He thrids the labyrinth of the mind,
He reads the secret of the star,
He seems so near and yet so far,
He looks so cold: she thinks him kind.
She keeps the gift of years before,
A wither’d violet is her bliss:
She knows not what his greatness is,
For that, for all, she loves him more.
For him she plays, to him she sings
Of early faith and plighted vows;
She knows but matters of the house,
And he, he knows a thousand things.
Her faith is fixt and cannot move,
She darkly feels him great and wise,
She dwells on him with faithful eyes,
‘I cannot understand: I love.’
It had taken nearly two days for Rose to find her copy of the key to Mickey’s flat. She’d rummaged through every drawer in her old bedroom, pulled long-abandoned purses and wallets inside out with no luck. She’d been unreasonably frantic until her mum had found it in a little ceramic bowl they used to keep loose change.
They’d been parked at the Powell Estate for nearly a week and – as far as Rose knew – the Doctor hadn’t left the TARDIS since he’d moved her from the middle of her mum's flat to the street below. She was grateful for his absence, though she wasn’t sure if he'd stayed away because he sensed she needed space or because he was avoiding Jackie and her terrible wrath.
Or maybe, Rose couldn’t help but think, maybe he’s avoiding me.
But the key had been found and Mickey’s flat emptied and cleaned. Rose posted a letter to his mother’s last known address, telling her that Mickey had gone travelling, and that it might be a long time before he had another permanent residence. She didn’t bother to feel guilty for the lies. Even if the letter reached her, the woman probably wouldn’t open it.
She left her key on the newly scrubbed kitchen counter (totally different colour now that it was clean, and how did that disgusting fact make her miss him?) and left the empty flat. She’d already said goodbye to her mum. It was time to return to the TARDIS.
He wasn’t in the console room when she opened the door, which rather surprised her. She’d thought he’d be desperate to leave, hungry for the next world, the next disaster. She brushed her hands across the console, then leaned into it and sighed. Home, finally, she thought, then snapped her hands back as if the TARDIS had burned her.
“For now,” she reminded herself firmly, out loud. “Home, for now.”
The pitch of the TARDIS’ constant, comforting thrum changed slightly (in objection? Rose couldn’t be sure), and she patted the console again before walking down the currently short hall to her bedroom door. Wherever the Doctor was, she wasn’t going to stand around waiting for him. His disappearance was something of a blessing, really, as she was suddenly desperate to bury herself beneath the big, soft comforter on her big, warm bed. Not a lot of time for catnapping when the Doctor was about, and she was damned well going to take advantage of the opportunity.
Thus her disappointment rivalled her shock when she opened her bedroom door to find the Doctor relaxing on that big, warm bed, legs splayed, glasses perched on the end of his nose and a large, open cardboard box in his lap.
The tone of the TARDIS changed again, and even to Rose’s untrained ears it sounded very much like, “Busted!”
The Doctor opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again. Rose stared back at him, for once in her life hoping to look as much like her mother as possible.
His expression transformed into a bright smile. “At least I took my shoes off first, eh?” he asked, wiggling his stocking feet at her. His socks clashed.
“Those are my things,” she said slowly, keeping her voice perfectly even. “You are in my room, looking through my private things.”
“My TARDIS,” he pointed out casually enough, though she could tell he was more than a little nervous. Oh, but her mum had slapped him good when she'd learned where they’d left Mickey. Rose didn’t imagine that he was eager to repeat the experience any time soon, even with a Jackie-in-training.
Rose slipped her hands into her pockets. “She led me right here, you know.” His eyebrows shot up at that. “Yeah, she may be your TARDIS, but I think she’s on my side this time – aren’t ya, girl?”
He looked up at the ceiling and frowned. “Traitor.”
She leaned against the door frame, but didn’t release him from her stony glare. “So why are you in my room, again?”
“Erm…tidying up?” He gave her one of those grins, and the charm rolled off him like waves of too-strong perfume. She sighed.
“Doctor, you might as well quit. That’s not going to work on me anymore.”
He blinked. “You want me to stop smiling?” His confusion grated on her nerves.
“I want you to tell me why you’re lounging on my bed, digging through my stuff.”
“Well, I am a nosy bastard. And quite rude, as you know.” He smiled at her again, more naturally this time. “Come here. You look tired.”
“I am tired.” She pulled off her trainers and stepped toward the bed. Then she paused. “I don’t know, though, Doctor. You and I on the same bed at the same time? Don’t you think the universe might implode or something?”
His face went suddenly and very carefully blank. “What a strange thing to say.”
“I’m having a strange sort of day.” She climbed onto the bed, settling with her back against the wall, a safe distance away from him.
The Doctor was quiet for a moment before he asked, “Get Mickey’s flat sorted, then?”
“Yeah. Did what I could, anyway.”
He held out his hand, and she took it. They sat quietly until Rose suddenly broke the silence.
“Do you ever get used to feeling like this?”
He paused, weighing his answer. “I don’t know. I suppose some people must.”
