Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

“It seems like AGES since we went anywhere in the TARDIS together,” Rose said as she settled her three youngest children on the sofa and initiated the anti-gravity cushions that kept them safe. She went to stand at the console next to her husband, The Doctor. She grinned. The juxtaposition of those two phrases – her husband and The Doctor still seemed amazing even after nearly ten years of marriage.

“You’re still my girl,” The Doctor said. He had caught the bit about ten years. She was nineteen when he met her, barely more than a child. He married her when she was twenty-three – in linear years at least. They had knocked about the universe for slightly longer. Ten years and five children later she still looked the same. The Time Lord DNA he had shared with her when he made his bargain with Rassilon held back the time as far as physical appearance went.

“A few more years and Vicky will pass for my sister,” she said. “Won’t that be weird.”

“My son is married to your mother,” The Doctor answered catching her in his arms and kissing her lovingly. “Jackie is both my mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Our family tree is more like a mangrove swamp. Weird doesn’t begin to describe what passes for normality for us. But don’t you just LOVE it? Would you swap it for anything else?”

“Not in a million years,” Rose answered. “Come on, are we going to snog all day or set this old thing going somewhere?”

“Old thing?” The Doctor pretended to be hurt by her description of the TARDIS. He hit the dematerialisation switch. The time rotor went up and down twice then spluttered to a stop. He grabbed the mallet he kept hanging on a peg by the drive controls and gave the console a tap in a certain spot. The dematerialisation resumed.

“Ok, she’s old, and a bit temperamental. But so would you be if you were her age.”

“You should let Davie give the engines a tune up,” Rose told him. “You’re too stubborn to admit that he’s a better TARDIS mechanic than you. HIS TARDIS and Chris’s never go wrong.”

“Never say never,” The Doctor answered. “It’s almost guaranteeing that one of the boys are going to have TARDIS troubles. Too much like saying the ship is unsinkable.”

“Yeah, I remember that ship,” Rose answered. “Unsinkable my foot. And it was really cold in that lifeboat.”

“At least you HAD a lifeboat,” The Doctor answered. They both laughed. They didn’t mean any disrespect for those who died on the Titanic that night. They laughed because they had survived and the memory of the fear and physical discomfort was dulled by time.

The children laughed even though they didn’t know what the joke was. Rose left The Doctor to his navigation of the time vortex and went to sit with her trio of three year olds for whom the universe was a playground. She told them a cut down version of the adventure at sea she and The Doctor had long before any of them were born. Jack, Julia and Sarah Jane listened avidly to a story in which their own father was the hero. He was the hero of most of the stories they had ever heard – except when Brenda was their baby-sitter and she told them about their equally brave and fantastic relative, Davie.

“There’s a lot of super-ion build-up in the vortex,” The Doctor commented once. Rose looked at the viewscreen and couldn’t really see anything unusual in the swirling kaleidoscope effect, but The Doctor had been travelling in time and space for over a thousand years. He could sense problems coming a long way off.

Which made her wonder why they still managed to run headlong into some of them.

At least they made it to their day trip destination without incident. They spent a delightful afternoon on the sun-drenched planet of Poosh with its fifteen moons that meant the tide came in onto the beach every hour and went out again almost immediately. Building sandcastles to be drowned by the incoming waves and then starting again right away fully occupied the children. The Doctor and Rose sat under a big beach umbrella from the junk room and reminded each other exactly why they had five children – because their love was as strong now as it was when they first dared to declare it to each other.

It was on the way back that things went completely crazy.

“Those super-ions are building up again,” The Doctor said almost casually. Rose caught the very slight edge of concern as she settled the children for a nap on their playmat. She made sure the gravity cushions were set to maximum protection. Super-ions were the vortex equivalent of black ice and hitting a patch of them was just as dangerously unpredictable.

“Just drive safely,” Rose told him. “We’ve got the kids to think about. We can’t go getting into the sort of trouble we used to get into just for fun.”

