Life in the TARDIS was timeless; that is to say, time within the blue box wasn't so much wibbley-wobbly as it was nonexistent. Inside those walls, with the Time Vortex at their fingertips and the universe as their horizon, there was no time, no seasons, and no holidays.
Except on special occasions.
"Doctor," Rose said, circling the console and trailing her hand over a lever. "I was thinkin'…."
"Yeah?" the Doctor said distractedly. He was half-submerged in wiring under the floor, screwdriver in one hand, a handful of thin tubes snaking through the other, looking ever so scholarly with his glasses perched on his nose.
"It's been a while since I've seen my mum—"
The Doctor cringed. "Good old Jackie," he said without looking up.
"Don't be like that. She's my mum."
"Still insane," the Doctor muttered. Rose glared at him. "She hits me!" he protested.
"Can't a nine hundred-year-old Time Lord handle it?"
"While on some planets fisticuffs are considered to be an indication of attraction, neither you nor I am from one of those planets. And abusive prepubescent flirting amongst humans does not count!" he said, pointing a finger at Rose with the hand that held the sonic.
"I'll tell her not to hit you."
"I will, seriously."
He sighed and dropped the tubing. "All right. Fine. We'll go visit your mother. Briefly! I don't do family stuff."
Rose smiled at him—rather smugly, he thought, but perhaps he was being biased. "Doctor…" she repeated slowly.
"Hmm?" He had gone back to examining some wiring under the grating.
"Can we go during Christmas? Spend the holidays with her?"
"Blimey," he said, poking his head back up to look at her with his eyebrows raised. "Jackie Tyler and the Christmas season? May I point out, just to be the reasonable one here, that A, she is going to be in full-out middle-aged-mother mode, and B, things tend to happen around Christmas."
"Things! You know, things. Every time I visit Earth Christmas, things happen. You remember the last one: regenerated, killer Christmas tree, pilot fish Father Christmases, Sycorax, Harriet Jones, swordfight, lost my hand! And I love that hand." He looked at his fingers and wiggled them. "My hand," he said, a little possessively.
"You're getting grumpy because you lost a hand that you grew back," Rose said blankly.
"Oi! You try losing a hand!" he said, staring at her.
"Did you even feel it?"
"The hand gettin' chopped off." Rose leaned against the console and crossed her arms.
He gave her an affronted look. "'Course I did! Hurt like hell!"
"You didn't even bleed."
"Magic," he whispered in mock mysteriousness.
"Time Lord's aren't magic."
"Oh, we so are."
"Oh, you so aren't. You wish you were magic."
He scoffed and pointed the sonic at something out of her sight beneath him, pulsing it twice before responding. "Then how do you explain the fact that I know what your friend Jenna got you on your eighth birthday?"
"Doctor. I caught you readin' my diary."
"Nooo," he breathed, again feigning that mysterious air. "Magic!"
Rose looked at him, arms still crossed. "You are out of your mind."
The Doctor grinned manically. "As ever!"
"So, can we?"
"Can we what."
"See my mum."
"Do we have to?"
"Do we have to stay for more than an hour?"
"Yes, okay, fine. The sacrifices I make for you!" the Doctor said, then winked. He clambered out of the hole in which he had been sitting and reached around the console, flicking switches and spinning knobs. "Hold tight," he said, and with a waggle of his eyebrows he flipped the lever.
They stepped out of the TARDIS to a cold, wet London. The Doctor closed the door behind them and looked around at the Christmas bows and strings of lights scattered around the exteriors of the buildings. He sniffed and stuck his hands in his trouser pockets. Glanced down at a puddle. Turned to Rose.
"Lead on, Miss Tyler," he said.
She grinned. Here was her London. Home. She hadn't realised how much she had missed it until now. Rose took a deep breath of the city air—chips and fumes and chicken tikka masala. Leather, wet leaves, pavement. With the rain drizzling down on their heads they stood amidst the shoppers and the bundled up Londoners on rented bicycles. A cab down the street honked at a pair of tourists who were trying to cross the road. Rose took the Doctor's hand and, skipping slightly, led him towards the apartment where she had lived for so many years with her mum.
The key turned in the lock and Jackie, hearing the click of the doorknob, jumped to her feet from where she had been sitting watching telly. Some Christmas special about a little dog named Charlie. "Rose?" she called hopefully. She hurried to the door, eagerly anticipating the reunion with her only child.
