The floor felt as if it had dropped from beneath her feet, and the new world she'd plummeted into in kept shifting, time moving on and on no matter how much Rose Tyler wished it would just stop. She just wanted to stand still for a moment. She needed the world to fall away, to be still and silent, so that she could just think.
But after one full day had passed, Rose gave up on thinking about it. It wasn't working. It wasn't doing her any good. Particularly not thinking about him. She had to stop. He was gone, and focusing on that wouldn't change it.
The Doctor was gone.
Since she was stuck in the future on a spaceship that was deserted but for two people, all that was really left to think about instead was herself and Mickey. Usually she thought more about herself than she probably should. Mickey could attest to that, and she could admit it (and maybe apologise for it, if pressed) freely enough now that that time seemed so far in their past. But for right now ...
Right now, she thought that if she considered herself, and what all this meant for her, she'd start crying and never be able to stop.
Which left Mickey.
She found it hilarious, in a dark sort of way. Mickey had been hoping for years for the day that he might become the most important person in existence to her. And that day had finally arrived just at a time when Mickey had begun to grow past defining himself by her approval, and in the place they were probably both going to die.
Talk about bad timing.
She found Mickey exploring the TARDIS. She suspected the TARDIS had reconfigured herself to make it easier for Rose to track him down, because she somehow doubted that they would have both have just accidentally stumbled into this room that she'd never seen before. Certainly, she shouldn't have found him there less than two minutes after she'd stepped back through the outer TARDIS doors into the console room.
"Still no sign of him, then?" Mickey asked warily.
"No. No sign."
Rose didn't think that in all the history of the universe any three words, not even 'I love you', had ever held such weighted implication. With them, she was conveying a number of other three-word sentences. 'He's not coming,' she was saying. 'He's left us.' 'We can't escape.' 'We'll die here.'
They looked at each other for a long moment before Mickey reached for her. She hoped the hug comforted him much more than it did her, as she barely allowed herself to feel it at all. She couldn't afford anything that could send her off into misery right then. She had things to do.
"What're we gonna do, Rose?" Mickey asked desperately.
"You and me? We're gonna sort it out, that's what," she replied resolutely. She wished she could actually be anything close to as sure as she sounded.
"But we're stuck here, aren't we? We can't exactly fly the TARDIS home. Not without him."
That wasn't the first time in the last twenty-four hours Mickey had said that. Rose wished he would stop. They both knew it already. No point in rubbing it in any further. Continuing to mope about waiting for a solution to present itself out of thin air wasn't going to do them any good.
Rose smiled humourlessly, intent on lightening the situation. "Where's a big yellow truck when you need one, eh?"
Mickey laughed, and laughed, and laughed. She supposed that meant it was a job well done on shifting the mood. Too well done, maybe. She thought he'd gone a bit hysterical, actually, just for a minute or so. Rose didn't blame him. It was better than crying, and crying, and crying, which was all shereally wanted to do when it came right down to it.
When Mickey calmed down, his face grew serious again. "The Doctor has a failsafe, though, right? In the TARDIS? What about that thing he did to send you home? You know, beforethe big yellow truck. That emergency thingy you told us about."
Rose shook her head. "Even if I could figure out how to activate it, we couldn't risk it. I don't think the Doctor ever got the chance to reprogram it. It'll be set for the exact same time and place it was last time. If we used it, we'd land right on top of where I landed last time. I ... there's these things, they're called Reapers. I've seen them at work. Two me's, two TARDISes, same place and time? It'll change everything, and the Reapers will come. We won't have the Doctor to help us get rid of them, either. So we can't. Not and be sure that we won't destroy the whole Earth. Maybe even the universe; I was never real clear on that."
"Better not, then," Mickey said. She suspected he'd tried to sound joking. It just came out flat.
"It's all right, though," Rose said, "because this ship might be deserted, but it's got everything we need. D'you know why?"
