Disclaimer: I don't own anything, BBC owns it all.
Beta: Eternal gratitude to Bonnie for her help, and thanks to queenofthecastle for listening to me ramble about my plans at all hours of the night! :)
Fairy lights twinkled merrily on a silvery white fake tree, giving the comfortable room a warm, homey atmosphere. Christmas music played quietly on the radio, and the television displayed a muted news story.
On an old, worn sofa Rose Tyler was very thoroughly bundled up. She had a blanket over her legs and another wrapped around her shoulders, and a mug of hot cocoa to warm the insides as well. It did no good to point out to her mother and not-quite-ex boyfriend that she had not suffered from any form of hypothermia or frostbite, because any mention of her recent illness made Jackie's face go ashen, while Mickey's teeth began to grind.
She supposed they'd been more frightened than they wanted to say, but that was hardly just cause to treat her like an invalid – even if she had needed the Doctor to carry her up the stairs.
Rose frowned a little into her cocoa; the Doctor had deposited her in Jackie's flat, muttered something about repairing 'damage wrought by a yellow truck' – with a little glare at Jackie – and promptly vanished from sight. She knew that her mum had followed him, as there had been very brief shouting that she could not understand, and then apparently decided that everyone had to be as cheerful as possible. This meant that the older Tyler was, for some reason that Rose could not quite make out, truly miserable.
The bells hanging from the front door jingled merrily as it swung open, Mickey's grinning face appearing moments later. "Brought a Christmas Cake!"
"Oh, Mickey!" Rose wrinkled her nose. "You're the only one that'll touch it, you know that."
"Yeah, exactly," he replied, grinning broadly and placing his bounty upon the already half-loaded table. "Where's Big Ears off to then?"
"Just in the TARDIS, fixin' what we did to her before," Rose said, shrugging.
Mickey stopped and looked at her. "Rose, the TARDIS ain't down there no more."
"What?" Rose paled a little. "What d'you mean? Of course it is! He said he was just gonna –" she broke off and took a deep breath. "Look, I'm sure he's just gone into the Vortex or somethin', maybe he needed to do a repair he couldn't do here an' wanted to get the part before we started travellin' again."
"Or he's finally learned a bit an' is lettin' you have a proper life," Jackie interrupted, carrying in a stack of plates for the table.
"Mum!" Rose glowered at her. "That's not funny!"
"Wasn't meant to be," Jackie replied steadily. "You're better off here, an' I'm not afraid to say it."
"Well, I'm not gonna stay, all right?"
"I'm just sayin' is all, love!"
"Yeah, I know exactly what you're sayin', an' I don't want to hear it!" Rose slammed her cup onto the end table and hugged the blanket tighter around her shoulders. "He's comin' back, alright?"
"Sweetheart," Jackie moved a bit closer, hesitating a bit at the edge of the sofa. "Hasn't he proved he can't take care of you? Don't you want to be safe?"
"But he did, Mum!" Rose folded her arms and glared – unconsciously imitating the man in question. "An' look at me, I'm fine alright? I'm safe. An' it wasn't his fault anyway, was it? You're the one who got me the lorry in the first place. Half a million Daleks weren't enough to make me leave him, d'you really think constantly goin' on about it is going to change anything?"
"No," Jackie answered slowly. "I just– I can't–" she cut herself off and turned sharply on one heel, retreating down the hall to her room.
Rose stared after her, eyes wide. Mickey watched her, expression carefully flat. "What just happened?" she asked after a moment, slowly dragging her eyes away from her mother's bedroom door.
"You terrified her." He didn't exactly answer her question. "When the Doctor showed up here, how d'you think she felt? How any of us felt? Seein' someone you love like that?"
"Mick." Rose bit her lip and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I am!" she repeated sharply at his disbelieving look. "I know it drives you spare, both of you but…what would you have me do? Give it up? It's…it's the best thing I've ever had, Mickey. It's not just the travellin'; it's…seein' how you can live your life. Fightin', standin' up for what's right and not ever givin' up."
"You can say all that 'til you're blue in the face, Rose," Mickey replied, his dark eyes focused carefully on her expression. "But the truth is: it's about him. Even if he was just workin' in a shop or as an accountant or somethin' dull as hell, you'd stay with him." He paused. "Go on, deny it."
"Don't be stupid, it's not like –" she started and paused. "I mean, we're not –"
"Yeah, you're not. An' that's the worst bit of it." Mickey's lip curled darkly. "You ain't even with him like that, an' he's your whole world. Hell, I could maybe accept it if you was shaggin' him. At least then it'd make sense, an' I'd know for sure."
