"Donna?" called the Doctor, banging on her bedroom door one morning. "The TARDIS has landed and I'm picking up some interesting readings from outside. We need to go and check them out. You awake yet?"
"You got any idea what time it is!" she shouted, throwing something at the door.
He jumped in surprise and cleared his throat. "Oh. Sorry. Forgot you humans sleep half your life away," he huffed.
"Let me sleep for another half hour and I'll come with you to figure it out."
"Can't wait that long, Donna. It could be very significant. If you want to come, you'll have to come with me now."
He heard her yawn loudly on the other side of the door and get up from her bed, padding over to her bathroom. He waited patiently for a bit, presuming she was getting dressed. But after three more minutes, he gave up and told her, "Listen, I can't stand around here all day waiting for you to get up and ready. I'll only be gone ten minutes. Stay in the TARDIS, alright?"
"Hang on," Donna protested, opening her door. She was still in her pyjamas, and rubbed at her eyes tiredly. "Where exactly are we?"
"Devon. The planet, not the county. And...weeellll, it's not completely safe out there for humans if you're on your own, so you stay here and go back to sleep and I'll - "
"Woah, wait a second Spaceman," she protested. "What if it's dangerous for you, too, eh? What if you need me to help?"
He rolled his eyes. "I'll be fine. Go back to bed. I won't be long."
Donna sighed but nodded, finally agreeing with him. The Doctor smiled reassuringly at her and dashed off down the corridor.
Plodding through the marketplace full of tourists and native Devonians, the Doctor kept his Time Lord senses on maximum alert, eager to figure out what the strange signals were. He held his sonic screwdriver in his hand, dangling by his side so as to not attract attention, and periodically glanced at it to check which direction he ought to walk in.
He came upon an alleyway between two tall buildings when his screwdriver's bleeping grew exponentially louder. Frowning at the location in confusion, for nothing suspicious seemed to immediately jump out at him at the scene, he span in a circle to see if the readings were mistaken. But then, he caught a scent. A very familiar scent, and one that should most definitely not be found in a dirty alleyway on the planet Devon.
He scratched the back of his neck anxiously, wondering what the hell was going on. As he glanced around the scene, he noticed a blue leather jacket tossed across a rubbish bin, and reached over to pick it up. He raised his eyebrows as he was hit with the scent of applegrass again, along with a hint of burning metal. And then he realised something else, and gulped loudly in the silence.
"Impossible," he breathed out roughly, clutching the jacket to his nose to get a stronger whiff of the aroma. He contemplated licking it, but thought perhaps that might go too far, remembering what...what she told him about licking things in public. He pocketed his sonic and leant against the wall, trying to steady himself. There was no way this could be true, he rationalised to himself. Impossible. Completely, utterly impossible. He would know, after all; he was the one who'd tried and failed to get her back –
He stood up straight as he heard footsteps and a quiet muttering.
"Bloody stupid planet and its stupid bloody xenophobia towards humans," the voice grumbled.
The Doctor was a man of reason. He prided himself on his ability to be rational, to rely on his mind. But that wasn't to say he distrusted what his empirical senses told him. Now, though, he very much doubted that he was hearing what he thought he was hearing.
There she was. Rounding the corner of the alleyway, stopping very still as she saw him nearly falling over in his shock. Her eyes widened, her mouth dropped open, and a small, disbelieving sound of, "Doctor?" filled his ears. Surely this wasn't a hallucination. Somehow, impossibly, she was here and she was in front of him and she was real and he didn't know why or how or anything about physics and parallel dimensions and probabilities, apparently, because she'd disproved him and – and –
She was here.
He hadn't replied to her yet, but she took this in her stride, smiling carefully at him and nodding towards what he was still holding in his hand. "That's my jacket. Too warm to wear it in this climate, so I left it there to grab later. When...when I go back."
"No," he found himself saying, shaking his head vehemently at her words. "No, no, no, no..."
Her brow furrowed worriedly. "What do you mean, 'no?'"
"You can't seriously be telling me that you're not going to stay," he murmured hoarsely.
Her expression relaxed somewhat. "I just meant...well, I wasn't planning on sticking around on a planet that hates humans." She pulled out her mobile phone. "A call on here goes back to UNIT and Torchwood on Pete's World. Friend of mine activates the cannon, sets the coordinates, and bang, I'm back there."
He swallowed hard. "Cannon? Rose...what have you done?"
She took a step towards him and put her phone back in her pocket. "Doctor, I had to come back. I know it's kind of reckless, and dangerous, and it must seem so very selfish of me, but I had to. We built the dimension cannon so that we could exploit the holes left in the universe, the holes you failed to fix. We worked out how I could travel through them and minimise the damage – in fact, weirdly, we've noticed that in some cases we're helping to seal them up by me travelling through then back again, as if it's pulling the edges of the gaps between our universes taut along the way, eventually closing them. There were twenty one gaps left. Now there are twelve."
