Music blared from the biggest and most advanced stereo system she'd ever seen, so loud that the floor vibrated under her feet and she would have to shout if she wanted to be heard. Strobe lights flashed rapidly, making everyone's movements choppy and surreal. The guests were not only drunk, but also insane, and driving her closer every second. But none of these things were the reason why Rose Tyler was absolutely seething.
No, the reason for that was across the room, chatting with the Doctor. Every time she looked up at Rose, there was a slight twist in her face indicating an almost-sneer. Her name was Martha Jones, and, though she had no reason nor provocation, she hated Rose with a passion.
That was why Rose was all the way on the other side of the room, leaning against the wall and glaring at the annoying man she didn't know.
How many times had she imagined it, the perfect day, finally reunited with the Doctor? She'd pictured it in her head over and over, every single day since the Battle of Canary Wharf. Even after that day on the beach, after she'd run out of tears, even after the day when finally she accepted that she would never see him again...even then, she had still tried to guess what it would be like when she got back.
And now it had happened, had become reality, and she wasn't happy. She'd always thought it would be the most brilliant, fantastic day of her life, but now it was here, it turned out to be not so perfect.
"Hel-lo, gorgeous," said a familiar voice from the other side, breaking her out of her thoughts. She started and turned to see a face she hadn't seen in a long, long time. "Jack!" she said, surprised.
He gave her that cocky smile. He was wearing a blue coat and had one arm up, leaning against the wall. She put her arms around him and he pulled her into a crushing embrace.
"I've missed you, Jack," she said quietly. "After the Game Station, I thought—I thought--"
"Takes more than that to kill me," he teased. Then he face grew more serious. "Actually, it didn't. I was dead, but—well, look at me now."
She sighed. "I'm not in the mood for riddles, Jack."
"It was you," he said. "Did the Doctor ever get around to telling you what happened?"
"A bit. I absorbed the Time Vortex, and I used it to kill the Daleks, and then he took it out of me, and that's what killed him. That's why he regenerated."
"Well, you brought me back to life, too. Three words, you said--"I bring life." That's all. And you did." He took a deep breath. "It didn't take more than a Dalek gun to kill me then, but now it would."
"What do you mean?"
"I've died more than once, Rose. I always come back. To everyone else, that sounds like a gift, but I know the truth. It's my curse—I can't be killed. And when there's no danger of being killed, you sort of start to lose interest. In danger, in excitement. In life itself. I'm bored with my life, Rose, and I can't die." He smiled, a bitter smile. "I'm a fact, Rose, a fixed point in time. I never change. I never die."
Rose leaned against the wall. "I don't know if I'm like that, but I do know I've changed."
"How long do you think it's been since you last saw me?"
She looked right into his eyes, and he frowned. "I dunno, three, four years? Can't've been long." He considered her. "Why do you ask?"
A sad little laugh escaped her and she turned her head, avoiding his eyes. She couldn't bring herself to tell him the truth. "Longer than that," she said.
"Five? Six? Seven?"
She didn't answer him, just stared into the blue-green light within the pillar that formed the center of the TARDIS control panel. "Too long," she said at last. "Much too long."
That didn't throw Jack off for a second. "It's been longer than that. Ten years?"
She gave up. He was just too persistent. "Thirty-seven."
He wasn't even surprised. "It's the Vortex. It's frozen you in place. Maybe you can die, but you're not going to grow old, are you?"
She shook her head. "It was only ten years before I left. Maybe I could have dealt with Mum and Dad, but watching my little brother grow up, age, and die...I couldn't do it."
She sighed heavily and looked across the control room to where Martha was still talking with the Doctor. "At first I thought it was a blessing, but it's not, after all."
Jack nodded. Rose looked away, unwilling to talk any more about it. When she turned to look at him again, he'd gone.
She looked across the room to see that Martha was no longer talking to the Doctor. She was now involved in a conversation with the redhead—what was her name? Donna?--and Jack. The Doctor was nowhere to be seen.
She jumped. "Doctor," she said cooly when she'd regained her composure. "Nice party."
He grinned. "Wasn't my idea. That was all Jack's doing. He said, "So, Rose is back? We'd better throw a party to celebrate."
"I'll have to thank him." For once, the sight of that grin didn't make her happier. If anything, his beaming smile made her feel worse.