“Safe driving, absolutely,” The Doctor promised. He smiled as Rose lay beside the children on the mat and closed her eyes. She looked childlike herself lying there with her blonde hair falling over her face.

Then he turned back to the navigation control. Super-ion particles were, indeed, the vortex equivalent of black ice, and that was dangerous. Driving safely and skilfully was imperative.

A VERY long time ago he might happily have let the super-ion traps sweep over the TARDIS and carry it to anywhere and anytime, facing the random adventure with a whoop of joy and the charge of adrenaline coursing through his veins. But that was then, this was now. He had a family, and they were more than adequate compensation for reining himself in just a little. Besides, then he had so many more lives ahead of him. He could afford to be reckless. Now he was far more conscious of his own mortality.

One day he would die. He would leave his children behind as his legacy, and the legacy of his lost world. Through him the Time Lords of Gallifrey were destined to survive forever.

He shook himself mentally. He still had another couple of thousand years in him. There was no need to think like that, yet.

He moved around the console to examine the environmental monitor. Those super-ion particles really were becoming a concern. He wondered if he ought to drop out into ordinary space and wait for it to dissipate. Rose and the children were all asleep. They wouldn’t notice the delay in getting home. Besides, it WAS a TARDIS. He could get them back exactly as planned, an hour before the evening meal, no matter how long they were gone.

A quick adventure and home for tea as he always used to say – ironically in the days when he didn’t actually have a home and didn’t take tea in the afternoon, either.

He returned to the navigation drive and prepared to cancel the home co-ordinate when the super-ion build up around the TARDIS reached critical level. It had taken a matter of seconds. When he took his eye off the gauge it was still in the red ‘major concern’ zone. Now it was at the wrong end of the mauve ‘imminent disaster’ sector.

The TARDIS bucked and span. The door opened of its own volition. Rose woke from her sleep and called out to The Doctor. He told her to stay where she was and look after the babies. They woke, too, as the console room filled with a violent orange light. Rose hugged all three toddlers close and shut her eyes.

She didn’t see the light coalesce around The Doctor. She heard him scream in pain, though, and knew something was very wrong with him.

She didn’t see his body start to glow as the artron energy within his body fought a battle with the strange matter within the super-ion energy that had invaded the TARDIS. She didn’t know that the battle was raging in every one of the atoms that made up his body. She only knew from the terrible, agonising scream that he was in excruciating pain.

Then he stopped screaming. The light dimmed. The door closed. The TARDIS was silent and still. Even the three children stopped sobbing for a few seconds, shocked by the sudden change in the atmosphere around them.

Rose opened her eyes and looked around, alarmed by that silence and stillness. It shouldn’t be silent. It shouldn’t be stilled. The Doctor should be running to make sure she and the children were all right.

The Doctor wasn’t there. She stood up, cancelling the gravity cushions around her. The children scrambled to their unsteady feet, too. They clung to her legs for comfort. She reached and lifted one of them into her arms at random. It was Sarah Jane, her most Human child, born differently to the others, but just as precious to her.

“Mummy, where did Daddy go?” Sarah Jane asked.

“I don’t know,” Rose answered, trying not to let the fear tell in her voice. “But I’m sure he’ll be back, soon. Come on and sit in your travel chairs. I’ve got lollipops in my bag. You can have one each while I see why we’ve stopped.”

The promise of sweets only partially reassured them. They were only four years old, but they knew something was wrong. Jack and Julia were four year old Gallifreyan-Humans. Their mental abilities were already developing. They could sense her anxiety. Sarah Jane knew that her brother and sister were worried, so she was worried, too.

The TARDIS was in ordinary space, revolving slowly to reveal blackness pinpointed with distant stars all around it. Rose had no idea what part of the galaxy – the universe – and what time in its vast history they had materialised in. There was a co-ordinate on the navigation console but it was just numbers – useless to her.