“You’d think…I mean, after all that’s happened, you’d think I’d at least have learnt to expect it. Losing people. It’s just that…” She struggled for a moment, and then the words came. “There are things that are always there, you know? They’re sure and they’re constant and when everything around you’s going mad, you can point to them and you remember where you are. Like constellations. Like the North Star. And maybe,” her voice broke, and his fingers twined with hers, “and maybe you take them for granted a little, just thinking they’ll always be there. So when they’re gone, or you find out you never really had them at all…” She stopped, closing her eyes.
The Doctor cleared his throat softly. “Rose, how many places have you been where there will never be a North Star in the sky?”
“How many skies have I seen without you?” Rose asked. She held her breath for a moment, but he didn’t seem to have anything to say to that. She could feel his pulse against the soft skin between her fingers. She bit her lip and tried to continue.
“With Mickey…it’s like I almost wish he’d died.” She inhaled sharply, shocked at her own words. Staring straight ahead, she refused to meet his gaze, afraid of what she might see there. “‘Cause now I’ll never know. Anything at all could happen to him, and I’ll never know about it. One day he will die, and I won’t even know to be sad.” His hand tightened around hers, and she realized she was crying. “God, that’s so selfish, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he said softly. “It is. Very selfish and very human.” He rummaged through his pockets a bit, then pulled out a wrinkled handkerchief and offered it to her.
She wiped her eyes and blew her nose a little. “Thanks.”
“My pleasure. I’m pretty sure that one was clean, too.”
She chuckled damply and gave him a playful shove. “Prat.”
He retaliated with a sudden lunge, wrapping his arm around her waist and pressing his face into her hair. She was too stunned to move. “Doctor?” she squeaked.
He sighed, his cool breath tickling her scalp. “Oh, Rose.” She felt the press of his lips against her hair, her eyes closed, and she had just enough time to think, He isn’t, he doesn’t, I know he doesn’t— when the touch changed, becoming wet and—
He pulled back just in time to avoid her slap and slumped against the wall, grinning with lazy self-satisfaction. “Hmm. Lovely. A bit floral for my taste, but still.”
“You licked my hair!”
“Yes, and you should really lay off that conditioner. All wrong for your hair type.”
“You licked my hair!”
“I know. I was there.” He grimaced. “Unfortunate rhyme, that. Neither subtle nor particularly witty. Ah well,” he finished cheerily.
She leaned over him and snatched up the cardboard box that had fallen to his side. “I think you and I need to have a conversation about boundaries.”
“Oh, I know all about boundaries, Rose Tyler,” he said lightly, trying to peer into the box even as she held it away from him. “After all, boundaries are nothing but lines, and I might as well be an intergalactic expert on lines—lines between two points in space, lines to keep you out, lines to keep you in, lines improvised, lines drawn in the sand – hello, what’s this?” He was too fast for her, and before she could snatch it back he’d liberated a photograph from the box. “Oh please,” he said, nearly feverish in his delight, “oh please, tell me this is you.”
She glowered at him. “It’s not me.”
“Oh, but it is!” he crowed. “I’d know that cheeky grin anywhere. Oh, Rose, that is a very, very large sombrero.” He squinted at the picture for a moment, ignoring her consternation. “Or maybe you’re just very, very tiny. What age are you here? Four? Five?”
“Five. I was five. And it was a very large sombrero.”
“What’s that all over your face?”
She closed her eyes and winced. “Chocolate custard.”
His laughter was so lovely she nearly forgot to be unhappy, and just let herself revel in the sound of it. He took advantage of the moment and snatched another picture from the box.
“Doctor!” He smiled mischievously at her and she sighed. “Fine,” she said, dropping the box onto the bed. “Have at it.”
“This must be the famous Shareen, then. My, she’s the intimidating sort, isn’t she?” He pushed his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose and looked closely at the photo of a teenaged Rose and Shareen, dressed rather provocatively for a night out. “You two look quite dangerous.”
Rose couldn’t help but give him a sly grin. “We were.”
The next photograph pulled from the box was almost immediately tossed back in. Off her questioning look he said, “Jackie Tyler. Lycra.”
She snorted. “Serves you right.”
The Doctor feigned a wounded expression. “It was just a teeny, tiny invasion of privacy, Rose. I hardly deserve to be—” He stopped, staring blankly at the small stack of photos he’d unearthed. He gently removed the rubber band that bound them together and flipped slowly through the top few.
A younger Rose – fifteen, sixteen at the very most – looked back at him, smiling brightly and wrapped in the arms of a ridiculously pretty older boy with dark hair and darker eyes. The boy wasn’t smiling.
“Jimmy Stone,” Rose said, answering the question she knew he wouldn’t ask.
“Ah.” His usually expressive features were still. “Him.”
His reaction puzzled her. She hadn’t told him about Jimmy in any great detail, but he knew the basic facts and she didn’t see why it should bother him. It had been years ago, now – a bit late for him to be feeling protective.
“He hurt you, and you kept these.” His confusion made it sound like a question. “Brought them here.”
