Author's Notes:
Thanksies to RainyD for beta and brains and such.


Most days the loneliness is a dull ache in the pit of his stomach. It is an itch that moves under his skin before he can reach it, something slightly off-kilter about the world and he doesn't quite know what it is.

Rose is a sugar-high and a caffeine buzz. She is anaesthetic and cures nothing, and but the high is addictive and he's not prepared to risk coming down.

He does so many things to keep her. His fingers touch the settings on the console as soon as she starts asking "can we go to" and he always says yes and always smiles. He takes her to pop concerts and funfairs and circuses and football matches. They giggle and they run and sometimes he wipes sugar from her lips and licks it from his finger. They laugh together in the face of danger and everything feels like joy.

And he's still lonely.

--

He unleashes solitude on others without meaning to, and as apology sends Rose to visit her mother before they leave again.

He spends the night with Sarah, who understands. He is so used to talking to Rose without saying anything at all and now he has so few words. Sarah talks and asks and he kisses her in case she tries to forgive him.

"Only if you tell me what happened," she says, that wisdom she has always carried.

He does, because she is Sarah and things would be so different if he had listened to her all those years ago. He remembers the dead rocks of Skaro, concrete and craters and nothingness for miles. So many opportunities not taken. She can't forgive him and he tells her everything.

He does not want to touch her after that.

--

There is a numbness to the touch and to the body. Rose knows this as well, makes an offer he has to refuse and yet doesn't.

Reinette's taste lingers on his tongue and he kisses Rose to erase it. She is scared of the other woman, scared of losing him, not frightened enough of the things that should terrify her. She worries like a human and bites her lip as fingers miss buttons in her haste to pretend that he is one as well.

She is a measure of absolution; he recites the names of gods against her skin, moves his tongue across her sex like an act of worship. He has become fixated by taste and she is alien spice, exotic and strange.

They are quick and quiet in case Mickey finds them, wordless in case anything is said. She needs proof that she is wanted and demands it from simple movements.

Afterwards he mumbles an apology and wonders what she thinks he has promised her.

--

She is laid as bare as her psychology, issues and skin. He knows precisely why she seeks comfort from an older man, why she expects him to protect her love her regardless of her actions. He should wrap her in cloth again and tell her that she doesn't know what she really wants.

He doesn't.

--

He finds himself in her bedroom too often (and once was itself one too many).

There is a photograph wedged behind a corner of the mirror, above a surface covered with cosmetics and hairclips and things that shouldn't matter. He eases it out and takes it back, reaching for his glasses as though he needs them to find out what he is holding. It is dated Paris, 1979 and the smiling blonde is not Rose.

"I found it in a book. In the library."

"You? In the library? With a book?"

"She's pretty," says Rose, as though it were important.

He slips it into a pocket with his specs and tries to look careless. "Oh, probably beautiful."

"Friend of yours?"

Yes. No. More than that. "She died," he says, "in the war."

"Oh. Was... was she a Time Lord?" He can see her piecing it together in her head, clever and bold. Assessing a threat.

Rose leaves his loneliness intact and he feels spiteful. "You'd have liked her. Never a dull moment when she was around." He sits on the edge of the bed, thinking thoughts that he shouldn't.

Rose looks like she's about to say something, changes her mind and licks her teeth instead. He leans in and runs his thumb across her bottom lip until she smiles.

"Let's play a game," he says.

--

Everything is fun again for weeks after that. He takes her to see The Clash, pogos across the floor like an idiot and she laughs at him and it's great. It's loud and brilliant and two years earlier they go to see The Undertones as follow-up.

They go to see the first performance of Turandot and she falls asleep on his shoulder halfway through. He doesn't mind, and doesn't even lie to her when she asks what happened in the end.

"His name was Love," he tells her, but she doesn't believe him anyway.

--

Rose is flushed and on her back, hair parted just so and skirt bunched up round her waist. Her pulse is fast enough for the illusion and he tells her he is sorry, sorry, sorry as they move.

"I forgive you," she says in the accent he has taught her, faltering on the vowels but no longer laughing at her own altered voice. He tries not to count how many times they've done this, but she already knows how to move and what to say and sometimes it's almost convincing.

He's not sure why she lets him do this. Maybe she likes being someone else. Maybe she likes having a lie that they can call their own. Maybe the sex really is just better like this. It's not just that she's scared he'll take her home and leave her there.

"I love you," he says, and she flinches a little. It doesn't matter though, not now, because she's at the edge and over it and he calls her Romana, Romana, Romana until they are still again.

When he moves off her, Rose pushes the borrowed skirt back down and bites her lip. She stares up the ceiling and buttons her blouse with slow fingers.

"I don't like this game anymore," she says.

--

He is used to guilt and directs it into making sure he won't be even lonelier. He laughs with her when she shouldn't, lets her talk him into stupid things, ignores anyone she might think of as a threat. He takes each day as forgiveness and remembers what it was like when she was enough to keep the pain away.

When the worry starts to fade he lapses back to what passes for normal. Some days it's okay when she wanders off. Once or twice he gets annoyed at the way she tugs on his sleeve or tries to make him agree to something by widening her eyes and running her tongue over her teeth.

But it's okay, because she's there. He has no idea what he'd do if she wasn't.

He just knows he'd be lonelier.