AN: Why yes, it IS possible for a no-Doomsday AU fic to be as angsty as a Doomsday fic. =D Many thanks to Ginger Glinda the Tangerine for betareading!
Saying it, it turned out, wasn't hard. 'Those three little words,' the cliché went. And they were. They were little, they were easy. What came before–facing what saying those words would mean, accepting what he was committing himself to–that was hard. What came after–the adjustments from friendship to relationship, the private plans he made in preparation for a day he didn't want to think of–that was hard. Thinking about the future was hard. These boxes drawn around calendar dates were hard. Mornings like these… mornings like these were hard. He could only guess they'd get easier. He could only hope.
"You ready, Doctor?" said Rose from the door of the console room. The Doctor looked up from the small book in which he was writing, and smiled brightly in answer. Rose laughed out loud, for no readily apparent reason, and his smile widened. He shoved the book into his suit pocket, and strode over to her as if he suddenly couldn't close the distance between them fast enough. The Doctor clamped his arms around her waist as Rose was already wrapping hers around his neck with another grin. He spun her around once to a shriek of giggles, kissed her deeply, and then set her down. Twinkling eyes did not belie his thoughts.
Rose patted down his tie, and then withdrew from his neck as they turned toward the TARDIS door, but the Doctor kept one arm firmly around her waist.
"So what is it today?" she chirped. "Space or time?" She grinned at him. "Or both?"
Oh planets and stars and endless space, how he loved her! He looked down into her brown eyes and asked himself fiercely why he hadn't told her so earlier–even with all that was hard about it, even with days like this. Why had he wasted one precious fleeting second with waffling and wondering? He had no answer for himself.
"Both," he replied cheerfully. "The planet Antigonel, star system Bentezar, year 9000 BC by Earth reckoning."
"And what's on the planet Antigonel, star system Bentezar, year 9000 BC by Earth reckoning?"
"On this particular day," he said as they strode for the door, "The planetwide championship of their favorite sport."
"Yeah? What's it like?" she asked gamely.
"It's a game of skill, logic, and mental fortitude. A bit like a cross between chess, the Chinese game go, and a staring match. Wonderfully interesting to play, but the most hopelessly boring thing you could ever wish to watch." He opened the door, and they stepped out onto a street paved with sandy-colored bricks. Rose took a few steps ahead to take in the environment while the Doctor locked the TARDIS.
"And we're going to go see it?" she asked doubtfully, still turned away to examine the pale green sky.
"Certainly not," replied the Doctor, joining her. "We're going to get their beautiful capital city to ourselves while everyone else is watching the big game."
The grin returned. "Ahh. No lines, yeah?"
"Exactly." He took her hand and squeezed it, briefly entertaining the impractical thought that oh! if only he never had to let it go again! "And I've checked the coordinates, the yearometer, the history books, the censuses, the Antigonelean police reports, everything. Absolutely nothing of note happens here today except a rousing game of 'tig tig.' Guaranteed misadventure-free!"
Rose squeezed his hand back, and butted him happily with her shoulder. "Sounds like we'll have a lovely day. Shall we go, then?"
A shadow passed over the Doctor's face that Rose didn't see. "Yes, we shall," he said a little quietly. "And yes, we shall!" he said louder, and, merrily swinging her hand, led her down the streets of the Antigonel capital city.
They found a small deli of sorts, where they bought a breakfast of sweet, pulpy, purple fruits that the Doctor swore she would love. He led Rose to a bench outside and then kissed her on the eyebrow.
"Wait here," he said. "I'll be back in a moment."
Rose nodded and sat on the bench, munching slurpily on one of her fruits and admiring the alien scenery while she waited for him to return. In only a few moments, he did.
"I'm back!" he announced, smiling broadly. Rose looked up with amusement.
"Didn't take long."
"Yeah," said the Doctor quickly, "I just had to check whether the TARDIS was locked." He sat down next to her, and Rose smirked.
"Getting forgetful in your advanced years?" she teased. He took just a moment to smile back. Rose looked more closely at him, and her eyebrows puckered. "Actually, you don't look so good." She squinted at him, and the hand holding the purple fruit dropped into her lap. "You feel all right?"
"Sure, yes, of course, I feel fine!" he chirped as he sat down. "Why wouldn't I? What's wrong?"
"You look very..." she searched for the word. "...old."
