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Author's Note: Written as part of the Parting of the Ways Ficathon for Kharma2815, who wanted the line "It may only be small, but it's what you do with it that matters", Jack trying to flirt with Mickey, and a happy ending. Hope a hopeful ending will suffice. Huge thanks to my betas, particularly Dawn. Contains very mild spoilers for "The Christmas Invasion." Originally posted 31 August 2005.
by Tara LJC O'Shea
At first, all Rose could see was what wasn't there.
Rose was frozen, clutching the wall of the TARDIS for support as the golden light died and someone else stood there, wearing the Doctor's clothes, smiling—not -quite—the Doctor's smile.
"Hallo," he said brightly, then pulled a face, running tongue over teeth. "OK. New teeth. That's weird. So where was I? Oh that's right. Barcelona," he drawled, stretching the word into new shapes.
And then he fell down.
It shocked her into movement, but she was too late to catch him. He landed hard, long legs sprawled out in front of him, one hand still on the console, the other behind him, fingers spread out on the grate.
He looked up at her, blinking, as she crouched next to him. "I'm a'right. 'M all right. Just a bit—things are spinning."
Without thinking about it, she got an arm around his back, trying to tug him to his feet. She needed a second set of hands, though. He was all legs and gangly and it would be a blessing if she had help—
She almost dropped him, then. Instead, he slipped from her grasp, and they both ended up in a tangle on the floor.
"Doctor, where's Jack?" Rose asked, her voice shaking.
He'd landed with his back against the console, head tipped forward so that his brown hair was almost hiding his eyes.
"Last man standing," he said and rubbed at one eye with the heel of his hand.
"Is he still back there?" She got to her feet, staring at the TARDIS controls and trying to remember which ones to pull and push and switch. She began pushing random buttons. "We can't leave him. We've got to go back—"
The Doctor got unsteadily to his feet, laying his hands over hers, stilling their frantic movements. "No, Rose."
He shook his head, and her eyes swam with tears.
She did everything she could not to let him see how much she'd been shaken, because she knew it would hurt him.
It wasn't just that the timbre of the voice telling her to leg it had changed, the accent wandering the whole of the island before settling—more or less—even further North than before.
Or that the hand that grabbed hers to pull her from relative safety to potentially certain death had a new pattern of creases and calluses from different kinds of work.
Or that the mischievous twinkle was in brown eyes instead of blue.
After all they'd been through, the last thing she ever wanted to do was hurt him.
But she still looked for the man he'd been, inside the man he'd become.
She didn't cry until she was in the bath.
Having survived both an alien menace in Father Christmas robes and Granny Prentice's dreaded Christmas cake (which in previous years had proved to contain such a quantity of rum that it could burst into spontaneous flame merely being placed within a foot of a candle), everything caught up with Rose all at once.
When Jackie had volunteered to tidy the kitchen following dinner, Rose escaped to the bathroom mid-way between their two bedrooms. They'd shared it her whole life, but all of Rose's lotions and make-up, bath salts and crimping irons had long since either been thrown away or boxed up. It was in marked contrast to her bedroom, which had been kept like a shrine, not a single soft toy or cd case out of place.
Her mum already had the kettle on, and Rose could hear Mickey and the Doctor sniping at one another through the thin walls of the flat.
Under the spray of hot water from the shower, she didn't notice she was crying at first. It was a quiet kind of crying that made her chest ache and throat feel like she'd swallowed a burning coal.
She stayed under the shower until it was just water again and she could breathe without feeling like she would crack in half.
When she came out again, her cheeks were flushed and her towel-dried hair hung in damp tendrils around her face, and she smiled like nothing was wrong.
The Doctor, still wearing a bright fuchsia paper hat from a cracker, took his tea with two sugars and smiled back at her.
She wished she could have kept the battered leather jacket.
In the end, it was probably better that she didn't.
After the TARDIS had dematerialised and Rose left London behind for the fourth time thus far, she'd gone and sat in Jack's room, on the edge of his bed.
