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Publish or Perish in the 21st Age

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The club was packed, and Rose knew they’d been lucky to even find a table to rest their drinks on. The fact that it was both precariously wobbly and so sticky that picking your glass up become a life or ruined outfit adventure with shots spilling haphazardly all over the place wasn’t feeling quite so fabulous. Maybe Rose just wasn’t in the mood. She glanced down at her outfit, feeling self conscious in the sparkly black dress and heels. Shareen had insisted on lending her the clothes and although she’d felt beautiful getting dressed up in her mates room and sauntering through the streets towards the central London club with Mickey… now she felt a little silly. Dressed up in her sexier friends clothes, while her ex and her best mate made eyes at each other.

Beside her was a skinny bloke with messy hair, pretending to look deeply in her eyes and instead frequently missing and ending up gazing at her boobs.

They did look pretty good. Maybe not so silly a dress.

“I’m bringing sexy back,” boomed over the speakers, so loud she couldn’t hear anything the random bloke was saying. She motioned for him to speak again.

“Why are you out tonight?” He shouted near her ear.

Rose raised her glass of jägerbomb at him. “I lost my job!” She shouted back.

He smiled wildly, raising his own pint in response “Brilliant!” he cried. “What do you do?”

One eyebrow raised before she could stop it. “No! I lost – LOST!”

“Lost dogs?” He looked slightly perplexed “like at Battersea dogs home?”

Oh fuck it.

“Yes fine, whatever. I work at the dogs home.” She lied, the music ended suddenly and Rose rambled on, barely noticing as the next tracks sudden pulsing base thumped in and out, drowning out half of her words. “The dogs is just a side business though really, it’s all about rescue giraffes these days.”

The music cut out again abruptly and Mickey leaned over the table, clearly baffled. “What giraffes?”

“I didn’t know your friend worked rehoming animals!” the man enthused, excitement in every movement as he stumbled off his stool to stand by the wobbly table as the volume of the track soared wildly and the baseline dropped. “Fantastic!”

“What?” Mickey mouthed, beside him Shareen giggled into her glass and Rose had to pull her hair over her face to hide her own instant snicker of laughter.

The strobe lights flashed back into action, alternately plunging the group into darkness, Mickey and Shareen went back to canoodling in the darkest corner while the man blinked in and out of sight in front of her. Each time slightly closer as he lent in and waved his empty pint glass. “Another?” He yelled. Maybe she’d’ve felt bad if she’d thought the random man would’ve been interested if he wasn’t already well on the way to absolutely plastered. And, more accurately, if she thought he’d have anything nice to say about Rose’s current unemployment due to the whole Henrik’s department store blowing up thing. Gas leak apparently. All she knew was, she didn’t even get any extra holiday pay off the bastards to make up for being quite so spectacularly made redundant from her boring shop girl job.

On the other hand, tonight was supposed to be about not thinking about the mess that was her life and if this suited and booted, spiky haired man ended up being a decent distraction then all well and good. She nodded, giving him a wide smile and watched as he turned away to weave towards the bar.

He did have a very nice bum.

And lovely brown eyes, that had twinkled when he caught her gaze at the bar earlier and they’d chatted about the likelihood of an alien incursion happening before they got served. A twinkle that had instantly sent her mind to dirty places.

Okay, maybe he had some stuff going for him.

An arm looped around Rose shoulders from behind and she rolled her head backwards to meet the stare of her best mate. Round dark blue eyes that peered out behind tawny brown eyelids and demanded the absolute truth. Shareen quirked her eyebrows motioning meaningfully towards the retreating back of Rose’s mystery man.

Rolling her own eyes in return Rose grabbed her friends hand and pulled them both away from the table “Bathroom!” She shouted, waving at Mickey as they abandoned him there and headed off towards the club’s toilets, Shareen trailing behind Rose and occasionally shouting and waving at other clubbers they knew. Rose ignored them, concentrating on getting around the dance floor and in through the battered purple door that led to the blissful relative quiet of the ladies bathroom.

The bathroom was hideous. Cracked tiles around the double sink and badly chipped walls. The floor was strewn with hopefully water and tissues while ooh, Rose leaned around the inevitable queue to stare down the row of stalls. Looked like three of five toilets were already out of use. An immaculately dressed red headed girl was pacing at the front of the queue, phone clamped to her ear while she inspected all the open-doored toilets and gave whoever was on the phone a running commentary “Oh god, rank, also rank, so rank it could set up on it’s own as a university of rankness. I mean scientists would come to study the new life forms that have occurred here.” She had a pleasing Scottish burr and Rose leaned back against the wall at the end of the queue, closing her eyes to listen until the girl disappeared into a cubicle.

Shareen tugged at Rose’s hand. “Hey, what’s up with you?”

The bathroom door slammed open bringing the booming base line thumping in. Rose glanced around her friends riot of black hair and saw another red headed woman come in, she was maybe a little older than the rest of the crowd but not by much. The woman strode into the room to check out the length of the queue “Oh and half of ‘em aren’t working? Always the bloody way. Never a queue in the mens is there?” the woman bitched and rolled her eyes so hard Rose couldn’t help but laugh.

Between them Shareen shook her head. “Nah, I work nights in a bar. The mens is always way more manky. Seriously. They might not queue out the door, but it’s because they’ll piss in anything.” She added darkly.

The woman gaped “I hope they pay you a lot to deal with those filty bastards.”

Shareen raised an eyebrow that said it all.

“Well don’t do it forever, lots of jobs that’ll pay you badly without involving bodily fluids.”

Shareen cracked a smile. “It’s only part time, but I’m training to be a doctor so sticking with the bodily fluids.”

The woman pulled a face and the line moved up one as they all shuffled down, the ginger woman now firmly part of Shareen and Rose’s little circle.

“I think I’ll stick to office work thanks.” She wiggled her fingers “Donna Noble, best temp is Chiswick, 100 words per minute.” Rose thought about the mobile in her purse. Just how fast could she text? And how different was typing if she really put some effort in? Not like school… “What about you? What do you do?”

“Oh…” Rose fumbled for words. “I work in this shop. Well, I used to. It kind of… blew up.”

Donna’s mouth dropped open then one hand rose up to her face “Oh god, you worked at Henrik’s! Crazy that, amazing no one was hurt.”

“Yeah. It was after hours, no one was in thankfully. Anyway, still kind of looking for something else now.”

The line shuffled down again and the Scottish woman from earlier waved at their new friend before sauntering out, accompanied by another deafening burst of drum and bass as the door opened. Donna grasped her arm, concern in her eyes. “Hey, seriously, what’s your name?”

“Rose.”

“Listen, Rose, you’ll find something I swear. My mate just there used to be a kissogram, just got a job modelling. Amazing right? And I’ve been working with this bunch of absolute crackpot eggheads down at a University. Brilliant, but y’know; completely nuts and now I’ve got a new job, PA in the city. Twice the money.” She grinned and near enough danced on the spot, absolute joy seeping through every wiggle. “And the blokes are more in my wheel house, if you know what I mean. Rose, you are going to have the same I swear. Smart girl like you, I know I’ve only known you ooh, three minutes but I’ve got a good feeling about this. Perfect thing'll just fall in your lap.”

Rose nodded sceptically. “I dunno. Haven’t even got any A-levels. I’d just be grateful for a job to be honest, but a career like you two would be amazing. I’m never going to get off the estate working at the chippy, am I? Oh god, going out was supposed to be about forgetting all this shit.” She brushed one eye with the edge of her palm and hoped her mascara hadn’t run.

“She moved in with this wanker musician when you were seventeen, didn’t you Rose?” Shareen explained, possibly somewhat over helpfully. “All went a bit off schedule, but you’re totally smart enough. And brilliant with people - just need to get some boss to see it and you’ll be flying.” Normally Rose would be mortified that Shareen had just spilled her secrets to a random woman in a club bathroom. But Donna felt like a close friend already. Like they just instinctively got each other.

Funny how that happens when you've drunk.

There wasn’t a lot in life that Rose knew with absolute certainly, but so far all her attempts to get something decent going on in her life had been massively hampered by life veering off in unexpectedly terrible directions. A frankly shit relationship with a failed musician, an exploding job, a mum that was bloody lovely but hard work sometimes and only basic GCSEs... Getting north of the river seemed like an almighty battle some days never mind starting a life changing career.

They shuffled further towards the cubicles again. “Look, love. Take my card and give me a ring tomorrow. No promises, but there might be something coming up at my place.” Donna dug around in her bag and finally uncovered out a crisp white business card amongst the assorted make up and pens crowding the sparkly clutch.

Hesitantly Rose took the proffered card and tucked it in her bra. “Thanks.” She smiled, and something resembling hope surged through her body. “Worth a shot, yeah?”

Shareen hugged them both together squeeing and jumping up and down. “I told you Rose! Didn’t I tell you! Don't argue with the designated driver!”

Giggling the trio separated, phones out to swap numbers.

“Oi! Do you need a piss or not?” Someone shouted down from the back of the line and Rose spun around, realised a non disgusting cubicle had finally become vacant and darted inside, an uncontainable smile spreading across her face.

Honestly, you meet the most fantastic people in the ladies toilets.

Chapter Text

The Physics department at University College London wasn’t really what she had expected. The front of UCL was iconic, something Rose had seen many times before passing by on the way somewhere else. All white columns and elaborately carved stone beside fancy windows, like a Greek temple plonked on the front of an old English country estate. The kind of place she’d assumed, nine years old and bundled up with scarves as she sat on the second floor of the bus, was a museum and wondered why so many teenagers wanted to hang out there. Her Mum had laughed when she’d said that, said they needed somewhere to blow their student loans.

Rose had ascended these front steps for the first time a good forty five minutes earlier with a giddy feeling bubbling all over. It was still summer and the students seemed mostly to be gone. Apart from builders working on some new project she’d hardly passed anyone as she entered the main building and took in the fabulous atmosphere, the light and space, the slight tingling smell of dusty books.

Of course, the physics department was not in that building. It was around the back, squashed between an actual museum and a various other departments in a brick and cement panelled building that didn’t look that dissimilar to the council estate blocks she’d been rattling around most of her life. Inside everything was clean if extremely dull, decorated in bland colours and the corridors long and endless. Every so often she consulted the directions Donna had emailed, scrolling through her phone and hoping she was reading them correctly. She’d already taken a completely wrong detour on the second floor when she was meant to be on the fourth. Rose’s shoes didn’t help either, black low heeled, office suitable and hastily borrowed from Shareen they were slightly too big and the trainer socks she’d shoved inside to fill in the gaps kept riding down and mashing into tiny fabric sausages trapped between the arch of her foot and the shoe. So much for arriving early, looking fresh and keen. More like late, looking pained and confused.

Rose’s heels clicked down the linoleum floor, each step ringing around the empty corridor. The paint on the walls was battered and chipped and the path seemed to go on for miles, the dullness occasionally interrupted by wooden framed noticeboards advertising rooms to rent and books for sale. ‘You CERNtainly won’t want to miss this!’ flyers were posted every few feet, advertising a jobs fair long since passed. It smelled slightly of old sweaty teenage boy socks, a smell that took her instantly back to WankerJimmy™ (as he was officially known) and the secondary school she’d dropped out of five years before.

She passed a door and stood on her toes to peer through the glass square in the surface. It was another lecture hall. A hundred seats with writing slopes in front of each one, rising up from a central podium and some whiteboards. The last class’s work was still scrawled over it, blue and green pen squiggling letters and arrows that flowed around the board incomprehensibly.

Rose felt anxious just looking at it.

Finally she turned right at a junction in the path and was faced with three doors. AMOPP 3 was engraved on a chipped bronze plaque on the door at the end. Rose took a deep breath, dropping her phone back into her handbag and grabbing a compact mirror to check her make-up.

Rose wasn’t used to this kind of job interview. When Jimmy the feckless musician had left her with his debt and a crappy bed-sit she’d thrown herself at any job that paid decently. Hendrik’s had been a blessing really, she might not have enjoyed it that much but the pay was good and it had got her on her feet again. Especially after the trial shift at the pub where she’d ended up just as drunk as the punters, playing a deadly version of drinking snap in an alcove with half the local sixth form’s LGBT+ society. In fairnesses, the landlord hadn’t warned her to ignore the old craggy regulars suggesting "she get one for herself at the same time."

If she’d been really eager at Hendrik’s she easily could’ve got promoted, worked her way up, like a lot of the others had. But she hadn’t wanted that really, and the bosses had always known. Possibly that job review six months in where she’d said as much hadn’t helped.

Hopefully this would be different.

