Learning to Speak

Disclaimer: I wish I owned Doctor Who... If I did, I'd have a whole spin-off series for Alt!Ten and Rose... Sadly, however, it's owned by The Beeb and The Moff, and I'm just playing with it.

Disclaimer Take Two: I don't own Might Tell You Tonight, it belongs to the incomparable Scissor Sisters.

A/N: So, this was really meant to be a bit of a prequel to one of my older Alt!TenRose fics, Dance Lessons (which can be found on my profile) because I was asked on Whofic a little while ago to turn it into a series. Unfortunately, after that, writer's block and uni work set in, so it didn't really happen, but I found this in a random file on my laptop earlier today and decided to finish it. So you can take it as a prequel or a standalone, but it's really just a bit of (admittedly slightly angsty) Alt!TenRose fluff. Enjoy!

A/N Take Two: Reviews make me a very happy bunny indeed, so when you've finished reading, have a go at pressing the little button at the bottom of the page... Pretty please with an adorkable Human-Time Lord Metacrises on top...?

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Life seems so much slower,
With your toothbrush by the mirror,
Can I make it any clearer?

And I just might say it tonight,
I just might say it tonight,
I just might tell you tonight,
That I love you,
And you should stay all my life.

Might Tell You Tonight – Scissor Sisters

The room is quiet as he lies there in the dark, listening to her shallow breathing. He misses the soft, melodic thrumming of the TARDIS engines, but Rose's quiet snuffles comfort him enough for him to be content.

Sleep is still a foreign concept to him and he finds it difficult to find purchase on a dream world, even in this new 'human' condition. Sometimes, when he studies the ceiling in the darkness of their shared bed, he envies her the escape from the barrage of human thoughts, needs, and desires, but it's then he remembers what he sees when he does give in to sleep and dreams. He shakes his head and lets his eyelids close slowly, until his breathing becomes more relaxed and the rise and fall of Rose's body carries him into a world of swirling mist.

The beach is secluded; the only evidence that life has graced it is the footprints that cut deep grooves into the powdery white sand. The wind is icy and whips around the contours of the cliff faces, enveloping him in its biting caress. She stands in front of him; pink crinoline swirling around her calves, sequins glittering in her golden halo of hair, which is neatly pinned back. Part of him wants to say that she is beautiful – perfect, even – but the words stick in his throat as he takes a small step back and really looks at her. Her face is smooth like plastic, all distinguishing features removed, wiped clean as though they have never existed and she has always been this strange faceless creature; like some absurd unfinished Barbie doll, all pink, and yellow, and synthetic. A faint undertone of orange juice and copper wire weaves, almost unnoticeably, through the heavy tang of sea spray; it catches on his breath and he closes his eyes as the grey Norwegian sky begins to rain the tears she cannot shed.

When he opens his eyes again, there is nothing but endless darkness and the harsh rush of air as he slices through it, falling into the bottomless chasm of black under the weight of a standard-issue spacesuit and a single, rose-perfumed kiss. The wind buffers around his ears, almost as if it is speaking to him. He recognises the voice that carries along the susurrus; her voice, choking on tears, accusation, pain, and acceptance caught up together in the three words he could never really bring himself to say; 'I love you'…

He wakes with a start, shivering slightly and silently cursing himself for surrendering to the most basic of human needs. He props the pillows up behind him and leans back, his head coming to rest on the padding of the headboard. As his singular heartbeat calms, he allows himself to look at her. In contrast to the Dream Rose, her hair is chocolate brown – her natural colour and a choice she had made to suit them both; a silent 'I'm different too', a gesture of solidarity – and spread out across the white expanse of pillow. Her sleeping face is no longer smooth and plastic, but soft and human, with dark eyelashes dusting her cheeks, and her pink lips plump and open to the cool night air. The sight of her makes him feel like the luckiest man in the Universe. It makes him think.

He hadn't told her that he loved her since that day on Bad Wolf Bay when his Time Lord counterpart had abandoned them. He likes to tell himself that he can't say it because she needs time to adjust to him, but even as he persuades himself of the lie, he sees the hurt behind her eyes and knows that isn't the case. She never complains or even asks why, and part of him is grateful to her for that, but she also won't kiss him anymore, or profess her own love. Even sharing a bed is perfunctory; they merely sleep in the same bed, rather than 'together', and this state of mutual sleep only exists because she needs to be able to reach out and touch him in her sleep to remind herself that he is real and hasn't disappeared like so many of her dreams.

The truth is, that whilst he has whispered love in her ear once before, it wasn't his love, but his Time Lord counterpart's; some sort of twisted closure for the man who could never say it for himself. However much both versions of him had hoped – and in more desperate moments, prayed – that Donna's human influence had somehow abated the natural Time Lord urge to bite back declarations of love, it seems like that hope had been as ridiculous as hoping that Rose had forgotten him.

