Part 2

He didn't give that bucket a second thought until years later.

...

At the same time and not, the same man and not quite is crouching behind the aforementioned sand dune and has to bite into his ice lolly awfully hard to stop himself yelping when he gets hit in the head by a red bucket full of sand.

"Bugger," he whispers to himself. "Forgot about that bit. Well, I was a bit preoccupied I suppose. Honestly, though. What if it'd been a...a... an endangered tortoise or turtle or something that I'd hit? She made me reckless, she did. Very reckless."

He grins.

"That was her and me and it was brilliant. Oh, oops, shh, be quiet!" he shh-es himself and a crab-like creature that has just appeared from under a rock, remembering he needs to be silent and unsure of why he is speaking aloud anyway. It isn't as if there is anyone to listen to him at this present moment. The crab doesn't care, not really; it's got enough on its mind as it is.

Somewhere in his mind he vaguely registers that this could be conceived as wrong. Coming back to the, uh, first time. But, well, it isn't as if he's watching. No, he couldn't risk that, or else old-him might see this bloke in a bowtie peeping over a sand dune and he didn't, at the time, see that, thankfully enough (he thinks he'd be shy with an audience) and so, you know, timey-wimey and all that, he'll just sit here and eat his lolly and wait.

And it isn't wrong, not really; not really. He isn't here for, er, that particular event. He could replay that in his mind as clear as day and in the privacy of his own bedroom, he doesn't need to come back for that. No, he's here for after, when old-him went off to find ice-creams and ended up getting lost for an hour.

Because, you know. You wouldn't make love to your girlfriend for the first time and then leave her by herself for a whole hour, would you? No, you wouldn't. But he did.

(He giggles briefly to himself at the thought of girlfriend. Oh, she's so much more than that, and didn't she know it.)

Anyway, point is, he has to rectify this, immediately, you see. Come back and fill in the gap, so that she didn't start worrying, or worse, thinking. Thinking could lead her into thoughts he didn't want her to go to, such as why what they just did was wrong or some such. Not that she did think that, luckily; he knows how it all turned out, after all. He remembers, with oh-so-perfect clarity, the one-hundred-and-eighty-eight times after this one.

But yes, here is he, waiting for old-him and beautiful her to finish, so he must not make a sound, not at all; he's come so far, but not really, well, it's only the press of a few buttons and the pull of a lever and he's here, but still, it feels like far because it feels like forever since he's seen her, and mostly it is.

He closes his eyes and listens to the faint sound of laughter and ecstasy, and blimey he's jealous of himself and that's, that's...that's just it, isn't it? Really, his life, it's all moments in time that he wishes he could have over and over and over and –

Panting, "You know what we need now, Rose Tyler?"

Breathless, "If you say a sandcastle, I'll punch you in the face."

Chuckling, "No, silly," a kiss, "Ice cream! I saw an ice cream van on the way here - you know, back by the bit of beach where all the tourists are."

Silent, pondering, lip caught between her teeth and he kisses her again, just because. "Alright. Yeah, sounds good. Let's go get one!"

Rustling, adjusting, standing up, "No, no, it's okay, you stay here. I'll get them. You look knackered."

She kicks him.

"Oi! It's true, you do!" and she does, because she is, but he isn't, Time Lord stamina, him, he could go for hours.

She laughs, his hearts beat faster, because she's beautiful when she's happy - well, and when she's not - but when she's happy even more. "Be quick, though. Don't let them melt." A pause. "Well, not until you get back, anyway."

Hopeful, "What, you going to let me lick melting ice cream off you?"

"Oh yes." A promise.

He grins. "Brilliant! Just...don't go anywhere. I mean that! This time, stick to the first rule and don't you dare wander off."

Smiles, "Alright. Don't take too long."

"Never."

- he hides, waits, until the coast is clear. Waits a little longer, giving her time to put her bikini back on; he's a gentleman, this time around.

"Hello," he calls softly. Her eyes are closed so he doesn't want to startle her.

She smiles, opens her eyes, murmurs, "Oh, hello you." Because it's not the first time he's visited her looking as he does, not by a long shot, and she knows him instantly; has done since she was four years old and didn't quite realise. He steals so many moments with her, from her past-past and theirs, like the secret lover he is and isn't quite.

