Author's Note: So much time has passed since I last updated this story. And for that I am truly sorry. Even though I knew how it would end, writing it was still so hard to do. The words just wouldn't come to me and I think it had to do with the hiatus I was on while dealing with the passing of my Grandmother and all the things that needed to be taken care of afterwards. But eventually I was able to finally complete it though I'm not completely satisfied with it. I keep wondering if I would've ended it differently had I finished it before everything happened. But I've kept you all waiting long enough. So this is it. The final chapter.

Happy reading and I hope you enjoy it!


Chapter 17: Moving Forward

The Doctor knew this day was coming. He was prepared for it. Once she had announced that she was now a Professor, he knew at any time, River would tell him she and her team would be heading out to the Library. That time had finally come. Yet hearing the news still felt like a punch to the stomach no matter how much he had prepared himself for it. For a few brief moments the Doctor was unable to speak. He just stood in front of the console, his back to her, with eyes closed and clenched fists.

His wife had popped in for a surprise visit. He hadn't seen her in awhile. Not since the day they lost Amy and Rory. The thought of his Amelia Pond and her Centurion husband still brought pang to his hearts. He had wanted River to travel with him after it had happened. He didn't want to be alone. But she refused him. And he knew it was because of how he had hurt her. Knew it was because he couldn't love her the way she deserved to be loved. So the Doctor accepted her decision. Then he hid away.

There was nothing he could do about it. Nothing he was willing to do to change that. And he knew River wouldn't ask. Right before she died, when the Doctor had told her time could be rewritten, she warned him not to change a thing. Even though he hurt her; didn't treat her right, she still took his place and died saving him as well as countless others. He wanted to ask why, why she would do such a thing. After all she'd been through because of him, for him, why? But he didn't. Instead he pushed back all sad, dark thoughts and took her to Darillium to enjoy its singing towers.

A carefree night.

Or so he had thought until she turned, gave him a sad look and quietly asked him to take away her knowledge that she was about to die at the Library. The Doctor was so shocked by the fact that she knew what was going to happen that he couldn't even sputter out a response. Just stood there gaping, completely flabbergasted. River smiled and told him she had known for awhile that she was going to die. But she also knew it wasn't something she should know. Which was why she wanted him to take that from her. So that she couldn't change a thing.

He knew she was right. River shouldn't know. She may be strong and brave about it now but that could change once she arrived at the Library. He didn't refuse her request. With a lingering kiss to her forehead and a mind filled with so many regrets for how River's life turned out to be, he pressed his fingers against her temple, entered her mind and took away that knowledge. Nothing else. No matter how tempted he was to take away how much he had hurt her. The Doctor had done so much already, he couldn't do that to her as well.

So he didn't.

And now River was about to leave.

Just a few press of the buttons on her Vortex Manipulator and she would disappear in a flash of light. The Doctor did not know if he would ever see her again. A strong possibility he wouldn't. But he couldn't act as though it would. So he kept things light. It wasn't hard to do. He was used to avoiding things. The only thing he did that confused River was hand over his sonic screwdriver. She didn't question it and for that he was thankful. She just accepted it with a nod and thanked him for a memorable night.

The Doctor wondered if River still would've ended up thanking him if she knew the only reason for this evening was because he was self-fulfilling a paradox. There were so many things he absolutely loved about traveling through time. This was not one of them. He wanted to say something, a memorable parting of words. But the Doctor couldn't think of anything. So he did nothing. Just stood there and thought of all the choices he could've made differently.

"Oh and sweetie," River called out, bringing him out of his thoughts. He watched as she lifted her left arm up and folded it towards her. "You're welcome."

The Doctor's brows furrowed in confusion. "For what?"

"Spoilers," she called out with a devilish grin.

Then in a flash of light, she was gone.

He couldn't help but laugh at the parting word. So very fitting. How many times had he scowled or cringed each time she said it? Too many to count. It always irked him. Oh, but now how he wished he could continue hearing her say it. River may have begun using it because she had first heard it from him. But it was clear from the moment she first spoke the word, that she completely owned it. Nobody could or ever would say it quite like her.

His smile remained on his face as he turned away from the spot his wife had just disappeared from and began walking back toward the TARDIS. Spoilers. The Doctor pondered on what it was River had done for him that he should be so thankful for. Because it was her, he knew it could be a numerous of things. The woman was forever full of surprises. That was for sure. But he had to admit that that was what made her so very interesting.

For a brief moment the Doctor entertained the thought that somehow, someway, River was able to bring the Ponds back. For losing them; especially so soon after losing Rose, was extremely hard on him. Though he knew that couldn't be. Clearly it was impossible to bring them back or he would've already done so. Still, the Doctor couldn't help but hope. Hope was good. After all, they were her parents which gave her more of an incentive. And also because it was, well her, and when it came to Professor River Song, always expect the unexpected.

