As I am a professional writer and have work to do to get paid, I have decided to deal with these thudding plot bunnies in the traditional manner - I will inflict them on others. Please see my Profile for the Challenges of the Month. July Challenges are now available, and what a twist for one of them. If you'd rather do June's, instead, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks to all those who have participated thus far - we had an exceptional turn out for June II for example. The new challenges will run through the end of July. Please let me know when you respond to a Challenge so I can read and review.

Chapter 9:

Dragging the drunken pair back to Jackie's flat was an adventure. The Doctor kept stopping to chase 'aliens' - the local strays, mostly. Rose had got hold of his sonic screwdriver and was using it as a torch, except she kept turning it on and off and claiming she was doing Morse code.

Mickey had already handed in the keys to his flat this morning - he figured if he did come back here, he'd go somewhere else and do something else because Rose was right, you didn't go back to normal after seeing what was out there. He decided that he'd take Reinette back to the TARDIS for the night, since she really shouldn't have to camp out on Jackie's sofa, no matter how well she'd managed to fit into twenty-first century life.

Jackie was flabbergasted when she opened the door. The Doctor was leaning against the guardrail, singing something that sounded like a Dylan song as sung by a Scottish Garth Brooks. Rose was leaning heavily on Reinette and occasionally correcting the Doctor's lyrics in a slurring voice no one, not even the Doctor, seemed to understand.

"You ain't seen nothing like me yet," the Doctor caroled and dropped a quick kiss on Jackie's forehead. "All Hail Jackie Tyler, she who slaps with the mighty slapping arm of power."

"You're never gonna let that go, are you?" Jackie asked him.

"Nope," he said. "'Specially not if you don't hold still. Can't tell which of you is gonna hit me, this time."

"Yep, he's gone," Jackie said. "Just chuck him there on the sofa."

"He's tootall," Rose slurred. "Iseep onna sofer."

"No, no, no, no. You, bed," the Doctor said and gestured at her bedroom door.

"Yessir," she agreed, stumbled through the door. There, she sat on the edge of the bed, calmly wriggling out of her jeans, regardless of her audience.

"Pretty," the Doctor said. He looked a bit more dazed than he had a minute ago, but that might be the light. Mickey had to concede that what Rose was doing was interesting to him, but the Doctor didn't get it, Mickey knew that. Reinette's hand came up and covered his eyes. Mostly.

"Shut it," Rose countered, but did absolutely nothing about the fact that she was showing her TARDIS blue knickers to the world.

"Get out of that doorway before I do slap you," Jackie ordered him. "Rose, put on a nightgown or something."

"Ya vol, herr mum," she muttered and saluted. At least that's what Mickey assumed she was doing. She may have been trying to scratch her nose.

He turned away as her shirt came off over her head. "We gotta put him somewhere. I'm not lugging him back down the stairs."

"I can walk," the Doctor complained. "Nine hundred years old, I can run and sing and dance and... huh." He scratched the back of his neck. "That's about it."

"Yeah," agreed Jackie, "'cuz you sure as hell can't shut up."

"I can too," he protested indignantly. "See, this is me, shutting up. Do it all the time, you know. Shut up, I mean. Just 'cuz you're never there to see it doesn't mean I don't know how to shut up. I've been quiet for days at a time, Jackie Tyler, so quiet even the TARDIS thinks I'm quiet and that's saying something. I don't always have to talk, I know how to shut up and when to shut up, like now, because you're thinking about killing me, but that's ok, because it's just a figure of speech, looks can't really kill. Or I'd've died that first time I showed up here, I bet. Whoo, now that was a killing look. Still, I can shut up, Jackie. It's not like I'm..."

"You need to sleep it off, mate," Mickey interrupted. "I mean, seriously. This is worse than the party at Versailles."

"Oh, right. Should go say I'm sorry for that," said the Doctor. He stumbled over and opened Rose's door. "I'm... gonna go check on her," he said.

"Oh, no you don't," Jackie insisted.

