Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who.
Thanks: to JennyLD for the beta and the encouragement to post this.

"Imagine that happening to someone you..." the Doctor paused only for a moment before finishing with, "someone you love." Lifting his face to the night sky, he closed his eyes and whispered, "Rose Tyler, I love you."

--

With each new planet he visits, the words are spoken, breathed, sometimes shouted into the sky. Every new sky, every new ground beneath his feet, he finds a moment to himself and speaks these words, hoping they'll make his hearts feel less heavy. Make his pain less sharp. Hoping, too, that they'll somehow find their way to the one person who needs to hear them most.

But his hopes are in vain, he's certain of that. Until one night when he comes across a group of children and teenagers, sitting before a crackling fire.

One hundred and sixty four years have passed since he first shouted those words to the Orion 9 sky and he has returned only for repairs to his beloved ship. A mere fifty years have passed for the Doctor, but his face doesn't show them.

"...then he saw a man, shrouded in darkness and despair," one of the older teens intones.

The Doctor, searching for parts among a stall nearby, listens with half an ear to the wild campfire tale.

"He is alone," the boy continues dramatically, "and speaking words to the sky. At first, Yolan thinks he is mad, but then the man begins to shout."

The Doctor turns sharply, watching the children, huddled together in a circle; the far half hidden in shadows, the near half brightly lit by torches from nearby stalls.

"He yells into the night, railing at the fates and pleading with the Gods to bring his lost love back to him."

Swallowing, the Doctor places the part in his hand back into the beat-up box and moves closer. They can't be talking about him. No one was around when-- although, it was possible that he just hadn't seen anyone.

"What did he say?" a small girl asks, eyes wide.

When the speaker looks at her reproachfully, the girl falls silent and leans forward with the rest of the listeners to better hear the hushed voice of the speaker. "He said, 'Imagine that happening to someone that you love, Roe Styla. And I do love you."

The little girl smiles wide and claps her hands eagerly, while the Doctor turns from the campfire, feeling nauseous. Those words are his alone, not an anecdote to be passed amongst children.

But a voice stops him. A familiar voice that he hasn't heard in over fifty years except in memories and dreams.

"Doctor," she gasps.

He turns back, afraid to see the woman he knows is there, standing in the shadows. Afraid to see her because he knows it's not Rose. Still, he turns. And there, amongst the children and teenagers, he sees a face he didn't think he'd ever see again. His hearts stop while she smiles and runs to hug him.

His arms go around her automatically and he strokes her hair as she laughs through her tears. When she pulls back to smile at him, his hearts begin to beat again.

It's really her.

So he does what he's always wanted to do, but never had the time or nerve to; he kisses her, pouring all of his feelings into this single gesture. Then he pulls back to smile and press another firm kiss to her smiling lips. And again. He can't seem to get enough of her taste now that he has it.

Somehow, he manages a breathless, "I love you, Rose Tyler."

Ignoring the gasps of the group watching them, he keeps his eyes on the woman in his arms.

She grins and lifts her brows, gesturing to their observers. "Sort of got that impression."

--

Seventy-five years later, Rose and the doctor are back on Orion 9, looking for the parts they left the planet without when they were last there.

She blames him, saying he was too busy trying to get her into bed.

He blames her, saying she was too distracting, and the part wasn't all that important at the time anyway, though now it is a bit more crucial that he get it.

As they approach the stall selling ship parts, Rose stops near a group of children huddled around a campfire.

"--and, there among them, was Roe Styla. The man saw her and ran to her--"

Rose snorts and rolls her eyes as a hand slips into hers. "Left to you, I'd still be looking for you and you'd still be--"

The Doctor leans down and kisses her firmly. "Hush, they're just getting to the good part."

"--he loved her. Roe Styla cried, she was so happy and--"

"And?" a voice pipes up. The small boy shifts restlessly, tossing a confused glance at the children surrounding him. "Did an alien attack them and the man had to fight it off? Or-- or, the girl kicked its bum and saved the man?"

"They got married, of course," a girl retorts, rolling her eyes and snorting.

"All because a story was kept alive," the original speaker continues somberly, then leans over to the boy and twists her face up in annoyance. "You got that, new kid?"

The boy shifts a little more, then shrugs and runs over to Rose. "Can we go, Mum? These kids are boring. They don't know anything about temporal time shifts and fighting aliens and stuff. All they talk about is..." his face squishes up in disgust, "love. Yuck."

The Doctor ruffles his son's hair with a laugh. "Hey, you wouldn't be here without it, Galen."