The Doctor refused to come out of the TARDIS, which Jack supposed was OK. He needed some time by himself, really. He shouldn't care. It had been almost three hundred years since he or the Doctor had seen her, he shouldn't care what they'd read in the public archives about Rose Tyler. He shouldn't care…but he did.
Mostly because of his overactive imagination imagining how she'd died. He could see it all so clearly—she'd have been around thirty-five, according to the year on the death certificate. Just coming into her own, making a life for herself in this place, and then…nothing. A freak accident. Not just killing her, but marring her body, so that she wasn't frozen perpetually as the beautiful woman he remembered, but turning her to something unrecognizable. Or so his overactive imagination told him.
He needed a drink or two, or ten.
Walking through the uncrowded midday streets, he didn't notice the zeppelins overhead, nor did he notice the strange, monotone and angular fashions of the people. He ignored the trees and grass lining the pavement as he went.
He wasn't even sure where he'd ended up. The sign over the door creaked a tad on its hinge, declaring itself a coffee, imported beer and cake bar. Pushing open the door, he wondered if the coffee or the cake was the totally random menu item in that three.
The place was just freakin' weird on the inside. Twilight blue tile floors gleamed in the light from the neon glowing patterns on the ceiling. The walls glowed a warm yellow. It was like something out of a trippy dream. Especially when he sat at the bar and looked at its glass surface into the lit fish tank beneath.
The man behind the bar frowned, looking him over. "You look like you need chocolate cake and a dark beer to dunk it in."
Jack just nodded, unsure of what to say. Apparently the people here had never heard of milk for that sort of thing. How hard was the cake here anyway?
Perhaps he should take some back for the Doctor. The beer, not the cake. Well, maybe the cake. He was mourning for Rose all over again, and cursing himself. He'd wanted nothing more than a fantastic life for her, and she'd died young, in an explosion while on a Torchwood mission. He must have felt that he'd condemned her to that, somehow. He'd known the man for ages…more than his fair share of lifetimes, and he knew enough to see exactly where the Doctor was heading with the self-torture thing.
The cake, when he got it, was…weird. Frozen or something. So he did what the bartender had suggested, and dunked it. It was strangely good.
It also gave him something to fixate upon, besides his thoughts of someone who'd died over a hundred and fifty years ago.
God, immortality sucked.
It just really wasn't effing fair, either, that they should manage to slide sideways through universes as a by-product of stopping the total collapse of an entire galaxy into the Space-Time Vortex, and where the hell do they end up? Not only the universe that Rose had ended up in, but a hundred and fifty years too late to do her any good.
Jack believed in God. He had to—it was the only way these coincidences could happen, and they could be so goddamned painful and cruel.
Ways that this could get worse….
Nope. He couldn't think of any.
Sitting in the dry, burnt grass with his legs splayed in front of him, back leaning against a blue faux wooden door, he looked at his hands. This could quite possibly be classified as the shittiest day in existence.
It had been a long day, too. He'd gotten involved in something that had nearly destroyed the better part of existence in his own universe, had damaged his ship and thrown him sideways through realities and he wasn't sure how to get home. Somewhere in the midst of the emergency, he'd picked up Jack again. It wasn't as if the poor fellow didn't have his own problems as head of Earth Defense. It seemed like the only time they met up was in these situations. And now he'd gone and gotten Jack stuck here.
Then he walks out, sees the zeppelins and has a fleeting moment of excitement at the possibility that the universe had thrown him a bone for once in his long, tortured existence, only to find out he's a hundred and fifty years too late. So he'd decided to console himself by finding out how Rose had lived her life only to discover she'd died far too terribly young.
It had been so long. Two hundred and some odd years. He'd regenerated twice since he saw her last. He was a different man. And somehow, it had still almost killed him.
Then that girl…
What the hell had he been thinking?
He beat his head off the TARDIS door a few times until the ship hummed at him to stop.
She'd looked so much like Rose. Past the accent, the dark red wavy hair, the total disregard for proper dressing in society, the understated makeup and fine fluttery lashes…
It was the eyes. The girl was earthy, a lot more aware of what she wanted than Rose had ever been, and…a bit naughty. But her eyes sparkled the same. And she'd just bowled him right over. He'd run into her, and instead of excusing himself, he let her just steamroll right into his life.
He hadn't seen any mention of Rose having left any children behind. Perhaps she was a descendant of one of Jackie's other children. He'd met an employee of Jack's once, very early turn of the millennium that looked so much like Gwyneth from long ago. Even genetics seemed to be designed to haunt him, not just memories of more interesting times.