"'Cuz it's got you, Mickey Smith."
"Me? What'm I gonna do?"
Rose allowed the barest whiff of a smile creep onto her face. "How would you feel about being the tin dog one last time?"
Mickey might be all right with computers back home, this wasn't London in 2006. Far from it. It was a whole three thousand years in their future, as a matter of fact. The technology was so much more advanced that Mickey didn't really stand a chance. It was uselessly defeatist to even think that to herself, but somehow Rose couldn't help it.
She remembered a time when she was wide-eyed and optimistic enough to save the life of a creature who'd killed hundreds and wanted to kill her as well. Those days had long since passed, ripped away from her like flesh in a werewolf's claws.
"Can't we just use the TARDIS to send out a signal?" Mickey asked. "I bet it'd transmit it across half the universe, it's so powerful. And you lot keep telling me it's alive, so maybe it'd sort of give us a hand. Don't you think? More than this hunk of junk ship is doin', anyway."
Rose shook her head. "Think of all the things that'd zero in on us if they found out the TARDIS was here. We can't risk anyone – or anythin' – that shows up layin' hands on it."
Mickey just nodded. Rose didn't have the heart to add that she doubted anyone would be showing up at all at this stage.
Rose would never admit it aloud, even under pain of death, but she'd actually never for a moment believed that her 'plan' to have Mickey send out a distress signal from the ship would actually work. She'd just needed Mickey to believe he could do it. The realplan was to distract Mickey and keep him in high spirits while she figured out a way for them to survive on the ship for the foreseeable future.
Never for a moment, either, did Rose doubt that they spend the rest of their lives on that ship. But Rose thought that if they could figure out a way to ration things on the TARDIS, and maybe a way to at least turn on the heating in the spaceship, 'the rest of their lives' might at least last a long time. It wasn't the end of her world, being stuck there, she thought. There were worse people to be trapped with than Mickey Smith. And at least they'd both have some company to keep them from going mad with loneliness and boredom.
And really, even though her once endless optimism had faded enough that she couldn't really see a way out, she was still a glass-half-full type of girl. There was something to be glad for on that damn ship; at least the clockwork ship mechanics, or whatever they'd been, weren't still around to use Rose's and Mickey's bodies for parts.
She found out just how glad she really was of that when a familiar shriek echoed throughout the ship. She thought back on vacuum-packed rats for a moment before the associations that had with the Doctor forced her to cut the thought off. Knowing that Mickey could overreact to things, Rose expected that he'd probably just tripped over, or maybe found a rat of the less dead-and-packaged variety in one of the nooks in the ship that they had yet to discover.
There were no rats, she later remembered, but there were plenty of bugs.
Rose stumbled out of the room and threw up on the floor. She stayed there, hunched over with the hard floor digging into her knees, until her dry-heaves turned into coughing. Moisture welled in her eyes, though it never quite gathered enough to be shed. She wondered whether that was just her eyes watering as the inevitable outcome of turning herself inside out, or whether she'd been caught off guard and was finally letting herself cry about something. If anything she'd seen in all of her life deserved tears, this had to be it.
The walls seemed to sway dizzily around her. She shifted into a sitting position and hung her head between her knees, just trying to breathe deeply enough so that she wouldn't pass out.
She'd hate to wake up right next to that.
Mickey had obviously frozen in place, in shock, as he'd spent quite a lot longer in that room than Rose had ... or than Rose could have done without going mad, for that matter. When he finally stumbled out on clearly shaky legs, he braced his weight against the wall of the corridor for a moment before letting himself slide down to the floor just a few feet to Rose's right.
"Why couldn't we smell it from across the ship?" he asked a minute later, breaking the long silence.
Rose's head jerked around to look at him incredulously. "You've been in there, starin' at – at that, and you want to know ... how ... the smell ... fuck, Mickey!"
