Author's Note: This is an alternate ending to Standing Still in a Kaleidoscope, branching off from the end of Chapter One. This ignores the original ending, and it won't make much sense if you haven't read that first chapter.
Rose pulled away from him abruptly, the sad but relieved smile she'd been sporting falling away. The Doctor tensed, ready to spring into action, because Rose looked for all the world as if she'd just seen a twenty-foot tall alien made entirely of slashing blades walking up behind him, frothing at the mouth and ready to kill.
Except that there was nothing behind him but Reinette, who was peeking out the TARDIS door curiously to see where he'd landed them. He quickly relaxed again, though he couldn't shake his bewilderment at Rose's odd reaction quite as easily.
The Doctor smiled encouragingly at Reinette as she looked around. It hadn't really been his intention for this to be her first trip, of course – as far as he was concerned, this was purely a brief rescue mission to save Rose (and maybe Mickey, if he was lucky) from the clutches of Jackie Tyler – but the Doctor really couldn't think of anywhere better to take her for her first time away from her own era than 21st century Earth anyway. Oh, there were more beautiful places, and more exotic, but the people here...
The Doctor looked back to Rose, who stood there like the embodiment of his point.
Neither Reinette nor Rose was looking particularly impressed with his choice to bring Reinette to this time and place, though. In fact, he didn't think Rose had ever looked at him with so much bitterness (and that included when he'd let Mickey come along with them, and even that time he'd somehow – completely accidentally, mind – melted her favourite pair of leather boots by using them to prop up some of the white-hot wiring he'd been fixing under the TARDIS console). There was something underneath her unusual hostility as well. Was that expression pain? He'd never had much trouble reading Rose's emotions before, but he didn't think that he could be correctly interpreting what she was feeling this time. Whatever she'd had to go through to make her way back from that spaceship in the future, she surely couldn't still be hurt. He'd know it if she was.
Uncomfortable about the fact that no one was talking – imagine not having anything at all to say, honestly – the Doctor filled the silence with the type of pointless babble that he barely even paid attention to himself. It was something about Reinette, he was fairly certain. All he could really remember of it later was that maybe if he reminded Rose and Reinette just how much the two women had in common, Rose would stop looking at Reinette as though she was the exact opposite of brilliant.
Then Rose looked at him in the exact same sort of way she was looking at Reinette, and whatever he'd been saying died away.
"The TARDIS said you were there for months," he said after a long moment. "I'm sorry."
He could see quite clearly that Rose went to say one thing, and then changed her mind. "Yeah," she said instead. "Months. And then comin' onto a year back here."
"I... what?" the Doctor asked, stunned. "A year? How could it have been a year? It was difficult to track you, of course – Time Agency technology is complete rubbish, as you probably know after trying to use it – but the TARDIS should still have been able to track your arrival time within a couple of weeks or so. A month at the outside!"
"Yeah," Rose laughed, but she didn't sound at all as though she found anything funny. "Well. I guess I know how my Mum felt now, don't I?"
The Doctor frowned. "I'm sorry," he repeated. Then he brightened. "But I'm back now, see? And we've got so many places to show Reinette. And Mickey! Where is old Mickey boy, anyway?"
Rose was shaking her head at him as if he was speaking an incomprehensible language and the translation circuit wasn't working for her.
"You..." Rose said, and then shook her head. She muttered something that even the Doctor's superior hearing didn't quite catch, except for the last word, since it was said with much greater vehemence, like a curse: "Men!"
She walked away, pointedly ignoring the Doctor as he called after her.
"Ah," Reinette said delicately, from behind him. He turned to see her walking towards him, pointedly ignoring the fact that her skirts were clearly gathering dirt from the dusty concrete. "I see that some things are very different in future times. In my experience, it would not be considered prudent for a woman to put on that sort of display. I expect there are many things of that kind that I shall have to get used to, travelling with you."
"Display?" the Doctor repeated. He felt much stupider at that moment than he was evercomfortable with feeling (given that he was, after all, usually quite the genius, and proud of it).
"Yes," Reinette said simply. "You should give her some time to gather herself before imposing yourself on her again, I think. Even if she doesn't have to recover from the shame of acting that way in front of you, I imagine that she will at least need some time to wash away all that unseemly face paint that was running down her cheeks."
The Doctor started, his gaze darting off towards the direction in which Rose had fled. He'd been so happy to see her that he hadn't even noticed... had Rose been crying?
