Disclaimer: Not mine!
There's a revelation in the sudden awareness that can he no longer feel the world turning beneath his feet. It's not a loss he can define or express, and he hates not having the words almost as much as he hates being struck so abruptly senseless. (It's not fair, with so much of him gone already.)
Unable to measure his life in time and cause and effect, he seeks out a new method and finds it in the thrum of her pulse under his thumb. He decides he'll measure instead by his distance from her: the press of her lips and their fingers entwined to replace the tick of the clock in his head, the second heartbeat in his chest.
She's eight sets of concrete walls, a quarter of a mile and a plastic lifeline against his ear away from him, her voice nothing but an electric buzz. It's pathetic how weak it makes him feel.
"Pete'll get it all sorted," she promises, and he can tell she's angry because she's not calling him Dad. And they should have guessed, really, that a genetic anomaly from beyond the stars wouldn't be able to just slip into society without any fuss or questions raised. Powerful as the Tyler family is, not even they could utterly ignore Torchwood protocol.
Which is all well and good, he supposes, except for the part where it means that he's spending his first night in this strange new universe with Torchwood doctors, signing Torchwood papers and inventing a Torchwood life he can live in. (All he wants is to slip into hers; he'd hoped that the rest could come later.)
"It's not so bad," he reassures her in what he hopes is a chipper voice. "They're letting me pick my new name and everything."
The silence on the other end lasts so long that he fears she's hung up on him; then she quietly asks, "New name?"
"Well, not to use, of course. But for my passport and driver's license and things, they want me to go by something that isn't Doctor. Can't imagine why."
"But that's not… you aren't… they can't do that to you," she insists, and he's touched by her offense.
"But think of the possibilities, Rose!" he says, determined to stay cheerful. "I could be called Alonso if I wanted. Come to think of it, maybe I will. Bit tired of John Smith."
"Mum almost called Tony 'Doctor,'" Rose says stubbornly. "You could say you got named Doctor. It wouldn't be impossible."
He wrinkles his nose and tries to find a polite way of pointing out that if Jackie Tyler thought it was a good idea, then he definitely did not. Not finding one, he moves on:"Oh, I dunno. It's a bit of an adventure, isn't it? A new name?"
She laughs, and he pretends he doesn't hear the exhaustion behind it. "So go with Alonso, then."
"Would you say it?"
"D'you want me to?"
He swallowed. "I…"
"Exactly," she states simply, triumph in her voice. "I'm not going to call you anything but the Doctor. Other people can call you whatever you want."
He chokes on an I love you, not wanting to say it until she's said it back to him. Right now they're tied, one each in Norway, and—well, it's her turn.
In a fit of whimsy, he signs the papers Tim E. Lord.
He doesn't get any more phone calls, and it's a week and a half before he sees her once more. (He pesters the staff to help him keep track of the passing days. Time was, he'd have known—down to the millisecond—how long it had been since he'd climbed into the Torchwood van while Rose was busy talking to Pete. But scratching tally marks next to his cot had only got him an angry reprimand from the custodian, so.)
On the eleventh day, he's escorted from the Med Bay—down several unmarked corridors, up the scary-looking service elevator and into a small antechamber, furnished with nothing but a stainless steel table and a few chairs.
He doesn't see it.
The only thing he sees is Rose Tyler, past the far wall, twenty feet and a sheet of tempered glass between them. She doesn't acknowledge him—a two-way mirror, he realizes. The pane is treated, damping her raised voice into an incomprehensible muddle.
She's flanked by her parents, and he smiles a bit at how intimidating they are, standing in formation like that. He smiles a lot when he catches the look on the face of the head medical officer. (Dr. Harper, his brain informs him without his permission. He pushes it away. He doesn't want to know these people, doesn't want to think about their names or their lives beyond these walls. It's so much easier if they're just obstacles.)
Whatever it was that he said, though, it doesn't seem to be something they want to hear. The Doctor watches as Rose puts a hand on Jackie's arm, probably to restrain her. Which amuses him greatly, but begs the question: who will restrain Rose?
"What's the trouble?" he asks one of the interchangeable interns, to distract himself.
She clears her throat in discomfort. "Well, we have all your forms of identification ready, of course, but Owen doesn't want to release you until we've got all your results back from the lab. You know, just in ca—"
There's a crash, and then the buzz of muffled conversation from the other side of the wall goes suspiciously silent. For a second he thinks they've reached a stalemate—but then he sees that probably the only reason Rose isn't still yelling is that Pete's put his hand over her mouth.
Owen asks a question the Doctor doesn't catch, and Rose nods enthusiastically until Pete hesitantly releases her. And then he moves out of sight, and there's a door next to the window that the Doctor hadn't let himself contemplate—
The door opens and, instantly, she's in his arms: squeezing him so hard he can barely breathe, one hand clamped onto his shoulder and the other threaded in the hair at the nape of his neck. She doesn't kiss him; just half-whispers her worries into his angles, her lips brushing against his clavicle, his Adam's apple, his jaw.
