Author's Notes: Huge thanks to redcirce for providing the uber-quick beta. I owe you.
She wanted to date, she had told me, like we used to, except not with different planets or solar systems but with simple things like going out to dinner, going to the movies, or, as we were currently doing, going to the fair. Is this what humans do on a third date? Pete had given me a stern glance as I left the mansion earlier with Rose, looking me up and down. Was there some significant, some importance to this third date that I had missed in Humans 101?
Regeneration was a lot like drowning. Surrounded by a mass of memories, by the deeds of things long gone, of the things that make me each incarnation, each of which associated with their emotional state.
It was a tidal wave, a force you could not escape, a thing that engulfed you and burned your skin.
And then you were were lost; lost to the world, lost to everybody who had ever known you, before you were born anew.
The waters receded, you gasped for air that filled your lungs, and your hearts began to beat faster, and faster, and faster until something stopped. I was new, I was old, I was ancient and forever, but I had died and been reborn.
They never tell you that, never think to tell you that back at the academy, what dying feels like. It's almost a non-sequitor as we all live so many lives, so many hundred of years, that by the time you get to the dying, the drowning, it's all a just another step in life. What they really don't want to tell you is how much it hurts, how much it scars you, how much you leave behind. Time Lords, stubborn and foolish to the very end.
And I have seen their end. I have also seen their beginning.
In my universe, I am the only Time Lord, even if I may just be half. I'm mortal, my last drowning will last forever, and the burning will never cease. Or does something else happen after that, after all of these boring rituals of a normal life, something greater than me? I remember myself never believing in gods, true gods as other species might, but as part-human I find myself wanting to believe. I want to believe that the hand I hold now, at this very moment, is the one I'll hold beyond death itself.
We mastered the chances, we cheated the odds, and here we were, walking together in another universe, one neither of us had been born into, down the main road of the valley fair. Its lights were bright, shining up into the sky with its own stars and planets, and if I turned my head away for a moment to look at something else, something darker, my eyes took a moment to adjust. I wasn't used to this.
Nor was I used to my palms sweating whenever I twined my fingers with hers. The sweat, I thought, was repulsive on me, yet she didn't seem to mind. She only smiled, her palms sweating as well in this heat, and dragged me from one attraction to another.
She wanted to date, she had told me, like we used to, except not with different planets or solar systems but with simple things like going out to dinner, going to the movies, or, as we were currently doing, going to the fair. Is this what humans do on a third date? Pete had given me a stern glance as I left the mansion earlier with Rose, looking me up and down. Was there some significant, some importance to this third date that I had missed in Humans 101? Thankfully, Jackie had given me a peck on the cheek and told me to “go get her.”
I was befuddled by her comment, and the expression she had used when referring to her own daughter, leaving me confused as Rose dragged me to the car and drove an hour to the fair. To the lights and stars, to the rides and food, to the noises and the people. It took me a moment to adjust, to not panic at being around so many people, at not knowing who each of them were within the span of a single heart beat, to know their very timelines, who they were to become, but when Rose took my hand, tugging at it gently, I looked into her eyes and saw only warmth. I could feel her trace designs against my palm, running along the veins without even having to look, and I shivered.
After that, we just ran. Ran through the attractions, through the people, through the lights, as if she just wanted this part to be done. Her smile, though, was wicked and underneath that pretty little head of hers, I knew she was planning something. When we got to the centre of it, we stopped, took a breather, and grinned at each other. Wildly, passionately, and, at that moment, I felt myself falling.
Not literally – I would never lose my balance – but her smile, the way she looked at me as if I were real, like I was alive and not a shadow, made me slip. I opened my mouth to say something, to tell her, again, what I had always wanted to say, but she looked away. To the big Ferris Wheel moving straight above us.
“Come on,” Rose said, pulling me into movement, “let's go.”
We paid our fee and, as I was hunting for a seat, I saw Rose talk quickly to the operator, slipping what appeared to be a bill into his hand. He nodded with a toothy grin. I looked away and climbed into the carriage, squirming in the seat as Rose sat next to me.
Our bodies didn't touch, our hands didn't mold together, so all I could do was rub my sweating, stinking palms against the length of my trousers. Maybe I was nervous.
Were third dates supposed to be nerve-racking and mysterious? The first two had been so simple. Dinners, movies, short kisses on front porches before I left for my own flat not too far away from her's. Why was this one so special? Why had I always heard from various Torchwood agents that the third date was always “the one”? The must have been pulling my leg...or so that expression goes.
The ride started and up we went. I knew the general mechanics of such a machine, what it was supposed to do, but I wasn't prepared for the strange intimacy it provided. So high above everyone else, seen only by the ones behind you, and for all intents and purposes we were invisible to the world while still in plain sight.
The ride slowly coming to a stand still as we reached its zenith, I turned to her. She seemed oblivious to me, eating a candy apple and looking out at the stars. Did she miss them? Was her heart still looking for me? Or was she waiting for me, this me, to find her?
I turned my head to look out at the stars with her, to watch them sparkle above the lights below us, and the thought I had been thinking since I was created from two impossible hands touching, surged to the surface like a tidal wave.
“I love you.”
Glancing out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rose had stopped eating, the apple held right against her bright red lips, covered in saliva and caramel. They gleamed in the light of the stars.
