The hustle and bustle of Torchwood London's research and development division barely registered to Rose as she and Mickey stared at his glowing monitor.
She took a deep breath and glanced at her oldest friend. "You're sure, Mickey? It's stable?"
"Sure as I can be, babe. The signal's been transmitting from that spot for the past few weeks, even if it is a bit weak."
"The past few weeks?" She stared at the screen. "Oh, Doctor, what happened?"
Mickey leaned closer, his dark eyes sparkling. "You wanna find out?"
Rose's stomach dropped like a roller coaster. "You mean...?"
"It's working, Rose. We did the first run of tests last week, and Jake came back just fine."
"Wait, Jake tested it first?" Her jaw clenched, and she shifted in a blink from a lovelorn young woman to Torchwood's formidable top agent. "Mickey Smith, I've put my blood, sweat and tears into this project, and it was agreed that I was going to lead the testing. I can't believe you had Jake do it. He could've been injured, or worse!"
Mickey's eyebrows climbed and he leaned back in his chair, his arms crossed defiantly. "An' I can't believe you thought we'd let you be the guinea pig. Rose, you might not give a damn whether or not you get hurt, but there are people around you who do."
She glared at him. "You went behind my back, Mickey."
"Actually, it wasn't so much behind your back as above your head." Rose spun around and found Pete watching her levelly, relaxing against Mickey's office door frame. "I'd never let Torchwood's most knowledgeable alien expert run the first tests, especially not when I go home to her mother at night."
Rose's brows drew together, and she straightened almost unconsciously as she regarded her almost-father. "Have you told Mum about Project Bad Wolf?"
"God, no. Do I look utterly mad to you? I don't even want to think about what Jacks' reaction to this will be." He turned to leave and paused, pointing at Rose. "You get to tell her about it, by the way."
She nodded, and he strolled out. Rose rested a hip against Mickey's desk while he contemplated her. The muttering and clattering of the lab was somewhat subdued by the cramped office's door, leaving only the silence between them.
He fiddled with a spare pencil, drumming it against his keyboard. "I think I might go with you, y'know. When you leave."
Rose looked up, startled. "What d'you mean?"
Mickey looked down at his clasped hands as he spoke. "Gran's gone, Rose, and she was my only real tie to this universe. Jake's been a proper mate, but after what he an' Rickey had… he'll never really be comfortable around me. An' now that you'll be off, what do I have to keep me here, huh?"
"But Mickey, you're doing an amazin' job! I can't even count how many times the Earth has been saved by my old friend, Mickey Smith." She grinned at him. "I get to brag that I knew you when you sucked your thumb."
He snorted, but grinned back at her. "'S not like you don't have any notches in your belt in the world-savin' department, Rose."
She wrinkled her nose at him. "You make it sound so… sleazy."
He winked. "It's a gift."
Rose rolled her eyes. "You sure you only met Captain Jack the once? 'Cause I could've sworn you were channeling 'im, just now."
Mickey recoiled. "Now that's just mean, Rose. I do not sound like Captain Cheesecake."
She shrugged nonchalantly. "What can I say? I tell it like I see it." Her brown eyes darkened, and she watched Mickey carefully. "You serious about leavin' when I go?"
"I'm not gonna let you go without back-up, Rose." His serious expression melted away, and he grinned boyishly at her. "An' besides, the pizza here is crap. What I wanna know is, what nutter decided it was a good idea to make marinara sauce with aubergines instead of tomatoes?"
She bit her lip against a snicker. "You do have a point. Blimey, but that stuff's nasty." Rose shifted to sit on his desk and kicked her legs out, watching her booted feet sway back and forth under her. She sighed. "I dread tellin' Mum, though. She's going to be so disappointed. She thought she had everything, for once, an' I hate takin' that away from her."
Mickey took her hand, squeezing gently when she looked up at him. "She'll be okay, Rose. She's got Pete an' Tony, an' she's too sharp to think that you've been happy here."
Rose looked down and blinked away stinging tears. "I have been happy sometimes, Mickey."
"Yeah, but your heart's a universe away, an' anyone who really knows you can see it."
She laughed damply, wiping her eyes carefully. "Listen to you, Mr. Sensitive."
