A/N: been out of touch with the fanfic world for ages, and this is a completely new fandom to me in any case, but this story appeared in a random burst of Ninth Doctor nostalgia and so I thought I might as well post it here in case anyone enjoyed it. Aaaah, I forgot how fun this stuff was to write! Set presumably after Rose comes back from her first bout of trips with the Doctor. What if her mum and Mickey succeeded in making her feel sufficiently guilty and she decided to stay at home after all? Character-based ramblings ensue. - c
After the blue box disappeared and left her standing alone in the yard, she thought to herself grimly, 'Right, Rose Tyler, here is where your real life begins.' Responsibility, that was what it was about. As she walked away she only looked back once, and the wind had already blown the dust over the outline where the TARDIS once stood. If there was a tear, then it was the last one, she swore.
She got her job back at Henrik's easily enough, although the top floor was still out of action and the haberdashery and lingerie had to be moved down to the menswear section, drastically reducing the amount of identikit v-neck jumpers and making the place feel like a jumble sale. She worked long, footsore days with a smile on her face and went home with her jaw muscles aching. As August stretched out and the air conditioning died it became sultrily hot, and she walked and bussed around the city under a hanging weight of London air. After six weeks of work she had earned enough to allow herself a treat with her staff discount, and barely believing herself, she bought a leather jacket which she wore through the heatwave like a second skin. Shereen laughed at her and asked if she was reinventing herself as a biker. Mickey raised his eyebrows and did his resigned face, but said nothing.
Her plan to begin real life worked, externally, but inside she was still on fire with wanderlust, and it showed. She became the girl-who-watches-the-sky, the girl-who-stares-into-crowds, the previously non-dizzy blonde who now had to keep apologising for not keeping up with conversations because she was thinking of something else. What she was thinking of was hurtling through space and time faster than it was even possible to feel. Most people assumed she was having boyfriend trouble. Things with Mickey were fine: they met up whenever the two of them weren't working, they went to the cinema (which bored her now, somehow); ate out when they could afford it, got takeaways and snuggled up on the sofa watching TV. She liked talking to him, having him close and warm; she should have been grateful for him, she knew that. At the movies her mind wandered in the dark. Once they were eating in a restaurant and Mickey said,
'You're still thinking about him, aren't you?'
She looked at him, shocked. 'Who?' she said, because it had been two months now and to know who he meant would have been ridiculous. He was being ridiculous. And then, because Mickey's expression didn't change, she said forcefully, 'No, I'm not.'
He looked at her steadily. 'So why do you keep looking over my shoulder.'
She sighed, and searched for a snarky comeback, but didn't have the heart. She hated the fact that she could still feel tears coming. It was as if a well had been opened inside her that would not dry up. 'I left him, didn't I,' she said, holding the floodgates back. 'I let him go without me. Isn't that enough?'
They didn't speak until they had finished their meal, and it obviously gave Mickey time to think, because as they left and she reached for his hand he said, 'Not if part of you's still out there with him.'
She took to watching the news regularly, which she had never done before, just on the off-chance that one day in the midst of all the grim war stories and parliamentary wrangles there would be a slab of interplanetary junk careening into Big Ben, or a side item on frequent sightings of a mysterious blue box. But they never came. Some days there was a story about a cat with two heads, or an old lady with a vase that turned out to be worth millions; but they were not what she wanted. It was as if with the Doctor's departure the world had lapsed from colour into grey. Still, she looked for hidden messages everywhere, because she refused to accept that he could vanish from her world and leave no trace at all. She remembered him saying he liked the Daily Mail, and so she read it from cover to cover obsessively each day, even scanning the adverts and the personal columns, the comics, the crossword clues, looking for something he could have dropped into the pool of the universe which might filter to the surface somewhere nearby. In a moment of madness that came shortly after the restaurant scene with Mickey she phoned up and placed an ad herself. She bit her nails trying to think of a cryptic message but in the end just told the businesslike woman on the phone, her voice shaking, to make it read 'Doctor. Please come back. Love Rose.'