He had absolutely no idea how he'd missed those gaps, or how Rose hopping back and forth could possibly have a positive impact upon them. The TARDIS had been so very thorough in her calculations. "But...how did you end up here, of all places?"
Rose shrugged. "I think it's the TARDIS, actually. Guiding me to somewhere you've been or will be. Only, the timings get muddled. I've always either just missed you or arrived way too early, wherever I end up. On Earth, and several other planets."
He nodded absently, still stunned that she'd managed it. "What, and you just get transported here, just like this, wearing this, without a capsule or anything?"
"Yep," she replied, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear.
He followed her movement with his eyes and murmured, "You're hair's a slightly different shade of blonde." She smiled softly but said nothing. "How long have you been doing this, this travelling – very dangerously – between universes? You could've killed yourself!"
"I'm fine. It's been...ooh, a couple of months of travelling back and forth, I s'pose, but before that...well, it's been about three years since Bad Wolf Bay, Doctor."
"Your jacket smells of applegrass," he said next.
Her smile grew into a grin. Blimey, he'd missed that grin. "Yeah, one trip I landed on New Earth. You been there recently?"
"A while back," he answered softly. "But not to the part where we went to together. No applegrass that time for me."
"I've missed you," she told him firmly, unafraid of his reaction.
A lump came to his throat as he replied, "I've missed you too, Rose Tyler."
"Now that I've finally found you, we can sort out a few problems," she added.
His eyebrows drew together. "What sort of problems?"
"One, the issue about the gaps between here and Pete's universe. Two, the issue about a bit of information I've been given. Three, the issue about the TARDIS – well, and myself, actually - sending me a message across time and space."
"What information? What message?" he asked, baffled.
"And four, the issue about the stars going out."
"What?" he exclaimed, highly alarmed. "What do you mean?"
"I've been told that something's coming, Doctor. The darkness. And it's already started in Pete's World. And the good old 'bad wolf' clues have been popping up repeatedly in my life recently. I figured that I needed to come back here, to you, to sort all this out."
"Right. Yes. Of course."
"There's nothing we can do at the moment, though," she said apologetically.
"How do you know?"
"I'll feel it when things start to change."
"How can you possibly be able to do that?"
"I don't know, but I felt it last time. And until I feel that same feeling here, in this universe, there's nothing we can do but wait it out. And maybe do a little bit of preliminary research, based on what I remember of the patterns happening on Pete's World."
"This is..." he let out a long whoosh of breath, then smiled suddenly, proudly. "When did you get to be more knowledgeable than me, eh?" he teased.
She shook her head. "Always secretly been that way, silly," she teased him back fondly.
He chuckled and held her jacket out to her. "You can have this back now, if you want."
She took it, bemused. "So, you taking me back to your place then?" she asked, arching an eyebrow.
"No," he murmured, reaching for her hand. "Let's go for a walk. We've got a lot of catching up to do."
"And you don't want to be a gentleman and hold my jacket for me in this heat?"
"No, most certainly not. Besides, you'll need to put it on in a moment. I'm taking you down to the seaside, and due to the sharp contrast in weather fronts that this side of the planet gets along the coast, it'll feel a lot colder down there. In fact, sometimes it gets so cold near the sea – which is pink, by the way, you'll love it – that it snows!"
"Why are we going there, then?" she asked incredulously, as they began their journey in the direction he'd pointed in. "This jacket isn't that warm, you know, and I didn't exactly pack a hat and scarf."
"Because no one goes there; it'll be deserted but for us."
A cheeky grin crept onto her face, which he noticed in his peripheral vision.
"I reiterate the point that it's cold there, Rose. So you can stop thinking what you're thinking right now."
"What conclusions am I supposed to leap to when you declare that you want us to 'catch up' on a deserted beach?"
"It's poetic, isn't it," he answered, sniffing slightly, feigning nonchalance.
"In case you've forgotten, a beach was the last place you saw me. And...well, that isn't a very happy memory, it being highly devastating and everything," he retorted wryly. "Need a happier beach memory to override it."
That eyebrow of hers arched again.
"Not that sort of happier beach memory," he said, rolling his eyes at her. "A happier talk-y sort of beach memory."
She snorted a little giggle. "Can't believe you want to actually talk meaningfully about something rather than just get reacquainted our old fashioned way - "
He stopped suddenly, drawing her to a stop too, and turned towards her. His gaze stared intensely into hers. "This is important, Rose, don't you get it?"
Rose rushed to assure him, "I was only joking, Doctor; I know the universe being in peril is realistically way more important than, um, us - "
"I'm not talking about the universe being in peril, Rose. That's for later, when we're back at the TARDIS, back and ready to face everything together properly."
"Then, what? You want to talk about...feelings, or something?" she said, trying not to laugh.
