A/N: This is the end! Hope you like it :)

"Got tired of waiting around in bed. Thought I'd join you for that cuppa—oh."

~0~0~0~

Rose freezes in the doorway, her mouth still forming a now silent 'oh.'

"Hello, Rose," the Doctor says softly.

Rose manages to exhale, but seems to struggle with a reply.

"Hi," she says finally.

"Hi," Mickey adds helpfully, giving an awkward wave.

That seems to snap Rose out of her shock.

"I didn't realize you two were in the middle of something. I'll just go back to bed—my bed!" she says, all in one quick breath.

The Doctor frowns and gestures at an empty chair.

"Don't be silly! Stay! Mickey prepared enough for all of us. Well done, Mickey."

Mickey gives Rose an apologetic shrug.

"Oh. Yeah, all right, I guess," she says, flustered.

The Doctor shifts the flying toaster over to make room, and Rose eases herself tentatively into the empty seat. Mickey pours her a cup of tea, which she takes with a murmured, "Ta."

There is a long silence. Mickey's eyes swing between the Doctor, who is staring studiously at Rose, and Rose, who is just as studiously avoiding his gaze. Mickey's always felt like the third wheel in this relationship, but this is a bit much, even for him.

"Right. Well, I've already had my tea, so I think I'll turn in," he says, rising abruptly.

"No!" Rose blurts out, eyes wide.

Mickey freezes in a half-crouch, not quite out of his chair yet. Both he and the Doctor stare at Rose, who is suddenly blushing.

"Stay, Mickey. You can't go to bed yet," she urges, running a nervous hand through her hair.

Her eyes meet his and he can see the desperation in them. It's always been so hard to deny her anything.

"Yeah, okay," he sighs, slumping back into his chair.

Rose lets out a tense breath, and soon they're back to awkward silence. Mickey fiddles idly with his teacup while Rose and the Doctor continue their game of alternately looking and not looking at each other. After a few rounds, Rose's eyes flicker across the tabletop, coming to rest on the electrical cord in the Doctor's hand.

"What's the toaster doing on the table?" she asks.

The Doctor's eyebrows perk up at the sound of her voice, and then again, even higher, when he registers her question.

"Oh, is it? That's funny. How did that get there?" he stammers. Then spinning on Mickey, he asks, "Mickey, were you making toast on the table?"

Mickey frowns, confused by the Doctor's resistance to answer what seems like a harmless question and even more by the fact that the device on the table is actually a toaster and not some piece of complicated TARDIS equipment.

"I—" Mickey starts, but he can't get more than a syllable out before Rose speaks over him.

"Don't tell me you scavenged it for parts again," she accuses.

The Doctor squints at the ceiling, searching for a response.

"Would we say 'scavenged?' Really? 'Scavenged' sounds so violent. 'Scavenging' is what vultures do to carrion. I merely borrowed a few bits."

He gives Rose a winning smile that she doesn't return.

"Define 'a few bits,'" she questions stoically.

"Just the heat sensor," the Doctor answers, although Mickey notices that he suddenly won't meet her eyes.

"Mmm-hmm. I bet," Rose responds in a tone that implies the exact opposite.

"Oh, and the trip plate," the Doctor amends, chancing a quick glance in her direction.

"Oh, sure. And?" Rose presses.

The Doctor squints again, but after a moments pause, he seems to give up entirely.

"And the electromagnet and some of the nichrome wire, but other than that, nothing," he is quick to assure her.

Rose nods tersely.

"Does it make toast anymore?" she asks directly.

She sits back and folds her arms across her chest, looking expectantly at him from beneath a furrowed brow. Mickey looks back to the Doctor, who is hedging once more.

"Not as such," he says, his voice a little higher than normal.

"Not as such?" Rose repeats slowly.

"And by that I mean not at all," he admits, trying another smile.

Mickey imagines that more often than not, that smile works. He can picture Rose grinning back, forgiving him with an eye roll and a playful shove. Right now, however, Rose's face remains unmoved.

"I see. What if I wanted beans on toast tomorrow for breakfast?" she asks.

The Doctor glances around the room before settling on Mickey.

"Mickey'll make waffles, won't you Mickey?" he offers.

Mickey frowns, wondering again what he's still doing in the kitchen.

"What?" he asks.

The Doctor nods and claps him on the back.

"That's the spirit! Mickey's famous blueberry waffles. Hot and fresh first thing in the morning," he announces proudly.

Mickey's frown only deepens, along with his confusion.

"Mickey's famous blueberry—what are you on about?" he snaps.

"We'll have to stop off and buy a new toaster," Rose says matter-of-factly.

With Rose's interrogation apparently over, some of the tension eases out of the room. Mickey sees the Doctor's shoulders relax.

"Oh, we don't have to buy a new toaster. I'll just nip off for some replacement parts," the Time Lord counters.

"No you won't," Rose rebuffs immediately.

"Rose—"

"Last time you went for replacement parts you equipped it with wings!" she points out.

"Well, I won't do that this time, obviously, because the wings are still intact," the Doctor informs her, gesturing at the metallic appendages.

"Wait, so it actually is a flying toaster?" Mickey blurts out, dumbfounded.

The Doctor frowns at him.

"Of course it is. What else would it be?" he asks.

Mickey is about to reply when Rose poses a question.

"Do you know why people don't manufacture flying toasters, Doctor?" she asks.

"Lack of vision?" the Doctor suggests.

Rose's eyes narrow.

"Tell that to the scorch marks on the library sofa," she snaps.

"I will the next time I'm there," the Doctor retorts.

Mickey is surprised when the Doctor doesn't just stick out his tongue at her. Honestly, the pair of them, bickering like children! He wonders if they argue this way often, or if it only happens when they're desperately avoiding a conversation about something much more important. Then he decides he really doesn't care after all. He needs to get out of this kitchen.

"Buy. A. New. Toaster," Rose orders.

