[December 21, 2010]
A slushy snowball smacked into the Doctor’s back. He yelped and instantly spun around to launch his own snowball back at Donna. She shrieked and laughed as she scrambled to dodge his attack.
“Oi! Not the face!” She shouted, her breath turning to fog in the cold winter air.
The Time Lord grinned and rolled his eyes. “You started it!” He accused, though he was laughing too. He promptly darted forward to steady her when she slipped on a patch of ice, and then pulled her down the pavement with him, dodging other shoppers along the way.
The Doctor had been quite excited for this trip, bounding around the console enroute to their destination like a hyperactive kid who’d eaten too much sugar. They were in Boulder, Colorado, a university town nestled in a valley at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. He had decided to take them to Boulder circa December 2010 after Donna had gone on and on the day before about wanting a holiday somewhere fun, somewhat relaxing, and new to her.
While mentally running through all the places in the universe that could possibly fit Donna’s criteria, the Doctor had stumbled upon a memory of an unusual night of adventures he’d had in a little, environmentally friendly town in Colorado sometime in 1969. He couldn’t remember which body that had been in, since 1969 tended to be a year he often revisited (something that was not exactly his fault, thank you very much). It didn’t take long for him to remember visiting the town a few other times as well, though none of those memories brought with them the same sense of nostalgia, satisfaction, and mild embarrassment.
Well, a little trip to Boulder couldn’t hurt, in any case. He wanted to see what had happened to the town since his last visit. Landing there on December 21, 2010, the day of the Winter Solstice and a full lunar eclipse for this part of Earth, was more of an accident than anything, but that made it all the more exciting. Not even the cold and overcast skies could dampen his enthusiasm.
Neither Donna nor the Doctor had any complaints about it as they walked west along the Pearl Street Mall. (Here, west always meant toward the mountains.)
When they had first arrived, Donna had asked the Doctor why on Earth he thought taking her to a bloody mall of all places would be fun or relaxing. She wasn’t really in the mood for shopping, or crowds. The Doctor had merely given her a raised eyebrow and a mischievous grin before opening the TARDIS doors for her to see where they were.
Donna had peered outside, seen the snow on the ground, and colorful lights strung up around trees and streetlights, and dashed back to her room to grab her warmest winter clothes and boots. The Doctor chose to wear only his usual attire. Today that meant his brown pinstripe suit, long brown coat, and white Chucks. When Donna had questioned his lack of winter-appropriate clothing, he pointed out that cold simply didn’t affect him as much as it did her. A perk of not being human, in this case.
~ ~ ~ ~
Donna quickly discovered that the Pearl Street Mall was nothing like she’d assumed it would be when she first learned they were in the U.S. in 2010. According to a woman working at the first little art shop they explored, the Pearl Street Mall was one of the more successful and long-lasting pedestrian malls in the States, and even in the world.
The Doctor was quite enthused about it all. “—And then, in 1976, the whole length of Pearl Street between 11th and 15th was apparently closed to traffic and paved in, turning it into a 'pedestrian mall'. Of course, some businesses were probably unhappy about it at first, but that doesn’t seem to have mattered in the big picture. It’s amazing! Just a few years after I was here the first time, this place just takes off!” He told Donna.
Knowing how the Time Lord could be with his nonstop gob and vast stores of knowledge, and personally glad that no aggravated aliens were chasing them for the time being, Donna was content to simply go along with his impromptu history lesson as they perused various shops. On her part, it was nice to see the Doctor be simply happy. He rarely let the whole weight of the universe fall from his skinny shoulders, even when he was excited about a new place or meeting a famous historical figure
The two of them wandered in and out of shops for quite awhile after that, and engaged in a few snowball fights in between. They eventually reached a tie, which Donna found great pride in given that her aim usually left a lot to be desired.
She pulled the Doctor into some of locally-owned places in search of souvenirs and Christmas gifts for Silvia and Wilf, and let the Time Lord talk her into staying a whole thirty-seven minutes in an antique map store because he’d noticed a map of some distant planet that definitely didn’t belong in any shop on Earth. He bought the map and proceed to check every nook and cranny in the shop to make sure it was the only alien map in the vicinity - despite being asked to leave several times. Donna started searching for other alien maps as well, but then the Doctor was calling for her as he bounded toward the front door, and they left just before the irritated shop owner could spontaneously combust from his growing irritation. Once they were safely outside, the two time travellers burst out laughing as they recalled the final, comically furious look on the man’s face when they left.