He sighed and tugged her back into a fast walk. "You'd better put your jacket on now; the temperature will take a steep drop once we've crossed over to the other side of this hill."
"God, I've missed all this," she told him, standing next to him with her arm through his, staring at the pinkish ocean in front of them. She shifted against him to gain a bit of his warmth; he'd been right about it getting chilly down by the sea.
"Just, standing here, looking at a whole new world, looking at something amazing; together."
He smiled. "I've missed that too." He looked down at her, but she was still facing the scenery. "And you. I've missed you. I know I've said that already, but...blimey, did I miss you."
"Snap. I actually considered buying a cat, you know. In the other world. Before all the stars-going-out business. I was fine, really, when I was at work, but when I got home, I just felt so lonely and bored, and I really, seriously, thought about going down to the pet shop at the end of my road and getting a pet cat and calling it, I dunno, Mr Smith or something. Is that weird? That's probably weird. I didn't, though. Get the cat, I mean. Too much hassle. Got a pet rock instead; that's about my limit - " she rambled, starting to laugh.
"Rose," he murmured, interrupting her.
She turned her head to look up at him and smiled. "Yeah?"
"Are you going to stay with me?"
She looked surprised. "Yes."
"For how long?"
"For as long as the universe lets us," she replied.
He sighed. "I wish you could still say forever and that we could both still believe it."
"I wish that too," she said softly. "I s'pose we didn't really anticipate me nearly getting sucked into the void, eh?"
The Doctor winced and reached out his arm, drawing her into a hug. His arms wrapped tightly around her waist, and he murmured into her ear, "Nothing like that will happen again. I won't let it happen."
She smiled sadly at his foolish promise, tucking her face into the crook of his neck. "Okay," she whispered. She closed her eyes as she felt his hand glide tenderly through her hair, stroking through her windswept blonde locks. "I love you," she whispered.
He nuzzled the top of her head and was silent for awhile, and Rose assumed he either hadn't heard her or was ignoring her words, unable to reply. But after a minute or so, he asked, his voice shaking slightly and revealing his fear, "Still? After all this time? Even though I couldn't come for you? Are you sure?"
She laughed gently against him and leant back to meet his eyes steadily. Her hands rose up to cradle his cheeks, tilting his head down to align her lips with his. "Always," she assured him, before kissing him deeply.
He closed his eyes and melted into the kiss for a few seconds, before abruptly moving his lips away from hers to tell her, finally, in heated whispers as he pressed his lips down her neck, "I love you. Oh Rose, I love you. For so long and - " he paused briefly to slide his hands to her hips, guiding her down with him as he sank to the sandy beach. "So, so much," he continued, tugging her closer, closer, closer still.
They arrived back at the TARDIS about an hour later, bantering in the wonderful way they always had. He fished into his pocket, looking for his key, but she beat him to it, dangling hers in front of him.
"Kept it, then?" he breathed out roughly.
"Obviously," she replied, rolling her eyes. He grinned at her stupidly and leant in to give her another hug. He'd barely gone a moment without touching her since she'd seen him again. She certainly wasn't complaining. Except now he was squeezing her a little too tight and she needed to breathe, so –
"Sorry, Doctor, crushing the ribs there a bit..."
"Oh! Oh, right! Sorry!" he mumbled guiltily, pulling back. He gazed at her, brushing her hair out of her eyes. She felt like a new born star when he looked at her like that. And then a supernova when he looked at her the way he'd been looking at her earlier...
"My daft old alien," she beamed happily. "Still the same as ever, you are."
"Oi, less of the old!" he protested. "Besides, what about you, eh?" he grinned, making a grab for her.
She giggled and dashed into the TARDIS. He chased after her, catching up with her by the jumpseat and wrapping his arms around her waist, dragging her down onto it with him. "My big, bad wolf," he winked.
"Less of the big!" she laughed, playfully smacking his arm. They grinned absurdly at each other for a few seconds, Rose trapped half-underneath him.
A gentle clearing of the throat sound alerted them both to another person's presence in the room. They both looked up.
"Ah," he winced, catching sight of Donna's raised eyebrows. "This isn't what it looks like," he mumbled awkwardly, tugging on his ear.
Rose smiled sheepishly. "Hi!" she waved to the ginger-haired woman, then started pushing the Doctor off her to sit upright. "We were just, um..." she trailed off, waving her hand dismissively.
Donna folded her arms and continued staring at them in silence, which was the most terrifying thing in the universe in the Doctor's opinion. Still, he was very, very happy that he'd be able to take that disapproving look off his friend's face once he'd made the introductions.
"Donna," he began, his wide grin threatening to burst his cheeks. "There's someone I'd like you to meet - "
But his friend's expression darkened unexpectedly. "I think," Donna said, interrupting him. "You'd better explain to me where you've been and what you've been doing while I have been standing here worried sick!"