"Perhaps you could show me some of those stars we talked about in the interim, while we are waiting for her," Reinette suggested.
The Doctor, still staring off after Rose, wondered what would be the best way to explain to Reinette that there seemed little point in revisiting all of those stars he'd stared out at with such longing back in Versailles if Rose wasn't at his side to experience them as well. He might have new eyes through which to look at them, but it still felt much more as though he was witnessing the universe anew if he was seeing it through her eyes.
The words he'd been trying to form were completely wiped away as Reinette captured both of his hands in hers. That was the moment when the Doctor properly realised the source of Rose's disconcertion.
He stared down at his right hand with a sense of dawning horror. Admittedly, he hadn't had that hand long (even less time than he'd had the left mirror of it), but he'd certainly had it long enough that it should be recognisable to him. However, grasping a much daintier hand than the one it usually found its way towards like a magnet, it looked as though it belonged to a complete stranger.
Perhaps it did.
Standing there like that, with Reinette, he had no free hand to hold Rose's. Nothing in the entirety of his very long life had ever felt quite so wrong before.
He dropped Reinette's hands abruptly as though they'd burned him, trying not to feel guilty at the expression that prompted.
"I can't," he said. "I have to..."
He gestured towards the towering Estate building.
Reinette eyes narrowed just slightly, giving him a sort of shrewd look. "Is that different in the future as well?" she asked.
"Is what different?" the Doctor asked.
"That it is considered acceptable for a man to take more than one mistress. She acted as though that was not to be expected."
The Doctor gaped at her. Where had that come from? Couldn't she see that that wasn't at all what was going on? Not that the Doctor could really explain what was going on. Even after 900 years of living, he still hadn't anywhere near figured out women. He could make a good case, in fact, that female humans were the most inscrutable of the lot.
"That's... that's not... No one's anyone's mistress," the Doctor finally said, and then frowned. "Well, strictly speaking, you're the King's mistress, aren't you? Obviously. But that's back there, not here, and not with me. Time Lords don't have ... that."
Reinette looked politely incredulous. "You forget, Fireplace Man, that I have seen inside your mind. I know what you feel for her, and how you have touched her in the past. And I am certainly well aware how you have kissed and danced with me, as I was very much present at the time."
The Doctor didn't really know what to say to that. He didn't think that any of the arguments he'd stored up in the months that he'd been denying there was anything more than friendship between himself and Rose would work any better against Reinette (who seemed to know him so well, and so instantly) than they did against himself.
Perhaps the truth of it wasn't so much that he didn't understand women after 900 years, but that he didn't even understand himself.
"It's like you said," the Doctor explained weakly. "These things are different in the future. And in all of time and space, when it comes to Time Lords."
Reinette just looked at him, as if she was reading his mind just as effectively as she'd done when he'd been scanning hers hours (or years, from her perspective) earlier.
"I don't believe it's any different at all," she concluded.
The Doctor opened his mouth to refute her yet again, but found the words were stuck in his throat. Reinette just nodded once, somewhat curtly, as if satisfied that her point had been proven.
"I need you to stay in the TARDIS," the Doctor finally said, giving up on what seemed to be a losing (or lost) battle. "I have to go explain things to Rose. Seeing those stars will come later. Hopefully." He added that last word so softly he wasn't certain that Reinette had heard it. He wasn't sure that he wanted her to.
He escorted Reinette back through into his ship and shut the door between them, only to swing it back open again a second later. "And when I say 'stay here', I mean stay here. Right here. In the console room. I can't have you wandering off dressed like that into 21st century London – bad enough that you were standing about in the Powell Estate where anyone could see you – and you're bound to get lost in the TARDIS if you go looking about before you've got at least a vague idea where things are, in which case it might be months before –"
"Doctor," Reinette interjected. "If you ask me to stay, then of course I shall stay. There's no need for all of these unnecessary explanations. I think your time would be better spent elsewhere."
It would probably be counterproductive for the Doctor to complain about the fact that Reinette was apparently actually listening to him about not wandering off, especially considering that he seemed to spend half his life tracking down one person or another who'd ignored Rule Number One. Still, it was just another thing that was suddenly jangling the Doctor's nerves in a wholly unpleasant way. It was just wrong to have one of his travelling companions simply obeyhim like that, as if there was no question of his having that authority, without that person at the very least knowing what was at stake if they disobeyed.
Rose would never have just...
