Rose stood near the gate outside the school, her loose hair blowing in the wind. The headmaster had been horrified when she handed in her resignation wearing trousers, but Rose couldn't care less. Martha had already left—Mickey had come to the school that morning to walk her to the TARDIS after her tearful goodbye with Jenny.
The gates creaked behind her and Rose glanced back to see the Doctor standing behind her, his hands tucked into the pockets of his familiar tan overcoat. He smiled forcedly at her, a shadow of his normal beaming grin. "Well, that's taken care of, then. John Smith has officially resigned."
Rose's jaw tightened and she picked up her suitcase and began the trek to the TARDIS. The Doctor winced and ran a hand through his hair as he followed her, ducking around her to reach for her suitcase. "Rose, let me."
"I can handle it, Doctor."
He dropped his hand hurriedly and stuffed his hands back in his pockets, walking beside her in silence. Rose's hand tightened on her suitcase handle, and she blinked back tears. The strain between them was nearly a living thing, its breath filling the silent air between them.
They reached the edge of the woods and the Doctor reached out suddenly and grabbed her arm, tugging her around to face him. "Rose, what is it? You haven't said a word to me since... since I changed back." His voice lowered, and she had to look down from the pain in his eyes. "Is it John? Do you want him back?"
She dropped her suitcase abruptly and smacked his arm, suddenly furious. "No, it's not that. Or yes, it is. Doctor, what were you thinking?"
He leaned back in surprise, his eyes going wide. "What do you mean?"
"You hid yourself as a human, leaving Martha to fend for herself and putting everyone around you in risk. What would've happened if Mickey and I weren't there, hmm? How was Martha supposed to protect you and the townspeople all by herself, with nothing but a video to guide her?" Her voice cracked suddenly, and the Doctor realized with a start that she was almost in tears. "What would've happened if you'd been hurt?"
He swallowed and rubbed a hand at the nape of his neck. "Rose, they'd caught my scent—if I hadn't disguised myself, they would've caught me right away."
She narrowed her eyes and poked him in the chest. "And what of it? You're forgettin', Doctor, that I know you. You could've dealt with them with both your hands tied behind your back."
"Rose, it's not that simple."
"No, it's not. 'Cause you wanted this, didn't you? You wanted to fade away, to just… vanish. An' you didn't think about the people you were leavin' behind."
The Doctor stepped forward, his eyes dark with anger, and Rose bumped into the harsh bark of the tree behind her. "Is this really about them, Rose? Or is it just about you?"
Rose sobbed and tensed her arm for a Tyler slap, but the Doctor caught her hand before it could connect. "Fine. You want me to say it? I'll say it. How could you do this to me, Doctor? How could you just… give up like that?"
His hand tightened around her wrist even though the anger faded from his eyes, washed away by an exhaustion deep enough to drown in. "What did I have to keep going for, Rose? No matter how hard I try, it never gets any better. Wars still rage, ignorance still reigns, and I still lose everything I love." He dropped his eyes and Rose tugged her hand free to rest it against his cheek, swallowing as he leaned into her caress.
"It does get better, Doctor. You make it better." He snorted at that, and she lifted his face to look at her again. "You do. Can't you see how much you matter?" She gasped in a ragged sob and the tears she'd been fighting slid down her cheeks, leaving a trail of chilled skin in their wake. "Why would you do that to yourself? I never want to see you in that much pain again."
The Doctor looked away, his jaw tight. "You shouldn't have had to see that."
"Yes, I should've." She chuckled damply and wiped a hand across her eyes. "Just goes to show, you're useless without me."
His voice was quiet and serious when he responded. "I am."
She looked back into his eyes and bit her lip, a slow smile breaking across her face. "Good thing I'm not leavin' then, isn't it?"
In a rush of movement Rose found herself trapped between the tree and the Doctor, his arms wrapped around her in a crushing grip. She gasped and giggled breathlessly, her face tucked into his neck. "Y'know, just 'cause I've got a respiratory whats-it now doesn't mean I know how to use it."
He released her quickly, a soft flush heating his ears. "Right, yes. Sorry."
"Hey." She cupped his cheek again, peering up into his eyes. "You don't need to apologize."
The Doctor blinked down at her, his eyes darting down to her lips and back up. "Rose, may I…?"
She giggled against his lips as he bent down slowly, nervously. "You don't need to ask, you daft alien. You never did."
A quicksilver grin flashed across his face. "You're an alien too, now, remember?"
"S'pose I am." His lips met hers, and she closed her eyes and stopped thinking. It wasn't exactly comfortable—the early November air was quite chilly, and that blasted tree was digging into her back—but it was still the most perfect kiss Rose had ever experienced.
That's because you're kissing a Time Lord, a very familiar voice said smugly in her mind.
She gasped and broke the kiss, her eyes wide. "Was that you?"
The Doctor preened. There was no other word for it. "Telepathic, remember? Means I can do stuff like this—" he ducked his head and kissed her again, teasing her mouth with a single-minded intensity that stole the strength from her knees.
He released her mouth slowly, grinning down at the dazed expression on her face. He stepped back, his eyes bright with mischief, and laughed when Rose stumbled forward into him.
She blinked up at him. "Can you teach me how to do that?"
His grin turned positively wicked. "Oh, you can count on it." He glanced at the woods around them and grimaced. "Might be more comfortable somewhere else, though."
