I stepped out on the balcony with a sigh, surreptitiously pulling a fag and a light from my pocket. It had been a long night—all the right people attended the Tyler's events, so my company sent me this year. It wasn't as much fun as you'd think, hobnobbing with the rich and famous. The people in the ballroom I just left were all ambitious socially and politically, and that kind of maneuvering can get tiresome after a while. Well, more like after half an hour. Business associates and social climbers don't make for the most relaxing company.
The night air was chilly and clear, a welcome change from the perfumed warmth of the ballroom. The Tyler's estate was far enough away from London that the omnipresent purple-orange light pollution was nearly invisible, instead leaving the stars to shine diamond-bright against the midnight sky. I snorted quietly and looked out at the grounds, where sharp shadows reached out from the neatly manicured bushes. Head of Vitex and Torchwood—nice gig, if you could get it. I strolled along the palisade, relishing the sharp sting of the winter air mixed with the warm smoke of my fag. My little sister would be furious if she saw me smoking again, but she wasn't here. My lips twitched in an involuntary smile. If she was here, Maggie would be completely speechless. The heavy marble planter next to me was probably worth more than her entire house.
I turned the corner and stepped back quickly, surprised to see another person enjoying the solitude. She leaned against the balustrade, and I blinked. Not just another person, but Pete Tyler's mysterious daughter herself. Dressed in an elegant dark green evening gown, Rose Tyler made a striking picture leaning against the elaborately carved stonework and staring up at the night sky. Her back was left bare by the gown, and her golden hair was pinned into a loose knot low on her neck. She pulled her long sleeves down further over her small hands, shivering against the chilly air.
I'm almost ashamed to admit how interesting I find Rose Tyler, but it's not every day that the most successful businessman in Britain reveals that not only is his long-thought-dead wife alive but he has a full-grown daughter no one had ever heard of before. Pete and Jackie Tyler claimed they'd sent Rose away when she was baby because she'd been the subject of threats, but no one ever remembered Jackie being pregnant.
All sorts of stories popped up after she was first spotted, from the tawdry to the downright bizarre. News of the World was convinced that she was Pete's mistress; the Sun insisted that she was an alien hypnotizing Pete into believing she was his daughter. The other scandal rags were just grateful to have fresh meat. All of the media trained their eyes (and their lenses) on this mysterious new heiress, waiting with bated breath for her first public misstep—but it didn't come. Unlike the other heiresses frolicking their ways across the front pages, Rose Tyler spent her time either with her family or at Torchwood, and everyone who worked with her insisted that she was one of the hardest-working agents Torchwood had ever seen.
I've never really known exactly why I find her so fascinating. She's pretty, sure, but there are plenty of more beautiful women out there. She's not especially stylish, and she's not all that sophisticated—one of Jackie's cousins apparently raised her as her own on the council estates, and it shows. I guess it's the loneliness in her expressive brown eyes. No matter where the picture was taken, at a park or with her family, Rose Tyler always looks like she doesn't belong—and what's more, she looks like she knows it. It can't have been easy, going from being anonymous to being the daughter of the most powerful man in Britain.
My fag had burnt down while I'd watched her, and it stung my fingers. I couldn't help it—I yelped and dropped it, sticking my burnt fingers in my mouth before I could think. There's a soft clacking of heels against the marble floor and she came around the corner, brown eyes curious. I yanked my singed digits out of my mouth and smiled awkwardly, chagrined. She glanced at the glowing ember on the ground and grinned, her brown eyes sparkling in amusement.
"I know it's a bit nippy out, but burnin' yourself isn't really the best way to warm up, mate."
Mortified, I felt myself begin to blush. I hadn't done that since I was fifteen, and that was half a lifetime ago. "Yeah, sorry about that. I got a little distracted, and I didn't want to disturb you."
She raised a dark eyebrow, her head cocked beguilingly. "You don't have to worry about that. 'S more than enough space out here, and it's not like it's my house."
I blinked, confused. "It is your father's, though."
She looked caught off-guard for a moment, and I began to wonder if there was any truth in what the papers had been saying. "Right, yeah. It is." She chuckled, and it was both warm and confused. "Still gotta get used to that."
Suddenly, I couldn't help myself. Maggie always said my curiosity was my biggest problem, though her term for it was decidedly less kid-friendly. "How long have you known he was your dad?" I winced as soon as the question popped out of my mouth, but she didn't seem insulted, just… elsewhere. It's the look the paps always catch on her. Rose Tyler's not here right now, please leave a message.
"I grew up bein' told that my dad had died when I was a baby—it was a bit of a shock to meet 'im, alive and well and… well." She gestured vaguely at the enormous mansion. "It's not exactly where I expected my life to go."
