They didn’t go anywhere for a week. She only saw the Doctor at mealtimes, and then he was as happy and carefree as always. There was no evidence that he was faking his emotions. No hitch in his breathing, no downcast eyes or shadows across his face. No evidence that the woman he’d loved had rejected him. Nurse Redfern. Who had loved John Smith the man, but couldn’t love the Doctor, the Time Lord.
His reaction to her refusal frightened Martha. He was just as unreachable when he was happy as he was when he went cold. Perhaps there was no difference. At the end of the week, she gathered her courage and asked to go home.
“Just for a couple of hours,” she assured him with an earnest expression. “I just want to get some things together if I’m going to keep traveling with you.”
“Of course, Martha Jones! Whatever you want,” he said, big smile intact. “What time do you want me to come back?”
“You’re…not going to stay?” Cautious. Wary of him, like a wounded animal.
“Nah,” he leaned against the console with a casual air. “Don’t really go in for families. Too domestic.”
“But you’ll come back, right?” She had to make sure.
“Yeah! Of course.”
She stared at him for a long moment, trying to gauge his sincerity. He bore her inspection with amused stoicism.
“All right,” she said reluctantly. “Give me five hours and I’ll be ready to go.”
“Five and a half.”
The doors had barely closed behind Martha when the Doctor sent the TARDIS hurtling back into the Vortex almost violently. He loved the Earth, of course he did. He wouldn’t have spent so much time there, extended so much effort to keep it healthy and whole and moving down its most prosperous timeline if he didn’t. It wasn’t just the humans – though they were brilliant. And it wasn’t one of the some two dozen other species that had evolutionary beginnings on that planet. Though those were rather brilliant, too. It wasn’t even its green grass, or blue sky, or soaring mountains. Or great works of art. No, it wasn’t any of those things in particular. It was some mix of all those that, when added all together, somehow added up to more than the sum of its parts. But right now, all its people and beauty and grandeur weren’t enough to convince him to set foot upon it anytime soon. Because while Earth had done all those things, it had also done something else. It had given him her.
And then taken her away.
The Doctor spared a thought for Martha, waiting patiently back in her apartment, and felt a twinge of guilt for manipulating her. He’d known that she would eventually ask him to go back to Earth. That keeping her locked up in the TARDIS while simultaneously denying her his company would drive her home – if only for a short while. He’d known that, and he’d used it. He was going back for her. Five and a half hours – for her – would find him parked in her living room, smug as can be.
But it would be considerably longer than that for him.
He’d lost so much recently. Rose, due to her own stubborn nature and the stupidity of the people that ran Torchwood. An organization that, irony of ironies, had been created due to the actions of Rose and the Doctor themselves. Joan he’d lost because he was too different, too extreme as a Time Lord for her to love. How had Tim Latimer put it? Fire and ice and rage. Yes. That was him. Hot and cold and unpredictable and angry… The Doctor’s hands began to shake and he hastily shoved them into his pockets as he stared unseeing at the console. So much anger, guilt, and madness swirled endlessly at the center of him. It cost him much to be able to seal it away.
All of these pains, all of these losses were heaped upon him because of one thing: his own actions in the Time War. But it went back farther than that, didn’t it? A long time ago, eons it felt like, the Time Lord Celestial Intervention Agency, the CIA, had sent him on a mission into Skaro’s past with precise instructions to wipe the daleks out before they ever reached the point of threatening the rest of the galaxy. He’d gone… and failed. Purposefully. Intentionally. He’d looked at the daleks in their infancy and had been unable to slaughter the baby in the cradle for what it would grow to do. So he’d tinkered with their genetics. Introduced into their psyche the question of ‘why’, thinking then that those two things would be enough to put them on that one shining path where they became prosperous, if slightly aggressive, members of the galactic community. Then he’d flown away with a sense of relief, confident that he’d managed to spare his soul the scars of genocide.
How young and foolish he’d been back then.
