As she closed the door, Rose heard sounds coming from the nursery. She made out the voice: male, tenor—nostalgic and delighted in one. The Doctor, the original Doctor—with a new face but still, she thought, the same. He'd grown, was older than her Doctor in many ways and younger in others; he asked first and trusted later—but she felt that he hadn't changed all that much since that last day at Bad Wolf Bay. He was still hurting.
She picked her way up the stairs, listening as he talked nonsense to her daughter. After the day they'd had she wasn't surprised he'd ended up in there. Everything here was new to him—just as he was to her.
She stood in the doorway, watching him with an expression that wasn't happy or sad—just, thoughtful. When he finally looked up, she took in a deep breath and strode towards him.
He looked back down at the bundle in his arms as she softly stroked the child's cheek.
"She's beautiful," he murmured. Like you, he felt but didn't say aloud. She heard it anyway.
She bit her lip. "Doctor…"
Gently, the Doctor placed the babe back in the crib, and turned back to her. He fiddled with his hands.
"Do you—Are you… happy, with him?" Rose stared at him, an inscrutable expression crossing her face before she drew her gaze downwards, towards his hands. His eyes followed. She captured his hand in hers, twining her fingers through his. They were thicker, broader than his last regeneration's—different, but they still felt right in her hand. She squeezed them and smiled at him. Some sadness lingered in the expression.
"Of course I am. It was—hard, of course," she tugged on his hand, and he frowned a bit. Rose took a breath, shaking her head. The Doctor only watched, silent as she collected her thoughts before she continued in a softer voice. "…but he's you. You were right; he was bitter and a right terror at times, but he's got all your memories, all our memories, and… Well, mind you me, nothing will ever be the way it was when it was just us and the TARDIS, traveling—everywhere, everywhen…. But I'm happy, yeah." She nodded towards the crib, smiling at him. "And this one'll keep us busy, I'm sure."
"She'll be a handful if she's anything like you," he quipped, but he looked relieved. A bit sadder maybe; she could see his age through the broader chin and the goofy smile—but he was trying.
"Oi!" she retorted with a laugh. "Like you've much to say."
He frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, nothing." She tilted her head and grinned, her tongue pressing against her teeth. "And you, oh great time lord?"
Her tone might have suggested banter, but he heard the concern. His quiet amusement left him abruptly; he quirked his lips and sucked in a breath, rocking back on his heels.
"Same—as always. It's always the same." He bit his lip, exhaling. He really wasn't acting like himself. Being here, being with her again; it brought back memories he thought he'd left with his tenth regeneration—and they weren't entirely good ones. He shook; tried, and failed to hide it.
The sudden press of Rose's body against his as she embraced him was surprising, but not unwelcome. He buried his face in her shoulder, and as a wave of suppressed emotions he hadn't known he'd kept bottled up took over him, she only whispered quiet consolations in his ear and rubbed the length of his back.
He couldn't ever be with her again like they'd been, he knew that—he was a different person for one; and she had her Doctor now, a whole life with the meta-crisis Doctor and a family—a whole new, blooming family. She didn't need him anymore. She was happy. Still….
He tried; he honestly did—yet despite all efforts to heal he found himself broken, still breaking, always torn. It was only her and would only ever be her.
And because it was the only thing she knew how to do, Rose took him in her arms and held him until he pieced himself together. She closed her eyes and tried not to think about the day that was sure to follow. She still had questions (what happened?; what's wrong?; how old are you now?) to ask, and she was sure the Doctor did too. They had no idea how he'd gotten to Pete's World, how it was even possible any more, and she just felt in a quiet way that two Doctors in the same universe was wrong, was bound to cause trouble. They had to find a way to fix this.
Instead they whispered to each other in the twilight—"That bow tie is ridiculous," and "I can't believe you're a mother" and about anything, nothing, everything of no consequence whatsoever, because the only urgency right now, at this moment, was the sun to rise in a few short hours and the responsibilities that followed the morning.
So for a moment, just this instant—they were all that mattered.
They spent a good amount of time there, wrapped around each other, holding on to one another as if their worlds depended on it (and maybe they did). The ambient light floating in from outside the nursery lit what was visible of their faces, vulnerable and open—they were reliving their time with each other, the time that could never be again. They breathed each other in—the scents familiar and new all at once.
Her hair smelled fragrant, a foreign scent he couldn't place. His shirt smelled of cotton, a domestic smell she knew too well. They clutched unto these souvenirs, as they finally released each other with frail smiles and a promise. It was late in the night—anything that truly needed to be said had been, and anything else could wait. A silence fell over them, a companionable cessation of words, pointedly not awkward and rather welcome.
And they retreated to their respective bedrooms hand in hand—the action was strange in its familiarity, and they didn't talk about what was and wasn't anymore.
Half-reluctant, they bade each other 'good-night' and 'sleep-well', and Rose gently pressed the bedroom door shut. Inhale, exhale.
She went about the business of changing into her bedtime attire quiet and contemplative; once done she took a moment to gaze out her window, and into the nighttime expanse of stars: simultaneously close and distant.
Rose shivered as a star shot across the sky. She'd named her daughter Asta; a name of Greek and Norse origin, it meant star-like; it meant love. At the time it seemed appropriate. The name stood as pledges and possibilities—but so too intertwined were memories and pain.
And she felt in an instinctual way that this Doctor felt it too, the dissonance, as he leaned against a Rose that wasn't his. He was aware she'd gotten on with her life at last, like he'd wanted her to, but he couldn't let go. That much was painfully evident.
Paradoxically, Rose supported the Doctor because he would always be hers, no matter his face or personality or the circumstances, but she had to choose somewhere to draw the line. She couldn't love this Doctor anymore—she had to let go or it would break her. And she knew that hurt him.
But they could never work. It was almost like a fairytale: The Doctor and his Rose... separated always; meant for each other like no others but forever star-crossed.
Even when they were mere inches apart.
But as she withdrew from the window to crawl into bed alongside her husband of two years (the meta-crisis Doctor, the Doctor with a name, her Doctor, now), he turned over and asked her, quietly, "Are you alright?"
She looked into his eyes, trying for a smile. It almost stung to look at him. "Yeah—no, don't worry about me. I'm fine, really."
The lie slipped out far too easily.
He just looked at her for a moment, silently tucking a strand of hair behind her ear—and then he nodded as if he'd found something in her expression and wrapped his arms around her. He pressed a kiss to her forehead.
"Just… try and get some sleep, yeah? It'll all be okay in the morning."
She hummed an affirmative and curled up against his chest—but even as she drifted to sleep, Rose had the not entirely good suspicion that the next few days would be the longest she'd had in a long, long time.
But then, that's the way it always was with the Doctor. She'd ought to be happy... so why wasn't she?
Rose left that to the multiverse to decide.