"Give over, Jackie," the Doctor protested, sounding pretty reasonable, actually. "Your daughter lives on my ship." He rolled his eyes, entered the room, and closed the door behind him.

Jackie glowered thunderously at Mickey. "What?" Mickey asked. "He's like asexual or something. Besides, if he was gonna get her drunk and molest her..." Mickey trailed off at the murderous look in the woman's eyes and opened the door again, prepared to rescue the Doctor from Jackie by acting all protective of Rose.

There was no point. The Time Lord had apparently not gotten far with his checking on Rose plan. She was lying curled up on her duvet and she seemed to be wearing a very familiar green jumper. The Doctor, still fully clothed, had curled up around her and draped his coat over the pair of them. They were both, obviously, dead to the world.

Jackie shook her head and tutted. "Fine, do what you want to do," she muttered at the sleeping couple. She pulled the door to and leaned on it. "You're going to anyway."

Rose still felt a little drunk when she woke abruptly. She checked the clock by her bedside - it was three am. It took her a few minutes to detach herself from the Doctor's embrace. He whimpered and complained in some language that was either too rude for the TARDIS to translate or too broken to be understood no matter what. She patted his hand. "Be right back," she said.

"K," he agreed, and snuggled back down into the covers.

She staggered to the loo, took care of the immediate problem, and then went to the medicine cabinet. She downed two paracetamol with three large glasses of water and, because she thought her mouth tasted like the floor of the pub, brushed her teeth. Then she ran a comb through her hair and washed her face clean of flaking mascara and god knows what else.

She was in the middle of reaching for her lip gloss when she shook herself abruptly. It was just the Doctor. He'd seen her covered in goo, sobbing like a baby, and sick as a pig. She'd gotten snot and vomit and cheese toast on his leather jacket and more snot, tea, and powdered sugar on his suit. She suspected, in 1987, that he'd actually changed her nappy once, but didn't like to ask.

Meanwhile, she'd seen him crying like his heart was broken, panicking because he didn't know what to do, possessed by a bitchy trampoline, and transfixed to within an inch of his life by a werewolf. She'd seen him drunk at least twice before, seen him in nothing but his boxers and a smile, seen him overtaken by rage so deep that a single drop of it could detonate entire solar systems. She loved him all the same.

She sighed. He could just do her the same courtesy this time, too.

"Where were you?" he demanded, the instant she opened her bedroom door. "Why were you gone so long?"

He looked tipsy and ruffled and, god his hair was wonderful, and he'd apparently taken her absence as an opportunity to kit off to his boxers and undershirt. She could just go over there and sit down on his lap, run her fingers through his hair, nibble at his ear... "Must not shag the drunken Time Lord," she thought.

"Why not?" the Doctor said.

OK, great. She'd either said that aloud or he'd read her mind and she wasn't sure which was worse. "Not gonna justify that with an answer," she said.

He pouted. "C'mon then, back to bed. Your head's gonna ache in the morning."

"Took precautions," she said and pulled up the duvet to join him under the covers this time. "But I definitely don't want to be you, tomorrow."

He chuckled and pulled her close. "No one ever wants to be me, not even me." He snuggled down next to her and buried his nose in her hair. "'Cept right now. And I wouldn't trade with anybody for the Universe."

If she had ever doubted, ever, how very much he loved her, he'd just cleared that up permanently.

Sleep came too easily, all the same. Tomorrow morning would be another day. They would wake together, probably to her mum shrieking at them. They'd take turns in the shower and she'd be thinking about him, naked and dripping, the whole time. The first time that had occurred - while she was getting changed for Christmas in what turned out to be Cardiff - it had taken her by surprise. Now she was used to it. They'd go down into the street and something would probably happen - he'd get a distress call or aliens would invade or someone would be accidentally blowing up the planet.

They'd run, together, hand in hand, their endless dance around the profound truth of their relationship, which was...

Rose slept.

The Doctor, however, quickly assimilated all the alcohol into his system and lay there to watch over her sleep.

