When he dreams of regeneration now, it's not of a new face, not of new hair, teeth, moles.
It's just of a new heart.
One that doesn't splinter and ache and twist and revolt. One that isn't three pints of lager away from writing terrible poetry and regrettable text messages.
Of course, that's almost poetic itself -- that for the first time in his life, he's only got the one heart and he's gone it and gotten it broken.
Maybe he dreams of common sense, too. And self-preservation instincts.
It took two months. Two months of takeaway curries and shit television, of rumpled sheets and that spot on her neck that always makes her squirm.
Two months of talking about Mickey's new girlfriend and Jackie's new tracksuit and decidedly not what a new, new, new Doctor meant to a new Rose.
He thinks about that a lot, actually -- how they said so much to each other that it was hard to notice they weren't really speaking at all.
Well, right up until the end, until she'd said, "This isn't working," and he'd said -- something, he's sure of it. Something he'd probably wince about now, wildly embarrassing and conduct unbecoming of a Time Lord, something in a form-fitting grovel, or a nice, heavy-knit plead.
But the talking before then, the real talking, there were so many opportunities for it, times he could've asked how she felt, told her how he did.
Instead they drank and ate and fucked their way right into separate lives.
Or, she's got a life, at least. Days filled with Torchwood and her family and any number of pretty boys with plenty of muscles and no emotional baggage. That's what he assumes anyway.
His life, it's weeks filled with lesson plans and exam schedules and isn't that ironic, that the only plan he wanted for this half-human life -- to spend it with Rose Tyler -- is the only one that fell apart.
That's what he gets though, because the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and, apparently, the contents of his stomach, the ones he empties out anytime he thinks too hard about her.
But, it's not a bad job, teaching. He likes it well enough, likes his students and his coworkers and not having to see Rose in the halls. He likes that at work, at least, he can ask for exactly what he wants and get it.
Of course, requesting and receiving a thousand words on Shakespeare's use of metaphor is hardly the same as requesting and receiving Rose's affection. Still, it's nice that someone listens to him.
Now, though, he's staring down the barrel of winter holidays, of weeks of sitting alone in his flat, the one that used to be their flat.
It's better than staring down the barrel of a Dalek, but only just, and, anyway, not entirely alone, he'll have the knot in his windpipe, the boulder in his gut, and that empty place he's carved out where he used to keep time and space and a second fucking heart.
Or a single one, even.
It's just tonight, an end-of-term celebration with the rest of the English department, and he'll be left alone to wallow. Maybe he'll get a dog.
Maybe he'll build one.
They're good people, the people he works with, and they seem to care about him, even if he feels like that's only because they don't know him at all.
One, a ginger bloke called Don (and what a kick in the fucking throat that was) seems to have taken a special shine to him, recruiting him for the intramural football team and setting him up with a woman from his pub quiz team.
The woman, Alice or Ellen or some other vowel name, nothing with a hard consonant, nothing that would trip off his tongue like a song, she'd been nice enough, pretty enough, smart enough. It's him that hadn't been enough, not ready enough to move on, not willing enough to try.
He could've kissed her. He could've called her again and courted her and been arranging to meet her tonight, a date the only acceptable excuse for begging off of team drinking exercises. He could've told her about the stars, held her hand, told to her run.
Instead he'd given her a hug, thanked her for a lovely evening, and promptly taken a bottle of Scotch to bed.
He's had 900 years without romance, without human romance, what's 50 or 60 more?
He's going to die so much quicker; he'll just be alone. If this human body has needs he can’t control anymore, he’ll sort them in the shower. Or he’ll sort them in his bed. Or whatever, he’ll fucking sort them, like he’s been doing, trying not to think of Rose, and the way she’d wrap her legs around him and the noises she made and just -- sod it all. His whole damn Earth-bound existence.
Still, affirmations of loneliness aside, it doesn't come as a surprise when the first thing Don says to him, shoving a pint into his hand with a broad grin, is about how he should have a go at pulling someone.
"Maybe a bloke," Don says with a wink. "Can't say I haven't had the urge myself."
Oh, that's brilliant, now he's got echoes of Jack to deal with, too. Any minute now someone called Sarah Jane is going to come by and make him feel like shit all over again. Or, well, this universe is slightly more subtle about making him suffer -- she'd be called Schmarah Shmane instead.
