Title: Tea for Two

Rating: General

Warnings: None

Spoilers: Up to "The Christmas Invasion"

Characters: Ten, Jackie Tyler

Summary: The Doctor owes Jackie a cup of tea.

Jackie didn't quite know how it happened. She, Rose, Mickey and the Doctor had been in the flat talking about something--she forgot just what--and Rose had asked the Doctor when they'd be leaving.

"We can't leave just yet," he'd said. "I have a date for tea with someone very important."

With that, he'd held out his hand to Jackie. Somehow, she'd taken it and gotten past Rose, who hissed, "Don't you dare slap him again!" and they were off for a nearby café, Jackie's hand tucked through the Doctor's arm.

She stole a look at him. He really didn't look a thing like he did before. Slimmer, younger-looking, more hair--really rather fetching, in fact. Jackie hoped someone saw them. The Doctor was far cuter than the dumb young thing Lucy across the hall kept dragging in.

Still, something was the same about him. Something about the look in his eyes. Alien. But something more, as well.

"I could save the world, but lose you."

He was the same in the way he cared about Rose. One "Help me" from her had yanked him out of his coma, at least temporarily. And he had sent her away to try and save her, though that apparently hadn't gone the way he'd hoped. Jackie couldn't hate him any longer, since anyone who cared that deeply about Rose had her respect, but she was unsure of where they stood. Perhaps he was, too.

They'd reached the café, where the Doctor opened the door like a gentleman and even pulled out her chair for her. After she was seated, he sat down across from her and smiled in a particularly charming manner.

Jackie really hoped someone would see them.

"Order whatever you'd like. It's my treat," he said.

"Thank you," she said, "but I'm wonderin' why we're here."

He looked a little puzzled. "It's as good a spot as any for tea. Did you want to go someplace else?"

"No, that's not it." Was he being deliberately thick? Rose said he was smart. "Why are you taking me out for tea and biscuits without Rose?"

"Oh, that. Right. Well, I do owe you a cuppa, after all. Also, I thought maybe you'd like to talk to me without Rose here to elbow you when she thinks she needs to protect me."

So, he was smart after all. "You're right, you owe me," she agreed. "It was my tea woke you up. 'Sides, you turned me down last time. You remember that?"

"Yes, I remember everything," he said. "You know how sometimes you do or say something that makes perfect sense at the time, but later you wonder what you were thinking?"

"Do I ever."

"Right, well, that wasn't one of those times." He looked thoughtful and, Jackie could swear, a little embarrassed. "I wasn't in the best, well, mental space during my last incarnation. Made me a little more brusque than I should have been. Your daughter made it better." He definitely looked embarrassed, fiddling a bit with a napkin and shifting in his seat. "The truth is, I was--and it's not very flattering to me--a little insecure. I was worried Rose would choose you and her old life over me, and I didn't want to lose her and be alone again."

Jackie was spared having to come up with something to say to that as the waiter came over and took their orders. She ordered Darjeeling and a fruit tart, and the Doctor ordered the same tea, but no pastry. He turned his attention back to Jackie and waited patiently for her to say something. She had questions aplenty; it was only a matter of deciding what to ask when.

First things first. "I know why Rose travels with you--or at least most of it," she began. "You can show her everything she ever wanted to see, and a lot more besides. I just want to know why you wanted her along with you. Not that I'm insulting my daughter or anything, but I should think anyone would've been glad to take you up on the offer. Why Rose?"

"To take the second part of the question first, I recognized something in Rose from the first time I met her. She was brave, tenacious, smart, and she questioned things. That's the kind of person I like being around. Secondly, not everyone who I'd have wanted along would have gone with me," he said. "Believe me on that. Not one in a thousand or more. Would you have gone?"

The tea arrived, and Jackie took her time adding sugar and cream to it before answering. "Maybe, when I was younger." She looked away, out the window. "Pete would've. The man was mad. Wanted to do absolutely everything. Rose is her father's daughter through and through. Always has been."

"I thought she was like you," said the Doctor.

Jackie shook her head, familiar sadness welling up inside her. "No. I'm not that adventureous, never have been. Rose, though--she was always just goin' for it. She took gymnastics when she was younger, and she was good at it, too. Nothing scared her. She'd try anything, even when the other girls held back. It got her a broken wrist, a sprained ankle, and two cracked ribs, but she still wasn't scared. People thought I was beating her, she got hurt so often, but that was just Rose. Never held anything back."

She looked at the Doctor, who was smiling at her over the table, eyes warm and fond. "I know," he said. "Fantastic, isn't it?"

"Sometimes," said Jackie. "But it eats at me, knowing she's out there, in danger like as not. When she takes off, I never know if I'll see her again. You don't know what that does to me, Doctor. You don't know what it's like to have a daughter--"

"But I do."

Jackie almost thought she'd imagined the words, spoken so quietly. But the smile had disappeared from the Doctor's face, and he looked . . . old.

"You don't mean . . . you?" she asked, thinking perhaps she was misinterpreting what he'd said.

He nodded. "I was a father once."

Jackie was all set to ask him about his child or children when she remembered something Rose had told her.

"He's completely alone, Mum. His people are all dead. He's the last one, and he's so lonely."

That must mean . . . oh, the poor man! she thought.

"I'm so sorry," Jackie said, her throat suddenly constricting as she recognized the depth of grief in his eyes. "Rose never told me."

"She doesn't know," he said. His voice was tight, his words clipped, as if getting them out was physically painful. "I never told her. It's not something I talk about. Do you understand why?" Jackie nodded silently. "I'm telling you because I want you to know I understand, and I want you to know what it means when I say I will protect Rose as if she were my very own. No one will harm her without going through me first, and I am a dangerous enemy to have."

