"I think I should talk to him," said Rose, as Mickey led her down the corridor, away from the console room.

"What're you gonna say? It's pretty obvious he didn't wanna go into it," Mickey countered. He opened the door of the next room they came to and Rose heard him gasp in astonishment.

"Conservatory," she said simply. Mickey moved to go in, pulling Rose behind him, but she refused to budge from the corridor. Mickey closed the door and continued deeper into the ship instead. "I just don't think he should have to deal with this alone," Rose went on, as if without interruption. "Lounge," she added, before Mickey could even open the next door.

"You're not makin' this any fun, y'know?" he said, dropping her hand to cross his arms over his chest. Rose raised her eyebrow, crossing her arms to mirror his pose. Her stubbornness seemed to pay off at last as Mickey sighed and lowered his arms to his sides. "'Kay, so what makes you think he wants to talk?" he asked.

"I don't think he wants to, just that he needs to," said Rose. It was Mickey's turn to raise a skeptical eyebrow, but Rose persisted. "You didn't hear some of the things he said, back with Sarah Jane. He--" her confidence wavered, but seeing she had Mickey's attention, she continued. "He was goin' on about humans withering away and dying, basically wasting their lives with him."

Mickey looked again at the door by which they stood. "Lounge, right?" he asked. Rose nodded. "Right," he said, taking her hand again as he opened the door and led her inside. She followed him to a sofa and sat down next to him. "So, what," Mickey prompted, "you think he's blaming himself that she died?"

Rose was grateful that Mickey was actually willing to talk instead of ignoring things. "Yeah, sort of," she said. "But more I think, maybe, he's talking himself into not getting attached." She wasn't sure how to put this without being brutally honest, so she said just what was on her mind, hoping Mickey'd understand. "To me." Mickey just nodded, so she went on. "I mean, no offense, I'm glad you're here an' all, but I think the Doctor might'a been half hoping we'd get reacquainted and I'd end up wanting to go home with you. Not right away, but eventually, just so that he wouldn't be breaking his promise not to leave me."

To Rose's relief, Mickey smiled. "And this is the same bloke that was complainin' about makin' the TARDIS domestic. I think he's been watchin' some of Jackie's soaps." Rose laughed at that. "Didn't he know I already had a girlfriend?" Mickey asked, with a mixture of expressions on his face that Rose couldn't quite decipher.

"I dunno if I ever told him 'bout Trisha, to be honest," she said.

"'S okay, we broke up anyway."

Rose blinked, surprised he hadn't mentioned it before. Of course, she hadn't asked. But—he's not hoping that we've still got a chance, is he? "I'm sorry," was all she said aloud.

"Not your fault," said Mickey. "She thought I was spendin' too much time online, looking for alien conspiracies. That and I couldn't stand her," he admitted.

Both he and Rose laughed at this. "Told ya," Rose teased, having told him that very thing when Mickey'd first said they were seeing each other.

He continued, "I guess the last straw for her was when I rang you to bring the Doctor in. She was out the door before I was off the phone. Worked out for me, though; no loose ends to tie up before comin' along with you."

There it was again, the nagging worry that Mickey did want them to be a couple again. "Mickey," she began.

He cut her off. "I'm not tryin' to start things up again between us," he said to her relief. "I haven't got a chance. I don't know if he's blind or just stupid, but why can't the Doctor see how much you love him?" Rose felt like she should say something, but Mickey ploughed on, not seeming to want to be interrupted now that he was getting things off his chest. "I've seen it almost from day one, and I didn't even wanna believe it. The way you can only think about him, the way you even act like him." Rose was more and more surprised as he went on, but let him finish his speech. "I know I'm no competition, Rose, and y'know what? I'm not tryin' to be. Not anymore. I'll always love you as a best mate, you know that. But all this out here, the aliens, that spaceship, this crazy ship--"

"Hey," she said in the TARDIS' defense, slapping his arm, trying to ease the tension.

"This amazing ship, I mean," he corrected with a smile. Then, more seriously, "I think I'm meant for somethin' a little more down to earth."