And there was no fixing it now, no rewriting his actions. Time is set in a Time Lord’s wake. Once a Time Lord has been involved the events are essentially fixed. Or so he tells himself so that he can sleep. The truth is that time is in flux. Save for a few key fixed moments, time is always in flux. Even the loss of Rose could be fixed, altered, made to never have happened if only he would break all the rules of time.
He could. It would be so easy.
But he refrained. Kept himself busy and focused on other things so that he didn’t think about how simple it would be to send himself a message back through the Vortex. He had a hypercube somewhere deep in the TARDIS. He could warn himself away from Earth then. Or tell himself to arrive earlier. Or not to send her away that final time. It could very well have been that last trip through the Void that had tipped the balance between the strength she had to hold on, and the pull of the fissure. So many things he could have done differently. So many things he should have. And it would be so easy to…
He wrenched his mind away from the seductive train of thoughts. He could not cross back over his own timeline. Not even for Rose. Especially not for Rose. He ran the risk of pulling them apart prematurely. Even thinking too hard about how to avoid her loss caused his memories of their times together to get fuzzy. He didn’t dare actually do anything.
“Augh!” He threw his hands in the air and paced out of the control room, his shoulders hunched, brows drawn down deep over his eyes. Thinking of ways to avoid her loss was only secondary to the main problem that he found himself chewing over these days. Mostly, he thought of how to get her back. He had a list of ways to retrieve her from the parallel world twenty items long. Fully a third of them would destroy Pete’s World before he could ever get through the Void into it. Five of them would destroy this universe instead. The remaining ways would destroy them both. Gallifrey had machines, huge underground machines spanning hundreds of parnets long that had been used to locate, separate, and open doorways to the parallel worlds. It had taken dozens of workers to operate, and even more to keep it running. One Time Lord on his own, with nothing but a TARDIS, simply couldn’t bridge the gap safely.
Once again, he was left lamenting the course his life had taken. If only…he shook his head and hunched his shoulders, lowering his head as if to plow through his thoughts and leave them scattered in his wake. The truth was that there was a way to get her back. One that wouldn’t involve the destruction of anything. It would, in fact, require the creation of something. Namely, a permanent, stable doorway between the realms. But creation was, in many ways, far more dangerous than destruction could ever be. Kill a man before his time, destroy a wall before it is built, and time will flow around the change with very little problem. A new person will fill the old one’s shoes, a fence will go where the wall had been.
But an addition? The creation of something that wasn’t there before forever altered the flow of time. And something as major as the building of a doorway would have so many consequences he couldn’t calculate them all. Not to mention that it would require violation of the most basic of all the Time Lord rules. He would have to go into Gallifrey’s past.
But even that wasn’t as simple as it sounded. Putting a block on Gallifrey’s timeline was the very first thing the Time Lords had done when they learned how to use time travel. No one and nothing was capable of moving backwards along Gallifrey’s timeline. To even begin to rescue Rose, he would have to dig down deep into the heart of the TARDIS and rip out the restraining collar that was buried there. A process that would be painful and exhausting for the Doctor and his magnificent time ship. Also, it could kill them both.
He wandered the hallways, hands sunk deep into his pockets. He could risk everything to have her back. His life, the life of his TARDIS. Even potentially the lives of all his people, if he managed to muck anything up.
But she was worth it.
And that’s what it came down to, wasn’t it? If she was worth the potential cataclysmic damage he could cause by going back into his people's past. For a human that would die within a century. His people weren’t even proper adults by the time they hit the one hundred year mark. But this was Rose.
The Doctor stopped walking and put his hand on the softly curved wall of the TARDIS. Whenever it was just him, with no companions about, he talked to her in the language of the Time Lords. It was the only time he ever heard it being spoken. It wasn’t much, but when you were the last of your kind, you held onto every scrap of your people you could. «What do you think, Old Girl? Is this something I should attempt? Or am I mad for even thinking it?»
