"I'll never get used to calling him that," said Jackie. "I have to keep checking myself in my head." She supposed it was like changing your name when you got married, and perhaps she shouldn't be blaming him for that. It was quite a normal thing to do, after all.
"I don't," said Rose. "I thought it would be really difficult, but it isn't."
"Do you call him that in bed?" asked Jackie, who had never been what one might call circumspect.
Rose blushed. "Mum!"
"To be honest with you," she continued, not really wanting to go any further into the topic than the simple provocation of Rose, "I still find the whole thing a bit strange."
"It's not strange, it's normal." Rose looked at her mother with a hurt expression. "I thought you wanted things to be normal."
Jackie wanted to say that it wasn't normal, that nothing about this was in any way average. For all her willingness to please, she didn't want to pretend otherwise, because it felt like there was enough pretending going on already. And so Jackie, who had never considered herself to be especially fixed on honesty when discretion was needed, found herself drawn to the truth. It was a large pink elephant in the corner of the room, and she could feel it watching her. And this was quite a small flat for such a large elephant to be living in.
She was saved by having to answer by the return of the Doctor, who was apparently supposed to be called Steven. A cold part of her decided that she couldn't switch names because unlike Rose she wasn't blindly in love with him. It was an uncharitable thought, but not one that seemed entirely unfair.
"Nice day?" asked Rose, as he came into the living room and sat down next to her on the sofa.
"It was very interesting," he said, kissing her lightly, "An old lady tried to shoplift one of each kind of jam." He put an arm round Rose, the picture of domestication. "Hello, Jackie. How's things?"
Jackie shrugged. "Same as ever. Her next door had the police round again." If she was going to raise the subject of lies, it wasn't going to be with him. Something told her that he was very, very good at that sort of thing.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "She can't just keep stealing animals. How many cats is that she has now?"
"Thirty-seven. The council came round the other week and she said she was just looking after them for someone."
"You know some very strange people, Jackie Tyler."
Jackie looked at him and tried to work out if that was a challenge. "It takes all sorts," she said, philosophically and as lightly as she could manage. She looked at Rose and tried to convince herself that she could accept one quite large lie in the world if it kept her daughter happy and safe. She had struggled enough for her already, had become well-versed in self-denial.
"It does," said the lie. "That's one of the things I like about working in Tesco. You meet all sorts of people there. It might not look like it, but some of them live incredibly complex lives. They're full of little secrets."
Jackie wondered if they were having subtext. In the past six months she'd had any number of conversations with the Doctor in which some quite important topics were almost entirely avoided while still being alluded to in some way. Sometimes she suspected that he did it to annoy her. He still had an arrogance to him, still played with people's minds like a bored cat might play with a bird.
It frightened her.
"I suppose it's alright to have secrets as long as no one finds out," she said. "As long at it makes you happy."
Rose coughed significantly. "I don't want you two starting something."
"We're just having a chat," said the Doctor, watching Rose's mother carefully. Jackie thought about all the things that Rose couldn't see when they were right in front of her.
"I'd best get going," she said, standing up with an instinctive flinch from the thing that didn't belong.
The concern in Rose's eyes was for the elements on the surface. "Aren't you going to stay for dinner?"
"Then at least it won't be burned," said Jackie. "I'm going down the pub with Howard." She picked up her coat. "You can come if you want," she said, making it quite clear that they couldn't. "I'll see myself out." She didn't want an awkward moment at the door with either one of them.
"I'll drop round tomorrow," called Rose, as though everything was normal.
She reached the front door and heard Rose say "I thought you two got on now."
"We do," was the reply, "it's just that I keep expecting her to give me a long talk about not hurting her daughter. I've seen that on TV and it doesn't look very comfortable."
Rose laughed, and Jackie opened the door and shivered as the cold air hit her. "Television's not real life."
"You're right," he said. "Who'd want to watch a TV show about a man who works in a supermarket?"
She did call him Steven in bed. She'd claim it was consistency, but really it was because it made her feel special. She said it like a secret, even though it was the name he used with everyone else. He'd asked her for a name, and she'd chosen one, and now he was hers.
She knew that he'd had lots of names and that wouldn't tell her all of them, leaving her with the one she'd given him and the one he gave himself. He didn't use those names anymore and it didn't really matter who'd claimed him in the past.
She asked for one of them.
He lay quietly for a moment, tracing slow patterns on her back with his fingertips. "I don't remember all of them. Some of them I just made up on the spur of the moment."
She listened to his heartbeat. "You must remember some of them." She felt suddenly bold. "What did people yell at you when you broke things when you were a kid?"
"I was a very good child," he said, lightly, "I never broke things. You must be thinking of my invisible twin. He was called Don't and he drove my parents mad. Even though they encouraged him - 'Don't touch that,' 'Don't set the carpet on fire,' 'Don't talk back to people'."