Trying not to get her hopes up too high, even a few days temping would be good for her CV, she walked up to the door squaring her shoulders and raising her fist to knock. “Donna my head still hurts.” Rose paused, knuckles millimetres from the plywood surface of the door and blood running cold. Did she recognise that voice?

“Yeah, well I told you not to drink so much. It was you who was all ‘Donna, I know how to handle a drink. Donna, I can calculate the blood alcohol limit of an unladen African swallow, I know what the hangover pivot point is.’” Rose smirked at her new friends’ mocking voice.

“I don’t, technically, remember that.” The bloke, slightly hesitantly, wheedled back. “And it was your idea that we go and celebrate my divorce.”

“I’ll bet you don’t remember, you’re going to be having flashbacks for days, Doctor.” A stack of papers slapped against a desk, the thud startling Rose and making her step back a little while the man groaned. “Also, it was your idea to make it an annual thing.”

“Donna, you did that on purpose. Please just tell me you have some paracetamol in that big bag of yours?”

Donna sighed and her tone softened. “I think there’s some in the kitchen. I’ll go get you some, now get on with your work. Gary in accounts told me Rassilon is still out for blood after that thing with Missy.”

Steps moved towards the door and Rose half spun in a panic moving away, not wanting to be caught eavesdropping. She buried one hand in her handbag, shuffling the folder with her paperwork in around and pretending she was just finishing… doing… something? Donna pulled the door open and Rose smiled wildly at her, dropping her bag back over her shoulder and holding out one hand as she smoothed her smart skirt and jacket (thank you Shareen) with the other. “Hi, Donna!”

Donna grinned back in return, ignoring the hand in favour of a full body hug, then pulling back to jerk her head to motion behind her. “Rose, lovely, come on in. We’ll have a chat. Don’t mind the Doctor, he’s grumpy.”

Rose looked around her friend, puzzled by the empty office space. Donna spun and sighed hands on hips. “Don’t mind the Doctor, he’s vanished.” She corrected. “Do you want a cup of tea?”

“Yes please.” She replied, grateful for the distraction.

“Go and sit down, my desk’s the back left.” Quickly as she’d appeared Donna turned on her heels and left, leaving Rose alone in the strange office space.

It was weird to see Donna in formal office wear. It was weird that Donna’d actually followed through on her, frankly really quite drunken club bathroom based offer of some help getting Rose a job.

Rose chose not to examine any of this weirdness too deeply.

There were four desks in the office, but only one window. A square of glass directly opposite the door that looked suspiciously like it might not open. As aisle ran down the centre of the room, and for a brief insane moment Rose wondered if anyone had ever just run and jumped straight out of a window to avoid a strange and slightly awkward job interview before. “Bit extreme, Rose.” She muttered to herself and forced herself further into the room. The desks were laid out two on either side of the aisle. Were there really four secretaries? No, not secretary, personal assistant, she corrected herself. It seemed a lot. On the two remaining walls there were doors. Rose moved into the room curiously, scanning whatever labels she could see for clues. The door on the left said Professor of Optical Physics with a blank name plate underneath. The other, on the right, said Professor of Atomic and Molecular Physics, Doctor Smith.

Doctor Smith, Rose considered the name. Potential future boss, Doctor Smith. She could live with that. Bit y’know, generic, but she wasn’t going to struggle to remember how to spell it either. Slowly she made her way to sit down in the chair opposite the desk Donna had indicated. Now she was inside she could see better the bookshelves and filing cabinets that lined the room. Stacks of paperwork flooded Donna’s desk, nearly obscuring the framed photos and nodding English bulldog. A yellow legal pad sat in the centre, a to-do list filling half the page.

Unable to resist, Rose caught the edge of the pad with her finger, spinning it around until she could read it:

Cp quantum systems course info
4x schedule shuffle lazer/molecular fusion clash
coffee
get gift from doc
sonic vibration study results handout
check Missy still AWOL (fingers crossed)
hire replacement
memo software bug check

It went on but Rose stopped reading and slumped back in her seat feeling overwhelmed. Maybe she’d bitten off a bit more than she could chew… her mum always said she should be grateful for that shop job and maybe she should’ve been. She was half considering getting up and just walking out when Donna bustled back in, a tray in hand. “Just be a sec, Rose.” She nodded towards Doctor Smith’s door and pushed open the door without even knocking.

If the Doctor objected she didn’t hear it, just a muffled rumbling laugh as Donna obviously teased him.

Donna was back out again a moment later, placing a tray on one of the empty desks before handing Rose one of the mugs. The tea was hot and sweet and basically won the entire day so far. As soon as Rose saw the to do list she knew she wasn’t going to get this job, she might as well get some decent tea and biscuits out of it. She glanced at the design on the side “Science gives me a Hadron?” She muttered under her breath. A beat later it clicked. “Ohhhh…” She blushed and put the mug back down.

“Yeah, sorry. That’s Clara’s.”

“Clara?”

Donna pulled a stool from somewhere under her desk, kicked off her heels and rocked back in her chair, feet on the stool while she cradled the tea in her hands. “Yeah, she’s one of our PhD students. Absolutely hates puns. Feel free to annoy her with them.”

Rose took another sip, amused despite herself. “I didn’t realise you worked with them as well. I mean obviously, you must work with students…”

Donna grinned. “Students? Whole bloody army of undergrads trooping in and out of here every end of term when they realise they’ve done no work and got no clue. Mind you if half the academics in here had their way they’d get rid of the lot of them. Rather spend all their time tinkering in the lab than training up the baby scientists.” Donna raised her voice so that the doctor could hear. “Super smart people, not very smart sometimes.” The doctor harrumphed in reply from the other room and Rose shared an amused grin with Donna. “They should make that the number one rule of working here. Forget the job description, swap it out for a big bit of paper with ‘these geniuses need you to stop them being stupid’ written on it.”

There was clearly subtext here but Rose didn’t ask. “Undergraduates – they’re the ones straight out of school right?” She asked instead, hoping Google had guided her well.

“Yup. They’re babies practically, some of them you will never ever see and wonder if they even took this course, others’ll be in here every week for a bit of hand holding. Most of them only stay for three or four years. Go off get jobs as accountants or something, probably never look at a Physics book again.”

Donna ticked off one finger and moved on to the next. “Then the ones that survived their degree and still actually like physics become Masters students. Not so many of those. They stay a year or so. Prime candidates for distilling their own gin in the lab and thinking you won’t notice the cheeky bastards.” Another finger ticked off. “Next level after that we have the PhD students, they drag the whole thing out for years usually until they officially become doctors. They teach classes as well or do other jobs at the University to pay their way. Do not ask them how their research is going unless you want them to cry all over you. Just pretend it doesn’t exist,” Rose laughed and Donna pulled a face in return. “Honestly. I’m serious. Clara and Nardole are our main two PhD students in the department this year. They’re doing their research under Doctor Smith’s supervision so you’ll probably see them quite a lot.”

“Clara hates puns and Nardole…”

Donna’s mouth open and closed a few times as she fished for words. “I once caught him drying out wet socks in the microwave.” She gave Rose a wide eyed bemused look.

Rose laughed, and something hopeful started to reignite itself in her soul. “I have known guys like that. Hard to know what to say when they complain the microwave blew up.”

A few of her friends from school, like Shareen, had gone to University and although they did talk about it, it was mostly to moan about how much work there was or stories about great parties they’d been to. Not explaining in detail how it all worked. So far, at least the people Rose had met and heard about didn’t seem as intimidating as she’d expected. As long as she didn’t think about that to do list too much she could imagine working here.

Maybe Donna’s perceptiveness wasn’t just an alcohol inspired added extra, because she smiled kindly at Rose and kept explaining. “The students are only part of it all though really. Mainly I deal with the academics in the department, the extra nerdy science bods who can’t get a real job.” She winked at Rose. “Most of them do at least some teaching but they also write papers and do research. Or they claim they do, anyway. Possibly it’s an excuse to demand extra tea and cake. There’s only two professors in this department, but there’s obviously loads of other departments in the building.” She pointed towards Doctor Smith’s door. “The Doctor’s in most of the time. But Missy’s been away on sabbatical for six months, plus the semester doesn’t technically start for the students for another couple of weeks so it’s pretty quiet in here at the moment.”

Sitting up straighter in her chair Rose mulled over everything Donna had told her, trying to think of an intelligent question. “What’s a sabbatical?”

“It’s like, when they go off temporarily working somewhere else. Just for a bit.” Donna smirked. “They say they do it when they need a bit more time to do research, but it mostly seems to happen when they’ve pissed off their colleagues and need a break from each other.”

“Oh.” It was a weird concept, but quite appealing. She could definitely have done with a sabbatical from Hendrik’s when Adam the stock delivery guy got all weird on her. “When’s Missy due to come back?”

Donna shrugged, tapping her to do list with one long manicured nail. “Not sure.” Downing the last of her tea she stretched and yawned then started picking through the pile of paperwork, before finding what she wanted in a drawer and handing a sheet to Rose “Fill this in for me, would you love? Oh, actually, while I think about it - give us your CV, I’ll just go copy it.” Rose remembered the folder, now abandoned in her lap and handed it over with a tight smile, well aware that it didn’t have anything office related on it.

Bye, bye chance of a job. Shame, she was really kind of starting to like the idea.

Donna disappeared again and Rose dug in her bag for a pen. Coming up empty she sighed and started nosing through the papers on the desk, hoping a pen pot would appear. Chewing the inside of her cheek anxiously she glanced around the room. She couldn’t let Donna come back and see her doing nothing. Great advert for her offices skills that would be, can’t even find a bloody pen. She tried the other desks, but they were all practically empty, nothing but the hulking squares of computers and keyboards plus the odd knick knack decorating their surfaces. Giving up on that she decided to try the drawers, starting with Donna’s.

Which is how it was that she was found, approximately thirty seconds later, by an old white man, his receding hairline giving him a strange square headed look, and wearing billowing red robes, the edges heavily embroidered with gold.

Lame excuses fired through Roses’ brain like confetti ‘Hi! I’m here to test your drawer security! It’s not great, FYI!’ or ‘Clean desk policy needs a bit of work, eh?’ when the man swept past, completely ignoring her and instead charging straight into Doctor Smith’s office.

“Rassilon, how lovely to see you.” She could hear clearly through the open door as Doctor Smith greeted the very oddly dressed bloke with a warmth that Rose suspected was not entirely genuine.

“Don’t you lovely to see you me, Doctor.” The man snapped. “I told you to get your budget sorted out. If you don’t have anything published in the next six months the whole department is fucked.”

She could hear the squeak of the man’s chair as he stood up and moved around the room. The door was wide open, but she couldn’t quite see from this angle, so she leaned backwards the temptation to peek too overwhelming to hang back any longer “Vice-chancellor…” There he was, first glimpse of the mysterious doctor. He was standing in front of his desk, head turned to face the angry man in the red Harry Potter get up, thick black framed glasses hanging from one hand. “You know we’re nearly there, I did send you an update last week.” She wasn’t sure what she had expected, but a brown suit and a crop of messy spike brown hair wasn’t it. Also… was he wearing trainers?

“You’ve been saying that for years!” For a moment Rose thought that Vice-Chancellor Rassilon, whoever he was in the scheme of things, might smack the Doctor upside the head, but the Doctor merely shrugged.

“I swear, it’s almost complete.” Smith didn’t sound particularly contrite and Rassilon’s face was getting redder and redder in response.

“You haven’t even hired a new PA have you?”

“Ah…”

“Oh god.” The red face paled to an icy white. “The students start arriving next week!”

Doctor Smith spun around and caught Rose staring at them. Trapped in his gaze she found herself totally unable to move, a deer in the headlights. A sly grin spread across the Doctor’s face as he pointed straight at her. Rose tried not to panic, what was he playing at? “Course I have, she’s right there.”

The Doctor, this apparently crazy man, sped out of his office towards Rose, gripping her around the shoulders with one arm. He lowered his head close to hers, just for a moment, just so she could catch the beseeching, please play along, look in those big brown eyes then propelled her towards the bemused Rassilon.

“Who are you then?” The older man demanded gruffly.

“Rose, Rose Tyler.” She stammered. Sticking out one hand to shake which was promptly ignored.

“And you’ve got experience?”

She dropped her hand back down to her waist and scratched the fabric of her skirt anxiously “Er…”

“She’ll be fine, I promise. If she’s rubbish you can fire me as well, how about it – you always want to do that!” Doctor Smith grinned slightly maniacally, almost cheerful at the concept of being finally sacked and Rose wasn’t at all reassured.

“Fine. I want the paperwork by the end of the day, Doctor.” The man swept out again, red robes trailing behind him on the floor.

