They were silent during the ride back to London from Darlig Ulf Stranden. Well, Rose and the Doctor were silent. Jackie babbled at Pete, who drove, and Tony, who was strapped safely in his car seat. Although she glanced back frequently at her daughter and the Doctor she didn't speak to them. It was a small mercy for which he was immensely grateful, and one that was distinctly out of character. She hadn't slapped him since their first—no, second meeting, but his relationship with Jackie Tyler, while friendly, was still contentious. Had time with Pete and Tony mellowed her, or had she noticed the tension between him and Rose after the TARDIS vanished?
Despite the kiss—the kiss that proved, at least to the other Doctor, that she had picked his part-human self—Rose said little to him as they had waited for Pete to arrive. Jackie got rooms at a local hotel, a tiny place, and nearly empty. Even driving flat out it would take Pete a little over a day to reach them. Jackie handed him the key, jerked her head at Rose, and then went to her own room. The Doctor stood in the hallway for a moment, staring at the plastic keycard, before he opened the door. The room was neat, but small. Two twin-sized beds took up most of the floor space. A short night table divided them, and on the wall opposite the door a picture window looked out over rocky crags and windswept beaches. He realized as he crossed the room to stand by the window that he was afraid of being alone with Rose, but he was saved from the awkward silence when she sat down on the bed and promptly fell asleep. She hadn't even taken off her shoes. She must have been exhausted. That day was an emotional rollercoaster of finding him, almost losing him, almost being unmade, saving the world, and ending up right back where she had started—on the other side of the wall. He crouched and unlaced her shoes, pulling them off gently, trying his best not to wake her. He went to the other bed, pulled off the duvet, and spread it over her prone figure. She looked so much younger when she was asleep, not weighed down by cares and heartache. He resisted the urge to brush her hair back from her face. When he first saw her, when Donna nodded over his shoulder and he turned, when a wide grin split Rose's face, he had imagined that she was the same, that she was still his Rose Tyler. When he looked at her asleep on the hotel bed he saw almost a stranger. He snorted softly in derision of his own arrogance. Who was he to talk? Since he had lost Rose, since he left her stranded on that blasted beach he'd been places, seen things. He was a different person. They both were.
A rough patch on the road jarred the Doctor out of the past. While he was remembering Rose had fallen asleep. She rested her head on his shoulder, and although she had been silent in the Jeep she hadn't removed her hand from his. There was still hope. He contented himself with staring out the window at the rapidly passing landscape. He liked hope.
She woke as they drove up the ramp to take the Eurotunnel back to England. Pete and Jackie took turns driving so they didn't have to stop for sleep. Being back home would do everyone good, would help them to put the horrific events they had almost witnessed behind them. He had slept intermittently. It was still new to him. As a Time Lord he only slept when he was injured or under a great deal of stress. As the Jeep was fastened on to the flatbed with the other cars the Doctor felt Rose stiffen.
"What's wrong?" He kept his voice soft, for her ears only.
She drew her lips into a tight smile. "It's just…the dark…the closeness of the walls." Rose looked away. "Reminds me of…something unpleasant."
He let the matter drop. Talking was hard with Pete and Jackie and Tony so close. There were so many things he wanted to say that he couldn't in their presence. He let go of Rose's hand and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. She looked a bit startled, but relaxed slightly and flashed him a thin-lipped smile.
Rose didn't know why she lied. Well, it wasn't a lie, not exactly. The darkness of the tunnel reminded her of the Void, and the Void was something to do with Torchwood. It was a stretch, and she knew it. But she couldn't bring herself to talk about it. Not now, not yet. His arm was solid and warm around her. She could feel the swell and fall of his chest as he breathed, but as they began to move through the tunnel memories rose up, unbidden. The sense of pure nothing, of absolute removal. The vertigo that swept over her like the tide. The nausea and relief that accompanied her entrance into reality—any reality. The emptiness that followed when she realized that it was not the right reality. The soul-crushing weariness of so, so many failures.
