Disclaimer: I own nothing, BBC owns all.
As ever, thanks to Bonnie for beta reading!
"I just don't see the appeal, that's all."
"That's exactly what's wrong with you lot, heaping praise on rubbish teen idols and totally ignoring true talent!"
Rose glared into the grates that were currently covering much of the Doctor's face – though not, she noted, the rather scruffy bit of hair growing on his chin. She wondered if the TARDIS was still mad at him and refusing to provide shaving lotion again or if he'd simply forgotten – either option seemed likely, given his attitude lately. "When have I ever heaped praise on teen idols?" She shook her head. "Even if I had, pop music in my decade is still better than that…noise."
"I'll have you know, Rose Tyler," the Doctor replied, as he climbed out from the under-deck and shot her a dark look, "that Disaster Area is considered one of the great rock bands in the history of the universe."
"An' Britney Spears is the music queen of the decade; still don't make her any good."
"No accountin' for taste," he grumbled. "Right then, no concerts for you."
"Good, every time you shoot for a concert I end up hangin' out with a werewolf or an angry mob that thinks blonde hair is of the devil." Rose rolled her eyes. "Really though, Doctor, are there any planets that welcome you? Where you get a big sign and a party for comin' back to visit?"
"It's happened a couple of times on Earth." He leaned over the console, frowning. "UNIT still likes me. No concerts though."
"Probably why they still like you," Rose muttered. "So, do you-"
The universe exploded.
The Doctor flung himself at the smoking, sparking console, hitting buttons and dials with a speed and desperation she had never seen before. He looked terrified. "The Vortex is gone! Vanished!"
"What?" She clung to a rail. "How?"
"Rose!" He grabbed her, doing his best to use himself as a buffer as they hit the ground with a bone-jarring crash.
He jumped quickly to his feet and moved toward the console. A switch flipped – nothing. Not a hum, not a murmur, not a single pulse of light. "She's gone," he said softly, his voice thick. "Dead."
Rose slowly pushed herself to her feet, and noted with wide eyes how devastatingly dim and cold the room looked. "You can fix it?"
"Nothin' to fix," the Doctor answered, slowly shaking his head. "All I had left." His voice dropped, and her heart gave a painful tug at the lost expression he wore. "The last TARDIS in the universe…an' she's gone." He crouched beside the console, stretching his fingers toward the core as if trying to feel out any last signs of life. "Extinct."
"But…but we can get help?" Rose knelt beside him; her hand inching toward his. She froze and bit her lip as he leapt up once again.
"How? Call up the RAC?"
She winced but followed as he moved about the console room. "We've landed somewhere, there's gotta be someone."
"We didn't land," he corrected, leaning against one of the lifeless coral struts. "We fell. D'you know what's on the other side of the Vortex? If we're anywhere…we're in the Void."
"An' what's the Void when it's at home?"
"Hell," the Doctor replied succinctly. She stared for a long moment before he sighed and tugged her into a loose embrace. "Oh, Rose," he murmured against her hair. "I'm sorry."
"Not your fault," Rose replied; she stretched her arms around his waist, beneath the warmth and weight of leather. "Unless you made the Vortex vanish on purpose."
"Nah," he grinned a little. "Try not to destroy the whole fabric of the universe at once. Like to work a corner at a time, me."
She did not return the humour; instead she pressed her cheek against the scratchy wool of his dark red jumper and tightened her arms about him. "What should we do?"
"Well, no use standin' here clutchin' at each other!" he chided, pulling away suddenly. "I'd say no problems were ever solved by huggin' but that's a lie." He reached for her hand and tugged her toward the door. "Actually I've saved a couple of worlds by huggin', but I don't like to brag."
"You love to brag," Rose corrected, smiling despite herself.
"Yeah, I do a bit," he grinned again and opened the doors to the unknown world beyond. She waited for half a moment before following him out into –
"London?" she asked, rather obviously. She looked up at him and grinned, her tongue peeking out between her teeth. "So this is hell? I knew there was an explanation for the M25."
