Disclaimer: We really wish we owned it, but sadly that is not the case. It belongs to the BBC.

Genre: romance, angst, action/adventure, humour, fluff, drama, sci-fi, some other stuff.

Rating: T, for now.

Summary: "The way back was long...so long." The Doctor recounts to Rose his adventures with various companions on the journey towards returning to her. 10/Rose, Jack/OC, TV-verse and spoilers through Runaway Bride.

A/N: This is a joint fic written by myself and PetiteCafe. We've been having loads of fun working on this, and we hope you guys have a lot of fun reading it too. Just as an FYI, we've decided not to include Martha in the Doctor's post-Rose companions, mainly because we don't feel like we could do her justice when she's been on screen for such a short time and we don't want to muck it up. But anyway, enjoy the story!! We'll (hopefully) be updating every Monday and Friday. Enjoy!!

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"Rose?"

"Yes?" she answered without turning around. She kept her eyes trained on the paper in front of her, feeling her heart rate increase in the way that it did whenever he was near. She scanned the words of the mysterious parchment once again, wondering how it had come to show up floating next to the TARDIS console earlier. She knew that whatever the reason, it couldn't be good. Stuff didn't just show up randomly in the TARDIS without some extremely powerful and threatening force behind it. Rose wondered if the Doctor had come to tell her what it all meant… Finally.

She heard him move to stand behind her at the desk, but she still didn't turn around. Hands came to rest on her shoulders, rubbing lightly at the knots and slight tension there. She couldn't help the slight moan that escaped her as his thumb brushed gently over the column over throat, and she knew that he would be smiling at her reaction. He always did. Smug bastard.

He moved his hands away from her then and turned so that he could lean against the edge of her desk, looking down at her with affection and dark want in his eyes. His lips curled slightly upwards as he regarded her, one hand pushing the paper away from where it lay in front of her and the other taking her chin to turn her gaze to meet his. "Don't worry about that," he said, nodding at the thick parchment that had a worrying air of dread and fate about it. "Everything will be fine. You know that, right?"

She nodded and smiled at him, taking his hand away from her face so she could hold it in her lap. "Yeah, I know," she replied, taking a moment just to pause and look at his face. She had gone so long without it; she had really missed the scruffy just-got-out-of-bed hair and his chiselled cheekbones and those lips. And she had missed his eyes, missed the way they made her feel every time he looked at her. She still couldn't believe that she had him back. For a time she had thought that she'd be surviving off memories for all eternity.

She realised belatedly that he was holding his hand out to her, wiggling his fingers in front of her face. "Come on," he said. "There's something I want you to see."

"What?" she asked, feeling the slight rush of adrenaline she felt every time he showed her something new. She didn't think that it would ever get old.

He smiled cryptically. "Just come and see!" He waved his hand again.

She grinned back at him, his enthusiasm as infectious as ever. She took his hand and allowed him to pull her up from the chair, leading her out of the room and then down the corridor. She noticed that he was walking slightly differently to the way he had before they were separated; he was more time-worn now, and a bit more jaded about life. She wondered what had happened to him in the time they'd been apart. She wondered if he'd consider it bad practice to ask.

He led her into the control room, pausing for a few seconds at the monitor and pressing a few buttons before heading over to the doors and stopping straight in front of them. He let go of her hand to grasp the door handle. "Ready?" he asked, eyebrows raised and that lovely grin back on his face.

She nodded. "Yeah."

The Doctor opened the door and took her out of the TARDIS.

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They exited onto an alien planet; one that the Doctor had been to before and knew would be peaceful enough that they wouldn't be disturbed no matter how long they stayed here. He stepped back to let Rose go ahead of him, watching her with a smile on his face as she walked forwards a few steps before coming to a stop and turning a full circle to take in their surroundings. When her gaze finally came to rest on his face once more, he gave her one of his trademark grins and bounded over to pull her close to him. "So, first impressions?" he asked. "Any thoughts, preferences, opinions? Anything to say on the matter? Hmm? Anything at all?"

