Rose and the Doctor parted ways briefly at King's Cross. The Doctor swore it would be safer for him to sneak onto the train than to be questioned by the ticketing officers. So Rose went to the counter alone to buy herself a private compartment, climbed on board, and waited for the Doctor to find her.
He slipped through the door not long after the train departed. Rose smiled in relief at the sight of him. He took a seat across from her, and kicked his feet up onto the seat beside her, stretching out.
"How long of a train ride is it?" he asked curiously.
"A few hours," Rose replied.
"Hours," the Doctor muttered in amazement.
"They didn't exactly have TARDISes in the early 20th Century," Rose pointed out.
"No. Indeed not," the Doctor agreed. "And a good thing they didn't. Could you imagine the disaster if most of these people could time travel? You humans would never have made it as far as you do in the future."
"Hey, watch it!" Rose warned. "You were one of those humans a few days ago, remember?"
The Doctor's expression suddenly froze. "Yes," he agreed quietly. "Yes, I do remember."
His last words were loaded with meaning. They both fell silent for a long moment. Rose’s pulse raced as she wondered if he meant what she thought he meant. She suspected that if they didn't talk about this now, they never would. So she gathered her courage, and asked him just one word.
His eyes saddened a bit, and Rose wondered why, until the Doctor spoke. "I remember every minute of that human life, Rose. I remember the school in Farringham, and the fire. I remember moving to London, and meeting you. I remember the war. I remember every detail and every moment of falling in love with you, and being married to you. Yes, Rose. I remember it all."
Rose opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out, so she closed it again. She wasn't sure what she should say. She wanted to apologize for taking advantage of him, for using him to make herself feel better, for falling in love with John Smith and being disloyal to the Doctor, but it felt wrong. How could she apologize for something she didn't entirely regret? She had thought that the Doctor was gone, seemingly forever, and she had done what she had to do to survive in a cold, lonely world.
A question had been lurking in the back of her mind ever since the Doctor returned. Rose finally decided to bring it up, her curiosity getting the better of her.
"Will you tell me what happened? How you became you again?"
"Ah, well...the watch was returned to me."
"How is that possible?" Rose asked curiously. "I thought it was lost forever! I searched the rubble of the school. I never found it."
"You never found it because it wasn't there," the Doctor explained. "There was a boy, one of John Smith's students at the Farringham school. He was slightly psychic. When the fire happened, he was running for the exit, and heard me calling to him from inside the watch. He saved me from that fire, and kept me safe for all of these years."
"Oh wow," Rose mumbled as she tried to process the fact that someone had the watch all along. "The boys all were sent home very quickly after the fire. And John was off to London almost immediately after."
"Exactly," the Doctor confirmed. "There was no time for him to find Smith to return the watch. And Tim didn't know to look for you. So he held onto the watch, keeping it safe until the day when he could find Smith and return me to my proper home."
"And that happened at the war?"
"Tim eventually enlisted. He ended up on the Western Front as well. We ran into each other at base camp, and he gave me, or Smith that is, the watch and asked him to open it. Smith did. He didn't know what he was doing, or that his life was about to come to an end. He just opened the watch and freed me from within."
Rose felt tears stinging her eyes at the thought of Smith's life just coming to a sudden, unexpected end. These kinds of deaths were typical at war. A bomb or a stray bullet could have done it just as easily. He didn't see it coming. He had no time to prepare, or say goodbye. He simply opened a watch and ceased to exist. The thought of it broke Rose's heart for the life that was lost. But she looked up at the Doctor, who was watching her very cautiously, and she was still so glad to have him home.
"When did this happen?" she wondered aloud. "How long have you been you again?"
"About a week," the Doctor admitted. "It took me some time to get out of France and back to England. I had to do it the old fashioned way. No psychic paper or sonic screwdriver to help me this time."
"I'm glad you made it back safely."
"And I'm looking forward to getting back to normal," the Doctor announced. "We've been gone for so long that the TARDIS might have gotten rusty in her old age!"
"Back to normal," Rose agreed softly, but her mind hitched on the thought and she felt her eyes drawn back down to the naked ring finger on the Doctor's left hand. She wondered how "normal" the Doctor would find it if in the middle of their adventures she suddenly felt the need to kiss him. Kissing his lips had become a fairly normal occurrence for her over the past few years -- among other things. Of course she'd attempt normal to avoid making him uncomfortable...but what if she slipped up by mistake?
As she stared at his hand, Rose resolved to do everything she could to make everything seem the same as it was before they had landed the TARDIS in Farringham. The Doctor couldn't even bring himself to wear John Smith's ring. There was no way he'd be able to tolerate remnants of his counterpart's marriage.