For a few weeks after that she was on tenterhooks waiting for a reply, and her vigilance was upped to unbearable levels. Her mum couldn't skim the gossip columns in the morning before Rose snatched the paper and riffled through it, almost too fast to read what she was terrified to miss; the TV was on for every news bulletin she was home for, and she had to be told off at work several times for not paying attention, for constantly glancing towards the door. She honestly believed he would come and find her. She knew now that if he did, she could not refuse to go with him again. Mickey was right; part of her was still whirling a dance between the stars, and its absence made her earthbound part half-dead. She stayed awake thinking of the places she would go, the things she would say to explain her change of mind, to apologise for the fact that she hadn't really thought it through. The few stars she could see through the London light-haze seemed to be winking at her. She held herself taut in perfect readiness for four exhausting weeks. After that final Sunday of silence she collapsed internally and stopped waiting. There was no explosion of despair; no frantic tantrum. She surprised herself at her own calm. She simply did the equivalent of a mental shrug and carried on with her life. It was surprising how easy it was, when it came down to it.
After four months, when she was sure in all reason she should be fine, she caught sight of a man in a leather jacket eating chips as she crossed Trafalgar Square and her heart bumped double as if it had spawned a twin. She actually ran full tilt past the lion's head scattering pigeons, wanting to call out, swerved around the fountain to the benches and stopped to meet the eyes of not-him, a too-young man with pinched eyes who gave her a blank London stare and returned to stirring his mayonnaise with a chip-fork. The next breath she took turned into a sob. She cried silently on the Tube on the way home, holding her breath till her lungs ached and smearing her eyeliner furiously. When she got back she erupted into a volcano of tears, her mum rubbing her back and questioning her frantically until the sickness worked through her and emerged in the words, 'He's gone.'
After she had realised this and her exhausted mind had snatched at the knowledge, the fact of his absence, like a lifebelt, she sank back into her ordinary life with a determination so complete that rather than just ceasing to look for messages, she actively excluded them. Fed up with looking for someone who wasn't there, she became fixated on seeing only what definitely was. She hid, in this final phase, inside a small opaque bubble of reality: so that when an advert for 'The Doctor's Remedies – Soothing the Effects of Time' appeared in the pages of the Mail, she had skipped over it to muse on the pictures of 'Bikini Celebs With Bulges' in the centrefold; when flyers appeared taped on the lampposts on the estate, she walked past them counting wages in her head – so that, when, later that same week, a plane arced over her head and carved 'ROSE' on the sky in puffy white letters, she was too busy looking at the ground to see. The following Wednesday, her day off, Countdown was blaring as she sat on the sofa filling out a tax form, and Richard Whiteley made fifteen successive puns about doctors, all of which sailed straight over her head. By the time Carol Vorderman was putting up the vowels and consonants and everyone was amazed as they spelt out, in order, T-H-E-D-O-C-T-O-R – 'Shame, of course,' said Richard, 'it's not valid – two words, after all'– Rose was in the kitchen bawling over the noise of her mum's hairdryer to ask if she wanted her to go and buy more milk.
In the end, the day she stopped looking over people's shoulders was the day there was a tap on hers. She was in the queue to get on the bus, holding back a bit to let an old lady clamber up on the step, when she felt the contact and turned round ready to give someone an earful about being impatient, and there he was: smiling, not even serious, impossibly himself.
'Hello,' he said, and nodded at the red double-decker. 'Isn't this kind of transport a bit primitive for the likes of you?'
In hindsight, she realised that she must have stood there like a guppy for a good few minutes, her mouth hanging open with not a word to say. People were pushing past her now, but it was all right, she seemed to have slipped out of the queue and they were standing underneath a hanging basket which was dripping on her head, but she didn't notice, not even the red flowers shining transparent in the cold sun. She stared at him and was convinced, completely certain, that she had gone mad.
'Nice,' he said, drawn out with amusement, gesturing at her jacket, now almost as battered and worn as his own. 'Who was your fashion inspiration on that one?'
'Ah, no one really,' she said, finding her words from somewhere. 'It's what all the kids are wearing these days.' His eyes creased up and his grin got broader, and she added, 'See you've copied me.' Her gaze dropped somewhere to the region of his shoulder and stayed there for a while, gathering energy to look at his face again.
