A/N: This is something I started writing before the 50th aired and it was how I envisioned the Eleventh Doctor and Rose's meeting. I'm thinking about turning it into a full alternate 50th anniversary story so please do let me know your thoughts!
She glanced down at the console, fingertips tracing over the metal that seemed so familiar but oh so strange at the same time. The air was thick with unsaid words and hesitant questions; it seemed neither wanted to be the first to broach the most obvious subject.
It was only when she settled her eyes upon Clara's coat strung over the pilot's chair that her mouth seemed to open of it's own accord.
"Where am I?" Their eyes met for a split second before Rose lowered her gaze, a nervous smile gracing her lips. The Doctor turned away.
"You're safe." He finally settled on. Her brow furrowed and she bit her lips, almost repressing words that seemed desperate to tumble out of them. After a shaky sigh she spoke.
"But not with you." It wasn't a question anymore.
"Not with me." And still he refused to look at her; his fingers twitched and flicked against buttons and switches that he knew had no real use or purpose. He was pretty certain she it knew it too.
"Then how can I be happy?" There it was. The first glimmer of tears in her eyes.
With what seemed like all his strength, the Doctor turned to look at his long lost companion. She was still the same as he remembered…but different. He always remembered the honey blonde of her hair, the way it shone in the soft glow of the TARDIS light. But at that moment it looked harsher, more yellow than honey. Her eyes were always dark with the coal she drew around them, mysterious but familiar. And now…now it seemed messier than he remembered, a bit too heavy around one eye and a tad too smudged around the other. He couldn't quite decide if it was the harsh light of his remodelled TARDIS or his own memory, glossing over the tiny little flaws he had always seen. But looking at her now he was glad he had this. Now he could add all the little imperfections to memory, see them anew and fresh in his mind and remember that they were the reasons he adored her so much.
They stood there for a moment, just staring at the other. As he memorised all the tiny little details he feared he had forgotten she drank in everything she could take about this new man before her.
"I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't be asking. Rules of time travel and all that." She wrung her hands but forced a small laugh that the TARDIS seemed to hum along with. The Doctor supposed he wasn't the only one who had missed her.
"Yeah." He mentally cursed himself. Was that all he could offer her? This girl whom he had spent years upon years daring to hope he would see again. He had rehearsed so many things to say, so many apologies and declarations and whispered words and now…now they seemed so unworthy of this moment. Unworthy of this human girl before him. He almost laughed. A Time Lord struck dumb by a pink and yellow human. If the Gods could see him now.
He took a few steps towards her, and her eyes watched him almost warily. His hand quivered slightly as he reached out, fingertips seeking hers. It was magnetic he thought, the way her hand welcomed his.
"I told you I'd never leave you." She whispered. He smiled. Her loyalty had always been unquestionable. Her devotion…well, he had never seen anything like it bar his for her.
"I know. And what you gave me never did." Rose glanced towards the ceiling at that, the tears dangerously close to cascading down her cheeks.
"I just don't understand." She whispered. The last piece of stone in his hearts crumbled and he drew her into his arms, her cheek nestling against the unfamiliar tweed of his jacket.
"I know. And you will, with time, I suppose. But if I had to say one thing, Rose Tyler…"
He paused, the bitter taste of the day, one he would much rather forget, passed over his tongue. He hated that her name had become symbolic for unspoken words for him. That it would be the last thing she'd hear.
Glancing back down he saw her earnest eyes, hanging onto his fragmented sentence. Maybe she was waiting for the same words she yearned for on the beach. Maybe, he thought, just maybe he should give them to her. It's not like she would remember this adventure of theirs, he would erase it from her mind, piece-by-piece, until he was just a shadow in her dreams. A whispered word in her nightmares.
But no. It would make this too hard.
It was strange, watching her in this shroud of innocence. The Rose he had last seen was older and just as lovely. But she had seen the darkness, she had suffered the heartbreak that he had and it showed in her eyes. If there was a way she could have stayed then he could only imagine how much more they would have understood each other. How much more they would crave one another. He feared, and almost dared to dream, of how close they would have become.
It would have been desperate and passionate, their fear of losing each other overtaking all thoughts. In that dream he believed that they would stand the test of time, watch the worlds fall to dust and stand atop the wreckage. Together.