And once again the woman managed to prove just that when he opened the door to his beloved ship and saw what awaited him at the top of the stairs.

Or more accurately who.

Rose Tyler.

The Doctor found all he could do was stare as he understood what it was his wife had done. If it weren't for River's parting words then he would've assumed he was hallucinating. Something he'd often done since the day Rose walked away. But she was really standing there in front of him; smiling at him nervously as though she were unsure he wanted her there. How utterly absurd! Of course he wanted her. He always would. And in the moment there was only one way he could think of to do to convey just that.

With determination and, yes, eagerness, the Doctor bounded up the stairs and stopped right in front of Rose where he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her against him. She was surprised but didn't pull away or even try to stop him as he leaned down and captured her lips with his own. The only thought that entered his mind was finally. The kiss wasn't passionate. That would come later, for now wasn't the right time. Instead it was hesitant at first, then soft and slow; savoring every second of it.

Telling Rose without words how much he loved her.

Showing her how much he missed her.

He was reveling that she was once again here in his arms and rejoicing by the fact that she would remain so for a very long time. And the Doctor planned on never pushing her away or letting her go. No matter what. He loved and needed Rose too much to ever be without her again. When he pulled away from the kiss, instead of stepping away he lowered his forehead to her shoulder and simply breathed in her scent. Emotions got the best of him as thoughts of Amelia Pond, River and Rory danced across his mind.

The Doctor didn't try to stop them as tears began flowing down his cheeks nor did he try to muffle the sound of him sobbing. He just wrapped his arms tightly around Rose and gave into his grief. And as he cried she soothed him with gentle rocking and soft spoken words as her fingers consolingly ran through his hair. He was surprised that he wasn't embarrassed by his display of weakness. The Doctor tried to always be strong. But right now, with Rose, he felt comfortable enough to show his grief. If anything, sharing it with her felt, well, to quote his ninth incarnation, fantastic.

For being a Lord of time, the Doctor could not say how long he remained in the comfort of Rose's embrace. His tears had long since dried. But he wasn't quite ready to let her or this moment go. There was so much more he wanted to share with her. The Doctor knew he couldn't tell Rose everything, at least not at one time. It's a long life he'd been living. It would take many conversations for that. But he could start with all that had recently happened. So he led them to the jump seat where they sat side by side with hands clasped, and that's what the Doctor did.

He told Rose all that had occurred since the day she left. The Doctor held nothing back; not even his anger at Amy for choosing to leave his side. Though he understood why. Rory wasn't just her husband, he was her everything. Still, knowing that didn't make it hurt any less. When it came to talking about River the Doctor continued with his honesty. He told her everything, from the time he first met her on the Library till present time, where his wife gave him Rose as a parting gift, even though he knew it must've hurt her to do so. And through it all she listened, only interrupting when she didn't understand something.

By the time he was done, the Doctor was exhausted. He pulled Rose against him, back to chest, his arms around her waist. Then it was her turn to talk. She told him how long it had been for her since she last saw him. When he heard that, the Doctor was grateful it hadn't been so long for him. Time away from her wasn't what he wanted. But it was what she needed and that was all that mattered. The time away worked wonders for her. She was more at peace. He silently mourned when Rose told him of Sarah Jane's passing. He was thankful to his former companion for opening her heart and home to Rose.

The Doctor vowed to pay a visit to her grave site to pay his respects.

Opening up and sharing with Rose wasn't as hard as he thought it would be. Over time, after sharing more stories with her, the Doctor might have the strength and courage to tell her about his life on Gallifrey and of the Time War and what it was he had done to end it. Because there was nobody he wanted to share every part of himself, the darkness too, then with Rose. The woman he loved. Back then she was too young, too innocent to be hearing all the dark horrors of his life. But she'd been through horror herself. The Doctor knew she'd now be able to handle it. Maybe she will share with him all Torchwood had done to her.

And hopefully together they can heal.

"I have something for you," the Doctor murmured against her hair after they had fallen into silence; completely talked out.

"Yeah?" Rose perked up. With eagerness he bounced up to his feet.

"I'll be right back," he gleefully hollered over his shoulder as he made a dash up the stairs and to the back of his ship.

Knowing what it was the Doctor was seeking, the TARDIS moved the door closer so that he didn't have to venture too far. Entering the room that belonged to him and Rose, the one he'd been using, he saw the object rested on the bed where he last left it. He quickly grabbed it and rushed right back to the console room where Rose was still sitting, waiting for him. He paused for a moment just to drink in the sight of her. Rassilon, but she really was so beautiful. The Doctor knew he would never tire looking at her.