She shivered just a little. The sudden coldness in his eyes reminded her of his predecessor, but this time, she found it reassuring, recognized it for what it was. She wondered just how often he'd placed himself between Rose and danger.

Then his eyes were warm again, and the smile was back. "Which isn't to say Rose will stay out of the way of danger. I really thought I'd thought of everything when I programmed the TARDIS to take her back. I had to trick her to get her in so I could send her away. There was no way I could've convinced her to go for her own safety."

"She was right furious with you for that," said Jackie, remembering the curses Rose had flung at him through her sobs as Jackie and Mickey tried to calm her down. "Wouldn't stay here, not for the world." She remembered another question. "Doctor, what happened? Rose says she doesn't remember anything between leaving here and waking up to find you makin' yourself over on the way back."

The Doctor hesitated briefly. "I'm afraid that's one question I can't answer. I have my reasons. Rose, especially, must never know. However, there is one thing about it that I don't know, and you might be able to fill in the gaps."

"What?" asked Jackie.

"Taking off that panel couldn't have been an easy thing to do," he said. "Trust me, I've made that whole console as sound as I can. It occurs to me that there's no way Rose could have removed it on her own. Not without a lot of help. So you tell me, Jackie Tyler: how'd she do it?"

Jackie flushed a little. "I helped. Me and Mickey. Someone owed me a favor, got a lorry, and Mickey used it to pull off the panel. It woulda broken her heart if she didn't try everything to get back."

"I thought so!" The Doctor looked absurdly proud of himself. "See? You are like your daughter."

"So what happened?" asked Jackie again. "She said she was going to try to communicate with the TARDIS, tell it what she wanted."

"She did." The Doctor actually looked a little awed. "I can't tell you exactly what happened, but I can tell you that Rose did something amazing, utterly foolish, and absolutely fantastic, and she saved more lives than this planet has ever or will ever bear." He smiled as Jackie's jaw dropped, and then sobered. "The reason she can't know is that the consequences should have killed her, but I made certain they fell on me. I didn't die saving the planet; I died saving her. It was a life I gladly gave, and I'd do it again. But I won't put that burden on her. She's the hero in this story."

"My God," breathed Jackie, reeling a little from his implications. "My daughter." There was so much to her little girl she'd never known or guessed at. With the Doctor, Rose could be something great. If she hadn't met him . . .

If she hadn't met him, she'd have been safe. But she'd have been like Pete, dreaming of what might have been. Rose had been given the chance to make a dream real and make something splendid out of it, and she'd taken that chance. Jackie was suddenly aware of how very proud of her daughter she was.

"No matter how heroic Rose is," said the Doctor, as if hearing Jackie's thought, "I think you've had the harder part. You've had to let go."

Her tea had gone cold, and her tart was almost untouched. Jackie looked out the window again, a tear rolling down her cheek. That was it, wasn't it? She could hold onto Rose and never stop worrying or being angry with the Doctor for taking her, or trying to guilt-trip Rose into staying--or she could let go and let Rose really live. And she was alive now, far more than she'd ever been in school or working at the department store.

Even if it killed her, this life was better for Rose.

After a moment, the Doctor spoke again. "I promise you that if Rose asks to come home, to stop traveling, I will bring her back without hesitation. Not because I want to--she's a gift, saved me in more ways than she'll ever know--but because that's her choice. It has to be her choice."

Jackie wiped away the tear, trying to bring herself back to some normalcy. " 'Course it does. You know what it's like, trying to talk that girl into anything."

"She doesn't listen when you tell her something she doesn't want to hear," said the Doctor.

"She's always been like that! Always had to go her own way, even if it got her hurt."

"Precisely!" The Doctor looked like he was about to go on, but stopped. "It occurs to me that she rather reminds me of myself that way. I never did things the way I was supposed to. Got me exiled from my homeworld, it did, but I took my ship with me. Hm."

Jackie plucked up the courage to ask one last question. Maybe it wasn't her business, but Rose's heart was, so . . . "Doctor, did you and my daughter ever . . . you know?"

He squinted at her. "What?"

"You and Rose, did you ever--were you ever . . ." Jackie gestured for him to fill in the blank.

Which he was apparently unable to do. He looked more confused than ever. "Did we ever what?"

"Oh, for God's sake, never mind," she muttered. Whatever the answer, it wasn't worth the embarrassment of trying to drag it out of the man.

Of course, now that she'd given up, he caught on. "Oh, that. I see. No, it's all perfectly innocent between us. Not that I never thought about it," he added off-handedly. "Which is in itself rather unusual. I suppose it's a natural reaction to being that lonely, but that would only have mucked things up between us. It's a bad idea to shag a traveling partner, don't you agree?"

Jackie blinked. "I suppose. 'Course, it's not like you were the kind of bloke she'd fancy with that old face of yours."

The Doctor grinned. "You rather fancied it."

Oh, yes. She'd hit on him the first time she'd seen him. Jackie groaned softly, resting her forehead on her hand.

"Told you I don't forget anything," said the Doctor, laughter in his voice. He took her hand. "So, Jackie Tyler, may I have your blessing to take your daughter on amazing and perhaps dangerous adventures through space and time?"

Jackie looked him straight in the eye. "Do you love her?"

That question seemed to catch the Doctor off-guard, but after a moment, he said, "With both my hearts."

"Just like a bloke, braggin' on what you have that the others don't," she said. The Doctor smiled hugely at that. "All right, you've my blessing. But please . . ." She couldn't think of how to phrase what she wanted to ask of him.

She didn't have to. "I will," he said. "I promise you, I will."

So Jackie let go.