"I would say that I can imagine, but I can't, really."
She laughed, and I found myself smiling idiotically. It was weird, how she could make you feel so profoundly at ease while obviously not being so herself. There was a long silence, and her attention drifted to the night sky again.
I turned towards the railing, eyes drawn irresistibly towards the glittering, peaceful sight above us. When I spoke, I was surprised to realize how soft my voice was. "You're lucky you get this."
Her gaze was a bit sharp. "What d'you mean?"
I found myself blushing, again. This was getting way too regular. "Not the house or anything—this. The stars. I can never see 'em from my flat in London. The pollution's too bad."
Her gaze softened, and she turned back to the sky. "Yeah. Dunno what I'd do if I couldn't see the sky anymore." She grinned, but it wasn't a beaming, tongue-tucked smile like earlier. This was a little bit broken, and I had to wonder what she'd lost. "Probably run mad." She glanced at me, a bit nervous. "An' I hope you're not a reporter, 'cause that'd be just what I needed."
"Nah, no worries. I'm just a junior solicitor. Nate Logan. I'm with Foster & Forsythe."
"Nice to meet you, Nate. Rose Tyler." We shook hands gravely, and she leaned against the balustrade again, her eyes still trained upwards.
Several minutes later there was a rustle of noise from inside the ballroom, and a woman's voice wafted out to interrupt the comfortable silence between us. "Rose? You out here? Oh, there you are, sweetheart." We both turned and found Jackie Tyler standing in the French doors, the bright light from inside highlighting her blonde chignon and the growing swell under her powder-blue gown. The Jackie Tyler that vanished after the Cybermen's invasion had, from all accounts, never been interested in kids, but the one that came back seemed to relish being a mum—on a family trip to Cannes, she'd single-handedly chased off a whole flock of paparazzi that were following Rose. She was watching her daughter carefully, her expression somehow both joyful and sad.
Rose frowned. "What is it, Mum? Are you alri—"she stopped, frozen midsentence. A tall, skinny man in a brown pinstripe suit had stepped out from behind Jackie Tyler, grinning madly. I turned and looked him over, now incredibly curious. Hair that looked like it had never met a comb, a half-loose tie—and were those trainers? Rose gasped in a deep breath, and I looked back at her. She was staring at the tall man, her wide eyes teary and her face pale. Her voice was low and almost broken when she spoke. "Is it… is it really you? You're really here?"
"You bet he is, sweetheart. Watch." At that, Jackie whapped the mystery man across the back of the head, regally ignoring his yelp of pain. "See? He's here." He grumbled something under his breath, and she shot a look at him. "Oh, stop your whinin'. I didn't hit you that hard."
Rose gasped out a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob, and I started moving towards the ballroom. The man stopped rubbing his head petulantly and stepped forwards, his expression tender and hopeful. "It's really me, Rose."
She backed up against the balustrade, her hands gripping the stonework so tightly her knuckles were white. The man stopped, looking crestfallen, and she instinctively reached out, snatching her hand back before she touched him. "You said it was impossible."
"I was wrong. The TARDIS is far more brilliant than I could ever hope to be, and she missed you."
He moved closer to Rose, reaching out and pressing her hand against his cheek. She laughed, though her tears had begun to streak her makeup. "Just the TARDIS missed me? I think I'm offended."
"Rose." She sobered and met his intense, dark gaze. "I've travelled for hundreds of years, visited millions of planets. I can speak almost any language known to the universe, and I will never find enough words to say what you mean to me and how much I've missed you." She threw herself into his arms and he picked her up, his low laughter filling the air as he spun her around. After a long, breathless twirl, he set her down and kissed her gently. I heard a sniff from beside me. Jackie Tyler was dabbing away her tears with a soft handkerchief, being careful not to smudge her makeup.
"Are you alright, Mrs. Tyler?" She blinked and focused on me, confusion furrowing her brow for a moment before she apparently decided to just go with it.
Her voice was thick with tears. "I dunno. God, I'm going to miss her, but look at that." She gestured at the couple, who were now simply clinging to each other. She continued, her voice nearly breaking. "My daughter's happy again."
Rose raised her head from the man's shoulder at that and stepped away from his embrace reluctantly, though he kept his arm around her waist. "Mum, I wasn't unhappy, necessarily—"
"Yes, you were, sweetheart." Jackie reached out and brushed the tears off her daughter's face, ignoring the ones that were falling down her own. "You weren't with him, an' so you couldn't be, not really. You'd left too much of your heart behind."
