“What’s wrong with Earth?”
“Well you’re in my time, my country my -” Rose leaned out the TARDIS door - “estate. My flat, why are we outside my flat?”
“Good question, wasn’t me. Don’t really fancy getting slapped again.”
“Missing for a year, Doctor! Can’t exactly blame her!”
“I can blame whoever I like, now come on, show me round while the TARDIS sorts herself out, she always does.”
“But...it’s just London, Powell Estates, you’ve seen it.”
“I’ve seen it but I don’t know all of its little nooks and crannies. The interesting stuff, the places that have stories attached, I don’t know them! A place only has character if something’s happened there. Now Rose Tyler, you can tell me your life was boring, you can tell me that nothing happened before you turned 19. You can tell me all that - but I won’t believe you. Don’t become the girl you are just sittin’ round eatin’ chips. Now come on!”
The Doctor grabbed her hand and dragged her out onto the street. Rose leaned against the door as it slammed shut behind them, shaking her fist away from the Doctor’s grasp and crossing her arms.
“What?” the Doctor asked.
“This, really? You already know about me, about here. I’ve lived here my whole life I don’t need to revisit it!” she cried exasperatedly.
“You’d not say that if you could never go home again,” the Doctor replied darkly. “Besides! You can’t know that I know all there is to know about you — that was a lot of knows. Anyway! I don’t know Rose Tyler from Rose Tyler’s perspective. Come on, tell me stories.”
Rose smirked and pushed herself away from the TARDIS, looking around the estate grounds with fresher eyes. She glanced to the side, just for a moment to stare straight at him. “You’ve already seen me when I was 12. Red bicycle and all that.” She shook her head and laughed under her breath. The Doctor grinned back.
Running her fingers through her hair, Rose continued. "I wasn’t a bad girl, yeah? I just...did what I thought was right, even if it wasn’t. Started a strike at school once, with my choir — totally blown out of proportion, but the headmaster wasn’t particularly impressed.”
“My dad, well, you know bout him. Grew up pretty poor and Mum was stressed tryin to make ends meet. She tried her best, couldn’t watch me all the time; had to work. She’s a hairdresser and worked from home so she could be there when I was. Still...I managed to mess things up for myself.”
They’d begun to walk slowly as she told the Doctor about Jimmy Stone and dropping out of school. How her mum had come to her rescue when she was penniless and afraid, and found her employment at Henrik’s. She pointed out various areas that had coloured moments of her life as she told of them.
A wall she’d been shoved against by Jimmy until her childhood friend Mickey ran over and took a swing at him. He’d missed, but spooked Jimmy all the same. The wall still had a tiny piece of stone missing from where Jimmy had slammed his hand right near her head.
One of the balconies still had the remnants of the “Welcome to Earth” signs from months before, taped up. - the paper now soggy and the paint running. Rose didn’t need to point this memory out to the Doctor, he’d been very present for that moment of now forgotten history.
She pointed out benches where she and her Shireen had rowed over a boy, or shared chips. He wondered if she missed her old friend. Rose mentioned her sure, but there seemed to be little to no contact between the two of them.
As they walked along, they passed an alley that Rose called their hiding place. Whenever anything horrible happened to Mickey, Rose or Shireen they would go to the hiding place and wait for someone else to find them. A young Mickey had cried in Rose’s arms upon finding that his father had left and then again when he was a little older and his mother had gone too. Older still, two years before she’d met the Doctor she’d found Mick sitting there, obviously not wanting to be found, the three of them hadn’t used the hiding place for years now, having realized that an alley is not the safest of spots to be in alone. It was the night his grandmother had tripped and broken her neck. It was also the night of Mick and hers’ first, desperate, comfort-seeking kiss. They’d run up the stairs to her bedroom, but with smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes. It was the start of something, a break in the monotony, until later it became monotonous too, and the Doctor broke it and was the end of something. Rose only told the Doctor of comforting Mickey in the alley — some moments deserved to be left alone with their dignity.
It was a happy place as well. Gifts, usually a pack of smokes here, a discounted shirt from Henrik’s there were exchanged in the slush or snow at Christmas. It was her favourite time of year. Things had begun with Mick near Christmas, her mum usually made a bit more money because people wanted to look nice for the holidays, Shireen would drag her out for New Years or she’d meet up with Mickey later.
Underaged drinking had never really bothered her but she’d only smoked up the one time, also in the alley. Shireen’s new man knew where to get the supposed “really good stuff”. Her mother came around the corner after some night shopping and smacked her so hard she could nearly swear that the high had been knocked out of her. It hadn’t, but she knew better and never touched the stuff again.