She knew a little bit about piloting the TARDIS, of course, but she had never started a trip from an unknown position before. She didn’t know what that would do. They might end up materialising in the centre of the Earth while the planet was still cooling around them or in the cold maelstrom at the end of the universe.

Besides, she couldn’t go anywhere without The Doctor. Where was he? What happened to him?

Was he dead? She tried to stop that thought taking root in her mind. She didn’t want to believe it and she didn’t want the children getting hold of the idea, either.

“No,” she whispered to herself. “No, he must be alive. I WOULD know if he was dead. I would feel it. The UNIVERSE would convulse if he was gone from it.”

She had always thought that. When he went off for an afternoon by himself and got into all sorts of trouble she knew he was all right. She knew he would turn up a half hour before dinner with a grin on his face and some strange looking extra-terrestrial object as a gift for her. She didn’t worry.

She WAS worried now. She knew in her heart that he wasn’t dead, but he wasn’t with her. She was in the TARDIS in deep space, far from home, and he was gone.

She leaned against the console and took three deep breaths to hold back the tears again. She couldn’t cry in front of the children. She had to be strong for them.

And she had to think. Where WAS he? Could he be in some other part of the TARDIS?

The lifesigns monitor quickly dismissed that simplest and most hopeful possibility. The Doctor’s unique Time Lord DNA was not present within the TARDIS.

Was he outside the TARDIS?

She ran to the door. It opened to her touch. She held onto the door frame and leaned out, looking up at the roof and down to see if he might be clinging to the edge.

He could have fallen out of the TARDIS while they were still in the vortex.

She dismissed that possibility. Even with the door open there was still a forcefield that stopped anyone from simply falling out of the TARDIS. She clung to the door frame out of habit, but she could feel the force field pushing against her when she leaned out.

He could have been transmatted out of the safety of the TARDIS. Perhaps that was what the energy was – a very powerful transmat.

That had happened before, of course. The one adventure she never talked about to anyone, not even Jack, who was there with them, was that time on the Gamestation when the three of them had been dragged unwillingly from the TARDIS and thrust into a Dalek plot to destroy Earth. The idea that even the TARDIS was not impregnable to The Doctor’s worst enemies haunted her darkest dreams.

But the TARDIS was in empty space. There was nothing remotely near them that he could have been transmatted to. She double checked. The nearest star system was a million light years away. It was about as empty and lonely a place as she had ever known.

“Perhaps he IS dead,” she thought as her courage and optimism failed her. “I’m alone here, in the middle of nowhere, and he’s dead.”

It was just a momentary lapse of faith, but it was enough to let the seed of doubt creep in. She felt her legs give way beneath her as the wave of grief overwhelmed her. She slid to the floor beside the console and cried for a long, long time.

When she ran out of tears and picked herself up, sobbing quiet sobs that she tried to disguise as hiccups she saw that the children weren’t upset at all. They were laughing, all three of them.

“What… what’s so funny?” she managed to ask, feeling as if she would never smile at anything again, not even the smiles on her children’s faces.

“Daddy,” Jack and Julia answered in unison.

“Daddy,” Sarah Jane added in a gurgling voice.

“But your Daddy isn’t here,” Rose answered. “I’m sorry. I don’t know WHERE he is. I hope I’ll find him soon, but right now….”

They weren’t listening to her. All three of them were laughing as they did when The Doctor played games with them. He could be so serious, so dour, so very dangerous to anyone who crossed him, but in their own home, in the playroom or on the rug in the drawing room he could make the little ones laugh until they couldn’t stand up with the games he played.

But he WASN’T here. Why were they laughing?

Why were they laughing when her heart was breaking? It was so unfair.

Of course it wasn’t. If the children were coping with this crisis then that was good. They were spared the grief and the pain, at least for a little while.

“Daddy!” All three of then called out at once. Rose watched them.

“What?” she asked. “Is he here? Is he… Doctor, are you there? Are you invisible or something? Out of phase with our reality or something crazy like that? Please, whatever it is… show me whatever it is that you can show them. Please let me know that you’re there.”

