Disclaimer: Nothing is mine.
Rose Tyler may not always have been the brightest button in the box, but she is enough in love to recognise the differences immediately. She knows it's him the second she sees him.
The many future timelines he once saw so clearly blurring and merging and scattering in his mind, he doesn't know if that makes it easier or harder. In all honesty, he doesn't even know if he should be here.
"You'd like it here," she tells him as they make their way to a park bench away from prying eyes. A humour he had once worried had left her forever is twinkling behind her eyes. "You're – he's – sorta like some kind of Superman."
The Doctor raises an eyebrow, unsure as to whether he is amused, flattered or horrified. A hand on his knee in a gesture that, for them, would never have been so simple, she laughs, full and rich and beautiful as she ever was. "Seriously! Tony keeps saying you can't be a proper superhero 'cause you don't have a cape, but the newspapers are loving it." His gaze darkens a little, and she bows her head in understanding. "I know you never wanted recognition or anything like that, I know that's not why you do it, but you've gotta admit that you'd sorta enjoy being adored everywhere you go."
"Well, it certainly makes a change," he laughs, though his is lacking her humour and warmth. He watches her silently for a few moments, drinking her in, contemplating her until she bites her lip and drops her eyes, fingers tugging awkwardly at the edges of her coat sleeves. "And are you...?"
What, Doctor? Happy? Sad? Do I love him, do I miss you?
"Enjoying playing Lois Lane?" she settles for eventually, tongue between her teeth. "Yeah. Yeah, I am."
It's in her eyes, then, a secret she has been both longing and dreading to tell him, and with its arrival comes the death of all their evasive humour. He sensed it somehow, this truth he should never have been around to hear, the moment he arrived. He just couldn't bring his eyes to see. He would never have let himself consider it at all if it hadn't been for the way her hand ghosted unconsciously over her stomach every time she spoke of her lover. They have been skating around each other since the day they met; it's time, in this last time, to finally speak honestly.
But the truth is a resolution far more easily made than kept.
His baby, he doesn't say, her fingers pushing through his the most beautiful betrayal.
"Your baby," she whispers, her head dipped to meet his downcast eyes, her own gaze thick beneath her lashes. "Your baby as much as his. Our baby."
Matter-of-fact now then, because he never has been any good with words when it really matters. "You know we never could have, you and me."
She doesn't need a degree in Time Lord science to know he is talking biology and not history.
"I know." She stands, then, raises their joined hands to her stomach anyway, lies his flat against the slightly curved surface. They blink back their tears together, sidestepping the catch in his breath with long-practised ease, and it is her turn for unspoken words – here, right here, this is a part of you that will live on (and, the hardest part, the part she doesn't want to say even to herself: even if you don't).
Spoken phrases too, ones they can admit to and say aloud, because she has always been so much better at this than him. If there is one thing he regrets about their time together it is the way his own fear of deep emotional attachment suppressed the love in her words for so long. "He is gonna know you," she promises, the twinkle of humour replaced by the glimmer of tears. "And he is gonna love you."
She doesn't ask how he got here and he isn't going to tell her. It's better this way. She can't keep quiet forever, though, and he is too full of human emotion to even change the subject.
"What happened to you?" she murmurs, stepping closer to him and raising her free hand to his cut and bruised face. She does not let go of the hand she has placed on her stomach and he, equally, makes no effort to move away.
He raises his head slightly in that way of his, looks to something in the sky even he cannot see before dropping his eyes back down to hers and saying, simply, "It's time."
"Then don't go back." Her voice is stronger this time, if a little higher, the pressure of her hand more insistent. He smiles fondly, ruefully. She has already been saving him for far too long. This final death will not be on her head.
"You're happy?" he asks, and they both know his misunderstanding of her plea is nothing but pretence. Admitting that she wants him to stay for his own safety above her own happiness is, somehow, too much for too many reasons.
The way she breathes her yes convinces him far more thoroughly than a baby bump or that cold ring flush against his own fingers or the faint hum of a growing TARDIS somewhere in the distance ever could have.
"Please, Doctor." Almost a sign of defeat, almost a shake to get him to admit to his, her hand drops to his shoulder. "Just tell me how I can help you."
He is silent.
Her face screws up and her voice breaks. "I don't want you to be alone."
"Nor do I," he admits, and his lip quirks into a half-smile in the undeniable face of the truth. He is not programmed to know how else to respond to his own stark honesty.
The smile strengthens, and as her hand drops from his shoulder to swipe at her long-formed tears, he stands and raises his own scarred fingers to her face in turn.
"Rose," he murmurs, and there is so much in his voice that she thinks he could never say another word to her and still have whispered so much. "Don't let this be my last memory of you."
And so she cries on their shared swing in the winter-deserted park, her arms clung tight around his waist, her mascara leaving inky trails across his collar. She laughs at his awful jokes until she gets the hiccups, but her face remains buried in his shoulder and she cannot meet his eye. She knows better than to beg for answers, for details and plans and ways to save him, but that doesn't stop her trying as they make their way down a familiar high street, running hand-in-hand across a bridge from another life. The tears stream down her cheeks in the nearest chip shop, but she has never been more oblivious to other people's stares. Today, this minute, he is the whole world.
By the time he kisses the goodbye he never said, she has learnt to hold it together for him and she can almost muster a smile beneath his lips.
"I hope you know," he whispers brokenly, holding her tear-streaked face in his hands, "I hope you always know that it's not enough. I've never said I love you because it's just not enough."
And, with that, he is gone.