Mickey just shook his head, swallowing reflexively. Rose wondered whether he was going to be sick as well. She might feel better if he was. At least then she'd know that he'd been as affected by this as she had.
"What else is there to say?" he asked instead. "There's just ... there's no words. For that."
"No, there's no words," she agreed weakly.
No words, only a mental image that she'd never, in the entire breadth of her life (which might not be all that much longer if they couldn't sort themselves out) forget.
Bodies upon bodies, tossed sort of carelessly all about the room, rotting where they'd been discarded. Gaping chest wounds, and empty eye sockets, and so, so much dried and congealed blood. What must have been millions of bugs. And, yes, the smell. Rose couldn't quite get the scent of it out of her nostrils. Might never be able to.
A year, the Doctor had said. A year since the ship had last moved. Those poor souls had been torn apart and left to decompose, and in a whole year the repair droids had just ignoredthem.
And theyclearly hadn't been able to send out a distress signal either, though not for lack of knowledge of the systems. The attack from the droids must have happened so unexpectedly, for them to be caught off guard like that.
It didn't look like it had been a particularly fast death for any of them, all the same.
She leaned away from Mickey and heaved again until her stomach gave up on its rebellion, seeming to realise it wasn't doing any good. There was nothing left inside her right then.
Nothing at all.
Mickey closed the door to the room again. Maybe he wanted to leave those people there to rest, with that room as their undisturbed tomb. Or possibly it was just to keep the smell or the insects contained. Rose didn't want to question it too deeply.
She'd let herself be led back to the TARDIS without protest, but without doing much to help Mickey out either.
"That could've been us," Mickey said a long time later. "Those clock things were going to do that to us, and then the Doctor saved us. If he'd got back any later ... But Rose, the Doctor isn't here to save us anymore, so what happens now? If somethin' tries to kill us now, what happens?"
It would succeed, Rose thought. She wasn't sure whether she'd answered aloud.
A few days after finding the remains of the ship's crew, Rose realised that it was time to stop sitting around feeling hopeless. It was time to take charge. Reallytake charge, not just put on an act for Mickey's benefit.
She'd seen a werewolf tearing a man apart right in front of her just a few months ago. She'd handled that then. She could handle this now, even without the Doctor there to hold her hand and support her.
And she made the decision that, no matter how impossible it seemed, they weregoing to get off that ship, just as she'd been assuring Mickey all that time. Damned if she was going to stay there long enough to become just another of the rotting bodies.
Mickey had spent those few days continuing to search the unchartered areas on the ship, getting the lay of the land. Rose couldn't quite believe that he was willing to risk finding something else equally as horrific as that room. That was not the Mickey Smith she'd remembered, who avoided terrifying things at all costs. Certainly it wasn't the Mickey Smith who had clung to her legs to stop her from running off with the Doctor the first time.
Mickey had grown up while she wasn't looking. She'd always loved him (even when she'd made himquestion whether that was true), and she'd accepted him for what he was, but for the first time she actually felt really proud of him.
That was even more the case when he showed her how he had found some old, obviously outdated technical equipment that (unlike everything else on the ship) was similar enough to 21st century computer systems that he had at least an outside chance of being able to use it, given enough time.
"You and me?" Mickey said evenly. "We're gonna get out of 'ere. That's what you said. I'm not lettin' you give up."
Rose was fairly certain that wasn't precisely what she'd said at all, since she doubted she'd ever explicitly promised they'd be able to get off the ship. But the set of Mickey's jaw let her know in no uncertain terms that he was going to hold her to that sentiment regardless. And she believed it just as much as he did now, anyway. She had to.
It was then that Rose saw that Mickey felt exactly the same way she did. It was right there in his eyes. He was driving himself to figure out how to get away from that hellhole of a ship, because he had to keep moving. He was hanging by a thread, just like her.