“Did you have to say it like that? God, I thought he might explode right then and there!” Donna said, waiting for the Doctor to finish folding the alien map and putting it into one of his dimensionally-transcendental coat pockets. He laughed at the memory of the man’s red face, and insisted that yes, the man needed to be told the truth about the map's origins regardless of whether he wanted to know or not, because he could, theoretically, encounter other maps like it. The dominant species on the planet depicted in the map were known to travel to Earth while on holiday.
A gust of wind whipped the snow on the ground around them into a frenzy, making it fly every which way. Donna blew her hair out of her face, laughter fading as she gripped the handle of her small shopping bag tighter in one mittened hand. Another, stronger gust made her cross her arms with a shiver.
The Doctor shot her a smile, that slightly nervous one that he adopted sometimes when he was about to talk her into something that she probably wouldn’t really like to do, but always did anyway because quite often, it wasn’t as bad as she feared it would be.
She met his gaze pointedly. “Where do you want to go now?” she asked.
He shuffled his converse-clad feet against the smooth, red bricks that paved most of the Pearl Street Mall. “One more shop, just one, and then I’ll show you to one of the best cafes in Boulder where we can get something warm to drink?”
Donna’s expression softened at his hopeful tone. It was one of those days where he still managed to rush around like he had minutes to experience everything instead of centuries, but not as erratically as he could have, and not in a way that would drag them straight into the next alien war or an accidental (mis)adventure. She gave in and followed him into a shop nearby that had caramel apples and chocolates of all sorts displayed in its windows. One thing led to another, and then they were standing in front of the cash register at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Donna resisted the urge to cover her face with her mittened hands, instead stifling a groan of exasperation when she realized what had attracted the Doctor to this particular shop.
The Time Lord paid her embarrassment no mind as he happily ordered one chocolate-covered frozen banana. The staff took his request quite well, promptly providing said chocolate-covered banana with only mild bewilderment. Donna watched the Doctor pay for his frozen treat, wondering (along with the staff) why anyone would want to eat something frozen when it was nearly freezing outside.
Still, Donna counted herself lucky. She was prepared for and full expected this sort of antics from the Doctor. The poor young men and women working at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory had to face him without warning. Donna thought they did quite well, considering.
The Doctor enjoyed the frozen banana a bit overenthusiastically as he and Donna walked the few blocks west to the café he’d promised her. He only made two comments about the chocolate covering being sub-par to that of other planets and some other countries on Earth, but nonetheless finished the whole thing in what Donna considered a shockingly short amount of time.
The sun sank lower behind the mountains, and Donna began to focus more and more on how far away the bloody café was. She dearly hoped she could get a hot cuppa at the café — if any American place could make one properly, that was.
The BookEnd Café had a small outdoor seating area out front, separated from the rest of the pavement by a thick, almost elegant wrought iron railing. Only a few brave souls sat outside there. The front wall of the café was composed of large windows that could be moved to the side, making the indoor seating area partially open-air on warmer days.
The Doctor held the heavy, wooden door open for Donna, and she sighed in relief as she stepped inside. It was bigger than she’d expected, and despite its high ceilings, it had a warm, homey atmosphere.
The tables near the front were packed with families and couples and people who had no one with them but seemed to enjoy the festive atmosphere and getting out of the house for a bit of people-watching downtown. There were a few more tables in the back, just past a six-foot-tall dividing wall that stuck out from the brick wall to Donna’s left. A funny frog statue and a giant ball of string sat at the far end of the dividing wall.
The Doctor was quick to notice a family preparing to leave their table near the dividing wall, and quickly claimed that table for the two of them before joining his redhaired companion in the que.
“Almost forgot to tell you," he said, "you might as well get something to eat here, if you’re hungry. You weren’t pleased with what the TARDIS had to offer recently. She has restocked since then, and likely took more of your preferences into account if she was in a good mood at the time. I just thought, you know, they’ve got decent food here." He nodded to the series of colorful, artistically decorated menus hanging on the wall behind the cash register.
