~*~Chapter Two: Reunions Most Bittersweet~*~

“I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Rose continued to just stare in shock even as Jack’s opening greeting washed over and through her. Her heart felt like it was breaking all over again. Jack. Jack was right there. She pressed her lips together, determined not to cry. This day was getting more and more overwhelming by the moment. Any second now she was going to have a nervous breakdown. Something much bigger than the mini-breakdown she had the very first time she stepped into the tardis, back when she was nothing more than a shopgirl without a shop worrying about whether or not the Doctor had just pulled the head off of her boyfriend or not.

Right now was definitely not the time to cry, though. This was a happy time, even if it was completely and utterly overwhelming. She had the Doctor back — sort of — and Jack too. Though, again — sort of. That was better than nothing, she kept telling herself, even as she wondered if she would wake up at any second to realize that this had been nothing more than a taunting dream of the life she would never again have. How many nights had just that happened? Brushing up against something beautiful, only to have it slip through her fingers the second she opened her eyes?

This wasn’t a dream, some little part of her mind insisted. This was real. Still, she pinched her arm just to be sure, the pain a confirmation of her waking state.

Despite her best efforts, some tears managed to somehow escape her eyes. She realized this only about the time they hit her chin and dripped off to land in a wet splat on the same arm she’d just pinched. She flinched, surprised.

“Hey, now,” Jack murmured, getting close enough that she could smell that aftershave he’d always worn. It made her tremble inside, broken apart even as pieces were trying desperately to right themselves again. He held out a handkerchief that Rose took gratefully. “Usually women cry in happiness after meeting me. This doesn’t look like happiness.”

That was just so…so… Jack. Rose giggled, wiping at her cheeks with her hand even as she continued to laugh softly. “Sorry.”

In that moment she suddenly realized, too, that she could feel the Tardis around her, welcoming her. It knew her, just as the other did, and that was something that Rose felt thankful for at that moment. It was a constant, a solid presence there in her mind when she was sure that she was going to break under the revelations of the day. The Doctor would notice eventually, the closeness she had to his precious Tardis, and then she’d be forced to fill in some of the noticeable gaps in her reports. Namely, the way that the Time War well and finally ended in her own reality. Her experience as Bad Wolf and how the Doctor had really regenerated. All of that she had kept out of her reports, feeling as if it were too private for anyone to read.

She still felt that way, but how could she keep it from the Doctor if they were going to be traveling together? It would be impossible.

That, however, was not a conversation for now. Later.

Much later, if she had any say in the matter.

Jack shrugged off her apology and gave her one of his over the top, far too perfect smiles. “It’s hard, I know. Well, I guess. Never had the opportunity to go through to another reality myself.”

So the Doctor had already caught him up to speed on that, which was good. She wouldn’t need to act like she didn’t already sort of know him. That was a relief, given that she was having a hard enough time resisting the urge to hug him, or the Doctor. She wondered if they could see that on her face, the barely restrained urge to reach out and touch.

“Well, it’s different, definitely,” Rose nodded. “I mean… seein’ people that you know… but they aren’t the people you know at all. Not really.”

“Actually, a lot of what I read about the me from there,” Jack winked. “Was true. Except, I did miss out on saving you from the barrage balloon and dancing in front of Big Ben on top of a cloaked space ship. Guess we have some things to make up for, then. Maybe I can show you a few tricks that other me never did?”

Rose blushed at the completely flirty look that went along with his comment. Definitely Jack.

”Jack — don’t scare her on her first day with us, all right?”

Rose wanted to argue that it wasn’t her first day, but maybe that was the wrong way to think about this. About everything. This was starting over. Even if the people around her were familiar, they were different, too.

”Sure thing, Doc,” Jack drawled, turning away from them. Rose smirked at the look the Doctor shared with her. He didn’t like that nickname any more than hers had. “I’ll wait until tomorrow, if that’s okay with you, Rose?”

“Oh, yeah, of course,” she agreed with a roll of her eyes. Jack tossed her another smile and then exited the control room. She followed him with her eyes until he was completely out of sight. Tomorrow. Well, she was sort of looking forward to that, all things told. Jack flirting with her was about as much of a universal constant as she seemed to be able to find these days. It filled her with hope that maybe other things wouldn’t have changed. Like the way that her and the Doctor had meshed, right from the start.

