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.

Response to cordelia-lear's challenge on July Challenge II. I was given the following criteria: a Jackie Tyler meeting, post "Doomsday" for the Doctor, but during the Rose era of the show for her; an explanation of the blue suit; two lines of lyrics from any song from the musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

That last was HARD. But, the song I chose is - of course - "The Doctor is In".

This fic takes place following the events of "Journey's End". If you haven't caught up yet, and have somehow missed the rampaging collection of fics, you might want to give this a miss or save it 'til later.


A Crossing and a Comfort

"Hello, Jackie," the Doctor says. Then, he does a double take, looking up from the console again to stare at her in horror. "What?" he says.

Jackie frowns at him. "Where's Rose?" she asks.

"With you," he replies, utterly puzzled. "With you, with me, what?"

"What?"

The TARDIS shoots out a spray of sparks. The Doctor stares at the console, suspiciously. He checks his watch. It was broken on Midnight and does not work anymore for its intended purpose. He sighs. "When are we?" he asks the TARDIS. He might also mention that he'd love to know how Jackie got inside. And when they landed would have been a good question, as well, but he settles for the one, since She's probably in a mood if she's dragged him across his own time line on purpose.

She purrs smugly back at him.

"What is going on here?" Jackie demands harshly. "Doctor, where is my daughter!?"

"She's with you, Jackie, I swear it."

"You just left her?!" Jackie demands.

He didn't see that coming.

Neither did he see the slap, and that he really, really should have expected. He rocks under the force of the blow. He'd ventured to wonder from time to time if he had exaggerated it in his memory, or if he had a particularly sensitive face in his last incarnation. Apparently, he's actually remembered it somewhat less fierce than it really is.

"You can't just leave her, Doctor, not even with me!" Jackie shouts. "I want her safe, but she won't be happy. Are you going to visit her, see her at all, or are you just abandoning her, because if you are, she'll get herself killed trying to save the world without you."

"She's got me," he said. "I'm with her. I'm... with her. Look, it's a long story, and it's from the future, and I can't tell you, so why don't we just drop it?"

"You didn't abandon Rose?"

"I told her I'd never leave her."

"You're standing here and she isn't."

"I'm..." He stops and stares at his hands. He's done it, abandoned her. Even with his brilliant, slightly wrecked, more emotionally expressive other self, he's abandoned her, just like he swore he never would. I'm a liar, he thinks. I'm a very good liar, I can even lie to myself. That's pretty impressive. Aloud, he says, "It's complicated."

Jackie stares at him for a few more seconds, and he expects another slap. It doesn't come, but there's a tender hand on the side of his face that hasn't been nearly knocked off, and he's surprised to find that hand attached to Jackie Tyler. "What?" he manages. Only just.

"Are you all right?" she asks, so softly, so kindly, so like a mother and just a little bit like her daughter.

Something breaks.

"No," he admits, though he feels as if his tongue is going to curl up as the words pass over it. "No, I'm not."

"Right," she says, firmly. "Get a change of clothes and come up to the flat. You look like absolute hell."

"Oi!" he protests.

"How long since you ate?" she demands, hands on her hips.

He can't remember. She eyes him carefully and he realizes that he also can't remember the last time he bathed or shaved or stopped hovering around the Vortex checking that no cracks between realities have been strained into existence by all the mad stunts they pulled before he deserted Rose and destroyed Donna. His fingers trail his face on his way to pull on his ear and he realizes that he's been at it awhile - long enough that it's gone well beyond stubble and is on its way to a full-grown beard. He turns without a word and slips down the corridor to the wardrobe.

The brown suit's a bit disgusting. The blue suit's a bit having a normal life. (He is NOT thinking about it lying on Rose Tyler's floor - for any reason.) There's another blue one. It has pin stripes, sort of the opposite of the brown suit, really. He's worn it once in this body but at the moment, blue feels singularly appropriate again.

He thinks about dematerializing the TARDIS and not following Jackie up to the flat, but trying not to think about what's happened means he finds his wary feet stepping out onto the TARDIS's favorite parking spot, where a child was once berated for spray painting "Bad Wolf" across the side of Her. Compared to what Rose had done...

And he will never know now, how she did that.

And he might should have thought to ask.

Oops.


Jackie is waiting for him at the painfully familiar door. He is peering morosely at the cat flap when she seizes his shoulder. "Get in here," she snaps. Then, she drags him into the little back room work area she supported herself and Rose from for all those years before she'll become a millionaire's wife.

Nice to be able to think in three tenses at once.

She sits him down in the chair and he is glad she's dragged him through the flat so fast because he can't watch the twelve alternate time lines that always tempt him so much in the living room. He can't stand in the kitchen and stare in longing and wonder at the twenty-odd (some of them very odd) times he could have done things a tiny bit different and changed everything.

He can't see the shadows of pictures of his children hanging on Jackie's walls if he doesn't have to look at the walls.