The Doctor laughed out loud at the description of the Tyler slap but held silent admiration for Jackie. She did the best that she could and smacked sense into Rose when she went out of line. If she hadn’t, chances are they’d never have met. He reached for Rose’s hand and grasped it in the cold, biting air, letting her lead him around.
“That’s not to say that mum didn’t mess up sometimes too. Holidays were wonderful but something always went wrong. The red bicycle saved us from a Christmas of no presents when Mum didn’t have any extra money after paying rent, her dad had been sick and she’d not been working for a few weeks.”
“When I got older, it was a new boyfriend every once and a while. Some were good; some were “just friends,” and some I never met because I guess they weren’t as nice as they seemed. She rarely brought any of that nonsense home with her unless they’d been together for a while.”
Rose sighed and her breath clouded in the air. It was early December, approaching her favourite time of year, but not quite there yet. Didn’t really matter in the TARDIS — it was timeless, but she had to admit that it was nice to come back, be reminded.
“I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions,” Rose broke the silence, staring around the estate once more. Lights had very recently been strewn around, as they always were, making the place look cheerier.
“I never keep em; just hope that I do better the next year than I did the year before. It can seem like a new beginning though eh? I’ve had lots of things happen over the holidays, good things...but then you wake up the next morning and realize that in a few days time it’s back to folding shirts and eating chips and watching the game with your boyfriend at the pub...”
Her voice drifted to a halt as they’d turned around heading back towards her flat. Turning a corner, past a brick wall she’d stopped facing a painted metal door.
“That graffiti yours then?” asked the Doctor of the red and yellow blobs spray painted, but now faded on the door. His smile faded when he saw the look on Rose’s face. “What’s wrong, Rose? What happened here?” he asked earnestly.
Rose’s head snapped up, concentration interrupted, and she laughed. “Nuffin, just thinking bout something.” She laughed again and ran her fingers through her hair. “It’s just so typical of something that would happen here, but it felt important, it felt good.”
She stepped forward and placed her hand on the door and told the story without facing the Doctor, just remembering. “It was New Years and Mum’s boyfriend, Jimbo had let us down. It was countin' down to midnight and I was gonna miss seeing in the New Year with Mickey. Mum went off to do...whatever she was going to do for the rest of the night and I was heading back to the flat.
“Someone gasped, sounded like it hurt. It was dark so I couldn’t really see him, didn’t wanna get too close you know. He was leaning against here, holding himself up. I asked if he was okay, if he’d had too much to drink. Told me it was something like that and admitted that he should go home when I told him to. I was in a rush to get ready to go to Mickey’s so I wished him Happy New year then started off towards the door.”
She shook her head and laughed. “He must have just been pissed, poor sod, though he didn’t seem it, just seemed sad. He calls after me asking what year it is. Told him it was 2005, January the first. I don’t remember the whole conversation, you never do until you hit something important, a stranger is just a stranger — but I remember what he said next, word for word.
“'Tell you what. I bet you’re gonna have a really great year.'
“Then he smiled at me and I left, didn’t know what to do with him, he just needed some coffee and a bed or something. It seems silly, he was drunk and I wasn’t going anywhere with my life, no reason to believe him but for some reason, I did. “
“The year continued to be fairly boring, but then, 2005 — I met you. I’ve travelled, I’ve lived, and he was right, I’ve had a really great year!” She turned to look at the Doctor, a small smile on her face.
“Who was he?” he asked.
“Dunno,” Rose breathed shaking her head lightly. “I never saw him again, least I don’t think so, he was in the shadows.”
“Come on, TARDIS.” The Doctor held out his hand for Rose and they walked slowly back towards their home.
She turned before she went into the ship, looking around. “I hope he’s okay, he looked so sad and alone.”
The Doctor put his hand on her shoulder. “New Year's reminds some people of what they’ve lost, but if he wanted to, it is always possible to move on. I’m sure he’s just fine Rose.” He smiled down at her. She took a deep breath and smiled back as he led the way into the TARDIS.
She turned to shut the door and jumped at a sudden noise. A bin had fallen over and was rolling back and forth along the ground. Rolling her eyes, she shut the door and ran to the console where the Doctor was already setting coordinates to take them somewhere wonderful — if he piloted it correctly, that was.
The engines sounded and the distinct noise that could only be made by the TARDIS dematerializing echoed off the walls of the estate. Fliers blew from where they’d been taped and someone’s stray cat ran for the nearest cat door in fear. When the wind and sound had died down, nothing was left but the now stilled bin and the early Christmas lights.
A man stepped out into the open and overturned the bin, nearly being caught after slipping on some ice and knocking it down. “Right, well...good,” he muttered quietly to himself.
He straightened his bowtie and walked off in search of home.
He was just fine.