He had asked to skip the rest of the rewind but somehow ended up in a familiar place anyway. It was recognizable before he even opened his eyes and confirmed it. The sound of the waves crashing on the shore, the cool wind whipping at his face, things always seemed to begin or end at Bad Wolf Bay.
The Doctor had been here countless times in his mind. He had never forgotten her, but he had chosen not to remember. Then there she was in front of him when he opened his eyes, standing far enough away that he couldn't tell if she was real or a ghost.
She walked closer, the wind swirling her blond hair around her face as she seemed to be inspecting him with a tilt of her head.
"How did you know?"
She tapped a finger to the middle of her lips and looked to the sky as if she was thinking. "Well, let me see. A mysterious man, dressed a little strangely, funny hair. You look human enough, but you don't look like you belong on Earth. Am I right?"
"There's nothing funny about my hair."
"There wasn't when I first met you. But later on? It just keeps getting sillier."
He touched his hair and then frowned at her. "I'll try not to be insulted."
They didn't seem to be moving, but they kept getting closer to each other anyway. Maybe he just didn't notice that he was moving because he was so taken aback by that familiar smile of hers.
"You look younger."
"You look exactly the same."
She tucked her hair behind her ear and for a moment it looked as if she wanted to touch him but she just dropped her hands to the side instead. "How long has it been for you?"
"Not long." He smiled back at her and shrugged nonchalantly. "Feels like a whole lifetime though. There was that whole bit with the Master. Then I got a new TARDIS, a new face. I went to the center of the Earth, Space Florida, Venice…"
"You never took me to Venice. How was it?"
"Terrible. A fish wanted to date me."
Rose laughed and her fingers brushed his so he took this opportunity to wrap his hand around hers. The Doctor had changed, but Rose was still the same. He would say he missed her, but that wouldn't even begin to describe it.
"So, you're here. I'm here. Must be the end of the world, right?"
"No. It's the beginning. Well, and the end too. Everything that was will be again. A whole new world on the other side of a crack in the universe. A world without me though."
She moved even closer to him and squeezed his hand gently but with purpose. "Sounds like a world not worth living in."
He looked away from her for a moment, towards the water, feeling every bit of his age as he did. "I don't even know if this is all real. Here and now. I was rewinding, the cracks were closing and now I'm waiting. You could be a figment of my imagination. Part of the void."
"It feels real to me."
He looked back at her as she continued to gaze up at him with hope in her eyes. "I don't know how long I'll be here. If Pond remembers –"
"Amy Pond, we –"
Rose laughed and nodded her head knowingly. "There's always a woman, isn't there?"
His mouth opened to respond, then closed, then opened again to reply, "Well. Yes. But –"
"You don't have to explain it to me, Doctor."
"You'd like her. She's a troublemaker. So you have that in common. And she's – she's special."
"Do you ever travel with someone who isn't special?"
The Doctor looked upward to think about it as Rose slipped her other hand in to his. When he looked back down, he was smiling again, "You know, even Mickey Smith turned out to be all right, so I guess not."
Rose laughed with him and he leaned in so that his forehead was touching hers. "You know, we haven't even established if I'm real or not."
"Does it even matter?"
"I suppose not."
She let go of his hand so that her fingers could trail up his torso and touch the bowtie around his neck. "I like the bowtie."
He lifted his head from hers and rolled it around with a victorious grin. "See, I keep telling everyone, the bowtie is cool. I had this Fez too and -"
"No, no way…"
"It was quite brilliant."
She laughed and her eyes went wide in mock horror, "I can just picture it. I hope it stays gone."
He made this groan that came from the back of his throat and he shook his head. "No, no, no. I'll get another one, you'll see."
"I don't think I will."
He looked around and realized that the wind was still as strong as ever and the waves were still crashing, but things had gone silent.
"Next time, then?"
She moved in as close as she could get, leaving no space between their bodies, leaning in to him so that her lips were just centimeters from his. "When the world is ending. Or beginning again. I'll see you then."
"It's a date."
Her lips pressed against his and it felt like everything was as it once had been. The scent of her was the same as he remembered, the feel of her hair between his fingers and the sweet taste of her lips. He wanted to hold on, but there was a blinding light filling up the air around them and he could hear the sounds of the TARDIS echoing in the back of his head.
He broke off the kiss but stayed close to her as he spoke softly, "Time to go. I'm late for a wedding."
The light got brighter and he shut his eyes to block it out. When he opened them again, he was back in the TARDIS and Rose was gone.
There was a chance he would never know if Bad Wolf Bay had been real or part of his imagination, but as he set the coordinates for June 26, 2010, he could still taste her on his lips.