Schmarah Shmane stuck in Schroydon.
He needs another drink, but he wants it alone.
"I'm all right, mate," the Doctor tells him. "Probably should call it an early night anyway, got all those exams to grade."
Don looks like he's been slapped.
"Grading exams the day you give them? I don't know where you got your license, but that is just not done," he says. "Come on, finish that pint and buy us a round."
The Doctor drains his drink in a few quick gulps, making his way to the bar just as the band is starting up.
They're playing this slow, sad stuff that he never would've tolerated before, but now finds himself nodding along to, pleased not to be the only miserable bastard in the pub tonight. He's checking off the painful trivialities of human life like it's a shopping list, one that includes things like, "Make a shopping list."
He's on his third try at getting the attention of the bartender, running down the line of things he's supposed to do -- polite nod, firm eye contact, slight wave -- and he's reached the point where it's lucky he doesn't have his sonic, because he'd explode the whole top shelf and just open his mouth. Something that'd do the trick ought to land in there.
He glances to the far end, trying to figure out what could possibly be keeping this bloke from pouring him a couple of pints, when he spots her.
It's a pretty girl, of course it is.
And she's Rose Tyler, because of course she is.
His entire head snaps away, eyes forward, and he'll explode those bottles with his mind if he has to, he's seen it done before and if there were ever a situation where he was going to spontaneously develop telekinesis, this would be it.
She's watching him, he can tell, and he's suddenly aware of everything on the left side of his face -- his wonky ear, his in-need-of-a-trim sideburn, each and every freckle as hot little pinpricks on his skin.
The bartender appears in front of him like a fucking wizard apparating and he's really got to stop staying up late to read books he's read hundreds of times before, especially when it takes him so much longer now.
He orders wine, grunting out the word and a color behind it, and the part of him that thought wine would make him seem like he's matured, like he's grown into something Rose would want to keep, cringes.
"Wine, red, coming right up," the bartender says, and it's the smirk that really does the Doctor in, makes him curl his fingers into the wood of the bar.
But then Rose is at his side, he can smell her, see her, practically fucking taste her, like ashes and want on his tongue. She's saying something about the wood, pointing at his fingers, with a smile.
He laughs because he's supposed to, social cues, and look, Rose, look, look how he's fixed himself, not-so-ginger and not-so-rude.
"How are you?" Her voice is light and even and his brain flips through the odds of a positive response to him answering truthfully.
The number of instances where, "I'm awful, I love you, please come home," nets him an agreement and a snog is so small that it can't even be fathomed by a normal human brain, so it's just as well he's not got one.
"Oh, you know, been better," he says and ducks his head to the side in frustration, catching a glimpse of his coworkers clustered around the pool table.
"Been worse," he adds.
Rose's gaze follows his and her eyes seem to linger for a moment, so he turns again and suddenly he can see what she's seeing -- Claudette. Oh, Claudette, blonde and French and in her first year teaching. Claudette who had followed her girlfriend to London, but Rose doesn't need to know that.
Something ugly churns in his gut and he almost lets it out, skips ahead to ordering a banana daiquiri, offering to introduce them, pleading with Claudette in French to play along, just for a bit. But no, Rose probably knows French now and Claudette's girlfriend is meant to show up soon.
And anyway, he doesn't want to hurt Rose, he wants to love her, and reminding her of reasons not to love him back, well, maybe he's not the sort of bloke that likes a challenge anymore.
He shifts to look at Rose again and it's the worst thing he's done in this body yet, getting a proper look at her. The floor drops out, the ceiling drops in, the whole fucking thing collapses.
It's like this body, this stupid half-human body is too small to contain it all, he wants to be sick, he wants to shout, he wants to run, he wants to pin her against the wall next to the dartboard and shove his tongue into her mouth while she pulls his hair and bucks her hips into his.
Instead he settles for curling his toes inside his Converse and reaching to adjust the tie he hasn't worn since she left him. He ends up fiddling with the button on his cardigan, thinking about how stupid it is that he's wearing a cardigan to begin with.
It's the most human he's ever felt and it's like he coming apart.
The bartender shows back up with his "wine, red" and he shoves over far too much money, the wait for his change is going to be long and maybe Rose will wait with him, maybe he'll figure out how to make sentences and proper questions by the end of it.
He starts small.
"And how are you?"
Someone behind Rose nudges into her and she stumbles a bit toward him, hand landing loosely on his arm.
