There are so many times she almost died, so many ways he could have lost her.  It still hurts him to think about it, even now.


It might have happened this way:


"What's it doing?" Rose yells down to him.


"It's the TARDIS!" he yells back.  "The Nestene has identified it as superior technology!  It's terrified!"


There's another roar, and he realizes he's blown it but good.  Shouldn't have been sarcastic to it.  Should have put a damper on that damn vial of antiplastic so it couldn't sense it.  Definitely shouldn't have brought Rose Tyler down here.


"It's going to the final base!" he calls up to her.  "It's starting the invasion.  Get out, Rose!  Just leg it, now!"


Humans.  Can't do anything he tells them.  She's calling her mum rather than running.  How stupid can an ape get?


Of course, part of him has to admire her for thinking of someone other than herself, for actually putting her mum's safety above her own.  Still, he can't help the note of panic in his voice as he yells again, "It's the activation signal!  It's transmitting!"


He can't quite hear what she says then, but he can hear the fear in her voice.  About time.  He was starting to wonder.  He's certainly terrified enough for her.  "Get out, Rose!  Just get out!  Run!"


She starts to turn, but there's an explosion and rubble falls.  "The stairs have gone!" she calls down.  She gets her stupid boyfriend up and moving and runs for the TARDIS.  It would be a grand plan, except she hasn't got a key and he can't get to his screwdriver to unlock it for her.


The other Auton, the one not holding him, is so close.  If he can get this one close enough to it, he can probably kick it hard enough to knock the antiplastic in.  He struggles frantically.  Of course the Earth is riding on this (it always is) but so are two nearer, personalized lives, and he doesn't think he can watch the pink and yellow one get snuffed out.  His struggling isn't getting him any closer.  "No!"  


He barely hears the Nestene as it finally figures out who and what he is---all of his attention is on the little yellow human huddled against the TARDIS doors, looking down at him with terror in her eyes.  He starts struggling harder, not caring if he hurts himself---what's it matter?  If he doesn't hurry, he'll have two more lives on his soul.


She's given up on getting the TARDIS open, and she runs back the other way.  What the hell is she up to?  In between struggles with the Auton, he keeps looking up at her.  Something in the back of his mind demands that she be watched.


He can barely make out the words she's saying as she hefts the huge fire ax.  "I've got no A levels," she says.  He wonders what the story is there---she's obviously intelligent enough.  "No job."  Right.  That's his fault, that. "No future."  He wants to show her she's wrong.  Of course she has a future.  They'll go see it, as soon as they deal with this big bucket of ugly putty.  "But I tell you what I have got."  She's got the chain loose now, and he can see her plan as her hands wrap around it, even as she says something about gymnastics.  Brilliant, really.


Except---there's a shifting in the timelines, and he turns his head just in time to watch the Auton holding the antiplastic take a step back and drop its other hand to reveal its gun.


"Rose!" he screams, hauling around again, nearly knocking the Auton holding him off its feet, looking up at her.  "Rose!"


She hesitates, looks down at him in confusion, and his hearts vie for space in his throat.  The moment of stillness lasts just long enough.  Then confusion becomes shock as the bolt hits her heart dead center with a spray of blood and bone, and she crumples to the ground.


Anger gives him new strength, and he uses the Auton's tight grip on him to advantage as he bends and whirls, using its feet to knock the other---gun still smoking and antiplastic firm in its hand---over the edge onto the vat below.  He follows that up with a quick aikido throw (hasn't used that in millenia) and he's free, just as the building starts to explode around them.


He takes the time to throw her body over his shoulder before running for the TARDIS.  It's the least he can do for her now.


He can't quite work out how to keep the brownish ape from entering with him, so he takes both of them and leaves them in the alley near the pizza place.  Part of him feels guilty, knowing how it'll look to the police, but the rest of him feels it's justice.  The stupid monkey could have done something, but what'd he do?  Just crouched there, staring.  If the cretin had really loved Rose, he would have jumped in front of her.  He would have, and he...


His hands leave smears of her blood all over the console as he takes the TARDIS into the Vortex.  He never does get the smell out of his jacket; later, as he's kneeling, watching the Dalek raise its beam weapon, he can still smell it, and knows justice has finally come for him, too.


It might have happened that way.  But it didn't.


o)o(o


It might have happened this way:


Jabe's dead.  Burned into ash, because he dawdled.