"Hello," he repeats, just watching her. Oh, how he wishes he could watch her all day, but he has only fifty-six minutes, at the most, this time, and it's rapidly decreasing. Can feel it, in his pores, in his bones, the way they tingle with longing and helplessness and the regret that he'll have to give her up, again, just like he always does.

He almost wonders why he puts himself through this, over and over again, popping up in her timeline wherever he can, knowing he'll have to leave within mere minutes and seconds of his arrival, so that the past-him can continue with her present.

But then she pats the space next to her and he willingly sits, and she finds his hand with hers and they fit just as well as they did when he was holding them all that time ago, pushing their hands into the sand above her head as he loved her. Now, their joined hands rest on his thigh and he stares at them and tries not to break, and he knows, when she whispers her next words, that the pain is worth it, always, always and forever, for her.

"I love you, you know," she murmurs quietly.

He grins, looks at her, looks into her eyes. "I know."

"I didn't tell you, just now, but I almost did," she admits, biting her lip, unsure. Then, before he can reply that so almost did he, there's a change of subject and it's glorious, "You didn't tell me that we'd end up..." she trails off, blushing, and he wants to press his lips to her cheeks and follow the flush down to her neck.

"Well, I didn't want to spoil it now, did I?" he defends. Then, a little insecure and completely abusing the situation for the sake of his pride, "Did you like it?"

She barks out a laugh and she's wonderful. "Of course I did, you idiot. You were there, don't you remember?" She raises an eyebrow and he loves it. Loves the way it's darker than her hair and arches in amusement and beckons him closer.

"Oh yes, I remember. I remember everything. Just wanted to double check it was genuine," he grins, lies back on the sand and plays with her hair with his free hand. "You still look beautiful in that bikini, by the way."

"So, your tastes haven't changed through regeneration then?" she smiles, tongue between teeth. "Still fancy plain old Rose Tyler with these new eyes of yours?"

His hearts ache. "Nothing plain, or old, about Miss Rose Tyler. But yes." He tilts his head, looks her up and down, pretending to consider. "I think. Yes, I think I do."

She scoffs, and lifts her arm, looping it around his neck in a half-cuddle; post-coital for her, post-losing her for him, for he's just, before this, been further back in her timeline and said goodbye to her on Molodora, though that was weeks ago for her, months, even, and she's seen him a hundred times since then that he hasn't experienced quite yet, but will do next week, when he's down and grumpy and Amy and Rory are out dancing and he is a alone and in need of his Rose-fix.

"Do we..." she begins, then stops herself, as if she knows she shouldn't ask, time lines and all that. "Does this..." she attempts again anyway, because she's a curious woman and she knows he'll answer her if he can.

"It's alright. I give you one question," he enthuses, smiling encouragingly. "Ask me."

"Do we do this again?" He knows at once she means the sex, not the this-him coming to see her, because he knows she already suspects that he'll be popping up to cuddle her some more as much as he can (while she's still in this universe.) She speaks again before he can answer her, "Or do you run away and pretend it never happened?" she asks, her face fearful of his response because she wants this sort of thing to continue; has wanted this intimacy to begin at some point, has done for ages and ages, almost as long as he did, he knows that.

He traces her frown with his fingertips and is honest with her, "Yes, we do this again. Quite frequently, actually. That alright? Well, of course it's alright, I know that, silly question, because it's you who makes sure this continues as soon as we step back on the TARDIS and aim for Jupiter, and...I'm saying too much, I need to shut up and let you make decisions for yourself," he decides, closing his mouth and watching her beam at him, the sight making his hearts stutter in a way only she can do.

"Good to know," she replies.

"I think so," he agrees.

"Every time I see this you, I..." she trails off again, and he wishes she wouldn't, it makes him nervous.

"I wish you wouldn't do that, it makes me nervous," he tells her. "Finish your sentence, woman."

She giggles her apology and fixes him a steady look. "I always wonder why."

"Wonder why what?" he asks her, because he isn't sure what she means, this time.

"Wonder why you always come back to me," she finishes, holding her breath like she's scared of an answer again.

His eyes are impossibly soft and a lump comes to his throat when he acknowledges to himself that it's not his line to tell. The truth is just a little intangible for him to admit, just now, for those three words that would explain everything must come from the lips of another him, far off in the future for her and months back for him.

Instead, he whispers, "You know why," because she does, deep down; she's always known. He was right, back when he fell into a deep dark pit; she knows, he doesn't have to say it. Well, doesn't have to say it until he does, to prove his worth, and doesn't do so, on that cold beach in another Norway.

