"Babe," said Mickey, as Rose finished her third slice of pizza. "I hope you don't mind me saying, but you look like hell."

Rose tossed the crust back into the box, and Mickey, by force of habit, she guessed, picked it up and tore off a piece, popping it in his mouth. It was a habit as old as they were, a relic from days spent in front of the telly at the musty old house where Mickey's gran lived, when Jackie was out and Rose was still too young for school.

She had almost forgotten he used to do that.

A worn smile tugging at the corners of her lips, Rose passed a hand over her face and got up to walk over to the mini-fridge, where she leaned down and dug out two bottles of orange soda and half a chocolate bar left over from her trip to the grocery store two days before. She sat one bottle in front of Mickey, then twisted the top off her own and broke the remains of the candy bar in half, tossing him the bit she hadn't taken a bite out of.

"Could still whip you," she said, popping the chocolate in her mouth with a grin. It faded after a moment of his pointed look, and after a long swig of the soda, she crossed her arms over her chest and leaned forwards on the table.

"I feel like hell, Mickey. Twice warmed over and thrown out to rot."

Over the course of an hour, idly picking her way through another half-slice of pizza as she did so, Rose Tyler told her oldest friend about everything she'd been through in the last month. She left out the part where she'd been widowed for nearly two centuries (that was not something she wanted to discuss, not quite yet), but told him everything else, from the hologram and the button and the choice, to Danny Latimer and Ellie Miller and DI-bloody-Hardy.

"He doesn't know me. He just sits there looking at me like he just knows I'm the one that killed that little boy and I never - I never thought I'd see him look at me like that. Ever."

"And you think it's this Time Lord amnesia thing? Didn't regenerate or nothing?"

"It's still him, Mickey. Rude-and-not-ginger him," she paused for a moment, taking a long swig of her orange soda. "Really rude. But he doesn't know me. Sort of stuffed himself in this pocketwatch and I can't find it."

"Wait - a pocketwatch?"

"Yeah, the TARDIS - our TARDIS, I mean, I've got it hidden, down in a shack on the beach, right, and it pulled up a video for me, you know, from before? One the girls after me, Martha - remember Martha? She worked for UNIT, had that key - and she had to look after him while he was human last time he did the thing with the pocketwatch," Rose ran an hand over her face. "Wish I could ask her what she did, cause this is driving me barmy. It's like he's him, but he isn't, and -"

Mickey looked sheepish, and mumbled something that Rose didn't quite catch.

For the last hour, Rose had done most of the talking. She hadn't meant to, really, but Mickey was the first true familiar face she'd seen in a span of time that was too lengthy, really, to contemplate. Since Jackie, there had been no-one who'd known Rose-Tyler-with-the-bronze, Rose who nicked fags from Jackie's purse and climbed on the back of a Jimmy Stone's motorcycle when she was sixteen. Without much prompting, after the first giddy hug, the words had just sort of come tumbling out of her mouth without much to stop them.

Now though, she took a minute to look at Mickey - really look at him. Other than the fact that he looked fit - really fit, like the drop-dead gorgeous kind of fit that she wouldn't have in a million years expected from him when they were kids - there was something…different about him. It was something akin to the difference that had come about when he started working for Torchwood, he sat straighter, held himself like he knew he was good, and Rose couldn't find another word for the warmth in her chest other than pride.

But there was something else different.

"Say again, Mick?"

He dug something out of his back pocket. It was his wallet, a grown-up sort of wallet, the kind with flaps in the back for pictures, and he turned it over so she could see the first one. It was a family photo: Mickey, a grinning little boy about two or three years old, and —

Martha Jones.

"I said," Mickey cleared his throat. "I could probably help you with that."

"His name's Jack."

"After -?"

"Captain Cheesecake? Hardly. No, actually - after your mum."

"She'dve liked that, Mick. Really she would have."

They shared a sad look, and then Rose scooted her chair around the table so she could see the picture properly.

"Go on, then, let's have all the details."

Mickey lifted his eyebrows, giving her a strange look, before settling in next to her with the picture.

"Got us a house there," Mickey tapped the picture with his finger. "Done up proper normal, except with a few aliens here and there. Martha and me, we do some work for Torchwood, UNIT sometimes. It's not a bad life."

