The Box, The Sea, Rose, Her Mum, The Doctor's Heart (and the rest of him)

The door closes and his old blue box fades away, pulsing in and out like a heartbeat. Next to him, Rose is rooted to the spot, feet planted in the sand, her hand in his, but her whole body leans forward, as if she's about to throw herself at the TARDIS and beat down the door, begging to be let back in. He tightens his grip on her hand until the final whines are lost beneath the crashing of the waves, until there's nothing left of it but the space it left behind.

Rose turns away suddenly. "There's a B&B about five miles up the road. We can wait for Dad there." She drops his hand and sets off, feet churning up the damp sand.

"Pete's World!" he says to himself, remembering.

"Oh, it's Pete's world, all right," Jackie says from behind him, making him jump. Stuck in a parallel universe with Jackie Tyler. He couldn't come up with a better punishment if he'd tried.

"Do you know he gets me pregnant and then it's like his work is done?" she says. "Too much for him to change a dirty nappy. 'But Jackie, I'm in a holoconference with the King of Spain, it'll only just be a minute, cheers.' See how he likes it now that Mickey's gone. Did all the cooking, he did."

She falls silent and he hopes that's the end of it. A human eternity of Jackie Tyler, of domestic disputes, of all those fiddly little things humans have to do to stay alive and happy and in the same skin. He looks up the beach. Rose is still trudging away, a good distance ahead of them now. High overhead, a zeppelin floats by, nearly silent as it pushes through the air.

Jackie's staring at him, a calculating look on her face. "So you've only got the one heart now, yeah? Just like the rest of us."

He can feel his one heart beating, and in the pause between beats, nothing, a terrible gap that makes him feel half-dead. "Yep," he says.

"Can't go changing your face around whenever it suits you," she says, smug. "You'll have to get a proper job, too. No more flying about in your funny blue box, stealing away my Rose."

"Oi!" Rose says, whipping around, hair flying in her eyes. "Let up, Mum."

Jackie huffs. "I suppose you did get Earth back, though it did take two of you."

He grins, grins, grins, because Rose Tyler built a machine and hopped across universes to find him, to push back the darkness, to save them all.

"Couldn't have done it without Rose," he says, still grinning. "Or Jack, or Mickey, Sarah Jane, Harriet Smith, Martha Jones, Gwen Cooper, Donna Noble--"

Donna. All that Time Lord stuff wasn't meant to be in a human head. He pats his cheeks, pokes at his own human head, wonders if they were lying before, if he still is everything he was. If he's missing something besides his second heart.

He grabs Jackie by the elbows. "Quick! Ask me something only I would know."

"How should I know what you lot think about?" She shrugs him off and he races ahead to catch up with Rose.

"Rose! Ask me about the infinite waterfalls of Sol's Wing. How light on Tricuna 4 breaks into colours that only birds can see. Where the Minorii Tailor-King hid his spool of golden thread. Anything!"

"Okay," she says, coming to a stop. "Tell me what happened to Jack."

Jack, chasing down the TARDIS, clinging to it all the way to the end of the universe, dying over and over on the Valiant. Seems he does remember everything. He makes a face. "Come on, wouldn't you rather hear about the Great Wombat Stampedes? Though it wasn't much of a stampede, really, too slow and it ended with a Great Wombat Nap."

But Rose won't be deterred. "Jack died while fighting the Daleks. I saw him. On Satellite Five, and then again, just now! Only he's out walking around Clerkenwell with Martha like it never happened!"

"Don't forget Mickey," he says. Explaining this to Jack had not gone well, explaining it to Rose would be impossible. Easier to pretend it never happened.

"Doctor!" Rose scowls. She wants to argue with him. It's the best thing about her. Always ready for a fight, Rose Tyler is. Her eyes dart over his face, searching him for signs of weakness. "Tell me."

He caves, tells her: "When you came back for me in the TARDIS, you were glowing, filled with the power of the time vortex. You destroyed the Daleks and brought Jack back to life. Forever, as it turns out."

"What?" Her voice breaks. "But we left him there!"

"Aw, but he was fine. He found me again, just like you did! Tracked me down using my trusty spare hand." He wiggles its fingers at her in a wave.

"You left him there," she says, eyes filling with angry tears. "How could you just leave him there?"

"Well, after you mucked about with the time vortex, Jack became a fixed point, and you know how I feel about those." He shudders, disgust pinging through his entire body, from the tips of his hair down through his rib cage and out through his toes. "Gives me the willies."

"You shouldn't have left him! You can do anything, but you just keep leaving." She seems to shrink, shoulders curling in, crushed under the weight of all that misery and he can't have that at all. He needs Rose to fight with him. To make things less easy.

"No," he agrees, pulling her in for a hug. "No. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

He rocks her, kisses the top of her head, knows he'll spend the rest of his human life making it up to her.

Rose pushes her face into his chest. "You're always leaving."

"Shh," he says. "Not this time. I'm going to get a proper job. What do you think? Dinner lady? Ticket puncher? Oooh, bus driver!"

She pulls back and looks at him like he's crazy, good old Rose.

"You two!" Jackie says, hurrying past them, head ducked and hands over her hair like she's running through a swarm of invisible bees. "It's started to rain and here you are so pleased with yourselves it's like you don't even notice anything else!"

Rose bites her lip and then bursts out laughing. He tilts his head back and grins up at the sky, at the cold fat drops that land in his hair and run down his face. He sticks his tongue out. Salty, with a hint of fish, and just a touch of zeppelin fuel.

Ahead of them, Jackie's making a sustained high-pitched squealing noise, just like the TARDIS when she's got her primary influx coils in a twist. It makes him momentarily fond of the old girl.

Rose sighs and wipes her face with her sleeve. "We'd better get her out of the rain before she melts."

"Does that sort of thing happen a lot around here?" He reaches for his sonic screwdriver, but before he can get too excited, realizes it's in his other jacket, on his other him.

"You've never seen The Wizard of Oz?"

"I once shared a horse with the Lieutenant of Zoz," he offers, but before he can finish she's grabbed his hand and they're running through the deep, loose sand, headed for the grassy dunes that border the road.

"There's a car coming," she says over her shoulder. "We can hitch a ride into town!"

They swing pass Jackie, still running through her invisible bees. He holds his hand out. "Hop on, Jackie!"

For once, she follows his lead without argument, and they form a ragged tail behind Rose, kicking up sand and racing for the road. He shouts, just to shout, running through the rain with Rose and Jackie, getting sand in his sneakers, the cold, zeppeliny rain hitting him in the face, and underneath it all, the knock of his heart, his single, human heart, beating in his chest.