Donna shrugged, having already forgotten exactly what she hadn’t liked about their dinner the night before. She wasn’t particularly picky when it came to food these days, so it must’ve been something partially unfit for human consumption.
She eventually decided on the cafe’s signature breakfast burrito with a side of the soup of the day, because the cashier had insisted it was one of their more popular food items other than the pies. She also ordered two hot cups of tea, with a strong emphasis on the hot part, for herself and the Doctor. Lord knew the alien might never get anything warm for himself on this trip. Donna was more than a little determined to make that happen now.
The Doctor paid for it all because he was the only one between the two of them who could pay in American dollars. Donna wasn’t quite sure where he had gotten the thick roll of green banknotes he produced from his coat pocket, but she decided against asking (for now).
Of course, he still noticed her curious gaze as they made their way to their table in the corner to wait for their food and tea.
“Rose,” he said, sitting down across from Donna with a half-hearted smile on his face.
Donna’s brow furrowed and she shifted, trying to get comfortable on her hard wooden chair. The Doctor wanted to talk about Rose now?
He must have seen the brief, incredulous expression that flashed across her face, for he quickly clarified. “The first time I took Rose out to get chips, I didn’t have any money with me. Hadn’t thought I would need it. She ended up paying, and never let me forget it.” At this, his smile grew more wistful. It was a look Donna was used to seeing every so often. She waited patiently for him to continue, which he did after clearing his throat and snapping out of whatever memory of Rose had pulled his attention away. “Right, so, after a while, whenever we’d visit a new place, she’d exchange a few intergalactic credits for whatever the local currency was. ‘Just in case,’ she said, and she was right.”
“You took her out on an actual date?” Donna was surprised that she was only hearing about such a monumental event now.
The Doctor sputtered. “It wasn’t a—Well—No, not really. We didn’t—”
Of course he hadn’t. Donna sighed, and took pity on the Time Lord before he could dig himself deeper into a proverbial hole. “I know, Spaceman. I know,” she muttered.
“Yeah,” he said, a hint of dejection creeping into his voice.
To give the Doctor a moment to himself, Donna took the time to look around the café again. She noted with some delight that there was an open doorway just past the dividing wall that led into a packed bookstore. (Hopefully any later excursions into said bookstore would go better than that time she and the Doctor found a secret alien tunnel in the catacombs under Paris that led straight into Shakespeare & Company via one of their oldest bookshelves. That had been painful to have to explain to the authorities, especially in front of all the summer tourists.)
Then the Doctor’s carefully crafted front, with all its boyishly enthusiasm, was back in full force. “So!” He clapped his hands together. “Fun facts about Boulder! Let's see....Hmmm. Ah! I think I’ve been here at least twice before, and the most recent time, sometime in the 90s, I remember touring the facility housing this region’s atomic clock—”
“What’s that?” Donna interrupted.
“It’s one of the many clever ways you humans have learned to measure time, since you can’t sense it directly, other than possessing a general awareness that time is passing . The atomic clock here in Boulder provides the States with their primary time and frequency standards. The newest clock is based on a cesium fountain, which means it uses the fountain-like movement of cesium atoms and a series of lasers to measure frequency and time intervals. The whole process is actually quite convoluted, but you humans will get much better at refining that process in the future…”
Donna slowly grew more interested in learning about the many U.S. and international scientific facilities in Boulder, and their respective purposes (much to her surprise). The Doctor’s enthusiastic explanations were only briefly interrupted by the arrival of their tea and Donna’s food. She eventually admitted that the tea was passably decent, as was the soup and burrito.
The two of them ended up staying long after they had had their fill, and eventually made their way over to the Boulder Book Store next door. Donna perused the magazines and the used books section for a while before she realized she hadn’t seen or heard from the Doctor in quite some time. It was only after wandering around all three levels of the shop that she finally found him sitting on the floor near the back of the main level, surrounded by children who were all listening to him with rapt attention as he read a picture book aloud.