There wasn't much to mark the room as his, other than the RAF uniform hanging in the wardrobe and a collection of silver gadgets that all looked, in the end, like fancy pens.
It seemed impossible that, time inside the TARDIS being relatively subjective, a week earlier the three of them had been traipsing around the galaxy, stopping or aiding the odd revolution, and closing down the occasional bar or dancehall.
She'd never thought of taking a photo of the three of them, but she wished she had, now. She still had a few snaps in the bottom of her rucksack of Mickey and Shareen that she hadn't even looked at since Trisha Delaney had happened. But knowing they were there had made her feel still connected to her old life, somehow.
Now nothing quite connected her to where she was. Not the same way as before. She'd close her eyes, and she could see the Doctor plain as day, from the close-cropped hair to the black Timberland boots which had seen better days but were perfectly sensible for either dancing or running for your life.
She closed her eyes now and tried to picture the Doctor as he was now, but some details were hazy.
That would take time.
When she walked into the TARDIS kitchen, the Doctor was sitting at the table as if he'd been expecting her. She eyed him warily.
"Look, I know we got off to a... Well, we didn't really have time, what with the Sycorax and all, to do this properly."
"Do what properly?"
He bent down and retrieved two glasses and a bottle, setting them down in the centre of the table.
"It seems the thing to do," he said, brown eyes meeting her gaze with sincerity.
"Well, yes. You're human. Jack was human."
She ran a finger around the edge of one glass, fixing her eyes on it rather than his face. "Have you ever been to a wake before?"
"Sort of. The nomads of Nirandra Seven had this ceremonial sitting-up-with-the-body-to-make-sure-it's-actually-dead-and-not-just-mostly-dead party that I think was quite wake-like. Lots of songs and stories, in-between holding a mirror up to the dead person's nose and mouth."
"And you've been to one of those?"
"Several, actually. Of course, only two were followed by burials. The other three were probably just comas. Or bad prawns."
She schooled her expression carefully. "It's no good trying to make me laugh."
"Ah, but you smiled. So it's a start. I'm given to understand a proper wake should have plenty of laughter."
"Yes," he said, trying to sound serious. But she was still smiling.
"I think Jack would like—I mean, would have liked... Yeah. Yeah, I think a wake would be just the thing. So let's have a bit of this—" She gestured to the bottle, "what is this, exactly?"
"Closest thing to call it would probably be whiskey. It's quite a lot like whiskey."
"Well, yes. But it packs a kick just like whiskey. I know Jack would have wanted hyper-vodka. And possibly exotic dancers. Actually, he would have not wanted to have a wake at all, ideally. But—"
"But it'll do."
"Yeah. I'm up for it if you are. Assuming you... you know..." she trailed off.
"Well, I've never seen you drunk."
"And you never shall."
"Are you saying that you can't get drunk? Or you don't?"
"That's for me to know, and you never to find out."
"That's not fair."
His response was to pour them each a measure of blue whiskey.
She thought it might be easier, if the Doctor had simply become someone else entirely. A clean break.
The clothes actually helped.
She was glad he'd changed, even if it would take some getting used to, her Doctor wearing a rumpled suit, tie askew, like a wedding guest who'd stayed too long at the reception. She supposed it would make it easier for him to blend in. She hadn't worked in the Men's department of Henrik's, but to her one suit was pretty much like another.
She even liked the pinstripes. But she'd expressed some misgivings about the shoes.
"But they're plimsolls!"
"But... look, they're Chucks. Not very posh."
"I like these shoes."
"With a suit?"
"But they fit perfectly!"
She'd had the oddest sense of déjà vu for a moment as he'd said that. Not what he'd said so much as the way he'd said it.
I've changed my jumper.
It was jumpers all over again.
Somehow, instead of easing her pain, the sameness hurt.
The blue whiskey didn't taste so much like whiskey. It tasted a bit like flowers smelled, and the fumes evaporated on her tongue and seemed to go straight to her brain.
After the first two, she felt as if she'd quite got the hang of it. By her fourth, the world had acquired a pleasantly muted feeling, as if someone had turned the volume knob down from 8 to 5. And white surfaces seemed to glow with their own inner light.