But there was nothing, not a breath of displaced air that indicated his presence.

“Are you a ghost?” she asked as the terrible thought gripped her again. “Are you… are you dead… but still here, inside the TARDIS, still with me? If so… if you are… I don’t know… knock three times or something.”

There was nothing. She was relieved. She didn’t want him to be a ghost.

“Daddy-TARDIS,” Jack said. But that didn’t help at all. Of course this was his TARDIS. It had always been his, or at least it had been for a thousand years, which was near enough always to anyone else. The whole of it, especially this console room, was infused with his spirit. That was the reason why it looked so strange with the coral-like pillars holding up the ceiling and the dark, shadowy corners. It had mirrored his dark, shadowy mood when he regenerated in the heat of the destruction of Gallifrey.

He had been happy since they met, and yet the dark, shadowy corners remained. There WAS always that element to the TARDIS, and to him.

The TARDIS was so very much a part of him and he was a part of it. Rassilon’s imprimatur had made him symbiotic with his time and space machine the first day he took charge of it.

The TARDIS was lost without him as much as she was.

“Daddy-TARDIS,” Jack insisted.

“Yes, I know, sweetheart,” Rose answered. “But that doesn’t help at all. I still don’t know where your daddy is. And I don’t know where to find him.”

She reached and hugged her youngest son, then her two little daughters, too. It was a comfort to feel them near her. His DNA was strong in all three of them. But there was still an emptiness inside her that nothing could take away.

She was so lost in her grief that she didn’t notice the slight bump when another TARDIS engaged with that one. She didn’t even notice the door sliding open quietly.

“Divvie,” Sarah Jane lisped.

“Uncie Jack,” Jack and Julia added. Rose looked around at the two people – apart from The Doctor - who she could truthfully say she was glad to see at that moment. Jack Harkness reached her first and hugged her tightly. Davie Campbell looked around the console room with a practiced eye, as if assessing any possible damage to the TARDIS.

“How did you get here?” Rose asked, still clinging to Jack, who realised that something was disturbingly wrong in the TARDIS and didn’t make any of his usual jokes.

“You sent an SOS,” Davie answered. “I was on the way back from picking up Jack on one of his visits to his mum. I thought it was a mistake. HE wouldn’t let me put the emergency code into his TARDIS.”

“I wouldn’t let him ignore it,” Jack assured her. “Not if there was a chance that the two of you were in trouble.”

“I would have come anyway,” Davie added. “Even if I did think it was a computer error, I’d ignore ANY SOS at my peril. But Jack was breathing down my neck the whole way, just to make sure.”

“Thanks, both of you,” Rose said. Then she clung even more tightly around Jack’s neck and told them both what had happened. Davie was as shocked as Jack was to find out that The Doctor was missing, but he wasted no time on speculation. He went to the database console and found the flight recorder. He watched the playback carefully. Jack glanced at the screen over Rose’s shoulder. She didn’t want to look.

“Holy…..” he swore. “It looks as if he was….”

The word Jack was about to say was ‘disintegrated’. On the screen, he had seen The Doctor’s solid, organic form dissolve into the orange light that surrounded him in a way that seemed far more final and devastating than even the most nauseating form of transmat technology he knew of.

Rose whimpered and pressed her face into his shoulder. Jack looked at Davie. He was much younger than he was, but his intelligence and his knowledge outstripped his years, especially about any of the crazy things that might happen to a Time Lord.

“He ISN’T dead,” Davie insisted. “I would DEFINITELY know. Remember, he gave me his soul in the Rite of Mori – in the far future. If he died now, then I would feel something. I’m not sure what, but I think it would be intense. Rose, he’s not dead. He’s just not HERE right now. I just have to find out where he is.”

“There you go, honey,” Jack told her gently. “Don’t cry. Just leave it to Davie. He’s as smart as The Doctor - not as drop-dead gorgeous, but definitely as smart.”

