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bittersweet

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He peeled dripping pinstripes from his shoulders and hunched wearily over the console for a bleak moment before slumping into the jump seat. Exhausted, he let his head loll back, jaw slack and eyes drooping and wet hair sticking to his forehead.

The Tardis felt vast and empty, and even the ship herself was hushed, her presence in his mind only a distant subdued whisper. The solitude felt like nothing so much as the open pit of a waiting grave.

He grieved for Donna, his brilliant friend whose world had just become so much smaller. At least he could take some tiny comfort that she’d never know what she lost.

He, on the other hand… he always remembered everything.

Centuries of everything and who knew how many more to come and what exactly was the point of it all when he was the last, the only, set apart and sometimes rightly vilified or wrongly deified and always so, so alone?

Was it really only a few short hours ago he’d felt so – so full? His words to Wilf rang hollow in his head: They’ve all got someone else.

And they did. All of them did.

Even she did now.

Rose.

Always Rose.

He needed to believe he’d done the right thing even as remorse stung him. He’d pushed her away, manipulated her, lied to her. It wouldn’t take her long to realise it, that his other self wasn’t dangerous at all. He’d never have left her with –

left her.

Home flashed a sunrise smile over a dark hilltop and came back to him like the first new leaf after unending snow.

And like the unexpected storm that kills the bud, he left her.

Abrupt reality slashed him deep and bled into his bones, settling sorrowful there as he buried his face in his hands.

It was the right thing, had to have been the right thing, because wasn’t that always the one that hurt the most?

He loved her and he’d left her, left her with himself and what an odd thing to burn with so much envy for his own reflection.

Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.

This from the same man who blathered on about how it was better to have loved and lost. What did Tennyson know anyway?

Unexpectedly, he felt the Tardis give him a gentle mental push.

Oh.

Oh, he was being a spiteful old man in this grand moment of self-pity. Alf had known enough of grief, more than enough to write the damned thing.

Right. Time to stop wallowing.

It would have to be enough, just the barest shadow of enough, to know that she was happy. To know that in one universe, at least, they were the Doctor and Rose, together. As it should be.

Chasing solace, he felt his mind begin to wander in slow steps down that well-worn what-if path of daydreams, lingering fondly at each glimpse of life, that one adventure he could never have.

He saw doors and carpets and windows with curtains. A house.

A proper house, Rose.

The first day it was theirs, they stripped its white walls bare – “No more white walls,” she declared. “Never again.” So that very first day, that very first thing, the two of them painted everything anew with gleeful abandon. They painted murals in every room, weaving the story of their own forever into the very foundation of their home.

She rolled her eyes at his insistence on the Rosette nebula shining from the ceiling of the master bedroom; he laughed as she painted the front door Tardis blue and carefully lettered “PULL TO OPEN” above the doorknob.

Furniture yet to be delivered, they made love on the tarp-draped floor amidst paint cans and brushes and awoke the next morning stiff and naked and joyful and covered in colour.

She stayed at Torchwood and he reluctantly joined her, but they did little field work now that they had each other. He found himself continually in awe of her as he learned her anew, the woman she’d become in their time apart.

They tended a garden together that summer, taking root and flourishing where they were even as they tended their child Tardis in the back yard shed, this sentient being who would take them back to the stars and erase the barriers of time and space.

The day of her first flight came shockingly soon, less than a year after Bad Wolf Bay thanks to Donna’s advice. She bubbled over, filling their minds with teenage excitement as the three of them rocketed away from the Earth. Only a short test run, they orbited for a time before returning home, but it felt so right to be there gazing at the planet from above through open doors with his arms around Rose and his chin on her shoulder.

Children.

Beautiful children with wild brown hair and her nose and stars in their eyes. James Peter came first, and the first time she called him Jack, the Doctor feigned outrage just to hear her laugh.

Their family was the Stuff of Legend. Happy.

As it should be.

He started awake on the jump seat.

Feeling lighter and heavier at the same time, he stood and stretched. Realising he’d slept long enough for his clothes to dry, he cast a suspicious glance at the time rotor. Her comforting presence hummed in affirmation.

Right, then.

It was time.

A few moments later, he stood in front of a door he’d not let himself consider for a long time, piece of paper clutched in hand. He didn’t want to go in, but he had to leave it. It belonged there.

He didn’t, couldn’t linger. He placed the note on her vanity amidst a sea of her and left swiftly, stone-faced, without looking back.

Gently, the Tardis shifted Rose Tyler’s room into storage carrying the message she would never read.

Rose.
It isn’t enough, but it has to be.
I would have said it.
I love you. I have loved you, do love you, will love you until it all ends and the stars burn out and everything dies for good. Even me.
Longer, even.
I think perhaps forever.

Oh, she knows.