He closes his eyes and leans against the TARDIS, listening to the sound of the dimension cannon, her project that she started, so that she could get back to him. Him, not this him, of course, but a younger him. When his hair stood in spikes (he thinks his hair is much nicer now, soft and fluffy) and he dressed in pinstripes and chucks. He knows that she won’t find him, not here, lurking in the shadows
She’s as beautiful as he remembers, from all those billions of years ago. He laughs humourlessly – she’d thought him old when they’d first met. And here he is, two regenerations and four and a half billion years later, and she still makes his hearts beat wildly in his chest. He almost calls out to her, but stops himself. The timelines, if he even says hello the selfish Time Lord knows that he’ll never willingly say goodbye. So he tries to content himself with watching her, and he can almost trick himself into thinking its enough when she looks up and sees the TARDIS.
She looks from the old blue box to the old gray man beside it and he can see her breath hitch. He knows she’s wondering if he’s himself or if he’s a random stranger, and happy though he may be to see her, the Doctor gives no indication that he recognizes her. She walks toward him, despite his façade of imperviousness. It takes everything in him not to run to her. She runs to him.
“Doctor,” when she says his name its like cold water splashed onto his face. This is real, and Rose Tyler is standing in front of him. His features soften slightly, but to the Doctor it feels as though they simply melt away. Rose Tyler is standing in front of him and she’s hugging him and her head still fits perfectly against his shoulder and he is overwhelmed by a long-buried desire to kiss her. But he can’t. He was mustn’t, he must maintain the timeline. But the rippling timelines are difficult to focus on when you’ve just been reunited with her, with the love of your lives.
“Rose Tyler,” her name rolls off his tongue so easily, as if it had only been a few minutes since he had last said it and not a few millennia.
“Lo,” she reaches up and strokes his face with her thumb. “You’ve regenerated.”
“Twice,” he admits, cupping her his hand against her face. He breathes in the scent of her – of tea and time and strawberry – and vows to commit every detail to memory. He had twenty-seven minutes thirty-two seconds to spend with her before she needed to return to Pete’s World. If she would allow him. “You can’t stay,” he says finally, not looking her in the eye.
“But I’ve found you.” Rose covers his hand with hers.
“The timelines are out of sync, is all.” As much as he wants her to stay, she needs to go back to the him in pinstripes and sand-shoes. “You find me, the proper me.” The words are difficult to force from his throat. He is still the Doctor.
Rose glances at the cannon. “I still have twenty-six minutes until I…”
“Until you need to make the jump back,” the Doctor finishes for her. Rose nods. He takes her by the hand and opens the door to the TARDIS. “But, like you said, there are twenty-six minutes. Twenty-six minutes and twelve seconds, to be precise.”
“A lot can happen in twenty-six minutes,” Rose says hesitantly.
The look that she gives him is all the inspiration he needs. “Yes,” he agrees. “A lot can happen in twenty-six minutes.” He carries Rose, bridal style, into the console room.
“You’ve redecorated,” she notes, one arm wrapped behind his back, the other reaching towards the Time Rotor. He waits for her to say something else, to continue. “It suits you,” Rose brings her hand back to run down his shirt.
The Doctor knows what she’s asking without words because he’s asking himself the same question. “Your wish, is my command,” he kisses her other hand, which moves to meet her right hand hovering over the topmost button of his Oxford. She undoes it. Then unbuttons the next. And the third. Until his shirt is hanging open, his chest bare. Rose gently lays her hands over his hearts and the Doctor feels the hairs on his skin rise in anticipation. Her hazel eyes, pupils dilated, are quite probably the most beautiful sight he’s ever seen. There is a chair directly behind them and the Doctor picks Rose up, backing into it.
“Doctor,” her voice is breathy, her eyes searching his, “are you certain?”
Of course he’s certain. He will always miss her, but he would always regret not giving her anything that she desired. He had wanted her since Cardiff in 1869. He had loved her since before that. And she wanted him.
“Yes,” he says throatily, his hand tracing her features. “Are you?”
“I love you,” she says simply. “As long as you are the Doctor, I will always love you.”
They explore the other’s body, the Doctor quick to shrug out of the Oxford, Rose’s leather jacket and tank top discarded on the grating. He hesitates only briefly before establishing a mental link between them. Rose’s mental signature is a swirl of gold in his mind. Hello, he says tentatively.
Doctor, Rose’s mental voice is a joy that he’d never thought he would experience again. All her emotional barriers are down, her soul bared.
You should raise some mental shields, he starts but Rose silences him with a kiss. The sensation of being shut up by a physical stimulus in a mental state is an extraordinary one. Rose is aware of a something approaching. Those would be my Time senses, love, he tries the endearment and finds that he loves it.
Is this what it’s like for you all the time? How like Rose to be concerned for him.
Yes, he replies simply. He finds himself enveloped by a golden warmth. It’s Rose. It’s love. It’s her love for him, projected into his every atom of being. He relishes the sensation. The chair is not large enough to accommodate the both of them and so they switch places, the Doctor pulling Rose onto his lap. They kiss languidly, as if they had all the time in the world available to them, both aware of the cruel reality that time was slipping away. How ironic that time still passed in a time machine. But the Cannon was connected to Rose, which meant that it counted her personal timeline, and fourteen of their precious twenty-six minutes had elapsed.
Slowly, he brings her fingers back up to his mouth. If this is the last he’ll see of Rose Marion Tyler, he wants a memory that he will treasure forever. She had promised him forever and she had given him the memories that he would carry until he died. Forever, for this him, for the Time Lord Doctor, could only ever be memories.