Mickey's expression gave him away; he was more than satisfied with his life, he was beaming and rightly so. This was so much more than either of them had ever dreamed; as kids, they'd only ever thought they'd have a crappy little council flat and each other. Now here Mickey was, with a clever wife and a beautiful son, doing so much more than anyone had ever believed he could.

Rose opened her mouth to tell him that his family was beautiful, that he deserved everything he'd earned, that she was proud of him. But what came out instead, was "But the Doctor. When was the last time you saw him?"

Mickey frowned. He took the picture from Rose's hands and slid it back into his wallet, and tucking that into his back pocket, he stood up.

"Dunno. Last time I saw you, I guess. He took us home, and then -"

Mickey made a hand motion that Rose long ago recognized was meant to mimic the TARDIS vanishing.

"Mickey, that's been years. Five years!"

"It's been four, actually, and what're you getting at?"

Rose waved off the correction, and tried to tamp down the sour feeling in her throat. "Four years then. He's been all alone for four years, and the two of you never -"

"Hold up now - suddenly babysitting himself's our responsibility?"

"You don't babysit your friends, Mickey. You look after them when they're hurting. You don't leave them all alone."

"There was nothin' earth shattering going on, so we never bothered!"

"That's exactly it! He doesn't exist only when the world's in trouble, and leavin' the Doctor on 'is own makes 'im do stupid things like stuffin' himself in a pocket watch, yeah?"

"Says the woman who abandoned him in the first place."

Rose's mouth slammed into a straight line. She closed her eyes, her hands curling around a brown paper napkin, crumpling it into a ball as guilt and fury washed over her in equal measure.

She covered her mouth with her other hand, trying to find something to say that wouldn't sever their relationship entirely. Logically, she knew Mickey had the tendency to lash out when he was upset; also logically, she knew that she hadn't exactly handled that conversation in the best way she could have.

But she had lived this nightmare, had breathed it in her dreams, the depth of the Doctor's loneliness eating him from the inside out and turning him into someone she'd never recognize, making him back into the man who'd planted bombs in buildings he was in and tore out his own beating heart just to get some revenge.

The only reason she'd been able to live happily was because she knew there were people in the world like Mickey, and like Martha Jones and Sarah Jane Smith who would not let the Doctor ever be truly alone, except that, apparently, wasn't the case. Had anyone tried to keep up with him?

Had he even stayed around long enough for them to try?

"Thanks for the pizza, Mickey," said Rose, her eyes hard as she opens them. "I think you should go home to Martha."


Rose had to try her key in the lock three times before she was able to open the TARDIS doors.

The lights were dimmed when she reached the console room; in the galley, she had to search fifteen minutes before giving up on her favorite mug and selecting one of the Doctor's from the back of the cupboard. Her favorite raspberry tea, which she could have sworn she'd stocked up on only a couple of months before (Or was it years? Sometimes she lost track.) was down to the last bag, and the water in the tap, which was normally hot when she wanted tea and cold when she did not, ran so cool that she had to get out a teapot for the first time in a century.

All in all, it was not the sort of warm welcome she was hoping for.

"Not you too," she mumbled, leaning her forehead against one of the coral struts. "S'just you and me now, girl. We've got to keep it together."

The TARDIS fluttered in the back of her mind, an uncertain, unfocused response that meant her remaining oldest friend was distracted by something - usually some calculation that needed doing, a repair that needed fabricating, or a stray timeline that needed analyzing. Sometimes, Rose squashed them when they were dangerous, or helped them along when they meant progress and positive change.

Rose shrugged, making her way back to the console room while she waited for the kettle to whistle. The lights were blinking feebly on as she entered the room, growing steadily brighter as she slumped onto the jump seat and rubbed her face, weary.

"Mickey was being an idiot," she said to the ceiling.

A screen in front of her flashed the picture she'd seen earlier, of Martha and Mickey and their son.

"They are lovely."

Rose's vision nearly clouded with a rush of affection that was not her own.

"Oh, so you liked Martha."