Leaning against a bookshelf near the group, Donna watched the adorable spectacle with growing amusement. She had to admit that the Doctor was very good at entertaining the kids, making sure to show them all the colorful pictures in the book, and reading in a different, dramatic voice for each character.
The Doctor had glanced up at her with some uncertainty when she first arrived, like she’d caught him doing something he wasn’t sure he should be doing. The nonchalant expression on her face had made him relax once more, and he sent a grin her way as he finished reading the tale of dragons and brave warrior princesses. The children all complained and begged for one more story as soon as he closed the book, and it took a long time for the Doctor to extract himself from his circle of miniature fans.
Donna stayed far way from that mess, laughing at the Doctor’s many failed attempts to escape the kid’s clinging hands and teary doe eyes. Given what had happened every other time kids were mentioned around him, she’d never have guessed he could stand a group of young, loud human children.
Donna finally had to haul the Time Lord outside to avoid the oncoming storm of potential tantrums. “Come on, Doctor. It’s getting late.”
“That was fun! Maybe I should do that more often! Also, you know there’s no time in the Vortex.”
“Yeah, I know that, but those parents don’t have TARDISes. And I don’t want to have to hear ten different tantrums tonight.”
“Fair point. Ah, there it is!” The Doctor dug his plimsoll heels in, forcing them both to an abrupt halt in the middle of the pavement. He tipped his head in the direction of the mountains, which were close enough to Pearl Street that they almost appeared to be just down the road. Twilight had fallen by now, so it wasn’t hard for Donna to guess what the Time Lord was referring to. There was a huge, five-pointed star halfway up the side of one of the mountains, shining like a beacon, as clear as day.
“The Boulder Star! I once helped a few students from the University of Colorado rearrange its shape into a peace sign. I don’t think any of them were ever caught either. We all escaped arrest in the TARDIS, arrived at their dorms a few minutes later. No one ever questioned them about it, as far as I know. That was an interesting night, back in my...fourth? No, fifth body. It was definitely one of those two. Want to pay the star a visit before we go? I hear it’s become something of a popular nightly event in the winter,” the Doctor suggested, bouncing excitedly on the balls of his feet.
“Of course you would do something like that. I suppose we might as well go...” Donna trailed off, eyeing the star curiously.
“Quite right. Back to the TARDIS then! Allons-y!” The Time Lord exclaimed.
On their way back to the time ship, they admired the hundreds of colorful lights wrapped around the trees along the Pearl Street Mall and twinkling merrily against the dark winter night. Donna even briefly stopped them in front of the courthouse so she could admire the twinkling lights outlining the art deco building and the water fountain in front of it. Curved tubes of lights arced out of the center of the fountain, replacing the water for the winter.
At times like these, Donna wished she had a camera to document the happier moments from her travels with the Doctor. Moments when she couldn’t stop laughing, moments when the Doctor did something absolutely ridiculous for no logical reason, and moments when she was mind-blown by the beauty her universe had to offer.
~ ~ ~ ~
Miraculously, they did NOT plummet off the side of the mountain with the star on it— Flagstaff Mountain, according to the Doctor. It was still a very close call. If the TARDIS had materialized just seven inches further east along the side the road winding up Flagstaff, they would have definitely gone over the edge.
Standing outside the time ship and gazing up the steep slope of the mountain at the glimmering lights of the Boulder Star, Donna’s mouth fell open. “You’ve got to be joking,” she said, throwing a disbelieving look at the Doctor. People of all ages scrambled up the snow-dusted, icy side of the mountain to the star, where some groups had already found rocky perches to sit on and look down at the city.
“Nope!” The Doctor happily informed her. “Watch out for ice and cacti under the snow. Wouldn’t want to discover a cactus by falling on it. Horrible spines to have to remove.” And with that somewhat vague concerning warning, he tugged her across the road.
There was no official path up to the star. What the Doctor lacked in tread on the soles of his Chucks, however, he made up for in enthusiasm. Donna cringed as she watched him nearly faceplant on an icy patch of snow just a few feet above her. He just managed to catch himself with his hands before he fell completely, and sprang back up to his feet with a laugh. “Aren’t you coming, Donna?” He called down to her.