Rose shrugged. “I loved him.” He looked away from the photos for the first time since pulling them out of the box, turning to stare at her. She gave him a crooked smile that wasn’t, really. “I did. It was stupid of me, yeah, but I did and I don’t want to forget it.” She rested her fingertips on the rough edge of the cardboard box and looked down at the photos of Mickey the Doctor had so nimbly managed to avoid. “Don’t want to forget any of it.”
For a long moment he watched her face with a wondrous, almost enthralled look in his wide eyes. “You…” She didn’t believe for a second that he was actually speechless, but he was certainly doing a bang up job of faking it.
“I?” she prompted.
He regained his composure and gave her a warm smile. “You human beings. You lot never stop surprising me.”
She snatched the photos out of his hands and dropped them back in the box. “So glad we keep things interesting for you.”
“Oh, you do, Rose. You do.” She pretended she couldn’t see him still watching her out of the corner of her eye. “You know,” he mused idly, as if he were considering what brand of toothpaste to buy, “I think I might have to taste your hair again.”
She stuck a finger in his face. “Don’t even think about it.”
He arched an eyebrow at her. “It’s rude to point, Rose.”
“Don’t care. Keep your tongue to yourself, all right?”
He chuckled. “If you say so.” He returned his attention to the box in front of him, and for a few minutes only his occasional snickers of amusement broke the silence between them. She closed her eyes and tried to pretend he wasn’t there.
“Oh,” he said suddenly, sounding a little breathless.
She opened one eye. “What?”
He was staring at a photograph, transfixed. “You’re beautiful,” he said, and the awe in his voice made her warm and a little dizzy, like she’d just downed one too many glasses of champagne.
The photo was candid. She’d been in the middle of telling someone off (she’d long ago forgotten who or why), and had had no idea that Mickey had been mucking about with his camera a few feet away. They were at the playground a few blocks from the Estate, and the sun was low in the sky. She couldn’t have been more than twelve.
She bit the inside of her cheek and inspected his face carefully for signs that he was teasing her. “I don’t understand. I’m not—”
He smiled, but didn’t look away from the picture. “You are. Just look.”
She turned back to the picture and tried to find what he’d seen in it. She’d been a bit of a mess at twelve, really – all teeth and elbows and angles – and this photo had been taken at the height of her prepubescent awkwardness. She’d thumped Mickey more than once over the years for taking it. But she’d kept it, secretly enjoying her younger self’s tangled hair and dirty knees and remembering a time before she could command attention with little more than the curve of her hip and a crooked finger.
“Your hair is the same colour as mine,” the Doctor said, sounding surprised.
She couldn’t help but smile at that. “What, brown?”
“Why do you dye it?”
She shrugged. “Dunno. I like it this way.”
He turned to her, and the sudden intensity of his focus on her was unnerving. “What were you like?”
“When you were small. What were you like?”
The question made her horribly, irrationally angry. She’d known him for years (forever) and most times it felt like he owned every part of her. And most times, that was exactly what she wanted.
But she had grown tired of giving him pieces of herself that he didn’t really want or need, and she couldn’t help but wonder what would be left of her in the end. After all, it wasn’t like he could give her anything of himself in return.
She snapped the photo out of his hand and jumped down from the bed. “Why do you want to know?”
“Because I do.” He said it nonchalantly enough, but she knew better. The question had been anything but casual.
“But why?” she insisted, and his expression became annoyed.
“I just do.”
“Like you ‘just’ want to know what my hair tastes like?”
“Well…yes.” He frowned. “Is there something wrong with that?”
Rose didn’t have an answer to that question – not one that made sense, anyway. She sank into the chair by her desk and rested her head in her hands, trying to swallow the words that buzzed in the back of her throat like flies. “I’m sorry. I just…” After a moment she looked up and met his concerned gaze. “I miss him. Mickey.”
It wasn’t a lie, but it was. She was almost disappointed that he didn’t notice.
“Are you angry with me because I let him come with us?” the Doctor asked, hesitating slightly, and Rose thought that he might actually be afraid of the answer.
She smiled at him, just a little. “I was at first. I thought…” She stopped, shaking her head. “But you were right to bring him along, I think.”
The Doctor held her gaze. “And to leave him?”
“That was his choice.”
“Yes. It was.” He paused. “You’re allowed to mourn him, Rose.”
“He’s not dead.”
“But he is gone,” he said, too gently. She felt another surge of anger, and looked away before he could see it in her eyes.
“Yeah, well, we all have to leave you eventually, don’t we?”
Rose couldn’t see the Doctor’s face, but the nearly inaudible intake of breath from the bed let her know that she’d hit her mark. Bullseye, she thought, and felt sick.
She thought about apologizing, but instead she said, “Where to next, then?”
He slid off her bed and reached down for his shoes. Not quite meeting her eyes and trainers dangling from one hand, he paused by her door. For a moment she thought (the tension in his shoulders, the twitch of his fingers) that he might reach for her, but he didn’t. “I know just the place,” he said, and left.