The Doctor sighs.

"Fine," he caves. Then, doing a poor job at hiding a smirk, he adds, "They have toasters in Barcelona."

It's Rose's turn to frown.

"Barcelona?" she repeats.

"Our next destination. Surprise!" the Doctor replies with a broad grin, arms spread wide in triumph.

The frown doesn't disappear from Rose's face.

"Oh," she says softly.

"Oh?" the Doctor echoes.

Mickey sees the Doctor's face screw up in confusion. He peers at Rose as if she's a particularly unruly bit of the TARDIS he needs to repair. When she continues to gaze at her tea instead of him, his eyes find Mickey instead. He gives Mickey a helpless little shrug, silently asking what went wrong.

Part of Mickey wants to jump up and down in celebration and ask the Doctor what it feels like to be the idiot for once. He wants to rub it in that this time it's the Doctor who has it all wrong, that he knows Rose better, and that of course a little trip to Barcelona wasn't going to set things right again. The larger part of him, however, knows how it feels to be in this position, and is frankly desperate to get this out in the open if for no other reason than hopefully things will be less awkward in the morning.

"I mentioned to the Doctor that you were feeling a bit down, and he said this planet is brilliant, Rose," Mickey offers tentatively.

Rose looks at the Doctor, who nods a bit too enthusiastically, and then at Mickey, who merely smiles. When Rose doesn't return the smile, he grows nervous, and wonders once again why he's still here.

"Mentioned I was feeling a bit down?" she prompts with a sharp edge to her voice.

Mickey's eyes widen. It only just occurred to him that perhaps Rose might take this is a bit of breach of confidence. It is completely possible that she never planned to tell the Doctor about her hurt feelings.

"Yes, and so I thought Barcelona was the perfect solution," the Doctor explains grandly. "I just thought you might be a bit more… I don't know, enthusiastic about this."

Both men stare warily at her, and an atmosphere of nervous expectation fills the room. They are more than slightly relieved a moment later when Rose looks back at the Doctor and attempts a smile.

"No, it's great. Dogs with no noses," she says kindly but without so much as a hint of genuine excitement.

Mickey finds this latest revelation puzzling.

"Really? So in that world dogs don't sniff each other's—"

The Doctor scowls and cuts him off immediately.

"There's no need to be crass about it Mickey. Rose, you're going to absolutely love it there."

He grins at her, trying too hard.

"I'm sure I will," she replies.

She gives him another tight smile and a brusque nod. The Doctor's grin falters slightly, but he gamely tries to maintain it. Mickey blinks. Nobody speaks.

The seconds drag on.

Rose drums her nails against her teacup. The corners of the Doctor's mouth twitch under the strain of his forced smile. Mickey blinks again.

"Right then. That's settled," the Doctor announces, breaking the uncomfortable silence.

Mickey winces. He knows that isn't anywhere near settled. Rose is sure to have something to say about the rather careless way the Doctor brushed aside her unhappiness. He very tentatively peeks over at her, but to his great surprise he sees only a calm expression and relaxed posture. The tiniest crinkle appears in the center of her forehead, which Mickey knows means she's pondering something. Then even the crinkle disappears.

"All settled. Yeah," she concludes.

She refocuses on the Doctor and gives him a genuine smile. There is no mistaking a true Rose Tyler smile for a fake one. It's not as wide as usual, but there's real warmth behind it.

"Bar-ce-lo-na," the Doctor says, accentuating each syllable in a silly way.

He waggles his eyebrows outrageously, and Rose's soft smile gradually grows into an all out grin. She rolls her eyes at him, but the grin just continues to grow.

Then Mickey sees it.

A tiny flash of pink poking out between her teeth.

Somehow the Doctor has gone from cold silence and kitchen appliance hostility to a full-blown Rose Tyler Grin complete with that tongue-poking thing that she does.

Mickey Smith is not amused.

He can't for the life of him understand how the Doctor and Rose can be completely heartbroken one moment and just fine the next. He's aware that this is exactly what he told Rose would happen before he left his room for tea—Come tomorrow evening, you'll be laughing about some inside joke—but actually seeing them now, 'The Doctor and Rose' back together and stronger than ever, judging by the way they're grinning at each other now… It's wrong. People don't just get over things like that. It's not fair.

"No, not all settled."

It isn't until both the Doctor and Rose have been staring at him for a few seconds that Mickey realizes he was the one to speak those words.

"You all right, Mickey?" Rose asks gently.

He stares at her, incredulous.

"Rose, you can't just let him off the hook."

Rose meets his gaze for one long, uncomfortable beat. Her forehead crinkle is back.

"It's fine," she whispers.

Mickey brings his fist down onto the table, causing the teacups to rattle noisily against their saucers. Rose jumps.

"No it's not fine!" he snaps. "You didn't even say anything about him leaving us here, alone, with no way back! What about him choosing her over—"

"The Doctor's been through a lot too," Rose says in hushed tones, as if the Doctor isn't sitting beside her shooting Mickey warning glances.

The Doctor can keep right on glaring for all Mickey cares. For Rose to compare what they went through to the Doctor losing Reinette is just ridiculous.

"Bollocks! He knew her for all of a day! Not even that! And we're supposed to tiptoe around him because he's sad that a historical figure had the good sense to die on time?" he sneers.

"Mickey!" Rose blurts out, dumbfounded.

She hazards an anxious peek at the Doctor, who is staring stonily at Mickey, his mouth set in a grim line. Again, Mickey can't be bothered to care.

"You were crying in my arms, Rose! Sobbing over the fact that he left you for another woman, and now you're just gonna go on pretending that none of it happened?" he presses on.

Rose seems lost for words, mutely shaking her head. He feels guilty, but he can't stop. If she won't talk about this, then he will.

"What if he does it again?" he asks.

At this, she finally speaks.

"Just calm down. I don't understand why you're overreacting."