"You've just gotta drag everything down, don't you?" Rose's hands shook where they clenched against the back of her chair. "I told you, a million times, he's not my boyfriend!"
"Yeah, he's better than that," Mickey repeated at her. "You told us. You been tellin' us, Rose. He's better than anything you ever knew before. Maybe you should stop tellin' that to the people you knew before."
"I didn't mean it like that!" Her voice broke, and for a long moment they just stared at one another. "It's not like I stopped carin' about you all," she said quietly. "But life with the Doctor…it's more. I'm better – he made me better than I was. That's what he does. Savin' the world, anyone can do that. He makes people better than they were before. He makes us save the world."
"Nah, I don't believe that." Mickey shook his head. "You'd've saved the world without him tellin' you, if you could. He just showed you how to do it. He ain't the first one to notice you was brilliant, y'know."
"I know," Rose said, biting her lip. "I am sorry, you know that, right?"
"Yeah, I know." He shrugged. "Just dunno if that makes it better or worse." He just looked at her for a long minute. "Look, I'm gonna go get some air," he continued finally. "I'll be back in a minute just…don't let Jackie start without me, okay? My job to cut the turkey."
Rose smiled just a little sadly. "Yeah, it is. Y'know…you know I love you, Mick."
"Yeah." He started to say something else, but instead released an angry breath. He moved around the coffee table quickly and pressed a hard, fast kiss against her lips. She blinked at him. "Love you too, Rose." The smile he wore was a bit forced, a bit hard, but accepting.
Rose took several deep breaths as he shoved his fists deep in his puffy jacket, gave her one last long look, and headed for the door.
She should have been focused on the man with whom she had never quite broken up; she should have been worried about what sort of person she was, that she could cause such pain in the ones she loved and still not hesitate to cause more…but she didn't. She wasn't thinking about any of that. Her mind was whirling, yes, but it was focused on exactly one question:
Where had the Doctor gone?
By the time Jackie and Mickey had calmed, dinner was ready and there was still no sign of the Doctor. Rose did her best to appear completely calm and self-assured, because after all, the Doctor was coming back. He wouldn't just leave her behind without a word, he wasn't that sort of man…was he? She drummed her fingers against the table anxiously, wondering what would happen if he didn't – could she call him? She had the number to the TARDIS, after all…but if he'd decided to leave her behind, would he answer? Would he let her argue? She didn't want to think about it.
She managed a smile as Mickey began to cut the turkey and reached out to snag a piece of the well-roasted bird. He slapped her hand away with an over-the-top frown and she laughed.
"Impatient little minx!" Jackie teased. "Just wait a second and you'll have yours!"
"I'm hungry!" Rose said with an exaggerated whine. "C'mon, Mick, I'm wastin' away waitin' on you!"
"Oi, give a man a minute will ya?" He rolled his eyes but placed a healthy chunk of meat on her plate. "There, stop your whingin'."
"Thank you," she gave him a satisfied little smile and began to serve herself from the bowls of vegetables.
She settled back in her seat and began to pick at her food. She wanted to have a healthy appetite, it would be one of the few ways to convince Jackie that she was all right and nothing was wrong, but the lump in her stomach just seemed to be getting larger and heavier with every moment that the Doctor wasn't there demanding she ignore the people she loved.
And how awful a person did that make her?
She sighed and popped a Brussels sprout in her mouth, chewing slowly and occasionally forcing a smile for the others. She swallowed hard and sighed, reaching for the requisite bottle of wine and pouring herself a very healthy glass.
"Oi, none of that!" The Doctor's voice broke through the cheerful chatter of Jackie and Mickey. "Can't have you getting drunk an' comin' back into my TARDIS. You vomit in the wrong corner an' she'll have fits for weeks."
She almost dropped her glass; she hadn't even heard the door open but there he was, leaning against the wall by the entryway. Her lips curled slowly into a brilliant smile, lighting up her face. "Yeah?" She beamed at him. "Good thing you were here to stop me then."
"Oh, always," the Doctor replied seriously. He broke into a grin a moment later. "'S my job to keep you from havin' fun, didn't you know that?"
Rose turned a silly grin on her mother. "How can you not like him now, Mum? He's got the same goals as you!"
"Oi, now!" Jackie objected. "Don't shove me in with that great alien lump!"