Rose laughed and picked up her suitcase, reaching out a hand for the Doctor and wiggling her fingers. He raised his eyebrows and took her hand, and she leaned closer and said one word. "Run."
Mickey and Martha jumped to their feet as the doors to the TARDIS crashed open and the Doctor and Rose tore in, both laughing so hard they could barely stand. Mickey blinked. "Oi, Rose—you did notice that your bag's open, didn't you?"
She looked down at the battered leather suitcase in her hand and the trail of clothes behind her and laughed even harder, collapsing onto the floor with a heavy thump. The Doctor joined her there, leaning against her back and laughing like a madman.
Martha was staring at them, looking utterly shocked. Mickey sat back down on the jump seat and shrugged at her ruefully. "Yeah, they got like that sometimes. Could get bloody annoyin' when I was tryin' to take a nap."
Rose looked up, still giggling. "Yeah, well you shouldn't've been tryin' to take a nap in the library."
He made a face at her. "Aren't libraries supposed to be quiet?"
The Doctor snorted and wiped his streaming eyes, snickering under his breath. "Since when has anything on this ship done what it's supposed to?"
Martha snorted, a reluctant grin pulling at her mouth. "Yeah, you would know."
The Doctor bounced to his feet, pulling Rose up against his chest with a soft look that made the breath catch in Martha's throat. "You going to go fetch your things, Rose?"
The blonde flushed and checked her suitcase, grinning a little at what she found. "Eh, all my Torchwood stuff's still in here." She grinned, her tongue poking out between her teeth. "Might as well leave the rest of it out there to confuse people—you never know, could end up bein' a good ghost story someday."
Mickey rolled his eyes. "Oh, now you're just bein' lazy."
Rose spun and closed the door, giggling a little. "Never claimed otherwise."
The Doctor grinned at the three of them, his eyes bright and happy. "Now, then. Where do we want to go next?"
Martha cleared her throat, looking down at her clasped hands. "Actually, Doctor, London sounds good."
His eyebrows drew together and he began to fill in the coordinates, twisting dials and pulling levers. "Ah. Pop in to see the family, then? I don't blame you, it has been a bit—mind you, with a mum like Francine, a bit of a break seems a mercy." The TARDIS shuddered into the Vortex as Rose joined the Doctor at the console, her eyes poring over the familiar controls. They landed with a thump, and Martha bit her lip.
"It's not just a visit, Doctor." She swallowed. "This was just meant to be one trip, wasn't it? All the rest was just bonus. Travelling with you, Doctor, it's amazing. But it's not my life." She glanced at Rose and smiled crookedly. "Not like it is for some people. It's time for me to get out, Doctor. Still got a couple years to go on my training, y'know."
Mickey reached out and touched her hand, his eyes on the Doctor. "Might as well let me out while you're at it, boss."
Martha turned to stare at him, her eyes wide. "Really? But there's so much to see out there, so much to do."
He grinned at her. "I've seen my fair share, over the years. 'Sides, there's plenty to be done on the good ol' terra firma."
The Doctor was watching them with his brow furrowed, but when he opened his mouth Rose reached out and caught his hand. When he turned to look at her, she closed her eyes and concentrated. They'll be good for each other.
His jaw dropped, and he stared at her for a moment before a slow smile began to creep across his face. It might be nice to have the TARDIS to ourselves for a while.
A throat was cleared by the jump seat, and Mickey raised an eyebrow. "Oi, d'you two mind waiting until we're gone before you start all that?"
Martha rolled her eyes. "Honestly." She glanced at Mickey. "Were they always this bad?"
The Doctor scowled. "Oi! Right here, remember?"
Mickey grinned. "Yeah, now you know how we feel."
They'd both apparently planned for this, Mickey and Martha—they were packed and ready to leave within minutes. The Doctor stood by the door as Martha and Rose hugged each other goodbye, Mickey at his side. The young man cleared his throat. "Take care of her, all right?"
The Doctor blinked and focused on him. "I will, Mickey."
Mickey grinned at Martha and slung his pack over his shoulder. He glanced at the Doctor. "An' let her take care of you."
"Oh, he will." Rose hugged Mickey, blinking back tears. "Or else I'll get the TARDIS to throw out all the bananas."
The Doctor stared at her, horrified. "You wouldn't dare!"
She grinned and released Mickey, wiping her eyes. "Oh, just see if I wouldn't!"
Martha stood by the doorway, her duffel bag slung over her shoulder. She glanced up at the Doctor nervously, and he opened his arms wide. "Oh, come here, you." She laughed as he pulled her into a bear hug, pressing her bag tightly against her back. "Martha Jones. You were absolutely brilliant." He released her and clasped his hands on her shoulder, his eyes shining. "Where would I be without you?"
"Utterly lost, of course." She sniffled a little, biting her lip. "This isn't goodbye. You know that, right?" She looked over at Rose and grinned. "It's just see you later, that's all." She stepped out of the TARDIS, Mickey behind her, and set her bags down on her bed. "Until next time, then."
"Until next time." The Doctor stepped back into the TARDIS and closed the door, walking back up to the console and sending it into the Vortex. He looked up at Rose and grinned. "Where to, Rose Tyler?" She strolled over to him, running a finger down his tie. One sharp tug pulled it out from under his jacket, and with a wicked grin she began towing him towards her bedroom. The Doctor gulped before a smile broke over his face, sudden as a summer storm. "Oh, good idea."
They didn't get around to leaving the Vortex for the next week.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who read & reviewed! I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.