He can't believe that even now she takes the Doctor's side over his.

"Overreacting? You were so upset a moment ago that you were ready to shag your problems away in my bed—"

"Mickey!" Rose hisses, horrified.

"—and now, all of a sudden, it's just all settled?"

For a moment, he's so keyed up that all he can hear is his own labored breathing. Then he hears her shaky intake of breath. The tremor in it makes him pause, and when he finally looks at her, all of the anger floods out of him. Her eyebrows are knitted together in anguish, that brilliant smile banished entirely from her face.

A ripple of guilt rushes over him. He does this, gets carried away. Not usually to this degree, but it's a fault he's never quite outgrown. And, just as in every other case, he immediately regrets every angry word.

He's ready to do anything to erase the devastation he's caused. The apology is on his lips, but then she turns her attention to him. The Doctor. She looks so ashamed, or maybe it's guilt reflected in her big sad eyes. What does she have to feel guilty about? She and the Doctor aren't together, or so she's told him time and time again. Why should she feel so guilty for cheating on someone that she can't even technically cheat on?

"You don't understand," she says.

She says it to him, although her eyes are still focused on the Doctor. Really, that's the last straw.

"Don't I?" he asks in a low voice.

"Right. Yeah, 'course. The Doctor stranded you too," she says offhandedly, meeting his eyes again.

Mickey laughs. It's cold and insincere, two emotions that feel unusual for him, but he embraces them now.

"That's not what I meant," he replies.

Any remorse he felt for his harsh words a moment ago is gone, because how can she be that thick? Does she really have no idea?

"You left me, Rose."

His words are followed by silence. Rose stares dumbly at him, the forehead crinkle is back in full force.

"What?" she finally blurts out.

"Two years ago, on some random backstreet. I begged you to stay. I literally got on my knees and wrapped my arms around you and said, 'Don't!' but none of it mattered. You left anyway," he accuses.

She shakes her head.

"That was different."

Her voice is timid and unsure, and somewhere in the back of his mind, Mickey remembers his decision earlier tonight to let bygones be bygones and move forward with his life. It's a fleeting thought.

"Was it? You ran off to be with him and left me with no idea when or even if you were coming back. I had to deal with the consequences—the police inquiries, the accusations, missing you. For a whole year, Rose. You had to wait five and a half hours for the Doctor, and I'm supposed to feel sorry for you?"

"I didn't ask you to feel sorry for me," she says, sounding angry and not a little hurt.

He knows he should stop. He knows absolutely that he should not continue his tirade, but he's feeling self-righteous and bitter and he can't help himself.

"No, you asked me to take you to bed."

She looks as if he slapped her.

"Mickey, you should go," says a voice to his right.

It's the Doctor. Mickey had forgotten that he was even in the room with them. Rather than acknowledge him, Mickey presses on, knowing that this is his only chance to say the things he's been wanting to tell Rose for months.

"So the Doctor ran off to have an adventure with Madame de Pompadour. So what? You ran off to have an adventure with him! The only difference is that you didn't gallop away on a horse, but you didn't need one with the speed you managed. Couldn't get away from me fast enough."

"It's different. I was supposed to be back in a few hours," Rose asserts firmly.

"Fat lot of good that did me the fifth time I was called in for questioning. 'Don't worry, officers. Rose's time machine is just on the fritz. Her new alien boyfriend should have her back in ten months or so,'" he spits.

"I told you we're not like that," she snaps, exasperated.

"That's what makes it worse! You were my girlfriend, and you just left me!" he counters.

Rose takes a deep breath and speaks in placating tones.

"It's different. He's more than that. He's—"

"Sitting right here," the Doctor reminds them. "Mickey, you'd really better—"

Mickey cuts him off again.

"Did you even think of me for a second after you left? Did you pause for a moment, or was it all just too overwhelming what with the fun and the travel and the exciting new man in your life?"

Rose physically winces.

"Of course not. Of course I thought about you," she says softly.

"Sure you did. And look how perfectly it worked out. You left me for him, only to watch him turn around and do the same to you," he says pitilessly.

"I don't know what you want me to say, Mickey," Rose blusters. "This is all coming out so suddenly. I didn't know you felt this way."

"Yeah, well, you never asked, did you?" he points out.

She opens her mouth, but, failing to come up with a suitable response, closes it again. Silence overwhelms them for a view seconds before she finally speaks.

"I didn't do any of it to hurt you."

He knows she's telling the truth. Rose wouldn't do anything to hurt him on purpose, but that's what makes it hurt even more. She's so over him that she never stopped to consider how he felt when she left him, or any of the subsequent times that she left him to go off with the Doctor again.

"I'm sorry," she adds, sounding very small.

He knows he's been too harsh. What happened to the New Mickey, the bloke who walked away from Rose earlier tonight unwilling to let her pity him? The man who wouldn't let her say she wasn't good enough? The man who was going to hold the Doctor responsible for his treatment of the both of them? Instead he's rampaging against Rose for things she did over a year ago? It he really still that hung up on her?

She's looking down at her untouched tea, and shame crashes over him. He reaches across the table to take her hand, but before he can touch her, another hand lands on his wrist, firm and unyielding.

"I think you've done quite enough, don't you?" the Doctor says tersely.

Mickey hates that after everything that's happened today, the Doctor comes out looking like the bigger man. Again.

But he knows the Doctor is right. It's time for Mickey to leave them alone. Not just now in the kitchen, but in general. He'll leave after their next trip. The Doctor, with Rose, in the TARDIS. That's the way it should be. There's no place for him here. He'll find it elsewhere.

He rises from his chair with a nod. As he moves to the doorway, he can't resist one final dig.

"I'm leaving. But for the record, a flying toaster's got to be the stupidest idea I've ever heard."

The Doctor's eyes narrow, and as Mickey exits the room he hears the man call after him.

"Really? You must not do a whole lot of thinking aloud!"