There was a beat of uncomfortable silence. The Doctor’s arm was still hanging across her shoulder, before he realised what he was doing and withdrew, scratching the back of his neck and looking awkward. Rose took in the sight of her maybe new boss, all skinny limbs in his tight brown suit, and registered just how young looking he was. Not at all her mental image of a crazy white haired professor. He was actually kind of handsome. Quite possibly completely insane, but still, not bad looking.

“So,” She broke the silence. “Does he always dress like that?”

Chapter Text

The Doctor laughed instead of answering, a short chuckle that transformed the worried lines of his face totally, replacing them with a smooth wry smile and eyes that Rose would swear to God if questioned in court honestly seemed to sparkle mischievously. She couldn’t help but grin back, stuck staring at those deep brown eyes just a little too long, and she wondered if his joy was always this contagious. It was a potent mix with her relief at the angry Vice-Chancellor’s exit and Doctor Smith’s easy companionship coursed through her in a burst of happy adrenalin. Rose had a weird compulsion to run her hand down his arm, to move closer from her slightly stand off-ish position by Donna’s desk.

Donna’s staccato footsteps broke the moment, and Rose’s skin flushed pink as she realised how massively she had been about to overstep the mark. What was wrong with her? A brilliant job had near enough just landed in her lap and she was not going to blow it by hitting on the boss. Deliberately she stepped away again, turning her attention to Donna and ignoring the slightly puzzled quirk of the Doctor’s eyebrows visible from the corner of her eye.

The ginger haired woman’s attention was clearly diverted by whatever had been going on behind her and she scuttled into the room sideways, mouth already moving “Doctor, did you see…” She trailed off. “Oh, Doctor you met Rose!”

Beside her the Doctor nodded, slightly too energetically, like the nodding dog toy on Donna’s desk. “Yes, Rose. Brilliant choice.”

Donna’s eyes narrowed instantly, shooting a dark look that flipped between Rose and the Doctor with alarming frequency. “What exactly does that mean, Doctor?”

“New PA. Rose.” The Doctor started riffling through Donna’s desk, not at all subtly avoiding Donna’s suspicious gaze. “Rassilon wants the paperwork today.”

“Oh, he does, does he?” Warning bells fired all over Rose’s brain and she found herself inching sideways, trying to move out of her position caught between the two colleagues and closer to the door. Shop floor work comes to hair pulling blows more frequently than you might imagine and Rose knew the signs. “I’ve only just copied her CV, I haven’t even read it yet.” Donna hissed.

“Oh, rubbish!” the Doctor was still lifting up stacks of paper, eyes averted from the oncoming storm to his left. “It’s Rose, she’ll be fine.”

Rose hesitated in her slow retreat, she felt guilty that she was so inexplicably involved in this fight. Maybe it was that lingering glance from earlier going to her head, but where every hard won instinct told her to shut up and withdraw she couldn’t help but try and defend the Doctor. “Honestly, Doctor Smith, I know you were just caught off guard - you don’t need to give me the job if it’s an issue. I was just hoping for a couple of days temping, I know I’ve not done anything office-y before.”

“Exactly what I’d planned!” Donna pointed the folder she was holding at Rose, in a swift, slightly stabesque motion that made Rose back away again. “She’s got no experience and you want her to take on this whole job? Do you want to give the poor girl a nervous breakdown?”

Doctor Smith laughed again and slid around the table to snatch the folder out of Donna’s hand “Stop waving that at Rose, she’s going to think you don’t like her. Or you were plotting death by paper cut.” He flipped through the folder casually before dropping it on the table behind him, moving back to lean against the desk and out of slap range of the fuming Donna. “Both quite disturbing if you think about it.”

Donna was winding herself up again, pacing in front of the Doctor and open and closing her mouth, as though she was so indignant the right words refused to articulate themselves.

“Slight side note:” Rose couldn’t help but fill in the silence. “I’m twenty three.”

Donna paused, caught balanced on one leg as her head snapped around to face Rose. “What?”

“I’m twenty three.” Rose repeated. “I know I haven’t done any of this before but I’m a fast learner, and if I could have the chance...”

Donna rolled her eyes. “Fine, not a girl. You’ve still got no idea what you’d be letting yourself in for. Have you seen Independence Day?”

Rose’s mind blanked momentarily. “Um, yes? Ages ago…”

“So the pretty boy scientist bloke, the one that’s running around telling the president he’s the only one that knows what’s going on and how to save the world from an alien apocalypse, whilst constantly getting distracted by chatting up his ex wife?” She jerked her head at the Doctor. “That’s who he thinks he is.”

“I do not!” The Doctor huffed, folding his arms across his chest and fixing Donna with a stern glare. “You, Donna Noble, started as a temp and you’re the best damn personal assistant I’ve ever had. Completely brilliant. I’ve got a knack for picking staff and I’m standing by Rose.”

“You met her three minutes ago! You just don’t want to go deal with the interviews!” Donna stalked over to the chair behind her desk, forcibly nudging the Doctor out of her way and started reorganising her papers at a violent speed. “And I’m the only personal assistant you’ve ever had, you total numpty.”

The Doctor’s mouth snapped shut and a guilty look flashed through his eyes. An uneasy silence settled over the room, the Doctor and Donna still beside her desk inches apart, the Doctor’s gaze totally on Donna, and hers studiously ignoring him. There was clearly much unsaid. An uneasy voice in Rose’s mind wondered at their closeness, and she pushed the voice away, not willing to dwell on things that weren’t her business.

The atmosphere absolutely was her business though. She twisted her hands together, squeezing the knuckles anxiously. “Maybe I could get everyone some tea? Or boxing gloves?Just speed this whole thing up?”

 

 

The cafeteria, Rose swiftly discovered, was miles from the physics department in a completely different building. If she did end up with this job, she mused, she was going to end up incredibly fit from running up and down all these winding halls and stairs. She found the double doors eventually, along a corridor lined with massive floor to ceiling windows. Inside it was curiously familiar, the formica tables and plywood chairs exactly the same as you might find anywhere, the whole room a curiously sterile white. It was quiet though, only a couple of tables occupied, mostly by laptops and spread books while scraped clean plates sat in haphazard piles on dirty trays not yet cleared away.

The Doctor, for some reason, had requested chips and Donna had agreed; the beginnings of a forgiving smile playing at the corner of her lips.

Rose sought out the long silver lines of the serving stations with an optimism that every step closer was telling her was misplaced. There was no queue or… staff.

Balls.

She reached for her phone first, then realised with a sickening crunch that she’d left her phone, still in her bag, by Donna’s desk. “Great job, Rose.” She muttered under her breath. Not prepared to give up on her first PA type task (and yes, she absolute was viewing a request to go and find a comforting bowl of deep fried potatoes as an audition of sorts) she made a bee-line for the staff area, hoping she’d be able to nab someone and get some help.

As she did, the swing door separating the staff area from the seating area was flung open with a raucous slap, creaking as it flapped backwards and forwards through the doorway. Rose stilled, watching the woman who’d barrelled through it; she was a string bean, maybe the same height as Rose, but her head was topped with a glorious afro that swayed as she weaved between the tables. Diverting her path Rose headed straight over to her, watching as the woman flipped a spray bottle into her grip and whipped a cloth out from where it had been tucked into her apron before wiping down a table.

“Hi!” Rose chirped brightly.

No response. Rose moved round, closer to the woman’s eyeline and spotted the white wire winding it’s way down the woman’s neck and down under her white shirt, iPod clearly hidden away underneath her clothes. Hesitantly, Rose tapped her on the shoulder and smiled wildly as she mimed pulling the ear phones out.

The woman ducked in response, shooting back and pulling out both earpieces out in one jerky move, the warm copper of her skin tinged with pink as she blushed. “Sorry!” She squeaked, clearly totally embarrassed.

“No, honestly, it’s my fault.” The words tumbled out of her mouth at a hundred miles an hour. “I was really hoping I’d run into someone that works here, I didn’t mean to scare you. Sorry.” She stuck out one hand and hoped someone might actually shake it at some point. “I’m Rose, it might be my first day at a new job and it’s really, really strange so far.”

Her rueful smile was accepted with good grace and the woman’s lips twisted in a bemused smile as she shook Rose’s hand. “Might be your first day, eh?”

Rose was blushing now. “It’s not going very well to be honest. Now the Doctor wants chips, and you guys are closed right?”

Her companion nodded, regretfully, rubbing the plastic coated cables of her headphones under her fingers as she peered at Rose curiously through half closed eyelids. “Rose? Rose… Tyler?”

Rose froze, her brain trying to make sense of the rapidly changing and strange turn of events her day was taking. “Yes?” She replied hesitantly.

“It’s Bill!” Rose tried to look like she had a clue what was going on, but was well aware her face was probably failing miserably, she felt hot and awkward and like the one foot she’d been mentally hoping on for the last half an hour was going to snap in half from the mental confusion. “Oh god,” Bill looked a little embarrassed. “You probably don’t remember – it was years ago. At school? You were my Year Eleven buddy when I started.”

Rose remembered. A particularly astute guidance counsellor had organised for sixteen year old Rose (Rose whose Dad had died in the street when she was a baby, Rose who couldn’t settle in school and whose attendance record was causing issues) to volunteer helping out the youngest kids settling in at their secondary school. Which had led to meeting Bill, Bill whose Mum was dead and didn’t have a Jackie, just a useless foster mum. A rush of memories Rose hadn’t thought about in years, of the fun she’d had with Mickey and Shareen, guiding Bill around under their wing. Teaching her how to wangle extra chips at lunch, where to hit the snack machine to loosen your chocolate from the twisting springs when it swallowed your money and the coolest benches to hang out on.

Until Jimmy had rocked into Rose’s life and turned her head quite so spectacularly.

She remembered Bill. Remembered her tiny pre-teen frame huddled under her too big uniform sweater and grey skirt. Her mum had died, and she didn’t have a Jackie like Rose had.

“Bill…” Rose breathed and moments later they were in each other’s arms, talking over each other’s questions and giggling together. “This is seriously the weirdest day of my entire life.”

Bill laughed “It is a pretty insane coincidence. I mean, I thought it was pretty insane when the girl at the bus stop kept wearing the same shirt as me, even after I started buying stuff at The Vintage Haul - but this is bonkers. I never even knew you lived round here.”

“I can’t believe you recognised me, it’s been years.”

“Yeah, but you were… great.” That half smile lit up Bill’s features again, a twist of the lips that gave away the pain and the joy of the things they had in common. “Come on, the fryer might still be on, I’ll sneak you in the kitchen and you can tell me about the maybe job.”

A deep seated thrill of pleasure rose through Rose’s limbs, filling her with a light happy feeling that had nothing to do with the chips she no longer cared much about. “Thanks, Bill.”

The words didn’t really cover it.

They linked arms and moved towards the kitchen door “Don’t thank me yet, no guarantees. And tell me about the job.”

A giddy grin Rose chose not to analyse graced Rose’s lips. “It’s personal assistant for this Professor, Doctor Smith?”

Bill’s eyes lit up instantly. “The Doctor! Well one of them.” She amended quickly.

“What?”

“Smith and a few of the other professor’s do this random lecture series. It’s not a proper course, anyone can go and listen. I like to go.” She flushed a little again and Rose nudged her with her shoulder, a tiny act of reassurance. “They’re supposed to talk about physics but they talk about the most random things. Last time it was smile vector’s on rollercoasters.” Rose paused her footsteps and shot Bill an extremely confused look. “Like, the exact combination of velocity and gravity to make you smile on a rollercoaster… or scream, or laugh.”

“That is pretty random.” Rose agreed. “What’s the deal with you, are you studying here?”

Bill shrugged evasively. “I didn’t apply. I always wanted to though.”

Rose nodded, remembering her own string of incomplete qualifications, and said nothing more.

“I just started working here this summer. Its pretty cool, but crazy - they keep this old philosopher dude’s head in a box.”

“What?”

“On actual display.” Bill clarified. “Well, no, that’s not true, they’ve got a fake one on display now. Students kept messing with it.”

“Well, obviously.” Rose agreed. “They’re students. Although,” she added “You’d think someone would’ve pointed out it’s also a bit fucking weird to keep a head in a box.”

“Apparently not. Also, Bentham, the dead guy, he did want to be kept in a box. So I guess it worked out from his point of view. Kind of cool in a way.” Bill mused. “I bet there’s a whole secret society weirdness going on too.” Bill grinned wickedly, “I kind of love this place.” She confessed. Rose absolutely believed that if there was a dead guy’s head worshiping secret society Bill would have it infiltrated by the end of the term.

And Rose wanted to stay and see it.