It hurts.  He didn't know her for long, but there was something about her that called to him---quiet dignity, perhaps.  Oh, sure, she's---she was rich as anything, but...


He takes a deep breath.  At least everyone else is safe.  He can smell burned furnishings, wall treatments, even flesh, but he can also hear distantly the sounds of people dealing with a crisis.  In a moment, he'll go tell Jabe's people she's dead and deal with the culprit behind this mess.  But first, he has another task.  He's in luck: there's a spare crowbar in the service passageway.  First thing to go right since they got here.


Rose has quit thumping on the door.  Good.  It's hard to pry a door open when someone is banging on the other side of it.


It's still hard to get open; the lock has fused due to the sun's heat, melting the door halves together in a half-dozen spots.  Eventually he's forced to dig out the screwdriver and use it to break each one individually.  It feels like it takes forever.


There's still no sound on the other side of the door, and he's starting to worry as he inserts the end of the crowbar back into the space between the doors.  "Rose?"  No reply. Maybe she can't hear him.  Maybe she's heard him working on the door and has---sensibly---gone to stand on the other side of the room.


He forces the door a half-inch open, and two things hit his senses simultaneously.  The sight of blonde hair, lying against the left-hand door and slipping into the crack.  The smell of burnt flesh.  "Rose!"  There's still no reply, and he fears there never will be one.


The door slowly slides open under his application of force, inch by inch; gradually, more of Rose is revealed.  Finally he gets the left half of the door open far enough, and her body slumps into the hallway at his feet, her blonde hair cascading over one of his boots.


Her face is frozen in an expression of agony, and it's obvious why when he looks a little lower.  The right half of her torso is simply gone, missing from armpit to waist.  One of the beams from the cracked shielding must have hit her.  The wound is cauterized, done instantly by the beam itself; he realizes that without blood loss, it probably took her several minutes to die.  


He kneels and closes her eyes, then smoothes the tangled blonde hair back from her forehead.  Only nineteen.  Some day he'll learn not to take the young ones; maybe he shouldn't take anyone with him at all.  Their first trip together, and now look what he's done to her.


Jabe's people can wait.  He gathers her in his arms and carries her as gently as he can through the corridors to the TARDIS, ignoring the commotion in his wake.  He's not about to leave her here, where no one even knows her name.


He sets her gently on the deck next to the console, smoothing her hair once more with his fingers before standing.  He has something he needs to do before he can leave.


Cassandra is going to pay.


It might have happened that way.  But it didn't.


o)o(o


It might have happened this way:


Dickens is a genius.  He always knew that, of course, but how many nineteenth century authors would think of drawing the Gelth out of their corpses with lamp gas?  See.  Pure genius.


The Gelth leave their hosts, and he and Rose are free.  "Gwenyth!" he says urgently, stepping over the corpses to get to her.  "Send them back!  They lied.  They're not angels."  If there is a heaven, he hopes it will forgive him for using her in the first place.


"Liars?" Her voice is dreamy, far away.  They're draining her strength to bring their numbers through.  Soon she'll be a corpse too.


"Look at me," he tells her, frantically trying to think of what to say to make this unsophisticated servant girl believe him.  "If your mother and father could look down and see this, they'd tell you the same."  He long ago quit believing in heaven, but he's not above using her belief.  "They'd give you the strength."  He wishes he had a way to do so himself without risking the Gelth draining him.  That could rip open space-time irreparably, and he doesn't dare take the chance.


He can hear Rose choking behind him, and is all too aware that this is only a temporary reprieve.   "Now send them back!" he orders Gwenyth.  He knows his voice is harsh, too harsh for a girl who was only doing what he told her to do.  But Rose is choking, and they've still got an invasion on their hands, and he's starting to panic inside.


Behind him, he hears Rose choke out, "I can't breathe."  Yet she doesn't move, doesn't run away.  He can't decide whether it's stupidity, courage, or trust in him.  Right now, the last of those seems entirely misplaced.


"Charles," he orders, "get her out."  He has to make sure Rose is safe.


He can hear Dickens' steps, hear the scuffle as Rose evades his grasp.  "I'm not leaving her!"  He wonders what Rose thinks she's going to do for Gwenyth.


"They're too strong."  Gwenyth is fading fast; he can see it in her eyes.