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "London, is it?"
"Looks like," she let go of his hand and hopped off the wall they'd landed on. There was a newspaper sitting by a bench; she held it up triumphantly. "First of February," she read. "We've only gone forward a couple of weeks."
"You think?" The Doctor took the paper from her and set it aside. "Look up."
She paused and then followed his gaze; her eyes widened as she took in the skyline – complete with a ships flying through the sky. "Those are – oh, that's beautiful!"
"Zeppelins," he supplied. "Rigid airships. Dirigibles, even."
"But," Rose stopped and bit her lip, looking up at him. "They're not supposed to be here, yeah? 'S that mean history's changed?"
"No." His frown deepened. "We've jumped time-lines."
"An' what's that mean?" she asked. He didn't answer for a long moment, until Rose impatiently tugged on his jacket. "Doctor?"
"We're in a parallel world, Rose," the Doctor said finally. "Somethin', somewhere made the timelines split; we fell out of the Vortex an' we landed on the wrong path."
"So, what, it's like," Rose started then paused, thinking. "It's like, the Hindenburg didn't explode an' now everybody uses zeppelins? An' – Doctor what are you lookin' at?"
He jumped and grabbed her hand before she could follow his line-of-sight. "Nothin', nothin' at all. Come on, got to see if there's any hope for the TARDIS gettin' us home." She raised an eyebrow at him. "This is not our world, Rose," he said firmly, taking hold of her shoulders. "You trust me?" She nodded. "Then listen to me, we cannot have anything to do with the people in this world. We'll find a way to fix the TARDIS and leave, all right?"
"Okay," she replied, still frowning. He released his grip and she slowly turned to look out over the Thames. "I don't know what you're –" she broke off. "Oh." A digital poster was posed on a wall, a middle-aged man holding aloft a bottle of red liquid. 'Pete Tyler presents Vitex Lite!' was scrawled across the image.
"That isn't who you think," the Doctor told her quickly, following as she moved toward it – drawn like a moth to a flame to the picture of her father, alive and well. "It's a parallel world, that Pete belongs to a different Jackie, a different Rose!"
"Look at him," she said, completely ignoring the Doctor's words. "He's a success. A proper businessman, like Mum always said. He was always plannin' these daft little schemes; healthy drinks and stuff. Everyone said they were useless…but he did it." She reached out; her fingers brushing the display, and then jerking back abruptly as it moved under her hand.
"Trust me on this!" The image of Pete Tyler winked and gave a thumb's-up.
"Oh, that's weird." She tilted her head at it, but the smile once again bloomed on her face.
"Rose, listen to me!" The Doctor took hold of her shoulders again. "Don't look at it, don't think about it, and don't think about lookin' at it! Your dad is dead, you saw it happen - twice as I recall and I think we both remember clear enough!" His voice held no rebuke – but she winced anyway, his words tugging her out of her happy reverie.
"Yeah," she replied, her voice a bit thick. "I know."
"You can't see him, no matter what. We're upsettin' the balance of the universe just by bein' here, I've got no way to tell what could happen if we interfere somewhere!"
"People alive in the world who weren't before," Rose quoted at him. He nodded seriously. "I know. I just…he's here. An' he's alive, an' he's…everything Mum always said." She swallowed hard and looked away, taking several deep breaths before she continued. "I think I'm gonna take a walk, all right?"
"Sure that's a good idea?" He was still watching her closely, his eyes not missing a single nervous twitch of muscle. "You understand –"
"I'm not thick, Doctor," she retorted. He blinked in surprise and pulled back, not releasing her but removing himself from her personal space. "Sorry, I just…need a minute." He still hesitated; she reached up and placed her hand over his, still on her shoulder. "I'm okay, seriously. Not your average stupid ape anymore; I won't do somethin' stupid."