She smiled against his chest. "You never talk about them. Your parents."
"My parents are Ian and Barbara Chesterton, and they live in Brighton. They were teachers before they retired, which is how they met. They eloped together in 1974, and I was born out of wedlock the previous year, which was very romantic."
"You know what I mean," she said.
He went very still and very quiet. "I had two names," he said, "because they couldn't decide what to call me. They weren't sure where I was going to grow up, although I think they were, really. They were just lying to themselves. They did that a lot. They were stupid."
"No they weren't," she said, trying to make it true.
"It doesn't matter. None of that matters anymore."
"They loved each other."
"Not enough," he said, cold and clipped.
Rose sat on the couch at her mums, clasping a mug of tea. She looked small and young and Jackie wanted to wrap her up to keep her safe.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"I don't know," said Rose.
Jackie had practiced this conversation many times over the years. It hadn't generally involved certain complications that veered into the realm of the unusual. "You'll have to decide soon," she said, because that was vague and generic and sounded supportive.
Rose didn't answer, and Jackie tried to decide how best to mention some things that probably needed to be mentioned. She'd read in magazines that it was best to let them mention it, but that tended to be about fifteen-year-olds and Rose was quite capable of ignoring things that didn't fit her nice little version of the world. She wished for a moment that earlier nightmares had come true, because then they wouldn't be here, now, like this.
She took a breath and just said it straight out. "It might have three eyes."
Rose stared at her, horrified by impropriety or possibility.
"It might," she insisted. "It's father's an alien, which means it's one too. It could have three eyes and tentacles and little claws. It might be dangerous."
"He's not an alien," said Rose, steadily. "Not anymore. He's human."
"So he says." Jackie was aware that there were many things she didn't understand about the universe, but she was sure that people didn't just change overnight, regardless of what they'd done to their genes.
"Mum, he is. He's human, and my baby's human, and..." she tailed off.
Jackie stroked her daughter's arm and reached for something less horrific. "You're worried he'll change back, aren't you? That he'll leave."
Rose stared into her tea. "I'm not. It's just all a bit sudden."
"Well, I am." Jackie put her mug down on the coffee table. "You always used to go on about how wonderful all that travelling was, and he was doing that for an awful lot longer than you were. And I know things have been fine so far, but what if he changes his mind? What if you both run off again? What if he doesn't take you with him this time?"
Rose wiped her eyes and blinked a few times. "He loves me."
"I know he does. But life's not that simple." And Rose should know that, more than anyone.
"I'm not stupid."
Jackie tidied Rose's hair carefully. "I just don't want you ending up like I did. It's so lonely, Rose." She was torn between the urge to comfort her daughter and the need to shake some sense into her. She wanted to be supportive, she really did, but she didn't want to see her tired and old alone with a kid that might not even be human. And she knew the Doctor was a good person, but good people still did stupid things. "Have a think about it," she said. "Give it a few days and then decide."
"Alright." Rose's tea had gone cold.
"Things'll work out in the end," said Jackie. "Things always work out in the end."
She honestly did hope that this was true.
"...I can't imagine what it looked like when they x-rayed her." The Doctor closed the door of the washing-machine, chose a setting apparently at random, and switched it on. "You think the world can't get any stranger and then it does. I like that."
"What are your sperm like?" asked Rose.
The Doctor blinked. "I think you just proved my point."
"Sort of... small and... spermlike." He made a little waving motion with his hand. "Like little tiny tadpoles. Only not," he added, "because that sounds a bit horrible."
"Are they human?" she asked, trying not to make it sound important.
"They've got half the instructions for building one, if that's what you mean. I suppose it's bit like if you went to IKEA and got some shelves, and the little booklet only had words on the even-numbered pages and they made you go back and have sex with someone before they'd tell you how to put it all together. Except that assumes anyone actually reads those things anyway." He looked thoughtful for a moment.. "Isn't sex surprisingly unsexy when you talk about it like this?"
"They don't have... instructions in alien then?" asked Rose, keen to stay on topic but quite happy to extend the metaphor.
The Doctor leaned on the sink and folded his arms. "I assume not, but you never really know with these things. Gametes are quite complicated. There's a very tiny, miniscule chance that we could end up having kids with the odd exotic gene, but it's not very likely and anyway that's years away. I always think it's best not to worry about your bridges until you've set fire to them."
"I think you should sit down," she said.
The doorbell rang.
The Doctor looked at Rose with suspicion. "Did you call out for a geneticist?"
Rose followed him to the door, to be confronted with a serious-looking man, all neat clothes and government ID. She felt a sense of inevitability settle over her. It was oddly close to calm, like getting an answer you didn't want but didn't have much call not to expect. Some things just weren't meant to be, she told herself, and put off thinking about what to do next.
