Author's Notes: Goes AU during The Impossible Planet. Instead of finishing straight away, the drilling takes a month to complete from the time the Doctor and Rose are stranded. The Beast doesn't make its move until the drilling reaches its end. This fic is set in that intervening month.
"Everyone leaves home in the end."
"Not to end up stuck here."
"Yeah, but stuck with you, that's not so bad."
"Even if it means we have to work in the laundry, like Ida said?" the Doctor asked with a grimace.
"Even," Rose said, with a matching expression of distaste, "if I have to be a dinner ladyagain."
Their hands found each other across the table.
The crew had assumed, as everyone they met tended to do, that the Doctor and Rose were together. Really together. They'd been assigned to a single room, with just the one cramped little bed. Rose could tell that the available space on the Sanctuary Base was scarce. The room they were staying in was probably only free because someone on the crew who should have been staying there was missing. Rose didn't like to think about the implications of that, and she doubted that the crew really wanted it brought up, so she hadn't complained.
She didn't want to be sleeping off on her own somewhere in a foreign place with people she didn't know, anyway. She'd rather be squished in with the Doctor than have all the space in the universe and be alone.
The Doctor hadn't brought the issue up either, but Rose suspected that that might be more because he just didn't care all that much. He was too focused on other things.
She'd seen how broken he'd looked earlier. He was still aware enough to be concerned on her behalf, of course, but the little things like sleeping arrangements undoubtedly just faded into the background. Especially since the Doctor didn't sleep all that often anyway.
That didn't mean that he wouldn't decide to take up the bed, of course. He was funny that way. Right then, he was as sprawled out on his back as the tiny mattress would allow. He stared up intensely at the dirty ceiling, as if it could offer the answers to all of his problems if he just studied it hard enough.
Rose crossed the few feet that separated the doorway and the bed. She perched herself on the small bit of unoccupied mattress beside his hip. The Doctor's eyes left the roof, then, and focused on her instead. That expression that proclaimed he was seeking answers remained, though. Rose didn't quite know what to do with that look directed at her. Right then she just didn't have any answers to give.
She wanted to ask whether the Doctor was all right, but she didn't see the point. She'd heard the words 'I'm always all right', or other comments to that effect, frequently enough to know what his answer would be. It really wouldn't do either of them any good to have that lie hanging so obviously between them. Better to just leave it for the moment.
Maybe, if she was very lucky, he'd bring it up on his own. The really important things, like the loss of his planet or the descriptions of the atrocities for which the Daleks had been responsible during the war, were always things that he'd brought up under his own steam. If the loss of his race and his planet had been terrible, then the TARDIS falling beyond their reach was ... nothing short of debilitating, really. It was quite possibly the worst thing that had ever happened to him. It might do more harm than good to try to force this issue, with that in mind.
So she let the silence draw out, no matter how much she wanted to fill it.
She did, however, reach up and run a hand through his hair, pushing a few errant strands out of his eyes. His expression turned a bit grateful at the contact. Rose knew that it had nothing to do with her having cleared his vision. Not in the obvious way, at least.
They sat there for a long time, their mutual stillness heavy but somehow amenable, until exhaustion made Rose lie down beside him.
He held onto her, then, so she wouldn't fall off the edge of the too-small bed.
She tried not to read anything too symbolic into that.
She told herself that it really wasn't her that needed catching, after all.
Rose almost laughed at the bright yellow gloves he was wearing, and how ridiculously they clashed with his suit. However, noting the dark expression on the Doctor's face, Rose was quick to realise that he wasn't in the mood for her to have a joke at his expense.
"Hey," Rose greeted softly instead. "What's up?"
"I'm doing the laundry," he moaned piteously. "Sorting out other people's clothes to be washed, like ... like your mother, or something."
At any other time, Rose might have protested on her Mum's behalf. She could see that at the moment it would fall on deaf ears, though. More so than it usually would, even.
"I've never had to do laundry," the Doctor continued. "Ever. The ... the TARDIS always did it, and before that, on ... well. That sort of thing was just dealt with, anyway."
He'd lost so much. Rose knew, even with the heartbreaks she'd experienced, that she couldn't quite understand how he felt about those losses. It wasn't even like watching her father die and knowing she was responsible for it. As much as she'd loved her Dad, she'd barely known him.
The TARDIS was the Doctor's life. He'd said it himself to the crew on the Base just after they'd found out the TARDIS was gone. For hundreds of years, that ship had been his everything. He was connected to it like nothing and no one else in his entire history. To have that ripped away suddenly ... Rose couldn't even imagine it.
Maybe, though, she didn't need to understand. Maybe she just needed to try to make it a little more bearable.