But Reinette wasn't Rose, and it would be entirely unfair for the Doctor to wish her to be. Hadn't that been part of what had drawn him to Reinette in the first place? That things were different? At least with her, he'd had no choice but to be swept along in their dance, while with Rose things had somehow become so unbearably complicated that he couldn't even figure out where to put his foot down next.
That was something he'd better figure out quickly, he realised, since he was apparently going to have to not do anything to muck things up even worse than they already were between himself and Rose.
Just a few days ago, that would have sounded like an easy task. Right then, though, it sounded like a very tall order.
The Doctor closed the door once more to prevent himself from retreating back into the TARDIS like some kind of coward, leaving himself nowhere to go but after Rose.
She was, as he'd expected, in her mother's flat. When Rose herself answered the door, the Doctor released his breath in a rush of relief; it seemed that Jackie Tyler wasn't lying in wait for him after all. He could only imagine the force of the whack he'd be getting for this mishap.
"Hello," he greeted sheepishly. "I've done something very stupid."
Rose looked at him expectantly. "And what's that, then?"
The Doctor didn't think that it would be a good idea to mention that he'd actually been hoping Rose would tell him the exact nature of his mistake. He only knew that he'd made one, because it was very clear that things weren't right with Reinette waiting back in the TARDIS and Rose seeming entirely ready to dig in her heels and stay with her Mum for the foreseeable future (and the Doctor could foresee quite a lot of the future, actually, so that was particularly worrying).
"I, er... I left you behind on that spaceship," he said. "And Mickey," he added as an afterthought. "I got all caught up in saving the day. You know how I get."
"Yeah. I really do know, now, huh?" Rose said tiredly.
The Doctor caught himself reaching out for her hand before he got close enough that she would have to choose whether to allow the contact or jerk away.
"What happened on that ship?" he asked.
A flicker in Rose's eyes, and the way she glanced quickly away from him, told him that her assertion of, "Oh, you know. Nothin' much," was a complete lie.
He had a brief thought that Mickey would be only too happy to tell him all the details, but then he realised that he didn't actually want to ask Mickey. He'd rather hear the truth from Rose's mouth, or not at all, since it was clearly something that was important enough to her to keep a secret. He knew what that was like, after all.
"And?" Rose eventually prompted.
Rose rolled her eyes. "The list of other stupid things you've done."
"There's a list?" the Doctor asked. Rose's look would have made him break out in a sweat, had he been human like her. He gave her a hopeful look. "And... I didn't ask you whether I should invite Reinette along?"
Rose shut the door in his face.
Perhaps he shouldn't have phrased it as a question.
"Ow!" the Doctor cried, rubbing his nose.
"I sodidn't even hit you, you baby," Rose's muffled voice came through the door. "Honestly, no one'd ever guess you were 900 years old."
"It was a very close call," the Doctor complained. If he'd had his last nose...
Well, if he had still been that man, he probably wouldn't be standing outside this door in the first place, would he? They would have been back on board the TARDIS, just the two of them (or maybe the two of them and Jack, but he didn't really want to think about that). That had been the kind of man he'd been then.
Was he really so different now?
The Doctor's eyes widened. "I did something else fairly stupid," he called through the door, trying to sound placating. "I turned into this new man, you see."
The door swung open with as much force as it had slammed.
"Too right you did," Rose said, crossing her arms defensively over her chest and giving him a look that said that she was waiting, and that this time whatever he said had better be good or the door was closing more permanently. "As if it's just about askin' me... He wouldn't have..."
The Doctor winced. If Rose honestly believed he was a completely different person, that it had all been some lie to disguise the differences, then he very much doubted that she'd be back travelling with him any time soon.
"In all the ways that really matter, I'm still him," the Doctor reminded her. "But it's going to take a little while to sort all the quirks out so that I don't just..." Just run off and forget about what's important when something else interesting comes along, he thought. Just push her away again and again, and treat her like she was just another passing human he'd picked up without meaning to. He didn't think any of it needed saying. She knew, better even than he did, what he'd done.
"How long do you think that'll take?" Rose asked. "To figure things out."
The Doctor felt a bolt of panic rush through him. Was she suggesting that she would rather wait for that time? Not travel with him until he'd worked himself out properly? But what if he never quite did? It was always a dodgy sort of process, after all.
"Less time with you there to help me," he quickly said. He saw the slightly twitching at the corners of Rose's mouth and the panic faded somewhat.
"What d'you need me for?" Rose asked. "You've got all these other people you keep invitin' on board the ship. Sarah Jane, and Mickey, and... Madame de Pompadour."