Rose needed to think of herself as a widow. Or a divorcee. Something that made her subconscious mind acutely aware that no matter how much she loved and desired him, this man would never be her husband again.
The TARDIS corridors were dark as Rose rushed through them, desperately seeking out the library. She slid her hand along the wall as she turned a corner, and the TARDIS hummed to her gently. Rose could tell that the TARDIS was trying to comfort her, but her pounding heart wouldn’t slow.
"It's starting!" Rose told the TARDIS, as she hurried through the doorway into the library. "The war! I saw it in the paper a few days ago. That Austrian Duke was assassinated! It's only a matter of time now. The whole world is going to war, and I have to sit here and watch it happen. And the Doctor? He doesn't even know it's happening, because he's human and he can't remember!"
Rose felt her eyes tearing up and she wiped them clean with frustration. "I need to know everything there is to know about the war. I have to be prepared." She rushed through the library, seeking out every earth history book she could find, and hurried back to the Doctor's desk with a large stack of them. Throwing herself in his chair, she proceeded to spend hours reading everything she could find on the Great War, but there was nothing in any of the books that could help her. It was all history. Politicians, battles, trench warfare, and counts of the dead; but there was nothing that could help to protect them. She couldn’t do anything to keep it from happening.
"Why did he have to go and leave me here?" Rose whispered sadly. She slumped her shoulders in defeat and closed the last book.
Slowly, she walked back to the console room, brushing an errant hand over the monitor. It switched on, seemingly of its own accord, but the TARDIS hummed, and Rose knew that the ship was trying to tell her something. The Doctor's face popped up in the monitor, and Rose hitched a breath. It was his final message to her, paused, waiting for her to press the play button. She toyed with pressing it and hearing his voice again, but something made her hesitate. It wasn't guilt this time, not like last time. Now it was looking at his silent face that brought a comfort to her. Yes, it was the face of the Doctor, but it was something else now too. It was the face of the only man who had made her smile in nearly a year. It was the face of the man who loved her and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. His face was her last remaining hope that she might not have to live her life completely alone in a turbulent world.
Suddenly, Rose realized she wanted nothing more than to see John Smith face-to-face. She quickly powered off the monitor and rushed from the TARDIS, back to the Farringham train station.
Rose spent the entire train ride trying to figure out what she would say to him when she saw him. She had spent months being confused about the only relationship in her life now, and suddenly everything seemed perfectly clear to her: she needed John Smith. She needed to not be alone anymore. She understood with perfect clarity in that moment that if the Doctor could see her, he wouldn't blame her for feeling that need. If anyone understood loneliness, it was the Doctor.
Rose was relieved when the train finally pulled into King's Cross Station, late that afternoon. She hurried to catch the Underground into Central London. The clock in the station told her that there was just enough time to catch John on his way home from his tutoring session with a Kensington boy. She exited the train at Gloucester Road and quickly ran up the stairway to the street level. Focusing hard on her plan, Rose quickly navigated the local streets, seeking out his typical route home from his lesson. Finally she spotted him a block ahead, walking slowly with a newspaper tucked under his arm. She jogged ahead to catch up with him.
"John!" she called, taking him by the hand as she reached him.
"Rose!" he greeted her happily. "This is a surprise!" He leaned over and kissed her chastely on the cheek, and waited as she caught her breath. "Why in the world are you in such a rush?"
"I needed to find you," she gasped out. "I realized today, and I just…I needed to tell you!" Rose stopped, and took a deep breath, settling herself before she continued.
"Yes," she told him with certainty, searching his eyes with her own, hoping he understood.
"Yes?" he asked curiously. "You ran all this way to find me, just to tell me....yes?" Rose nodded, and looked at him seriously, waiting for him to understand. She saw it the instant that realization swept into his eyes. He took her face tenderly in his hands and asked. "Yes, you'll marry me?"
"Yes," Rose repeated. "I'll marry you."
John’s only response was to lean down and kiss her tenderly. Rose wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned closer into his embrace, returning the kiss with every ounce of feeling she had inside of her, hoping desperately that he could feel through the kiss that this wasn't a dream, this was for real, and she was ready to be with him completely now.
When he eventually pulled away, Rose looked up at him wistfully. "I'm so sorry to make you wait this long. It was wrong of me. But you're right, John. You were right about everything. I do love you, and I don't want to be alone anymore."
He offered her his arm, and she took it gratefully, leaning against him as together they walked towards home. "Don't worry, Rose," he told her softly. "You won't ever be alone again."