"—thought I'd never see you again; practically went out of my mind—"
It takes a moment for him to register why his shirt is wet all of a sudden. He grips her firmly by the arms and pries her off him so he can look her in the eye.
"Rose, I'm fine—it's fine, look. See? All here."
She just shakes her head and buries her face in his chest. Nothing between them but the fabric of his shirt.
(Later, when he has the courage, he asks her about it.
"I'm never losing you again," she says firmly, taking him by the hand. "Not for a single second."
"Okay," he says. His voice breaks halfway through, and he winces; she just squeezes his hand harder.)
Inevitably, of course, there are moments where she has to let him out of her sight. But Rose Tyler is nothing if not terribly clever, and she finds ways around it.
As such, he becomes very well acquainted with the spot of carpet just outside her bathroom—his back against her door, feeling the vibrations of her voice through the grain, rattling his skull just the tiniest bit. Enough to know she's there. It's not comfortable in the conventional sense, but… he likes it there. Likes those layers between them—wood grain and air and her in the bath.
(and he tries not to think about the meanings behind the sounds behind the door—the soft splashes and the slosh of water against porcelain and skin. To think of the meanings is to form a picture of her, behind that door, and he just doesn't think he can handle that.)
It's only ever this way—him outside and her inside. He makes a point of washing up exclusively in the late hours of the night, long after she's stumbled into bed; his sleep cycles are still irregular at best and he sees no point in wasting any time with her during the day.
She takes baths because she couldn't hear him over the roar of the shower, and he's oddly moved by this alteration of her routine for his sake. It's ridiculous—to think that a change in bathing habits is the biggest sacrifice she's made for him, seeing as he's living in her flat and eating her food and wearing the clothes she bought for him, but these daily conversations are a level of privacy he'd never really approached, before. Something they never had in the TARDIS.
It's thrilling, to have something new between them.
In a backwards sort of way, he looks forward to these bathroom door conversations; it's the only time they talk about their years apart. He's not sure about her, but he knows that he certainly finds it easier to discuss Martha and Donna and the Master when he doesn't have to see the look in her big brown eyes… all that pity and compassion and love. And he's glad she doesn't have to see the look on his own, when he listens to her describe the construction of the dimension cannon.
They catalogue their losses one by one, day by day, as he counts the cracks in her ceiling and the defects in her paint, steam wafting up from the crack beneath the door.
Breaching the door is an Event—enough so that he marks it in the planner he's taken to carrying around with him everywhere. His head simply isn't big enough to keep track of his too-long, so-short days, so he traces the time in his little notebook: scribbling all the way to the margins in every language he can remember, clinging desperately to his lost instincts. Not wanting to forget a single second of any of his lives.
(His days are filled with her.)
He's gotten used to her voice behind him, during these conversations, so he leans against the side of the tub with his legs sprawled out on the tile, and busies his hands with the rubber ducky he'd found perched on the sink. (Probably Tony's, but the idea of it being Rose's amuses him far too much to abandon, so he doesn't ask.)
"You're quiet today," she observes, as if the very solid door that used to separate them hasn't been replaced by a frothy film of watermelon-and-cucumber-scented bubblebath.
"Am I? Sorry about that. Won't happen again." And then he starts babbling. "You know, I once had an entire silent conversation through a door. With Donna, actually, right when I first met back up with her. There was a whole room between us, with her on the other side of a portal and me hanging out a window. Well, I was on the washer's cradle, if you want to be specific, but—"
"I've ruined it, haven't I?" she asks softly.
He spins around. "Rose—" he starts, but then he gets a proper look at her and she takes his breath away.
And it's not that she's naked, or that she's beautiful (though, of course, she is.) It's just that she looks so young;younger than he's seen her since he'd turned around and there she was, two blocks away and a gun over her shoulder.
"I'm sorry," she says, biting her lip, "I just… I wanted…"
The rubber ducky falls to the floor, forgotten, as he leans over the side of the bath to capture his lips with hers.
(He has been on Pete's World one month, two weeks, three days and—as he finds when he checks against his day planner later—seven hours.)
"Don't," she whispers, and his heart's halfway to broken before she can gasp out the rest of her sentence, "I'll get you all wet."
"Don't care," he promises.
"That tie," she breathes, "is silk. S'a good tie."
"You can buy me another."
She pulls away completely, and his face falls. She laughs at him, amused by his childish pout, and fashions him a bubble beard to cheer him up.
A few minutes later, there are no layers between them. His mental coordinate grid sets this place as 0, 0, 0, and in the complete lack of distance from her, he loses sense of the world entirely.