~0~0~0~

Really, the nerve of him! As if upsetting Rose wasn't enough, Mickey had to go and insult the Doctor's inspired kitchen ingenuity.

"Well, that was completely uncalled for. The toaster is perfectly serviceable most of the time, don't you think, Rose?"

When his question is met with silence, the Doctor turns back to his companion. She is still staring at her teacup.

"Rose?"

She stands abruptly, cup in hand, and moves stiffly over to the sink. He notes that she has hardly taken a sip before she dumps the tea and turns on the taps.

"Rose?" he tries again.

"I'm fine," she says.

Her voice is tight and tremulous, and he finds himself next to her before she's done rinsing the cup.

"It's been a long day. He already regrets what he said," he assures her.

His hand hovers beside her shoulder, fingers itching to touch her. He should pull her from the sink and into him. She'll bury her face in his chest and his arms will come around her back and he'll trace soothing patterns beneath her shoulder blades until her breath becomes slow and even. Then he'll gently pull back just far enough to look into her eyes and give her the most sincere apology for leaving.

But before he can so much as brush her skin with his, she's stepping away from the sink and away from him.

"Yeah, sure. I know," she says unconvincingly, not meeting his eyes.

Well, if he can't hold her, then he'll at least say he's sorry. Because he is. Sorry, that is. He can't imagine why he did it, now that he sees the trouble it caused. He knows it felt right at the time, but now he can't think of a worse decision he's made.

He watches her rush towards the doorway, and he knows he has to keep her from leaving until he's said his piece.

"Listen, about me swanning off—"

"S'fine," she interjects, halfway out the door.

He frowns and takes five long strides to catch up with her.

"Rose, wait," he calls, catching her hand just before she can escape down the hallway.

She jumps at his touch, and he hopes fervently that she's jumpy because of Mickey and not because of him. She turns back to him, impatience and discomfort apparent in her grimace, and he knows the truth.

"Stay. Talk to me," he begs.

She looks like she wants nothing more than to retreat to her room, but after a lingering moment staring at their joined hands, she reluctantly allows him to pull her back into the kitchen.

They settle themselves at the table once more, and he takes a deep breath.

"I'm sorry I ran off. I just… got caught up."

When he doesn't get a response, he goes on.

"Don't know what in. Being a hero, I guess. Don't know if you've noticed, but I have a bit of a savior complex," he admits sheepishly.

She doesn't smile, but her grimace relaxes a bit.

"What happened to Arthur?" she asks suddenly.

He frowns. Who's Arthur?

"What?" he asks.

"The horse," she reminds him.

The Doctor blinks. Right. Arthur the horse.

"Oh. Had to leave him behind," he explains.

She nods.

"Shame, that. Could've used a pet on the TARDIS."

He shoots her a doubtful little smile.

"Thought you didn't like him," he pries.

She squints up at the ceiling.

"Wellll, as long as you promised to feed him and walk him, I guess there couldn't have been too much harm. Plus, it might be nice to ride away from danger instead of running one of these times."

She's trying to hide a smirk, but he can see it at the edges of her lips. She either doesn't want to talk about it, or she's forgiven him. It must be the second one. His Rose is wonderful like that. She'll always forgive him.

"You are incredible, Rose Tyler," he says without thinking.

Just like that, any hint of a smirk is gone.

"I'm really not," she murmurs.

He hates it when Rose looks sad. It's so rare. She's such a sunny person that he's come to expect that brightness from her all the time. He thrives on it. When she's like this, he can feel it draining him too. It's almost like they're two parts of the same—but anyway, that's just ridiculous. Human, Time Lord. The point is that he doesn't like to see her upset. Now he has to fix it.

He glances around the room for inspiration, and his eyes come to rest on the toaster. Quietly slipping the sonic screwdriver from his pocket, he aims it at the device and switches on setting 5312.

She looks up at the high-pitched noise just in time to see the toaster take flight. It hovers gracefully in the air before completing a daring swoop over the table, electrical cord whipping behind it like a reptilian tail. The Doctor directs it into a few more dramatic arcs and watches her eyes follow it around the room.

This is what it's come to for him—cheap parlor tricks just to make her smile. And it is absolutely worth it when he sees her lips relax until the corners quirk upwards a few millimeters.

"That's a fire hazard," she chides.

He grins.

"Not anymore. It can't heat up."

She arches an eyebrow.

"It can still bash into things," she points out.

"Not with me piloting it," he scoffs.

She spares him a dubious glance, communicating her disbelief without words. He clutches at his chest.

"You wound me," he accuses, but all the same, he brings the toaster into a smooth landing on the kitchen counter.

He hears Rose take a deep breath before she speaks.

"So in Barcelona, do the cats have noses?"

"Of course," he nods.

"Why of course? For all I know it's an entire planet of noseless aliens," she counters.

"No, that's Lemkor II."

Her eyebrows are up again.

"Lemkor II is the noseless planet?"

"Yeah. Smells terrible there," he reveals.

"Of course," she replies, not skipping a beat.

"No perfume, no deodorant, very little bathing, because, well, what's the point?" he shrugs.

Rose nods thoughtfully.

"The Slitheen would have a field day there. Gas exchange would go virtually unnoticed," she notes.

He laughs. It slips out from his lips before he can stop himself.

She stares at him.

"What?" he asks, worried that his loud laughter has shattered the careful casualness of their conversation thus far.

"Nothing. S'just… sometimes I forget how human you can be," she admits.

She shakes her head, bemused.

"You know, humans didn't invent laughter," he informs her.

"No, I suppose you'll tell me that Time Lords did," she teases.

"Oh, no. Time Lords invented the Scowl of Stuffy Disapproval," he says in mock-seriousness.

She bites back a grin.

"Did you, now?" she plays along.

"Oh yeah. Although Mickey seems to have mastered it tonight," he adds offhandedly.

She bites her lip.

"Yeah," she mutters.