In her head, she saw the two of them standing in the console room, hugging as they had during that last fateful confrontation with Davros. Mickey was there, too, beaming as he saw his two friends reunited and catching sneaky glances at Martha when he thought no-one else was looking.

"You're right, I should apologize. I just - why did no-one even check on him?"

In response the swiveling display screen lit up with a list. Rose squinted, and then huffed a bit at the ceiling; the TARDIS abruptly resolved the mess of circles into words Rose could understand.

HARKNESS, JACK [IGNORE]
LETHBRIDGE-STEWART, ALISTAIR GORDON [IGNORE]
MCSHANE FOUNDATION [IGNORE]
MCSHANE FOUNDATION [AUDIO MESSAGE RECEIVED]
MCSHANE FOUNDATION [AUDIO MESSAGE SAVED]
MR. SMITH [IGNORE]
SULLIVAN, HARRY [IGNORE]
NOBLE CORP [CALL SENT]
NOBLE CORP [CALL ABORTED]
CHESTERTON, IAN [CALL BLOCKED]
MR. SMITH [IGNORE]
TORCHWOOD, HUB THREE [IGNORE]
TORCHWOOD, HUB THREE [IGNORE]
TORCHWOOD, HUB THREE [IGNORE]
NOBLE CORP [IGNORE]
TORCHWOOD, HUB THREE [IGNORE]
CHURCHILL, WINSTON [IGNORE]
MR. SMITH [IGNORE]
MR. SMITH [CALL RECEIVED]
MR. SMITH [IGNORE]

The list was long; it spanned for at least a year, maybe more. Most of it was simply the Doctor refusing to take calls. Rose could picture him bent over the console, jabbing angrily at a button until the noise he didn't want to deal with went away. Rose followed it dutifully down the line, shaking her head as patterns began to emerge. Out of maybe a hundred calls he received three, all from Sarah Jane's supercomputer, Mr. Smith. Two or three times in a year the TARDIS blocked a call from a man named Ian Chesterton, and he received long, witty messages on a regular basis from the CEO of the McShane Foundation, a middle-aged woman who called him Professor and didn't seem to have any hope of receiving a return call. For a while, there were calls from Jack every day, and then they just…stopped.

But there was one pattern that stood out above the rest: one that made her stomach squirm with guilt. Once a week, without fail, there was an identical entry in the TARDIS log, even if he had received no other calls that week.

SMITH-JONES, MARTHA [IGNORE]
SMITH-JONES, MARTHA [AUDIO MESSAGE RECEIVED]
SMITH-JONES, MARTHA [AUDIO MESSAGE SAVED]

"Well," said Rose, slumping down on the jumpseat. "You've made it plain. I'm a prawn."

The TARDIS twittered it's assent.

"Hang on, you were barely a hairbrush when he made these calls. You weren't even in this universe."

Rose could practically hear the TARDIS' haughty sniff. It was odd, travelling in the company of a telepathic being who had spent most of the last ten centuries sturdily ensconced in the mind of her husband. They were so alike at times it was uncanny.

I am a complicated event in Time and Space, Rose Tyler, she could almost hear in his voice. I was most definitely not an ordinary human hairbrush.

It would have taken energy to roll her eyes, so instead, Rose threw the TARDIS into the Vortex, where the time ship gave a mighty groan, like someone with sore muscles slipping into a hot bath. After she was sure they were secure, Rose followed suit; she soaked her aching muscles in hot water and bubbles, wrapped herself up in the fluffiest robe the wardrobe had to offer, and fell asleep in the Doctor's bed with the last mug of her favorite tea cooling on the beside table, a Charles Dickens novel lying open on her chest. When she woke up, she pulled on a hoodie and a clean pair of jeans, brushed her hair, and set the TARDIS to arrive back in the shack about thirty seconds before it landed.

If she was lucky, she might just be able to catch Mickey before he left Broadchurch.

She was locking the door when she noticed it, sliding the key to the huge padlock into her hoodie pocket when she noticed the second set of footprints. When she'd come down here, they beach had been dull and grey and empty as always, the sand unspoiled.

"Anything interesting?" said DI Hardy, folding his arms over his chest as he leaned against the shack.

Oh, hell.