Jack would mock. Or stare at him in concern. One of the two. But he'd asked that girl to travel with them. Because she looked like Rose and made him laugh. Well, Jack made him laugh. Of course, he was usually laughing at the former Time Agent, not with him.
Still a tad warm from his earlier exertions, he lifted the navy cap from his head and wiped a hand through his thick, course hair, then resituated his hat. He was a hat man, this time around; wasn't really sure why. The hat fixation came and went.
Finally he couldn't take it any more, and he pulled off the corduroy jacket, setting it beside him on the ground, then rolled up the sleeves of his blue plaid shirt, hoping for some relief.
What the hell had he been thinking? Did he think that he could pretend it was Rose? And why was he this upset to begin with? How long had it been?
It was because he didn't like reminders.
Still. All these years and he couldn't look back fondly. And now he'd just…with some random girl that looked so very much like her…
He thunked his head repeatedly upon the door of the ship until something blocked the sunlight from beating down on his face. "Here. Eat cake." A bag fell into his lap. Cautiously, he looked up at the new arrival. "Why do you smell like sex?"
The Doctor opened up the bag and took out a plastic container. "You forgot a fork."
Jack didn't move. "It's freeze dried. You dunk it in beer. So what's the deal? I leave you alone for five minutes and you hook up with someone? No wait. Let me back up. You hooked up with someone? No wait. I have to back up still further. You--"
"Yes, Jack, thank you," he said tersely. "Thank you." Picking up the hunk of mummified chocolate smothered in chocolate, he bit into it, gnawing away until a piece broke off.
There was a bit of sadness still lingering in his eyes, but he was grinning the grin of a man with no fear of death. "No, really. How long have I known you? I was beginning to think those parts didn't work." Stepping over the Doctor's legs, he sat down next to him, pressing his back to the other door. "Would you punch me if I said I was worried about you?"
The Doctor grinded away at the cake, contemplating how it really WOULD be better, dipped in beer. A dark one. "I won't punch you. I think I went temporarily insane today. And I'm still not sure I'm well. Because…if I had it to do over, I'd do it all over again." He stared off into nothingness for a bit, then wiped a hand over his mouth. "I must be fucking insane," he whispered absently.
Jack sat beside him in silence. He was grateful for the companionship. Traci had gone home a couple of months ago, and it had been just him and the TARDIS, doing whatever it was that they did. "Rassilon. That girl couldn't have been older than Traci. She said she was older… I don't know. Twenty two, twenty three. Max." he glanced at Jack, expecting a reprimand, he supposed. Perhaps confirmation that he had lost it. "I asked her to go with us." He let that hang in the air for a moment. "She said yes. No questions asked. I could have been a serial killer for all she knew. But she said yes. Just like--"
His companion's knee nudged his leg. "And she just bought the whole time and space thing?"
Both eyebrows shot upward and the Doctor glared at Jack. "I'm not that insane, you know. Hello, intelligent, interesting lady. I'm an alien. Fancy a spin around the universe in my police box?"
"So you were just some guy?"
The Doctor nodded. "John Smith, alias for some foreign name, possibly Eastern European with too many of those letters at the end of the alphabet in the surname for comfort. We had coffee, I gave her my sunglasses." He sighed. "It was weird, it was normal. I liked it. That makes me crazy right there. Swapping tall tales in a coffee shop with a girl one gajillionth of my age. Falling—just. I liked her," he stopped abruptly.
Eyes searching the distance, the Doctor tried to figure it all out. "I think I genuinely liked Roslyn Thomas. And not just because…of who she reminded me of. I mean—she chased a squirrel with me. That wasn't too bizarre. Who chases a squirrel in the city with a grown man, and doesn't pitch a fit when the heel breaks off her expensive shoes?
"It was like…that's all there was to do. Chase squirrels and drink coffee with strange syrups in it and—and just BE." Closing his eyelids, he let his head roll around against the ship's door in discontent and self-admonishment. "So what do I do? I drag her behind the nearest stationary structure and shag the living hell out of her in a public park. Oh yeah, and then I wigged out and left her there."
Jack mulled over that for a bit. "You know, I don't care who she reminds you of. You should go find her."
A flash of terror moved behind the Doctor's hazel eyes. "No." His answer was abrupt and meant to end the conversation.