I turned my whole body to face her, my long legs bracing myself from falling by using the bars in front of me, and I smiled. Her face, almost stunned even if she had heard me speak the words before, was as beautiful as ever. I cupped her cheek as the apple fell into her lap, staining her jeans and probably creating an awful mess of things, but I forgot all about it as my thumb slowly caressed her smooth skin.
“Say it again,” she whispered to me, carefully leaning in, pushing herself forward so that our bodies were now touching. I could feel her everywhere.
I moved forward as well, resting my forehead against hers, taking in a deep breath. I could taste the caramel and apple that she breathed out with every exhale. For a moment, I wondered what she tasted on my breath.
“I love you,” I whispered. My other hand now holding the other side of her face, I dipped in just enough to faintly feel the softness of her lips, slightly parted--
Then, the ride started back up, the apple fell from her lap, and we were thus separated. Our bodies, though, were still connected, and as my hands fell to my sides, she clasped them in her's. Below us, we heard someone swear, loudly, and we giggled to each other.
“The apple,” Rose said to me, her voice taking on a conspiratorial tone.
I nodded, smiling at her. Soon, the lights were back upon us, the intimacy gone, but the moment never lost as long as her hands held mine. Our bodies touched along our sides and, for me, the world fell away. I no longer cared about people's stories, about their timelines I could no longer see, or the things I never would again. I was happy, I was overjoyed, I was in love, and I could finally admit it without pressure or impending doom. Everything felt natural, human, and full of a wonderful, single, precious life.
And I was on a bloody date.
As we reached the bottom and got out of our seats, Rose was in a clear rush. She took my hand and made a run for it. I barely had time to see the wheel operator give me a wink before turning to see some poor mother and child, a half-eaten candy apple in their hands. So I ran, following Rose, forever following her, as we left the fairgrounds and into the darkness of the night. We ran until we turned a corner, following the low barriers of the fair grounds in the dim light, when she suddenly stopped.
Before I knew it, I was pressed, hard, against the wall separating us and a couple hundred people at the fair, her hands now in my hair and pulling me down for a fiery kiss. Her tongue took my mouth and I groaned. Forgetting myself, feeling that drowning sensation once more, it took me a while to remember what was going on, to remember what was happening as all I could feel was the taste of the caramel, the taste of the apple, and the taste of Rose. It was all so powerful, so overwhelming, that I felt like I was dying again, drowning and burning with the power of a thousand regenerations.
Except I wasn't. I was human. I would only die once and never a second, or a third, or a fourth time. This was it: my one life, my one chance, my one Rose.
When she finally let us breathe, gasping against each others lips, our eyes going cross as we tried to look at each other, I seized the moment and spun her around. I lifted her up, her legs wrapping around my waist, and I pushed her just as hard against the barrier. With one hand across her back and the other grabbing her arse, I kissed her. I wanted to kiss her until she forgot her name, until she forgot where she was, until she could see me for who I was, and not him. I wanted her, finally, to see and feel the human inside of me. That was what I had to give her and I wanted her to know it, to feel it, to know without a doubt that I was hers.
If she'd have me.
I tasted her, tongues running against each other in a dance I have either long forgotten or never done before, and consumed her breath, stealing it from her lungs. And when she broke away, searching for the hot, humid air that enveloped us, I took the chance to nibble at her ears, her neck, the small patch of skin that showed off the top of her chest, and soon her breathy moans turned into ones that even those beyond the thin veil of darkness could hear. I hoped they did.
When she pulled my head up, grasping my hair and wrenching my head back, she grinned lazily at me, her breathing heavy and her breasts heaving.
“I love you,” I said. “I love you and I'm sorry, sorry I could never say it before.”
Rose rested her face against mine, her breath against my ear causing my legs to falter.
“I love you too,” she whispered before biting at my ear.
With a yelp I fell backwards, my legs failing me for the first time, and down we toppled. She landed on top of me, expelling all air from my lungs, but the way her body pressed against mine, how the grass smelled, and the way my hands still held her close, made the pain in my back worth it.
“I love you too,” she repeated, raising her head to look at me.
Then, as if realising our situation for the first time, we both erupted into huge fits of laughter. We laughed, like the old times, but never with this much body contact. Never with her legs on either side of my waist, or with her breasts resting against my chest, or with her hands entwined in mine.
“Is this,” I started, trying to ask her something as we continued to laugh both at and with each other, “is this what a third date is about?”
“No,” Rose said, getting up to sit directly on my lap, “this isn't what a third date is about.”
“Then what is it?”
“It's about getting lucky.”
I stopped laughing then, looking straight into her eyes. She too stopped laughing, and, suddenly, I could see the love, the love for me, inside of her. It was full to the brim and bursting forth. How had I never seen it before?
Maybe I was too busy drowning in my own fire to see what was right in front of me. That feeling was all too familiar, but this, this drowning in the flames of someone else, was both fresh and the same.
“And will we get lucky tonight?” I asked, my hands slowly working their way up her shirt to touch the soft skin on her back.
Her head rolled back, her eyes fluttering shut, and she moaned quietly when one hand moved to gently feel her stomach and reach for the bottom of her breast.
“Yes,” she gasped out, “we'll get lucky tonight.”