After Ricky left, Rose made more tea for herself and the Doctor. The Doctor looked restless, sitting with the exaggerated, tense sprawl of a caged panther. Was that just a case of normal domestic overload from being in an ordinary house with no explosions or monsters, or was it fallout from Ricky’s loose tongue? Neither of them spoke while she brewed the tea, and Rose found herself wondering if the silence was companionable or awkward.
“Did I tell you that back in the other universe, Americans don’t play cricket?” she blurted, quite without planning. Well, companionable or not, there went that silence.
“Really? Their national pastime?” the Doctor said, amused.
“I know! Cricket’s popular in the commonwealth there. In America they play batball. No, wait, that’s not it,” Rose wrinkled her nose in frustration. “Bocce ball? No, that’s different… I have it! Baseball! That’s so strange. I’ve only been here three years, but I’m forgetting things about home. Nothing that means anything to me, but I don’t like forgetting.”
“It hurts when you forget, because it’s like you’re destroying it just a bit more,” said the Doctor. Mercurial as always, he’d gotten that faraway look that suggested ballgames were the last thing on his mind. Rose laid a hand on top of his.
Just then, they heard a car pull into the courtyard. Peering out the foggy window, Rose’s face lit up like a Christmas tree.
“It’s my dad. C’mon and meet him!” She practically skipped towards the door, the Doctor following more sedately behind her.
Pete Tyler barely got inside before finding himself almost knocked over by an enthusiastic hug from Rose.
“You’re home early, love,” he said cheerfully.
“Caught a ride,” Rose said, releasing him.
When she moved aside, Pete noticed the Doctor. He also noticed the fondness of Rose’s expression as she beckoned the leather-jacketed man closer. Well, that was interesting. She didn’t often turn that expression on men and he was pleasantly surprised to see it now, though he would have been happier if this bloke was a bit younger.
“Someone you want to introduce?” he asked, nodding towards the Doctor.
“Dad, meet the Doctor. He’s…” Rose was interrupted by the loud sound of her mobile. The ringtone was REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine).”
“Oops, that ring’s Dr. Flint over at Torchwood. I should take this. Might be an apocalypse, and even if it’s not I need to tell her I’m leaving,” Rose said hurriedly, fumbling for her phone. “Hello?...No, I’m at my parents’ house…They WHAT?....Hold on, let me get on the computer so I can look at the case file…” she said into the phone.
Covering up the mouthpiece, Rose whispered, “Sorry, this should only take a second. You two introduce yourselves!” With that she strode out of the room.
The Doctor watched Rose leave somewhat anxiously, trying and failing to come up with a good excuse for following her. He turned back around to Pete Tyler’s intense examination.
“So you really can change your face. I always found that hard to believe, even with all the extraordinary things I’ve seen from you,” Pete ruminated.
“It’s true,” the Doctor shrugged. Rose’s father seemed to share Ricky’s assumption that he was the Doctor they’d previously met, though Pete didn’t appear to recognize this regeneration. The Doctor knew he really ought to correct that, but he found himself curious how long it would take Pete to recognize a fellow native of this universe.
“So I see. At least your shoes match your outfit now.”
Oh, Rassilon, does that mean I have another style-challenged regeneration coming up? thought the Doctor, thinking ruefully of some of his past clothing choices. I really do need to take care of this body.
“You’re taking Rose with you?” Pete asked, already knowing the answer.
The Doctor nodded warily. “That a problem?” Not that he would let a parent’s disapproval stop him taking who he chose as a companion, but it might stop Rose.
Pete shook his head slightly. He evaluated the Doctor for another minute longer, then squared his shoulders, seeming to resign himself to something. “Doctor, about what I did at Torchwood Tower just before the universes sealed…I’m sorry.”
The Doctor thought back to what Rose had told him about how she had become trapped in this universe.
“You rescued Rose from being sucked into the Void. Better in the wrong universe than there. It was the only way. Why apologize for saving her life?” His icy blue eyes bored into Pete. His stare was inquisitive, not at all hostile, but still it was almost uncomfortably strong.
Pete sighed. “You’re going to make me spell it out.”
The Doctor nodded and folded his arms, waiting.
“Yes, I saved her, and I’m not sorry for that. Prouder of it than just about anything else I’ve done, in fact, and I’ve achieved plenty to be proud of. Maybe it was destiny or providence that led me there and I have nothing to apologize for. Certainly it all turned out for the best, but I believe that intentions count. If you’re as smart as you like to make others believe, you realize that rescue wasn’t my intention.
“I had no way of knowing Rose was falling into the Void until I got there. Assumed she was in no danger clinging to those clamps. Problem was, Jackie didn’t want to stay without her daughter. I crossed over meaning to take Rose for her mother’s sake, willing or not.”
Pete remembered the moment the universes closed, leaving Rose sobbing against the wall. He’d looked sideways at Jackie, wondering what they had done. He couldn’t remember ever being the cause of such naked sorrow, but it was far too late for second thoughts. Months and years passed, and Rose brightened, laughing heartily and often. Still, he saw her every now and then staring at the sky like a homeless child at a toy store window, and knew it to be his doing.
“Does Rose know?” asked the Doctor. He spoke no comforting words claiming the choice had been right. Still, he looked at Pete with compassion. Rose’s father stood straight and spoke steadily, only the disquiet in his eyes bespeaking deep remorse. It was not this Doctor’s place to offer him absolution, but he could hear his confessions.
“No. Well, maybe. She must suspect, but she’s never asked about it. I think she doesn’t want to know.”
The Doctor nodded. “Understandable. Practical girl, Rose. The father she always wanted rescues her from doom, she’s not looking for reason to hate him. Then again, she might have figured it out and forgiven you long ago.”
