"What?" Mickey exclaimed.
Rose remained calm and composed. "She told me her name was River. I don't think she was lying. But I told her a false name for myself, and yet as soon as I mentioned the Doctor, she knew exactly who I was."
Robert looked furious. "You're walking your way across universes to get back to him and he's gone and gotten married to another woman?" he fumed.
"Oh be quiet Robert," Rose muttered, rolling her eyes. "She's years in his future."
"How can you be so sure?"
"For fuck's sake," she snapped, fed up with his incessant questioning. "I just listened to her, yeah? She told me that the Doctor she knows is over a thousand years old. He was only roughly nine hundred and three when I left."
"It doesn't bother you, then?" Mickey asked gently. "That a century later he's married to someone who isn't you."
"It doesn't mean that I don't find him, it doesn't mean that we don't stop the darkness that's just around the corner, so why would it bother me?"
"Because you get jealous," Mickey said simply. "You're not a sharing kind of woman, and – "
"Mickey," Rose said quietly. "We both know that it's unlikely I'll reach my thirties what with my line of work, let alone old age, and even if I did miraculously reach the stage where I go grey, it's still a blink of an eye for him."
"But you and he, you – you – " Mickey floundered for a moment.
She shrugged. "Yeah. But things change. And he can't be alone. He just can't. He goes mad when he's on his own, and I don't mean a little lonely, a little daft, I mean properly, seriously, dangerously stupid. He needs people. He needs her, I expect. And that's – that's fine. It's fine." Then, she turned to Robert and said, "The maps, please." He wordlessly gave them to her, and she stormed out of the room.
"If I ever meet the Doctor," Robert muttered darkly. "I'm going to strangle him."
"He'd only regenerate. Besides, she has a point," Mickey allowed. "He'll outlive her by centuries. It's stupid to think that he couldn't love someone else in all that time."
"But Rose is – " Robert started to shout, then cut himself off.
Mickey stared at him in shock. "Shit. Not you too."
"What?" Robert snapped.
"Please don't tell me that you've gone and bloody fallen for her as well."
Robert inhaled sharply. "Don't be ridiculous. I just think that he ought to show her a little more respect."
"No one in the entire multiverse respects Rose as much as the Doctor," Mickey shrugged. "I was painfully aware of that fact when I saw how he looked at her. I saw it right in front of my eyes, Rob, every time I watched them together."
"And yet he easily forgets her and marries another," Robert growled.
"You heard what she said. It's not like he's moved on immediately."
"How do we know that, hmm? How do we know that he's not moved on with someone else, someone who isn't this River woman? How do we know that we're not sending Rose back to someone who doesn't even want her?"
"We're not sending her anywhere," Mickey said. "She's sending herself. Because we respect her decisions, right? She knows what she wants. And more than that, she knows what she has to do. The universes are counting on her right now, counting on her to find the Doctor. As much as it frustrates me to admit it, we need him, or we're all dead. Do you get that? Without his help, that's it. Kaput. The whole of creation: gone. This isn't about a quest to get back to him so that they can live happily ever after together, and she knows that. She knows that all too well."
"But what if he doesn't help? Say she does find him, and he's moved on. Why would he help?"
Mickey stared at him unblinkingly. "You've never met him, but I'm telling you, if you had, you'd know exactly why he'd help. It's what he does. He helps as many people as he can. Besides, he can't refuse Rose Tyler anything. All she has to do is be there with a certain look in her eyes. He wouldn't refuse her. She wouldn't even need to ask him, let alone beg. Even if he has moved on, he won't ever be able to resist that look on her face."
"How do you know?" Robert repeated insistently.
He sighed. "Because it's the same for me. I loved her once. Still do, probably. But I've moved on. I know that there's nothing between us in that way, not anymore. And yet I still can't turn away from her if she needs me." He gestured around them. "I mean, why do you reckon I'm doing all this?"
"Um, for the good of the universe?" Robert remarked archly.
"Yeah, course, that's part of it. But mainly it's to make her happy, and I've no problem admitting that. This idea about jumping dimensions began way before the universe was in peril. I was going to help her get back to him no matter what."
"Then you're a fool," Robert said, slumping against the nearest wall.