He smiled a little and cupped her cheek with his free hand. "Just don't wander off too far," he warned. "Got the TARDIS to work on, don't have time to go savin' you from whatever trouble you find."
She rolled her eyes. "I don't always find trouble you know."
The Doctor, quite wisely, said nothing.
"Right," she said, pulling away from him. "Maybe I'll pick up some chips on the way back, yeah?"
"Good plan." He grinned at her. "Off you go then, just remember to keep your little ape wits about you."
"You're due for a slap," Rose pointed out, stepping away and waving a finger at him. "We'll see who gets in trouble first, Mr. Impressive!"
"Oi, that's Dr. Impressive to you," he corrected, grinning wider.
"Yeah, so you say," she said, laughing a little; she turned and gave a rather jaunty wave as she walked away.
The Doctor did not wait and watch as Rose faded into the crowd along the river. He absolutely did not keep a steady eye on her little yellow head until she turned a corner. Never once did he feel a strange sort of terror that there might, in this world, be a Jackie Tyler that still had a Pete; that there might be a happy couple who had room in their lives for an entirely fantastic daughter. Most importantly, he never once thought, rather morbidly, that there might be a fate worse than a cold, dead TARDIS, or that that fate would require nothing more than an eternity with his hand empty of hers.
She was cataloguing the differences. There were the obvious ones – no zeppelins in London proper, of course. Then there was the newspaper, The Daily Register not The Time, which had a rather large picture of a middle-aged man who was proclaimed to be President of Great Britain. She wondered where this world's Harriet Jones was, if not in office.
Then there were the subtle changes that she discovered after her mobile connected to the internet. There had never been a Henrik's in this world, let alone one that had been blown up. The Powell Estate had been renovated and rechristened in the late 1980s, to do away with a bad reputation it had garnered after some terrible crimes that she couldn't remember ever occurring in her world.
And there was no Rose Tyler.
Jacqueline Andrea Suzette Prentice had married Peter Alan Tyler twenty-odd years earlier; they had had a life of wealth and success since Vitex went public in 1989. Everything was perfect for them.
She tried not to think about the reasons for the changes; she knew how easy it could have been for things to change in her own life, she'd seen it – but that didn't make it go away. Cause and effect were not always obvious, it was ridiculous to assume…
"All right, what's wrong?" The Doctor was sitting beside her on the bench, long legs spread out before him and arms folded across his chest.
She jumped; she hadn't even heard him approach. "Nothin'," she replied. If her tone was a bit clipped and her posture remained defensive, well, she was allowed to have her own thoughts wasn't she? She sighed. "My phone connected. There's this…Cybus Network, it finds your phone. Gave me internet access."
His lips pursed into a deep frown. "I told you not to think about it," he pointed out needlessly. "Whatever it told you, they're not your family."
"I don't exist," she replied, as if he hadn't spoken. "There's no Rose Tyler; I was never born. There's Pete, my dad, and Jackie – he still married Mum. But they never had kids."
He reached abruptly for her mobile, attempting to snatch it from her hands. "Enough of that," he snapped. "You're-"
"They're rich," she interrupted, her voice cracking slightly as she forced a laugh. "They got a house an' cars…an' everything they want. But they haven't got me." There was a pause as she pushed herself off the bench. When she turned to face him her expression was set. "I gotta see him."
"No." His voice brooked no argument.
She didn't care. "I just wanna see him!"
"Why? What'll I hurt if I don't say anything to 'em?"
"You!" His voice was just a bit angry as he snapped back at her, quickly pushing himself to his feet and towering rather imperiously over her. "You can't become their daughter, doesn't work like that!"
"Maybe you don't know everything." Rose folded her arms tightly across her chest. "I just – I just wanna see him!"
She shook her head and began to back away. "I got the address an' everything," she said, holding her phone up.
"Rose," he said, following her. "Stop right there!"
"Sorry, but…I gotta go," she said, shrugging her shoulders lightly. "You comin'?"
He caught her wrist firmly, making her meet his eyes. "You cannot talk to them."