But this girl, all she knew were the carefree days of apple grass, the easy embraces against the dying light of a black hole. Yet either Rose seemed perfect to him, it was the same brave heart beating beneath porcelain skin, the same fingers that intertwined with his.
"Doctor?" She prompted softly. He sighed. Those words….they were not for today.
"Never give up hope. There'll be days in your life, in everyone's life I suppose, when the world seems too hard. Too unfair. Too cruel for you or anyone else to beat it. But you, Rose, you're brilliant. You really are, I'm pretty sure there must be a monument to your brilliance somewhere. And if there's not I'll build one myself."
A delicate laugh shattered her resolve, a wide grin appearing for a glorious few seconds.
"I'd like to see that. Never fancied you for an architect."
"It'll be the biggest and brightest of them all." He grinned back, and for a second she admired this new face, the crooked grin and the shallow dimples. She would have loved this face.
"Can't wait." And in that moment the illusion was shattered. That was when her first tear fell, the droplet leaving a shimmering trail of sorrow in its wake.
He placed his hands either side of her face, fingertips almost desperate to reach that shining world of thoughts just breaths away. He just wanted to feel what it was like, to be encompassed by her warmth, just one more time. But he fought the urge, swallowed it with what little self-control was left.
"You beat the world. At all odds, you beat it. You, and this brilliant mind. You raged and raged and raged against the dying of the light…and it came back. Because you told it to. Who else in the universe could have done that?"
"You?" She offered gently, and he smiled.
"You're probably right, there." For a second the Doctor could see all the gears and cogs twisting and turning behind her honey brown irises, a thought fighting its way past her inhibitions. He waited.
"I just wanted to say…in case I never got to tell you, before…before I'm gone…"
Her eyes lowered, cursing her tongue for betraying her.
And then it came with a rush of breath and a desperate look into his eyes.
"I love you."
He grabbed her once more, holding him against her as he tried to hide the glistening in his eyes. After all this time, those words were still enough to undo him.
"Oh Rose, my Rose. My brilliant, fantastic girl." He peppered kisses across her face; they fell on her forehead and wet cheeks, and once briefly on her lips.
"You know. Tell me you know. You do, don't you? You know?" She could not hide the flash of disappointment across her face. But nevertheless she offered him a shaky smile.
Not today. Those words belonged to another Doctor, to a time long ago for him and far away for her on a windy beach in another world.
"Does he ever say it? My Doctor? Does he tell me?" He ignored the word my, he knew she did not mean it. She would never hurt him.
"Spoilers." He smiled
"Sorry…I forgot. Rules of time travel and all." He wanted to tell her that it wouldn't matter, that he would erase every thread of his jacket and note of his voice from her memory. He could tell her anything he wanted to, in theory. He could barely admit it to himself…that it was his own selfishness, his own well being that stopped him from saying all those long buried words. It was too hard. And he knew that he would one-day curse himself for all the missed opportunity.
"Rose?" A third voice interrupted them, and it was strange really, the way her cheeks flushed and her eyes shone a little brighter when he called. A figure of brown appeared in the corner of his eye, and once again he was faced with his own ghost.
He could see the other's vision immediately flit to Rose's frame, taking in her pink eyes and wet cheeks. He rushed forwards.
"Is everything alright?" His hands grasped her waist as he gazed into her eyes, searching them for the answer of who dared upset Rose Tyler. She sniffled and gave an unconvincing smile.
"I'm fine. Just a bit overwhelming you know?" The suited Doctor smiled.
"Rose Tyler, overwhelmed? I don't believe that for a second." His voice was kind and the raggedy man who had slunk off to a dark corner closed his eyes in pain as she laughed.
"Sorry, I'm being useless…What can I do to help?"
The sound of metallic clunking filled the air as she pulled the tubing from the console, a slight furrow appeared in her brow as she tried to untangle it. The Doctor turned with a sigh and continued to flick the meaningless switches. When he looked up he found himself faced with the ghost.
"Where is she?" He demanded, his voice a harsh whisper, his brown eyes wide and angry with a ferocity that the old man remembered well.
"You know I can't tell you that."
"Don't give me that. I know we won't remember this, we can't. You'll pluck the memories from our heads and scatter them into oblivion, so tell me. Where is Rose Tyler?"