 

An hour was probably an unacceptably long time to spend getting chips, but approximately perfect for getting out of the way of an office row before you got dragged even further into it, so it was with trepidation that Rose toed the door of the office open again, tray of chips first in a peace offering.

Donna was back at her desk, phone wedged between her shoulder and cheek. She noticed Rose of course and waved her over, muting the phone with a casual flip of a button and diving into the hot food offering with a guilty smile. “I really shouldn’t eat these, y’know.”

“Yeah, but they’re good right?” Rose pilfered one herself, settling down in the chair in front of Donna’s desk before taking a bite for fortitude before she continued on. “Sorry it took a while. They had to turn the fryers back on.”

“The caterers, they did that for you?” There was no hiding the slight edge of wonder in Donna’s voice.

“Turns out I knew one of them.” She was still giddy about running into Bill, wanted to spill the whole story and hear Donna marvel over the coincidence.

“I think that’s sealed it.” Donna leaned back in her chair, nodding towards the door that led to the Doctor’s office, Rose twisted to follow her gaze and found the Doctor moving lazily through the open doorway of his office, one hand buried in his pocket and the other ruffling that crop of really great hair as he moved into the outer office from his own. “Four years I’ve been trying to get that canteen to work off schedule, Doctor. She cracked it in an hour. Reckon she’s a keeper.”

Whatever fight had been battled out in Rose’s absence had clearly been resolved and Rose thrilled at Donna’s implication. Was this really happening?

“I told you.” The Doctor agreed, finding Rose’s gaze with his own once again.

“I’ve got the job?” Rose finally dared to ask. Heart thumping in her chest, so fast she wasn’t entirely sure it was just nerves at work.

“Come back tomorrow, Rose Tyler.” Her name fell off his lips like a sigh. Reaching their position he leaned over Rose’s chair to reach the tray and snag a chip for himself, before pulling a chair over to plonk himself down next to Rose.

He smelt amazing. Like freshly cut grass and brand new books.

“He thinks he’s so charming and mysterious.” Donna rolled her eyes for Rose’s benefit.

“Oi, I am charming.” The Doctor bristled. “Just because you don’t like me…”

“I dunno, Rassilon didn’t seem that keen either…” Rose teased and he shot her a wounded look.

“Traitor. You see if I help you when Jack comes to visit.”

“Oh, Captain Jack,” Donna fanned herself with a sheaf of memos.

“Just don’t let him say hello.”

They bickered affectionately as they polished off the rest of the chips, and Rose felt the giddy happiness of earlier warm her soul. This was going to be brilliant. The perfect trilogy of colleagues. Until Donna left, and it was just her and the Doctor, him walking around smelling like that and being all charming and lovely.

Okay, maybe it might get a little bit awkward… and she still didn’t know exactly what the job was, but Rose could cope.

Couldn’t she?

Chapter Text

Rose and Donna had disappeared at four thirty, leaving the Doctor to mill around the office and procrastinate alone. It really was much harder to pretend that an overwhelming pile of data analysis wasn’t sitting on his hard drive waiting for informed opinions to fly from his brain to his fingertips when there was no one else in the office to talk to. No one to laugh at his jokes or suggest they stop for a break.

Three laps of the outer office, fingers brushing across the spines of the dozens of books published by his predecessors and contempories that made his heart seize slightly in panic. A trip to the kitchen for unfeasibly large mug of tea and four jaffa cakes kept him going for a while (it would’ve been more, but he couldn’t open the tin with ‘Cake or Death’ scrawled across it in Donna’s spiky hand.) But eventually he was forced to return to his own office, shut the door and sit behind his desk. It was heavy and wooden, with drawers that swelled in the heat and got stuck. He turned his computer on, and the flickering screen reflected his frowning visage as he slumped in his chair and watched it boot up.

His office was a surprising contrast to the outer one. One wall was entirely covered in books but the one opposite contained a series of round porthole windows, too small to really let enough natural light in, but equally small enough that the books weren’t damaged by the sun. A while ago, before the hasty divorce, he’d snuck a battered second hand cream sofa in, and it sat under the trio of windows, his place to sit and watch the city lights when he slept in the office instead of going home. It was lumpy and thoroughly scratched by some previous owner’s cat which seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. In contrast the rest of the room was painted a strange murky orange that had grown on him hugely, a reassuring warm colour.

When he’d first got the job, the office was a huge victory. His old student housemates had come round and they’d drunk cheap pressecco and doodled on one wall with his brand new ‘You’ve got a real job!’ sharpies. The next day he’d covered their scrawl with back to the future posters and pretended to have a deep love of Marty McFly.

He had lied to Rassilon. His research was going terribly. It wasn’t so much that his results weren’t going as expected, that happened often enough and could generally be reworked to find something worth saying, another conclusion to be drawn. Even if it was unexpected. Instead they seemed almost entirely random. Each set seeming to live by its own rules with nothing cohesive tying them together.

The log in page appeared and dutifully he tapped his password in, the keyboard clicking under his fingers. The B was slightly sticky. Maybe he should take it apart and clean it… If he recalled correctly, the cleaning stuff was in the bottom drawer, and he leaned down to try and open it, bitter experience telling him it was a two handed, one foot braced job.

The phone rang and he leapt up to seize it joyously, nearly knocking it off the desk in his scramble to instantly pick up. His elbow whacked a pen pot and half a dozen pencils and biros scattered across the surface falling onto the thin grey carpet with a scattered clattering noise. “Hello?” He breathed.

“Doctor?” the strained, oddly high pitch, tone gave Nardole away instantly. “How’s the research going?”

“I don’t ask you that, don’t ask me!” He huffed, tapping his hand against the empty desk before jerking open the top, slightly less sticky, drawer to find a notebook and pen.

“I think you are supposed to ask me that, actually, as my supervisor.” Nardole pointed out, slight confusion audible in every word.

The Doctor slid of his chair, falling to his knees to pick up the pens and mentally counting to ten. “Yes. Yes. Sorry, but you’re not my supervisor. It doesn’t go both ways.”

There was a long pause. “What am I supposed to ask you about then? Your weekend plans?” Nardole scoffed at the improbable possibility and the Doctor bit back a curt comment.

Daydreaming about what he might do at the weekend did strike him as intensely preferable to talking about his work though, it he was honest. Just at the edge of his patchy memory of the night before there’d been that blonde girl…

“Or the weather?” The Doctor suggested.

The black dress she was wearing had sparkled as she moved, reflecting the strobed lights of the club as she danced with her friend and drew men into her orbit like may flies.

“It does look like it might dull down soon.” Nardole mused.

“Mmm.”

He’d been no exception to the mesmeric effect, and his hazy memories of the night before seeped into his brain, filling in blanks. The sweet smell of her hair, as he leaned around her at the bar, one arm on either side of her; body pressed against her back as he pointed out her suggestions amongst the wall of liquor for the barman. The music thumped overhead, so loud they couldn’t hear unless they tucked their heads together, blocking out the rest of the club in favour of their own little bubble.

“Although, the el nino does suggest…”

The Doctor tuned Nardole out again, still sat cross legged on the floor and lost in thought.

What had her name been? He couldn’t remember if he’d even asked. They’d talked about other things, though he couldn’t remember any of that either. Just the curve of her cheek, and her bemused response to flattery. Slightly sad eyes over an expressive mouth, twisting with worry when she thought he wasn’t looking. The way she stopped just short of sticking her tongue out at him when he was daft, instead touching it to the teeth on one side, mouth split in a wide smile that didn’t need any effort on her part to reach her eyes. Her hands on his arms, feeling the weight of him beneath his shirt as her breath tickled his neck (hang on? Where had his suit jacket gone?)

Her face, tilted towards his, those pale brown eyes reflecting his.

They were burned on his brain.

“…if you have any thoughts it would be really useful.” Nardole was still speaking.

One last pen rolled off the desk, the creaking roll of its movement drawing his eye back up to the desktop, hand out to catch it as it fell. It landed on his head.

He closed his eyes, fisting his spare hand against his forehead. Nardole deserved better than his current performance. “I’m so sorry, Nardole, can you just go over that last part again?”

Nardole was fine, the Doctor was actually rather fond of him and his clear one path mind, he’d had much worse PhD students over the years. Unpredictable and difficult. Nardole was a bit difficult, but in a predictable way. He was not the problem. The Doctor was the problem. Angry, frustrated thoughts clouded his brain, every mistake he’d made over the last few years. Every academic foe, stirring the pot about how young and inexperienced he was.

Donna kept him in line, just about.

But it wasn’t going to last, he was an imposter in the Captain’s chair.

He managed to give Nardole some decent advice, talking through his data set problem and thinking glumly about his own issues that weren’t so easily fixed. He hung up the phone as he opened up his own documents and started to shift through them, hoping the answer would pop into his head if he didn’t think about it too much. Numbers marched through his brain and he used the pad to scribble down a series of slightly shifting formulae.

They did not add up.

A teasing staccato rhythm knocked against the wooden office door mercifully few hours later; drew away his attention away from the scribbled mess spiralling away across dozens of pieces of paper spread around his desk or dumped totally rejected on the floor. He pushed himself away from the desk to stand as he called out. “Come in!”

The Doctor saw her hair first, the shock of blonde and brown curls around grey eyes; the faux flirty smile of one of his oldest friends that never failed to get him laughing. “River! What are you doing here?” He opened his arms wide to beckon her in.

“John,” River ducked into the room and was in his embrace in a moment, offering the few seconds of reassuring squeeze he needed without comment or question.

She stepped back to give him the once over, holding him at arms length as she did so. “You look tired, good reasons I hope?”

Soft lips on his, bodies pressed together, the sequins of her dress scratched at the skin of his chest under his unbuttoned shirt, the soft buzz of the alcohol dulling his senses and filling him with a soothing happy buzz. The painted breeze block wall she was pressed against held them both up as he paused to run his fingers through her hair, over her cheek, ran his thumb over her swollen bottom lip; watching as she stared up at him with hooded eyes, pupils so wide her eyes looked nearly black in the dim light of the alley. He hadn’t felt like this in so long, so desperate for someone, so reluctant to let them go. She grabbed the open front of his shirt, pulling him back to her lips for a frantic kiss, the kind that left them both panting against each other, gasping for breath before diving back for more.

Excellent reasons.

“Maybe.”

River smirked, one eyebrow raised as she fished for gossip. “Do tell…”

“There might have been a girl.” He was being coy, but he couldn't resist, and couldn't tell much more regardless. Why couldn’t he remember club-girl's name? And why, in his broken, fractured memories, did she look so much like Rose?

She tsked and the Doctor quirked his eyebrows confused. “Well, I missed her; where was my invite for the post anniversary drinks? You know I’m always on hand to make sure they’re legendary.”

He scratched at the back of his neck with one hand. “I’m so sorry, River, I didn’t even realise you were in town. I thought you were still off travelling with your architect.”

“Well, at least you didn’t try and blame Donna this time.” River sighed, stalking over to the desk and pulling out a chair to sit down, leaning back and propping her heels up on the desk. “I hope you don’t mind, these shoes are murder.”

He shook his head, pacing the floor in front of his friend as she got out her phone, a guilty smile tickled her lips. “All right, I confess we did only get back this morning.” She flipped through the gallery to show him a few pictures of her and her current beau cavorting around the south of France, large glasses of wine seemed to feature heavily. “You need a holiday, sweetie.”

The Doctor sank into the sofa, giving up all pretence of working and lying down, one arm propped behind his head against the right arm and his feet hanging over the opposite arm as he started at the ceiling languidly. “I’ll have one when they fire me.”

He didn’t need to look to see River rolling her eyes. “It can’t be that bad, you’re an amazing teacher. Do you really think the special lectures would still be running without you?”

The Doctor turned to face her. “That doesn’t pay though does it, and that’s all that Rassilon cares about at the moment. The future of the department when we lose EU funding.”

“It’s the same all over.” River reassured him, the grumbling tone of her words impossible to miss. “Archaeologists are hardly first in line when they’re competing against medical research for the same funds.”

He smirked, “Well it’s not a proper science is it…”

She threw a pen at him, and it bounced off his chest as he laughed. “At least we won’t be competing against the neurochemist’s next round, absolutely no chance they’ll get it after that whole thing with Rani.”

“Stuff of nightmares.” The Doctor agreed, an ugly swirl of anxiety rising in his belly as he hoped his own career wasn’t going to explode quite so spectacularly.

River was staring off into the distance, a slightly mean spirited smile dancing over her lips. “Remember the departmental panel? The cage of giant mice on a table in the middle… One chewed through the plastic base and ran up Rassilon’s trousers.”

