"How about a trip home?"
"Come again?" Rose quirked an eyebrow, staring at the Doctor, and adjusting her position on the jump seat.
He stuck his hands in his pockets, leaning against the console, and gave a little shrug.
"You know, see your mum, eat a few home cooked meals, do your laundry - well, have her do your laundry, at any rate. Supposing you haven't finally told her that the TARDIS has an ultra-efficient twenty-fifth century combination washer dryer that cleans clothing far more effectively."
Rose rolled her eyes. "She likes doing it for me. Makes her happy. And efficient machines or not, laundry's a pain, so why not let her have at it?"
"Right, so, it's settled. A trip home, then. Ish, anyway. Home one of two, if you like." He shrugged again.
She smiled, hopping off the seat and stepping towards where he stood by the Time Rotor. She trailed a hand along the console, careful not to touch any of the buttons or knobs. His eyes followed her and he stood up straighter.
"Sure, I guess. Been a little while and, after yesterday and all, it might be nice to enjoy the simple things. You know… warm shepherd's pie, Top Gear reruns," she pivoted her toe against the grating, back and forth, "hopefully no demonic possessions..."
"Right," he said, eyes shuttered.
She tugged at his sleeve, and he met her eyes, leaning towards her just slightly. The Time Rotor's gentle green glow against his skin highlighted the fine lines around his eyes, which were darker, nearly black, in the low light. She nudged him gently with her shoulder, smiling at him.
"It would be nice to see her, after… after thinking I wouldn't be seeing her again. You're sure you don't mind?"
His expression softened and he moved his hand to grasp hers, the sudden substitution of soft coat with softer hand sending a small jolt through Rose's arm.
She bit her lower lip, then nodded. "Yeah. All right, then."
He gave her hand a squeeze and released it, moving in front of the console and pressing a series of buttons. The Time Rotor pulsed to life, and so did the Doctor, jumping between a lever on one side and what looked like a bicycle horn on the other, shouting instructions at Rose, throwing switches, and smashing the console with his favourite rubber mallet.
After a moment, they landed, the rough lurch sending Rose stumbling into the console for support. A second jerk was too much, though, and she fell hard onto the grating, laughing and shaking her head.
She began to right herself but the Doctor was already standing over her, hand extended, and she grabbed it to help herself up.
"Never fails," she said, brushing off the back of her jeans one-handed.
"Ah, but that's what makes it fun." He smiled, squeezing her hand again. "Shall we?"
Rose was taking her first eager steps towards the door, pulling the Doctor along, when the Time Rotor let out a groan, shuddering so harshly it sent a deep vibration through the console room that she could feel from the soles of her feet to the top of her head. Alarmed, she glanced at the Doctor, who released her hand and approached the console, face intense, just as a 'pop' echoed in the room and sparks flew.
"Doctor!" She made a grab at his hand, trying to pull him away from the sparks, but his fingertips slipped through her grasp and he moved in closer, holding an arm up to shield his gaze.
He evaluated the Time Rotor, leaning in closely, and pulling his glasses from one of his pockets. It gave one final quiver and went still, the column nearly dark but for the subtle illumination at its top.
"That's not good," he said, brow furrowed.
"Oh, do you think?" She stepped closer, gaze shifting from the Doctor to the Time Rotor and back. "What happened? Are you okay? Thought you were gonna set on fire for a second, there."
He glanced at her, flashing her a grin that didn't reach his eyes. "Me? Nah. Flame resistant. Don't you worry."
He went silent, staring closely at the rotor for a long moment, then moving his focus to the monitor. Rose watched him, eyes flickering to the column every few seconds in nervous anticipation of follow-up sparks.
"Well, we're here, anyway," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. "She must just be a bit off. Falling down a pit - particularly an impossible pit - isn't good for anyone, even the TARDIS. She probably just needs some time to recuperate."
Rose eyed the barely illuminated Time Rotor, nearly as dark as it had been when they'd arrived in the London with all the zeppelins.
"Yeah," the Doctor said, flashing her another quick grin, this one more genuine. "Come on, Rose Tyler. Let's go say hi to your mum before I lose my nerve."