The Doctor had draped his suit jacket over the back of the chair, and rolled his shirtsleeves up to his elbow. After his fifth drink, he'd even loosened his tie. Other than that, he seemed spectacularly unaffected. Which was why he was in charge of pouring the drinks.
He leaned forward slightly, hair falling across his forehead as he smiled down at his empty glass. "Paris, 1890."
Rose giggled at the memory. "I told you taking him to a cabaret would be a bad idea!"
"Who knew he could sing?" the Doctor said with a shrug. "I thought Bruant was going to kill him right there on the spot. Granted, I thought La Goulue was going to ask him to marry her."
"Which one was she?"
"With the..." He mimed a well-endowed female form that caused her to introduce blue alcohol to her sinuses, and then began thumping her on the back as she coughed.
"Oh, God, the Can-Can girls." Rose laughed once she'd got her breath back. "There must have been, what, seven of them? Eight?"
"And the boy who did the sword-swallowing act—don't forget the boy."
"How can I?"
The Doctor smiled, and sipped his "whiskey", pulling a face as he drained the shot. "Quite the time-travelling playboy, our Jack."
"Queen Elizabeth," Rose said, dissolving into giggles once more. "And that fella in the funny trousers with the feather—"
"I think it was an ostrich plume. Also, I think it might have been Thom Howard. Or Bobby Cecil. I never could keep those two straight."
"God, he even tried to flirt with Mickey once. At lunch in Cardiff, he kept doing the bedroom eyes thing, and I swear he ran his foot up his leg, under the table. Mickey about died. You should have seen his face."
"I did," he reminded her mildly. "I was there, remember?"
"Oh," Rose said softly, and shook her head as if to clear it. "Yeah. Right. I knew that."
He stared at her, lips parted. "But you forgot for a second, didn't you."
Not a question. A statement.
"Just had a bit too much," she said airily, gesturing loosely to the now half-empty bottle. "Momentary lapse, that's all."
The laughter drained away until they were left staring at the bottle. Without saying a word, the Doctor poured each of them another measure.
Rose downed hers quickly, knowing she'd regret it in the morning. Or what passed for morning, aboard a timeship.
There had never been any real question that she would stay with him.
The truth was, Rose couldn't go back. That much had been proven to her as she'd sat in the chip shop with her mother and Mickey, after he'd sent her back. Ordinary everyday life wasn't enough any longer. She couldn't imagine herself being satisfied any more with a life consisting of work, food, sleep, and nights out with her mates at the pub.
It wasn't that she hadn't missed her mum. She probably always would, but the same way any daughter who moves away from home would get homesick now and then for the familiar life she'd known.
There was too much out there waiting to be explored. And that life meant the Doctor. He was more than just a guide or a friend. He represented a life she wanted. Where people were the best they could be.
Because the Doctor made them better. When he showed up, he forced people to look inside themselves and reach for something bigger and grander and better than their everyday lives.
She loved him for that. Loved who she was when she was at his side. Not Rose the shopgirl.
Rose the adventurer.
She just hadn't seemed to grasp that not all adventures ended with all the players still on the board.
She thought she'd learned it from Gwyneth.
She thought she'd learned it from her dad.
She hadn't expected to learn anything from Jack other than some dance steps, and so it gutted her in ways she hadn't been expecting.
But in the end, she learned it from the Doctor himself.
Rose had lost count of how many drinks she'd had, which was usually a sign that it was time to stop.
When she'd had nights out with Shareen and Mickey, Rose had always been the sensible one.
She was never the one puking her guts out in the gutter and waking up in strange beds. She seemed destined to be the one to hold Shareen's hair while she knelt on the floor in bathroom stalls of trendy pubs with stupid names. To drive Mickey's bug home while he slumped in the passenger seat, singing football anthems.
The Doctor swam in front of her, blurring in and out of focus, and after a moment she realised this had less to do with the drink itself than the tears that were sliding down her cheeks as she blinked.