Rose laughed despite herself and let Jack guide her to the sofa beside the three seat arrangement where the children were eating their lollipops and calmly watching Davie moving around the console examining the controls, studying the data that was constantly streaming down the monitor screens. He moved like The Doctor, with a kind of impossible cross between absolute certainty and utter bewilderment about the TARDIS controls.

“Actually,” Rose said to Jack. “Davie IS drop-dead gorgeous, too. But he’s kind of young for me. I remember when he was eight years old and used to drop bits of jam sandwiches all over the console.”

“Yeah,” Jack said to her. “Makes me feel old looking at him, now.”

Then Jack looked at something beyond Davie’s shoulder. He turned to the children and followed their gaze. They were seeing the same thing.

“Daddy-TARDIS,” baby Jack said once again.

“Yeah, I get you, kid,” the man he was named after answered. “Rose… look. I know you’re distracted and scared, but look – really look.”

She looked, and at last she understood what it was the children had been trying to tell her. She gasped out loud and choked back sobs of relief before she saw the tears in Jack’s eyes, too.

“What?” Davie asked, turning around to see Jack and Rose kissing in a way that would have constituted adulterous behaviour according to the very strict social codes of old Gallifrey. “What am I missing, apart from some rather soggy snogging?”

“Davie, step back from the console and look at the screen again,” Jack said. “Look at it the way the kids have been looking at it.”

“I can’t read the data from there,” he answered. “It’s hard enough. The parser isn’t working properly. I’m trying to translate machine code….”

“Nuts to the machine code,” Jack insisted. “Come over here.”

Davie moved back and stood by the sofa. He looked at the monitor everyone else was staring at. From here the stream of data was just points of light and dark constantly moving down the screen. He had managed to work out that it was a recurring code, possibly a message repeating itself in a loop, but machine code was harder than binary to translate on the fly.

Then he saw it, too. It was exactly like one of those ‘magic’ pictures made up of dots that would resolve into a cartoon rabbit if you let your eyes cross until they watered.

The points of light and dark scrolling up the screen formed The Doctor’s face, his lips slowly moving as if he was speaking to them.

“Sweet Mother of Chaos!” Davie swore. “He’s IN the TARDIS. He’s a part of it.”

“It’s completely nuts,” Jack conceded. “But it kind of explains everything.”

“It… doesn’t explain anything,” Rose said. “But is he… alive?”

“Not… in the sense we understand life,” Davie answered, returning to the console and using a separate screen and the full extended keyboard with the Gallifreyan alphabet included to type a stream of machine code of his own. He was writing his own parser to translate the message from The Doctor.

“Got it,” he said at last with a note of triumph. “Yes, it’s translating now. I get it. Oh, $&@#£#. So that’s what happened?”

“What?” Rose and Jack asked at once.

“The super-ions were attacking his body. They were drawn to him like a magnet, because of the artron energy within his molecules. But the trouble is, super-ions are inimical to organic life. So… the TARDIS… saved him… the only way it knew….”

He paused. Rose and Jack looked at him, waiting for a further explanation.

“It saved him to its hard drive, as a programme,” Davie explained. “He’s there… everything that is him… his mind, his personality, his soul, within the TARDIS. Rose… come closer. He needs to see you, to make sure you’re all right.”

“I’m… not all right,” Rose answered. She came closer. The screen flickered and words scrolled across it. “Yes, I love you,” she answered the question. “I’ll always love you. But… I can’t… be married to a computer programme. They’re… pretty liberal these days on Earth. They allow same-gender marriage, mixed species marriage. There’s a woman in America who married her CAR. But I don’t think we’re legally married if you’re a computer programme.”

The reply to that took several lines of text. Rose smiled through her tears. If she had any doubts about what Davie was telling her it would dispel them. Those were exactly the words she knew he would say to her now if he could say them out loud, in that gruff Northern accent of his that could make her Cockney heart melt.