Mickey winked at her. "Whaddya know? I had to grow up sometime."
She grinned at him, then sighed and slipped off the desk, grabbing her bag and coat from the spare chair. "I think I might clock out, actually. Might as well get it over with—she'd going to be angry enough that I've kept it from her for this long."
"Better you than me, babe. See you later, yeah?"
"Later." She left his office and headed to the garage, her mind whirling. She could go back. She could really go back. I really need to buy the Doctor a dictionary. Maybe it'll be a nice little good-to-see-you-again present… with the definition of impossible underlined and highlighted. He really is too fond of that word—at least now that he's all pinstripes and gorgeous hair. It never seemed to bother him that much when he was Northern with a thing for leather.
She steadfastly refused to consider that he'd changed again in her absence. The thought of him being that reckless sent an uncontrollable shiver down her spine as she drove the familiar, winding route back to the Tyler mansion. She buzzed the gate to let her in and parked in her customary spot in the ridiculously large garage. She absentmindedly patted the door to her dark blue Mini Cooper as she got out and headed into the house.
Pete had offered to buy her a Ferrari when she first arrived, and she hadn't been able to stop laughing for a full five minutes. It had taken her a week to make it up to him, with Jackie glaring at her for every minute of it.
Rose grinned a little as she tossed her jacket and bag on the kitchen table. If the Doctor had thought Jackie was intimidating before, it was a good thing he'd never encountered her pregnant. A short, sticky blur came crashing into the kitchen, and Rose's trousers were immediately covered in about equal amounts of small ginger boy and raspberry jam.
She grabbed the counter behind her and laughed, though her heart hurt at the thought of how much the Doctor would've adored Tony. It was probably a good thing they'd never met, though. Those two hyperactive males, each stubborn as a mule, with an enormous sweet tooth and the ability to get into anything they wanted? The world would tremble in terror.
A familiar voice echoed from the hall. "Tony! What have I told you about runnin' in the house? You're going to trip and bust your face, and you'll walk around the rest of your life with a crooked nose just 'cause you didn't listen to your mum." Jackie entered the room, picking up the debris of Hurricane Tony as she came. She blinked when she saw where Tony was, and raised her eyebrows at her daughter. "Rose! You're home early. What's this about, then?"
Rose gently detached her baby brother, making faces at him while he crowed with laughter. She glanced at her mum and responded while crossing her eyes and stretching her mouth absurdly wide. "Why's it got to be about something? Maybe I just had enough of the office for the day."
"I'd believe that if you hadn't spent the last few years holed up at the place day in, day out. I never thought I'd see you less once you stopped travellin' with the Doctor. Now come on, I've got to get Tony cleaned up—he's got a play date in half an hour." She glanced down at Rose's grey wool slacks, now spattered with reddish-purple goo. "Looks like you could do with some cleanin' up yourself, sweetheart. Go get changed, an' we'll have a nice cuppa once Tony's taken care of. An' take your jacket with you!"
Rose sighed and collected her jacket, heading up to the spartan bedroom that she'd chosen. With an entire wall of enormous windows, it was the closest she could get to a place that was bigger on the inside. She slipped out of her work clothes and tossed them in the laundry basket. She still wasn't used to the hired staff doing her laundry, but right now she was too nervous to care. She pulled on a pair of jeans and a warm red jumper, thoughtfully fingering the small, plain key that still hung, waiting, between her breasts. I might be able to use this again soon.
The thought made her take another look at the room she'd been living in for the past four years, and she was disturbed to realize how little of herself was visible there. The furniture was neat and nondescript, and there were no small knickknacks that would really make it hers—though she did have a few pictures up of her family.
She traced a finger over the wood frame on the table next to her bed. The small, grainy shot was the only picture she had of the Doctor here on Pete's world, taken with her Superphone when they'd visited the singing mountains on Tulliv Major. The Doctor had been standing behind her, his arms wrapped around her waist, as they both grinned into the camera. Mickey had been able to download the photo and enlarge it for her, but there was really nothing to be done about the quality.
Sometimes she wondered why she kept it right where she could see it, considering how much it made her miss him. Then she remembered that she missed him all the time anyway, so it was worth it to have a reminder of the good times.