"Look at me."
She looked at him, straight into his eyes, and wished he couldn't see all the anger and the hurt in hers. She knew he could. He always could.
"What's wrong?" he asked, so softly she could barely hear him over the music.
"Nothing," she said, and knew he wouldn't believe any lie she told him.
"I said it's nothing!"
He stepped back ever so slightly, half an inch, less. His face didn't change in the slightest. Rose hated him for that, just a little. She wanted to be able to read him the way he could read her. She wanted to see whatever it was that made him step back—fear, or respect, or pity, though she didn't want pity.
"Alright," he said, just as quietly. "If you want to talk about it..." He averted his eyes and his shoulders twitched slightly, before he walked back to Martha.
That was too much for Rose. She spun around and ran out of the control room, down the hall, and into her own room. It was the exact way she'd left it all those years ago. Well, it had been, anyway, when she'd first come in. She'd talked to the Doctor for just a minute, not long enough to even tell him that she was immortal, not long enough to bring up the last words she'd said to him. His coat still lay on the bed. She threw herself down on top of the covers, and she could smell him, sharp but sweet, like cinnamon.
It hurt even worse. She screamed into the duvet, and felt the tears welling up in her eyes. Nearly four decades she'd waited, and this was what she got in return!
She closed her eyes tightly and clenched her teeth, but she couldn't quite stop the tears.
Rose woke up when the door opened, and then closed again. Soft footsteps crossed the room, and she felt the weight dip the mattress. She didn't have to look up. She knew who it was.
"Rose," the Doctor said softly. She didn't answer. After a moment, he spoke again. "Rose, I know you're awake."
"Go away," she said into the covers.
He sighed. "Rose, just listen to me, won't you?"
"No, I won't."
"Will you please, please, at least tell me what's wrong?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"So you admit something's wrong?"
"I said, I don't want to talk about it!"
He fell silent. After a moment, he said, "It was longer for you, wasn't it?"
"Yeah." She swallowed. "Yeah, it was."
She turned over and looked up at him. He looked so tired. So sad. For a moment, she felt guilty. He'd missed her, too, of course he had. "Too long," she said softly. "Far too long."
"Nearly." She didn't ask how he'd guessed.
"Never thought I'd say I would miss that woman."
She managed a laugh, if a fake one. "Pity she'll never hear you say it."
"I'm sorry, Rose," he whispered. "I'm so, so sorry."
"You always say that."
"I always mean it."
She made a bitter sound in the back of her throat that she meant to be a laugh. "I'm sure."
"How good is your memory?"
That caught her off guard. "Oh, I dunno—pretty good?"
"You remember the last time I saw you? On the beach?"
She gave him her coldest look. "D'you think I could forget it?"
"Well, then," he said, not meeting her gaze. "I suppose you'll remember I started something I never finished, don't you?"
She sat up and looked down at the floor. "Mm," she said.
He moved to sit beside her. "Rose, look at me."
"Don't tell me what to do!"
She looked up at him. For just a second, the mask slipped, and she saw him—relief and loneliness and pain and sorrow and happiness and hope and uncertainty, all there in his face, his eyes. And then suddenly, his hands were on the sides of her face, and she not only saw it all, but she felt it all. She understood it all.
"Rose Tyler," he whispered. "Would I ever lie to you?"
She knew he wouldn't, and he knew she knew.
He didn't have to finish the sentence he started on the beach. He never had to. She already knew.
He stood up and grabbed her hand, and there was all the happiness that she'd missed, the exuberant, hyperactive, optimistic Doctor. "Come on—Jack will turn the TARDIS inside-out looking for us if we don't hurry back."
She laughed, really laughed, for the first time in thirty-seven years. Maybe it had turned out not so perfect as she'd always imagined it would be, but she would take what she could get.
The party settled down several hours later, mostly because everyone fell asleep. Jack was the one who dropped off all the guests with his Vortex manipulator, until it was just himself, Rose, and the Doctor left in the TARDIS.
"So, Doc," he said cheerfully. "Where to next?"
"I don't know," the Doctor said. "Rose?"
She grinned. "What does it matter? Anywhere, so long as it's exciting." She slipped her hand into his. "I need an adventure."