“So, what should I do ‘bout the Doctor, then, sweetheart?”
Rose looks up from the potato she is peeling. Such a mundane task, the like of which it feels like she hasn’t done for almost a year. Oh, not that she’s never cooked in the TARDIS. Although the TARDIS is pretty efficient when it comes to keeping her occupants nourished, occasionally Rose prefers a meal she’s prepared herself.
“What d’you mean? What about him?”
“Well, I mean this. Dinner!” Her mum looks around at the food in various stages of preparation, the hastily-put-together Christmas dinner they’re getting ready now that it’s all over and the Earth is safe again. “Is he coming?”
She feels the pain like a slam to her gut. “I dunno.”
“Well, didn’t you ask him?”
She shakes her head. An answer springs to her lips - he doesn’t do domestic - but she doesn’t voice it. This is a new Doctor. She doesn’t know what he does. He’s said it himself: he doesn’t know what kind of man he is.
All she knows is that he is the Doctor. She has absolutely no doubt about that now.
The way he handled the Sycorax was absolute proof. Oh, some of his actions were a surprise to her; she couldn’t imagine her Doctor - the previous Doctor; they’re the same man, she reminds herself - getting stuck into a swordfight. But taking complete charge of the situation; telling the Sycorax leader to shut up because he was busy; going and hitting that big red button. All those were the actions of the Doctor she knows. And loves.
But the Doctor she knows wouldn’t have pressed the button first and explained why he knew it would be all right afterwards. He’d have enjoyed showing off his superior knowledge, telling everyone that blood control can’t possibly make everyone jump because it’s just contrary to all the laws of science and human nature, and then he’d have pressed the button. Likewise, he wouldn’t have abandoned his speech about the worth of humanity. For someone who always claimed that humans were stupid apes, he really loves humankind. She’s always known that.
He is the Doctor. A new man, but the same man. And she’s known that ever since, five minutes after his regeneration, he took her hand and reminded her of the first thing he ever said to her.
He’s the same man who doesn’t do domestic. Doesn’t do families. Won’t come to dinner.
There’s no point in even asking him. She knows what his answer will be, and of course accompanied by impatient annoyance that she’s even asked him.
“You should ask him,” her mum continues. “I know the last one wouldn’t come. But this one’s different. You saw that. The old Doctor - an’ I’m not saying he was all bad. Like I said, I’ll always be grateful that he sent you home to me - the old Doctor never missed a chance to be rude to me. This one actually hugged me. An’ he thanked me.”
He had. She’d noticed that.
He hadn’t hugged her. She’d noticed that, too.
But then, he is angry with her. She let him down.
“And you, Rose Tyler, fat lot of good you were - you gave up on me.”
He hasn’t really talked to her since saying that. Oh, there was that moment when he’d looked at her and asked her if she thought he was sexy, and he’d actually winked - but for all she knows that was just a stunt to throw the Sycorax leader off-balance. The Doctor she knows is good at that. His first tactic in a sticky situation is always to try to disarm the enemy by doing whatever they least expect, usually coming up with an inane line of conversation which leaves them shaking their heads in disbelief and confusion.
She helped him out during the battle, true, but even that had got her a comment that could be interpreted as sarcastic.
“Oh, so I’m still the Doctor, then?”
She’d deliberately not taken it that way. Tried to show him by her answer that he was just the same as ever to her.
But he’d hugged Mickey and her mum when they’d got back down to Earth. Not her.
And, when they’d made their way back to the Powell Estates, he’d gone straight to the TARDIS. Without a glance at her, without any kind of visual or verbal expectation that she’d come with him.
He’d had to turn to her then, though, because he didn’t have his key with him. A raised eyebrow and a mimed unlocking gesture had told her what he wanted, and she’d thrown him her key. The key he’d given her all those months ago.
Now, he has it back. What she doesn’t know is whether he will keep it this time.
“Should really get out of these jim-jams.” He’d grinned, gestured at his inappropriate garb, and disappeared inside. Without a word about his intentions.
He hasn’t left, though. The TARDIS is still outside. She’d have heard it leave. She’s been listening carefully ever since he went back into it.
Ever since, she’s been torn. Doesn’t know whether she should confront him or just wait and see what’ll happen. With him before, there’d have been no question. Confrontation every time. That just worked for them. Because, if she didn’t confront him, he’d pretend there was no problem and it would get harder and harder to resolve the situation. He might get angry because she chose the confrontation, but he’d get over it and they’d fix whatever the problem was.
With him now, she has no idea what will work. All she knows is that he thinks she let him down.
And that’s not fair. She went back to save him. Risked her life for him - though that’s nothing new. They’ve done that for each other many times. She has no idea what actually happened when she went back - if she managed to do anything at all - but she did bring the TARDIS back for him. And, since when she woke up afterwards he was in the TARDIS with her, that must’ve helped. Somehow.
Not that he’s said thanks or anything for it...
But then, he did die not long after she woke up. So that’s probably a reasonable excuse.
“Go on, love.” Her mum nudges her.
She almost feels paralysed at the thought. And that’s so unlike her that she hates it. She’s not afraid of anything. She’s faced down Slitheen and gas-masked zombies and human slavers and megalomaniacs and even Daleks. Yet she’s afraid of talking to the Doctor. The man she’s known, travelled with, been best friends with for the best part of a year. The man she knows - or knew, until just a couple of days ago - better than anyone else.
The coward inside her wants to wait. Let him come to her. He has to - hasn’t he? He wouldn’t just leave without a word. Besides, his clothes are still in the flat. And he has Howard’s pyjamas and dressing-gown.
But they’re not his clothes any more. The leather jacket doesn’t fit him. And why should he care about borrowed pyjamas?
He might leave without a word. Even despite all they’ve been to each other. Because she let him down. And he didn’t hug her.
“Fat lot of good you were - you gave up on me.”
No. This is doing her no good. She can’t concentrate on anything. She’s nicked her finger with the knife now. She sucks on it, thinking.
She’s going to call him. Make the first move. At least then she’ll know.
She goes and gets her mobile, takes it into her bedroom. She doesn’t want her mum to hear this. Not if it goes badly, as she’s afraid it will.
She selects the TARDIS on her call-list. It rings. And rings.
He’s not going to answer. He knows it has to be her, and he’s not going to answer.
But then the ringing stops. And she hears the new voice she still has to get used to, the youthful, light tone, the accent that sounds so like her own. “Hello?”
“Doctor?” Stupid. Of course it’s the Doctor. Who else would it be? Why does she have to be so inane?
“Rose!” And he actually sounds... pleased. “Where are you?”
“Oh.” And is that disappointment? Surprise? But surely he knows she’s here. Where else would she be?
There’s so much she wants to ask him. Is he still disappointed in her? What’s he going to do now? Is he leaving? Is there still room in the TARDIS for her?
But she can’t bear to ask any of that. Not over the phone. She wants to see him face to face to have that conversation.
And so, in the end, even knowing what his reaction will be, she asks her mum’s question.
“We’re having Christmas dinner,” she tells him. Already, before she goes any further, inside her brain, words, phrases are repeating themselves over and over. All said in a painfully familiar Northern accent.
“I don’t do that.”
“Tough. I’ve got better things to do.”
“Well, you can stay there if you want.”
But she pushes on. Tries to ignore the voice in her head. New man. New... everything. He’s said so.
“An’... well, you’re invited. If you want. I mean, I’ll understand - ”
He cuts across her. “I’d love to come.” And his tone is enthusiastic, happy.
And she knows it’ll be all right.