”If he gets to be too much, just let me know,” the Doctor offered quietly, surprising Rose. Now that was different. Her Doctor would have known better.

She turned to him with a raised eyebrow, “You forget, Doctor, I’m used to Jack. He’s no worse than the one from my reality. I can handle him.”

The look he gave her said that he was skeptical about her ability to deal with Captain Jack Harkness, but Rose didn’t feel like arguing with him at that moment. For all she knew, this Captain Jack was even worse than her own, anyway.

She ignored the Doctor for the moment, stepping more fully into the Tardis. Each foot she placed brought her closer and closer to the controls, the central column quiet. They’d need to take off soon if they weren’t going to get seen by her associates at Torchwood. She put her hand on the smooth metal of the console, between a lever she thought had something to do with the ‘space’ portion of traveling in time and space, and another that she was pretty sure controlled the speed at which they traveled. Or maybe that was the switch for the broken chameleon circuit. Hard to say. The Doctor had never really explained much to her when it came to piloting the Tardis. The little she did know was mostly instinct, left over from things best left forgotten.

Memories of golden light and power that had coursed through her veins. Bad Wolf. That was her. Could she have saved everyone by doing it all over again?

No. Yes. Possibly. It didn’t matter. Rose shook her head. She wasn’t going to do that again out of fear that the Doctor would try, one more time, to save her. She didn’t deserve that kind of sacrifice. Never had and never would.

He was just too blind to see that sometimes.

She watched the Doctor as he began to set a destination. Where and when she didn’t know or care. This was it. She was in it for the long haul now. This Doctor wasn’t going to get rid of her by tossing her into an alternate reality — she’d make sure of that. No telling if there’d be another Doctor in a new reality, waiting to whisk her away.

No, this was it.

The familiar groan of the tardis’ seemed to come from everywhere at once as they started moving. She clutched at the railing for a moment, the time spent away having made her unused to the lurching that seemed to accompany every takeoff and landing.

“I’ll need to let my mum know. I mean, I can’t just go disappearing. She’ll get worried.”

She could care less about her job at Torchwood. Those people had been the biggest group of morons she’d ever encountered, for the most part. The Doctor was right, chances are she’d say something that put the Earth far too ahead for its own good if she stayed on with them. There were things she’d seen while traveling.

And then there were the bits and pieces of things that she still got flashes of, every now and then, when working through files on new alien species Torchwood thought they’d come across. Glimpses of information that should have left her long ago.

She’d give it all away and never mean to.

She’d damn the Earth, to hell with the consequences because she wouldn’t even know that they were there until it was too late.

Rose didn’t want that.

The Doctor looked up from the controls, lips pressed together in that way she remembered so well as he considered her request to speak with her mum. In the end, she knew he’d do it, but that look of ‘oh, lord, domesticity’ on his face, however brief, was enough to make her grin again. He held out a hand. “Phone.”

It wasn’t the request itself so much that struck her as odd, but the fact that the Doctor had made it. After all, he wasn’t the first Doctor to ask for her phone. Not even the first Doctor in a battered leather coat. This Doctor, who didn’t know a thing about the fact that her previous Doctor had rigged her phone for her because she hadn’t mentioned it in her reports at all, was about to do the exact same thing that his self in her own reality had done. She handed it over without a word, smiling at him. He frowned, “What?”

“Nothin’. Nothin’ at all.”

He was so much like her own Doctor. So very much.

Maybe too much, because already she could feel herself tumbling into an emotional place that she shouldn’t — couldn’t — go. Not with him.

The smile must have made him nervous, because he handed the phone back as quickly as possible, tucking away his sonic screwdriver back into his pocket.

“Thanks.”

Now for one of he hardest calls she was ever going to make. She used the speed dial for her mum’s house, hoping that it was her that answered and not Pete or the housekeeper. She didn’t know how long she could be brave if she had to hold together while waiting to get to the one person in all of this world that needed to know what she was doing.

“Mum?” Rose greeted, voice trembling even as she decided for the just jumping right in method. “Guess where I am right now?”

END CHAPTER