A/N: If you recognize it, I don't own it. I wrote this because I felt like there must be a reason Ten gets that close to telling her, only to cut himself off. A bit of a different spin on things; please enjoy. And yes, I did realize right after posting it that I needed to revise. So I did.
The End of Forever
I love you. Those were words forbidden to them. Those were words they hoped never to say. How it came to be those three words would never be clear to him. How and why they chose the three words which both of them desperately wanted to say and hear said was entirely a mystery.
At first, he supposed, it was simple reluctance on his part, and perhaps fear or shyness on hers. Not that there was any hiding it, really. How did one begin to hide such a fundamental part of themselves? No, they both knew. They just never said. They ran together, laughed together, fought together, holding hands more often than not, looking at each other with bright eyes and shining smiles.
And somewhere along the way, "I love you" came to mean "goodbye."
He had almost told her, multiple times, especially after his regeneration. The night Rose met Sarah Jane, he almost let it slip – almost called her the person he loved. The Doctor cut himself off just in time. That would have been the worst thing he could have said. It would have been tantamount to abandoning her in that moment – confirming all of her fears and hammering home her insecurities.
He almost told her as she hurried him away to save Reinette. The Doctor turned to her, his eyes already mourning that they would be separated. But she smiled and lay a finger over his lips, keeping those words quiet. "It's not time for that yet," she told him. "Even if it seems impossible, I know you. Impossible is what you do." So he hadn't said what he longed to and, in the end, Reinette had provided him with a way back to her.
And he almost said it as he dangled from a cable, twenty miles beneath the surface of an impossible planet. "If you get back in contact," he told Ida, pressing the intercom close to his mouth, "If you talk to Rose… tell her…" But he never finished the sentence, because he didn't really believe it would be the end.
When Rose heard Ida repeat his words, she smiled. He hadn't said he loved her. And that meant he would come back to her, somehow. She would wait for him. He hadn't said he loved her. And in the end, he did come back, though not in the way she had expected.
Somewhere along the way, "I love you" came to mean the end of forever for them. As long as those words remained unsaid, their forever could continue. "I love you" were the words they longed for and dreaded more than any others.
That was why Rose sobbed when she told him she loved him that day at Darlig Ulv Stranden. That was why his smile was bitter when he confirmed her fears. That was why he shed those few tears when the transmission ended too soon, when he lost his chance to tell her goodbye. But even so, there was a part of him – a tiny, insignificant sliver of his mind – which wanted to believe there was a reason he hadn't been able to tell her. There was a part of him that wanted to believe that it wasn't really the end of forever.
"When I last stood here – on the worst day of my life – you said something to me. What was it?"
The Doctor looked from his metacrisis twin to the love of his life. She stood with an arm over each of their shoulders, her hazel eyes searching his face.
"I said 'Rose Tyler'," the Doctor said evenly.
"Yeah. And how was that sentence going to end?" she pleaded.
The Time Lord looked at his human twin again. They were identical in every way. They were literally the same man; he got the same feeling looking at his blue-suited clone as he got on those rare occasions when he met a past or future incarnation of himself. It hurt to realize what that meant.
"Does it need saying?" he asked her wistfully. He wasn't asking her if she needed to hear him say those words, because he knew she did need them. He was asking her if she really wanted to hear it. He was asking her if this was really the end for them. He was begging her to see that he was still going to be with her.
Rose stared at him with betrayal and understanding conflicting in her eyes. She turned to the other. "And you, Doctor?" she asked.
The metacrisis man leaned down to whisper in her ear. He spoke much too quietly for Donna or Jackie to hear, but not so quietly that the Doctor's Time Lord ears couldn't pick it up. "This isn't goodbye, Rose," he told her. "This is the beginning for us. I won't finish that sentence until it's goodbye."
She turned to him, hearing both what he had said and what he hadn't. She kissed him. The Doctor smiled humorlessly. He glanced at Donna and jerked his head back at the TARDIS. He turned away from Rose and his human self and retreated into his ship. A fuming ginger followed him. She shut the door and then rounded on him as he wandered up to the console to begin entering the coordinates.
"'Does it need saying'," Donna hissed scornfully. "Of course it needs saying, you daft idiot!"
"No," he corrected her, his voice flat and empty. "Rose and I agreed a long time ago. Those will be the last words we ever say to each other. They've still got a lifetime left. It would have been wrong of me."
"Why would you ever agree to that?"
The Doctor shrugged and flipped a switch. "Wouldn't you want that, though? Wouldn't you want the last words you ever heard to be those words? I know I would."
Donna sat on the grated ramp and stared pensively at the closed door. "Do you love her, Doctor?"
The Doctor glanced over at her, then back down at the console. He thre down a lever and the TARDIS shuddered as it threw itself across dimensions. "Yes," he answered. "Yes, I love her."
And that was the end of his forever.
It was just the beginning of hers.