The things that happen then, the things he notices, there's not a sequence to them, it's just all at once. The smell of her perfume, the way her can see down the front of her dress from this close, her hand on his arm in the pub, her hand on his arm as she pins it to the mattress, it's all rocketing around his skull, clanging so loud he barely hears her.
"I miss you," she says.
In the movies, the ones he watches at 3 a.m., volume low enough that Mrs. Church from next door won't hear it and bang on the wall, in those movies, right now, there'd be a record scratch. As it is, he hears something like the TARDIS and the beating of his own heart.
He takes a deep breath, trying to pull it all in, his emotions, the way Rose looks, what Rose said, but it takes too long and she's turning from him.
"I have to go," she says and gestures toward the end of her bar, the mates she came with. "It was good to see you."
He blinks at her, the moment so slow and stretched that he actually feels his eyelids drop and open back up.
"You, too," he says and she's gone.
The bartender is back with his change and he pockets it, grabbing the wine and moving toward his coworkers, stuck and slow, like he's in the swamps on Morlax 5.
He wants to run after Rose -- does she remember Morlax 5? Does she remember how she'd lost one of her trainers, how he'd knelt to help her find it? How the TARDIS was so fussy about cleaning his suit after that he'd had to spend the evening in Howard's pajamas? Does she remember how much he'd loved her then, giggling in the media room as she'd queued up "The Creature from the Black Lagoon?"
Does she remember how happy they were?
Don meets him halfway to the table, grabbing a glass and squinting at him.
"You all right? You look like -- " Don's head tilts to look past the Doctor. "That's Rose Tyler. Oh."
There are words said after that, things done, pool, darts, wine, lager, but he's hardly present for any of it. It's like he's split off into another version of himself, one that's capable of movement and conversation, while the him that he is right now stands in the middle of the room and thinks only of Rose.
He could almost believe that's actually what happened, except for how there's no version of him that isn't always thinking of Rose.
She catches his eye an hour later, and it's deliberate, he's sure of it, but then she's ducking out the door, a man he doesn't know right behind her.
He waits five and a half minutes and when she doesn't come back, he stumbles out of the pub.
He has to see her.
Again and now and for the rest of his life.
Instead he walks around the city for an hour, the cold air nipping at his ears, his fingers clutched around his mobile.
By the time he arrives back at the flat, he's sober and lonely and it's just like every night lately, except for how when he opens the door, Rose is sitting on the sofa.
"Still had my key," she says, and she holds the little keyring up so he can see, so he can just make out the TARDIS key next to it. Maybe that's what this has all been about, she's using the wrong key. She doesn't want to open a door and see him. She wants to open a door and see him.
The other him.
No amount of talking or pouring his stupid heart out is going to fix that, then.
"Could've used that last Tuesday," he says, nodding at her hand. "Forgot my keys at work and Mrs. Church caught me trying to pick the lock. Got a lecture on responsibility, can you believe it? Me, responsible for the universe, and now the nasty neighbor's giving me a talking to."
Rose laughs and he smiles and, oh, this is brilliant, she's finally back home and they're still having empty conversations. Well done, Doctor.
"Does that bother you?" She says, laughter trailing off, and he flounders to figure out what she means.
"No, she's harmless, happy to give her something to do," he says, working out as the words leave his mouth what she really meant.
"That's not what I meant and you know it," Rose says.
Well, yeah, he knows that now, but back when he started his sentence -- oh, what the fuck is wrong with him?
"No, it wasn't," he says. "And no, it doesn't. It really doesn't, Rose. The only person I want to be responsible for -- to -- is you."
And then she does it, she makes him better, she opens up the heart of him and swallows it down.
If he processes the conversation, the moments, like he imagines humans do, he's going to break apart, he won't be able to contain it all, and his body will crumble, this shell only built to contain him for a handful of decades more, will cease to exist. He'll be dust, and not the starry kind.
So he analyzes, pulls out the facts:
He is the Doctor.
He is the Doctor that Rose chose.
He is the Doctor that Rose wants.
She is Rose.
She is Rose like she's always been.
She is Rose like she's never been.
They love each other.
An hour later she's wrapped around him in bed, head on his chest, and breath warm on his skin.
"Your heart's going fast, Doctor," she says.
"That's because I only have one," he says.
And it's hers.