Rose remembered her decision, all those weeks ago, that she needed to think about Mickey. Mickey, who wasn't used to being in space, and who'd only had a couple of mild life-or-death brushes as compared to Rose's frequent certaintythat this time she was really going to die. Rose was the one who had experience in this arena. She was the one who had to be strong, so that Mickey could lean on her long enough to find his own strength as well. He'd already done pretty well without her. She tried to imagine what could happen if she just helped him; pushed him, and pushed herself as well.
"Yeah," Rose said, pulling herself to her feet. She walked over to Mickey and took his hand. "We're gonna get out of 'ere," she echoed. "Just you watch."
When the loud repetitious bleeping sound started, Rose jumped a little, shocked. It took her a moment to understand that it was the sound of a signal. A distress signal, which could be tracked back to them. Which could lead to their rescue.
She looked to Mickey, who looked back at her with a dawning smile.
Mickey ran across the room and swept Rose into his arms. Somehow their lips found each other's for the first time in many months – years, for Mickey. Rose pulled away, though not so far that his arms had to drop from around her. They looked at each other, suddenly very serious.
"Yeah?" Mickey asked.
Mickey was smart; more so than Rose had ever really given him credit for. He was well aware that this wasn't them starting up their relationship again. This was about a mixture of comfort and celebration, about proper human contact in an isolated maze of dark twisted metal. And because he was aware of it, and because he obviously needed it as much as Rose did, she didn't think this was just another occasion on which she was being selfish at his expense. That was how she justified it, anyway.
"Yeah," she replied.
Of course, they might have been better off to wait until they'd got back to the TARDIS, with its heating and abundance of warm beds and other creature comforts. Still, Mickey's body draped on top of her, and him inside her, providing a welcome contrast against the metal pressing against her back, was just about exactly what she needed right then.
Except that Mickey's hands ran down her body, cupping her breast, and Rose thought that that too should feel colder than it did. It should be another hand exploring her, feeling between her legs, making her squirm.
But she and the Doctor were never like that, were they? And now they never would be.
Rose wondered whether the Doctor was similarly taking comfort in a French courtesan across time and space. She wondered whether he thought about her at all, with Madame de Pompadour to keep him company. He'd been obviously infatuated with the woman, after all. Perhaps he'd forgotten all about Rose.
"Mickey," she breathed purposely as she arched into him, resolutely thinking about the man she was with rather than the man she wished would come back for her, already.
Of course, trying not to think about the Doctor meant that of course she was thinking about him. She was thinking about the Doctor while having sex. With someone else.
She resolved to never let on to Mickey. He'd be hurt. Or maybe he'd just laugh her out of the room.
When a rescue finally arrived over a month later, Rose felt the first stirrings of hope that she and Mickey might actually make it back home to the 21st century.
They were in the 51st century, the Doctor had announced as they'd left the safety of the TARDIS and boarded the spaceship. But somehow, even having been told that, Rose had never quite joined the dots in her head and thought of Jack and the Time Agency. The Agency had, she was told later, been called in when the origin of the distress signal was linked with traces of temporal displacement energy. Or something like that. It'd sort of gone over Rose's head a little, like half of the techno-babble the Doctor spouted.
Hadspouted, she reminded herself.
But the important thing was that they were there – the Time Agency, that was, not Jack, because it'd be awkward and worryingly paradoxical if she met Jack now before he'd met her. Right there in front of her were Time Agents, with their Vortex Manipulators, which could take them just about anywhere. Including 2006, London, England, Earth.
Things might have gone as smoothly as her asking nicely for a ride back to that time and place if the Agents hadn't decided to 'secure' the ship and found what was left of the bodies. They looked as horrified and disgusted as Rose herself had been. The difference was, of course, that Rose and Mickey had both known exactly how those people had come to be there in that state. With no repair droids left on the ship as proof of their story, the Time Agents came to the inevitable conclusion that she and Mickey might well have killed all those people.
She could see yet another prison cell on the horizon. Well, she'd probably had worse. That whole ship had been like one big prison cell, after all, and she'd been there for months. At least now she and Mickey would get a bit of a change of scenery.