For her sake, he reminds himself. So she can be happy, with the human (ish) one. Happy Rose. Happy Doctor.

He exhales roughly, and is grateful, eternally, for she accepts his answer as an answer, and nods slightly, and he chokes a bit when he sees tears in her eyes.

Until now, he's never really thought about what it's like for her, how she manages it, juggling two hims – the one she's with in the present, and him, the one who goes back to her – and keeps them separate. To her, he knows, he's the Doctor, whatever his face, and whether his eyes are blue, brown or green; she's remarkable that way, how accepting she is, how loving; so how does she remember the conversations with which one, and pretend to the old-him that she doesn't know anything about the future (which she doesn't, not really, he knows he can't tell her any of that, as tempting as it is to tell her not to visit her Mum at the time of ghosts and bazoolium; but she knows he misses her, it's the adjoining reason to the first unspoken declaration of why he comes back so often to see her, so she knows that she's gone, and not present in his future, but she never reveals this to the old-him. Not once. How?)

And so he realises, all of a sudden, her curled up in his arms, that it must be difficult, living her life with two hims in it; it's hard enough for him and he's just got the one to worry about.

"I've never asked...Rose, is it...do you find it strange, future-me coming to see you while you're still living my past? Well, no, that's not what I mean, because of course it's strange, silly question, I mean...is it...do you mind?"

She pulls back a little to meet his eye. "Of course I don't mind," she smiles warmly. She swallows, suddenly nervous. "Don't stop."

His mouth quirks up, immensely pleased with her demand. "I don't think I could," he admits, reassures her. "But is it hard, for you?"

She snuggles back into his arms. "No," she murmurs. "No, it's wonderful."

He isn't sure if she's lying, but he hugs her closer anyway. "Okay," he accepts.

"I don't - " she starts, but cuts herself off once more, and nuzzles his chest instead, plays with his braces in a nervous gesture.

"You don't what?" he sighs, but good-naturedly.

"Our relationship, it's always been unconventional," she begins, and he snorts his agreement, because it's true, it always has, and look at them. "And I'm glad."

He presses his lips to her hair and inhales the sea air and Rose, and waits patiently for her to continue.

"And I don't love you any less than I love you now," she whispers, staring at his bowtie rather than meet his gaze, and he lifts his hand to her face, her cheek in his palm as he whispers back, "Thank you." She gets it, she understands it, she knows him, and he's always loved her for that, and always will.

Stroking his thumb across her jawline, he says, "I definitely still fancy you," and she laughs and laughs until she can't breathe because suddenly he's kissing her, and like that he is hers again, just like that, just like always.

It's his first kiss in this body, well, no, it isn't, not quite, because just a few weeks ago he got Amy's mouth accosting his rather forcefully (which, strangely, urged him to go back to watch a time of Christmas and quiet, knowing looks but no seduction; him and her have always been frightened of making that first move, even when mistletoe's around to be the perfect opportunity, and there's something old and romantic and beautiful about that, about the gentle way that it took lots of time before they developed their relationship into something more, and he loves that about them, it makes it so much more real than anything he's ever felt before) but it is the first kiss with her, with Rose, and thus this is the kiss that means something. He's wanted this on every visit he's made to her so far, but he didn't dare, not when old-him hadn't even done so.

But he pulls back, breathless, for she is his and he is hers but they can't exactly, you know; that would be wrong, her memory of this day should be for what it was meant, and for that only, not anything more, not with this him, not yet. (Yet? Ah, he is hopeful.)

Thankfully, he doesn't have to tell her this, because she doesn't even insinuate it (it's just him, then, with the errant thoughts; he scolds himself) just cuddles in, burrowing into that space in his arms that's always meant for her, even when she didn't cause his regeneration this time.

And they talk together in this position, for ages and ages, but not that long, not really, not in the great grand scheme of things. He regrets that he'll have to leave soon (twenty-three minutes and counting) but he makes every second worth more than an Arcadian diamond.