Donna rolled her eyes. “Yes, just not so fast that I fall and break something," she grumbled good-naturedly as she moved to catch up to him.
She climbed slowly, carefully, determined to not break any bones in the process. Soon, she was gasping for breath as the lower oxygen content in the air far above sea-level started to get to her. By the time she finally made it to the large, flat rock the Doctor had claimed for them to sit on, she was barely able to breath.
Their rock was next to a metal pole that formed one of the star’s side points. “You made it!” The Doctor grinned, reaching down to help Donna the rest of the way up onto the rock.
The redhead collapsed onto it, giving only a weak flap of her hand in his direction in acknowledgement as she caught her breath.
Once she could breath fully again, she was able to take more of the glowing, festive atmosphere the star evoked. The view was beautiful too; she could practically see all of Boulder from here, with all of the city lights twinkling merrily in the darkness. Tiny lines of cars moved along the streets, becoming little white and red ribbons of light along the highways stretching out through the night away from the mountains. It was still cold and a bit breezy, but not unbearable. The appeal of hiking up to the star was growing on her.
Donna twisted around to look up at the top point, and immediately decided to never set foot further up. Only a few brave souls (teenagers, of course) had dared to venture up to the top of the star, where the slope was even steeper.
The Doctor remained uncharacteristically silent through her observation, simply sitting forward with his elbows braced on his knees and resting his chin in his hands.
“You know,” he said eventually, “light travels at 186,282 miles per second, about 299,792 kilometers per second, in the vacuum of space. Imagine that, Donna. Every second, a little photon, a little beam of light, moves 299,792 kilometers closer to somewhere new, illuminating wherever it goes. Of course, in comparison to the size of the universe, even at that speed that’s barely going anywhere. And out of all of that vastness, buried in one of the millions of strands of time and dark matter that bind our universe together, in an ancient, rather average-looking spiral galaxy, orbiting around a main sequence star that formed at just the right place and just the right time…there’s Earth.”
Donna gave him a sideways glance, a soft smile lighting up on her face. It was always fascinating to listen to the last Time Lord put the wonders of the universe, his wonder at the universe, into words. She was never sure what his more contemplative states would lead to. She loved traveling the universe, escaping from monotonous, everyday cycles of her old life, but for now, she was glad for a momentary reprieve from the chaotic cosmos.
“Yeah,” she quietly agreed. “There’s Earth.”
“So much good, so much evil. Just add water.”
“Did you come up with that yourself?”
The Doctor shrugged one shoulder. “Nah. Just borrowed it from the author Markus Zusak.”
“It’s good.” Donna said, leaning back on her hands. A slightly warmer breeze was coming down the mountain now, scattering dry grasses, snow, and pine needles around them. She blew loose strands of hair away from her face. “Thanks for bringing us here. It’s a nice view.”
“I’m glad you like it,” the Doctor said.
Donna tilted her head back to gaze at the partially cloudy night sky. She had seen so many stars and planets, wonders that most humans in her time would never get to see, but there was still something unique about viewing the starry sky from the Earth’s surface. “You were right,” she admitted. “Sometimes when we’re out there helping species I never even knew existed, on some planet I’ve never dreamed of visiting, or getting caught up in history, I forget how beautiful my own planet can be. There are so many terrible things that can happen here, but Earth is also amazing in its own way.”
The Doctor made a small sound of agreement, before a shout from across the Boulder Star caught his and Donna’s attention. A little girl was standing near the central support pole of the star and watching in dismay as her small green backpack tumbled end over end down the mountain toward the road.
“Oh no! That won’t be pleasant to go after,” Donna muttered, her gaze following the backpack’s bumpy descent.
The Doctor pointed to a pair of teenagers down the slope who were already moving to catch the wayward bag. “Those two will catch it for her. That’s how it works up here, see? At the best of times, everyone helps each other.”
“So there are still a few good people in the world,” Donna said. The teen with a guitar case on his back, clearly quite confident in his winter mountaineering skills, let the backpack roll right into his waiting arms before bounding up to the little girl with his friend. They returned the bag with jovial pomp and circumstance.
“Oh, more than a few!” The Doctor countered, bumping Donna’s shoulder with his as they continued to watch the exchange.