She found her mum briskly preparing tea in the kitchen, Tony having been safely deposited with his playmate. Rose paused at the doorway, taking in the sight of her mother, healthy and happy and carefree. She'd eased up on the peroxide and the make-up once she was fully settled as Pete's wife, and the medium ash blonde of her hair and light dash of eyeliner and mascara made her look softer and younger than she had in years.
Rose smiled wryly. Of course, the monthly spa treatments probably helped as well. She'd tried to get her daughter to join her the first few times, but gave up after declaring her a 'right misery'. She'd found plenty of friends among the other mothers at Tony's daycare, though, and Rose was almost ashamed to realize that her mother had more of a social life than she did.
Jackie turned around and spotted Rose staring at her from the doorway, and frowned. "What? Did I get some of Tony's jam on my face? I swear, that boy manages to get his mess on everything. It's like a bloody superpower or somethin'."
Rose smiled at her and walked over to join her in the cozy breakfast nook. "No, nothin's on your face. I just… I love you, is all. I don't tell you enough, but you're an amazing mum."
Jackie paled, and her hand clenched tight around her delicate china teacup. "Oh, lord. You've found a way back. You're leavin' again." Rose's jaw dropped as she struggled for something to say, but Jackie just rolled her eyes and set her teacup down with a deep sigh.
"Oh, don't look at me like that. I'm not stupid, and if there's one thing I know, Rose Tyler, it's you. You're lookin' at everything like you're saying goodbye." Rose swallowed heavily and took a hasty sip of tea. Jackie's eyes softened, and she reached out and placed an elegantly manicured hand on top of Rose's. "I won't say I like it, sweetheart. I hate it, actually. But you aren't happy here, and if there's one thing a parent wants more than anything else, it's for their child to be happy. You may not have been safe with the Doctor, but God, he made you so happy you nearly glowed."
She took a sip of tea and sighed, looking absently out the window onto the manicured gardens. "I used to hate him for that, you know. I thought, what's he got that I couldn't give to my little girl? But then that fiasco with Torchwood happened, and I saw what he meant to you." She sniffed and blinked away tears. "I got a second chance with the man I love, Rose. I could never keep you from the same thing. Just… be happy, Rose. Promise me that."
Rose gasped in a breath and nodded, her mascara stinging her eyes. "I promise, Mum." She got up and sat next to her mother, her arms around her and her face in her neck. "I'll miss you so much."
"Oh, sweetheart. I'm going to miss you every second of every day. I'll never stop telling Tony stories about his big sister, the Defender of the Earth." She sniffed and dabbed at her face with her napkin. "Oh, look what you did! Now my makeup's all messed up, and I was just tryin' out a new liner shade."
Rose laughed and stood, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. "You look smashing, Mum. Way better than me—I should really invest in some waterproof mascara."
Across the house the front door closed, and Jackie quickly checked her makeup in the reflection from the chrome refrigerator. "Sounds like Pete's home. Matilda made us some nice lamb and potatoes for dinner, I'll just heat it up."
Rose smiled at her not-father as he entered the kitchen. Looking at the state of the makeup in the kitchen, he raised his eyebrows. "You didn't waste any time."
"Figured it was best not to." She laughed a little bitterly. "I hate drawn-out goodbyes."
Pete served himself some tea and leaned against the counter next to Rose. "Mickey told me his plans after you left. I suppose I should be upset with you—I'm losing two of my best agents."
"Mickey's leavin' too?" Pete and Rose looked over at Jackie, who looked almost on the edge of tears again. "Blimey, all this universe swappin's enough to make me dizzy."
"Mum, after his Gran passed, he just doesn't feel that tied to this universe anymore. You'll still have Pete, Mum, and Tony and Melissa and Katherine and Joan. I'm not leavin' you alone, this time." Rose smiled wryly at her. "You've got more friends than I have, really. An' you know what else is different now? You're not getting' left behind. You just found somewhere new."
Pete wrapped his wife in a hug, and Rose couldn't help but smile at the picture they made. Her parents were back together, in a bizzare, fairy tale way, and their happiness gave her hope. After all, if they could find the alternate dimension version of their dead spouse and create a happy marriage together, who was she to live by 'impossible'?