'Where you go, I follow,' he said, and then laughed out loud. 'It is so good to see you again, Rose.' He clapped a hand on her shoulder.
She shrugged, turned her lip up to say 'Yeah,' smiling, and then the tears started. 'I can't believe you,' she said, caught between laughing and crying. She looked him in the eyes again. 'This is – this is so typical.'
'You disappear, for months –'
'You said you didn't want to come. I took your word for it.' He furrowed his brows in concern, but she could tell he didn't really understand. For him it was a simple question of saying and meaning. She bit her lip, then a laugh forced its way out.
'You never thought I'd change my mind? That maybe – I'd realise what a stupid idiot I'd been and – want you to come back?' She shook her head and made a sound of disbelief. 'Aliens.'
'Now wait one second,' he said. 'Just because I put enough trust in you to think that you mean what you say, to respect your decision –'
She wouldn't let him finish. 'And then, just when I give up, just when I think there's no way you're coming back and I'm starting to wonder if you ever even existed –' he almost laughed at that – 'you just – sneak up on me and tap me on the shoulder in the street? Like – it's a game of Tig or something?'
'I didn't sneak up on you!' he protested. 'I expected you to have more of your wits about you, Rose Tyler!'
'Yeah well, a warning would have been nice!'
He tilted his head back in an exasperated sigh. 'I sent you warnings. You had warnings coming out your ears, if you'd just been paying attention. You're telling me you didn't get any of my messages?'
She almost stamped in annoyance. 'What messages? I watched the news, every day for – months, there was nothing!'
He paused, taken humorously aback. 'You watched the news? Every day? For me?'
'Well.' She looked away. 'My current affairs is fantastic now. But still. Where were these messages?'
'You don't watch Countdown?'
She guffawed. 'What? No. No, funnily enough.'
'The Daily Mail,' he said, standing back and counting on his fingers. 'Notices on lampposts everywhere within a mile's radius of your front door. The display clocks at your work running backwards. The radio playing Time After Time once an hour –' he winced – 'that one caused a bit of national grief, I can tell you. The things I do. Half your junk mail last week was from me. I was this far away from just ringing your doorbell and having done with it. But I thought that,' he said, crossing his arms and looking at her with his head on one side, 'would have been too sudden.'
She looked at him. 'Oh,' she said shortly.
'I even,' he said, a smile creeping back again, 'persuaded a good friend of mine in the Air Force to scribble a little note to you, up there,' he said, pointing up to the sky, which was still a chill winter blue. 'Which you would have had no problem being able to see, if you'd just stopped looking at your shoes for five seconds.' He looked at her mock-grimly, tapping his foot.
As the rest of the world faded gradually back in – the bus was long gone and a new queue was forming – Rose could tell that people were staring, but it didn't bother her. She couldn't stop smiling.
'You wrote on the sky for me?'
He nodded. 'Yes.'
'And – and Countdown. You put messages for me – on Countdown.'
'Yes,' he said, and when she started to laugh helplessly from the dazzlement of it all, he continued, 'What? What is so ridiculous about expecting you to watch Countdown? Everybody in the whole country watches Countdown. I won't be held responsible for the fact that you're a national disgrace.'
She shook her head, not crying any more, and all she could say through a smile that threatened to swamp her was, 'I'm so glad you're back.'
'Me too,' he said, and enfolded her in a hug. She rested her head on his shoulder and exhaled, and the sobs were gone. He was within the circle of her arms, and he was real. They stayed motionless for some time. People walking past gave them sidelong glances, and quick smiles.
They drew apart and she wiped her eyes on the back of her hand one more time.
'Right,' she said. 'Let's go and find this mad box of yours.' He grinned.
'If you hadn't insisted on dismembering your mobile phone, I could just have called you,' he remarked as they walked off arm in arm.
'Yeah well,' she said, 'a decision is a decision, isn't it? I couldn't just – go halves.'
'Oh, so now a decision is forever,' he said wryly.
She laughed. 'Look, I do things definite, all right? When I do decide, it's definite. And now –' She stopped, and put a hand on his arm to hold him back, looking at him seriously. 'I definitely want to come with you. Wherever we go. I want to be there.'
'Rose Tyler,' he said, and took her hand, 'you are more than welcome.'