The good thing about being suspected of brutally murdering a whole group of people was that it tended to keep the Time Agent's attention squarely on her and Mickey. So much so that the perception filter was enough to make their eyes slide past the TARDIS as if it wasn't there. Rose hated to think what would happen if the Time Agency got their hands on that prize. She was pretty sure that human beings weren't meant to have that sort of power.
They were transported somewhere – Rose initially had presumed Earth, but then realised she hadn't a clue where, actually – and locked up in a room. She thought they might be inside the Time Agency itself. Vortex manipulators galore, just waiting to be 'borrowed', and somewhere there had to be instructions for how to actually use the damn things. If only she and Mickey could get out of there and findthem.
Jack had often told her stories about shagging his way out of prisons and pending executions. Rose had thought at the time that he was exaggerating. Surely Jack was one of a kind. They couldn't all be as hang-up-free about sex as all that, even three thousand years in the future.
Apparently, though, he'd been right on the money. Even though they were being held for suspected murder, it took the young Time Agent guarding their room – or cell, she supposed, though it didn't seem like any prison cell she'd ever been in – less than half an hour to start hitting on her.
Perhaps he was new to the job, Rose thought. Perhaps he just wasn't the brightest bulb in the room. Whatever the case, Rose didn't even have to touch him, let alone have sex with him. She just lured him inside the room with coy smiles and promising eyes, and let Mickey take care of the rest with a quick double-fisted bash over the head.
"Sorry," she whispered to the man's now unconscious body as she grabbed the ID-card from his uniform and slid it across the lock. The light turned green and the door unsealed itself. Rose kissed the card gratefully. Who needed psychic paper, then?
Making her way, with Mickey tagging behind her by only a foot or so, through the building without being noticed wasn't particularly the easiest thing she'd ever done. Still, Rose thought that they might have arrived fairly early in the Time Agency's history, based on the low level of security. She would just bet that things were about to tighten up once word got around that two people in custody had slipped past their notice and escaped.
Once they'd found the room where the Vortex Manipulators were stored and had knocked out yet another guard – "So sorry," she whispered again – they got hold of two wristbands and an instruction manual and locked themselves in an empty room while they fiddled about with the Manipulators, trying to make them work.
When they thought they had some idea of what the buttons all did, Rose and Mickey both attached their respective wristbands firmly and activated the devices at the same time, their hands grasped together in the hope that that would prevent them from being separated.
They appeared in the middle of a group of wild-looking people, spears whirling through the air to point decisively at their fronts and a blazing fire nearly scorching their backs.
"I think we got it a little wrong," Rose muttered to Mickey.
"Hi!" she announced more loudly and cheerfully to the people surrounding them, adding a little wave for good measure. If possible, the expressions of the other people grew even angrier.
"Emergency recall button?" Mickey asked.
"Emergency recall button," Rose agreed.
They ended up right back in their locked room, breathing a little harder than when they'd left.
"Well, it looked like Earth at least," Rose offered.
Mickey raised an eyebrow.
Rose sighed. "Hey, I learned time travel from the Doctor. What'd you expect?"
A lot of different places (or 'detours' as Mickey had jokingly called them) and a hell of a lot of jeopardy later, they arrived in London in the right time period. Not quite late 2006, as would have been preferable. But hey, 2008 wasn't too shabby. And it wasn't as if her mother hadn't been through not knowing where she was for a year or so before. At least this time Jackie had some idea whyRose might not be in contact.
"You got any money on you?" Rose asked, glancing around. Wherever they were, it clearly wasn't the Powell Estates. They'd need transport.
"No," Mickey said. "Didn't think I'd need any. The Doctor seemed to get by well enough being flat broke. And I didn't think pounds would be worth anythin' on the planet Zarg in the year two million, either."
"Yeah," Rose agreed distractedly. "How are we gonna get home, though?"