And they were out of the tunnel. The Jeep rolled back onto the road and Rose looked up at the Doctor. He smiled at her.
She nodded. "Yeah." The Jeep lurched as Pete slammed on the break and another car slid in front of them. Jackie shrieked something loud and uncomplimentary out the window. The other driver responded with a two-fingered salute.
"Miserable idiot!" She fumed at Pete. The Doctor rolled his eyes.
"Forget that biological feedback device for the reality bomb. I should have just let Jackie loose on the lot of them. Even a Dalek would run away from that." He gestured at her.
Rose cracked a grin at the image of her mother nagging and scolding Daleks. The Doctor quirked an eyebrow.
"Was that a smile?"
She straightened her mouth. "No."
He leaned in close to her. "That was a smile."
He kept his right arm around her shoulders and reached out with his left, taking her hand. "It's me, Rose. Everything that he is, I am. Everything he remembers, so do I." He brought the back of her hand to his lips and kissed it softly. "Everything he feels, I feel."
"Just…just give me a little time, yeah?" She took a deep breath. Everything was moving too fast. Her mind raced and her head ached. "I just need a little time."
He squeezed her hand and let it fall. "All right."
Three people were waiting for them when they arrived at the Tyler mansion.
"I told them not to come!" Jackie complained. "Honestly, does anyone ever listen to me? I've given up on you two," she jerked her head at the Doctor and Rose, "but I thought Jake had more sense!"
"Be fair, love. They've all been worried." Pete pointed out. Jackie sighed as they stopped at the end of the long driveway.
"Best get out and let them see you. They won't leave 'til they do." She called back to Rose, who nodded. The people, two men and one woman, waited until Rose exited the vehicle before they swarmed her. The Doctor hung back a bit, watching, until he caught a glimpse of a familiar face.
"Jake!" He exclaimed. The man turned.
"Doctor!" He held out his hand and the Doctor shook it heartily. "We didn't think you were coming back?"
The Doctor scratched his ear. "Yes, well, plans changed a bit, I suppose. Anyway, nice job with the dimension cannon and all. If you hadn't sent Rose we would have been toast."
Jake shook his head. "That weren't me, Doctor. I get most of the tech. stuff, but Tosh is the genius." He nodded to the small Asian woman who was talking with Rose. "Two of them were at it for months."
"All right you layabouts!" Jackie's voice cut through the chatter. "You've seen her, now off with you! She'll be back at Torchwood soon enough, right now it's time for her to get some rest!"
"Mum!" Rose protested. "I'm fine, really!" The Doctor knew she was lying. Even after sleeping almost 12 hours straight at the hotel, and her long naps in the car, he could still see dark circles under her eyes and she looked paler than usual.
"Bed, sweetheart!" Jackie knew it too. "You pushed yourself for far too long with that dimension cannon thing, Rose. You need sleep and a decent meal."
"None of her cooking, then," the Doctor muttered to Rose. She smiled a bit.
"I phoned ahead, had Janine get your rooms ready," Pete said to Rose as her friends filed back to their car.
He glanced at the Doctor. "We have a guest room…"
"He can kip in my room, on the sofa," Rose interrupted. "'S too easy to get lost in there if you're not used to it."
Pete nodded. "Right." He checked his watch. "Arthur should have dinner ready in about an hour, if you're hungry."
She smiled at him. "Famished."
He hugged her. "I'm glad you're back, sweetheart."
She sniffled a bit. "Me too, Dad."
"Pete!" Jackie's voice rang out from the open door.
He stepped back. "Right then, I'll leave you two to get settled. Coming, dear!" He called to Jackie, and followed her inside.
The Doctor realized, as he followed Rose through the white-walled, white-carpeted halls of the Tyler mansion that she was right: it was far too easy to get lost in this house that wasn't even bigger on the inside. A muscle in his jaw twitched as he thought about his beautiful, magnificent TARDIS, and his hand strayed to the pocket where the piece lay nestled in the fabric of his suit. Even in this part-human body he could feel the tentative psychic link between himself and the coral fragment. It was dormant now, waiting. Sleeping. So faint compared to the song of his old ship, but it was there. A little bit of home in this brave new world.