"Here," she said. She snapped on a pair of gloves to match the ones the Doctor was wearing. "It's just like when Shireen and I worked housekeeping to make some extra money one summer when I was still in school. It's deadly boring, but you can spice it up a bit by making up stories about the people who own the clothes. You can tell a lot about people from what they wear."
"But we already know the people who own the clothes," the Doctor protested.
Rose raised her eyebrows. "Do we? We've been here with them for all of two days. I don't know about you, but I honestly don't know a thing about any of them. Not really. Not about the important stuff, like their past and their hopes and all that."
Rose brandished a small men's shirt demonstratively. "Like, let's start with this. See how tiny this is? And it's all stretchy. I don't care what century you live in – a guy only wears a shirt like this when he's desperate to attract a certain type of attention. The guy who owns it might be flamboyantly gay, I guess, but none of the blokes here struck me as bein' like that. So failin' that, I'd say the guy is probably a virgin. I bet he was hopin' that bein' on a long mission like this one, crammed in with a whole crew of lonely people, would be just what he needed to fix that." Rose grinned and held it up in front of her chest, as if modelling it. "Who do you think it belongs to? Danny? Or maybe Toby? Yeah, probably Toby. He's wound way too tight."
The Doctor shook his head, but Rose could see just the beginnings of a smirk twitching at the corners of his mouth. "You're terrible."
Rose shrugged and tossed the shirt into the correct pile. She reached for another item of clothing and exclaimed, "Aha! Look at this!" She dangled a pair of skimpy black lace panties from the end of her gloved index finger. The Doctor looked embarassed but still slightly intrigued at the sight of them, which pleased Rose to no end.
"Underwear's always the best," she said. "These ones are the sort of thing you'd keep tucked away for those special occasions when the person you really like is gonna see them. The fact that they've been worn recently means that someone in this place is havin' sex. Probably not with the guy who owns the shirt, though. He must be so frustrated about that.
"You know," Rose realised suddenly, "I bet they're Scooti's. They look like her sort of thing. And she and Ida are always gettin' into each other's personal space, so maybe they're ... well, you know." Rose smiled suggestively.
Rose thought that if Jack had been there, he'd have been impressed at how easily she came up with the idea of two women together. Before him, it might not have even occurred to her. Since him, the first thing she thought of when considering humans in the future was their apparent openness to different sorts of 'dancing'.
Just another reason to miss him, she supposed. As if she needed more of those.
"You can tell that just from a pair of underwear?" the Doctor asked, his forehead creasing slightly. He squinted at them, as if he could somehow read all that information off them just by looking more closely.
"Oh yeah," Rose said, jumping on the opportunity to force out of her mind the sadness that seemed to be perpetually attached to her memories of Jack. "Easy. Underwear tells you just about everythin' you need to know about a person, Shireen always said."
The Doctor cocked his head. "Well then. I wonder. What type of underwear does one Rose Tyler wear?"
For a mad moment, she considered offering to show him. Just for a moment. Two years or so ago, with another man, she would probably have been reckless enough to just cheekily drop trou' enough to flash said underwear, right then and there. Certainly if she'd had a drink or two beforehand, she would have. However, she'd grown a lot since running into the TARDIS that first time. She also knew that her relationship with the Doctor was a little too precarious to risk scaring him off like that. Even though he was the one who'd brought it up, lately she wasn't quite sure enough of him to risk taking it that step further.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" she said instead. Still teasing, she thought, but not too in-his-face.
The Doctor turned away pointedly, and Rose just knew that he was hiding a smile. She was glad.
They continued sorting through the clothes, with Rose keeping up a running commentary of each halfway-interesting item of clothing she encountered. By the end, the Doctor was adding details to her stories. Despite himself, he was also smiling outright.
Rose wasn't sure she could meet the eyes of any of the crew after all that speculating, but it was worth it to see that look on the Doctor's face again.
Rose hadn't fixed anything, of course. The things that mattered didn't resolve themselves just like that, with a few jokes and a smile. But Rose knew as well as anyone that just being given something else to focus on in the meantime could help in a way. If that was as much as she could assist him, she'd be damned if she wasn't going to at least do just that.
"D'you ever get breaks?" Rose asked the Ood that was slopping her meal onto the tray.
"I do not know what you mean," it – he? – said in response.
"Well, you're always doin' stuff for the crew," Rose said. "Don't you get time off to do what youwant?"
"We do not need time for anything else. We live to serve."
Rose rolled her eyes in frustration. "Yeah, right, I've heard that before. But that can't be right. Not really. I mean, you can't have always served humans. What about when you were kids? You must have had times when you could just have fun."