Feeling his gaze she looked up and smiled when she found him staring at her. His breath caught, both hearts sped up and his body filled with tremendous happiness when he saw the curve of her lips, for it wasn't just any ole smile. No, it was the one he'd been longing to see; her tongue-between-teeth grin. The Doctor couldn't help but return a wide grin of his own as he rocked on the heels of his feet in giddiness.

"Whatcha got there behind your back, Doctor?"

Instead of answering the Doctor walked up to her and held it out for her to see. He watched as Rose's smile slowly disappeared and her expression morphed into one of recognition. Her eyes filled with tears as she stared at the thick rectangle-shaped object. Slowly she reached out and grabbed it from him. Once it was in her grasp she wrapped both arms around the photo album, crushing it to her chest with closed eyes. When they reopened, they were staring at him filled with gratitude and so much love.

The Doctor kneeled in front of her where he cupped her cheek, his thumb gently wiping away the lone tear that had spilled down her smooth skin.

"After losing you the first time," the Doctor began, "I went back to the Powell Estate and spent a very long time in your old flat. I memorized every inch, every object that was littered all over that place. Once it became too much, I turned and ran and never went backā€¦ not even after losing you a second time. But then you returned," he trailed off.

"Only for me to leave," Rose finished. He nodded.

"After losing the Ponds I was alone and not in a really good place. I wanted to run to you, but it wouldn've been the right thing to do. So I once again found my way back to the Powell Estate. The old girl landed just after the battle of Canary Wharf ended. I didn't understand why. I'd set to land after I had left the first time. But the TARDIS wouldn't budge so I stopped wasting time. I knew I wouldn't have a lot of it. Soon my previous self would be arriving. Everything was as I remembered, everything that is except for the one object lying on the table. When I saw it, when I opened it up and viewed each and every page, I knew why I didn't see it the first time."

"Because you, this you, had taken it."

"Yes," he confirmed.

The Doctor thought back to all the thoughts that ran through his mind when he returned. But the one that was the most prominent was that not too far his previous self stood pressed against a stark white wall mourning the loss of Rose. Oh, how he wanted nothing more than to do something to change that. But he couldn't. It was a fixed point in time. Then the thought came that maybe he could warn himself about the hidden Dalek that would end up shooting him. But he couldn't do that either. If that were to change then Jon wouldn't have been created and Donna and the TARDIS would've perished together.

There was nothing he could do to alter things and it angered and saddened the Doctor that he couldn't do anything to prevent Rose from having to live through and suffer all the hell she experienced while in Pete's world. Coming across the photo album was a blessing. He couldn't bring back her family and friends but he could give her the book filled with photographic memories. So the Doctor grabbed it and immediately left. Once the TARDIS was safely in the vortex, he spent hours looking through the album.

Everybody Rose loved was in one or more of the pictures; Jackie, Pete, Mickey the idiot, as well as countless of friends he'd never seen or met before. Everybody that is except for one. Her baby brother, Tony. But the Doctor had a plan of doing something about that. One day, with her permission, he wanted to enter her mind so that he could see her memories of him then draw him so that she would have a picture for her to cherish along with the others. Maybe he could draw her whole family together, have it then turned into a painting. He was sure she would love that.

There were so many things the Doctor wanted to do for and with Rose. But they had plenty of time. He didn't want to rush into doing anything; including them beginning a relationship. It was too soon. Though their marriage wasn't exactly a real one, River was considered his wife. And though she was the one who brought Rose back to him, it wouldn't be right to just jump right in. Besides, the two of them needed to get to know each other once again. They weren't the same. Didn't mean they could flirt with others. Most definitely not. She was his and he was hers. And he would make sure that was known to anybody they meet.

So for now he knew it would be best just to travel, go on adventures together; maybe catch up with a certain Captain. When the time was right, then, and only then, they could move forward. Rising to his feet, the Doctor held his hand out, wiggling his fingers indicating what it was he wanted. Immediately Rose slipped her hand in his. He helped her up.

"So where would you like to go first Tyler, backwards or forwards?"

"Forwards," she promptly responded. "Seems right, doesn'it Doctor."

He wholeheartedly agreed.

"Forwards it is."

The Doctor didn't know all that would be in store for him and Rose. But one thing he did know; whatever was, they would face it together, hand-in-hand.

Author's Note: Well, that is the end. Nothing grand, just simple. Seemed fitting; didn't it? I want to thank all who have read, followed, reviewed and saved 'Should I Stay' to favorite. I appreciate it so very much. Comments, criticisms and suggestions are always welcomed.

I definitely will be doing another Doctor/Rose story; I've already begun working on one but I won't post anything until I've typed up at least a handful of chapters.