"I know," she replied, biting her lip. "I won't."
"Right, let's get it over with then," he said, sighing as he fell into step beside her. Instantly her expression brightened, and her arm linked through his. "Still don't approve," he pointed out, unnecessarily. "This is me, not approvin'."
"An' you're doin' a bang-up job at it," Rose hugged his arm. "Thanks," she added softly. "Wouldn't've wanted to go alone."
"Couldn't let you, now could I?" He raised an eyebrow at her. "Knowin' you?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" She frowned, starting to release him.
"Nothin'," he replied, grinning suddenly as he pulled her closer. "Not like I'd've got any work on the TARDIS done anyway."
"Yeah," Rose said, sighing a little. "I feel like Number Five, demandin' you 'reassemble!' or somethin'."
The Doctor stared at her, rather blankly, but didn't ask. "Didn't I tell you?"
"Tell me what?" Rose's eyes widened hopefully. "Did you fix it?"
"Yup!" His grin was positively smug. "Just had to set her rechargin', we should be on our way this time tomorrow."
"How'd you do it?"
"Oh, dead clever, me," he replied, preening a bit.
She just grinned and nudged his shoulder. "Nah, I think it was luck," she teased. "You're not half so impressive as you like people to think."
"Oh, I'm all impressive," he corrected, meeting her eyes intently for just a moment. She took in a sharp breath and his grin widened. "Yup, just give her a few hours an' she might even let us in the rest of the ship. Parts of it anyway, near guaranteed at least one bedroom by nightfall – all right, Rose?"
The fact that a strange sort of siren split the air at that moment very mercifully saved her from explaining why she had stumbled. "What's – what're they all doing?"
Every single person in the street was frozen; motionless, eyes unseeing – their entire consciousness focused elsewhere.
"They stopped," the Doctor replied, moving closer to a serious-looking blonde in glasses. He waved a hand in front of her face, frowning when she showed no reaction. He circled her slowly, quickly honing in on the flashing pieces of plastic and metal burrowed in her ears. "Earpieces," he muttered. "Like Bluetooth, but what're they connected to?"
Rose jumped as she felt a vibration in her jacket. She unzipped her pocket and removed her buzzing, beeping mobile. "It's on my phone," she announced, clicking it open. "It's automatic; look, it's downloading. Is this what they're all gettin'?"
The Doctor took her phone from her hands – earning himself a sharp rebuke from his companion – and began to scroll through the information. "Humans," he muttered, as if that was enough of an insult in itself. "Always tryin' to make life easier, find technology to let you put that bit less effort into bein' alive. You lot can't even take the trouble of readin' anymore, just download straight to your brains."
"Oi, not my lot." Rose frowned at him. "Different world, remember?"
"Just you wait, a few years until someone on your Earth thinks it up, an' it might as well be," he said, continuing to adjust her phone. "Cybus Network an' the Daily Download."
"Yeah, they're the ones who found my phone," Rose replied, leaning over his shoulder. 'Joke' displayed across the screen for a few seconds, and then a chorus of laughter broke out around them. A moment later the earpod-connected continued on their way, either unaware of or completely disinterested in their temporary catatonia. "That's weird."
"Well," the Doctor said, a note of surprise entering his voice. "Look here. Cybus Industries owns half of Britain, near all the major corporations. Includin' Vitex. Pete Tyler might be better connected than we thought."
"I knew he'd be brilliant," Rose said, just a tad dreamily. She bit her lip, smiling hopefully at the Doctor.
"Not approvin'," he repeated, his tone indicating resignation despite himself. She grinned and took his arm again.
"Have I mentioned lately how fantastic you are?" Rose asked, nearly skipping as they walked down the street.
"Nope," the Doctor replied. "An' if you ever say it when I haven't just endangered the fabric of the universe, then I might actually believe it."
"Have I mentioned lately that you're a bit melodramatic?"
The Doctor just rolled his eyes.