She imagined a pint-sized Ood playing hopscotch or skipping rope. That was weird, but also unbelievably amusing.
"Fun? I do not understand," the Ood said. If it was possible for an Ood to look confused, that was definitely the expression Rose was seeing.
She thought that bewilderment at the very idea of 'fun' might be one of the saddest things she'd seen in her whole life.
"Here," Rose said, abandoning her tray to cross around to the doorway that would lead her through to the other side of the counter.
"You are not allowed in the kitchen," the Ood said. The admonition lost some of its power when said in that consistently mild-mannered tone the Ood all used.
That tone was really starting to give Rose the creeps, truth be told. It was like they'd all been mind-wiped. Reconditioning, Jack had called it when he'd talked about his Time Agency days with her once. Remaking a person – or maybe even a whole species, Rose couldn't help but think – into exactly what you wanted them to be.
They were willing to do nothing but serve. The Ood couldn't be that way by choice. She couldn't bring herself to believe that anyone would wantthat. Not really.
"I've got experience doin' this job," Rose said. "Go on. All of you. I'll take it from here. You lot go off and have a break. Do whatever you'd do if humans didn't exist. Gossip or somethin'. That's what I always did on work breaks. That, or readin' magazines. Do Ood have magazines? Ood Weekly? No, maybe not. Definitely not all the way out here in the middle of nowhere."
Rose thought she might be picking up the Doctor's predilection to babble. She wasn't sure how she felt about that.
The Ood must have been completely baffled by her request, and perhaps even more so by her rambling. She'd given them a direct order, though, so they shuffled obediently out of the kitchen.
She wished that they'd left because they'd wanted to, not because she'd made them. However, she'd have to take what she could get. For now.
The Doctor's face appeared in one of the windows between the kitchen and the main area. "I thought you hated being a dinner lady," he remarked.
Rose shrugged. "Yeah, well, I do. But at least it's my choice, you know? The Ood are slaves, and no one on this Base seems to care. About time someone started, don't you think? At least if everyone sees me workin' in here instead of the Ood it might make them at least start considerin' changin' things."
The Doctor smiled proudly at her. "Rose Tyler, look at you being an activist."
"A what-now?" she asked with a frown.
"Like a protester," the Doctor explained. "A protector of those who can't look out for themselves."
Rose smiled slightly, thoughtful, and then nodded decisively. "Yeah. All right. Activist. I like the sound of that."
"It's very you," the Doctor said, "wanting to help people."
Rose was glad he thought so.
"So what do you think?" Rose asked. "When we get the TARDIS back, we'll have a bit of a look into this whole slavery thing, right?"
The slight, almost unintentional emphasis she placed on the word 'when' didn't go unnoticed by either of them.
She wasn't quite sure whether she believed that it was only a matter of time, rather than a big 'if', but that didn't matter. What mattered was what she said, not what she thought.
As much as she'd prefer to be travelling the stars, she thought that she could probably handle being stuck in some random place as long as he was there with her. She wouldn't be happy, exactly, but she could manage. Even with her Mum out of reach, it was still better than being stuck back in 21st century London without the Doctor. She remembered all too well how that had felt. This was nothing like that.
No, it was the Doctor who was bound to have real issues coping with the change. As far as Rose was aware, he'd never stayed still for more than a few days at a time in his whole, very long life. He didn't seem to be built for that.
So whatever she might think in the privacy of her own mind, outside she had to remain strong. He needed that, she thought. Or, well, even if he didn't absolutely needher help, it certainly couldn't hurt to lend her support anyway. Everyone liked to have a hand to hold.
Also, much like she'd thought in the laundry the day before, she was sure that giving him something else to think about could only improve his morale. There was no point in dwelling on what they'd lost, after all. He was the one who'd taught her that. Here and now, that was what really mattered. And when it came to here and now, there was something that they could do to make things better.
"Why wait until then?" the Doctor asked. "We can help the Ood right now, I think. Look at you. You've already started."
"Want to try your hand at bein' a dinner lady as well, then?" Rose offered, gesturing at him with a ladle.
"I thought we'd established already that I'm no dinner lady," he returned wryly.
Actions spoke louder than words, though. He no sooner voiced his denial than he'd rolled his eyes at her, rounded the corner and let himself into the kitchen.
"I'll show you the ropes," she offered.
The Doctor sniffed dramatically. "I'm a multi-talented and very intelligent Time Lord," he bragged. "I think I can manage to serve some food."
When he fumbled a tray and dropped the contents all over the place less than a minute later, Rose couldn't help but burst out laughing. The Doctor glared at her for as long as he could keep up the stiff expression, before lapsing into raucous laughter along with her.
"All right," he said when his gasping laughs subsided into low chuckles. "Show me how it's done, then, Rose Tyler."