“It’s him,” Jack whispered. “Rose, he’s alive. Hold onto that much, at least. He’s here for you, and the kids.”

“Yes,” Rose answered him. “But still… what am I going to do? How do I tell Vicky and Peter and Christopher… that their dad is….”

“You might not have to,” Davie told her. “There is a chance. But the TARDIS needs more power. He’s sending me co-ordinates. Oh… oh, THAT co-ordinate. Of course. Where else? But… WOW. Seriously? You really want me to do THAT, Doctor?”

The conversation between man and computer that followed was one only another Time Lord could possibly have followed. Jack and Rose were not Time Lords. They couldn’t follow it. The tone in Davie’s voice was the only thing that gave them hope. He was excited. He was going to do something that he had never done before… something with a huge element of risk, something that might not work. But if it did….

“It’s very risky,” he said, addressing them at last. “But he thinks it can be done, and so do I. If you want, Rose, you and the kids can go into my TARDIS and I’ll set it on an automatic course for home.”

She and the children had a way home. For their sake she knew she ought to take it. She should wait back on Earth, where she was safe, where her mother and Susan, Brenda and Carya, everyone was there to support and comfort her while she waited for news.

“No,” she decided. “He tried to get rid of me once before when things were sticky. I came right back to him. We’re all in this together or not at all.”

“He knew you’d say that,” Davie told her. “He told me to tell you something if you did, but I don’t think it would sound right coming from me. Jack, he told me to tell you to give her a big snog for him. But you’ve already done that, so I guess it doesn’t matter.”

Jack grinned and kissed Rose again. While she was distracted Davie moved around to the navigation console and programmed the near impossible co-ordinate that The Doctor had promised him would work.

“It really WILL be bumpy,” Davie said. “Make sure the kids are fastened down – not with the gravity cushions. I can’t guarantee we won’t have power fluctuations. You can’t go wrong with old fashioned safety straps. Fasten yourselves down, too.”

Rose made sure the children were tightly fastened into the chairs that The Doctor had firmly bolted to the floor. Meanwhile Jack secured everything that might fall if the TARDIS was severely buffeted. That was mostly the children’s toys. He didn’t want to be knocked senseless by a plastic mini-croquet set! Then he and Rose sat on the floor with their backs to one of the coral pillars and a length of leather strap with a strong buckle secured around them. He put his arm around her shoulders and held her close while they watched Davie initiate their flight into the vortex.

It was beyond any normal definition of ‘bumpy’. It was an utterly nauseating sensation as the TARDIS bucked and rolled, span like a top, dropped with the acceleration of an elevator in freefall, and then span again. The children laughed. They thought it was a game. They enjoyed all the sensations of the TARDIS acting like a white knuckle ride at a theme park - the pull in their stomachs as it rose steeply and fell rapidly again, the feeling that they were turning upside down even though the internal shremec and the artificial gravity kept them upright.

Rose didn’t enjoy it at all. She was still too worried about The Doctor. Even Jack holding her tight, reassuring as it was, couldn’t quite take away her fears.

“Everything will be all right, honey,” Jack promised her.

“You’re getting out of practice lying,” Rose answered her. “Once I would have believed you right away.”

“That’s Helena. She never believes anything I say, even when I tell the truth. She’s turned me into an honest man.”

“Somebody had to,” Rose told him. “She’s good for you. I’m glad.”

“You know we’re probably going to move out of your house, soon,” he added. “We’ve been talking about it. We’re going to live near my mom, in the fifty-first century. We can both get work – either with the Earth Federation Space Fleet, or maybe at the Time Agency, if they’ll have me back!”

“We always knew you would move on,” Rose told him. “That’s ok. We’ll visit. Me and The Doctor… and the kids. That’s if… if….”

They could still visit even if he WAS trapped within the TARDIS computer, she thought. She could still do things like that. But she wouldn’t have him there with her in the flesh, to hold, to feel his strong arms around her, to smell the salty-sweetness of his alien skin, hear his double hearts beating beneath the wool of that old jumper he always wore even though he owned a wardrobe full of silk shirts.

