She's deciding between orange juice and apple when she catches a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye, just as he turns down the aisle. He's staring at a carton of milk as if within its mild-mannered dairy confines there lurks an alien evil (which isn't all that unlikely, she thinks, and thanks her lucky stars that she chose to wear trainers for this errand) so he doesn't see her when she skips up behind him and links her arm through his.
"Thought you were going to stay home," she chirps, giving the milk carton a quick once over herself, just to be sure. "Big manly man busy with repairs, sends the little woman out to the shop, isn't that right?" She grins at him, letting her tongue slip between her teeth. "Did you miss me?"
He's not grinning back.
Actually, 'not grinning' doesn't begin to describe the look on his face right now. His expression is disbelief and thunder, and she thinks the world must be ending (again) because the desperation in his eyes is something she's only seen in those rare moments when he's sure there's nothing but darkness on the horizon. Moments when she's seen just how very close to madness he is. Hopelessness, she thinks, and then she notices.
"You've changed your tie," she says softly, slowly. Blue paisley when she left him in the TARDIS twenty minutes ago, solid indigo now.
He looks so young. Lines on his face that she knows, lines she has traced with her fingers and the soft brush of her lips, are gone. He looks younger than she ever remembers him being (impossible, fuzzy human memory) but his eyes are ever-so-much older. He stares at her as if she's impossible.
"Oops," she says, which is sort of a stupid thing to say when you've just damaged the fabric of time with a paradox so massive you may as well have just sat down and begun to unravel the multiverse thread by thread and saved yourself the fuss, but she's not feeling particularly urbane at the moment.
Her hair is brown and long, pulled into a messy bun low against her neck, her face bare of makeup, and there's a small scar over her left eyebrow, a souvenir from a hostage situation that Mickey and Jake still haven't forgiven themselves for. She is thirty-seven years old, and he only just lost her.
"I don't suppose," she says, "that I could convince you this is all just a crazy dream?"
"Rose." His voice is low and sharp like broken glass, and it hurts to see how he was, how he is, now that she's gone. When he found her that day in the world of zeppelins and suppers with Mickey's gran, there had been such joy in him she thought he'd burst with it. He'd laughed and she'd laughed and though he'd said he'd missed her (and she'd believed him) she'd never thought it had been like this.
"I'm sorry." She takes a wary step back. "I have to go."
He grabs her arm, hard, and drags her back to him. "How?" he asks, teeth flashing in stark florescent light. "How are you here? How is that possible?"
"You need to let me go," she says, her voice steady and clear only because she's had years of practice being the sane one, the sure one, the one who doesn't fall apart. If she lets her voice break now she'll throw her arms around his neck and never let go and then he'll spend the rest of eternity standing in a Tesco's with her clinging to him like a barnacle to a rock and never find a way back to her and she won't be here to throw herself at him in the first place. "I can't tell you anything," she says in a patient, reasonable tone that he'll one day claim makes him 'batty'. "You know I can't. Let me go."
Not surprisingly, he doesn't. "You're gone. Trapped. This is impossible."
She knows she'll feel guilty later, but she can't help herself. She rolls her eyes. "Obviously not."
"I'm here?" He can barely get the words out, the sound catching in his throat. "With you?"
She briefly considers knocking him unconscious with a family-size jug of orange juice and running for it, but she doubts she'd get very far and doesn't fancy getting tackled by a grief-stricken Time Lord in the deli aisle. Instead, she nods.
He pulls her closer, breathing hard. "You come back?"
His eyes are wide and dark, but there's something there that wasn't before, an unfurling awareness of bright things to come that somehow breaks her heart in a way the desperation never could.
"Shit," she says, and throws her free arm around his neck, burying her face in his chest and holding him as tightly as she can. He laughs or he sobs into her hair, she can't tell which, and then her feet leave the ground and he's spinning her. Her foot catches a stack of yoghurts and a few go skidding across the floor. He sets her down again and when she pulls back to look at his face, he's her silly, grinning Doctor again.
So she kisses him.
When she pulls away his eyes are still closed, lips slightly parted, frozen in the moment. She's puzzled, and then, for the second time in only a few minutes, feels like a complete idiot. "Oh," she says. "We haven't done that before, have we?"
He shakes his head, eyes closed.
In a rush of movement his hands are low on her back, holding her to him as his lips dance over her chin, her nose, her throat. Her eyes flutter closed when he reaches the soft skin of her pulse, and then it's soft kisses against her eyelids and his hands cupping her face.
"How long?" he whispers, fingers twining in her hair. He's everywhere, and though she's used to his touch, his intensity, it's overwhelming. "How long until I find you?"
She laughs weakly, her head bowed against his. "How do you know I don't find you?"
"How long?" he asks again, lips hovering at the corner of her mouth.
"I can't tell you." She leans into to kiss him fully, but he evades her.
"How long have you been with me since?"
Her eyes fly open and she tries not to gasp as his fingers reach a spot behind her ear that he couldn't possibly know about yet. "Can't tell you that, either," she replies breathily.
He pulls away just far enough to give her a heated, dangerous grin. "I bet I could persuade you."
She gives him the same grin right back. "I'd like to see you try."
His hand is sliding beneath her shirt when they hear a chilly, feminine, "Ahem," from just behind them. They freeze.
"Oh, crumbs," the Doctor mutters under his breath, which, she decides, is a very silly thing to say in any situation, but particularly silly when one is being glared at by a perturbed elderly woman in a green cardigan decorated with large felt cats. Rose reaches for his wrist and pulls his hand out from beneath her shirt.
The Doctor springs into action, stumbling back until they're standing at a discreet distance from each other. "Yep, you're definitely going to need to have that looked at," he says to her, giving her his patented, 'play along or we're doomed' look. "Contact lens is folded up in there like an origami crane. Disgusting, really." He turns to the older woman with a charming smile. "Want a look?"
The cat cardigan lady continues to scowl at them, unimpressed.
He laughs awkwardly, hands in his pockets. "You know women these days – so vain, with their contact lenses and their track suits and their Botox."
It's 1988, there's no such thing as Botox, and Rose just happens to be wearing contact lenses. She kicks him in the ankle, hard.
He turns quickly and beams at her. "You look fantastic, by the way. What are you now, thirty-three? Thirty-four?" He swings around to smile at the cat cardigan woman again. "Aged very well, don't you think?"
"Milk," the woman replies.
The Doctor blinks. "Sorry?"
The woman points to the wall of cartons behind them.
"Right, of course," he says, embarrassed, and reaches to pull one from the shelf. Rose sees her opportunity. She bends down, swiftly presses her lips to his (ignoring the loud "I never!" from behind them) and then runs away. She runs past her half-full cart, out of the shop, through the doors of the TARDIS, and into his arms.
He hugs her so hard her back makes an odd sort of popping sound. It feels wonderful.
"Really, Rose," he says, his face in her hair. "Oops?"
O days and hours, your work is this
To hold me from my proper place,
A little while from his embrace,
For fuller gain of after bliss:
That out of distance might ensue
Desire of nearness doubly sweet;
And unto meeting when we meet,
Delight a hundredfold accrue,
For every grain of sand that runs,
And every span of shade that steals,
And every kiss of toothed wheels,
And all the courses of the suns.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam A.H.H.