Picking up the cake out of the plate sitting on the Doctor's lap, Jack looked at it, contemplated the best approach, then snapped off a bit of a corner and sucked on it thoughtfully. "You know," he said around the food, "you are, quite possibly, the biggest sissy I know."
Serendipity came knocking on the door at quarter past seven. She was wearing jeans and an oversized shirt, her hair wrapped up in a towel.
He shuffled back and forth uncomfortably, like a man waiting to go to his death, and when she opened the door, he thrust a modest sized bouquet of brightly coloured flowers in her face. "I'm supposed to say I'm sorry for having a nervous breakdown earlier today and…" he paused, digging through his memory. "And thank you for a lovely afternoon. And ask if you'll reconsider travelling with an obvious mental case."
Rose laughed, stepping aside for him to come in. She looked out into the hall, but didn't see anyone else, though she'd expected this mysterious friend, the one who'd obviously coached him on proper apologising protocols. "It's ok. I've had a bad day or two myself. No harm done."
Looking up from his feet, he seemed to take her in for the first time. "I can't do this. You—you look too much…" he turned to leave, but she grabbed him by the sweat-drenched collar of his shirt, now red, having been changed since their earlier encounter.
Pulling his face towards hers, she kissed him on the lips again, only pulling her mouth away once he was completely quiet. "If you want time, I'll give you time. All the time in the world. But…just don't run away from me, like this. It feels wrong."
There was a change in him when she said that, as if his brain finally started working again. His jaw locked and his teeth ground for a moment. "I'll tell you what feels wrong—you feel wrong. There's something wrong with this whole thing. And not just me being visibly insane. I don't believe in coincidence. What were you doing there today?"
Rose sighed, not sure what this had to do with anything. "Leaving the café on the corner. And I'd have completely missed you, if I hadn't gone back in to take off my blouse. So what're the odds of that?" Was she really about to get into an existential debate with him about the nature of chance? A debate that looked like it had the potential to make or break this potential relationship?
He took a step back from her, trying to put distance between them. Seemingly distracted, he looked around the sparse, open apartment, from the hardwood floors to the white stone mantle that matched the white walls. Elegant and simple was her current decorating philosophy. "Greater than two billion to one. Especially when one factors in your genetics with the odds of us being in the exact same place at the exact same time, we're getting into the trillions when we talk about all the other factors. Your laugh, your smile."
She'd had some…unique lovers in her time. This was…out there. He'd grown very cold, and she wasn't sure what she could do to clear the air between them. "What are you talking about? I go there at least twice a week. What does my laugh have to do with it? Are you quite alright?"
When she tried to put a hand to his still-sweating forehead, he pushed her arm away. "But WHY do you go there?" He stepped away from her and began walking around the whole flat, looking at the strategically placed items on the walls.
Rose shrugged. "Because I do. Why NOT go there?" This was tripping very quickly into Twilight Zone material.
He touched one picture frame, pressing his finger to the glass. "It's so real."
Frowning, Rose crossed her arms over her chest. "It is real. There's blood sweat and tears put into that bloody piece of paper. The doctorate sitting next to it contains just as many sleepless nights. What's the deal? Are you going to turn around and talk to me?"
Sliding his hands into the pockets of his coat, he turned around. "Alright. They're real. It's possible they're real. But I know one thing that isn't possible. You aren't real."
"Was all pretty damned real when you were shagging me," Rose noted dryly, looking away from him. "I don't understand what you're getting on at. So could we please skip to the part where you make your astounding—and probably wrong—conclusions?" Perhaps he WAS a bit insane.
The worst part was, it didn't diminish her attraction to him.
Shifting the cap around on his head, he began pacing purposefully through the middle of the flat. "It's impossible for you to be here. To look so much like her, to laugh like her, and be amazing like her and to not be like her. Not outgoing like she was. You're reserved, but you know what you want. You're just so different—too different. Too much the same."
Yup. Crackers. "Look, John. Or whatever you're calling yourself. I'm not going to ask how you found out where I live. I'm not even going to ask what it is, exactly, that you're accusing me of. I just want to talk this out."
She crossed to the sofa, then sat down, gesturing for him to do the same.