The TARDIS came out of the vortex at last into ordinary space – except there was nothing ordinary about this space. Rose and Jack disentangled themselves from their restraints and moved closer to the main viewscreen. They looked at the boiling maelstrom of a new solar system in the act of Creation.

“Is it our system?” Rose asked. “Have we come back in time to the creation of Earth?”

“No,” Davie answered. “This is the birth of the Shining System – the Cruciform of Pazithi – that infant star throwing out material that will form the planets that will orbit it… that’s the sun that will warm Gallifrey in a couple of millions years.”

“Are we allowed to be here?” Jack asked.

“We are now,” Davie replied. “He’s writing the rules. He overrode all of the protocols and brought us here. The TARDIS is soaking up raw Artron energy – the building blocks of Time Lord power. It’s going to take a little while. I think you ought to take the little ones and settle them down in their cots for a proper sleep. They look a bit tired.”

“Are you saying that because you think this is going to be dangerous and you want to keep me out of the console room, or because it won’t work, or because… something might happen that the kids shouldn’t see….”

“All of the above,” Davie answered truthfully. “Rose, it would be better for them and you if you weren’t here right now.”

“Come on, sweetheart,” Jack said. “I’ll help you with the kids.” He reached to unfasten little Jack’s harness and lifted him onto his shoulders piggy back style while he held his twin sister, Julia, in his arms. Rose carried Sarah Jane. It was true that the children were sleepy. Their nap had been interrupted by the crisis. Taking them to their quiet TARDIS nursery was sensible. But once they were asleep Rose was determined to get back to the console room to see what Davie was doing.

Jack was at her side as she stepped back into the console room and had to shield her eyes from the artron energy that flowed from the central time rotor. He held her hand tightly as the light formed a golden column that shimmered and sparked with immense power before slowly forming a shape – the shape of a man – the shape of The Doctor.

Rose knew his silhouette well enough. So did Davie who had looked to him as his mentor and role model for so long, and Jack whose feelings for The Doctor were perfectly unambiguous if unrequited.

The golden silhouette began to take on the contours and features of a living body, and that was when The Doctor began to scream as if he was in acute agony. Jack felt Rose tense as if she would run to him and he held her back. Any interference now would be fatal for The Doctor. His body was being formed anew from what had already been described as the building blocks of Time Lord power – the building blocks of Time Lords themselves. It was a painful process, but he had to endure it.

The Doctor stopped screaming as the glow around him dimmed at last. With heroic effort Jack refrained from making any comment about the fact that he was naked. It was a few more minutes before the clothes he was wearing – his usual jumper and leather jacket, trousers and boots formed on him.

The glow dissipated finally. The Doctor gasped and swooned dizzily. Rose broke free from Jack’s hold and held him upright as she hugged and kissed him urgently.

“It’s all right,” he told her. “I’m here. I was always here. I never left you. I tried to tell you that, but you were too frantic to understand.”

“I got the message in the end,” Rose answered. “But you gave me a scare. Don’t ever do that again.”

“Don’t tell me, tell her… the TARDIS. She did it to protect me. I WAS dying. She pulled me out of danger. My TARDIS… my oldest girl looked after me.”

“Well, I’m grateful to her,” Rose told him. “But I’m the one you married. Don’t let her forget that.”

“No chance,” The Doctor replied, kissing her again.

Jack looked at them with an envious expression - perhaps because he would have liked to be kissed like that by either one of them, or perhaps because he knew Rose didn’t need him now that she had The Doctor’s arms around her as she had needed him when he was trapped as a binary sequence in the TARDIS database.

“Come on,” Davie said to him quietly. “You can help me pilot both TARDISes home.” Jack followed him back to the Chinese TARDIS. The doors closed even though the two capsules were still linked. Rose and The Doctor didn’t even notice when the time rotor engaged.