Rose demonstrated by serving out Ida's food efficiently, ignoring the odd look Ida gave her at seeing someone other than an Ood performing that job. When Ida went off with her tray, Rose turned around, eyebrows raised, and gave a little gesture that clearly proclaimed 'voila!'.
The Doctor applauded. "Very good," he said.
Rose poked her tongue out at him. "See, Mr Incredibly Smart Time Lord. There's loads of things I can teach you."
The Doctor nodded, looking unexpectedly serious. "Yes," he agreed. "There are."
Rose couldn't wipe the smile off her face for the rest of their stint in the kitchen. Even when they were washing up and he flicked dirty detergent bubbles into her recently-washed hair, Rose didn't feel upset at all.
He was being playful again. Nothing in the universe could make her as happy right then as seeing that.
Except, perhaps, the way that he'd very nearly admitted that he needed her. That might just have managed to top the list.
Rose discovered that maybe the Ood did gossip. The fourth time she kicked them out of their own kitchen, she found them huddled in a little group afterwards. She couldn't hear them saying anything, and their little speech balls weren't lit up, but they way they were standing and how they were looking at each other looked to her, as an outside observer, almost like a water cooler moment.
They turned as one to look at her, and Rose suddenly got that feeling (which she knew very well, having grown so accustomed to it during her school years) that they'd been talking about her.
Rose frowned for a moment, but then shrugged. She supposed she didn't mind being the source of gossip if it gave them something to do other than menial chores. After all, they probably thought she was completely insane, so she was one of the more obvious topics for discussion on this little Base. She wondered whether the human crew went off and talked about her out of earshot as well.
She met up with the Doctor later and said, "The Ood think I'm odd."
The Doctor replied, "The Ood are right. You're the oddest person I know."
She might have been stung by his words, except that he said it in the same sort of tone as Mickey had always used to say 'I love you'.
Rose wondered whether that was the closest she'd ever get to him saying those three words.
Rose found the Doctor trying to pry more information about 'Friends of the Ood' out of Danny one afternoon. He was trying simultaneously to convince Danny that slavery was not the way, even if it appeared that the slaves in question hadto be enslaved. Humans sometimes saw what they wanted to see, the Doctor explained.
He wasn't going to convince anyone by being all condescending like that, Rose thought, but it was enough that he seemed interested in trying. It had hurt her heart a little that he'd been so broken upon losing the TARDIS that he hadn't quite seemed to care about the plight of the Ood at first. It was an issue that he would normally have leapt upon within moments of noticing the dynamic on the Base, but this time he hadn't. The fact that he was focusing on it now must have meant that he was starting to get back to his old self.
He wasn't moving on, exactly. How could he? Rose didn't expect that he'd ever quite get past the loss of the TARDIS, if they couldn't somehow get the ship back. But that didn't mean that he couldn't still live a life. This was the first sign that he might be starting to do that, and watching it warmed her.
She didn't want him to be so obviously sad forever. Or at all, really, but she was realistic enough to know that him being unreservedly happy just wasn't an option. Not with everything he'd been through.
The key was to balance it. Rose thought that she could help with that.
She thought – or at least hoped – that she might have managed to already.
They were in the laundry at the end of their fourth week on the Sanctuary Base when the ever-present sound of the drilling – which Rose had found sort of soothing at night with the background noise of the TARDIS conspicuously missing – stopped. Just stopped completely. The Base seemed eerily silent without it.
Rose and the Doctor looked at each other.
"Think they've reached wherever they're goin'?" Rose asked.
The Doctor held out his hand for her to take. "Only one way to find out."
It was at that moment that Rose realised that maybe she didn't need to just act like everything was going to be fine for the Doctor's benefit. Maybe she could even believe it. It wasn't just a case of settling for and coping with whatever they got, necessarily. She might actually be able to be happyin that time and place, if they really were stuck there.
Even without the TARDIS, there were still adventures to be had. The Doctor, Rose, and a mission. Those were the ingredients for true happiness, as far as she was concerned. It was something of a revelation.
Maybe it hadn't just been the Doctor who'd needed to be helped through the loss of the TARDIS after all.
The Doctor and Rose raced giddily towards the sound of voices off in the distance, eager to be in on the action.
Whatever was down at the bottom of the drill was completely unknown. It was something new and different from the routine that they'd had to try to settle into during the last month. They had a much-needed opportunity now to break the cycle. After all, the Doctor and Rose Tyler ate the unknown for breakfast (quite literally, sometimes).
Neither of them could wait to jump into this new mystery headfirst.
It was that that let Rose know for sure that, whatever happened, they were both going to be all right after all.