Rose stood, awkwardly, and backed up against the console. Donna shot her a glare. "Sorry?" Rose murmured uncertainly, raising her hands. "It's probably my fault. Um. See, the thing is, I..."
"Just can't help stopping to save damsels in distress, can you?" Donna said next, interrupting her. "And it's usually absolutely fine, because that's what you do, you save people. But normally, you don't bring 'em back and start frolicking on the jumpseat with them! So when you do something like this, well - I've got a good mind to figure out some way of calling your Rose up in the parallel universe and telling her what you've been getting up to today!"
Rose's eyes widened. "What?"
"What?" the Doctor repeated, his eyebrows jumping up his head in surprise. Then he started to laugh. "Donna, you've, um. You've misunderstood something..."
"No I bloody haven't," she retorted, storming over to him. "Sorry, Blondie," she said to the woman she hadn't yet realised was actually Rose Tyler. "But this man here has been moping about for ages trying to find out how to get his girlfriend back - "
"Girlfriend?" spluttered Rose.
"Not my words!" he announced loudly. "Completely Donna's assumption!"
"Oh shut up you muppet!" Donna snapped. "No one keeps an engagement ring in their pocket 'just in case' the girl comes back if they aren't in love with her!"
"Engagement ring?" Rose exclaimed.
The Doctor slapped his hand against his forehead. "Oh Rassilon. Thanks, Donna."
"Yeah, well, serves you right!" she retorted. "Did you really expect me to stay silent about that fact whilst you're busy telling this young blonde you're single and emotionally stable enough to - "
"Donna!" Rose shouted, to get her attention.
Donna whipped around to look at her. "What?"
"Unless the Doctor has left another girl named Rose in a parallel universe, I'm the Rose you're talking about."
"Don't be silly, she's – she's..." Donna trailed off, going pale. She looked at the Doctor, who was standing with a tortured expression on his face, not meeting Rose's eye. Then she looked back at the blonde woman, who was smiling at her encouragingly. "Blimey," Donna breathed out roughly.
"Yeah," agreed the Doctor.
"Oh, you idiot!" Donna shouted at him.
"Oi!" he shouted back. "Why am I the idiot?"
"I bloody told you to show me your photos of her, but would you listen? Nope! And now look what I've gone and done and..." she trailed off, running out of steam. She hurried over to Rose. "I am so, so sorry about that," she said, then spontaneously wrapped her arms around her.
Reassuringly, Rose started giggling, and returned Donna's hug. "It's alright, Donna. Not your fault. Well, I can safely say I didn't expect our reunion to go like this..."
Donna pulled back and held onto Rose's upper arms, looking into her eyes steadily. "He. Has been. A nightmare," she confided dramatically. Rose burst into laughter again.
"Oi!" shouted the Doctor once more.
"Completely wonderful, too, obviously, but a nightmare all the same," Donna continued.
He sniffed pointedly and adjusted his tie. "Weeelll."
Rose nodded in agreement. "Sounds about right," she grinned. "How long have you been travelling with him?"
"Oooh, I dunno, it's gone so fast. About eight months or so I s'pose."
They started chatting about random things and the Doctor just stood there, perplexed and unnoticed, for about five minutes. But then he'd had enough of being ignored.
"Um, girls? Not to interrupt your delightful conversation about your various experiences with end-of-the-world situations and shopping destinations, but..."
Donna grinned. "Are we not paying you enough attention?"
"Are you feeling neglected?" added Rose, patting him on the arm.
"Quite frankly, yes. Besides, Rose has got to fill us in on the latest threat to the multiverse, Donna. Sounds like we're going to busy in the next few weeks sorting out yet another problem that only I can resolve - "
Rose and Donna simultaneously and disapprovingly cleared their throats.
"Sorry, another problem that only we can resolve," he amended hastily. Then he rushed on, "How about we go and grab some dinner, hmm?"
"Ooh, sounds good," enthused Donna, forgiving him his momentary arrogance. "Where do you want to go, Rose?"
Rose smiled widely. "How do you feel about chips?"
"Love 'em!" laughed Donna.
The Doctor rolled his eyes at their mutual cackling and started inputting the coordinates. "I'm going to do something tremendously romantic now and take us to the chip shop where we had our first date, but you won't even bloody notice because apparently getting to know Donna is far more important than reacquainting yourself with the love of your life..." he muttered to himself. The silence that followed his muttering made him look up. "Oh. Did you hear that?" he asked, wincing.
The two women nodded sagely.
"I promise you, Doctor, that once we've had our chips and discussed a plan of action regarding the stars-going-out thing..." Rose began.
"You can have Rose all to yourself for the evening," finished Donna.
"Okay," he mumbled, blushing a bit pink. He pulled the console screen in front of his face to hide his smile.