Title: Return to the Fold
Genre: Drama, romance
Summary: Her hair was longer. Darker too.
Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who.
Author's Notes: to JennyLD for the beta and working through the drama with me.
Warm water splashed to the surface of the pool, dripping down flesh, beading and running in rivulets along tanned skin. The Doctor's eyes settled on Rose's bare back, slipped over her dark hair, and caressed her curves. His fingers clenched tighter as he fought the desire to swim out to her and take her in his arms.
With a critical eye, he examined her. Her hair was longer. Darker too. Much different from his dreams and-- no, not just dreams. Memories. These were real memories, and that was really Rose, and she was really here.
He sucked in a breath, squinting at the sunlight that slipped through the branches overhead. River was gone, the device she'd used on him in the TARDIS, no longer in dangerous hands. So why couldn't he make himself believe that he was here, that Rose was... Rose was all right?
Memories were subjective. His were returning as time slipped by, and every day he remembered things more fully. But he wasn't sure that he'd ever retrieve all of them, and he didn't fancy gaps in his memory.
Stretching his neck, he unbuttoned his suit jacket and shirt, tossing them on his coat, already covering the forest floor.
River had only needed the one time and now he was rid of her forever. While with Donna, his younger self would receive her message and head to the library where she would eventually end up imprisoned in the computer. Never to hurt anyone again.
Untying his Chucks, he stared across the distance separating him and Rose.
River had been given false memories of a life with him, and he'd been given a second chance with the woman he loved, thanks to a few weeks in a prison cell on Alige Five, where River hadn't been able to continually dose him with the device.
Slipping his trousers off, he stood for a moment, watching the water slide down her back.
When he had her by his side, he'd never gone that extra step to let her know how he felt. Never showed her that he loved her and wanted her. He'd only ever let her see his need.
He was going to change that today, here, in this lake, under a waterfall, and hope that she forgave him for leaving her stranded on a small planet in the Rishdon system.
Wading into the cool water, he quietly moved toward her. Halfway there, he slid under the surface and swam the rest of the way, making as few ripples as possible. When he was only a few meters away, he surfaced, slicking his hair back from his eyes.
Here she was, the woman he loved; Rose Marion Tyler. Reconciling his dreams and memories was easier with her before him, but it was still a little hard to imagine ever having left her behind. Knowingly left her behind with a wave and a smile.
He felt sick.
"I know you're there," she said suddenly, startling him. "I'm not blind or deaf." Her voice was just the same as before.
Disappointed that she'd heard him and he wasn't able to sneak up and surprise her, he circled around with a smile.
She lost her own smile as she turned and met him halfway. Hands rising to her mouth to cover her gasp, she stared at him, stunned. "Doctor," she whispered, tears springing quickly to her eyes.
Before he could nod or answer, she threw her arms around him with a shout of laughter. It was a strange experience having a nearly naked Rose in his arms, pressed up against his own nearly naked body. But he didn't mind, in fact he rather enjoyed it.
Pulling free, she grinned up at him, and he couldn't see a single difference in her face. It was just as he remembered it, and he did remember her. "You're here." Her smile faded and she turned to look toward the shore. "River?"
"She's where she belongs," he told her, drawing her back into his arms with a contented sigh. He smoothed his hand down her wet hair and back. "I'm so sorry, Rose," he whispered.
Rose slipped from his arms and smiled softly. "It wasn't your fault. She had that device--"
"Not any longer. She's been... well, doesn't matter. She's gone for good." He cupped her face, examining it more closely, noting every line, every wrinkle that wasn't there. It'd been three years for him. "How long, Rose?"
She smiled dismissively and turned back to the waterfall. "Doesn't matter. You're here now."
She sighed and crossed her arms over her chest, shrugging a shoulder. "A few years."
He wanted to stick his hands in his pockets, but he was standing in a lake wearing only a pair of pants. And Rose was looking far too sexy for him to be thinking about that. Focusing on the matter at hand, he raised an eyebrow at her.
She rolled her eyes and dropped her arms. "Seventy years."
"Sev--" he repeated, scouring her with his gaze, trying to figure out how it was possible. This was a small planet with twentieth century Earth-like technology, there wasn't enough tech here to keep Rose looking like she was twenty-five at ninety-odd years old. "How?"
Shaking her head, she stared at him. "You really don't know? Don't understand that I'd use Bad Wolf, take advantage of that power while I had it?" Smiling, she glanced away and then back again. "Of course I'd use it to keep my promise. I'm only human after all."
"Forever?" he clarified, not sure which was worse at that moment; that she'd used the power to stay with him forever, or that he wanted so badly for her to have done so.
It was definitely a plus for him to have Rose Tyler by his side for the rest of his lives. But... "The road to forever is going to be a long and bumpy one," he cautioned her.
She grinned, more at ease with herself than he'd ever seen her. "Bring it on." Then she leaned forward and kissed him.