He curses himself silently.

"Sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned him."

She sighs.

"No, it's fine. He was right."

If there is one fact that the Doctor can depend on with a fairly high level of reliability, it's that Mickey Smith is usually not right.

"About what?" he asks.

She bites her lip again.

"I was terrible to him," she says, looking away.

He can't help himself from sliding a hand across the table and placing it over hers. Even though she doesn't look up, he speaks.

"No, you weren't."

Now she raises her face, and he sees the same look that she gave him when he touted his piloting prowess a moment ago.

"Oi, there's that skeptical look again. I tell you, a lesser man would get an inferiority complex," he jokes.

Despite her obviously gloomy mood, she manages to kid back.

"Are you capable of inferiority?"

He presses the sonic screwdriver to his lips in mock-concentration.

"Hmm. It's an interesting question. If it ever happens, I'll let you know." Then, giving her hand a squeeze, he adds, "But back to the topic at hand, you weren't the villain in that relationship. Neither of you were."

She scoffs at that.

"You just don't like him," she says dismissively.

He frowns.

"What, Mickey? Like him plenty, when he's not acting like a sanctimonious child. I just think he has a selective memory."

"Oh?" she prods, still cynical.

The Doctor nods.

"I seem to remember a certain Mickey Smith running from you when you needed him."

It's her turn to frown now.

"What? When?"

"Helicopters overhead, UNIT soldiers closing in, commanding voice on a loudspeaker ordering us to put our hands over our heads. Ringing any bells?"

It takes her a moment, but she gets there.

"When we were escorted to 10 Downing Street?" she says slowly.

"Well, Mickey didn't know that's what it was at the time. For all he knew, we were about to get hauled off to jail, or worse. And what did he do? Ran as fast as his legs could take him and hid," the Doctor says dramatically.

Rose tilts her head to the side.

"And then saved my mum and the entire world from the Slitheen," she reminds him.

"Yeah, well, there's that, although I like to think I helped a bit," the Doctor reluctantly concedes.

"Admit it, Mickey was right today. About a lot of things," she presses.

While it's true that Mickey was unusually accurate today, the Doctor will not accept that he was right about Rose.

"I think that Mister Mickey doesn't like the path his life has taken, so he's lashing out. He's trying to be a better man and trying to redress all the wrongs he feels others have done him at the same time."

Rose curiously peers at him.

"You've given this a lot of thought," she notes.

The Doctor shrugs.

"Not really. Time Lord." He points to himself before continuing, "Figured all that out in approximately twenty-two seconds. Point is he's not so perfect."

"So, what you're saying is it's not just me. We're all rotten," Rose concludes.

"You're all human," the Doctor corrects.

Rose squints at him.

"You're not," she points out.

Never has that fact made him feel less adequate than it does now.

"No, I'm not," he agrees.

His statement hangs between them, and neither of them speaks for a moment. It's Rose who breaks the silence first.

"I should go to bed. Big day tomorrow. Barcelona," Rose says.

"Barcelona," he echoes, barely registering her words.

It's not until she rises and makes for the door that he realizes she's leaving.

"Rose, we're all right, aren't we?" he asks.

He's not proud of the desperation in his tone, but he just wants to fix this. Now. He wants to put this whole uncomfortable episode behind them. He wants to go back to the way things were before old companions and French courtesans started raising difficult questions.

"Yeah. 'Course we are," she replies obligingly.

He frowns. Even though it's exactly what he wants to hear, and even though he knows that, given the opportunity, Rose will let this whole thing be forgotten, he can't let it drop. Her fingertips flutter on the doorframe, waiting for him to respond.

"It's just, Mickey said—"

"Mickey doesn't get it, Doctor," Rose cuts him off. "What we have, it's enough for me. More than enough. The way we are, the things we do, it's more than I ever could have hoped for."

"He said I made you feel replaceable," the Doctor blurts out.

It hurts to even say it out loud, and Rose seems to sense that, because she steps away from the door and approaches the table. She looks down at him and when he looks up, he sees nothing but sincerity in her eyes.

"Even when things get hard, it's still better than the best moments of my life before I met you."

The Doctor swallows hard.

"But you do. Feel replaceable," he murmurs.

Rose takes a deep breath and lets out a long sigh.

"Never mind what happened today. Barcelona tomorrow. I need my beauty sleep," she says.

She moves to exit the room, but before she can manage it, he stands and calls out to her again.

"Rose Tyler, you are not replaceable."

She barely spares him a glance.

"Thanks," she says nonchalantly.

The Doctor grits his teeth and tries again.

"I mean it! There is absolutely no one in the universe I'd rather be traveling with."

She smiles at him, but it's the sort of smile that you give a small child to placate them.

"You don't have to say that," she replies.

"I like to say things that are true," the Doctor counters.

Rose sighs again, this time in impatience.

"Doctor—"

"Lemkor II is a stinky, smelly place. See? There's another true thing. I love it," he continues desperately.

"I'm fine. Really," Rose says firmly.

"I absolutely despise pears. There you are. Yet another truth," he adds, unable to stop himself.

"That's great, Doctor," Rose congratulates him.

"And you are not replaceable," he concludes, begging her to believe him.

She shakes her head.

"Really, it's okay. You don't need to keep saying that," she says, her cheeks growing a bit redder.

He stands back and looks at her. She's twisting her hands, positively itching to leave the room.

"You can't really believe that you're just another in a series," he charges.

"You've had other companions," she says matter-of-factly.

"I have," he agrees.

"And I understand, now better than before. And it's okay," she says again.

"What do you understand?"

She shifts anxiously, but answers him.

"That you get lonely. That you need someone to share it with or else it's not an adventure, it's just drifting. But I also know that eventually you leave us. All of us."

"Not you," he quickly corrects her.

She gives him a sad smile.

"Yes, me too. And it's okay. However long it lasts, it's enough."

She says it so conclusively.