He pressed his lips together, rubbing one eye with his finger and trying to suppress a grin. It had been quite funny.

“And,” River leaned forward clicking her fingers as more details sprang to mind. “She told that journalist she’d spent one point four million pounds creating an artificial brain that didn’t work. Calculated the answer of absolutely everything as forty two.”

“In fairness, she was very, very drunk.”

“He did warn her, he even gave her his card!”

They both dissolved into laughter, remembering Rani being presented with both the dog eared card, and the journalists copy of his audio files only for her excuses to be interrupted by Rassilon jumping up onto the table, screaming and beating at his leg with a stack of papers.

“Oh Rani, I still see her around sometimes…” the Doctor confessed.

“I hope you stopped making little squeaky noises every time her back was turned.”

“Once the story hit the worldwide press I figured that was probably enough punishment for being such a terrible housemate.”

“Magnanimous of you.” River teased.

He shot her a fake offended look. “I’m telling you, she never washed up.”

They settled into a comfortable silence and River grabbed some of the discarded sheets of paper from his desk, not even pretending to be subtle as she nosed at his work. She eyed his crossed out scribbles suspiciously. “What’s this about?”

“I need to publish, but my research isn’t going anywhere." The Doctor admitted, dully, turning back to stare at the ugly rippled squares of the ceiling; "I’m so behind with the paperwork, missing deadlines for everything.” he kept his eyes averted, unable to look at her as he confessed.

He could feel River’s unflinching gaze on the side of his face; the silence long and unquestioning. “John. You need help. Find someone to share the work with, someone to bounce ideas off. You don’t have to be alone, you have friends.”

“Donna’s been talking to you hasn’t she?” He narrowed his eyes at her and River shrugged, brushing off his implication. “I have hired a replacement.”

“She was worried, that’s all. Doesn’t want you going all funny and marrying a French twiglet again.”

He felt restless, spinning he drew himself back up to a sitting position, swinging his legs off the arm of the sofa and back onto the floor; as he rested his arms across the tops of his legs. “Enough about that – tell me more about France. How were the parties?”

River laughed. “Buy me a drink to make up for forgetting me last night and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Chapter Text

Rose’s second trek to find the Physics department went much better than her first. She’d spent the evening before eternally grateful for late opening hours on Oxford Street, the small stash of savings she had put away and the glory of camera phones. Shareen had managed to talk her through acceptable office wear while on the bus to her night shift volunteering in a hospital.

Which was how Rose found herself in a demurely grey, beautifully fitted dress with a navy blue jacket and heels. She looked like a Tory counsellor.

Reg the allotment manager, in his battered old gardening trousers and smelling strongly of cabbage, had sat next to her on the bus that morning and told her so in great detail. The phrase “Don’t forget where you’re from Rose, they’re not better’n me and you.” Got used so frequently Rose was pretty sure Reg had been talking to her mum. Once he got onto Thatcher she’d glazed over and nearly missed her stop.

The lecture on the history of class politics hadn’t really made her nerves any better, but the fluttering twisting panic in her stomach settled instead of worsened as she entered the University’s main building. It was only her first official day, but the huge white entrance already felt familiar and reassuring, even if her previous attempt at reaching higher education had been a bit half-arsed.

A few minutes later she’d reached office AMOPP 3.

Which was a rubbish name. No sense of branding at all.

Rose was pondering some better options; ‘it’s not a mop thing’ perhaps, or ‘yes, there are other physics departments but this one has the surprisingly hot Doctor’ when the door in front of her swung open alarmingly unexpectedly for the second day in a row and she was left face to face with a round faced, dark haired woman who was definitely not Donna.

The woman cocked her head, blatantly looking Rose up and down before leaning back to shout into the room. “New girl!”

“Generally just go by Rose.” Rose was trying very hard not to be a jerk, as she raised one eyebrow and matched the woman’s sweeping gaze with her own. The woman was wearing jeans and a loose pale cream jumper over a white button up shirt. Improbably, both the shirt and jumper had absolutely no stains or marks on them. It was casual, but the kind of casual that it was immediately obvious had cost a lot of money. She was stunningly beautiful, and Rose felt immediately like the awkward cousin.

“Come in, I’m Clara; I know you met Donna, but that’s Nardole. He and I are the PhD students.” The woman explained, waving Rose into and around the office like it was her own personal space and Clara was the boss. Rose was pretty sure this was not the case. Stepping in she spotted Donna fussing around behind the mountain of paperwork on her desk. At the other far desk a thick set man in a deer stalker hat and a thin sports jacket was hunched over a laptop.

“Ignore her,” Donna waved Rose over. “She thinks she owns the place.”

“I do not!” If Clara was a porcupine, she’d’ve bristled at the implication. “I was trying to be nice! When I started here, no one told me their real names for three weeks! Honestly Rose, you don’t know how relieved I am you’re not a physicist.” A worried frown crossed her face. “You don’t like puns do you?”

Rose felt some of the nervous tensions dissipate from her limbs as a tiny smile danced over her lips. “Hey did I see you ride in on a motorbike?” Clara nodded, pushing a loose lock of her dark hair behind her ear. “Oh, that’s awesome.” Maybe one day Rose would learn to resist the urge to poke people just so, but today was not it. “I wheelie liked it.”

Clara blushed grabbing a little stack of papers and pacing over to one of the empty desks by the door. “Donna Noble, I know that was you.” Clara muttered.

“Yes, yes it was.” Donna was crying actual tears, her whole face creased up as she leaned on the desk and tried to calm down her hysterical heehawing laugh.

Feeling a bit bad, Rose dropped her shoulder bag on the floor by Donna’s desk and went over to Clara to introduce herself properly. “Hey, don’t worry I’m not intending to join the punnicide squad.”

Clara’s look of irritation was not eased.

“Apart from that one. It just slipped out, honest.” Rose bit her lip, amusement fighting against basic manners as she tried to catch Clara’s eye again. “I was going to go get tea if you want some? Maybe a I come in peace biscuit?”

Begrudgingly, Clara offered Rose a small smile. “Tea would be lovely. Thank you.”

Throughout the entire pun-based exchange Nardole appeared not to have moved a muscle. More than a little curious about what this silent and overly warmly dressed man might be like Rose moved quietly towards him, some sense of decorum insisting she face him properly as she offered tea. Nardole’s hunched form was roughly diagonal to where she stood by Clara’s desk and each step revealed a little more. His skin was a particularly pale creamy white, and curiously no hair peeked out from the confines of his red checked hat. A few more feet and she could see his frown of concentration and wire rimmed glasses. “Nardole? I’m Rose. Would you like some tea?”

The man shot back in his chair at lightning speed, standing up and slamming his laptop shut in one alarmed movement. “Who are you? They’re not here yet are they? Why do you smell of cabbage?” He spun around looking at Donna and Clara through owlish panicked eyes for some kind of reassurance.

“I’m not a student. Just asking if you want some tea. And the answer to the last one is: public transport.” Rose clarified, backing up with her hands in the air. “…and maybe I'll just bring you one next time.” She finished quietly to herself.

“Oh.” He sat back down again abruptly, pulling at the neck of his t-shirt anxiously. “Alright then. Darjeeling. Two sugars, fifteen millilitres of milk. Please.” The please came out almost as an after thought, like he had to work through a conversational checklist in his head.

“Okay.” Rose agreed, her reassuring smile dying on her lips as Nardole immediately went back to ignoring her. Glancing back at Donna briefly she moved over towards the Doctor’s office door, currently tightly closed. Rose had spent more of her morning thinking about what it would be like to see her new boss again than was probably helpful for a good working relationship.

Disappointingly, Donna waved Rose back over towards her desk before she could reach the inner office. “Don't bother, he’ll want one and he says he wants four sugars but never give him more than two. Let me find the key…” A quick shuffle around the desk and Rose had a string of keys on a chain, and strict instructions about where to go, the specifications of each tea, appropriate mug and how many biscuits were allowed to remain in budget with the petty cash.

Rose suspected this was not actually adhered to, since when she found the little six foot square and windowless kitchen that served the floor, most of the cupboards seemed to be empty. Eventually she unearthed Donna’s Cake or Death tin and tucked behind a pack of Jammy Dodgers with ‘Sorry!’ scrawled across it in some kind of permanent marker. On the inside of the cupboard door someone had pinned up a paint chart poster of acceptable tea shades and various names had been scrawled all over it. A particularly pale creamy one in the top left declared ‘Not for real scientists’ Clara, obligingly, had marked out a whole row of acceptable range – while Nardole’s was a very explicit ‘this shade only!’

The consequences of opening Donna’s tin not being particularly appealing Rose found a plate and opened up the apology biscuits without a second though. A few minutes later she had made five cups of tea. Possibly in the right mugs with the right amount of milk. Hoping for the best she piled it all on a tray and wandered back down the hall to the office.

Nardole had gone back to his single track typing and Rose gave him his tea first, bustling away quickly to give Clara and Donna theirs, matching grateful smiles and thank you’s with her own polite murmurs. Something in Clara’s easy smile told Rose that she was forgiven for the pun based mocking and Rose found in the simple exchanges that she liked the other woman, almost in spite of herself. With only the mugs for her and the Doctor were left, and she knocked briefly on his office door before going in exactly as Donna had the day before.

Rose reminded herself that she was just doing her job. Nothing more, nothing less. No matter how she had replayed the memories of his easy company the day before in her head, the exact shape or his sloping smile, the feel of his arm slung around her shoulders. The way he'd smelt slightly apple-y and she'd wanted to lean into him and taste it off his skin. Nope. None of that relevant. Just a job.

The Doctor was not, as she had expected, sat at his desk. Rose stepped cautiously into the room and the door swung closed again with a cold flush of air behind her that stoked some distant memory. The thump of a door swinging shut; of cold air, warm arms and rough brick against her skin. Rose puzzled away at it, moving over to leave the tea on the desk almost on auto-pilot before sweeping her eye around the room for empties.

The office wasn’t really what she had expected, not a smaller copy of the outer office, but much darker, even in the morning light. The walls were painted orange for some reason and a row of small port hole windows that were set in the exterior wall let in very little natural light. There was a slouchy battered sofa underneath, a brown woollen blanket swung over one arm. There was a soft click behind her and she swung around, prepared for anything but the Doctor’s curious smile. He was stood in the corner, dressed in the same brown pinstripe suit as the day before, surrounded on all sides by large sheets of tacked up paper covered in a scrawling script so eligible she wasn’t sure if it was maths or not. The Doctor fiddled with a white board pen self-consciously, like he’d been caught out looking when he shouldn’t.

“You look lovely.”

She blushed, grateful for the poor light that hopefully hid her easily visible emotions and glanced down at her outfit. Shareen was good at clothes advice. Though now she was stood alone in the office with the Doctor the dress did seem particularly short, and that table… Down girl. She wrenched her thoughts away, motioning towards the tea and biscuits she’d left on the table.

“Donna told me how you liked it. The tea.” She clarified.

The Doctor took a few hesitant steps towards her. Or the tea, more likely, scratching at the back of his neck awkwardly like he’d realised he probably shouldn’t be mentioning how she looked. As her boss.

Rose wanted to tell him she was completely fine with it. Enamoured even.

Rose wanted to ask if he felt like they’d met before, or if it was just her rampaging hormones talking.

“Thanks.” He picked the mug up, taking a sip, eyes still on her as he took a long draw… and immediately spat it back into the mug. “Hot!”

Slightly panicked Rose rushed forward to grab the mug off him. “I just made it!”

The Doctor grimaced, sticking his tongue out in an effort to cool it down. “Gueffed that.”

“I’m sorry, do you need some water?”

He shook his head, looking embarrassed. “’m fine. My fault.”

She wasn’t mollified, and stricken horror kept her face flooded pink for much less pleasant reasons than his previous sweet compliment. “I should’ve said.”

The Doctor rolled his eyes, instinctively drawing her towards him into a reassuring hug, chemically sweet from the marker pens today. “Don’t be daft.” He moved back, and she fought the urge to step right back into his embrace as he held her at arms length, sticking his tongue out in a series of random face contortions. “Look, I’m totally fine now. Just an idiot that forgot tea is made with boiling water.”

“It happens to us all occasionally.” Rose lied.

“Some of us more than others.” Donna was in the doorway, holding her own mug up to her lips and smirking at them with an amused expression. Rose hadn’t even noticed the door open.

Rose expected the Doctor to jerk away, but he just rolled his eyes, dropping his arms but staying at Rose’s side as he folded his arm across his chest and leaned back against his desk while he glared at Donna. “I’m not the only one.”