There was no discernible response from the TARDIS, but there never was. Each capsule was imbedded with the consciousness of an eleventh-dimensional being, their minds so vast and complicated he was just as incapable of understanding how her mind worked, as the humans he traveled with were able to understand his. She literally existed across all of space and time at once. When the TARDIS traveled through time, it wasn’t really traveling through time. More like, asking the TARDIS to slide the capsule along the line of her consciousness to another spot on her being. Rather like sliding a bead along a string. If that bead was actually a trans-dimensional object with no true outer form and the string was a vast web-like network spanning eleven different dimensions with no discernible end point and a mind of its own.
So, no. Not really like sliding a bead along a string.
Still, she could communicate in her own way. Words were beyond (or beneath) her, as were things like pictograms. Complex ideas were easier for her to understand, they more closely approximated her own existence. Now, he closed his eyes and focused on his plan for getting Rose back. It was sufficiently complicated that she would be able to understand it. He hoped. If he could capture enough of her consciousness that she would pay attention.
The Doctor began by searching inside of himself for the psychic connection the TARDIS used to translate alien languages for his companions. It was faint, and generally passive, his companions simply understanding the alien cultures without effort on his part. This time he purposefully activated the link while focusing on his plan, carefully holding all its myriad of points together in his mind. Like an origami artist holding the edges of the paper together in preparation for the next crease. He knew his message had been delivered and understood when the hallway began to glow gold behind his eyelids.
«So what do you think Old Girl? Do we dare?» he asked again.
When he’d closed his eyes, he’d been deep within the hallways of the TARDIS. Somewhere between the Forvestan gardens and the library of cheese. Now, he was standing at the mouth of a hallway, and directly in front of him was the control room. And one very specific grate had been strategically moved out of the way, exposing the wires and tubes leading into the heart of the TARDIS.
He walked warily into the room and stopped at the edge of the hole in the floor, hands in his pockets. He tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling. «It’ll hurt, you know. A lot.»
The grating rattled farther away from the hole, opening it up wider.
The Doctor stood there for a long moment, thinking about his plan. Examining it from all angles. Checking it for flaws. There were a disturbingly large number of things that were left up to luck and chance. And so much depended on the TARDIS’ ability to navigate them through such a treacherous time in the Vortex. But she’d gotten his message. She understood his plan. And she’d expressed her approval in the best way she could.
He turned away, shucking his jacket and tie. He returned to the grating, rolling his sleeves as he went. «You ready for this, Old Girl?»
But there was no response.
She’d already left. The majority of her consciousness and attention already flowing along the lines of her own existence, too vast and complicated to be tied to one single point for long. He wished she could have stayed with him longer, but he had her support. That would have to be enough for now.
Squatting down, he wormed his way into the hole, batting away tubing and low-hanging wires as he went. He’d long since left the opening behind him when he found his goal. Deep down, meters and meters below the console with its myriads of button and switches was the slave collar. Oh it had a fancy name. Redirection Circuit or Co-ordinate Adjuster. Or perhaps it was the Uniciary Proporform Restriction and Guidance Module. But he had no use for scientific babble when there was no companion around to impress. And the name didn’t change what it did. This complex bit of organic and metallic material had one very simple purpose: to restrict the natural ability of a TARDIS to travel wherever and whenever it had/has/will have ever existed across the course of its ‘life’. Its construction was the deepest mystery of Gallifrey. Even its existence wasn’t taught in the Academy. He only knew about it because of a combination of luck, curiosity, and the overwhelming boredom he’d been subjected to while acting as a Chancellor on the Supreme Council.
Now that he was actually faced with the thing, the Doctor realized that he had no actual idea where to begin. How to go about removing it without actually destroying the center column it was wrapped around. He studied the way the TARDIS had grown around the collar much the same way a tree would grow around a bolt sunk into its bark.
This was going to take a lot of work.