The Doctor said nothing but turned a faint scowl on Rose. After a moment, in which she did not stop grinning at him, he rolled his eyes and shoved a brown-paper parcel at her. She blinked at him. "What?" He demanded, shifting uncomfortably under the wide-eyed stares of all three humans.
"You…got me a present?" Rose asked tentatively.
"So hard to imagine?" He folded his arms and retreated back to the entry. "I appreciate Christmas much as the next alien."
Rose looked at the package in undisguised awe, quickly settling it beside her plate and reaching for the twine that tied it shut.
"Nothin' special anyway," he muttered.
The paper fell away, and Rose quickly opened the plain box. Warm air tinged with cinnamon tickled her nose; she slowly pulled out a small wicker basket containing precisely one large, blue confection. "Doctor," Rose began slowly. "Is this a…gingerbread TARDIS?"
He shrugged. "Not exactly gingerbread, 's from the 57th century, ginger went extinct half a dozen centuries before that. Got the same principle though."
"It's brilliant," Rose said, staring at the perfect miniature police box. "You didn't make it, did you?"
"Don't be stupid." He rolled his eyes. "I look like the bakin' sort to you?"
"Guess not," Rose replied with a grin. She touched the door and jumped as it opened, allowing a not-gingerbread creature – which reminded her seriously of the Moxx of Balhoun – to appear. There was a tiny, candy hinge on the inside of the door and she couldn't help the little laugh of glee. "How many are in here?" She demanded, looking up at him.
"Couldn't tell you," he said, shrugging innocently. "Bit of a trick."
"It's bigger on the inside!" Rose squealed. "Look, Mum!" She pulled out a peppermint stick that was absolutely too long to have fit inside the confection. She looked up at the Doctor with a brilliant smile. "It's fantastic, I love it!"
He grinned back at her, clearly satisfied with himself. Very carefully Rose placed the cookie-TARDIS back in the box, munching happily on the not-gingerbread Moxx.
Behind the table the phone trilled insistently. After a quick conversation Jackie hung up and informed them that 'Beth' was insisting they go outside.
"Why?" Rose asked around a mouthful of cookie-Slitheen.
"I don't know, just go outside an' look!"
"Nope!" The Doctor interrupted cheerfully. "Rose isn't goin' outside for at least three days."
"Oh, that's not fair!" Rose pouted.
"Nope," he agreed. "You two go on then, enjoy." He waved faintly at them in the classic 'go' gesture.
Jackie and Mickey exchanged glances and sighed quietly at one another as they pulled on coats.
"Keep wrapped up, sweetheart," Jackie cautioned.
Rose rolled her eyes. The Doctor settled in next to her at the table and began to pick at the food on her plate; as the others were leaving they heard her laugh and slap away his thieving fingers. They did not hear her comment rather sweetly on the presence of blue icing under his fingernails, or the fact that he smelled richly of cloves and cinnamon - because she didn't say it. She could let him keep that bit of dignity intact.
"She really loves him, don't she?" Mickey wondered aloud as they headed down the long stairs to the park. "I mean, I knew before but…saw her tonight…"
"Second he showed, she lit up like a firefly, y'mean?" Jackie replied, her voice just a bit thick. "She's never gonna stop. Think we all know it, now."
"Yeah." He paused. "Then you think he'll ever tell her what happened?"
"He said she's still got that stuff in her head," Jackie reminded him. "It killed her before, an' he don't know why she woke up. I think he's scared of her ever findin' out, scared if she remembers it'll happen again."
"Well I'm damn well scared of it!" Mickey shot back. "If he'd just leave her – let her be, then we wouldn't have to worry. She'd never remember on her own."
"Unless she did," Jackie turned and stared up at him, several steps behind her. "An' what then, Mickey Smith? You gonna figure out how to save her? Least if he keeps her with him then if somethin' happens he can help. An' if that's what I've got to keep sayin' to myself to keep from dyin' with worry, I'll believe it."
Mickey scowled and pushed past her, finally breaking out into the fresh air.
"It's snowin'," he said, dumbly. "An' lookit, 's meteors!"
"Beautiful," Jackie replied. "Sign of hope, Mickey. Gotta keep lookin' at it like that. We got her back. Even if she won't stay – she's alive, an'…that's what we've got, yeah?"
"Guess it is," he sighed and put an arm around the older woman's shoulder. "An' at least you don't think I'm a murderer no more."
Jackie laughed and shoved his shoulder. She glanced back up to the block of flats, staring at the well-lit window of her home. Worrying about tomorrow was useless. It was Christmas, her daughter was safe, alive and warm in her flat. That was enough.
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