Donna shrugged nonchalantly. “Have you invited Rose to my leaving drinks yet? We’re going down to that gin and cheese on toast club in Shoreditch tonight.”

Rose squinted sceptically. “Gin… and cheese on toast?”

The Doctor smiled widely, picking up his own mug and blowing on it before taking a tiny experimental sip. “Yes, it’s brilliant – I mean what better way to soak up a hangover than before it happens? It makes total sense, although I do wonder if they’ve paired up drinks and snacks by alcohol content or chemical composition.” The pen had reappeared in his hand and he tapped it against his leg thoughtfully. “You should come Rose, for the science.”

“Mmhmm.” Donna agreed draining the last of her dregs of tea. “For science.” She repeated with a disbelieving snort. “Anyway Rose, you ready to get started?”

Mutely, Rose nodded, scooping her own untouched cup of tea up from the desk and bringing it with her like a comfort blanket as she followed Donna back out to the outer office. Nardole had disappeared somewhere and Clara was clearly engrossed in her own work, quickly flashing Rose a distracted grin before turning back to her computer, head balanced on one hand as she frowned at the screen.

“My desk doesn’t normally look like this.” Donna explained.

Clara coughed in the background and it sounded oddly like 'liar'.

“It doesn’t!” Donna huffed, flicking her long red hair away from her face as though it was the real source of her irritation. “These are all the different course schedules. They mostly just need sorting and filling, but we need to check through them all for any problems; like core class clashes or double booked rooms. I’ll show you how all the hard copy paperwork stuff works and then we can move onto the online things, student numbers, how to link up their individual student and academic profiles to the course information and give all the right people access to the right sections, pay, grades etc.” Donna paused, passing Rose a paper and pen. “It’s not complicated, but there’s a lot of it. Then we’ll talk about the complaints procedure and how that all works. Okay?”

Rose nodded with a confidence she didn’t feel, pulling up a spare chair and crossing her legs to give her something to prop the notepad against. “Ready as I’ll ever be.” She confirmed.

 

The first two hours were okay, filling was simple enough, but by lunch it had all started to slide downhill. She’d snuck off to seek out Bill to find her hard at work in the back section of the canteen, restocking trays of food away from the serving area. Rose wasn’t able to do any more than give her a quick wave and twirl of her outfit before taking her tray to a table to eat alone. The realisation that of course she wouldn’t be able to spend lunch with Bill every day was disappointing, though completely obvious now she was faced with it.

After lunch Donna’s instructions started getting much more complicated and Rose’s notepad was filled with pages of instructions, scribbled down in long lists of bullet points she hoped would still make sense to her when she tried it alone tomorrow.

The idea of doing any of this job alone was terrifying. She should be excited, she knew, and she hadn’t panicked when she’d had her induction to shop work after all but something had changed in her since the Hendrik's fire and prospect of real abject failure seemed possible in a way it hadn’t for a long time. Maybe she'd just got older.

Possibly Donna noticed Rose's moment of wide eyed overwhelmed fidgeting, because she’d left Rose alone at her desk and gone off for her turn getting tea.

Clara was still staring mutely at her computer, frowning as she paged through online documents, a grim smile occasionally crossing her features and inspiring a flurry of typing. Nardole was back too, now wearing massive headphones and muttering under his breath.

They seemed so sure of what they were doing and Rose felt even more alone sat in silence with them. Quickly grabbing her bag she slipped out of the office, her swift departure unnoticed and headed for the toilets.

Predictably, they were depressing. Better than the ones she remembered from school by seeming fairly genuinely clean, but still battered within an inch of respectability. The one mirror over the sink was scratched and browned at the edges. Rose ignored it, slinging her bag on the side by the sink and snapping it open to grab her phone from the inside and scroll through her contacts restlessly as she paced around the empty space in front of the stalls. Most people she knew would be at work, her old colleagues at Hendrik’s had never really been this kind of friend. She’d hardly even seen them since the place had closed down. She didn’t want to call her mum, didn’t want to worry her. As she circled up and down the graffiti scrawled across the inside of the stall walls and the clearly ancient toilets swung in and out of view. “Be the Bad Wolf!” One piece demanded. Underneath someone had scrawled. “Doesn’t the wolf die?”

Mickey. He normally finished his shift at the garage early. She selected his number anxiously, chewing at her nails as she listened to his phone ringing. The sound rattling her frazzled nerves.

“’lo.”

“Mickey! It’s Rose.”

Mickey laughed. “I know. You okay?”

Rose fisted one hand in her hair, totally torn about whether to confess or not. “Um, yeah. I, I’m just at this new job.”

“Yeah, do you like it? What are the people like?”

She could hear the real curiosity in his voice. Rose considered the last two days, trying to be rational. “They’re good. They’re nice.”

“Not posh?”

“No. Not really.” Clara popped into her mind. “Well a bit sometimes, but it’s not odd. They’ve got other kinds of weird.” She clarified.

She could hear the creak of leather and wondered vaguely where Mickey went after work these days. “How come you’re calling then?”

“I don’t know.” Rose admitted, the pressure of speaking the words tight in her throat and making her feel panicky and breathless. “I just. I feel like I’m going to massively cock everything up Mickey, like a massive fraud. Like he’s going to realise I’m not smart enough to do this job.” She felt like the bad wolf, pretending to be granny and about to be shot for the deception.

“Oi! Rose Tyler, no.” He sounded almost irritated, and weirdly it soothed her. It had been a long time since she and Mickey had been a thing, but he'd always been good at pointing out when she was overreacting. “You know how many people I know that have stayed in fucked up, shitty relationships? Who had bad things happen to them and just drowned in it?”

Rose had nearly been one herself, and Mickey knew it. Mickey'd saved her a bit, if she was honest, by refusing to let her turn in on herself then.

“You are not that person, Rose. You never give up. Sometimes I don’t understand it, but I don’t have to, and neither do you. Stop, skulking in the bathroom-”

“I’m not in the bathroom!”

“I can hear the tap dripping.” Rose paused, tightening the tap with a sharp movement and Mickey laughed again. “See, stubborn you are. Stubborn your way through the first couple of days and you’ll be absolutely fine. You’re smart enough, you just don’ know it yet. And Shareen’d say the same if you don’t believe me.”

“Yeah.” She smiled at her reflection in the battered mirror. “Thanks Mickey.”

Rose hung up, glancing at the time on her phone. Only a couple more hours and the day would be over – plus she’d be out for her first ever office drinks. For all that the job was stressing her out, more time with her colleagues was so appealing, just the taste of sauntering off with them into the night for an adventure made her chew her lip in a suppressed smile as she straightened her hair in the mirror. Going out, with the Doctor. For Donna obviously. She hurriedly corrected her thoughts. But, the Doctor would definitely be there.

She stuck her tongue out at her reflection. Yup, drinks with the boss.

Chapter Text

The Doctor missed Rose at lunch. Not that he’d been hoping to see her exactly, he’d just… been hoping to see her. He couldn’t help it, couldn’t resist stoking the strange familiarity she inspired in him.

The dress Rose was wearing today had not helped at all. Yesterday’s outfit had been perfectly nice, fine office wear, perhaps a little ill fitting – made for a slightly taller person. Today his first glimpse of Rose had been when she’d walked into his office and paused in confusion when he wasn’t behind the desk. He’d meant to call out. To indicate his presence knee deep in his corner of equations and declare himself ready for a break. Instead it was all about the outfit, just for a few moments. The combination of bold cobalt blue and the soft tones of her grey dress, shifting together under a spill of dark blonde hair as she glanced around the room. The jacket was folded up to her elbows, revealing the faintest lines of an old tattoo, underneath the grey dress carved artfully around her chest and hips, perfectly balancing the line between professional and unbelievably sexy.

The Doctor consciously shut his mouth, trying to think of something appropriate to say as the seconds dragged on. This definitely qualified as him being creepy now, standing in one of the darker corners of his office, staring at his new PAs bum. You’ve got issues. The Doctor told himself. Real actual issues. Just because she’s blonde doesn’t mean she’s the girl from the club the other night. Get over it. Be professional.

The Doctor’d clicked the lid back on his pen and Rose had turned at the sound, a slightly puzzled smile spread over that gorgeous face, her eyes lighting up in recognition.

So he’d told her she looked lovely.

And burnt himself on a cup of tea.

And hugged her.

And babbled about cheese on toast.

Later in the afternoon Donna had come in with his usual three o’clock biscuits and he’d practically pounced, seizing the tea out of her grasp and closing his office door behind her in one not even remotely smooth move. In fact a fair splash of the tea ended up on the carpet, adding to the multitude of stains he had wisely decided not to question when he’d moved in to the office. “Are you going to tell me why you’re being mental?” She asked, in a painfully patient way. “Or shall I guess?”

“I’m not being weird!” He insisted.

Oh he was. He really was. He swore at some point in the not that distant past he’d been able to pull off suave. Students regularly fancied him and had to be politely declined. Not this week apparently. Not with Rose.

“Mmhmm.”

“Stop doing that.” He huffed, pausing his harried movements just long enough for the tea in his cup to settle then scuttling past her to sit down on his sofa. “I just wanted a chat.”

It sounded implausible even in his head, and Donna’s raised eyebrow confirmed his gut feeling quite adequately.

“Are you my mate or not?”

She smiled, and folded herself neatly into the chair opposite his desk, crossing her legs and locking her fingers together over the raised knee. “Of course I am you daft space man, now spit it out, Rose is looking a bit green out there. Might have overwhelmed her a bit. Do you think I should do an extra half day? Just make sure she’s okay with it all?”

He felt his heart pound particularly loudly at the mention of Rose’s name and shifted his feet slightly, trying to cover up what Donna couldn’t tell from half way across the room.

Except this was Donna. The woman who always knew, and always let you know she knew. She squinted at him suspiciously. “What is going on with you and Rose? Is there a thing I should know about?”

“No!” He ruffled his hair distractedly, giving himself away. “I don’t think so?”

“Well, as long as you know.” Donna threw her head back in exasperation.

“I really can’t remember – you met her when we were out at that club, right? And there was a girl there…”

Donna leaned forward, thumb brushing her clavicle and lips parted as his rambling words slotted into place. She frowned slightly. “It’s not like you to black out. I know you were pretty hungover, but how much did you drink?”

“There was tequila. A whole line of it down the bar. I think she was there, after that is just…” He slumped forward on the sofa hiding his face in his hands. “A lot of kissing. I can remember what she that felt like, surround sound three sixty degree detail of awkwardly timed flashbacks. Can’t remember her face.”

Donna snorted. “Kind of insulting to the poor woman.”

The Doctor rubbed his face with his hands. “I may have the impression we were too busy doing other stuff to be staring into each other’s eyes. Or maybe we did spend hours talking and the vast quantities of alcohol blocked it out.” He shot her a dry smile. “I don’t know, you’re right, I’ve never had memory loss like this before.”

“Not a lot we can do about it now.” Donna conceded, but the thoughtful look stayed, the kind of narrow eyed resolution that told the Doctor this was not something she was going to let go. “But you think the girl might’ve been Rose?”

“Did you see us together at all?”

He was begging now, the Doctor realised, for a crumb that would tell him his sudden all consuming obsession with Rose, a woman ten years younger, was perfectly reasonable. That their first meeting had been instant attraction for both of them, not just him.

Donna uncrossed her legs, standing up to pace around the room. “You and Rose.” She repeated quietly, “Maybe. We did lose you for ages, Amy and Rory had that big bust up about her next modelling job; you know, the perfume contract they want her very, very naked for. Jack said you’d gone off with some girl, you could ask him about it later?”

Except he couldn’t really ask Jack about Rose with her standing right there at Donna’s leaving drinks. The Doctor wasn’t even sure if Jack was going to be there, he’d been non-committal the last time it had come up. If Jack didn’t go, then the Doctor was stuck trying to describe the mystery girl by text or on the phone, trying to wrap his scattered impressions of the way she’d felt and tasted into some form of expression that Jack could understand and match to a face. And Jack was really not at all about faces, detailed soliloquies about the shape of someone’s arse were far more likely than eye colour or accent.

Huh. Maybe it would be fine.

“I’m not sure if he’s coming.”

Donna pouted briefly, before clicking her fingers and pointing at him, victory written all over her face. “Photos! On phones!”

He slapped his palm against his forehead, sighing in irritation. “Oh Donna, we’re old. Amy would’ve thought of this ages ago.”

Donna nodded grimly. “We will never speak of this.. . And not that old! I mean, how old do you think I am?”

They were the same age, but that was not a question the Doctor was stupid enough to answer. “So you’re gonna help me tonight?” He shot her a beseeching look that instantly fell flat as she grabbed his empty mug and headed for the door.