"And you look very young," he replied, taking his fruit from the bag at her side. He seemed to be only half joking.
"No, really, Doctor," Rose insisted. "You look... really worn out. How long has it been since you slept?"
The Doctor's smile faltered and he looked away from her, toward the clear green sky. "A long time," he said.
Rose frowned. "That's no good. You know, I don't really need a holiday at all. Maybe we should go back to the TARDIS and get you some sleep, yeah? You can't just let yourself do this for weeks and weeks! For a Time Lord, you've got a pretty awful sense of time." She didn't know about the calendar book.
"Certainly not," he objected, bouncing right back out of his momentary gloom. "Antigonel has thirty-five hour days and we're not going to waste a moment of this one. We'll just have a wonderful, relaxing day, and when we get back to the TARDIS I'll sleep like a rock. Or like a rock would sleep if it could. Then again, who knows whether rocks would sleep at all? I've seen some downright spiteful quarries, seem like those rocks'd stay up all night figuring out ways to land on your head--"
Rose cut him off by throwing up her hands and laughing. He beamed at her laugh, beamed as though he'd arrived in Paradise and found a little shop just within the pearly gates.
"Maybe we'd better go find a menace to run from after all," she teased. "It'd probably be easier to wear you out than to wind you down." The Doctor took a large bite of his breakfast, and his expression was masked by the sloppy mouthful as he replied.
"I'm just happy," he said. "You make me happy."
She giggled again at that, more in pleasure than amusement, and scooted closer to him on the bench, fitting herself to his side. He swallowed and grinned, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. But a life of running didn't lend itself very well to learning to linger, so they had the rest of the fruit eaten in a few short minutes.
"We'll have to find something to do next that we can't possibly hurry through," Rose mused as she looked into the empty bag.
"How about going dancing?" the Doctor suggested, and she smirked at him. "Come on! Bet the capital has some gorgeous dance clubs."
The one they eventually found was gorgeous indeed, tiled floor, ceiling, and walls with some sort of rich black stone that sparkled with colors, set aflame by tiny, roving spotlights. It was also completely deserted, except for a bartender glued to a miniature screen, who didn't even notice when the Doctor used the sonic screwdriver to change the music coming in through the speakers.
He taught her some Antigonelean dances (modified a little to be suitable for bipeds) and when they were out of breath from dancing and laughing, he switched the music again to something slow. They swayed on the floor, catching their breath, and he watched her. He watched her the entire time, concentrated on her, as though there would be a test later that he had to pass on every different kind of twitch her mouth made and the exact color of her eyes. If she noticed, she didn't say anything.
The dancing succeeded in slowing them down, and when they emerged at last the meandering walk they took through the elegant, empty streets was pleasant and unrushed. They lazily praised the mild weather and the lovely city, and the Doctor told her about the history of architecture on this planet as he pointed out soaring, jade-colored archways and impossibly tall, corkscrew-shaped golden steeples. He pronounced the angular alien names and terms with gusto, and Rose listened with relish.
When he pointed out one tower as the tallest in the city, she begged to go up, so they snuck past an unmindful security guard--engrossed in a little screen, as the bartender had been--and the Doctor sonic-ed a maintenance elevator to take them to the very top.
"This game must be huge," she said, holding her wind-flapped hair out of her face, when they reached the top. They looked out over the city, as still as a museum. "There's nobody here at all. It's like it's all here just for us."
"Bigger than any World Cup," answered the Doctor. He leaned on the low, rickety rail. "But don't worry, nothing interesting to see. Leastways, not since they banned me from competing." So of course she made him tell her the story, standing on top of that tower with the wind tearing around them, and he reveled in her delight.
When lunchtime came, the Doctor directed their meanderings to an exquisite park, where he spread out his coat for them to sit on and fetched an entire picnic lunch out of his pockets. The paper-wrapped hoagies, in particular, got an incredulous laugh from Rose.
"When did you pick those up?" she demanded, but started in on hers without waiting for his answer.
When he dripped some mustard on his tie, Rose wet the edge of her sleeve in her mouth and scrubbed it off the navy-blue fabric. But then something made her pause, confused.
"Is that the tie you had on this morning?" she said with a frown. For just a moment, the Doctor froze.