Jackie pulls out clippers and the other instruments of her trade and he feels a rousing chorus from Sweeney Todd bubbling in his chest. Better not. She has a razor in her hand and is going to put it near his face if he can't come up with a reason to vanish in the next five seconds. Safer just to sit still.

She makes a chuffing noise and takes the scissors to his hair. "What's wrong?" he asks, thinking of his hair, although the way she's going, he might should be rethinking this all together. He's not even sure why he's here.

"You're stupid, self-centered, and moody," she tells him.

"That wasn't..." he starts. "I'm not stupid," he protests.

"You're not self-centered," she corrects. "I shouldn't have said that. If you were at all self-centered, you probably wouldn't be stupid or moody."

"Thanks?" he ventures. "I'm actually a certified genius, you know."

"Sure," she says sarcastically. "And I'm gonna marry a millionaire."

He smirks a little at that and is silent while she finishes whatever she is doing to his hair. It won't stay wrong if she ruins it, so he's not worried. His hair is like the rest of him - four-dimensional.

In the end, he lets her give him a shave as well, and then makes use of the shower to get cleaned up. The alternate time-lines are thick and fast even in here. One of them is something he can operate right now. Just five little words written in the condensation on the glass and everything changes.

Oh, temptation.

He's not the Last of the Time Lords any more, and he can feel that fact even across the Universe Divide. Yet, if he writes those words, he will be.

Strange sort of dichotomy, temptation.

He puts on the new blue suit and shuffles into Jackie's kitchen to see what she's going to do to him next.

"You shouldn't wear that," she says, "especially if you're not going to eat. You're too skinny and that just shows it off." She drops tea and a plate of different sandwiches in front of him. "I'm serious. Rose'll get paper cuts off you or something."

He is reminded suddenly and painfully of Donna and swallows hard. Used to be the other way around, but right now, anything that makes him think of Donna is every bit as painful as anything that makes him think of Rose has ever been.

He eats the sandwiches somewhat listlessly, but Jackie makes a good sandwich and after the second bacon one, he perks up a bit. He sips at her tea, trying not to let on that he is savoring it, because he will never taste it again. "Saved the world once, this tea," he comments, when he realizes she is watching him curiously.

She leaves him after that to go do whatever it is Jackie does when she's not interrupting him and Rose on the phone.

She comes back a few minutes later. "Why blue, anyway?" she asks.

"Match the TARDIS," he claims, feeling the first smile he's felt like since Bad Wolf Bay (again), coming over him. "Figure we're old enough, been together long enough, we ought to start to resemble each other a bit."

Jackie snorts and ruffles his freshly clipped and clean hair. He hopes she doesn't get into that habit in Pete's World, because Doctor Too is likely to come over as rude as him with the bonus of being about as happy about the situation as Nine would have been.

He begins to wonder if he didn't shut his counter-self (clever turn of phrase, that) up into a very pretty prison.

He finishes eating and wanders, aimlessly, out into the living room. Jackie is watching the tele and frowning about something. He ignores it. He knows where it leads and has to leave it alone.

Even if he doesn't want to do.

"You know," she muses, "you never used to shut up. And yet there's a reason for hope, because you haven't hardly said anything."

"Can't," he reminds her. "Time traveler."

He finds his feet following the familiar path to Rose's room. He opens the door and lets himself in.

He's still there, just sitting there in the middle of her chaos, when Jackie sticks her head in the door. "You stay as long as you need," she says softly.

He should leave.

"I'm just going out to visit Bev. I'll be back after a bit. If you're still here..."

"I'll be gone. Good bye, Jackie Tyler."

She blinks at him quizzically. "Good bye, Doctor," she says, all kind and motherly and if he didn't love her about as much (though in an entirely different way) as he loves her daughter, none of this would have happened. "You take care of yourself from now on," she insists. And then, she hands him a thermos.

He smiles at it, and gets up to kiss her cheek. "Thank you for your daughter," he tells her.

He used to wonder how she got brave enough to snog him before. Now he knows. She wraps her arms around him and hugs him tight. He wants to cry on her shoulder, because she's someone's mum and mums are good with tears. But he won't because he's the Doctor and the Doctor doesn't do that.

"Lock up when you leave," is the last thing he'll ever hear from Jackie Tyler.

He looks over at Rose's night stand and finds the photo Rose was missing - the carefully created one Mickey gave her before he left, of her and two of him.

He steals it.

He can't change anything, can't fix anything, can't see Rose Tyler again, can't...

Time Lords don't cry. They can, they have, it's happened. But it used to be a proverb, back when Time Lords were thick on the ground, that something was "rarer than a Time Lord's tears".

For what is rarer, still, than that, he lets them fall.

After a time in the silence, he leaves the shadows behind, the thermos in hand, the precious photo in his pocket. He will never come back to this place if he can help it, and he expects the Universe will have to end (again) before he could possibly have to do.

He looks out over the Powell Estate one last time and thinks of her, on that beach, his hearts in her hand (one for each of him) and his hope in her eyes and her love flung far and wide.

If he tilts his head just right, he can see her.

He leaves before he will.