“Hell no, it’s my leaving drinks. I’m going to drink.” She emphasised. “Everyone’ll be there though, go for it. I guarantee someone will have snapped a photo of you snogging a mystery blonde.”

 

Nardole had point-blank refused to come out to the bar with them, opting to privately swap a few goodbye words with Donna before the rest of the group headed for the tube station after work. The Doctor didn’t hear what he’d said, rattling around in the kitchen looking for more biscuits to keep him going while Clara and Rose took over his office to get ready. When Donna caught up with him half an hour later she was glowy with happiness, her sensible trousers swapped for a skirt that sparkled as she moved and killer heels; an infectious smile on her face as she ordered their motley crew towards Euston station.

Nardole had his moments.

Ahead of them Clara and Rose chatted easily, Rose’s last minute invite meant she’d not brought anything with her to get ready for the evening. She’d still changed her make-up and swept her hair up with something sparkly borrowed from Clara and clearly bonded over the process. The bare back of her neck seemed somehow indecent, revealing the smooth curves and creamy skin that had haunted his memory fuelled dreams the night before. Clara had changed too; the dark purple dress threaded with silver that shimmered in the early evening sunshine. Objectively speaking it was nice, obviously. Clara was pretty and he liked her well enough as a colleague and occasional drinking buddy (Donna was pretty too of course, and a fantastic friend to boot) but it was a bland kind of knowledge, not at all exciting, completely unlike the full body rush of being within sight of Rose. Sight of Rose wearing anything at all, he suspected or preferably nothing at all.

He hadn’t felt like this about anyone for an incredibly long time.

“I am officially off the clock of this job forever, Doctor.” Donna leaned in to his ear. “So this is the last time I’m ever going to point out that you are her boss. If you’re going to fall hopelessly, stupidly in love with her, do it right this time.”

He was her boss.

It was rush hour, and as they stepped out a side exit of the University onto the street, their little foursome was swept up in the tide of human traffic hurrying between the ancient tall buildings that lined the road towards the tube station. The pace was swift and every so often Rose would twist her head to glance behind, loose tendrils of golden hair falling across her face. She was checking on him or Donna, it wasn’t entirely clear. Not that he was staring at her, waiting for every tiny turn with anticipation. Nope.

You are her actual boss. He reminded himself firmly.

Euston station was completely rammed as usual, one of many reasons he normally left a little later if he could; alongside his boring empty flat, the sound of his neighbours having sex making him depressed and the frankly unrealistic quantity of work he still had to complete. Not in that order. They shuffled together like sardines, Donna had freed her arm from his so she could reach the slip of plastic oyster card that would let them pay to travel and they hurried together to keep up behind Clara and Rose, well aware that in the conveyor belt commuter crush a single person pushing through could leave you separated for miles. Somehow, he ended up right behind Rose as they inched forward and the scent of her perfume, something a bit floral tickled his senses more than felt entirely fair.

On the other side of the barrier it was marginally better, the full on conveyor belt squash reduced to a bubbling river that jostled around anyone who dared remain still. Each steady stream branched off towards different escalators that led to the maze of tunnels under London, and as he glanced up at the route signs trying to remember which train they needed Rose grabbed his hand, pulling him along after Donna and Clara towards the Northern line. She didn’t say anything, just shot him a tongue touched smile that sent a jolt of memory through him.

The woman in the club had smiled like that, just before they’d drunk all those shots.

They settled on the right hand side of the escalator, Donna and Clara already half way down. They could have run down the left hand side to join them, but Rose seemed happy enough standing on the step below the Doctor and he found himself more than content to continue sliding along in her slipstream. Rose’d dropped his hand to hold on to the moving rail and he missed the feel of her fingers tangled in his own.

“Rose…” She twisted to face him, and the sight of her upturned face made him pause. If he brought this up and was wrong… it would ruin everything. Even if Rose didn’t decide to sue him for sexual harassment, she might feel uncomfortable and decide to quit. And even though it had only been two days, the Doctor couldn’t imagine going to work and not seeing her. “Do you know Shoreditch well?”

It was a terrible piece of small talk but she took it in good grace. “No, not really. I grew up south of the river.” She said it like that made sense, like North and South London were separated not by the looping twists of the river Thames but a guarded fortress with dragons, and he quirked a puzzled eyebrow at her. Rose tapped the plastic wallet that held her oyster card against his chest. “These are great, but still expensive when you’ve got a single mum. It gets a long way to walk regularly.”

“Oh.” He remembered now that she’d mentioned living on one of the Peckham council estates, and felt slightly foolish for bringing it up. No one really liked to admit to missing out on things because they were skint.

“What about you?” They’d reached the bottom of the escalator and she strode off without even looking, a knack he still hadn’t quite perfected even after ten years living in London. “Are you a secret Shoreditch hipster? Or are you one of those people that collect’s visits to instagramable theme bars?”

They walked in silence for a minute, moving towards the right platform without either of them glancing at the directions. The Doctor stewed as their footsteps fell into a natural rhythm, weighing up the advantages of lying for a while before giving in. “I used to live there, with my ex. Don’t think I’m a hipster.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I dunno, do you think a beard would suit?”

The Doctor spotted Donna’s ginger hair amongst the mass of grey and black work uniforms and found himself grabbing Rose’s hand this time, piloting her towards his friends as they disappeared further along the long stretch of white walled tunnel, trying to move as far away as possible from the bottlenecked crowd at the middle of the platform. He dropped it as soon as they were through the worst of the crush, but Donna had already seen. If Donna rolled her eyes any harder at him they’d probably pop out right there on the station platform.

It would make a unique episode of TFL: Cops, scooping them up and calling for ice as they rushed for an ambulance.

His internal commentary of the imagined episode didn’t work as a distraction for as long as he wanted it to.

Clara waved them back towards the wall as a shuddering wail of steel wheels thundering over rails and rush of wind billowed through the tunnel, signalling the next train approaching. “Let’s get the next one, I don’t want to shove my way on in these shoes.”

It was Donna’s night, and she nodded, fanning herself with her hand against the heat of the underground in August. “Yeah, I’d really rather not be crushed against another bloke’s armpit again today if I can help it.”

Rose’s nose wrinkled adorably as she laughed. “Yeah, that's unpleasant even at the beginning of the day…”

“...properly grim at the end.”

The Doctor was still trying to work out if he should be offended on behalf of men who wash on a regular basis when Clara pushed herself away from the curved wall she was leaning on, motioning Donna closer. “Speaking of grim things to endure, have we heard about Missy coming back yet?”

Donna shrugged. “I tried, but I’ve got no idea. What about you Doctor?”

He frowned and shook his head. “She doesn’t really talk to me for communication purposes.”

“Hey, you’re not exactly Mr Diplomatic when it comes to her.” Donna insisted. “You could make more of an effort.”

The Doctor considered his colleague briefly, his megalomaniac, idea stealing, interfering colleague that had once slept with his wife. “Nope.” He popped the p, cheerfully. “Not happening.”

The next train arrived, not as stuffed to the gills as the one before, and they trooped on together. Wordlessly the Doctor found his hand somewhere near the small of Rose’s back, guiding her onto the train, earning himself another glimpse of that uncontainable smile.

Doomed. He was doomed.

Chapter Text

It turned out Rose had been to Shoreditch, if her puffed out sigh and dragging footsteps as they walked out of Old Street station towards the district proper was any indication. The Doctor found himself dithering awkwardly, waiting to see if Clara or Donna would notice. Clara had her phone out, checking directions with Donna, arm in arm, mouth running at fifty miles an hour as they steamed ahead.

Unlikely, then.

He hung back too, cursing his inability to tolerate even the smallest frown dancing at the edge of Rose’s lips and keeping a close eye as they crossed the road less she stumble into traffic. He’d done so well on the train, purposefully avoiding standing right next to Rose and chatting with Donna about her new bloke with such intent interest he couldn’t recall a single word she’d said. He was excelling at being a bad friend tonight.

Eventually, half way down a narrow side street, Rose finally slowed to a near stop. Her eyes fixed on a giant peeling poster, it's surface half ripped away from where it had been plastered on the boarded up windows of a closed restaurant.

“Are you okay?”

She turned to face him, smiling in a distracted false way that didn’t reach her eyes before seemingly shaking out of it, her usually open face reverting to a neutral friendly expression that didn’t seem completely genuine either. “Sorry, I just remembered I did use to come here, years ago.”

“Oh?” He tried to keep his tone light and casual, shoving his hands in his pockets and staring at the retreating backs of Clara and Donna, like he hadn’t noticed the far away look in Rose’s eyes that belied unpleasant memories.

“Yeah, with my ex.” Rose pushed one hand through her loose tendrils of hair, mussing the carefully styled locks so that more fell out. “There was a music shop here he liked, I completely forgot. Honestly, he was a total idiot. Forgotten most of the time, then you step off the train and something random brings it all back.” She was staring down at the newly repaved path like it held the secrets to life.

Or was a convenient opportunity to not look the Doctor in the eye.

Except, then she giggled, a proper tiny guffaw that started in her belly and made her shoulders shake as she turned to face the Doctor, mischief dancing across her features. “My mate Shareen, calls him WankerJimmy™ and I just, the memories...” A sly grin danced across her cheeks, eyes sparkling as she leaned into the Doctor, every tiny movement prompting him to ask more.

He nudged her with his elbow, trying to school his own lips into an amused expression rather than a flirtatious one. “Go on then, when happened.”

Rose swivelled slightly on one leg, chewing one side of her bottom lip as she weighed up the best way to tell the story, before nodding towards their departing colleagues “They’re leaving us behind.” She beckoned the Doctor towards her as she zoomed off to catch up.

Slightly startled the Doctor had to take a moment to right himself, her yo-yo-ing mood leaving him feeling off-kilter as he glancing at the ripped poster – it’s scrawled text advertising a regular gig series at a local pub, before hurrying to catch up with Rose.

“You can’t leave me hanging like that.”

She shot him a slightly cautious look. “Fine. But as my friend, not my boss.”

He nodded resolutely. “At this moment, I promise I’m not your boss.”

There goes that, he thought grimly.

“We came here years ago, after school, with a bunch of his mates and mine -”

“Oi, Doc!” Someone was shouting at them, voice raised over the distant rumbling of vans and cars speeding around them.

Rose hesitated, her face wrinkling slightly as she peered back over her shoulder to see who was calling.

Oh, not now. The Doctor closed his eyes, huffing an impatient breath around his cheeks before glancing back to confirm his suspicion. Yup, it was Jack. Heavy footsteps thudding along the pavement and that brass button’d old grey RAF coat flying out behind him like he was the world’s biggest flouncy badass. He kind of was, and a massive flirt; the Doctor was suddenly reluctant to have him meet Rose at all.

Too late. He raised his hand in a short wave and waited for his oldest friend to join them, accompanied by a long awkward pause in which the Doctor wondered how exactly one went about explaining Jack Harkness to new people.

Jack rumbled to a stop beside them, slapping the Doctor briefly on the shoulder in greeting and winking at Rose. “Hello, who’s your new friend?”

Probably should have thought about Jack and his hellos first. “Do you have to do that Jack?” It came out sterner and less jovial than he intended, and he clamped his mouth closed on his tongue before he said more.

“I’m just saying hello!” Jack pouted, all blue eyes and magnetism and Rose laughed as she tucked a loose lock of hair behind her ear and turned that mesmerising smile on to Jack.

“I’m Rose, I take it you’re Jack.”

“Does my reputation precede me?” Jack looked extremely pleased at the possibility, puffing out his chest slightly; tucking his hands in his trouser pockets so that his coat was swept behind and the braces over his shirt showed. The Doctor knew the pose well. He was quite partial to it himself, although the Doctor’s coat was obviously much better, and at home, because it was still August and totally unnecessary.

“It does.” Rose nodded at the Doctor, a joyous smirk giving him away.

“Well, the Doc here left me out of the gorgeous new friend loop apparently,” Jack teased. “Leaving me no choice but to correct his painfully bad manners.”

“Hey!” The Doctor protested, but it was too late, Jack was offering Rose his arm and she was curling her own through it.

Bloody Jack.

Refusing to be left out he kept pace beside them, listening as Jack rolled off his usual flirtatious introductions. “So what were you two chatting about before I so rudely interrupted?”

“Ah.” Rose stammered clearly unsure about continuing her story and the Doctor felt himself tugging his ear anxiously.

“Ohhh.” Jack didn’t look even the tiniest bit awkward, all gleeful smirks and raised eyebrows. “If you ever need a third wheel just let me know.”

Rose flushed and the Doctor reached over to whack the side of Jack’s head lightly with his open hand. “Not that.”

