Disclaimer: Dr. Who and associated characters don't belong to me, I'm just taking them out for a spin.
A/N: Yes, it's been done many, many times before, but plot bunnies can't be helped.
He wouldn't say the words. She knew he wouldn't. Couldn't. Not only for the usual reason-she'd always known that road was one he-they-could not travel. But also because of him. The Other. If he-her Doctor-said the words everyone on that beach knew were on the tip of his tongue-where would that leave the Other? Because if he-hers-said them, no power in existence could keep her away from him. She would get in his blue box and chain herself to something inside before he'd leave her behind again. If he just said the words.
"I said Rose Tyler..." and he stopped. Even as she listened, mentally willing him to keep going, she knew in her heart that he never would. Then she had turned to the Other and asked him the same question. "How was that sentence going to end?" He took her arm, and leaned down. A whisper. As human as he and her Doctor claimed him to be, in front of Donna, her mother, his original self, he couldn't speak the words in any kind of public sense.
"I love you."
She let out a breath she hadn't even realized she was holding. For that one second the familiar, long-loved, long-missed and sought-for voice was simply His. They were one—her Doctor and the Other. Without thinking, she did the thing she had imagined doing innumerable times. She grabbed the lapels of his ridiculously blue (of course it was blue) suit and pressed her lips to his. It was as natural as breathing, as automatic as remembering how to ride a bicycle, as reflexive as kicking her leg out when her knee was struck by a small rubber hammer. It was every bad cliche she knew, and it was wonderful.
She didn't hear the crunch of trainers on the wet sand. Didn't hear a beloved set of doors pulled shut. And yet, she wasn't surprised when she heard the familiar moaning grind of the TARDIS taking flight over the sound of her racing heart. The only shock was in realizing after a blissful handful of ignorant seconds that the unified Him she was kissing was actually only the Other.
She turned-turned away from the Other-to catch a last glimpse of her Doctor. She didn't get it. The TARDIS was already mostly gone-a half-forgotten visual memory. She could see him in her mind, turning away from the door, from her, and directing his attention to his next destination. Wherever that was. Tears stung her eyes, and she felt the Other's hand slip into hers. She knew he was trying to reassure her that the Doctor was still with her, and she dimly recognized that his pain at that moment must be as acute as her own, if for different reasons. She didn't care. In that moment, the hand she held was the only thing of the Doctor's that she could recognize as not simply a cheap facsimile. A voice in the back of her mind whispered an echo of Donna Noble's parting words, "Don't you see what he's trying to give you?" Yes. She did. Just because he had given it, though, didn't mean she had agreed to accept.
Except she had. She'd kissed him. The Other. Not her Doctor. There were too many "new" appellations in front of this Doctor. This time. She was all too aware that the hand in hers was too warm. Not like her Doctor's. The hand was the Other's now, not his. She couldn't bear to keep holding it, couldn't bear to let go of the one thing she still had of her Doctor. His final gift. She was accepting it even as she wished with all of her heart that she could go back in time (oh, to go back!) to return it.
She recognized, dimly, the sound of her mother's voice behind her. Mum was talking to someone about a car. Then she paused for a minute and asked about Tony. Cell phone. Mum was on the phone with Dad about leaving here. Going home.
How could she bear to leave this spot? How could she even tear her eyes away from the indentation in the sand where the TARDIS had once stood? Where her Doctor had been? Had left. Again. How could she turn around only to see the Other without howling in pain that the Doctor both was and was not there.
"Rose?" said a tentative, gentle voice from beside her. The hand in hers squeezed, as if to wake her up. The Other. "Rose?"
She nodded and turned, averting her gaze so she didn't have to see his face. She could move her arms and legs, could tear herself away from this spot, but only so long as she didn't have to meet his gaze. Those eyes, they would be so kind, so hurt, so...his. No. Best not to look.
"I'm here. I'm all right," she croaked.
"Me too. I'm all right too," he softly agreed. They both knew what "all right" really meant-anything but.
His hand squeezed hers. Too warm. In a suit that was too blue. Still, she didn't remove her hand. She needed the support, for one, to keep her from falling to the sand and never getting up. And she worried, in some corner of her mind, that she needed it because he was him. The Doctor. If she let go now, how could she know that he wouldn't disappear again? Even the Other, and she knew, KNEW he wasn't her Doctor, she couldn't bear to lose. Not again.
She squeezed back. It wasn't much. It wasn't a promise, it wasn't even a wish. It was, however, a sign. Not a bad sign, either.
Hand in hand, they turned. Neither looked at the other. Slowly they started walking away from the sea, away from the beach, away from the last place either of them had ever expected to be at again. Slowly, to somewhere else. Some-when else. The future. Whatever it held.