"What're you doin' out here then?" Jackie asked when she wandered blearily through the living room the next morning. The Doctor beamed proudly at her. "I fixed your tele," he said.

"Well, I don't wanna get BBC Mars from the Year 5000, so put it back like it was," she said indignantly.

He laughed. "I just fixed that annoying static thing, that's all. Besides, they don't have BBC on Mars in 5000. Took them at least another six years."

She rolled her eyes. "Tea?" she asked, going into the kitchen.

"Kettle's hot," he answered. "I'll fix breakfast when everyone's up, if you want."

She reappeared through the doorway to gape at him in bald astonishment. "You can cook?" she demanded, as if he'd claimed he could dance the hula on the head of a pin.

The Doctor couldn't help it, he laughed at her. "I've been wandering the Universe for nine centuries, Jackie, and I've lived on my own for half that time. What did you think I did? Ate out of tins?"

She snorted. "Well, how the hell would I guess that?" she asked. "You're a bloody alien, you could only eat twigs and black pepper for all I know." She eyed him thoughtfully. "Certainly looks like it."

"I ate your Christmas dinner. I even liked it."

"Well, you're welcome, I guess," she said, crossly, "if that was a thank you."

Sometimes, every once in awhile, he had the nearly uncontrollable urge to hug the woman, if only because it would leave her sputtering and confused. So, he gave in to the impulse, this time, bouncing up from the sofa and leaning over her to catch her completely off guard. The result was exactly as he imagined it would be - her eyes bugged and her cheeks blushed and she looked, genuinely, thunderstruck. Oncoming Hugging Storm, he thought, and stifled the urge to giggle.

Rose wandered in right about then, and looked at them both in surprise. "Hi," she said, and shoved her messy hair out of her face. The Doctor smiled at her. Without her war paint and her 'face the world' masks, she was even more lovely than ever but, he thought smugly, he was one of very few people who ever got to see it.

"Your boyfriend here is claiming he can cook," Jackie said, hands on her hips, all indignant.

The Doctor fought off the blush and waited with bated breath. Rose shrugged. "Yeah, he's pretty good. Just don't let 'im near the toaster. There's no excuse for the way he'll behave."

Reinette looked decidedly cross as she and Mickey entered the flat just in time. In her honor, the Doctor had made French toast, which wasn't really toast, or French, but got rid of eggs and bread pretty conveniently.

Rose always ate hers with powdered sugar, but he'd be willing to bet she'd gone off that for awhile. He dug through the cupboards and set out brown sugar and the whatever it was that was labeled syrup but probably wasn't, not really. "We're going to Vermont, next," he proclaimed boldly.

"Fine with me," agreed Rose.

Reinette flung herself in her chair and looked even worse than she had. "This is simply intolerable. Honestly, Rose, how do you stand it?"

"Stand what?" Rose asked.

Reinette flipped her tangled curls over her shoulder and glowered at them. "All this hair. It's little wonder women in your time cut it all off."

Jackie's eyes lit up. The Doctor stepped back from her. Happy Jackie was probably a bad thing. Her fingers twitched. He sighed. "Eat, first, yeah?"

"All right," Jackie agreed. "Then, we'll see what you want done with it, dear."

"Pardon?" Reinette said.

"I forgot," Mickey said. "Jackie does hair; she's pretty good, too."

Jackie smacked him round the head, which might have been a good thing, because it looked like sweet, gentle Reinette was contemplating it herself. "My mum's going to be stylist to Madame de Pompadour," Rose said, grinning.

The Doctor laughed and lowered himself into the chair next to her. "Funny old world," he said, cheerfully.

"Always is with you," she agreed, and leaned into his shoulder.

It occurred to him, at some point during the meal, that he was happier than he could remember being in a very long time. Two hours later, while he and Rose stood there commentating on Jackie's every suggestion for Reinette's new look, he realized he was also more domestic than he could remember being.

And it wasn't so bad, after all.