There it was. He had almost forgotten the burning that came with her. The feeling would rise up and strangle his hearts, making it almost hard to breathe. At the mere thought of her the beast would crawl from the pits of his stomach and overtake him, the thought of keeping her safe and with him searing through his mind. He was ashamed to admit he didn't miss that part. The pain that came with her. And looking at this Doctor now he could see it. He could see him burning.
"You lost her." He said, and even he was surprised at the venom that came spilling from him. His younger self froze, his eyes still wide, unblinking. He swallowed.
"What do you mean lost? I'd never-"
"Well, you did. You nearly sent her to hell."
There was silence.
"The beast…not that I believe in it, it's complete and utter nonsense. But the Beast….it said she would die in battle. Now, I don't believe it's the devil, and I don't believe you can tell the future…But was that it? Was it some kind of low level psychic?"
"What are you asking me?" He glanced over to Rose's small frame, sitting amongst coils of wire and dipped his head.
"Will she die?"
"No. But she'll be on a list of the dead. She's trapped, in another universe. Pete's world."
"You can never see her again." He didn't tell him that he would. He wanted his younger self to feel his pain, to know the brutality of losing her. It was cathartic…almost like exorcising his demons on himself. The energy coiled within the other Doctor seemed to seep out of his frame, a weight slowly taking over his muscles until he leant against the console for support.
"Never see her again…I…I need her." Tears glistened in his eyes as he gazed at Rose, oblivious to the shadow of sorrow in the corner of the TARDIS. The elder would not look at him; he would not relive that pain again.
"I'm sorry." He said softly. The younger man looked at him through a haze of unfocused confusion.
"How? How did you get through that? Because if you were once me then you know how it feels. You seem to be doing just fine now, but if you could remember how it was to be with her, to be around her –"
"Like the world is full of hope? Like she was made just for you, how else could her hand fit yours so perfectly? Like if you lost her the world will just vanish into the darkness and you can't see a light at the end of it." The Doctor in brown stared, his jaw steeled and eyes narrowed.
"Don't you tell me that I don't understand, because I was you. I know better than you do because I lived through it. And I remember it all too well." His voice shook and hands clenched, losing the fight with the little composure he had.
"And how did it feel?"
His head swam with the mere memory of the pain; the days spent staring into space, counting each star they had visited and wondering if a version of her was touching one at that very moment. There were the dark days when he almost stole her away, when he walked after her through an alien Ba'zaar in another timeline, wondering how he could smuggle her into the TARDIS. There were the desperate days when he would visit Henriks and buy ties he didn't need just to see her wandering the shop floor. He could never bring himself to ask for her help. But the worst were the hopeless days. When he would ride a Nebula to ride headfirst into a sun, trying his chances on survival purely to feel alive again. How could he encompass the deadweight in his hearts and the darkness in his mind in just one sentence?
"She burns." And he understood. The other Doctor understood.
"She burns." He echoed quietly.
"Doctor?" The burning girl herself bounced over to his ghost, beaming her burning smile.
"I did it! I re-rooted everything just like you said."
"Cigar for my lady." He said, his voice hollow with empty cheeriness.
"You okay?" The light faded and she cocked her head, searching his cold features. With a look to the elder, the suited Doctor placed a hand on her arm and began to lead her out of the room.
"Yeah. Could do with a cup of tea though." She smiled and as the corridor was swallowing up their forms the Doctor called out one last thing.
"Where were you going, right now, before you met me. Where were you headed?" He asked Rose, not willing to let her go just yet. She looked towards the ceiling for a moment, brown eyes squinting to remember. Recognition flashed cross her face for a moment and she smiled.
"Back to mums. To see her. Got her this little present from a market, it's called a Bazoolite?.."
"Bazoolium." He corrected automatically. The younger Doctor had slunk off to the bowels of the ship to tend his wounds…The poor fool. He had no idea.
As she turned to leave he felt his breath leave him, this was it, the last time his tongue could taste those words, the last time he could hear them aloud. He had to do it.
"Rose…" She turned, expectantly, hopeful. He gripped the console, his knuckles showing white through his skin.
"Thank you." He said, and he burned with the hatred of himself for his weakness. With a nod, she turned, wandering through the now unfamiliar corridors to find her Doctor.
Those words were not for him. Not for today.