Thank you so much to everyone who's read, reviewed, or added me to their alerts or favorites; a special thanks to Luna Lovegood5 without whose story this one would never have happened. And now, the conclusion:
The Doctor had just finished entering the coordinates for his final choice of destination when Rose walked into the console room. Hoping he didn't look too guilty, the Doctor shoved his hands in his pockets and smiled. "Morning, Rose!"
"Mornin', Doctor," she replied. "So, what's the plan for today?"
"Since when do we need a plan?" asked the Doctor, hoping she didn't have some way of knowing that he really had planned out their day.
"Right, dunno what I was thinkin'," said Rose with a grin, walking over to the captain's chair.
"Although," said the Doctor, as if it had just occurred to him, "we could give you some more TARDIS driving practice."
"Sure! You're long overdue for another lesson. Come 'ere," he said, stepping back slightly and gesturing for her to stand in front of him.
Rose jumped up from her seat, and ran to the console. She rested her hands lightly on it, ready for the Doctor's instructions.
The Doctor stepped up behind her, perhaps closer than was strictly necessary. He did, after all, have to operate a few of the levers and whatnot himself, and it wouldn't do for them to be out of reach, right? He began giving directions, and Rose executed flawlessly. The time rotor was whirring away, and the TARDIS was lurching this way and that, but she kept up with everything the Doctor told her. Finally, with his right hand on her shoulder, he reached around her left to point at the final switch. "And now," he said in her ear, "that one." He didn't miss her faint shiver before Rose shook herself and completed the sequence.
As the TARDIS abruptly came to a halt, the Doctor caught Rose around the waist. As soon as he was absolutely, positively sure she was steady, he stepped back and put his hands in his pockets. She turned to look at him, a smile on her face, awaiting his assessment. The Doctor held out his arm for her, and said, "Well done, my beautiful Rose, a new world awaits."
Although apparently startled by his words, she took his arm and walked with him towards the front doors. "So," she asked, "where and when are we?"
"The year," he said, "is thirty-two thousand eight hundred sixty-eight, as you'd reckon it. And as for the 'where,'" he paused as they reached the doors, opening them for Rose to go out ahead of him.
Rose gasped as she surveyed the view that greeted them. They were on the flying stingray planet-she couldn't remember it's name-but this time they were on a high cliff overlooking an ocean, a green ocean. There were only a few whitecaps on the water, stirred up by the warm breeze, but the slightly pink sky was filled with the magnificent, graceful creatures.
"I think you recognize our location," said the Doctor from behind her, still partway inside the TARDIS.
Rose glanced back at him with a smile, then started walking forward, along the clifftop. "Yeah, but it's so different." She looked around from the ocean, back to the grassy hills that ended in a long cliff-lined shore. A white sun was high in the sky, and it seemed that the stingrays were flying a continuous circuit from inland, out over the water, and back again. She grinned at the Doctor as he took her hand to walk beside her. Her thoughts drifted back to the last time they were here. "Forever," she'd told him, and she only wished she could convince him that she meant it. It wasn't long after their last visit here that he'd tried to send her to Pete's world with her mum. But she'd come right back to him, again, shouldn't that count for something?
"Rose." The Doctor tugged slightly on Rose's hand, and she stopped to look at him. To her complete shock, he dropped down on his right knee. She felt her heartrate at least triple, and heard the blood pounding in her ears. He couldn't-he wasn't-he didn't remember, did he? But no sooner had these thoughts raced through her mind, than her hopes were dashed. He let go of her hand with an apologetic grin, and casually bent over to tie the laces of his left shoe.
She turned quickly away, and huffed out an uneasy breath. "Right, what was I thinkin'," she thought. "Get a hold of yourself, girl." She took a few steps nearer the edge of the cliff, and stood looking out over the water. Rose told herself she didn't need a wedding ring or a piece of paper to prove that she loved the Doctor. But at moments like this, she couldn't deny that deep down she wanted it.
She felt him before she heard any sign of his approach. The Doctor's hands rested on her shoulders, and she felt herself leaning back into him. He let go, and then wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her even closer. Rose rested her hands over his, and closed her eyes, enjoying both the feel of the gentle wind and of the Doctor surrounding her.
"Rose Tyler, I love you."
She could have sworn her heart literally missed a beat as she heard the words spoken softly in her ear. She turned her head toward the Doctor's as she felt his chin rest on her left shoulder. Did he mean what she thought he meant? She tried to say something, she didn't know what, but her mouth was opening and closing rather uselessly. She stopped when he spoke again.
"With both my hearts," he said, "completely. Forever."
Yeah, no mistaking him then. She turned around, sliding her arms around his neck. She licked her lips nervously-and noticed the Doctor shift his glance for a fraction of a second-then said, "I love you," then added with a grin, "my Doctor."
His smile was all she could have wished for. She watched his eyes dart again to her lips, and let herself be pulled to him. Her own eyes fluttered shut as she felt the feather light touch of his lips on hers. She let her hands move up his neck and through his hair, as his wandered up her back, pulling her impossibly closer. Her mind briefly recalled the few, shy kisses she'd been given by John Smith, but came quickly back to the present when she felt the Doctor tracing her lips with his tongue. "Oh, yes, worth the wait," she thought.
It was several glorious minutes before they pulled apart, resting their foreheads together as Rose caught her breath. "Rose," said the Doctor, maneuvering one of his arms free and reaching into his breast pocket. She was astonished to see him pull out the very ring with which John Smith had proposed to her one month ago. "It's been a month," he said with a smug grin.
"You remembered," was all Rose could say. But she was smiling at least as brightly as he.
The Doctor took her hand and dropped back down to a knee, holding the ring up to her between them. "I'll love you today, tomorrow, a month down the line, a hundred years from now, a hundred million years from now, past or future." Rose felt tears coming to her eyes, even as she laughed for joy. "Will you marry me?"
Rose knelt down with him, much as she had with John, but this time she reached out her free hand to cradle the side of the Doctor's face. "Yes," she said. "With all my one, little, solitary heart, yes!"
Ta-da! The end :)