She huffed and lightly elbowed him back. “You know what I meant,” she said.
“Oh, course I—"
Two brilliant flashes of light behind them brought their banter to an abrupt halt. The Doctor and Donna both turned around just as the star’s lights abruptly went dark.
Shouts and high-pitched shrieks of alarm echoed through the night. Donna quickly slid off her perch, standing up with one hand clutching the edge of the flat boulder. She and the Doctor stared up the dark slope in the direction the flashes of light had come from, searching for their source.
“What do you think that was?” She asked. She had to raise her voice to be heard over the cacophony coming from everyone else.
The Doctor was little more than a tense silhouette beside her. “I don’t know yet,” he said. “The rest of Boulder hasn’t lost power, so this was likely an isolated incident.” He was feeling around the pocket of his suit jacket, presumably searching for the sonic screwdriver.
Donna was glad it was a full moon night, so there was some light for her eyes to adjust to. She squinted, spotting a flash of movement up the mountain. One, no, two figures cautiously emerged from the snow-dusted trees along the edge of the star and made their way downhill. They looked human, or at least humanoid. Then again, Donna reconsidered, a human-looking body doesn’t mean they’re actually human.
One of the figures suddenly slipped on a patch of ice, their feet sliding out from underneath them in an instant. They wildly flailed their arms before frantically grabbing the nearest tree branch and sitting down hard on the frozen ground. They stayed there until their friend caught up, and helped pull off one of their boots to check for an injury.
“Doctor!” Donna hissed, not daring to look away from the two.
“Hmm?” The Doctor was still rummaging through his pockets in search of the sonic.
“You should really look up.” The redhead spoke with more urgency this time, jabbing her elbow into his not-Martian-but-still-alien ribs. “Now, Spaceman!”
“Ow! Give me one two seconds, will you? I’ve— Aha! There you are!” The Doctor exclaimed, triumphantly withdrawing the sonic screwdriver from his coat pocket.
Above them, the second figure had shifted to sit beside the first. In the process, one of them accidentally knocked the first’s boot and sent it rolling down the mountain straight toward Donna and the Doctor. Donna prepared to catch it— and really, it would have been an easy enough thing to do— but the Doctor was faster. He leaped up on to the flat boulder they’d been sitting on and scooped up the boot before it could fall any further.
He straightened, gaze darting between from the footwear in his hands to the figures who had lost it. Donna couldn’t read his expression in the low light. Why was he hesitating to return the boot? Was it alien after all?
That was the moment when, with a few loud pops and a low electrical hum, the Boulder Star flickered back to life. Everyone cheered for lights’ return.
In that moment, the two mysterious figures’ features became visible. Donna’s mouth fell open when she caught sight of their faces.
The Doctor gasped, letting the black boot slip from his fingers and fall to the ground with a thud.
Donna could see the exact moment he decided to run—toward the two figures, not away—and quickly caught his ankle before he could take off.
He looked down at her, startled.
She tossed the black boot up to him. He caught it, his expression a wordless plea for confirmation that she was really seeing the same thing he was. She smiled, and gave him a small, sure nod in response.
“Go on,” she said, “I’ll catch up. I think your Cinderella’s waiting for her shoe back.”
Donna had never seen the Doctor move as fast as he did then. I’d probably do the same if the love of my life and a daughter I thought I’d lost forever suddenly returned out of the blue, she reasoned, watching the Doctor clamber up the mountainside like his lives depended on it. For all she knew, they might have.
~ ~ ~ ~
The Doctor knew those voices, had known that hearing those voices now should be impossible, and yet…here they were.
He was moving before he’d even made the conscious decision to do so, hearts in his throat and respiratory bypass kicking in, because he’d all but stopped breathing the moment he’d seen them. Every other thought lost importance, swiftly overtaken by the names repeating over and over again in his mind.
Oh, please let this be real.
He almost faltered halfway there, almost gave into the fear that this wasn’t really happening. But Donna had nodded. She had seen them too, and now he could sense their presences in space and time, burning bright and brilliant and wonderful. He could see the one person that was everything his aching hearts had missed for so, so long, and that drove him forward those last few feet.