"She's not ours, Robert," Mickey pointed out. "Not yours, not mine, not this universe's."
"She's not the Doctor's either, by the sounds of it," Robert muttered.
"Some things are just meant to be," Mickey said sadly. "Meant to go together. Fish and chips. Tea and biscuits. Ron and Hermione. The Doctor and Rose."
"Harry and Hermione."
"Oh no, not this argument again. Look, I've never even read it, but Jake is pretty insistent that Ron and Hermione are perfect for each other, so I don't know that I want to get involved in your heated arguments about it again."
"Fine," Robert huffed. "But Jake's still wrong."
Rose pored over the interstellar maps for hours, making calculations and drawing circles with a compass to determine just how close she was to reaching Earth. She didn't hear Jake enter her living room until he crouched down next to her with a bag of chips in his hand.
"Mmm, they smell lovely," Rose smiled, and grabbed them gratefully.
"You look tired. Have you slept since you got back from your latest jump?"
"You know what Owen told you," he reprimanded softly. "You need to sleep afterwards to recharge. Dimension jumping takes its toll on your body, Rose."
"I'm fine," she insisted, around a mouthful of chips. He sat down next to her properly and she rested her head against his shoulder. "I reckon that if we get the time right, then at least I'll be able to hitch a ride somehow if I land a ways away from Earth. Where I was today isn't far from Alscator, which has space shuttles as early as the twentieth century Earth-time, so if I could make my way there with a short rocket ride, then I could get across the three systems between there and Earth much quicker – would only take a few weeks with their level of tech – and then I could arrive in time to find him, and –"
"Rose. Even if you can befriend the right people to make them let you tag along, it's not necessarily the safest way of getting there. Better that we try to improve our accuracy with the space coordinates first. Get you on Earth, then work out how close we are time-wise."
"But if I land on Earth too late, then we risk a paradox. And if I land too early, then I might have to wait years. And I don't have years to wait."
"But you might end up finding the Doctor in a different time. You said he visits Earth the most. Surely that's the easiest way of seeking him out. Then he can take you in the TARDIS to the right time, and make himself forget, if necessary."
"Maybe," she sighed thoughtfully, then yawned. "God. I don't know. This is all so bloody complicated."
"I know, honey," he said comfortingly, wrapping his arm around her shoulder.
"Maybe if we could latch on to the TARDIS' time signature - "
"Seriously, for now you need to get some rest."
"Yeah." Rose paused. "Once I've finished these delicious chips," she smiled up at him.
"Yeah," he chuckled. "Once you've finished those."
"Thanks, Jake. Don't know what I'd do without you, you know. Mick and Rob were driving me up the wall earlier."
"Sorry to hear that," he said, and snagged a chip. "You know they just worry over you. Like I do. We all want you to stay as safe as possible."
She snorted in amusement.
"Rose, this is dangerous stuff you're doing, and what's more, you're doing it alone. We're all terrified. You're far too daring for your own good," he teased gently, dropping a friendly kiss to the top of her head.
"If I don't dare, the whole multiverse disintegrates."
"Well when you put it like that…" Jake assented.
"If I die before I find him, one of you will have to take my place, you know."
Jake shuddered. "Shotgun it not being me."
"You're one of the bravest people I've ever known, Jake."
"Not brave enough for that, I'm afraid. Mickey can take over."
Rose nodded. "Yeah."
"Not that you are going to die," he added hurriedly. "I have absolute faith in your ability to find the Doctor before you drop down dead."
"Ta," she laughed.
"Come on. Finish your dinner and then go to bed. I'll tidy up your flat a bit."
"You don't need to do that."
"It's a tip, Rose. I physically ache to clean up all your mess. I can't bear it any longer."
She rolled her eyes then smiled. "You are a darling."
"I am, aren't I?" he agreed with a grin.
Rose finished up the rest of the chips. "All right, then. Night, Jake," she said, standing up and stretching.
"See you bright and early at work," he grinned.
"Hmph," she murmured in reply, then offered him a small smile in return before making her way to her bedroom.
That night she dreamt of a wedding that wasn't her own. When she woke up, she swallowed down her sentimentality, put her armour back on, and faced the new day with something daring and determined in her eyes.