aibhinn_fics: (London)
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Title: Thirteen
Author: [livejournal.com profile] aibhinn
Rating: Teen (for minor swearing)
Warnings: Canon character death, spoilers for JE
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not making any money. Please not to sue me.
Summary: The Doctor returns to Pete's World and meets up with Rose . . . but all is not quite as it seems.
Author's Note: Written for round 1.10 of [livejournal.com profile] writerinatardis. The prompt was this quotation: Perfection is a road, not a destination. Every time I live, I get an education. - Burk Hudson


He stood there in the churchyard, staring with unseeing eyes at the tombstone before him. The grass was just starting to grow back in over the gravesite, he saw, and the flowers were beginning to wilt, too.

"Hello, Doctor," a familiar voice said. "I wondered if you'd come."

He spun to see Rose Tyler-Smith standing behind him, looking at him with an unreadable expression. Tear tracks were visible on her cheeks, and she had a bouquet of daffodils in her hand.

She didn't look a day older than she had the last time he'd seen her, on that beach in Norway.

"How did you recognise me?" he asked, tugging at the impeccable, natty grey suit he wore. This regeneration was something of a neat freak, far different from the last one she'd known. No rumpled hair and negligently-tossed coats for him.

Rose ignored his question; just stepped past him as though he weren't there to kneel and lay the flowers in front of the tombstone. Her fingers brushed lightly over the name inscribed there. John Peter Smith, 1970 – 2055. Beloved husband of Rose. "Why are you here, Doctor?" she asked quietly, not turning around.

"To find you."

She laughed, but there was no humour in it; the sound of it cut him to the bone. "Why?" she asked again, now turning to look at him. "Because now John's gone, you can have me guilt-free? Because after thirty-five years in one timeline, you think I must be panting to get out and see the stars? Because you think that after a lifetime with your half-human twin, a Time Lord can only look better?" She rose to her feet, facing him squarely. "You knew," she said, a chill in her voice that he'd never heard before. "You knew that John would die—you told me he would. And you knew that I wouldn't."

He looked away; he couldn't meet her gaze, couldn't stand to see the cold fury in them. "Yes," he admitted quietly.

Her hand swung, and before he could think about ducking, it connected with his cheek. Pain flared. "You bastard," she hissed. "You left us here with nothing, just a bit of TARDIS coral and away you go without so much as a goodbye. Live a fantastic life, you said. Well, we did, Doctor—until we suddenly realised that my husband looked twenty years older than I did. Then thirty. Then forty. At the end, people thought he was my grandfather. And he had to watch me staying young as he aged, knowing exactly what it was doing to me because he'd been you; he'd spent nine hundred years watching the people he loved wither and die. He had to live the last years of his life knowing that I would be left alone forever, young forever, and there was nothing he could do about it. And you never even told us it would happen."

The last sentence was filled with such venom that he actually took a step back. "I wasn't sure," he said quickly. "I wasn't certain what would happen to you. I thought maybe . . . he would have died, Rose. He'd have died if he'd stayed in the other universe with Donna, and she would have died as well. I thought, you were here, with your family and your new life, and you loved him, and he loved you, and you could make it work, the two of you."

"But you never asked!" she cried, and now he could see it behind her eyes: hurt. Not just anger, but hurt that he hadn't trusted her, hadn't explained, hadn't believed she would have done the right thing without being forced. His heart clenched again, and he looked away.

"I couldn't," he said, willing her to understand. "I couldn't ask, Rose, because I could never say no to you. Not then, not now, not ever. I didn't dare give you the chance to refuse, because if you'd asked me to maroon him here and take you with me, I'd have done it. In a heartsbeat I'd have done it. But he only existed because of me, and you—" He forced himself to meet her eyes again. "You were the only one in both universes who could have made his life worth living, could have brought him from the aftermath of genocide to being able to live again."

This time, she looked away. "You don't know that," she said quietly.

Greatly daring, he reached out to touch her arm. She didn't flinch. "Yes, I do," he said, just as quietly. "Because it's what you did for me."

Silence fell, not quite comfortable, not quite awkward. The Doctor looked at the new-chiselled tombstone, and thought about the man he'd abandoned—yes, abandoned, he could admit that now—here with Rose. How ironic that his twin had used the name John Smith after all, he thought. What would he, the Doctor, have given in 1913 to have had the chance with Joan that his twin had with Rose? What would Joan have given to have that John Smith back? Leaving his twin with Rose had been his one chance to truly live a human life, albeit vicariously, and he'd mucked it up.

"So what now?" Rose asked at last, in a voice that spoke of utter exhaustion, both physical and emotional. She had her hands in her pockets and her shoulders slumped forward, as though she were physically protecting her heart from being broken again. "You expect me to swan off with you, is that it? Back into your TARDIS like nothing's happened?"

"No," he said gently. "I don't expect anything, Rose, but I hope."

She looked down at the ground. "I didn't really understand, you know," she said. "Before, when we met Sarah Jane. You talked about watching humans wither and die, about how I could spend my whole life with you but you couldn't spend yours with me. I thought I knew what you meant—I thought, how awful, how much he must have been hurt over the years. But now, watching Mum and Dad and Mickey and John . . . ." She raised her head, and he almost flinched, because he recognised the pain in her gaze. He knew it, far too well. "Now I really do know," she said. "I never realised what a curse immortality could be."

The Doctor took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You're not actually immortal," he said. "Your lifespan is tied to mine. When I die, so will you. That's what happened when I took the Vortex from you: it tied us together in ways I didn't know until just recently."

She shrugged. "But you've regenerated since I saw you last, so obviously that doesn't kill me. Think I'll be around for a good long while yet."

"Rose, I don't have unlimited regenerations," he explained. "I've got twelve of them—thirteen bodies, that's it. And this one is my thirteenth. My last body, my last life."

Comprehension dawned in her eyes. "So when you die in this body—"

"—so do you." He nodded. "That's why I came back. To tell you—to warn you—and, yes, to invite you to come with me. It could still be hundreds of years; I was almost 300 when I regenerated the first time." His voice dropped. "I don't want you to be alone when you die."

The simple honesty of that statement seemed to rattle her. She shifted, turning sideways to him, and looked out across the churchyard. The wind blew her hair away from her face, revealing her achingly familiar profile. "I tried so hard to hate you," she whispered. "When I saw what it was doing to John, knowing what I was going through, I did hate you a little. Just a little. It was all I could manage, no matter how I tried."

"I know," he said. "And I understand. I deserve it; I took all your choices away from you, just walked away without a word. I'd understand it if you hated me." He gave a little half-laugh, self-deprecating. "I'm not sure why you don't, to be honest."

Her smile was full of both sadness and amusement when she turned to look at him. "Me neither," she said.

Hoping, he held out a hand to her. A heartsbeat's hesitation, and she took it.
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