"Here we are." Rose opened the door. Her "room" was more like a flat attached to the Tyler mansion. Inside was a bedroom, sitting room, bathroom, office, and a tiny kitchenette. They looked temporary, like a home does when all of the knickknacks and clutter are still in boxes, waiting to be unpacked. The furnishings were sparse, and there were no photos on the wall, no posters.
The Doctor looked around. "It's…nice."
"Dad had it done up after…after Canary Warf." Rose stood with her arms wrapped tightly around her body as she looked around. "I didn't do much with it. Just a place to sleep, really…didn't think I'd be coming back." Her voice shook a little and she took a steadying breath. Hold it in, just a little longer, just a little longer…
The Doctor took her hand. "Rose." She turned to face him and bit the inside of her cheek, struggling to keep her emotions in check. His face was still, serious, as he brought his other hand to her face and stroked her cheek gently. He slid his hand around the back of her neck and pulled her closer to him. It was too much. Rose buried her face in his suit jacket and wept. So long, she'd had to be strong for so long. All the doubt and fear, the loss and loneliness, all the things she had pushed aside in her quest to find him burst out of her in sobs. The Doctor held her to him until her shoulders stopped shaking and she was breathing evenly, her head still nestled against his chest.
Rose could hear his single heart beating. She took a deep breath and drew herself away from him. She smiled as she wiped her eyes on her sleeve. "Sorry. First time we're properly alone and I go all to pieces."
"Rose." She looked up at him. "You've been so brave. If you didn't go to pieces, at least a little bit, you wouldn't be human." She smiled. "Now!" He turned brusquely and strode into the living room. "I just have one question." She followed him.
He gestured at the sofa, which was actually more of a love seat. "Are you really going to make me sleep on that? I mean, I'm sure I could manage if I curled up into a ball, or I could sleep on the floor or something, but you've got this nice soft bed…" He ran back into the bedroom and bounced on it. "See? Much more comfortable than the couch or the floor!" She laughed.
"You're incorrigible." He grinned. She rolled her eyes. "All right, you can have the bed."
"But then where will you sleep?" He sounded shocked. "I couldn't kick you out of your own bed in your own home!"
Rose sat down next to him and took his hand. "Then I'll have to sleep here too." They were silent for a moment as they both looked down.
"Right! Do you think Jackie has sent out a search party yet? Although, from the size of this place, they'd need at least a couple days to look every—"
"Did you miss me?" Rose's soft question cut through his babble.
The Doctor tilted her chin up gently so she was looking at him and not the floor. "More than you can imagine."
Dinner was a cheerful affair. The meal that Arthur, the cook, provided was delicious without being incredibly fancy. It was a marked improvement over previous meals the Doctor had shared with Rose's family. Jackie Tyler excelled at many things, but cooking wasn't one of them. They ate in a small room just off the formal dining room. Whereas this universe's Jackie had enjoyed throwing lavish parties with dozens of rich and famous guests, Rose's mother preferred to spend the evening meal with her family. Not that she didn't still love a party, but having a three-year old made organizing parties difficult. Tony was overjoyed to see his sister again, and refused to sit in his chair. Instead, he sat on Rose's lap and asked her an almost constant stream of questions.
"Did you meet the president? Did you travel in time again? What were the other worlds like? Were there giant lizards? Or killer bees? Are you going to stay now?"
Rose smiled at the little boy. He looked so much like her. "Yes, Tony. I'm going to stay."
"Hooray!" If he hadn't been on her lap with her arms around him, the Doctor supposed that Tony would have been jumping up and down.
"Now Tony, leave Rose alone so she can eat something." Jackie scolded him. The little boy turned his attention, and apparently boundless energy, on the Doctor.
"Are you an alien?"
"Tony! Stop chattering and eat your dinner!" The little boy turned his attention back to his food, at least for a moment.