"No, it's not," he counters, and he's surprised by the weakness of his own voice.

"We get old. We wither and die, your words. You don't want to see that," she continues calmly.

"Rose—"

"You must've seen so much death in your life. How can I expect you to watch me die?"

She has such compassion. She's giving him an easy out, here. She wants him to take it. Something keeps poking at him, in the back of his mind. Something is telling him this isn't right.

"You're different," he says.

"Obviously I'm not! So just stop saying it!" she shouts suddenly.

It's the first time she's raised her voice since he came back. She seems surprised by it herself, and he watches her take a few calming breaths. He lets her collect herself, even though he wants to tell her that she's wrong. He waits. It takes nearly a full minute, but she finally speaks again, softly.

"Do you know why I didn't seem excited when you mentioned Barcelona?"

"Because you were still upset about me leaving," he supplies.

"No," she quickly replies.

"What then?" he asks gently.

She swallows, and hesitates another moment before responding.

"I was thinking about the old you."

He feels himself bristle at the words.

"The last version of you, all big ears and that daft grin," she continues.

"My grin's still daft," he says, sounding a little petulant even to himself.

"He was the first one to mention Barcelona to me. He wanted to take me there," she goes on, staring at the wall behind him.

"And I will. Rose, I'm him. You know that. We're the same man," he insists.

Her eyes are back on him, cold and unflinching.

"But you're not. That's why I was so quiet. I was thinking… I was thinking that he'd never have done that, run off to France and leave me."

"You can't know that," he says curtly.

"But I do. He wouldn't have," she argues, sounding calm and a bit sad.

"No, he'd just seal you in an underground bunker with a Dalek," the Doctor retorts, knowing that he sounds completely petulant now.

Rose doesn't respond immediately. He can tell by her wistful expression that she's not thinking about Daleks.

"I don't want to go to Barcelona," she says quietly.

With you. She doesn't end her sentence with those words, but the Doctor knows they're implied. It hurts. To know he's let her down. To know that she'd prefer he was someone else. To know that, right now, he's not enough.

"Okay. We don't have to go. Where would you rather? Anywhere you'd like," he says hastily.

"I want to go…"

Her voice trails off and she bites her lip again.

Home. Oh, god, he knows that she's going to say home. She's going to leave him. Just like all the others. Because she's finally figured out that in a life with him, something will always be missing. He's not human and he can't give her everything she needs. She's going to ask him to drop her off at Jackie's and leave her there.

"Somewhere warm. Can we do that?"

His hearts are still pounding a booming rhythm in his chest when he registers her words.

"'Course we can," he manages to answer.

Relief floods through him so powerfully that he is forced to sit down or his legs might buckle. She gives him a curious look, but nods appreciatively and leaves the room before he can come up with anything else to say.

~0~0~0~

She almost left him today. Well, not strictly speaking, since he only imagined her asking him to bring her home, but it could have happened. Entirely plausible. And it's his fault. Absolutely, completely, one hundred percent his fault. Mickey Smith, idiot that he is, was right. Any progress the Doctor made in earning back her trust and friendship after he regenerated was dashed the moment he leapt through a time window into eighteenth century France and left her behind.

Stupid.

What was he thinking? Why would he leave her? What possessed him to run after a woman he barely knew when the woman he… A woman he cared for deeply might be stranded?

Something felt off after running into Sarah Jane. Seeing her again, knowing that she waited for him all those years. He always imagined that his companions went on to live fantastic lives, to have the things he can never have because he can't ever stop.

Street corner. Two in the morning. Getting a taxi home.

Rose might meet a man that way. Someday in the distant future, after she decided to leave him, because it wasn't going to happen the other way around. And wouldn't that be wonderful? Isn't that what he wants for her?

He allows himself to look into the timelines, to follow the hypothetical path that she might take.

He sees himself at her wedding. She asks him to give her away. Her father's dead; of course she'd ask him. They walk up to the altar. He lifts her veil. Bends forward, kisses on the cheek. Lingers a bit too long. Pulls back and there are tears in her eyes. His heart clenches, but she quickly blinks them away and grins. Not at him, but at the man next to him. Her fiancé. She pulls her hands out of his and gives them to her new man, and the Doctor feels his legs take him to the front pew, next to Jackie, who's blowing her nose into a lace hanky with gusto. She sobs into his shoulder and he absently pats her on the arm, but he can't take his eyes off of Rose. Only she's not looking at him. She's looking at her bloke.

The ceremony passes in a blur and then they're at the reception. They dance together, and she teases him about how the world doesn't end when the Doctor dances. He even gives a speech, and it's charming and funny and heartfelt. He wishes the happy couple good luck and heaps of children, and then he's back to the TARDIS. Alone. He slumps to the console room floor and remembers the feeling of her hands slipping out of his, and he feels completely, irreparably empty.

And that's when he realizes that that isn't what he wants for Rose. Not at all. He's selfish and it's wrong, but he doesn't want her to have that life. He wants her all for himself. She's not Sarah Jane or Peri or Ace. She's Rose, and he can't lose her.

He finds himself at her bedroom door, but he can't remember walking there. Maybe he moved while his mind was wandering through the timeline. Regardless, his fist is knocking against the pink door before he can stop himself.

He waits, but no one comes. She might be asleep. He considers entering to wake her, but he can't bring himself to turn the handle. As luck would have it, he doesn't have to, because the handle turns a second later and her head pokes out from a gap in the doorway, pajama top askew and hair adorably mussed.

"Doctor? What is it?" she mumbles.

Her voice sounds hoarse, and he wonders if it's from sleep or from crying.

"It's just—"

He stops himself. Why did he come here? What is he planning to say?

"What?" she prompts.

He thinks back to her imagined wedding, and the words leave his mouth without his conscious decision to say them.

"What if it's not enough for me?"

She squints up at him in the harsh light from the hallway.

"What if what's not enough for you?" she asks.