He knows all about the past, what's going on with her and old-him around this time; can recount every memory like that (alien jungles and Harry Potter premieres and London Zoo and the planet of Sim-ba-bee) and so he lets her when she wants to know of him, and what life is currently throwing up for him, and he tells her of the scary bits and the funny bits and the happy bits and the sad bits and she giggles and comforts and supports in the way she does 'cos she's Rose and she's lovely; and telling her of it all makes it actually all brilliant, and he realises that she loves him being happy, even without her, because it means he can come back and tell her wonderful things and laugh and laugh and laugh with that old mad professor enthusiasm for life he's got this time 'round.

He tells her of the silly adventures and the serious ones, and the relationship between Amy and Rory; she surprises him, then, by saying just you wait, because he realises that he'll often talk to her about the couple in his future visits which she has already had some of (it's all very timey-wimey, remember, and actually, surprisingly, it makes even his head hurt; why didn't he formulate some sort of order for this, he wonders? Because you're the Doctor, she replies, as if the answer's obvious, you do chaos, not order, and he supposes that is true and kisses her forehead in response.)

"It's nearly over, Rose," he murmurs. "I'll be back soon."

"Yeah, taking a very long time with those ice creams, you are. Are you sure you didn't get seduced by another bikini-wearing woman on the way? 'Cos you are looking sexy, with your shirt all unbuttoned and that," she laughs. "Maybe others won't be able to resist, either."

He grins and tells her, indignantly, "I never even look at another. No, it's those dunes – they are very easy to get lost in, you know."

"Mmm, and with your poor sense of direction I bet it didn't take long," she teases.

He pulls her hair, "Cheeky," and begins to stand up.

"Do I deserve this?" she asks, out of the blue.

"Whatever do you mean?" he replies, baffled, straightening himself out and dusting sand off his shirt. He notices a strand of her hair on caught on his bowtie and leaves it there, triumphant (he can take a little bit of her back home with him, then. Ha!)

"Well, think about it. I'm living this absolutely amazing life with you, and even when you're not there with me for whatever reason, I get another you to talk to anyway, 'cos you know exactly when to pop up. I just..." she shakes her head, marvelling at it. "I'm so lucky," she concludes.

He's in awe of her, again, and can't stop staring at her happy, contented expression. "I'm the lucky one, Rose Tyler." His eyes drop slightly, and he gestures to her chest, where her bikini top has shifted with her movements. "Very lucky, in fact."

She blushes, as if she's shy all of a sudden, as if he hasn't seen that sight before, and adjusts herself. He wonders at how she ever managed to get the courage up to seduce him earlier today in the first place.

"Don't worry," he says cheerfully, leaning in to kiss her lightly. "The left one's always been my favourite."

She whacks his arm but laughs, and captures his bottom lip between her teeth, just because, you know, it's a nice way to end a lovely encounter. "Bye, Doctor."

He kisses her nose and wraps his arms around her waist, hauling her in for a last hug (well, until next time) "Cheerio," he says softly, into her hair; holds her tighter, squeezes, murmurs, "My Rose," and lets go.

He steps away, smiling, smiling, always smiling; it's the best way to fool someone into thinking you're alright, don't you know.

She doesn't fall for it, course she doesn't, she's Rose, and he can see it in her eyes that she doesn't. But another astonishing fact about Rose Tyler is that she knows exactly when to smile and pretend she's been fooled. "See you later," she grins back, and he nods.

He turns away as the woman he loves lies down on the blanket and awaits his past to return, and he smiles through the pain in his hearts all the way home.

Unlocking the TARDIS' door sometime later - for he had to park a long walk away; it's dodgy business, having two versions of the same TARDIS in the same general location, and he wouldn't want to barge into the wrong one and cause a paradox or something (even if the thought does briefly cross his mind) – he vows to himself that he'll make the most of her timeline, until every last moment of her twenty years in this universe has been either watched over or mingled with his.

For he may have sent her away to have a future, a forever, with another him; but her past is his alone, and he'd visit it often, and without guilt, for surely that can be allowed, after all they've been through together? Him and her.

He smiles, starts the sequence to send him back to Earth, 2010, to pick up his friends.

He'll see her again next week. Maybe Florida, 1985. Maybe Babnosteke, 9011. Maybe Shnel, 4021/zelp/Carrot.

He shrugs; it's all at his fingertips and in his hearts and memories, so maybe all three.

Arrives, rushes, opens the door, and runs out into...

...New York, 1959. He can't help it, what can you do? It's an addiction.

The stuff of legends are watching Elvis, and he's got a date to absorb himself into. Amy and Rory will be in his present, just fine and none the wiser, when he goes back.