Her name rushed past his lips as barely more than an exhaled breath, but it didn’t matter if she heard it or not because then he was there, falling to his knees before Rose Tyler and pulling her into the most magnificent hug the entire universe had ever known. He may have slipped on ice at the last second and almost knocked her over in the process, but none of that mattered either. She simply steadied herself with a laugh—Oh, how he’d missed that laugh—and wrapped her arms around him just as tightly.
“Rose! Rose, you’re here, you’re really here. How are you—I thought—” The Doctor didn’t know what to say first. How could he possibly put everything he thought he’d never get to tell her into words?
“I’m really here, Doctor,” Rose said with a joyful chuckle, both hands tightly clutching the back of his coat. A tremor went through her and she gripped his coat even tighter, like she was afraid he would disappear if she let go. The Doctor knew that feeling all too well.
He glanced up at Jenny then, meeting her hopeful smile with a watery one of his own. Her features were the same as they had been on Messaline, and he couldn’t help but wonder how that was possible. She was dressed in all black, including her combat boots. A neon pink knit hat with cat ears was pulled down over her blonde hair. The Doctor knew he would have time to talk to her later, hopefully for a long, long time to come, but he had something very important to do first.
He tilted his head down, bringing his mouth closer to Rose’s ear. “I missed you,” he whispered, lips tingling in anticipation as they hovered over her soft skin. There were thousands of hopes and fears flying through his head, but he kept himself grounded, focusing on her presence and how it soothed him, revived him in ways only she could.
“I really missed you too,” Rose echoed. She didn’t appear to want to let go of him anytime soon, one of her hands drifting up to play with the short hairs at the nape of his neck.
He pulled back slightly and brought his hands up to either side of her face, thumbs caressing her cheeks. “Rose Tyler…” He began.
(Had she truly not known how he felt about her? He thought he’d shown her enough before, thought she might have understood despite never hearing the words.)
He kept going. “I don’t know how you managed to find your way here. I tried for so long and nothing worked, but that’s not important. What is important is that you’re brilliant, and you’re here, and I never got to finish telling you something last time. That is, if you, um…”
An adoring smile appeared on Rose’s face as he trailed off. “My feelings haven’t changed. Even if you can’t say the words now...I think I know," she said softly.
He searched her gaze, in absolute awe of the love he saw there. “Rose Tyler, I love you.”
It was a resolution, a confirmation, and a promise. And kissing her for the first time, the first real time without either of them about to die or because one of them was possessed, or for any other reason than simply because he loved her, sealed that promise. If the eyes of the universe were always watching the Doctor, then he was going to make his intentions clear beyond a shadow of doubt when it came to this human woman, his saving grace, his brave pink-and-yellow girl. She didn’t hesitate to respond in kind. She was his and he was hers for however long their forever might be.
They might have possibly gotten a little too wrapped up in each other—because kissing Rose Tyler was absolutely fantastic, and the Doctor was trying making up for years of missed chances—and only broke apart when Donna wolf-whistled.
“Save it for the TARDIS, Spaceman, there are kids present!” The redhead said, jokingly trying to cover Jenny’s eyes with her hands.
Jenny laughed and batted her hands away. “I’m not that much of a kid!” She protested.
“Think you dropped my boot,” Rose muttered, drawing the Doctor’s attention back to her.
His brow furrowed in confusion. “What?”
She looked pointedly down at her feet. He followed her gaze, rapidly working to recall the incident that had reunited them. “Ah, right. Boot. Where—”
Rose stifled a giggle, patting his cheek with a tongue-touched grin like she knew exactly what her kiss had done to him. She felt around behind her until her fingers closed around the missing boot, and proceeded to jam her foot back into it with a small wince.
“I’m fine, just slipped on ice. It’s not even sprained,” she said, noticing the concerned look that flashed across the Doctor’s face. He remained doubtful (of course he did, he had just gotten her back), but she stopped him with a quick kiss before he could scan her with the sonic screwdriver.
When she pulled away, she tilted her head in Jenny and Donna’s direction. “Think we’ve scandalized them enough for one night yet?” She asked.