She spared one last glance at the console until the Doctor took her hand again. Letting out a deep sigh, her steps regained their earlier enthusiasm. Throwing the door open, Rose couldn't hold back a grin as she stepped into her living room.
"Hello! Mum, we're home!"
She tugged the Doctor along, looking over her shoulder and letting out a bark of laughter at the slightly queasy look on his face.
"The Doctor insisted on a visit. Said he wanted a home cooked meal. I think he misses your shepherd's pie!"
"That's - that's not precisely what I - Not that I don't like -"
"Mum?" Rose craned her neck, surveying the empty living room, then looking through the pass-through window into the empty kitchen.
"Well, looks like she's not here," the Doctor said, turning back towards the TARDIS. "I'll just get back inside and make sure the TARDIS is feeling okay and you can - well, you said - reruns, was it? And she'll come home soon and we'll have a dinner that is not composed of shepherd's pie. Takeaway, maybe? Love takeaway. How about Thai?"
She released his hand with a small sigh, turning around as they went their separate ways. He re-entered the TARDIS and she headed down the corridor towards her bedroom. There, Jackie Tyler stood in front of the linen closet, arms stretched high above her head, phone between her ear and her shoulder.
"Mum! There you are. Didn't you hear us? Big, loud 'vworp' noise? Yelling hello? Whatever Bev's got to say can't possibly be that interesting..."
Close enough to see her properly, Rose watched as her mum stood, reaching on her tip toes, hand clenched around a clean towel. She was very still.
"Mum? Do you need help or something?"
Jackie didn't move.
Rose waved her hand in front of Jackie's open eyes. Nothing.
"Okay," Rose said to herself, turning and walking back towards the TARDIS with wide, quick steps. She opened the door, sticking her head inside, eyes landing on the Doctor. He stood, hunched over the center console, already deep in concentration, hand in his hair.
"Doctor," she said, keeping her voice level.
"If the batteries on the remote've gone dead again, you can do it yourself this time. You know the setting, right?" He reached into his pocket and pulled out the sonic screwdriver, holding it out to her without looking up.
"Doctor, I think something's wrong. My mum's- Um. Well - I'm, I'm not sure."
His eyes snapped up to hers, focus on the console forgotten as he quickly made his way towards her. She turned, heading back to the corridor, feeling him follow behind her. She measured her steps carefully, kept her breathing even, all in sheer willpower to remain calm. It couldn't have been more than a couple of seconds between the TARDIS and the linen closet, but the moment felt suspended. Rose's heart beat hard in her chest, pulse sounding in her ears, skin hot yet sensitised to the cool air in the apartment. They reached Jackie, who was still on her tip toes, her position precisely the same as when Rose had first seen her.
Rose swallowed hard, eyes wide. "She's - she's sorta stuck, I think."
The Doctor stepped in front of Rose, peering down at Jackie and waving his hand in front of her eyes much the same as Rose had done. Face lined in concentration, he pulled out the sonic, and its buzzing briefly filled the quiet apartment. After a few seconds, he replaced it in his pocket, facing Rose with a frown.
"Hold on a tick," he said, turning abruptly and striding down the corridor, back into the living room.
"What are you-" Rose followed, worrying her lip and watching as he threw open the curtains.
"Aha! Well, that explains it."
"What is it?"
Crossing her arms over her chest, Rose joined him at the window, looking out into the estate and the street beyond.
Everyone - everything was frozen. Mrs. Fisher, the codgy lady from the second floor who was known in the estate for loudly turning away Christmas carollers if they sang anything but 'Silent Night,' was still, standing on the asphalt outside on the ground floor, mid-stride with her pushcart, full of Tesco bags. Two boys of about ten, in the middle of an improvised one-on-one game of footie, were suspended mid-jump and mid-kick, respectively. In front of the apartment, a pigeon was still in the air, wings raised high and feet held straight, close to landing on the handrail. Far off, the bit of street she could see was filled with stopped cars. There was even a plane, frozen in the sky, angled up towards the clouds in its ascent from Heathrow. She swallowed, taking another step toward the window and looking closer, shoulder brushing against the Doctor's.