He runs a shaky hand through his hair, knowing that the anxious motion probably leaves it sticking up in all directions.

"Dropping you off somewhere. Moving on," he clarifies, his throat tight.

She sighs and opens the door a bit more, leaning against the door jam.

"Of course it's enough. You've done it dozens of times," she explains calmly.

He pulls at his hair again, more violently this time.

"It's different with you," he argues.

Her mouth tenses into a tight line and her drowsy stance becomes rigid.

"It's not. You need stop saying that," she commands.

"Rose—"

"NO!" she shouts. The sound echoes down the corridor. "You can't say that and then leave me like you did today, Doctor. It's not fair. It's cruel."

He's speechless. She looks so angry, wounded, glaring up at him now.

"You can't lead me on, because I'm willing to accept it," she continues. "Sarah Jane told me it's worth it. The heartache when you leave us. And I believe her. It's enough for me. So please don't make it hurt worse than it already does by making me hope for something more."

Her voice cracks on the word 'please.' She's so raw and vulnerable, and he knows that he did this to her. What is he thinking, denying her a life without him? Look what he does to her. He's no good for anybody, let alone someone like Rose.

"I don't want to hurt you," he whispers.

She sighs, her breath quivering as she does so.

"I know you don't," she assures him.

He can't let her go. Sooner or later she's going to leave him, and he knows he should let her, but how can he?

"I'm not trying to lead you on. I really think—"

"I know you do," she cuts him off again. "It's just like how I don't want to let Mickey go, even though I know I will. I never meant to hurt him when I went with you that first time, just like you didn't mean to hurt me when you ran off with Reinette. Did you, Doctor?"

He blinks, uneasy with the comparison she's drawing.

"No. I didn't," he replies just the same.

She nods and continues, regaining that calm, informational tone from before.

"You just didn't think about it. You had to do it, couldn't resist. Couldn't pass up the adventure."

"Something like that, yeah," he agrees warily.

She nods resolutely.

"I know. I know exactly how you felt," she reveals.

Then it hits him. He knows precisely what she's trying to say.

"You're not my Mickey," he says, appalled that she would think such a thing.

"That sounds funny," she quips.

"You know what I mean," he insists.

"You loved her," she replies.

He registers that she's being evasive with the subject change, but he can't let the statement go uncorrected.

"How could I? I didn't even know her," he denies.

She smiles again.

"You knew her for nearly her entire life."

"It's different," he maintains.

He sees the disbelief in her expression and in the guarded way she leans against the door frame, arms crossed over her chest. He wonders if maybe Rose is right. Maybe he does love Madame de Pompadour.

She was clever. Ohhh, she was clever, playing the entire court of Versailles to get her way. Ambitious. Intelligent. Independent. Adventurous. Everything he admires in a human. He thinks back to the moment that she looked into his mind and felt his loneliness. The connection that she made with him. Such a lonely childhood. They had an understanding. She knew him. She would have thrived aboard the TARDIS.

But did he love her?

Did it burn him to think of her marrying her husband or bedding the king? Not at all. Did he selfishly want to deny her a fantastic life on earth? He saw how happy she was at the palace. He would have dropped her back off after a trip or two without a second thought. Does he miss her? He's sad that she's gone. He spent a while in the console room staring at her letter. He felt himself break a little bit more, just as he does every time he loses someone. He's lost so very many people in his long life. But already he can feel the pain start to fade.

He imagines losing Rose, and the sharp pain in his chest takes his breath away. He sees Rose stir out of the corner of his eye, concerned by his sudden intake of breath, but he doesn't say a word.

He remembers their conversation outside the chip shop at the end of their evening with Sarah Jane. The words he almost slipped and said. Imagine watching that happen to someone that you

He couldn't bring himself to say them. Couldn't even think about them, but he thinks about them now, and it all becomes so clear.

"Did you wonder why I invited Mickey along with us?" he asks.

His voice surprises her, and it takes her a second to respond.

"For a laugh, you said."

"When he asked if he could come, you turned to me and mouthed, 'No.'"

She looks away, exasperated.

"Well, I thought he'd muck things up. Good to see how wrong I was," she deadpans.

"Bang on, you were," he congratulates her. "It's just… I was thinking, about why I told Mickey he could come even after I knew you didn't want him to."

"Oh?" she says, sounding thoroughly disinterested.

"And it occurred to me that maybe I was doing it for safety reasons," he reveals.

She scowls at the idea.

"Safety reasons? Is Mickey the new safety officer on the ship?" she asks facetiously.

"No," the Doctor calmly replies.

"Will he be doing routine fire inspections and drills?" she jibes.

"Not unless he really wants to," the Doctor rejoins.

"He'll have more to say about the flying toaster, I expect," she continues sarcastically.

"Not that sort of safety," the Doctor says seriously.

"Then what are you going on about?" Rose snaps.

"I thought I needed to keep myself safe. From you."

She stares at him, unblinking, for several seconds. Then, so abruptly that the Doctor reels back in surprise, she's in motion.

"Oh. Right then," she says tersely, pushing herself up off the door jam.

She has the door halfway closed before the Doctor manages to stick his trainer out, stopping her from literally shutting him out.

"Rose, I didn't mean it like that," he rushes to explain.

"It's fine. I just really want to go to bed," she dismisses, giving the door a useless tug.

"Stop it. We need to talk about this," he insists, stubbornly leaving his foot in the doorway.

She purses her lips.

"Move," she orders.

"No," he retorts.

She releases the door with a huff and storms into the room, leaving him free to follow, which, of course, he does.

"I'm going back to bed," she grumbles.

She crawls beneath her covers before he can get another word out, pulling the comforter over her head so that she is completely hidden from view.

"Rose, you are different from any of my other companions," he says.

When there is no response from the heap of blankets before him, he continues.

"And the reason I know that for sure is that I never felt the need to invite along a distraction like Mickey before."

