He'd stopped counting the days. It wasn't hard to remember, in an instant he could recall it to the millisecond; his Time Lord brain keeping track of the linear time without him even needing to think about it. He surprised himself when he realized it—the first time it happened he actually cried, just the one tear. It made him feel sick, the fact that it no longer weighed as heavily on his mind. But after a few more weeks it happened again, and, though he felt guilt beyond imagine, part of him relished the relief. Even the TARDIS didn't reprimand him when he'd gone a week without pausing at the console, looking off into nothing and stating the time.
The time since he'd lost her.
It had become his one continuous clock in a time traveling life. A new sum of time struck him in the hearts until he began to become immune to their bite—a week, a month, six months, a year.
Of course, he didn't miss the year. Martha had come into the kitchen for breakfast to find him hunched over the kettle, half the water boiled away as he saw only the memories of that day, not the steam rising from the spout. They hadn't gone anywhere that day, no adventures. He even went into her room; a practice he had stopped indulging himself in months ago.
On the third anniversary of the day he had grabbed her hand and told her to "run!" he returned to London, letting Martha visit her family and wonder about as he walked the streets, haunting the corner where he blew up her job.
It wasn't getting easier; the pain had not abated at all, but he was moving forward, if not on. He didn't want to move on.
He could pretend. He could still feel other emotions; still felt the joy and regret of seeing Jack, the pride and faith in Martha as she saved the universe, the intrigue and amusement as Donna mouthed to him across a room full of bemused aliens. It pained him when Jack turned down his offer, and hurt him even more when Martha walked out, but he couldn't convince himself it was the same. He wouldn't count the days after their departures. But, then again, their departures weren't necessarily permanent.
Regardless of the fact he could go months without recalling the exact time, his first thought upon seeing Rose Merion Tyler again was that it had been 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, 8 hours, 51 minutes and 18 seconds (4 years if you included the "year that never was") since he had said good bye to her on a windy beach and 3 years, 4 months, 11 days, 13 hours, 9 minutes and 12 seconds since she had lost her grip and almost fallen into hell.
And those 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, 8 hours, 51 minutes and 18 seconds seemed to disappear into nothingness when, as he and Donna turned a corner in London and saw a young woman with blonde hair slip inside the doors of a blue police box.
Donna hadn't seen anything, had been too interested in a pair of shoes she thought might be good for "running for my bloody life on some alien rock" in a shop window to notice. But he had seen. His eyes never left the worn doors of his ship as his hearts kicked into a non-syncopated, breakneck rhythm. He wordlessly moved his lips for a moment as he stood stock still on the sidewalk, his brain suddenly numb and without any idea of how to proceed. He cleared his throat before advising Donna to go ahead and try on the shoes which still had her rambling on—a noise his brain barely registered—as his voice cracked. He quietly added for her to take her time and to meet him in the TARDIS. She readily complied, sauntering into the store, leaving him alone and in shock on the pavement.
He couldn't have seen what he thought he'd seen. Could he? Could it be that, despite all the laws of the universe he knew, which were, essentially, all the known laws and then some, that she had done the impossible and had come back?
He had said if there was anything in the universe he believed in, it was her.
So it was in faith, he told himself, that he put one foot before the other and made his way to the TARDIS. It was not hope or desperation or relief that made him walk the block to the blue box, but his faith, or so his pride told him.
He put a shaky hand on the handle and pushed, his respiratory bypass system kicking in due to his lack of breathing. He pushed the door open lightly and it let out a slight squeak. He didn't notice.
His eyes made a quick scan of the vast chamber, adjusting from the diffused light of the cloudy London street to the warm ambient light of the control room. He stepped inside, his left heart beating a mile a minute while his right was lagging sluggishly in comparison, awaiting the verdict.
It was sorely disappointed.
He stood between the controls and the jump seat, back to the outer doors, his breath coming in small pants.
She wasn't there.
He didn't want to accept it, but she was no where to be seen, she wasn't standing there waiting for him, wasn't ready to explain the impossible after a good long hug. Against his normal composure, he let out a soft moan of pain and disappointment. He was too old for this, to destroy his home and people, to loose the woman he loved, to miss her so intensely he could summon her image now, peaking her head from the hall door.
He blinked as she stepped fully into the room, the golden light turning her hair into a beautiful halo. She was really standing there. His Rose standing in his ship, defying logic and reason, smiling at him like he always remembered.
He hadn't realized his legs had given out until he saw the surprise and worry flicker across her face.
The pain in his knees failed to draw any of his attention as he sat on his legs, the tears running down his face. She approached him slowly, almost afraid, and it brought a bittersweet sting to his eyes. If she had crossed universes to return to him, he decided it wouldn't do at all for her to just stand there looking worried.
"R-Rose!" It came out as a soft mumble, a plea and a cry of joy and a reverence all in one croaky word.
"Hello," she was only two steps away from him and bent down slightly to look him in they eye, her smile returning.
"You're back," it was as much a question as a statement. She must have heard the emotions behind it for her smile turned into a full fledged grin and she closed the distance between them.
"Yes, I'm back," he let out another sound, so full of meaning—gratefulness, wonder, hope, contentment, sorrow, love—and he finally reached out to her. She quickly wrapped her arms around him, lowering herself on her knees so that she could enfold and comfort him as he grabbed onto her as though any moment she might fly away, sobbing almost uncontrollably into her neck. "Shh, shh. It's alright, I've got you," she cooed into his ear, like he was a small child who had just found their parent after being lost. For that's what he was, a child who had lost everything he loved and had only just rediscovered home and love and happiness in her arms.
"I love you." He had pulled back suddenly, still holding her tight to him, looking her straight in the eye. She could see every freckle on his nose, see the tears running freely and unashamedly down his cheeks, see the feeling behind the words in his beautiful eyes.
"I know," she replied, and it was the truth, she had always known.
"I didn't get to say it though, me being a right idiot, that was," and he gave a half smile and she loved him the more for it. "Just wanted you to hear the words; Rose Tyler, I love you."
She cupped his face in her hands and brushed her lips lightly against his and rubbed away the wet paths on his skin with her thumbs.
"They are good to hear." He let out a laugh and brought up a hand to stroke her hair, finally breaking eye contact to soak up every other detail of her face, incase he might have forgotten. "I love you too." She said softly, and he noticed a slight blush creep from her collar up her neck to spread over her cheeks. With more determination she added, "and I will ALWAYS come back to you, my Doctor."
"My Rose," and he grinned in earnest as he then took her face in his hands and truly kissed her. His world was honed down to just the two of them, the smell of her, the warmth of her skin, the feel of her mouth, the taste of her. Everything else faded away so that he didn't notice the uncomfortable metal grating they were sitting on, his stuffy nose and slight headache, or the sound of the doors opening.
It was Donna's shrill cry of, "Oi! Alien boy, get off 'er!" that brought the moment to a close as the ecstatic couple of completed Time Lord in love and contented Valiant Child returned turned their attention away from each other and to the somewhat irate redhead laden with shopping bags who had just interrupted their reunion.
But the Doctor couldn't help but to laugh at the situation, he and his Rose on the floor, reunited with Donna coming to the rescue. He had his Rose back and he never wanted to count the seconds of her absence again.