The man spoke, his eyes dark and serious. "Jackie, I'm sorry—"
She cut him off, eyes blazing. "Don't. Don't do it, okay? Don't apologize for love. Sweetheart, I've had a lot of time to think in the past few years about what my life would be like without you." Rose winced at that, and Jackie smiled sadly. "I used to think that himself over there was just a phase, just a spot of adventure before you got back to your real life. I was wrong, though. I just didn't want to see the truth. God, d'you have any idea how terrifying it is to realize your daughter—your baby girl that you love more than anything—belongs out there among the stars, hand in hand with a madman in a blue box? That she wants and needs more than you could ever give her? I love you, Rose, but this isn't your life. You belong out there, with 'im, no matter how mad and terrifying it might be." Her voice broke. "So go, Rose. Go home."
"Oh, Mum." Rose rushed to embrace her mother, both of them sobbing quietly. I swallowed and looked away. The mystery man was watching them, instinctively reaching for Rose as she cried before shoving his hands in his pockets. I clenched my own fists. I really should have left by now—I couldn't even imagine a more private scene—but the odd little group had ended up blocking me in the corner, and I didn't want to make the situation any more awkward than it already was. Heartfelt reunions and goodbyes shouldn't really be witnessed by strangers, no matter how curious I was.
"Rose." The man's voice was quiet, apologetic. "I'm sorry, but if you're going to come with me, we have to leave soon."
She sobbed once more and wiped her tears away, but her smile was still the brightest I'd ever seen. "Of course I'm comin' with you. I just… I just need to get some stuff and say goodbye to Dad."
She flitted back into the ballroom, and I was stuck between the doors and Jackie Tyler. She glared up at the man who was fidgeting awkwardly, but soon softened and pulled him into her arms. He pulled her snug against him, his eyes shut tight. "Jackie Tyler. I'm going to miss you."
She scoffed against his suit, "Oh, go on."
He stepped back a bit, offering her a handkerchief to wipe away her tears. "I mean it, Jackie. I know I haven't always done right by you—" at that, she snorted before blowing her nose wetly—"but knowing you has been an honor. Your daughter is one of the most incredible people I've ever met, and it's clear where she gets it from."
She screwed her face up against more tears. "Promise me you'll take care of her, Doctor. Promise me you'll always try to keep my little girl safe."
"I'll try, Jackie, but—"
She interrupted him, voice cracking. "Just say it, Doctor. I know you can't really promise it, but just say it."
He winced and rubbed the back of his neck. "I promise, Jackie."
Rose reappeared through the French doors, still in her elegant evening gown, but with a large duffel slung over her shoulders and scuffed trainers on her feet. She was walking next to Pete Tyler, and I surreptitiously pushed myself closer to the wall. The most powerful family in Britain, and I was stuck in their confusing drama.
Pete hugged his daughter one last time before stepping back and putting his arm around Jackie. He held a hand out towards the Doctor, his jaw tight. "Doctor. It's good to see you again."
"And you, Pete."
They shook hands, and Pete cleared his throat. "I'm glad I had a chance to see you again. I just wanted to say thank you. You not only saved the world, again, but you gave me back my family. Rose…" he turned towards his daughter, his eyes sparkling suspiciously. "I may not have known you very long, but I do know this: I am so very proud to have been your father."
She threw her arms around his, her bag falling to the ground with a thump. The Doctor picked it up and slung it over his shoulder, his eyes dark. Rose stepped back, wiping away tears, and the Doctor reached out and clasped her hand. "Goodbye, Dad. Oh, Mum—take care of each other, you hear me?"
Jackie nodded, her head resting against Pete's shoulder. "And you two, sweetheart."
The Doctor squeezed Rose's hand and she met his eyes, her face nearly glowing with happiness. He smiled softly down at her. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be." She caught a glimpse of me and laughed, and my stomach went into freefall. I'd never seen a glimpse of this Rose Tyler before, this joyful, laughing, smiling woman, and she was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen. "It was nice to meet you, Nate. Sorry you got caught up in our mess like this."
I swallowed heavily and cleared my throat. "The pleasure was mine, Rose. Really."
She beamed at me again and followed the Doctor into the ballroom, leaving her parents and I outside. A low grinding noise echoed in the air, and when I entered the room moments later, I found the party staring at an empty space in the center of the dance floor. I strolled up to Roger, my mind full to buzzing. "What's happened?"
He blinked and tore his attention away from the empty space. "This blue box just… just appeared, and some skinny bloke popped out. He just left, Rose Tyler with him." He shook his head, chuckling ruefully. "You missed it all, mate."
I grinned to myself as Pete and Jackie Tyler reentered the room, looking tired but composed. "I wouldn't be so sure of that, Rog."