Except it wasn't Rose. As Jackie turned the corner into the entryway, a pair of hands grabbed her and another immediately pressed a damp cloth to her face. Jackie tried to scream, but the sound that escaped her mouth was a strangled, muffled squeal. No one heard it. No one was coming to help. She struggled in her attacker's grip and kicked out, trying to land a blow on one of them. Her wild thrashing knocked a glass ornament from the cabinet and it smashed on the floor. A photograph of Rose toppled over. And then everything gradually went fuzzy and dark and she slumped in their arms and lost consciousness.
"Come on then, pick her up," the taller of the two intruders commanded.
"You're bigger than I am," the other, bearded man complained.
"So why am I the one who's got to carry 'er?"
"Coz I said so...?"
"Aww, c'mon, Paul," whined Beardy. "Lump like 'er? I'll get back strain."
"It's that or a punch to the gut," Paul threatened. Beardy huffed and glared. He bent and grabbed Jackie, heaving her up and struggling to heft her over his shoulder.
"Uff—gah—she could stand to lose some weight," he groaned. Paul rolled his eyes, then strolled into the living room and took a blanket from the sofa. He returned and draped the blanket over Jackie's limp body, nodded at Beardy, and opened the door. They briskly walked out, descended the stairs of the apartment building, and got into a dark van parked outside. If the neighbours saw anything, it was nothing more than two men in police uniforms carrying a heavy object wrapped in a cloth.
Rose and the Doctor climbed the stairs to the second floor, breathing heavily from exertion in the cold winter air. Their breath formed clouds in front of their faces.
"Mum's going to be surprised," Rose was chattering, a big grin on her face. "Mind you, she might be cross. Not knowing we were coming and all."
The Doctor made a wide-eyed face as he remembered their last visit. "Here's hoping she gets over it quickly," he said.
They stopped outside the door and Rose lifted her key, then froze. The Doctor reached out a hand and slowly, cautiously, pushed. The door swung open. They exchanged glances.
"Maybe she felt like a nice nippy breeze?" the Doctor suggested hopefully.
Rose stared at the open door. It was probably nothing, but…Jackie never left the door ajar. For years she had scolded Rose for not shutting it tightly. Didn't even leave it unlocked, usually. In a city, you didn't know whom you could trust, and ever since Jackie had met the Doctor, monsters and aliens and danger and trouble following in his wake, she had taken precautions against unwanted guests. She wasn't about to forget the Slitheen in her kitchen.
Rose stepped over the threshold. "Mum?" she called. She made her way slowly into the flat. The Doctor made to follow her, but Rose had halted abruptly once more.
"Rose?" the Doctor said. Rose didn't answer. He sidestepped her and moved to see what she was looking at. Shards of broken glass littered the floor. Rose knelt and picked one up. Holding it to her eyes, she straightened and turned to the cabinet where the glass ornament had sat for the last six years, when Rose had given it to her mother as a birthday gift. Nestled between a photo and— The photo. It had fallen, or been tipped—not in anger, was it? How long had she been gone?—and was now on its face, the photograph hidden. Rose righted it with a trembling hand. The Doctor put a hand on her shoulder and moved past her into the apartment.
"Jackie?" he called. "Jackie? I've brought Rose, we've come to stay for Christmas, if that's all right."
Rose watched him silently.
"Jackie?" he repeated, louder than before.
"She's not here, Doctor," Rose said quietly.
The Doctor didn't listen. He sprang from room to room, calling Jackie's name. Checking every room. Rose moved to the living room couch in a haze, her senses feeling muted. Her head buzzed. Her mother was gone. The door was open. The ornament broken, the photo tipped. Something was very wrong, and the Doctor refused to admit it in front of Rose.
He returned to her, his face unreadable, and plopped himself next to her on the sofa. She held a wrapped present in her hands. "For Rose, XOXO," the tag said. She was holding it and staring ahead blankly. Her eyes were unfocused.
"Probably just popped out for a bit in a hurry. Bumped into the cabinet on her way out. She'll be back," he said.
"Then why is the television still on," Rose said expressionlessly.
"Is it?" The Doctor checked. It was. Charlie the dog was running as fast as his little dog legs could take him through the snow. "Maybe it was an emergency."
