The Doctor rubbed at his temple while he led Donna to the TARDIS. It wasn’t her excited rambling about travelling that was giving him a headache, though—this throbbing, hollow feeling had been a permanent part of his mind before he’d even met her.
His empty hand twitched at his side, reaching automatically for his wife. But Rose wasn’t there. She was never there, no matter how many times he dreamed about her and woke up to a lonely bed. He pressed his lips into a thin line and finally managed to push the memories to the back of his mind where they belonged.
They were almost to the alley he’d parked the TARDIS in when he registered her excited hum. He slowed, his forehead furrowing into a deep crease as he tried to figure out why she was so happy.
She laughed in response, then urged him forward. Though she didn’t use words, he knew exactly what she was saying.
Come home. Hurry!
The Doctor raised his eyebrows, but lengthened his stride obediently. He was reaching for the key as he turned the corner, and when he saw the woman standing in front of the TARDIS, he froze with his hand halfway in his pocket.
Impossible. The Doctor closed his eyes and shook his head, certain that when he looked again, she would have vanished like a mirage.
But she was still there. The hollow place where the bond had torn throbbed in response, and he hoped fervently that this wasn’t a trick or hallucination.
“Rose?” Her name was barely a whisper as he staggered forward. Beside him, he heard Donna suck in a breath of realisation.
A wide grin stretched across Rose’s face, and she held up her hand and wiggled her fingers in a little wave, before taking a step towards him.
They started running at the same moment, and when the Doctor reached her, he couldn’t resist picking her up and spinning her around. She tilted her head back and laughed, and he chuckled in response to the pure sound of her happiness.
After few turns, the ache in his mind demanded his attention. He set her down and ran his fingers through her hair. When they brushed against the sensitive spot just above her temple, Rose sucked in a breath and reached for him.
“Please,” she whispered as she pressed her fingers to his temple. A shudder of pleasure ran down the Doctor’s back, and he copied her quickly.
The broken ends of the bond in their minds recognised each other as soon as they connected telepathically, and it repaired itself instantly. The Doctor swayed at the sudden relief after years of constant of pain, and Rose quickly wrapped her arms around his waist.
He let her support him for a moment, then he pulled back enough to cup her face between his hands. I love you, he told her as he brushed his thumbs over the apples of her cheeks.
Rose sighed and turned her head to press a kiss to her palm. I love you, too.
The Doctor started to bend down to kiss her, but a loud cough interrupted him. He blinked a few times while he tried to place the sound, relishing in the feeling of Rose’s amusement as she watched him.
“I think your friend is wondering what’s going on,” she suggested, nodding towards her left.
The Doctor looked over in time to see Donna shake her head, a broad smile on her face. “I figure I understand most of it,” she said. “Spaceman here has been missing you the entire time I’ve known him, Rose.”
She shifted her weight from one foot to the next, and the Doctor knew what she was going to say. It was tempting to let Donna go home—he needed time alone with Rose to properly enjoy their surprise reunion.
But timelines tugged at him, and he knew it was important she come with them. “Donna…” He pressed his tongue to the back of his teeth and looked at the two women uncertainly.
Rose raised her eyebrow, but it only took her a moment to understand his misgivings. She took his hand and squeezed gently, then smiled at Donna.
“Could we come by and pick you up in the morning?”
Donna’s face lit up. “That’d be brilliant!” She glanced over at the car. “And anyway, I’d never hear the end of it if I left the planet without giving Mum the car back.”
Rose laughed. “That would still be better than my first trip with him.” She winked at the Doctor. “He brought me home a year late. Mum thought I was dead.”
The Doctor leaned back against the TARDIS, grumbling about malfunctioning time ships. Rose grinned at him, and her belly swooped when his gaze zeroed in on her tongue.
“All right!” Donna said loudly. “If you could let me go home before you start with the bedroom eyes, I’d appreciate it.”
The Doctor’s ears turned bright red, but Rose was too happy to be embarrassed. She pulled out her phone as she walked over to Donna, and it was the work of only a few minutes to exchange the necessary information and make the arrangements.
She was surprised when Donna grabbed her in an impulsive, tight hug. “I’m so glad you’re back,” she whispered. “He needs you.”
Rose swallowed past the sudden lump in her throat. “And I need him,” she agreed quietly.
Donna stepped back and waved. “Tomorrow morning,” she said gaily as she got into the car.
A shiver of awareness flashed over the bond as Donna’s car disappeared. They were alone—together and alone for the first time in years. As many times as she’d dreamed of this, she’d never really let herself believe it would happen.
Rose swallowed back the sudden tears that threatened and turned around to look at him. Her Doctor, leaning against the TARDIS, wearing the same bittersweet smile she knew was on her face.
He straightened up and held out his arms, and Rose ran into them. “I’m home,” she whispered, her face buried in his chest. “I’m really home.”
His arms tightened around her, and she felt the softest brush of lips against his forehead. “You’re really home. And neither one of us is going to leave home until we both believe it’s real.”