"It isn't? Isn't it?" He looked down and pulled his tie partially out of his jacket for closer inspection. "Of course it is. I mean, it's got to be, hasn't it? Not like I've changed ties halfway through the day."
Her eyebrows puckered. "I was sure you were wearing the blue one--the other blue one, the pale blue--this morning in the TARDIS."
"Different lighting, maybe," he shrugged, and offered her a banana.
After lunch, and another leisurely stroll around the park, they 'borrowed' a rowboat (the renter was nowhere to be seen) and went rowing on a semi-gelatinous, amber-colored lake that smelled just a little bit like ginger. When Rose exclaimed over the beauty of the huge, ornate ivory flowers floating on the surface, the Doctor very nearly tipped out of the boat trying to get her one. When, after much teetering and stretching and fishing with one of the oars he handed a blossom triumphantly over to her, she grinned coyly, like a girl being offered a daisy by her suitor, and her tongue peeked out between her teeth.
"Have I told you yet," he said with an earnestness that made it clear he wasn't asking rhetorically, "how much I love it when you do that?"
"That thing with your tongue when you smile. Have I told you how much that gets me?"
Her smile went from coy to perhaps a tint shy.
"Noooo," she replied, and laughed. The Doctor shone.
"Brilliant," he declared, as though he had been the first to get to tell her good news, or had given her a present that nobody else had thought of giving.
"Well, it gets me very, very badly," he informed her with matter-of-fact honesty. "It melts me, is what it does. It always has, and it always will, and when I'm lonely--I mean, if I ever am lonely--I'll just have to think of that smile, just exactly how you do it like that, and no matter how sad I am, I know it will go away, if just for a little while."
At that speech, her smile faded to quiet sympathy, and she reached over to lay a hand on his. She thought she knew what he meant by lonely. He didn't enlighten her.
"No," he insisted, "smile! There's nothing in this universe that smile cannot make me do." The smile returned as ordered.
"Good to know," she answered cheekily.
The Doctor rowed her around on that lake for hours, and no matter how sore his arms got, he never let her relieve him of the oars.
The green sky turned yellow and then violet as dusk fell. The Doctor kissed Rose, kissed her deeply, his arms wrapped around her with a strength like hunger. Then they started back to the TARDIS, his arm still firmly around her waist.
"It's nearly night," Rose observed as they walked, her head against his shoulder. "How long does this game go on?" He held up one finger in a gesture to wait. There was silence for a number of seconds, his finger poised in the air, Rose watching him curiously. Then he cocked his finger as though signalling something, and smiled. Hardly a moment after he did, screams and cheers erupted from a nearby house they were passing. Rose jumped, startled, and the Doctor grinned at her surprise.
"And that's the game," he announced after a few moments of listening to their glee. "Starts at sunrise and ends at sunset. The ones who've won, like those folks there-" - he nodded toward the house, where the happy shouts and laughter were showing no signs of abating anytime soon– "-will stay up all night, eating and drinking and being extraordinarily pleased with the universe in general."
"And the ones who've lost?" she asked. He frowned and looked over at her, inspecting her upturned face, like was checking for something. When he was apparently satisfied that it wasn't there, whatever it was, he looked away again, up into the darkening sky.
"The one's who've lost..." he said quietly. "They sleep." As if on cue, Rose yawned. The Doctor smiled. He idly stuffed the hand that wasn't around her in his coat pocket--then after a moment looked confused, and stirred his hand around within. His confusion became alarm and his stirring became digging. Rose looked over in question.
"Ugh!" he grunted. "I can't believe it!"
"Can't believe what?"
"It's my--well, never mind, it'd be difficult to explain. But it's very important and it's not in my pocket. Must've fallen out when I spread the coat out for our picnic."
"Well, there's still light. Let's go back and look," volunteered Rose, already starting to turn around.
"Nah, I can manage fine. Time Lord... night vision. You go ahead to the TARDIS, I'll find it and come along." Rose yawned again and nodded. She left without further prompting, not looking back to notice him standing still, watching her go. When she had turned a corner and disappeared from sight, he turned around, too.
He did not, of course, walk toward the park.
Instead, he turned down a small alley for a little privacy, and pulled a pen and pad out of his coat pocket. Went dancing, he wrote at the top of the pad. Took a walk; talked about architecture. Line by line, squinting in the dim light, he wrote short notes on each of the things they'd done that day--including Told her how much I love it when she smiles with her tongue out, smiling a little himself.