Once again, the comforter does not deign to reply.

"You scare me," he admits desperately.

Finally, he sees movement under the covers. Her head pops out, hair wild. She gives him a glare that very effectively communicates her displeasure with that last statement.

"I'm 900 years old, and I've never been so afraid of another person in my life," he goes on.

Her glower only deepens, and he sighs in frustration. She doesn't get it.

"I shouldn't feel the way I do about you, and it terrifies me," he bites out, attacking his hair with both hands now.

Her expression softens—only slightly, but he sees it, and it encourages him.

"And maybe that's why I brought your ex-boyfriend on board and chased after a French aristocrat."

She shifts into a seated position on the bed.

"And scavenged the toaster," she adds.

He lets out a noise that falls someplace between a laugh and a sigh.

"And scavenged the toaster. I need distractions," he explains.

Her shoulders give a little shrug.

"Distractions from what?"

He considers her, sitting in bed, looking up at him in bewilderment, and he can't quite believe it.

"How can you not know?" he asks.

When he only gets the same bewildered look in response, he takes a seat on the bed. Then, very carefully, he inches his hands towards hers. When she lets his hands cover hers, he releases a breath he didn't realize he was holding.

"I think you're brilliant," he says, because he can't quite bring himself to say 'I think you're everything.'

"You have a funny way of showing it," she evades.

"Alien," he says apologetically.

"Prat," she mutters, giving him a little kick with a foot still hidden beneath the blankets.

"That too," he admits. He sighs again. "Mickey was right. I'm rubbish at this."

"Must be a record," Rose replies.

"Hmm?" the Doctor mumbles.

"Of people saying Mickey's right," Rose clarifies.

The Doctor almost smirks.

"Yes, I'll mark it in the ship's log."

"Does the TARDIS have a log?"

"Of course. But we're getting off course again."

He gives her hands a squeeze before going on.

"You are irreplaceable to me. I will never leave you," he tells her.

She reels back, trying to tug her hands from his, but he holds them fast.

"You left me today," she bites out.

"I knew I'd make it back to you. No question," he says firmly.

She pulls her hands again, but he doesn't let go.

"You don't understand," she sighs, letting her hands lie loosely in his grasp.

She looks down at the comforter, her eyes tracing the swirling designs along its surface. He wishes she would look at him.

"You're right. I don't understand. I'm not human, and I'm awful at this, and I get now that it was a mistake to leave you and rush after Reinette. I never want to hurt you."

With another squeeze of her hands, he begs her to forgive him. To accept his deficiencies and his lack of humanity.

"But you did hurt me," she chokes.

She looks up and her eyes are filled with tears. They roll down her cheeks one after another and show no signs of slowing. His hearts stop.

He releases her hands and brings his own up to her face. She closes her eyes as he brushes his fingers along the slope of her cheekbones, pushing the tears away.

"I'm so sorry," he breathes.

Her fingers come up and curl around his wrists. Gently, she pulls his hands away and opens her eyes.

"I know," she says. "I never meant to hurt Mickey, but I did, because, even though I love him, I know we're not meant to be. Not like that. And eventually we won't be together, and I'm going to move on. And I'll be fine."

She pulls his hands into her lap, running her fingertips soothingly over his palms. She can't think that he'll be able to move on without her. How can she think that?

"I won't be fine without you," he says, and his voice breaks before he finishes.

He can't remember the last time he was this close to tears. Years and years.

"Yes, you will," she tells him.

He shakes his head.

"No," he croaks. "It's too late. Rose, I lo—"

Her lips halt his words. He tastes her tears on them and tries to pull away, but her hands come around the back of his neck and hold him to her. After a moment, he can't resist, relaxing into the kiss. Her lips move softly against his, but everything remains chaste.

She pulls back, but only a few centimeters. When she speaks, her lips brush his with every syllable.

"Please don't say it. I can't hear that," she begs.

He understands. She believes that he's going to leave her. It's like she said earlier; she couldn't stand it if he let her believe that she was different only to leave her like the others. But why does she persist in rejecting him? Doesn't she know he means every word?

This time he initiates the kiss. He pours everything into it, knowing that she won't let him express how he feels in words. His hands come around her body, and he urges her back until her shoulders hit her pillow. For a moment he holds her so tight that her back doesn't even touch the mattress, but the next moment he presses her down into the blankets. Their bodies fuse together, knees, thighs, and chests, and he can't suppress a moan.

Mine, he thinks. Forever. Please.

He shifts and finally their bodies touch in exactly the right spot and she matches his moan with one of her own. He takes advantage of her parted lips and runs the tip of his tongue along her teeth. Rather than retreat, she whimpers encouragingly and reaches up to bury her hands in his hair. Her fingernails scratch his scalp and he gasps, opening his mouth further, and she makes full use of this development, thrusting her tongue against his.

I love you, he thinks. He tries to communicate it with every stroke of his tongue, every shift of his hips against hers.

She pulls on his hair a moment later, and he realizes belatedly that she must need air. He removes his mouth from hers, and they both pant for breath, staring mutely into each other's eyes.

He knows she doesn't want to hear it, but he has to try again.

"Rose Tyler, I—"

Her index finger covers his lips.

"Shhh. That's enough. Please," she pleads.

He sighs, and lowers himself back down on top of her. He buries his face in her shoulder.

"I'm so sorry," he says, his words muffled by her skin.

He feels her fingers moving through his hair again, stroking him.

"I know," she whispers.

She doesn't let him say it that night. Or the next morning, when they don't go to Barcelona, the city or the planet. Eventually they do visit the planet, right after an unfortunate and accidental visit to Lemkor II. She doesn't let him say it then either. She never lets him say the words, but she knows. Oh, she knows.

He has to content himself with that. She'll never leave him; she promised him as much. And he'll never leave her. Maybe neither one of them completely believes the other, but it's enough for both of them. It has to be.