His gaze wanders to her sleeping form again as he feels her shift. She curls in on herself, knees tucked into her stomach, one hand resting against her heart, the other flung out across his bare stomach. He wonders silently what they are classed as in human society. He doesn't know if he will ever understand the strange human desire to categorise everything; it gives him the unnerving feeling that he is in a permanent state of judgement, but the truth of the matter is that don't really fit into any normal human boxes. Neither one of them thinks they fit 'boyfriend and girlfriend'; so, 'partners', then? But this doesn't fit them either, because to be partners, you have to be equal, and to be equal, you have to know each other inside and out, and they don't. They don't even fit comfortably into his trusted category of 'Time traveller and his companion' anymore, because for that, there has to be danger and an awful lot of running, but the most danger and running he had encountered since the Parallel Earth had become his permanent residence was the debacle with the vacuum that they'd both vowed never to mention again. Once, his curiosity had gotten the better of him – as it invariably does – and he had asked Jake how he referred to them in conversation. 'Oh, just the Doctor and Rose,' was the response, and he had immediately wished he hadn't asked.

As he lies in the dark, revelling in the texture of the cool sheets around his waist and the softness of Rose's skin against his, he realises that 'just the Doctor and Rose' is exactly what he wants to be; he doesn't want to be any more or less than what they are. But he wants more than they have. He likes their unique categorisation because it sets them apart from typical human 'couples', but at the same time, he wants to have other things that typical human couple have. There is a strangely primal animal inside his chest that makes him want to claim possession of her around other people – particularly men – and he finds he rather likes this ridiculous human need. Rose is his, and he does love her. More than anything in the whole damn Universe. Time and Space are pale in comparison to the way she looks at him whenever he takes her hand. And he has to tell her.

He reaches out and shakes her shoulder gently until her eyes flutter open and she surveys him sleepily.

"What's the matter?" she asks, her voice heavy and thick with sleep.

He sucks in a breath and takes the plunge. "I love you." He is surprised at how easy it had been to say; the words are heavy and he knows that they are so very important and saying them to anyone other than Rose Tyler would have been impossible, but even as the silence of the room filters through his mind, he feels content. "I just…thought you should know…"

She looks at him, her eyes wide and surprised. A simple, "Oh…" is all she can manage. He doesn't mind; he is happy to sit back against his pillow in the silent darkness and know that he isn't the only one lying awake. He grins properly for the first time since his Time Lord counterpart had thrown them together on Parallel Norway.

Sleep eludes her too, sometimes. Lying in the darkness, listening to his false heavy breathing. She knows that they are both wakeful, that something intangible and complicated is keeping them both from the silence and calm of the unconscious. Eventually, she gives up. Pushing herself up from the springy mattress, she pulls on the nearest dressing gown and ventures into the bathroom, pulling the cord to switch the light on and realising that the dressing gown she is wearing is drowning her in material; sleeves covering her hands and hanging past her hips, shoulders looking like she had a strange 80s fashion fetish. It is his. It smells of warmth, and copper wire, and free radicals and tannins. It smells of home.

She looks at herself in the tiny, condensation-smeared mirror, and sighs. She is thinner, more gaunt and tired than she had ever been before Canary Wharf, before Torchwood and the War, before she had 'died'. It had taken its toll on her; the loss, the ache of trying desperately to forget something so impossible and incredible. She was a lot older than her twenty-three years, and she was beginning to look it, as well as feel it. The overly-long sleeve of the dressing gown catches on something, pushing it onto the floor and shaking her from her reverie as she hears it clink against the floor tiles. It was the toothbrush holder that her mum had given her.

She begins to pick up the items that have fallen out; a half-used and very twisted tube of toothpaste; the white toothbrush that she always keeps in case of guests; her own shockingly pink brush; and finally, a bright blue toothbrush that she has never noticed before. She examines it, shaking back the sleeves of the dressing gown and turning the unfamiliar item over in her hands. She looks into the bin, noticing a piece of ripped packaging and a receipt and she puts two and two together. It is his, just like the over-sized dressing gown, just like the sonic screwdriver and other oddments decorating her dresser, just like the glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to her bedroom ceiling. Their bedroom ceiling.

And suddenly it hits her. He is here, and he is hers. Forever. And she loves him. Not his Time Lord counterpart, who left her standing on some godforsaken Norwegian beach on a parallel universe twice, but the one who stayed behind with her, the one who promised her forever, and love, and an adventure that he thought he could never have.

She tiptoes back into the bedroom, slipping under the duvet again and twining her fingers into his unruly brown hair. He stirs in his state of pretend-sleep and turns over, looking at her in confusion as if she really has just woken him up. She looks at him and smiles.

"What's the matter?" he asks, looking at her with interest.

"I love you." She is surprised at how easy it is to say, and wonders why she had found it so difficult before. "I just thought you should know."

He smiles back at her, saying nothing, but knowing that he didn't need to.

She settles into his arms and neither of them move until they both wake up the next morning, both sated from the sleep that didn't elude them anymore.