Then he pulled out of his coat pocket a very, very old-looking calendar book with a large number "1" written on the front in permanent marker. He flipped through, stopped, consulted it. Then, apparently following its instructions, he continued to the end of the alleyway, then counted bricks until he found one particular loose one. He ripped the sheet off the pad, and left it, folded it up tightly, behind the loose brick. This duty done, he continued on through the dark streets.
And at the end of another darkened street was another blue box, with another rail-thin Time Lord leaning against it--this one with a pale blue tie tucked into his brown suit. The only difference between them was the few more tiny lines at the mouth and forehead and the bags beneath the eyes of the one approaching. He stopped about fifteen paces from the other.
"You're not supposed to be here," he told the Doctor leaning against the TARDIS. "We're not supposed to meet. Those are the rules. Your rules!"
His addressee shrugged. "I'm just breaking it this once and no more. Rose is back at my TARDIS, right? No harm done."
"My companion could have come out. How would you have explained that?"
"I'm sure you came up with something to keep her busy. Or him. Anyway, you knew I'd be here." The older Doctor looked like he was about to be irritated and then lost his energy for it. He exhaled wearily through his nose.
"I put the note where you said. Don't know why you bothered." He remembered something, and reached up to his tie. "In the future, you'll have to be more specific than 'blue.' Here, I'd better give you mine just in case she hasn't gone to bed when you get back," he said, removing it and walking the rest of the way forward.
"Uh-oh. Did she notice?" asked the other, taking off his own tie and walking forward too. His counterpart looked scornful.
"What do you mean, 'Did she notice?' Of course she did; she's Rose. Oh, and I wasn't as... subtle as I could have been today either. No more days for a while, I think. She'll get suspicious."
The younger Doctor nodded in answer and the two silently finished the transfer of the tie. The older, now tieless, stuffed his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground as the other tightened the navy blue tie around his neck.
"Rasillon, it's strange seeing her so young!" the first Doctor murmured, running a hand through his hair and with his eyes still on the ground. The other man said nothing for a moment as he stuffed the end of the tie down the front of his jacket. He smoothed it all down and tugged once on the collars of his shirt.
"How long has she been gone?" he asked quietly.
"You know I can't tell you."
"My rules," he echoed in a mumble. A pause. Older met the eyes of younger.
"A very long time now." Looked away again, at the stars coming out in the black-violet sky. Another pause. "I'm running out of days," he added calmly. "I haven't used one in quite a while--trying to save them at first, then I got to need them a little less." Another exhale, that sounded a bit like a sigh. "Been doing all right. Well, even. But it hit me hard lately and..." A single shrug ended the thought. "Only have a few left now."
"I'll box some more," the other Doctor offered. The older one shook his head absently, tracing constellations with his eyes.
"Everything has to end sometime."
"If I believed that, we wouldn't be talking right now," he pointed out. That earned a smirk from the older Doctor.
"Well, maybe you learn."
"Let me set aside a few more."
"One hundred days. That's what you said at the very beginning."
"More of my rules..."
"They were good rules. They are good rules. You'll figure that out." The older Doctor walked past the younger, and laid his hand--and then his forehead--on the door of his own TARDIS. "A hundred days is enough. It's too much, in fact. Do you know how selfish this whole plan is? Have you come to understand that, yet?"
"Selfish and cowardly," his younger self snapped. "Don't tell yourself I didn't know what I was doing."
Now neither looked at each other. There was a long silence, the one Doctor glaring down the dark street, the other poised to reenter his TARDIS.
"Selfish and cowardly... Well, what man in love isn't?" he smiled, looking back over his shoulder. The younger did likewise.
"Don't fool yourself there, either. Probably plenty."
"Yet she loves us."
"Do I ever find out why?"
A laugh from the older--because he hadn't forgotten how, he hadn't forgotten that though his eyes were more weary than this other Doctor's, there were a few more happy lines around them too.
"No," he said, shaking his head, seeing days this man has yet to know, days of her not saved up like pennies in a jar, but spent recklessly and lovingly. "You never do." He thought of her smile, that saucy tongue poked between her teeth, and the way that she laughed. Laughs. Will always laugh, somewhere, whether he's there or not.
"Goodnight, Doctor," he said, opening the door to his TARDIS. "I'm going to get some sleep."