"So that'd be everything's sorta stuck, then."
"How do we fix it?"
He appeared lost in thought, staring out into the frozen world, expression serious, dimple showing in his cheek.
He started, glanced at her. "Sorry. What was that?"
"How bad is it? The TARDIS going all…" She made an exploding motion with both hands. "Now this."
"Oh, no, no, not bad at all. Quick fix. Easy. Not a problem. I know exactly what the issue is..." He trailed off, peering for just another second until he dropped the curtain, turning to face the living room.
"And.. you're sure."
"Oh, absolutely. Very sure. Very, very." His expression went from pensive to eager like the flip of a switch. "Still, don't get to see this often, do you?"
She raised an eyebrow.
"Right. Course. First time for you."
"But not you?"
"Oh, no. Second. Or, um, fourth, maybe? It does happen. Usually when I've got somewhere urgent to be, but now…"
He sat on the sofa, bouncing experimentally, propped on his hands, arms out at an angle, mouth turned down. Quickly bored by this, he retrieved the remote control from the coffee table and hit a button, watching the telly expectantly. Nothing happened. He placed the remote back on the table, standing, and leaned forward to push the button on the telly itself. Still nothing. He moved to the opposite side of the room, flicking the light switch off, but the room remained lighted. Then, he walked into the kitchen. Rose craned her neck to find him twisting the gas burner into the 'light' position, but the range didn't click.
"See that? Can't use electricity. If it was on, it's staying on. If it was off, it's staying off. And listen," he held up a hand to his ear in illustration and Rose looked around, focusing on the quiet. "No sound. Tellies left on, radios, cars, it's all silent. Frozen."
"Why's everything frozen but us?" She moved from the window, sitting down on the sofa and poking at the remote herself before turning her body to face where he stood in the kitchen.
"Well, without getting into the quantum physics and string theory of it all… It's the TARDIS. It's sort of like when we're in the Time Vortex. There's no time there, not really, but the TARDIS suspends us in our own.. time field, I suppose, is an easy way of putting it, though, of course, it's terribly complicated. In one sense, time is frozen right now, but in another sense, time is going on as it always does and we're suspended outside of it altogether." He fiddled with the little door of the kitchen pass-through, sliding it shut and opening it again. "We were inside the TARDIS when this happened, so we're existing outside of the time freeze. Basically. Not to worry, though. No one will notice a thing once it's put right."
"What if we change things, then?" She picked up the remote, moving it tentatively onto the sofa cushion. "From my mum's point of view, it'll be like it just happened out of nowhere, yeah?"
"Exactly." He leaned on his elbows, smiling at her warmly. "If we move something, it'll be… instantaneous change to her once we've set things right. Poof!"
He ambled back into the lounge, hands in his pockets.
"Come to think of it…" He reached into his pocket up to the elbow and rifled around for a moment. "Ah, see. I knew I still had this." Grinning, he pulled something out of his pocket and Rose's eyes widened, a smile blooming on her face, when she realized it was the red paper crown left over from Christmas. Giving her a wink, he walked down the corridor and Rose followed, giggling as he opened the crown and placed it gently on top of Jackie Tyler's head.
Getting a look at her mum with the crown on her head, Rose laughed harder, bending over and leaning one hand on the wall for support. "Oh, her face is going to be…" She struggled to speak, laughing again. "I can already see it…"
The Doctor joined in, puffed up and clearly very pleased with himself. "Think I should draw a mustache on her?"
That sent Rose into another fit of giggles. Taking a moment to calm herself, she finally said, "Don't you dare. Not unless you want to get a smack."
"I want that crown back, though," the Doctor said to Jackie, eyeing her suspiciously. She continued to reach for the towel, now looking festive. "Mind you return it."
Rose tugged him by the sleeve of his jacket. "C'mon."
He turned, bumping into her and smiling broadly. "Oh, but this is neat!"
"I think 'eerie' might actually be closer to the mark. It's not like there's much to do with the world all frozen, anyway."
His eyes glazed. "Oh, there's so much we can do."