"This won't take long," said the man, walking right in without any invitation.
"Make yourself at home," said the Doctor, pointlessly. "We were just having a conversation about sex. I love it when people interrupt that sort of thing." He followed the intruder in the living-room and Rose went too, thinking with an odd detachment about how much time she spent trailing after him.
The Doctor flopped into an armchair. "What are your thoughts on meiosis?"
"I'm Mr Swift," said the man, who didn't seem to feel niceties needed.
"Are you by any chance from some sort of secret government organisation?" asked the Doctor.
Mr Swift looked pointedly at Rose. She glanced away, not convinced that he was wrong to think of her as the thing that didn't belong here.
"This man's from a secret government organisation, Rose. You remember, all those state secrets I told you about?"
She perched on the arm of the chair, unsure and possessive. "I don't mind not staying," she lied.
"Then I'd just have to tell you everything as soon as he was gone. This way it's a lot quicker and then we can get back to that discussion and then perhaps there could a practical demonstration. I've always favoured a hands-on approach to science. So," he continued, "are you from UNIT, Mr Swift?"
"Yes." A simple answer for something that Rose herself was reducing to a simple situation. Endings were always simple, she thought, even if they looked complicated.
"UNIT are my absolute favourite secret government organisation," the Doctor told Rose. "They combine the secrecy of MI6, the ruthless efficiency of the SAS, and the repressed homoeroticism of the Royal Navy." He settled a hand on her back and she wondered if he was trying to reassure her or just stop her falling too hard.
"We've been looking for you for a while," said Swift, as though this were a perfectly normal conversation. "You're a difficult man to find, Doctor."
"My name's Steven," said the Doctor, firmly. "Steven Foreman." Rose latched onto the name and held it close.
"Yes, we've heard about your... situation," said Swift. He leaned forward conspiratorially. "To be honest, most of us thought it was a joke at first." He looked at Rose. "No offence."
"It's not a joke, Mr Swift. I really have retired from a life of adventure to shack up with an attractive blonde who's eight hundred and eighty years my juniour." He paused. "Actually it does rather unlikely when you put it like that, doesn't it? And a bit sleazy. Am I sleazy, Rose?"
"No, you're not," she said, ruffling his hair. She kept her fingers loose, because she knew now that she didn't have to hold on too tightly.
"We'd like to offer you a job," said Swift.
"I've got a job."
"In a supermarket. That's not really very suited to your skills, is it?"
"Nothing wrong with supermarkets. They're very interesting places."
"How long have you been on Earth, Mr Foreman?"
"About six months. Are you wondering when I'll get bored?"
Rose tensed again, and the hand on her back pressed closer as her muscles pulled taut.
"I'm sure once you've settled in a bit-"
"I am settled in," said the Doctor. "I'm very settled. I'm very happy as well. I haven't the slightest inclination to do anything other than live an average and unremarkable life. So I'm not going to work for you, and I'd appreciate it if you lot just left me alone from now on."
Swift looked at the Doctor for a remarkable length of time. Finally, he stood up. "Sorry to have troubled you, Mr Foreman. We like to try and maximise our resources as a matter of course. I'm sure you understand."
The Doctor smiled. "Absolutely." He jumped up from the armchair and shook the man's hand. "It was very nice to meet you."
Rose went over to the sofa and sat down on it as the Doctor went to show the man from the secret government organisation out. She settled against it, warm and feeling safe. It was just a test, she told herself, a test to see if she'd crumble. And she almost had, but that was alright, because everyone needed something and she was just like everybody else.
The Doctor collapsed onto the sofa beside her. "They'll be back," he said, darkly. "They're like magpies, picking up shiny things for their collection."
"What was that about?" she asked, just to see how he'd answer. She felt the need to push a little, to see how secure the tether was.
He sighed. "People who can't accept change."
Rose chewed her lip. "You're not leaving then?"
"Of course not." He looked shocked, and she tried not let him see how good that made her feel.
"I mean, you're definitely staying? For good?"
"Rose," he said, carefully, "have you changed your mind about this?" He looked strangely vulnerable, and she felt bad about the little thrill that ran through her to see him like that. She realised how easily she could break him, felt glad despite herself that this at least hadn't changed.
"No, I just... I thought you might want to off and something exciting." Not everything changed, after all. Some things just stayed the same forever.
"This is exciting. Well, maybe not exciting, but I like it. I love it."
She looked at him and thought about everything he'd given up for this. For her. She told herself that he wasn't going to leave, and the thought seemed obvious and as inevitable as the fact that she'd thought he would. "D'you want to have kids?" she asked.
"One's the usual," she said. "Sometimes you get two. We could see how it goes after that."
"Yeah, that sounds reasonable. Start small, work your way up."
"We could do that then."
Rose leaned her head on his shoulder. "In about seven months?"