Somehow he has to get her to spend that last little reserve of energy, and he hates himself for what it'll do to her.  "Remember that world you saw?  Rose's world?  All those people?  None of it will exist unless you send them back through the rift."  Please let this work.


"I can't send them back."  That's it, then.  They've destroyed the Earth.  What a lovely Christmas present for everyone.  Death.


Behind him, Rose is choking, and he tries frantically to think of some way to stop the Gelth long enough to get her out.  If he can get her out... then what?  The two of them, the last of their kinds, traveling together because there is no one else?


"But I can hold them."  He sees her plan in that moment, and he swallows.  "Hold them in this place, hold them here."  She reaches into her apron, and pulls out a matchbox.  Yes.  That's it!


...except one of them will have to stay behind to do it.


"Get out," the servant girl orders.  In that moment, he wishes he'd had the time to know her better, this small insignificant life that's willing to give herself for the world.


Rose has figured it out too.  "You can't!" He desperately grabs her, keeps her from throwing herself into the rift, and he sees the flaw in the plan.  Rose, his wonderful Rose.  They don't have much time, and he doesn't know if he can go through with this without knowing she's safe.


"Leave this place."  He can hear the knowledge in her voice that she only has a short time left to her; they need to hurry if this will work.


"Rose, get out!  Go, now!" She continues to struggle with him, and he swallows tightly.  He can't bring himself to lie to her, not even by omission, not as his last words to her.  "Please, Rose," he pleads.  "For me.  I need to know you're safe."


He looks over her head at Dickens, and he sees the understanding in the author's eyes as Rose's struggles weaken.  He releases her, Charles grabs her arm, and he stands watching for a moment as Rose is dragged away, still fighting but not strongly enough to break the human's hold.


He turns to Gwenyth.  She's made her decision, but he knows she still believes in heaven, and he can't bring himself to ask her to have genocide on her soul.  "Come on, now," he says gently.  "Leave that to me."  He's done it before, after all; and this mess is all his fault, really.  Not just for persuading Gwenyth, the poor unsophisticated human, but for not saving the Gelth the first time around.  Now he has to murder them all too.


There's something about her fixed stare at him that catches his attention, and he reaches forwards to check her pulse, disbelieving.  He's right, though; her neck is still under his fingers.  The knowledge is clear in her eyes when he pulls his hand back, and although he doesn't understand, he is grateful.  She's gone.  He can live another day, another day with Rose.  "I'm sorry," he says, and kisses her forehead gently.  "Thank you."


He turns to run, even as he can hear the matchbox sliding open behind him.  He careens up the stairs, using a hand to swing himself around into the hallway without losing too much speed.  There isn't much time---


"I won't leave him!"  The scream ahead of him gives him new speed, and he sprints towards the final turn to the entrance hall.  


The sight ahead of him throws his hearts into wild panic.  Dickens, framed in the open door; Rose, lifting her skirts to run back towards him.  Her eyes go wide at the sight of him, and she glances behind him.  "Doctor!"  she yells.  "Where's Gwenyth?"


There's no time, no time left.  "Run!" he yells at her, and she slides to a halt, face starting to contort in confusion.  "Rose, run!"


She's not running.  She's not running, and dear god, if he doesn't do something, he's going to lose her.  He speeds up again, altering his stance; if he can knock her down, protect her body with his, maybe (just maybe) he can delay regeneration enough to save her---


At the last minute, she dodges sideways, and he misses.  


He grabs a piece of furniture, transferring kinetic energy as quickly as he can; planting a foot, he turns to find her starting to run again.  Away from him, towards the cellar and Gwenyth and---


She's just reaching the corner when he feels the pressure change and her timeline winks out in his mind.  He has one final moment to scream her name---"Rose!"---and then she's simply gone, immolated in the fireball that throws him through the hallway and out the front door.


He's flying, but he can't feel anything but pain, can't see anything but the image of Rose going up in flames.  He has one moment of clarity, in which he hopes that Dickens got out safely, hopes people come to fight the fire before Cardiff goes up in flames, hopes the rift is properly closed.  Wonders if there's enough of him left to regenerate.  Wonders if it's selfish to hope there isn't.


He explodes into golden light.


It might have happened that way.  But it didn't.


o)o(o


It might have happened this way: