The world reveals itself in black and white and varying shades of grey.
Six year old Rose Tyler knew this as well as anyone. Colours are reserved for those who have found their soulmate. Rose who loves art and painting and creating does not really think this is fair, but fair or not, it is the way of things.
Of course the unfairness of colour or black and white does not stop Rose from asking her mum to read her bedtime stories of fairytales about soulmates and their happily ever afters. It does not stop Rose from dreaming about the day she can finally understand what her mum is talking about when she says that Rose looks so pretty in pink or that yellow tulips are her absolute favourite.
Flowers all look the same to Rose. She does not get what the big deal is.
Six year old Rose Tyler dreams about the day when she finally meets her soulmate and can have her very own happily ever after.
Life continues, as it does, and Rose is sixteen when her best friend runs over to her one morning on the way to school. Shareen has tears in her eyes and the brightest, happiest smile Rose thinks she has ever seen in her life.
“What happened to you?”
“Rose, it's amazing. It is so much better than the stories people tell. So much better.”
“Colour, Rose. I met him. My soulmate and everything is just – so alive.”
This is the beginning.
Everyday now it seems like someone is finding their soulmate and seeing the world as it truly is for the first time. Rose smiles and offers congratulations and musters up excited giggles but it is hollow and fake and she knows it even if no one else does.
To Rose it feels like everyone else in the world is finding their soulmate except for her. She hates the jealousy that she can feel creeping up on her and she does not want it, does not want to be this person, this is not who she is (she swears it is not) but she cannot quite make it go away.
Rose does not understand why it is so easy for everyone else to find their other half whilst she is still alone. She still dreams of seeing colour. Still dreams of her own happily ever after.
She stops painting. She trades it for a sketchbook and charcoal. It is easier for her to work in black and white anyway.
Rose is headed for university as an art major. She still sketches as much as she can but she also starts taking photography classes. She excels in black and white photos. Her professor praises her artistic eye and helps Rose submit her work to various competitions and gallery shows.
It is here that she meets the Doctor for the first time. Well, his name is not actually Doctor, but it may as well be since no one, not even the professors, call him anything else. The Doctor introduces Rose to his group of friends and suddenly Rose feels like she has a found a brand new family. It feels good and she is happy.
There is Martha and Mickey, soulmates of course, and so completely in love it makes Rose's chest ache even as she teases them along with the Doctor and the rest of the group about their inability to keep their hands off each other.
There is Jack and Ianto – another pair of soulmates. Amy and Rory who have also managed to find each other.
The Doctor even introduces Rose to his cousin Donna and her husband Lee. More soulmates.
In this new little family the Doctor and Rose are the only two who still have no idea what colours actually look like and even though they always pair up with each other and spend nearly all their free time together, they are not soulmates.
As much as Rose loves her classes and art and her new family she still dreams of finding her match.
The group is sitting around Amy and Rory's flat on a Saturday night. It is a party celebrating Amy's announcement that she is pregnant. It is late and the group is talking quietly, the party winding down, everyone sleepy yet happy, when the Doctor poses a quiet question to the group.
“Do you think that they ever make a mistake?”
“Who,” Donna counters.
“Whoever or whatever decides soulmates. Do you think they ever make a mistake? Do they ever get it wrong?” The Doctor is addressing the entire group but he is staring at Rose. His stare is soft but no less intense for it and it makes her mouth go dry and heat rush to her face. She can feel her heartbeat pick up.
Forcing herself to swallow around the lump forming her throat she says, “Don't be stupid,” and she smiles to take the bite out of her words. “Of course they don't make mistakes. Have you ever heard of anyone wanting to trade their soulmate in for another one? Or of anyone leaving their mate?”
The Doctor looks at her for another moment before nodding roughly and looking away.
Neither of them notice the way Donna watches them.
Pub nights, bowling, stargazing adventures, the Doctor and Rose do everything together. They hug over the most ridiculous things and hold hands with an intensity that nearly dares the universe to rip them apart.
Rose marvels at how perfectly her hand fits the Doctor's and how she has never felt more comfortable or more at home then when she is with him. Yet, the world remains stubbornly black and white and there isn't anything that she can do to change that. Besides, she reasons, no matter how good things are with the Doctor (and they are so good) then that only means it will be even better with her actual soulmate.
It has to be better. Rose is not willing to accept any other interpretation or possibility.
Their routine continues along these lines, balancing on the precipice of romantic versus platonic, when something shifts and changes. Even years later Rose is still unable to clearly remember whether it was her or the Doctor that made the first move.
They had been at a pub with the rest of their friends. The group was celebrating Ianto landing a job that he had desperately wanted. They all had a little too much to drink and when it came time to head home Rose and the Doctor shared a taxi.
All of that was normal.
The Doctor walked Rose to her door, also normal, and she invited him in. Again, normal. Until normal suddenly flies out the window because somehow they are snogging in her living room and clothes disappear as they make their way to Rose's bedroom.
A little while later Rose is laying in the Doctor's arms with her head on his chest whilst his hand traces invisible patterns on her back.
“Will you stay?'
“If you want me to.”
This begins a new chapter in their friendship and becomes their new normal. They tell no one because they are not sure how it will be received. They are lovers but not soulmates and that is a truth that remains no matter how hard they both try to ignore it.