Pete cleared his throat. "I'll take care of your papers tomorrow, Doctor."
"If it's any trouble—" The Doctor was hesitant to accept help from Torchwood. Rose, and Pete, had assured him that it was different now. New regime, new attitude, new everything, but he still didn't trust them.
"Not at all. Not for Torchwood. Not considering what the two of you did for us when Lumic went mad."
The table was silent. Pete's first wife, this universe's original Jackie Tyler had died that night along with thousands of others. The memories that accompanied the mention of Lumic were definitely less than pleasant. Tony, blissfully oblivious, finished his dinner and pulled Rose into the living room to play.
The Doctor lay on Rose's bed staring up at the ceiling, his long legs stretched out and his hands behind his head. He was wearing white and blue striped jim jams, again, but sans fruit this time. They were a little short, he noted critically, and a little loose. But, beggars can't be choosers. Or was it choosers didn't beg? Earth idioms were strange indeed.
He glanced up as the door to the bathroom creaked open. Rose stepped out and closed the door behind her. She was not wearing blue and white striped jim jams, he noticed astutely. Her sleepwear was nothing fancy, just a pair of soft cotton shorts and a loose tank top. Her hair was damp from the shower, as was her skin. She cracked a tired smile.
"I don't know where Tony gets all that energy." She flopped down on the bed. "Remind me again why we haven't started using small children to solve the world's energy crisis?"
The Doctor grinned. "Because putting them all in giant hamster wheels and dangling Xboxes in front of them is cruel and unusual punishment?" She laughed and for a moment it was old times. "Remember the last time I was in jim jams?" He asked, smiling. "Christmas day, the Sycorax?"
"You nearly died." Rose pointed out.
"Yeah but I didn't!" He protested.
"You've got Mum to thank for that."
The Doctor snorted. "Like she'll let me forget that."
Rose laughed again. "Don't count on it." She flashed him a smile, a Rose smile—a face-splitting grin with her tongue caught between her teeth. Then she got up and moved toward the light switch. His eyes travelled down the curve of her neck to her shoulder, and stopped. Twining out from under the back of her tank top, thin white scars covered most of her back. He moved behind her and ran a hand lightly over them. Rose stiffened slightly.
"You didn't have these the last time I saw you." He said quietly.
"Well, that was a while ago, yeah?"
"Rose. What happened?"
She shrugged. "It was the dimension cannon. The first time we tried to use it, it exploded."
"That must have hurt."
Her lips twisted in an ironic smile that he could hear in her tone even if her back was to him. "Not as much as starting over. Coming up with the theory alone took a year, and then building the first one, and then finding out why it wouldn't work, and then fixing it, and then—" She stopped. "It was such a stupid mistake, and we lost so much time."
"It wouldn't have mattered in the end, Rose." The Doctor replied quietly. "The dimension cannon could not have worked until the Reality Bomb broke down the walls of the universes."
"It was still maddening. Took six months to find and fix one tiny mistake."
The Doctor frowned. "How long did you say Torchwood was working on the machine?"
"A little over three years."
He shook his head. "That's impossible, Rose. It's only been two years and eleven months since you…arrived." He pulled her around so she was facing him and he could see the half-pitying, half-mocking expression on her face.
"You should know better, Doctor. Why did it take three years for the Cybermen to get to the other universe?"
"The sheer mass—"
"That's not true and you know it!" Anger crept into her voice. "Time doesn't move the same in the Void as it does here, or in the other universe. Two years passed for you, a little longer for Mum and Pete and Tony, but not for me."
"How long?" She looked away and pressed her lips together. He tightened his grip on her arms. "How long, Rose?"
He let go of her and took a shocked step back. "Six-?"
"Years." She finished. "Three here, three travelling through the Void. I could be gone for hours, or days, or weeks, and end up just after I left."
"How many universes did you see?" His voice was soft, just above a whisper.
"Millions." She sounded tired, so very, very tired. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a fierce hug.
"I'm sorry." He murmured as he buried his face in her hair. "I'm so, so sorry."