She laughed at his babble. "Well, I might have something to say if you'd shut up for a minute!"

The Doctor made a huge effort to straighten his face, bringing one hand up to press his fingers over his mouth. "Right," he mumbled through his hand. "Shhh, sorry."

Rose giggled and pulled his hand down into hers, twining her fingers with his in that way he loved so much. "It's beautiful," she told him.

"You think so?" He was unable to keep the slightly too eager tone out of his voice and he hopped on the spot slightly, glad that he was still able to please her in the way he used to be able to.

"Yeah, I do," she replied. "Where are we?" She moved away from him, his hand still in hers, and began walking towards the huge wilting tree in the middle of the field they were currently standing in.

The Doctor cleared his throat, preparing to launch into lecture mode, and for a moment he was able to kid himself that he and Rose had never been separated, that he had never lost her to another world. "We're on a tiny little planet in the Krillion cluster," he said. "It was originally established as a memorial, a common place where people could come to mourn the war dead."

"Which war?"

"Any of them. All of them. There have been lots of wars."

They stopped walking for a moment and Rose circled round to stand in front of the Doctor, staring up at him with those huge eyes he loved so much. "Yeah, I know," she replied quietly, and he knew that she was thinking of the war that had finally succeeded in driving them apart for a time.

"But then," he continued, determined not to get too melancholy when this was the first time he had really been able to get Rose alone since they were reunited. This should be a happy occasion, he thought. "But then it became more of a shrine, a resting place of peace rather than torment. People moved on, found new places to mourn, new things to grieve over. They thought that there was too much grief here to add any more to it."

"But it's so beautiful," Rose protested, once more turning to look at the endless field around them.

He nodded. "Yes, it is."

"I can't feel any of the grief."

He shook his head. "No. People laid their dead to rest, and that allowed the planet to rest as well. Souls were alleviated and the flowers bloomed once more." He gestured around at the flowers that surrounded them for miles and miles, the continuity broken only by the tree a little way away from them and the TARDIS parked somewhere behind them. "And look at it now!" he exclaimed. "A testament to life!"

Rose smiled at his enthusiasm and pulled him to sit in the shade of the old tree, flowers crushing and releasing their sweet scents as they made themselves comfortable. She took the Doctor's hand in hers once more. "Have you been here before?" she asked.

His eyes darkened for a moment. "Yes," he replied. He let the silence hang for a moment before continuing on. "After the Time War. I ended up here. I don't even remember how, I just remember that it helped." He failed to mention that the feeling of countless others' grief and mourning had at least helped to lessen a tiny bit of the pain he had been feeling at the time. "It's different now. Everything's light where it used to be dark; the plants are living where they used to be dead. The atmosphere is lighter."

"Maybe it depends on your perspective," she suggested. "How you're feeling at the time."

He made a quiet noise of agreement in the back of his throat, shifting to lean against the thick trunk of the tree and pulling Rose back to rest against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her back as she settled her head over his hearts, her brow furrowed in concentration as though she was listening for the pulse of his life. She raised a hand to rest on his ribcage, and he couldn't suppress the shiver that coursed through him at her touch.

Rose smiled as the Doctor bent his head and pressed a kiss into her hair. "So why did you bring me here?" she asked.

"I thought that we could talk," he said. "I think we need to talk."

"Yeah," she agreed.

They fell into silence then, neither one wanting to be the first to broach the subject of the time they were separated. They both knew that there were a lot of issues to be resolved over that, as well as issues over what they were going to do now. There was so much left unsaid.

The Doctor felt himself relaxing as the beat of Rose's heart fell into time with his own, her body feeling boneless against his. He rested his chin on her head and stared out at the endless ocean of flowers surrounding them. He felt bad for telling Rose that he had only been to this planet once before, when it had been in ruin, but he couldn't yet bring himself to tell her about the other times he had been. He didn't think that he was brave enough for that right now, and he knew that telling her that part of his story out of context would be worse than not telling her at all. He didn't want to mess any of this up, especially when he had only just got her back. "Rose," he said quietly.

