. All of the hand holding and forehead kisses and the inside jokes—being around you for a few hours has definitely given me a cavity. Imagine what living with the two of you would do! No thanks, rather keep my sanity.” Donna paused for a second, considering, “Tell you what I will do, though. Christmas dinner!” Rose and the Doctor tried to shake her off and Donna said, “Oh, come on! My mum always makes enough for twenty.”

 

The Doctor waffled while events of the day crashed over Rose in that moment—she’d only said goodbye to her mum this morning—and said, “Thank you, really, but I don’t think I’m ready for a family Christmas just yet.” The Doctor’s hand tightened on her shoulder.

 

“Right, right. Of course. I’d better get inside, then.”

 

“Can I?” Rose asked, opening her arms for a hug. Donna hugged her with a squeeze, and then did the same to the Doctor. “I’m so glad we met you, Donna.”

 

“Agreed! Donna, good luck,” the Doctor said as he and Rose entered the TARDIS. He turned around and added, “And just be magnificent.”

 

He closed the doors behind him and he and Rose walked up the ramp hand in hand. They didn’t get very far before Donna started shouting for them. They looked at each other, puzzled, before Rose opened the door again and they both stuck their heads out.

 

“Blimey, you can shout!” the Doctor said.

 

“Am I ever going to see you again?”

 

The Doctor smiled, “Oh, only if we’re very lucky.”

 

------

 

Once they got inside, the Doctor sent them into the vortex and dragged her to the medbay, running a series of tests.

 

“Are you actually a medical doctor for humans? Are you qualified to do any of this?” she teased, sitting on a gurney.

 

“Hey, do you think I carry around a stethoscope for fun?” he said, mostly still focused on the data. He sat on one of those spinning stools in Doctor’s offices while in front of a computer.

 

She pretended to think for a second. “Uh, yes.

 

He made a noise of fake outrage and looked up at her. “I’ll have you know that official licenses for medical professionals has only been around for a hundred or so years by your time—practically brand-new concept. Think every person immediately had a driver’s license as soon as one of you lot strapped a motor to some wheels? Not likely!” Something on the computer he’d been using dinged and he turned his attention. “But yes, it is fun.”

 

He looked at the readouts, still for a few moments, before reaching into his jacket and pulling out his glasses. He fiddled with a few buttons on the computer and rubbed the back of his neck, a puzzled expression clear on his face.

 

“What is it? What’s wrong?” she asked, and the Doctor didn’t answer her. “Doctor, am I going to be okay?”

 

“I don’t know,” he said, finally. She made a noise, concerned, and he backtracked. “No, no, no, you’re fine. From this, you’re great, going to be just fine.”

 

No quite calm, she asked, “But?”

 

“But, I have no idea what it means. Today has been a day for me not knowing things,” he muttered the last part. He pointed at a graph on the screen. “See this? I sequenced your DNA and it’s not entirely human anymore, not really.”

 

“I’m not human?” she asked, feeling sick. She thought of her mum and of her mum asking if she’d still be Rose Tyler ten years down the line.

 

“No, you’re still human, ninety-nine-point-nine percent, repeating. But, there’s a shred of something else. Completely unnoticeable unless someone sequences your entire genome and knows what to look for; anyone else would have just assumed computer error if they saw these results.”

 

“Okay, so I’m mostly human. But, what does this mean?” she asked. He stood and she moved her knees so he could stand between them in front of her. He gently brushed one of her cheeks with the pad of his thumb and she reached up to grab that hand in hers.

 

“I’m not entirely sure. People don’t just go off and take the time vortex into themselves like that and even if they did, they certainly didn’t live through it. I didn’t.” He kissed her forehead. “You’re completely unique, Rose Tyler.”

 

She moved her hands to play with his tie—they’d always had a casual sort of physical intimacy, but it felt like any physical boundaries left just dissolved since this morning.

 

“Any guesses?”

 

“Oh, plenty. You know me, got a million. Love guesses.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Well, you’re probably going to live a lot longer than the average human, for one.”

 

“How much is a lot?”

 

“Dunno, could be an extra decade or a few hundred years.” He paused. “Are you, are you okay with that?”

 

“Are you?”

 

“Oh yes,” he said, and she tugged on his tie, pulling him into a kiss. They kissed and smiled into each other lips for a few long moments before they broke apart.

 

“Anything else?”

 

“You’ll probably be able to recover from injuries a bit faster,” he said, tilting his head to the side. “I think that bit might be confirmed already—thought you fractured a couple ribs at Canary Wharf and by the time we got here, they were just bruised. Blimey, thought that was just a misread.” He scratched his chin. “And then you were fine by morning—though that was sped up by the medication.”

 

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” she said. “Being hurt less, living longer. Could be worse. That all?”

 

“I genuinely don’t know. Maybe some heightened telepathic senses? You are more in-tuned with the TARDIS than anyone else I’ve brought on board. But, really, anything’s possible.”

 

She hummed. “You and me, stuff of legends—of course anything’s possible.”

 

He kissed her again and said, “I love you.”

 

She pushed their foreheads together. “I love you, too.” They sat there together for a few moments until she said, “You know, it’s been a really long day, but I don’t think I could sleep even if I tried.”

 

He kissed her forehead one more time before straightening and stepping away from her. “Well! Want to watch something in the media room? I’ll make us tea!”

 

------

 

Rose went ahead and set up the next episode of By the Light of the Asteroid while he made them tea. He joined her, carrying in two mugs: his tea in his favorite mug (a white one covered in tiny crossed out pears, a gift from her), and hers in her mum’s favorite.

 

She thanked him and took the mug, stroking the ceramic. She curled up into his side, his arm slung around her shoulders, and he hit play.

 

They watched the family drama play out on-screen and Rose sighed, “They’ve got nothing on the Nobles,” and the Doctor threw his head back and laughed.