Rose was a little bit stunned, to say the least. Somehow she'd managed to pigeonhole him as the stick-in-the-mud boyfriend she'd left behind, but this, this was something new. Just as Rose had found the answer to her dreams in travelling with the Doctor, she realized that Mickey was waking up to his own future—and it didn't look like it was going to be with her. She was suddenly reluctant to let him go. "Well, it can take some getting used to, the whole travelling through time and space thing. And besides, like I told the Doctor, it's better with two." She realized her mistake as soon as the words left her mouth.

"Yeah," said Mickey, "but three's a crowd." Rose tried to correct herself, but Mickey preempted her with a self-deprecating wink. "Don't worry about it, Rose. I'm no match for him and I never will be."

Nothing she could say to that. Mickey gave her hand a squeeze as he got off the couch and helped her to stand. But before he could lead her out of the lounge, Rose tugged him back around to face her. Since they were being honest, she might as well do a little more confiding, she thought. "Thing is, Mickey, I'm not really sure that's what he wants. I mean, yeah, we have fun an' all, but he's never—like you were sayin', Sarah Jane, Cleopatra, Reinette, I dunno if he even thinks of me as anythin' more than just another, close friend." She tried to convince herself that her eyes were not tearing up as Mickey pulled her into a hug.

"First of all, I'm sorry I said all that earlier, if that's what's botherin' you." Rose tried to shake her head in the crook of his neck. "I was only teasin', and maybe a bit jealous of you two since I had just been dumped." He moved his hands to her shoulders and held her in front of him. "But if ya don't know how he looks at you, then he's not the only blind one. I don't think he even realizes I'm in the same room when you're there." Rose couldn't help but smile. "So, why don't ya go talk some sense into mister gloomy alien; I'll be by in a few minutes." He looked down at his t-shirt. "It's kinda colder in here than it was on that spaceship," he said. "I think I'm gonna change."

Rose nodded, as Mickey dropped his arms. "Yeah," she said, swiping at her eyes, "think that's for the Doctor. Ya get used to it, after a while, but I think I'm gonna change, too. Think ya can find your way back to your room from here?"

"Yeah, no problem," he told her.

She took his hand again, and leaned in and kissed his cheek. With a whispered, "Thanks, Mickey," she left him there.

Rose found the Doctor by his Converses sticking out from under the console. She was surprised not to hear any of the distinctive noises usually associated with his "tinkering", but when she bent down to take a peek, she saw that he wasn't working, he was just lying there, staring blankly at the underside of the console. Without a word, she crawled into the narrow space beside him.

"Rose!" said the Doctor, immediately snatching up the sonic screwdriver, pretending to be analyzing the cables and circuits above him. "I was just, er, um," he stammered.

"Yeah, I can see that," said Rose with a smile as she nudged him to scoot over. She propped herself up on her elbow to his right side. The space was extremely cramped, but considering the Doctor was actually hiding, she figured it's probably good to have him cornered for this conversation. "So, spill," she said, waiting for him to meet her eyes.

"Spill what?" he asked, still pretending to tweak the TARDIS.

"Reinette."

The Doctor dropped his arm with a sigh, and looked over at Rose. After a long moment, he said, "She died. Waiting for me."

Rose knew that this was likely, but the sadness and guilt with which he said "waiting for me" brought tears to her eyes. She reached out her right hand to rest on his chest. "I'm sorry," she said. The Doctor pocketed the screwdriver, maneuvering his right arm between them then behind his head. She was glad he wasn't trying to run.

"You were right, Rose," he said, not meeting her eyes. "I just leave people behind. I leave them, and they waste the rest of their lives. . . waiting for me."

"She didn't waste her life," she told him forcefully. She'd read the bio. "Reinette did some extraordinary things in her last years. And, by the way, Sarah Jane wasn't just pining for you either." The Doctor looked at her, startled, but she knew what this was all about. "She was an investigative reporter. She probably could've dealt with the Krillitanes herself, whether you'd shown up or not."