"It's all right to cry, Rose," the Doctor said finally, laying a hand over hers. "That's part of what a wake is, you know. And he'd probably love it—being wept over by a beautiful woman. You know he would."
That earned him a watery smile, which quickly faded as she tugged her hand from beneath his and raked her hair back from her face with her fingers as an excuse for breaking contact.
"It's just... I didn't think—I never thought, even when he kissed me good-bye... I just thought it would all work out in the end. Cos it always does—did. Before. I thought we'd maybe go down fighting, but all of us. Not him all alone. He said good-bye and it really was good-bye, and I just didn't..."
"You knew how dangerous it was. I never lied to you about that."
"But we always made it through—"
"You always do. Until the one time you don't. That's how it works." He said it with a shrug, and she thought she saw a flicker of something behind his eyes.
"Don't you think I know that?" she snapped, suddenly angry. She wasn't entirely sure if she was angry at him, the situation, or herself. She strongly suspected it was a mix of all three. "Don't you think I've learned? But learning something with your head isn't the same as learning it with your heart. It doesn't make it any easier. It doesn't help."
Her voice caught on a sob.
"He's gone. He's gone, and I can't ever have him back—"
"We're not talking about Jack any longer, are we?"
She froze, devastated by the blankness on his face.
"I'm trying. I am. I just... didn't expect it to hurt. I didn't expect to lose him."
I didn't expect to lose you.
She pushed away from the table more forcefully than she'd intended, and the empty glass tipped over on its side and rolled away from her as she reached for it.
It didn't shatter on the floor, but instead came to rest against his foot.
He didn't follow her when she ran, this time.
It was easier most of the time to think of him as someone else.
It wasn't just that he looked different, sounded different. He was different.
The shadow was gone. Not gone as if it had never been. She could, sometimes, see the shadow of the shadow. But the darkness never seemed quite so black. And it never seemed to be cast quite so long on the wall.
The war was over. Somehow, she understood that, even though she still had no idea what had actually happened on the Game Station. But he wasn't so prickly as he'd been. Nor was he quite as manic. His energy was more like a puppy than a 5-year-old with attention deficit disorder on speed.
The sharp edges that had cut him as often as they'd drawn the blood of his enemies had been blunted.
She was happy for him.
But he was different.
The Doctor found her in Jack's room. He knocked twice before he came in and sat down on the edge of the bed opposite her. She'd buried her face in the pillow, and sat up as the bed dipped beneath his weight.
He handed her a yellow drop. It tasted like ginger and the way lily of the valley smelled, and her head cleared before she'd even crunched it between her teeth.
Now she didn't even have the excuse that she was drunk. What she said now, she'd have actually said.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed on anyway.
"Did he know? Jack. Did he know that... that the TARDIS had taken me home?"
That you sent me away.
"So you were in on it together?"
That you saved me, but left him there to die.
He frowned. "It wasn't exactly a plan, Rose—"
"But it was. You had a plan that you never told me about. It was in the back of your head for I don't know how long. You recorded that message before we ever got to the Game Station. You let me believe that there was a way out for all of us, but you didn't believe there was. And it's my fault."
He frowned. "Right. You've lost me, now."
"We went to Satellite Five cos of Adam. Adam was only with us cos I made you bring him. Everything that happened..."
"Oh, now suddenly you grasp the concept of causality? Why is it always times like these, instead of when it would be really useful, like when I'm about to be et by great big flying things with scythes for tails? Why is it never the useful times?"
He got up and paced at the end of the bed, hands stuck in the pockets of his trousers. She watched him, unable to stop herself from comparing the way he moved with memory and cataloguing all the little similarities and differences.
She wanted to press her hands against her head and squeeze the unwanted thoughts out, but she couldn't stop them. They came whether she wanted them or not.
He stopped and faced her, hands still in his pockets. "I wanted you to be safe. We both did. You're worth fighting for, Rose."
Hearing Jack's words come out of the Doctor's mouth broke something inside her.