He considered reminding her of Adam, and Jack, and the fact that she had been the one who'd suggested that he should invite Sarah along, and had first pushed him to invite Mickey as well back after the Slitheen had tried to take Downing Street over. For once, though, he kept his mouth shut. He knew that there were a lot of things he didn't understand about 21st century human women, but he understood the expression she was wearing now – and had likely been wearing earlier if he'd thought to look for it – well enough from personal experience (again, because there'd been Adam, and Jack, and Mickey).
Time Lords had always thought themselves above petty emotions like jealousy, but then the Time Lords were a bunch of pretentious idiots, and were only too happy to lie to themselves if it allowed them to continue believing they were above the rest of the universe.
"I thought..." Rose flinched slightly as if her own words were physically painful for her. "After all your talk about timelines and whatever, with my Dad, I thought you would never do somethin' like that yourself. But then obviously you decided she's worth the risk. What if something happens to her? Things'll change, won't they, and not for the better, either."
He went to say that of course he would get Reinette back safely, and that no one would be the wiser for her having left; he wasn't some novice time-traveller, of course, as Rose had been when she'd saved her father. But it occurred to the Doctor – as it probably should have done hours ago, before he'd ever offered Reinette the stars in the first place – that the life he led wasn't really conducive to promises like that. And it wasn't that he wanted to put Rose, or any of the others he'd travelled with, into that kind of danger any more than Reinette, but Rose was right; it would be far more catastrophic to the timelines if Reinette was killed in some time other than her own, as she was supposed to. She still had several years' worth of living to do.
"I don't want to stay here," Rose admitted. "I want to go with you. But I've had some time to sort of grow up, you know? Mickey and me both. Mickey's seen enough now that he says he's sort of happier stayin' here, not havin' to play second fiddle to anyone anymore. And me? Well, I don't need to be out there in space again so much that I'm gonna just accept your leftovers."
The Doctor had been fully prepared to eventually hold out his hand as an offer (a peace offering, perhaps), giving Rose the choice of whether to take it or not, the same way he had after he'd regenerated. After that comment, though, he snatched her hands up – both of them, in a more forceful and somehow more intrinsically right reflection of how Reinette had held his hands earlier.
"Leftovers? I told you that you could spend the rest of your life with me," the Doctor reminded her. He'd never intended to bring that conversation up again – it was just too painful – but it clearly needed to be said. In a choice between protecting himself from some future pain and actually, properly losing Rose right now just because he'd failed to make himself entirely clear, there wasn't much contest. "Do you honestly think I promised her that as well? Or that I've ever promised it to anyone else?"
Rose seemed taken aback by this, but not so much so that she didn't have one last argument close at hand. "I know you," Rose accused, her voice significantly less steady than it had been. "It'll be one more trip, and just one more, and it might be the rest of her life before you even know it, even if you don't mean it to be."
The Doctor scowled. "No, it won't be like that. I didn't think," he admitted. He hated having to say those words. "I just wanted to show her that the universe is so much bigger than she imagined. The same as I want to show you all."
Rose's expression softened, finally. "But you can't."
The Doctor looked at her. "I can. Show some of you, I mean."
"But not her," Rose said. "Doctor..."
"I know," he admitted sharply.
He hated to think of Reinette's disappointment when he had to take her back. Back to where she belonged, he reminded himself.
Something of that feeling must have shown on his face, for Rose bit her lip and said, "You could stay there with her. If that's what you wanted."
"No," the Doctor said quickly. "I couldn't."
He hated to leave Reinette behind. Of coursehe did. But he hated the idea of Rose leaving him even more.
"Right," Rose said. "You've got the TARDIS, and all of time and space to see."
"Yep," the Doctor said. "We do."
Rose's smile was the best thing the Doctor had seen in... well, as long as it had been since she'd last smiled at him quite that brightly. It had been longer than he'd have liked.
"Yeah?" Rose asked.
"Yeah," he affirmed.
The relief brought by the sight of her smile made him worry, once again, just how lost how he'd feel when she really did leave him, whether by choice or not.
For now, though, walking back to the TARDIS with her in tow (already on the phone to her mother to let her know that she was leaving again, and wasn't the Doctor glad he could avoid that confrontation for a little longer), he supposed that that was an unnecessary conversation.
All he knew was that, for now, the feeling of their hands together felt right, and would continue to feel right long after it was just the two of them on the TARDIS once again.