May 2018: re-edited since its original posting.

Chapter 3: Two's Company, Three's, Well, ...

"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 witherin' away and dyin', basically wastin' 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 blamin' 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 gettin' attached." She wasn't sure how to put this without being brutally honest, so she said just what was on her mind, hoping that Mickey would 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 hopin' we'd get reacquainted and I'd end up wantin' to go home with you. Not right away, but eventually, just so that he wouldn't be breakin' 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 'im?" 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. "Easy on the TARDIS."

"This amazin' 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 traveling 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 gettin' used to, the whole travelin' 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 jus' 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 while." 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 shower an' 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.

Rose took her time, trying to let the hot water of the shower wash away... well, everything. The whole feel of that spaceship, the droids, being strapped to a table for dissection, the waiting, waiting, waiting for the Doctor...

She resolutely marched back to the console room once she'd finished, but couldn't find the Doctor there. He wasn't in the library, not in his workshop, he wasn't even in the kitchen. Mickey was there, and he convinced her to just leave it and have some dinner.

"If he's hidin' on purpose," Mickey asked her, "you think you're gonna find him before he gives it up?"

Rose continued the TARDIS tour for Mickey afterwards, and eventually said goodnight at an arcade room that she hadn't actually seen before. Considering it had some of Mickey's favorites, she'd guessed it was the ship's way of welcoming him aboard.

As she walked the corridors back to her room, she felt how quiet the TARDIS seemed. "Is he alright?" Rose whispered to the ship around her. She didn't expect an answer, and didn't get one, either. Well, not really. She just felt... a different kind of sad than the way she'd been feeling herself.

Rose piled some extra fluffy blankets on her bed that "night", and slept.

To be continued...