"But I'm not worth dying for! Not Jack, not..." She wiped at her eyes, angry at the tears she couldn't stop. She felt as if she was made of nothing but water, and had done nothing but... leak for the past few days. "I'm not important. I'm just Rose. One small little life, not worth anyone dying over."
She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, to try and keep from shaking.
What she wanted was for him to put his arms around her, and stroke her hair, and tell her everything would be alright.
But that wasn't him. Never had been. Instead, he just looked at her, his face a mask. And it didn't matter that the eyes were dark and not brilliant blue. Or that the set of his jaw was different.
Alien. She always forgot how alien he was, until he reminded her.
"Do you want the Daleks to have won? Do you want Earth to have been wiped out completely by the fleet?"
"What? No. Of course not."
"But if Jack hadn't held the line—if you hadn't come back for me—that's what would have happened. Jack didn't die for nothing. And he didn't just die for you and me—he died for billions of humans he never met. To save them. Right, so maybe if he'd never met us, he would have just kept on sipping fruity drinks in Pompeii, ready to duck out before the sky caught fire. But it was his choice, and he made it. Just like I made mine. And I don't regret it. I don't. And neither should you."
"I don't even know what it was! I don't remember! I woke up, and everything changed. And I don't know why."
"You saved the world, Rose."
"Did I? Cos it doesn't feel like it, OK? I lost Jack, I lost—I feel like I lost. That's all."
"Go on, say it," he prompted gently. "Me. You lost me."
It was the gentleness that did her in. Her eyes filled with tears again, and she bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling.
"I'm standing right here in front of you, but you still miss me. How can you miss me when I'm right here?"
"I know!" she cried, her voice breaking. "Don't you think I know? It's all twisted, and I don't know why it still hurts. It shouldn't. I know it shouldn't, but it still does, and I don't know how to make it stop."
"Don't you think I know?" he said softly, and she swallowed hard as he crouched in front of her, his weight resting on the balls of his feet. "Do you think it's easy, knowing someone—even knowing them your whole life—and then one day," he clicked his fingers. "Change. Just because it's a Time Lord trick doesn't mean the trick isn't sometimes on you.
"Change is supposed to come gradual, not all at once. But that's what my people do. Just a fact of life, and you just get on with living. Because you don't really have another option. You get on with life and living, and I don't know any other way of doing it."
"I know." Her voice sounded small.
He sighed—a long, drawn out sigh with his eyes closed. He rose from his crouch only to sit back down on the edge of the bed, careful to leave plenty of space between them.
"If we're going to talk about causality, then let's do it properly, shall we? The Nestene would have killed me. Your world would have been reduced to canapés for the Consciousness, and Jack would never have been born, alright? So if you hadn't come swinging by on that chain, that would have been it. The end, roll credits, good-bye."
"I'm not special."
"Everyone is special," he countered quickly. "And everyone deserves the chance to make a difference. Jack made a difference. And so did you. One small little life? It may only be small, but it's what you do with it that matters."
He got up and walked over to the chest of drawers. His hand hovered over the various pen-like devices until he chose one.
It strobed blue for a moment, and then soft strands of big band music filled the room. The Doctor grinned.
"Cheeky bugger. This recording actually wasn't made until 1942, you know. He was carting anachronistic music all around London. The Time Agency would've had kittens. Though the Chula ship tethered to Big Ben might have been their first priority, I imagine."
"What is it?"
"Glenn Miller, 'At Last.' C'mon then, let's dance."
She gawped at him as he held out his hand.
"Do you... do you remember how?" she asked, eyes narrowing as she eyed him suspiciously.
"Some things a man never forgets," he assured her, the picture of sincerity rather spoiled by the way he waggled his eyebrows.
After a long moment, she took his outstretched hand.
As they swayed in time to the music, she could feel the tension draining out of her, and she rested her head against is chest.
Some things were so different.
But some things were still the same.
It wasn't right, but it would be. Eventually.
"What you do with your small little life matters," he said softly into her hair. "You matter."
At first, all Rose could see was what wasn't there.
After a while, all she could see was the Doctor.