"Don't lie to me, Doctor." Rose turned to look him in the eye. "You smelled it when we walked in, didn't you. The chemicals."
"The Doctor swallowed and looked at his hands. "Trichloromethane," he admitted softly. Rose didn't move, her gaze prompting him to clarify. He cleared his throat. "Chloroform," he said, still avoiding looking at her. A tiny hiccup of a sob escaped Rose's throat, and he put his arm around her and pulled her to him.
"They've taken my mum," she choked, her hand over her face.
"It's okay," he said, stroking her head and rocking her rhythmically. "I'll find her. I'll get her back. We'll fix this, all right?" Rose nodded weakly into his jacket, sniffling. "Attagirl. Now, stay here. I'm going to make you a nice cup of tea, and then I'm going to find your mother, and I swear to you, Rose Tyler, I will not stop until she is safe. I will not stop. You understand?" Rose nodded again. The Doctor wrapped his arms around her, held her tight, and then released her and stood up. Rose stayed where she was, curled in on herself and sniffling. The Doctor had quickly busied himself in the kitchen, rummaging through drawers and cabinets. He put the kettle on, zapped it once with the sonic screwdriver to quicken the heating of the water, and within three minutes had returned to Rose's side.
He sat gently next to her and handed her the steaming mug of tea with a murmured, "Here."
She took it with shaking hands, which he steadied with his own.
"Why'd they take her?" Rose whispered.
"I don't know. But I'm going to find out and I'm going to bring her back, safe and sound."
"I promise. Now!" he said, jumping up and striding towards the front door. "If we can still smell the chloroform, that means that Jackie was taken quite recently. Within the last half hour, I'd say." He sniffed. "Well, more like twenty-three minutes, give or take…." He whipped out the sonic screwdriver and scanned around him in a circle. "If I can just get a reading…. Setting 15D…." He was talking to himself, completely engrossed in what he was doing. "Track residual energy traces, input the temporal frequency into the TARDIS, normalize the polar grid—ohh, I've got you," he said, beaming.
He turned to Rose, full of manic energy. "Rose, I'm following a signal. Should lead me directly to your mother. I'm going to bring her back. In the meantime, just—stay here. I'll be back as soon as possible."
"What?" Rose frowned and got to her feet. "I'm not staying. I'm coming with you."
"This could be dangerous. I can't have you along with me, we don't know who these people are or what they want. I can't guarantee your safety and I don't want to risk it."
Rose snorted. "Since when have you ever guaranteed my safety? I've been with you in hundreds of dangerous situations. Got attacked by brass men, met the Daleks, got caught in World War Two bombing hanging from a barrage balloon, faced a horde of zombies and a werewolf and killer shop mannequins…. How is this any different?"
"This is—Look. This is your mum. There's emotional attachment. Emotional involvement. It changes things."
"Yeah, she's my mum! And that's why I have to come with you!"
"It's not just—" The Doctor scratched his head. He started over. "It's not just a matter of you getting too involved. I mean, yes, that could compromise things, but Rose, we don't know what we're walking into—"
"When do we ever know what we're walkin' into?" Rose interrupted.
"No, it's not like that. These people are dangerous. They took your mother, we don't know why, for all we know it could be a trap or they could be lunatics, maybe they think they can gain something from this or maybe—I mean, maybe it's their idea of…fun."
"So just because we don't know their motives, this makes it different from every other thing we've gone through together?"
"It's really not. I'm coming."
"You are not coming!" the Doctor suddenly shouted. Rose took a step back, alarmed. The Doctor put his head in his hands and took a deep breath. "People do things when they see someone they love get hurt. They lose a piece of themselves. They become someone they never wanted to be. There's—there's vengeance, and hatred, and adrenaline telling you to hurt someone back, make them pay."
"Like you after the Time War," Rose said quietly.
"Yeah. Like me after the Time War."
She stepped forward and took his hand. "But I'll have you," she said. "I'll have you to keep me sane. And to stop me from doing those things. Just like you had me. I'm not gonna be alone."
The Doctor swallowed. "You have to be absolutely certain," he said, locking eyes with her. "You're going to have to stay calm and controlled." She nodded. He didn't move. "Swear to me, Rose, that you will remain detached until it's safe to be otherwise."
"I swear," she said, wishing that he would stop looking at her like that. He held her gaze for a moment longer, then abruptly turned away and strode out the door. She followed.