She stirred against him. "Yeah?"

As soon as she lifted her head to look up into his eyes, he moved a hand to gently cup her cheek, smoothing his thumb over her skin and revelling in the feel of having her soft and safe and here and with him. He smiled down at her as he bought his head within a few centimetres of hers. "I thought I'd never see you again," he whispered. "When I lost you, I…" He shook his head, not knowing what to say that could fully describe the enormity of the loss and loneliness he had felt. He didn't know how he could tell her that those feelings hadn't truly gone away until he had seen her again, had been able to take her in his arms and hold her against his body, feel her life pulsing against his as he dipped his head to kiss her hello. And he kissed her again now, moving his mouth to press against hers for a few seconds, drawing her top lip between both of his and sucking on it gently before letting go and moving back to rest his forehead against hers, their breath melding together as they simultaneously exhaled. "Sorry," he said. "I just had to-"

"Don't," she told him, cutting him off with her words and a finger pressed against his lips. "Don't apologise for that. It was… It was good." She smiled and trailed her finger over his chin, down his throat. She kissed the corner of his jawbone. "Did I tell you how glad I am you came back for me?" she asked him, laughing slightly to disguise her urge to cry. "It was so strange without you, like a part of me was missing, like-"

"Yes," he agreed, nodding. "I know." He dipped his head and kissed her again, fast becoming addicted to the feel of her mouth moving beneath his. "How…" he stuttered out when he was finally able to bring himself to pull away slightly. "How long was it for you, exactly?"

"Two years, three months, four days and about… Five and a half hours?" she said without hesitating.

The Doctor let his head thump back against the trunk of the tree, the earthy scent of bark filling his nostrils as he looked up into the branches. "I'm sorry," he told her.

"Don't be," Rose replied. "It wasn't your fault. How long was it for you? You never did say."

He sighed, knowing that this question would come. "Too long," he said vaguely. "Far too long." He looked back down at her, shifting so that they were sitting side by side, her head on his shoulder, his arm around her back. "But that's in the past now. All that matters is that we're back together, saving the universe just like we always did."

"We can't save the universe unless we save ourselves first," she said. "The Court…" She trailed off, knowing that he would know what she was referring to: the mysterious happenings that had occurred before and after they were reunited, the parchment that had somehow found its way into the TARDIS, all of the things he hadn't yet told her about their time apart.

"Don't worry about that," the Doctor insisted. "Everything is going to be fine."

She paused for a moment before nodding. "I know," she whispered. She straightened up then, lifting her head from his shoulder so she could see his face properly. She grinned. "Y'know, for a time when I thought you might not be able to get back, I…"

"What?" he asked, genuinely curious as to what she had been up to in the parallel universe. He wondered why she was grinning.

"I tried to start things up with Mickey again," she told him, her smile faltering only slightly as the words left her mouth.

"You what?!" It wasn't his fault that it came out accusing and disbelieving; really, it wasn't. He couldn't help but be indignant when she had just told him she had attempted to restart a relationship with an idiot he had thought she'd grown out of long ago.

She immediately burst out laughing. "Your face!" she spluttered. "You look like you're gonna explode!"

"Well, I am!" he cried. "You and Mickey the Idiot?! Rose!"

She snorted, which only caused her to laugh all the more. Eventually, she got her mirth under control when she saw the Doctor's slightly perturbed and not-at-all amused expression. "Sorry," she mumbled. And then louder, "But everyone kept telling me to move on with my life and that I'd never be happy unless I could get over you. And so I tried. It didn't work, by the way."

"Would you hate me if I said I was glad?" They both smiled at that, and they settled back down in their squashy bed of flowers and moss.

"It was a disaster," she told him, the grin creeping back onto her face.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yes," she replied firmly.

"What happened?"

She thought about that for a moment. "I'll tell you later," she said. Her expression sobered as she regarded him thoughtfully. "There's something else I'd rather do now."