“That sounds like my Rose. Heart at least two sizes too large, but she’s still tough as nails.” Pete’s guarded expression softened almost into a smile. “I never thought I’d get to have children, and here I am with the most incredible young woman calling me Dad, not that I did anything to earn that, and a beautiful son too. These last three years have been a true treasure, but I know they were stolen. Stolen from her, stolen from you. For Rose’s sake, I always hoped you’d find a way across. I am curious, though, how you did it. Are we going to be having universe-ripping problems on our hands?”
“No rippage here,” answered the Doctor, truthfully enough.
“Good,” said Pete with evident relief. He paused a moment, but the Doctor didn’t elaborate on how he crossed the divide. At last, hesitantly, Pete asked: “This safe way between universes you’ve found–is it a one-time thing? Will we ever see Rose again?”
“Actually, we won’t be crossing to Rose’s universe at all,” said the Doctor. He let Pete puzzle through the words, watching his eyes widen in surprised understanding. Rose’s cleverness was obviously not a fluke mutation.
“You’re from here.” Pete said.
“This universe, born and bred. I met Rose in New Jersey.”
“And she’s going to travel with you? A stranger?” Pete’s voice bore a faint edge of hostility. Clearly three years was enough to develop paternal protective instincts.
“This is her choice. You were a stranger to her too, not so long ago.” Frankly, he agreed with Pete’s misgivings. If Pete knew what he’d done, how close he always walked to death…but he’d already been through that with Rose. If Pete wanted to argue against bringing along Rose, then the Doctor could stop arguing with himself and devote all his attention to the pro-Rose side.
Pete locked eyes with the Doctor. Somehow, though the color was blue instead of brown, they were the same eyes on the Doctor he’d known. Those ancient, intense eyes carried a hint of danger, but there was no threat or dishonesty. He held that gaze as long as he could bear. Finally Pete looked away with a sigh.
“You’re right. I dragged my original wife’s double across the void after knowing her less than an hour, so I can’t be throwing stones here. Actually, this is good news. Jackie and I realized that being separated from her Doctor was hurting Rose, and we were prepared to let her go forever if she got a one-way ticket home. This way, you’ll be able to bring her back for visits.”
The Doctor stuffed his hands in his pockets, uncomfortable. Visits? When he brought someone on the TARDIS, they were with him until they chose to leave or he booted them out, none of this back and forth stuff. He’d hoped this trip home was a one time thing. Rose, however, clearly had different expectations. He wondered if his double made a habit of taking companions for home visits or if it was just Rose’s influence. He suspected the latter.
It wasn’t just the uncomfortable domesticity of visiting a family that bothered him. Taking responsibility for humans, he thought, was like eating crisps…you couldn’t have just one. Rose might choose a dangerous path of her own free will, but it would be him who might someday have to deliver her body (if there was even that much left) to this man and the mother. He really ought to just take her one or two fairly safe places and then find some excuse to kick her out. Best for everyone, wasn’t it?
The Doctor bottled up his doubts. “We’ll be around. Hard to get good chips anywhere but Earth,” he said lightly. Pete chuckled.
“We’ll be glad to have you eat our food and use our laundry any time. You know, Doctor, since you’re here I’m wondering if I could interest you in a business proposition. I’d like take you on as a consultant at Torchwood. Humankind can defend itself perfectly well, but we could use someone with real experience we could call on in extreme situations. If our Earth ever got hit with those nasty things with the plungers–Daleks, that’s their name–I’d like someone who knows how to keep a planet safe from them.”
Pete had on his charming “trust me on this!” expression, which rapidly turned to confusion as the Doctor shoved past him and hustled out the door. There was a faint whirring from outside the door and Pete found himself unable to get the door open.
“Doctor, wait! You can say no!” he called vainly. Through the window, he could see the front courtyard gate swinging shut behind the Time Lord.
* * * * * * * * * *
The Doctor ran as far as the TARDIS and slid to the ground, back against the door. That had not exactly been his most suave moment, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Daleks? Alive? It was one thing to see evidence of the Ruacmord, one of the Time War’s secondary menaces, and to guess that Rose had met other things that shouldn’t have survived, It was another thing entirely to know for certain that the Daleks survived. It sounded like they had been in the other universe, but if the Time War failed there he had no reason to believe he had succeeded here.
So Gallifrey had burned for nothing. His people were sacrificed in vain. Perhaps they had bought the universe some time, but that wasn’t good enough. A single Dalek meant that he had failed. A single Dalek would eventually be many Daleks. The War would start again, except without the other Time Lords to fight back it wouldn’t be a war. It would be a massacre.
Pete Tyler thought he, the Doctor, could keep the Earth safe. Thought he could take care of Rose. Rassilon, what fools these humans be. He couldn’t be trusted with a pet rock.
Just the mention of Daleks and he was running away like Sir Robin. How was he supposed to protect Rose, let alone the planet, when he was diving behind the sofa like a broken human ‘Nam vet with flashbacks? He’d even sonicked the door locked to keep Pete from following. That sort of overreaction didn’t happen when he was alone. Well, at any rate nobody witnessed it when he was alone. Potential to damage dignity alone was a good argument against taking on a companion. (Maybe he did care about the lack of suaveness in his exit, just a bit.)
Rain dripped down the back of his neck and water from the pavement soaked into his jeans. This whole thing had been a mistake. His judgment had been clouded by too long in the basement with Rose. It would feel cruel to let her down now, but he could handle a touch of being cruel for the greater good. The only question was whether he should stop back in there to let Rose know his change of plans or whether he should simply leave.
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to stay out in weather like this? You’ll catch your death of cold!” scolded a woman’s voice. The Doctor looked up to see a middle-aged peroxide blonde whose Estuary accent was at odds with her expensively tailored clothes.