It is several months later when their new past-time is finally discovered.
Donna had not been able to find her phone for two days. It was only after Amy reminded her that she had dropped some things off at the Doctor's flat that Donna realised that she had left her phone on his kitchen counter.
She let herself into the flat (as is her usual) and sure enough there was her phone but as she turned to leave she caught a glimpse of the Doctor's bedroom which was where the Doctor and Rose happened to be. She remained silent as she let herself out of the flat even whilst she could feel her anger rising.
Donna and Rose had plans to meet the following day for lunch so she decided to wait until then to confront Rose with what she saw. She also tried to keep her temper in check. Donna knows it really isn't any of her business. They are both adults and if this is what they choose to do then it is all on the two of them. She repeats this to herself for the rest of the day and throughout the evening.
When Donna returns to her house and Lee asks her what's wrong she says, “Nothing. Honestly. It has just been a very long day.” She smiles and allows him to distract her for the rest of the night.
She does not want to shout at Rose and by the next morning Donna is fairly certain she has herself under control but when Rose walks into the cafe with that innocent, bright smile on her face something inside Donna snaps and she cannot keep her thoughts and worries to herself anymore. So when Rose sits down Donna takes a deep breath and lets out everything that has been bothering her since yesterday when she discovered their secret.
“How could you do it, Rose?”
“What do you mean?”
“I forgot my phone in the Doctor's flat yesterday and I stopped by to pick it up.” Donna feels a sick sense of victory when she sees Rose's face pale sightly.
“You stopped by his flat yesterday?”
“Yeah, and I know what the two of you have been hiding from everyone. I know your secret.”
Rose takes a deep breath, swallows hard, and looks at Donna. “Well, so what. We're both adults. We're single. Neither of us have soulmates yet. Where's the harm?”
“Where's the harm? Are you joking? Rose, you've told that you have always wanted to find your soulmate. That finding your soulmate is the most important thing for you.”
“Yeah, it is but I still don't get why you're so bothered.”
“I'm bothered because I thought you were better than this. I never expected you to be so selfish. So cruel.”
“How am I being selfish and cruel? What exactly have I done wrong?”
“He's in love with you, Rose. The Doctor is in love with you and he has been almost since the moment the two of you met.”
“He can't love me. Not really. He has a soulmate out there somewhere and we all know that it's not me.” Rose doesn't know who she is trying to convince with her words but it scares her that she is beginning to not care about soulmates or colours or the entire damn system anymore.
“He's never cared about that. He's never really cared for the system or that love isn't a choice. He doesn't care that the world is black and white. He never has. He does care about you though and you are going to break his heart.”
Rose stared at her in silence.
Donna stood, pulling on her coat, and grabbing her bag. “I just...You're making a mistake, Rose. The Doctor isn't thinking clearly but you are and if you care about him, even a bit, you'll end this now.”
Rose sat, not saying a word, as she watched Donna walk out of the cafe. She took a shaky breath and was about to leave when her phone buzzed with a text from the Doctor.
“Can you meet me? Now? Please?”
“Your place. Please?”
“I'll meet you there in 15 minutes.”
Whilst part of Rose hates that she is practically begging mostly she cannot quite bring herself to care.
It's later, when she is half asleep in the Doctor's bed, he is spooned up behind her with an arm wrapped around her waist that she manages a glance out the window and marvels at how much the black and white world seems to have an elegance all its own.
Rose has never seen colour but she wonders if it can match the timelessness of the universe as it is right now, in this moment. Or if adding new and unknown hues would hide its true beauty under layers of garishness.
She feels the Doctor shift behind her, she knows he is asleep, but it doesn't stop the butterflies in her stomach or the way her entire body warms when she hears him whisper, “I love you.”
It's a few days later and the Doctor and Rose are walking, hand in hand, to the art gallery where Rose will have her debut show. It is the first time that Rose's photography will be displayed to the public and whilst she's nervous she can't help but be grateful for the Doctor's constant support as well as the sense of peace that comes from feeling his hand wrapped around hers and she remembers a conversation from long ago.
“Do you think that they ever make a mistake?”
“Who,” Donna counters.
“Whoever or whatever decides soulmates. Do you think they ever make a mistake? Do they ever get it wrong?”
She abruptly stops walking and looks up at the Doctor with a small smile when he turns to face her with an obvious question in his eyes. Instead she squeezes his hand as she steps closer to him, “I love you, too,” she whispers against his lips before kissing him softly.
The beaming smile and bright laughter that the Doctor cannot seem to hold back warm her and Rose cannot stop her answering smile. Tugging on his hand, she pulls him back towards the gallery.
Yes, Rose thinks, they do get it wrong. They have to get it wrong because in what universe are she and the Doctor not soulmates. Of course they get it wrong. She looks up at the man walking next to her, the man who has never left her side, the man who has never let go of her hand, and she understands that the two of them are living proof that the system is flawed.
Rose Tyler does not know what colours are and she never will but she's coming to realise that it does not matter. She is finally accepting that she has fallen in love and maybe the Doctor isn't her soulmate but isn't that something that should be for her to decide and not some system that no one truly understands anyway.
So long as the Doctor never lets go of her hand she knows that they will be able to get through anything the universe choose to put in their path. So long as his fingers are always wrapped securely around hers, she knows that they will be able to face anything head on.