The Doctor tucked an errant strand of blonde hair back behind Rose's ear. "And what would that be, Miss Tyler?" he asked, trying to sound casual as he attempted to keep his wounded male pride to himself at the thought of her trying to start things up again with Mickey, of her trying to get over him. He knew deep down that he couldn't blame her. She'd done what she had to do to survive and carry on without him. All he'd ever wanted for her was to live a good life and be happy.

"I'd rather hear about what you did when we got separated," she told him, suddenly very interested in the pinstripes on his jacket as she traced over them gently with one finger. "It must be quite a story, considering how it's ended up." She nodded back towards the TARDIS and all that it held within- stories untold, adventures she knew nothing about, enemies she'd seen and ones she hadn't, friends both old and new. "Will you tell me?"

He studied her carefully, tilting her chin up so he could meet her gaze. He looked at her seriously. "You won't like all of it," he told her. "There are probably some bits that will make you like me less. Some things won't be easy to hear."

"I don't care," Rose said. "I want to know, Doctor. I want to know what happened to you because… It's changed you."

The Doctor nodded. "I know. And it's changed you too. So we make a deal, okay? I tell you my story if you tell me yours. That sound all right?"

"Yeah," she replied. "That sounds good." She faltered, her hand stilling on his jacket. She kept her gaze on his polka dot tie as her eyes welled up with tears that refused to be squashed back down. "I… I love you," she said. "I didn't mean… I didn't mean that you've changed in a bad way, just that it's obvious that a lot's happened since I last saw you properly. It doesn't mean I love you any less."

He smiled at her softly, pressing his lips against her forehead and relishing the feel of her warm skin against his mouth. He spoke against her skin. "I know," he assured her. "I know, Rose." He moved his lips to her temple, holding his lips over her pulse point for a moment before moving on to brush a fleeting kiss over the shell of her ear and whispering, "I love you too."

It seemed as though time stopped for a moment at his words. He had waited for so long to say them to her, and he knew he would never stop regretting the fact that he didn't manage to tell her before they were ripped apart. He had told her when they were reunited, of course; it would have been extremely bad form if he hadn't said it then, especially when he meant it so very much and it was his whole reason for spending so much time and energy doing everything he could to get back to her in the first place. He didn't think he'd ever get used to it; the deeply intense and heady feeling of telling the person you love that you love them more than anything, and hearing them say it back to you. He felt his hearts flutter and elation well up in his chest every time the words left Rose's lips. He couldn't bear the thought that she might doubt his feelings for her. "I love you," he whispered again, just to make sure she knew.

"Good," she said, pulling back to smile at him. She leaned forwards to catch his lips in hers once more, mumbling against his mouth. "I love it when you tell me that."

She kissed him again before he could reply, and he decided that this side of her made him love her all the more. Kissing her was second nature to him now, and he had forgotten why they hadn't been doing it for all the time they'd known each other. He smiled inwardly as her arms banded around his neck and her leg slipped over his so she was straddling his lap. She pushed her tongue into his mouth and he responded by pulling her body flush against his. "Rose Tyler," he growled out when she pulled away to breathe. "You little minx."

"You love it," she retorted.

"That's right, I do," he told her. "But you should know Rose," he continued in what he hoped was a dangerous voice. He grinned at her resultant shiver. "That when you play with fire, you get burned."

"Wha- oh!" Rose's question was cut short when the Doctor flipped her onto her back, grinning down at her from his new position above her. "Bastard," she hissed.

He laughed. "Now Rose, that's not very nice is it?" His face hovered above hers; his lips tantalisingly close but not quite within reach. He bumped his nose against hers. "Two can play at that game." He pushed his hips into hers again and they both groaned. "Are you going to play nice now?" He was smiling again, loving the endless possibilities that had opened up as a result of the advancement of his relationship with Rose.

She smiled back. "I will," she promised. "But only if you tell me what happened while we were apart. I need to know, Doctor." Her expression sobered; this was deadly serious.

He studied her face for a minute before sitting back to let her up, immediately pulling her back against his chest as he settled himself against the wide trunk of the tree. "Okay," he said when they were both sitting comfortably. "What do you want to know?"

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