The Doctor was a selfish old man. Literally billions of years after they had said 'goodbye', Rose Tyler would not leave him be. He was still as hopelessly in love with her as he had been back in his tenth body, the one who had met her for the first time. The one who had taken her hand the first time. The one who had kisse- but he refused to allow himself the cathartic torture of reliving those memories.
Which was why he was walking down a street in 2002 London, his Yamaha SGV-800 slung across his back. The last time he'd played this guitar, he'd brought it to an axe battle in the middle ages. Tonight, if he was lucky, he'd play it while Rose Tyler was in his view. Every trip he took into her past was one less moment that he could ever see her again. Every trip he took into her past was his fix to something he'd become addicted to; and one could only take so many hits over the course of a gigennium that at the same time was fixed to twenty years. He was old, far older than he'd ever imagined he'd live back at the Academy getting his first regeneration cycle, and he had lived far too many days without her. And so he allowed himself this, to be selfish. He'd been wrong before: the Doctor was an addict with a box, not a mad man.
He didn't know where in London she was. He'd walk the streets all day, if that's what it took to get one more glimpse of her. More often than not, he roamed London for hours. He didn't mind it when he didn't see her – it only meant that he could return to this day again – but… she'd smiled at him once, crossing the square, and the reminder of how brilliant her grin was had been enough for him to keep coming back. He ducked into a local pub that he'd seen her at before and sat at the bar where he had a clear view out the door. If this had been any sort of normal situation, he knew that he'd be labelled a stalker. Hell, if he crossed her timeline more than what was safe there would be more at stake than never meeting Rose Tyler on the fifth of March, 2005. Those thoughts vanished the moment that the pub door opened and achingly-familiar face walked in. She was with a young man, not Mickey, the other one before him. The wanker who had hurt her. But not yet, he thought wryly, looking jealously at the wide smile on her face.
The Doctor balled his hands into fists under the bar counter as the other man kissed her. She laughed, playfully pushing him away. The Doctor told himself that he had no right to be jealous, that Rose Tyler had no idea who he was, that right now she was happy. The wanker picked up his own guitar, strumming a few poorly-tuned chords, while Rose came up to the bar. The Doctor turned back to his own drink and downed it, not caring what it was.
"Two beers, please."
She was beautiful. Dyed blonde hair, shorter than she'd ever worn it in the TARDIS. A plain white vest top with jeans, the same outfit she'd worn in Utah. Her vest top wasn't quite long enough, leaving a strip of bare skin around her waist. The Doctor tried to focus on his drink, but how could he possibly ignore the goddess that was beside him? Especially when it had been so long.
I miss you, he thinks. He gets a whiff of her cheap perfume and it almost overpowers him, the memories that follow.
He looks at her again, sitting beside the boy with the cheap electric guitar. The wanker plays what is presumably a song, but the chords follow no patterns and there is no rhythm to be found. Which is when the Doctor found himself slinging his own guitar over his shoulder, challenging him to an axe battle. Jimmy looks at him derisively, snorting, "yeah, sure old man."
Luckily, the bar has a dingy stage. The mics are broken and the amplifier has too much feedback, but they work. Jimmy plugs his guitar into the amp, jamming out an A major chord. The Doctor slightly regrets the challenge as the young man begins to play. His chords are random and haphazardly chosen. His rhythm is still nonexistent and the bar's patrons begin to boo. He finishes with a loud 'Fuck off' to the naysayers and saunters back to where the Doctor and Rose were watching.
"That was really cool, Jimmy." Rose's voice is soft, more timid than the Doctor has ever heard her before.
"Thanks, babe." Jimmy says dismissively, only looking at the Doctor, arms crossed defiantly.
The Doctor surreptitiously sonics the sound system to broadcast the backing tracks that he set up in the TARDIS. As the piano begins, he methodically plays continuous A minor chords. "I look at you all see the love there that's sleeping," he sings gently. A minor turns to F-sharp minor, which becomes F-sharp major seven. The chords are comfortingly familiar, but the lyrics are yet another sharp reminder of the love he has lost and Rose yet to find. He lets the final E major chord ring, decaying as naturally as possible. The gathering crowd applauds him, but he only has eyes for Rose. Rose, who is hanging on to Jimmy's arm, a weak smile on her face.
Jimmy wrenches himself away from her, taking the stage forcefully. The Doctor hops down, light on his feet, and, hesitating only momentarily, takes Jimmy's place beside Rose. He looks at her the entire time that the wanker is onstage, feeling his hearts seize as he tells himself that he can never see her again. Jimmy is off the stage too soon – though the Doctor has tuned out the atrocious melodies to better re-memorize her face.
The soft rock ballad is a stark contrast. "Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go," he sings softly. The song is not difficult, and he looks at Rose the entire time that he is on the stage. His voice loses some of the coarse edge that is present when he speaks, and he desperately wishes that she knew who he was and what she meant to him. "For my darlin' I love you and I always will." He draws out the second last chord in his singing, creating tension on the word 'always', as much to try to tell Rose as to remind himself. The Doctor plays the final D major chord, and it hits him just how true that statement is. The bar bursts into applause, but the Doctor quickly hops off the stage. He's out the door and almost turned the corner when a hand touches his shoulder.
It's Rose. Of course it's Rose, he thinks blithely. He swallows hard, before turning to greet her. "Hello," he nods, desperately trying to look as though he doesn't recognize her.
She smiles broadly and the Doctor's hearts ache. "That was beautiful," she says. "I don't want t' pry or anythin', but… was that in memory of someone?" When he didn't answer, she continued, repeating that it was beautiful.
You're beautiful, he thinks, wishing that he could tell her. "Thank you," he manages to reply, reaching into his jacket and pulling out his sonic sunglasses. His eyes begin to mist and he blinks the water away, wanting his last memories of Rose to be clear. She smiles again, her tongue poking through in a way that he hadn't quite remembered and it's all he can do to stay calm. She turns to go back into the bar and the Doctor watches after her until the bar door has swung closed. Guitar on his back, he makes his way back to the TARDIS, where he collapses on the chair on the far side of the Time Rotor.
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