He gaped at her, unable to form a proper sentence, let alone a sentence that would actually answer her. Rose took pity on him, getting to her feet and drawing him up with her. “She’s been waiting a long time to find you again, you know,” she said. She didn’t have to clarify who she was talking about.
Jenny didn’t wait for her father to make up his mind (again) about her. She simply darted forward to envelope him in a crushing hug when he took a tentative step toward her. The Doctor returned it, opening his mouth to apologize, to say something, but the words caught in his throat.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Jenny said, stepping back.
“It wasn’t, Dad, and besides, I came back. And I got to visit so many planets after I left Messaline! I did an awful lot of running, and saved a few lives too. And I love it,” Jenny said in a rush, voice brimming with excitement.
“But how did you...You were...You didn’t…” The Doctor couldn’t bring himself to say it, even now.
Jenny’s expression softened. “I’m not exactly sure what happened,” she said, her gaze briefly flickering to Rose. "All I know is that it felt like waking up from sleep. A little more jarring, a bit more intense at first, but it wasn’t a complete regeneration. I think it happened because of the way I was created.”
Donna finally spoke up. “You sort of ‘caused’ your own creation, right? We went to Messaline because the TARDIS sensed your presence, but you only came about because we went there in the first place.”
(Oh, Donna was brilliant! So unsure about herself, but she really needn’t be.)
“Aaannnd…” Rose added, slipping her hand into the Doctor’s, “I found Jenny, well, we found each because we were drawn to each other’s presence without realizing it.”
“What do you mean?” The Doctor asked, wariness creeping into his voice the more he thought about all the potential implications of Rose and Jenny’s return.
Rose grinned disarmingly. “I guess the dimension cannon honed in on her location because her presence is so similar to yours. Handy, that.”
“A dimension cannon?!”
Nodding, Rose pulled a flat, yellow, circular device out of her jacket pocket and held it up for him and Donna to see. “Yeah. Helped build it myself. I had to get back here somehow, didn’t I?”
Before the Doctor could sputter out an incredulous reply, or launch into a detailed lecture about why blindly flinging oneself across the Void to get to another universe was one of the most dangerous things he could possibly think off, Rose squeezed his hand reassuringly. “I’m here now, though, and so is Jenny. I promise we’ll tell you everything, later. For now, can’t we just enjoy the view?” She gestured to the star around them, and the valley below.
The Doctor let out the breath he’d been holding, looking down at their joined hands. The tension soon left his shoulders, and he couldn’t help but smile slightly as he gave her hand a small squeeze in return. “Won’t you get cold?” He asked.
Rose gave a slight shake of her head, bright eyes shining up at him. "Not if you let me borrow your coat.”
“I’m fine with staying a little longer if you all want to,” Donna said, drawing Jenny into a side-hug. “And while we’re here, Doctor, I think Jenny and Rose need to hear about all your past Boulder adventures.”
“Oh, this I have to hear!” Jenny grinned, far too much like her father to ever let such an intriguing statement go. Rose looked at him expectantly, and for a moment, all the Doctor could think about was that there were so many similarities between her and his daughter it was almost…impossible. But he would have time to think more on that later. For now, he was being forced into telling a few (slightly embarrassing) stories, but he didn't mind, not now. Who was he to deny a captive audience of people he loved?
“Oh, alright, if you insist,” he conceded, pressing a kiss to Rose’s hair. He took off his coat and helped Rose slip her arms into the sleeves, taking care to button up a few of the buttons before leading her, Jenny, and Donna back down to the wide, flat rock he'd found earlier.
And sitting there in the light of the Boulder Star with his newfound, lost and found family of amazing, brilliant people, the Doctor was happy to stay a little longer. As he began to tell the story of his last encounter with the star, he heard the teen with the guitar start to play a lovely little tune that the Time Lord had never heard before, but found the accompanying lyrics rather fitting.
I want to tell you before I forget You're doing well You know you're living it You're gonna make it no matter how hard it gets Despite the darkness Some of these days
Wintergreen I can't outshine your radiance Wintergreen or undermine your silliness Wintergreen I love you more than anything Wintergreen despite the darkness Some of these days
“Wintergreen” (The East Pointers)