"What do you mean, like, robbing a bank or something…?" His eyes cleared, flashing to her, eyebrows high and wrinkling his forehead. She felt her cheeks heat up. "Not that I want to… Nevermind. Look, we travel through all of time and space. I really doubt there's anything in frozen London more exciting than that."
He shrugged. "Fair enough, then. Let's get this fixed."
Rolling her eyes, she released his sleeve, walking down the corridor and into the TARDIS, plopping back down onto the seat. The Doctor bounced in behind her, pausing in front of the console to flip a large, green switch and then crouching down and sliding a piece of grating aside. He lowered himself down quickly, feet and legs and torso and, finally, his head, moving out of view. Rose leaned forward, head lifted up, trying to see into the hole he'd created, to no avail. With a shrug, she positioned herself horizontally on the jump seat, stretching her legs onto it, crossing them at the ankles, and leaning an arm onto the headrest. Her feet hung off the edge.
His head popped up, now clad in a headlamp. He looked remarkably like a gopher, twisting his neck and body around around until his eyes settled on her. "What, not gonna help then, are you?"
She blinked against the glare, raising her eyebrows and fighting back a smile. Some things never changed. "Who, me?"
"If you could find the time."
"Not sure I can just now, actually."
She swung her legs back over, settling on the floor, and stood, standing over him, looking down as he worked. He had both his hands deep in the machinery beneath the time rotor, reaching with clear effort, face strained and cast in shadows from the indirect light of the headlamp.
"All right, what do you need me to do?"
He raised his head in her direction and she squinted against the glare. "Just stand there and tell me how attractive it is that I'm so…" He paused, touching his tongue to his upper lip, and Rose averted her eyes. "...adroit. Yes, that's a good word. Or, hm, dexterous."
She rolled her eyes, hands itching for something to chuck at him. "So you don't need any help, then?"
"How 'bout skilled? Agile? Maybe handy? Or is that a bit off the mark, what with this being Hand Version 2.0..."
She sat down on the grating, legs criss-crossed, and played with a strand of her hair, looking up at the coral ceiling and doing her best to ignore the way he was kind of right about the attractive and agile thing.
"A little help?"
She let out an exaggerated sigh. "Okay, Doctor: It's very attractive that you're so … adroit." The word sprang unnaturally from her lips and she couldn't stop herself from letting out a small chuckle, feeling silly.
He hummed in response and Rose watched as he stuck one arm even deeper into the TARDIS machinery, wiggling his whole body, before pulling it out altogether with a flourish.
"All right, then, that'll be it," he said, switching off the headlamp and dropping it into its designated spot. Bracing a hand on either side of the opening in the floor, he pushed himself up, lifting one knee, then the other, onto the grating and climbing out of the hole. He replaced the flooring, brushing his hands off with a grin.
"What'd you do, hit the 'reset time,' button?" Rose asked.
He moved his head back and forth in a small motion. "Well, you're not wrong."
She stood, placing her hands on her hips. "So, is it back to normal outside?"
She stepped back towards the door, throwing it open and marching into the apartment without waiting for the Doctor.
"Mum?" she called, headed towards the corridor again.
Jackie was right where they'd left her, silent and still and wearing a little crown.
Rose turned, the Doctor's name on her lips, but he was already right behind her and she bumped into his chest, throwing herself off balance. He moved his hands to her shoulders to steady her.
"She's still frozen," she said, face close to his.
He looked over her head, swallowing, lips pursed. "Yeah."
"Didn't it work?"
"Um… Probably need to dematerialise first. Come back to where we were aiming for the first time and, Bob's your uncle, everything's right as rain."
She narrowed her eyes at him, about to ask what went wrong, when he moved a hand down from her shoulder to her fingers, clasping them gently and pulling her back to the TARDIS. She followed him inside, watching as he flipped a lever and began the dematerialisation sequence.
The Time Rotor stayed dark, subtle illumination from the top dim, but not dim enough to hide the worried look on the Doctor's face.
"Everything okay?" Rose asked.
He flicked a switch on the console back and forth, frowning as all remained silent.
"I think we might be a little stuck."