It turned out, though, that it wasn't just in the 51st century that Rose could flirt her way out of a bit of a tight spot. Armed with enough money to get both herself and Mickey a bus home (and with a phone number scrawled eagerly on the back of her hand), they set off to figure out just how far they were from home.
Closer than they'd been since the Doctor left them, anyway, Rose thought. That was all that mattered.
When, two hours later, they'd climbed the many stairs up the Powell Estates, Jackie nearly flattened Rose when she mauled her at the door of her flat, pulling Rose into a desperate sort of hug.
"You're making a habit of this, Madame!" Jackie berated her, tears streaming down her face. "No more, you hear? There'll be no more of this not letting me know where you are for years on end business!"
Rose felt tears just slightly prickle at the inside corners of her eyes, but she didn't let them fall. "Yeah, Mum. I'm sorry. No more."
She and Mickey never did tell Jackie what had happened during their time away, no matter how many times Jackie pushed for an explanation of why they'd been gone so long and where the Doctor was at now (and she was going to give him a slap like he wouldn't believe when he showed up, Jackie promised darkly). They'd sort of silently agreed that it wasn't going to help anything if Jackie knew.
After all, it was doubtful Rose would ever get out of her Mum's sight again if Jackie had any real concept of the sort of things she'd seen and done out there in the universe. And she did have a life to lead.
Even if it was a life without the Doctor.
It felt like her whole life had passed her by, living day to day life in the year 2008. And at the same time, sometimes it felt like mere moments. As if the world was moving in slow-motion, and it only seemed to her as if it was passing at unfathomable speed because Rose was completely frozen in time.
After all that she and Mickey had been through, ordinary life – domestic life, as the old Doctor would have said – seemed so surreal that Rose thought perhaps she was dreaming it. Time passed like it did in her dreams. Seconds seemed to cling on for hours at times, and then at other times she'd look back and wondered what had happened to the intervening hours, and whether she'd time-travelled again by accident.
But then, nearly a year after arriving back on the Powell Estates and beginning her new life back on Earth, she heard the still-familiar groan and whoop of the TARDIS materialising. She doubted herself at first. Suddenly she didn't know which part was the dream. If any of it was. Or if all of it was. Maybe there had never been a time-travelling alien called the Doctor. There were only the occasional (painful) reminders provided by her Mum and Mickey to tell her otherwise.
When she barrelled out of the building, having taken the stairs two at a time and at a dangerous pace, she thought nothing had ever seemed so real in her whole life as the TARDIS did right then. It was blue and angular against a dreary afternoon sky. She'd never seen anything so beautiful.
The door swung open with a squeak, and out stepped the Doctor, looking just the same as the day she'd last seen him. Exactlythe same, she noted, including that the exact same tie that had been stupidly wrapped around his head when he'd saved her and Mickey from those clockwork creatures was around his neck.
Their eyes met, and he grinned.
After a second had passed, and with it seemingly a whole lifetime, Rose became aware of the tear that had tracked halfway down her cheek. Another cascaded in its wake, and then yet another slipped down the other side like a mirror image. The rest (and there were many, many more just waiting to spring free, she was sure) didn't make it that far, as they were absorbed by the Doctor's coat as he arrived at her side and pulled her into his arms.
Rose clung to him, sobbing so hard she thought she might need a respiratory bypass system like his just to get through the burning pain of it alive. It was the first time in over a year that she'd cried. She'd been holding it in and holding it in – and there'd been so manytears to hold back in all that time. And now the dam had broken, it felt like there might not be any way to mend it.
"I'm so sorry," the Doctor whispered into her hair.
Rose pulled away, tears and mascara still streaming, and smiled a watery smile at him.
It took only a split-second to forgive him.
Of course, that was before she caught sight, over the Doctor's shoulder, of Madame de Pompadour poking her perfectly coiffed head curiously out of the TARDIS.