The Doctor was silent for a moment, and Rose wondered whether she'd gotten through to him. But then he told her, "Rose, she said--Sarah Jane--she said she wasn't going to marry. Because of me. 'Tough act to follow,' she said. And Reinette. Said she'd known me her entire life; called me her 'love'." Rose watched as he brought his left hand up to cover the one she still had resting on his chest. "I'm not worth--" he says, looking into her eyes. "It's not safe for . . . people to love me."

She wanted to be angry with him for thinking he could control other people's feelings, or that he always knows what's best. But the hurt in his voice and the unshed tears in his eyes forestalled any outburst. It was obvious he was trying to tell her not to love him, by talking about his past companions—or would-be companion. She chewed her lip, thinking. She decided to play his game, and speak for the others but mean herself. "I'll bet you anything they never regretted meeting you." She pressed on despite the fact that he looked like he wanted to contradict her. "You took Sarah Jane places she never could have imagined. You gave Reinette hope—you saved her life! How could they help but love you." Sarah Jane's words came back to her. "Besides," she told him, moving her hand from his chest to the side of his face, "some things are worth getting your hearts broken for."

Rose didn't know what had possessed her to change the phrasing to "hearts", when up until that point she really had been speaking for herself, but it seemed to have an effect on him at last. She held his gaze and was startled when he brought his hand up to her face. He brushed her cheek with the backs of his fingers, wiping away a tear with his thumb. Her breath hitched slightly as his fingers combed gently through her hair, then cupped the back of her head. "Rose," he whispered, trying but not finding anything else to say. She smiled sadly at him, enjoying their closeness but wondering if she'd really convinced him. To her pleasant surprise, he slowly pulled her closer to him as he raised his head from the deck. Unconsciously, Rose slid her hand around to the back of his neck, half supporting his head, and half bringing herself nearer. She could feel his breath on her lips as her eyelids flickered shut.

"Hey Rose? Doctor?"

At Mickey's incredibly poorly-timed arrival, Rose's eyes shot open. The Doctor murmured a "Wha--" then, "Ow!" as his head unceremoniously fell back and collided with the deck grating. Rose bit her lip in a silent apology, but the Doctor waved her hand away when she tried to reach back and check the damage. Instead, Rose backed her way out from under the console (and practically on top of the Doctor) and stood up, spotting Mickey at the door to the console room.

Rose smoothed her jacket and tucked her hair behind her ear, feeling the blush rise in her cheeks at Mickey's smirk. She then felt herself turn beet red when Mickey laughed out loud as the Doctor stood up next to her, holding the back of his head. As Mickey regained his composure, Rose was pleased to see that the Doctor was also a bit flushed and stammering to make an excuse for their predicament. "We were, that is, I was, and Rose was helping, the TARDIS needed re-calibrating, and--"

Seeing the Doctor acting like a teenager caught by his girlfriend's parents made even Rose crack up. She heard him feebly demanding some respect, but catching Mickey's eye sent her into a full-on laughing fit. Oh, she was going to miss Mickey whenever he decided to leave, but considering the past few minutes' developments, she might not mind a lack of interruptions.

"I really do have some work to do, so you two can either lend a hand, or take your amusement elsewhere," the Doctor said with as much authority as he could manage—which wasn't much while he was still massaging the goose egg forming on the back of his scalp. He moved around to the display and flipped a few switches as Rose and Mickey calmed down.

"Sure, Doctor," said Mickey, trying to see what the Doctor was reading on the scanner, but still with an I-bet-I-know-what-you-were-doing smile on his face. "Whaddya need us to do?"

"Well, Rose, if you could throw that lever over there," he gestured with his chin to his left, "and Mickey," Rose moved to where the Doctor had pointed, watching as he looked over the various controls until something caught his eye and he grinned. "Mickey, hold that button down," he said, signaling to his right.

"What, this one?" said Mickey, walking around the console and finding the indicated spot.

"That one," confirmed the Doctor. "Press and hold. And don't let go until I tell you!"


The end!

This, of course, leads into "Rise of the Cybermen", the beginning of which you really should watch if you're unaware of the significance of Mickey's button pushing :)