It took him a few moments, but he did follow, but didn't sit. He continued pacing, only directly in front of her this time. "Chance being what it is, what're the odds? The odds that I'd feel for you what I felt for her? The odds that you'd…" he licked his lips. "I don't believe in god, and I don't believe in fate. What does that leave us with?" Turning around, he pointed a finger at her. "Who knew I'd be here? I didn't know I'd be here. Unless something forced me here, in which case I'm pretty sure it wasn't a benevolent force, or I'm not here at all, in which case someone is muddling with my brain…"
Rose held up a hand. "Is this an existential crisis? Because I'm only marginally qualified--"
The man melting down in her lounge spun around abruptly, cutting her off. "Ok. So if I'm really here… wait, even if I'm not really here, someone's messing with me. The question is, which aliens is it, this time?"
He was either crackers for real, or… "Doctor?"
The sandy haired man with the baseball cap and running shoes stopped right where he was and looked at her. "Rose?"
Slowly a grin spread across her face, and she couldn't help it, she leapt up from the seat and tackled him, laughing. They both fell over, into the plush white leather chair, clasping on to each other just as intensely as they'd shagged earlier in the day. "What ARE the odds?" she asked him. "No wait, you'll actually figure them out. Come on. You've got to believe in just a little bit of fate. Just a smidge." With unsuppressed glee, she kissed his nose.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep, appreciative breath. "Maybe a half-a-smidge."
They searched each other's eyes, finding something they'd both thought lost. "Half a smidge," Rose confirmed. "God. I usually make sure I get a last name before rolling in the hay with somebody. It figures the one time I don't , it's because it's you."
He smiled, reminding her of her first Doctor. Crooked with just a dash of depreciatingly dopey. "Roll in the hay often?"
As he moved to sit up properly in the chair, and she curled into his lap, she slapped his arm. "And what's with you not figuring it out sooner? I mean, I have an excuse, you've gone and changed again. Love the academic look, by the way."
His cheek twitched. "Yeah. Conveniant excuse. Never dawned on you when I said my name was John Smith?"
Rose rolled her eyes. "D'you know how many John Smiths I've met in the last hundred and eighty years? I don't either. It was a lot. People need to really think before they name their children these things. But seriously. I even LOOK like me. What gives?"
The Doctor shrugged. "No idea. I think…I was afraid to get my hopes up. Terribly afraid of being wrong. And you are different, you know. Not just the hair." He pulled the towel off of her head, running his fingers through the dark wet strands. "Everything about you is…new. Different."
"Good different or bad different?"
"Different, different," he confirmed.
Putting her head on his shoulder, she closed her eyes. "I knew there was a reason I was like this. Not aging. Now I know why. So I could see you again." She began unbuttoning his shirt at the top.
When she got to the second button, his hand closed over hers. "Jack's here. Met up with him again a few days ago during one of those universe-ending crisis thingies I seem to get myself into every once in a while."
She grinned. "We're just getting the band back together, aren't we?" Undoing the second button, she caught his lips with hers. "All the gothic angst of a Bronte novel with the Austen ending," she whispered against his cheek.
The Doctor tried to pull her hands away from the third button, but she was determined. "We should let him know everything's ok. He'll want to see you too…"
One of her dark eyebrows arched upward. "What did you say earlier? You're the designated driver, and he'll just have to wait for you?"
Shaking his head, he dared to kiss her back. It seemed that it had taken him a handful of lives to learn that it was better to regret what one has done, as opposed to what one hasn't done. Or this new him was simply more…lecherous. Either way, she liked it. Finally he pulled away so they could breathe, and he stared at her thoughtfully. "You know, you're taking this whole immortality thing well. And I still don't know why it happened. But I can venture a bad wolf-y kind of guess about it."
Smiling gently, Rose let him fold his hands over hers, even if it stopped her from her eventual goal. Any sort of contact with him was enough for right now. "I've had a long time to adjust. And I figured out very early on… if you don't laugh, you'll cry. I guess you can see which one I chose."
He let out a contented sigh. "My brilliant Rose Tyler, even figuring out immortality all on her own."
Later that evening, Rose got the second best snog of her life. The first had been just earlier that afternoon. This evening, however, she'd been greeted at the front door of the TARDIS with cake dunked in booze and Jack Harkness ready to ram his tongue down her throat. Quite possibly the best hello she'd ever gotten, however.
Rose was still undecided about happy endings, after that. She was so hung up on the happy beginnings and middles that she worried less about the end of it all. It was the journey she was interested in, now that this new chapter of her life was starting out.
And so an alien, a former Time Agent, a tabby named Furball and Rose Tyler took off for parts unknown, into Time and Space. Serendipity had come through in the end and it had turned out that Ms. Austen had been right about one thing—domesticity was its own bliss and adventure. Of course, 'adventure' could always helped out by having a time machine close at hand.