Jack stumbled away in faux agony, clutching his ear. “Oh come on, now you have to tell me what you were really talking about.”

There was zero chance of Jack shutting up about it before he'd found out what he wanted. Endlessly patient he could be. Relentless one might say, incredibly annoying also sometimes true.

“Rose was just telling a story about coming to Shoreditch before with her ex...”

“...And why he’s called WankerJimmy™.” Rose finished, any embarrassment clearly forgotten in her amusement at Jack’s blatant clowning around.

“Now I get to hear it too. Come on:” Jack prompted. “Confess to Daddy.”

Rose’s eyes danced between them chewing at her thumb nail before seemingly resolving to carry on, a little smirk dancing across her cheeks. “Well, like I said I was here with him and some of our mates. We were supposed to be watching this rock documentary thing, except Mickey and Shareen got really bored. Not into it at all, and started a running commentary about how many bare boobs they could see, just how naked – how much the musicians were packing in those tight jeans.” She glanced at him, the tiniest dash of pink colouring her cheeks.

“You’d be surprised, honey.” Jack murmured, all low tones and sex on legs. Rose laughed but brushed the sleeve of her jacket against the Doctor, flashing him a quick reassuring smile before continuing.

“They were just hilarious, and we were laughing so much that the rest of the audience got pissed off; complained and we got kicked out. Jimmy was really mouthing off about it, hitting the seat in front and throwing stuff around. He had the middle seat so me, Shareen and Mickey were stuck behind him; trying to talk him round when the steward lost his temper and threatened to phone the police.” She paused, drawing breath and eyes darting between the two men’s matching curious expressions. “So eventually Jimmy stood up, holding an empty popcorn tub in front of him, like he’d ever cleaned up after himself in his life.” She rolled her eyes. “And he’s walking really wonky… in those super tight jeans guys used to wear… really slow…” She keeps having to pause for breath where little giggles sneak in between her words.

Jack’s eyes caught the Doctor’s and a slow grin passed between them. Somewhere between slight sympathy for Jimmy in a position that any man would find really very awkward and safe in the knowledge that a man that threw stuff around in public when asked to behave was a total arse that had obviously been a bit of a shit to Rose… the pair felt pretty solid that any and all laughter at Jimmy’s expense was totally deserved.

“Mickey and the steward are really pissed off by now, so when they get into the aisle Mickey pushes past Jimmy to apologise to the steward, and he accidently…” Rose gasped for breath, her hand fluttering at her throat as she tries to drag in enough air to continue through smothered laughter. “Knocks the tub away from Jimmy’s hands and there Jimmy is, trying to John Wayne it up the steps with an erection squashed in those tiny jeans.” She giggle-snorts, wiping one eye as she recalls the moment in vivid detail, and the Doctor doesn’t care about Jimmy beyond the fact he was clearly nowhere near good enough for Rose, but he loves this, loves her face contorted in such clear joy at sharing her life.

“That’s not all of it… we make it out of the cinema and he runs off into some independent coffee place to sort himself out; the rest of us hanging around on the pavement outside… Mickey telling all Jimmy’s mates about how his dirty talk got Jimmy all wound up when the door of the place crashes open and Jimmy comes soaring out, face first and flies open. Plus this six foot heavily tattoo’d bloke with a posh accent and a kiss the chef apron yelling at Jimmy about no wanking on the premises.” She creases up again and he and Jack can’t help but join in, all three of them talking over each other in half articulated exclamations at the image of the half naked bloke thrown into the street.

“Ohh,” Rose sobbed for breath through her laughter, tears in the corners of her eyes. “I should maybe feel bad but he was such an epic-level arsehole. It was fantastic.”

“Please tell me you broke up with him right there in the road. In front of all his friends.” Jack begged.

Rose shook her head, her smile dimming slightly. “No, I moved in with him, I have no idea what I was thinking.” She giggled again. “But definitely an ex now.”

Her eyes flicked towards the Doctor, just for one fraction of a second and he feels his heart skip in response.

Ahead of them Clara and Donna had stopped in their tracks, heads bobbing as they searched the shop facades on their right for some hidden sign before pointing something out and calling back towards the trio. The moment Donna saw Jack a giant grin spread across her face, waving her hands over their heads and pointing at herself as she mouthed something.

“Doc, did you tell Donna it’s not happening?”

The Doctor twitched slightly uncomfortably. “Um. No? Look -” he scrambled to defend himself. “She’s lovely if you give her a chance. Plus there’s someone else she likes now.”

“I want to be the one that talks too much in a relationship. It’s a non-negotiable.” Jack insisted, all sass and swishing coat tails.

“I though not defining it as a relationship was the non-negotiable?”

Jack shrugged. “Eh. Maybe.” The ghost of a smile danced over Jack’s features.

“That’s a story you have to tell me later.” The Doctor teased.

The bar turned out to be hidden behind an ordinary brown wooden door, wedged between a no-win no-fee lawyer and a Mexican restaurant. There was no sign, just a wooden plaque carved and engraved in the subtle brown, green and yellow of a garden bird.

“What do we do now?” Clara was buzzing with excitement, rocking up and down on her toes as she peered around the non-descript doorway. “Is there a secret knock?”

Donna waved her phone. “I buzzed them.”

There was a click and instinctively Jack splayed his hand out on the door to push it gently, then harder, shoving the door until it was completely open and he could wave their little group through.

The glimpse of interior the open door reavealed was surprisingly luxurious, red and gold carpet covered stairs winding up and out of sight. Rose was already half inside, spinning slowly around as she entered and pointing out some detail on the ceiling to Clara. Donna gave Jack a quick squeeze as she walked past him, exchanging a few half-laughed words of greeting that held the Doctor up behind them.

A sly look that passed between them, before Donna slipped off and Jack turned on the Doctor, smirking in his usual knowing way. The Doctor felt cold fear grip his soul. That look, between those two people? Never a good thing for him.

Jack held him back by the door, waiting until all the girls had gone, swallowed up by some other door upstairs.

“Rose, huh?”

“God, you’re annoying sometimes.” The Doctor huffed. “And Donna, that’s just… disloyal. That is.”

Jack rolled his eyes. “Oh don’t be such a baby, it’s fine. Here.” He passed over his phone, implication clear. “Go for it. Just maybe stay away from the photos after four am. Or not, y’know up to you.” He winked, and the Doctor sighed, brushing past as he walked in to the entrance hall. Glancing up to check out the painted ceiling that Rose had been so taken with, a sprawling map of the world at night, black oceans separated by the beaming huddled lights of coastal cities like exploding stars in space.

The door swung shut behind them, muffling the sounds of the busy London streets. In the Doctor’s hand the phone felt hot and heavy, full of possibility. He stared at it, infinite pasts ticking through his mind in a series of shattered images. Either he was on there, somewhere, with Rose in his arms, or he wasn’t. It was some other girl, or no one at all. Just random false memories and the wishful thinking of a very drunk man. What did he even want it to be?

Impatiently, Jack snatched it out of his hand, unlocking the screen in a few strokes and tapping open the photo gallery. Jack swiped through the images at lightning speed, tilting the phone towards the Doctor so he could scan the snatches of flashing lights and brightly coloured clothes, and- “Naked, very naked!”

Jack shrugged. “I did say…”

When his heart rate had returned to normal the Doctor rested his hand on his friend's shoulder, giving it a short reassuring squeeze “Ianto? Good for you.” Jack rapidly kept swiping through; scrolling past the nudity and back into laughing faces and dancing girls with swirling dresses.

“Yeah.” Jack was smiling, not that broad anything goes grin, but a gentle lift of the lips that gave away more than his words would allow. The Doctor knew him well enough to know this wasn't something Jack was going to talk about. Not yet anyway. Jack stopped swiping suddenly. “Look, here… is that her?”

There they were. In, was that an alley or some back corridor? Half visible behind a shot of Clara posing with a cocktail and some young looking guy he didn’t recognise. The Doctor in his pinstripe trousers, and a blue shirt, jacket discarded somewhere, shirt half undone and tie pocking out of one of his pockets. She was wearing the black sequined dress he remembered the cold touch of against his chest. She was blonde, absolutely, messy golden waves that caught the club lights and shone as it fell around them nearly obscuring her face. He had her backed close against the wall, head dipped down towards her and she in turn was leaning into him, face buried against his chest as her hands gripped at the edges of his shirt.

He could see her smile, the way her tongue touched her lips; smudged mascara and flushed cheeks from crying with laughter as her eyes met his.

“It is, isn’t it?” Jack’s presence felt intrusive again.

It was Rose.

“You look really, ridiculously, happy.”

Turbulent, harried feelings marched through the Doctor’s brain. “Yes.” Yes to both, it was definitely Rose, and they did look happy. Joyfully drunk and enjoying each other’s presence. So why hadn’t Rose mentioned their night together? Literally shown any sign at all that they knew each other? The chances of both of them not remembering were tiny. He pushed the phone back towards Jack, shoving his hands in his trouser pockets as he headed towards the stairs, feeling his shoulders hunch under his jacket like it was a protective shield.

Wisely, Jack choose, for once in his life, to let it go. While humming Let It Go.

“I have no idea why we’re friends.”

“Because you love me…” Jack sang, slowly chasing the Doctor up the stairs and towards what was probably a whole world of awkward avoidance. Rose knew, she had to know and she hadn’t said anything. The Doctor's feet felt like lead. He was such an idiot, trying so hard not to flirt when she obviously didn’t care anyway.

There was a small landing at the top of the stairs, decorated with a bronzed cello propped up in the corner, then another set of double doors. Much more elaborately carved and polished this time, with beautifully sculptured bronze bird shaped door handles.

“Doctor, stop.” Jack had grabbed his arm, pulling it away from the handle before they could dive into the music and alcohol on the other side and go back to ignoring their problems again. “What’s wrong? I thought this was a good thing.”

He closed his eyes, felt himself rocking backwards and forwards in his trainers. “It was good, it was brilliant. Well, what I remember was brilliant.” He tongued his teeth as he tried to suppress a grin that rapidly folded in on itself. “But she can’t feel the same, it’s been days. She would have said something.”

Jack fixed him with a look of incredulity so pained, all frowning brow and open mouth that the Doctor wondered if a good puff of breath might knock him down the stairs. “Doc, you were drinking with her all night, I saw you all over each other every chance you got. The night’s reigning King of PDAs. Not exactly usual behaviour for you was it? Maybe it’s not her style either.”

“Er… no.” He confessed, trying to work out what he was digging at. Apart from the fact that this whole crush disaster might be way more public than he imagined.

“So…” Jack tried painfully to lead him to the correct conclusion as the Doctor floundered around waving his arms in a useless gesture. “So maybe she’s embarrassed. Especially given that you’re suddenly her boss. Doesn’t mean she wasn’t having a good time. She certainly seems into you now.”

“What?” Confused half finished thoughts popped all over his brain like balloons.

“Come on, you’re not that oblivious are you?” Jack huffed in frustration. “It's painful watching you make a hash of things sometimes.”

“Oh shut up.”

 

The bar was beautiful of course. The red and gold theme continued through the soft furnishings, accenting heavy dark woods and bronze edged tables. In the corner a man in a tuxedo sat at a shiny black baby grand piano, fingers dancing over the keys in a tune that was both intensely familiar and slightly wrong. More of Donna’s friends were already here, and they gathered together at the bar exchanging hugs and air kisses as they marvelled at their surroundings and Jack pushed past the Doctor to join the throng. Rose stood slightly to one side, leaning against the bar as she chatted cheerfully to the barman. She’d taken off her jacket and despite not being particularly revealing, the grey dress was even more striking without it.

He felt guilty for looking, guilty for wanting to walk over and repeat the memories of a few nights before, wrapping his arms around her from behind as they chose shots from the bar. The urge to feel again the warmth of her pressed against him, so close it felt like she was somehow lighting him up from inside. Maybe he should feel hopeful, pleased that Jack thought the feelings were mutual. Instead the memory loss and her silence tugged at his brain uncomfortably, a puzzle that he couldn’t let go.

Rationally, the Doctor knew he should try and talk to her, but he couldn’t dismiss her lack of acknowledgment or the fact that whatever he had said earlier, he was her employer as easily as Jack had.

The barman passed Rose a trio of drinks, and the Doctor watched as she paid and moved off, passing one drink to Donna with some unheard words that made Donna near glow with happiness and wrap her arm around Rose’s shoulders. They talked briefly, until Donna roared with laughter and swatted Rose away. Rose spun slowly on her heels, glancing around the room before spotting him lurking in the corner, the soft brown of her eyes meeting his with a side of care free easy going smile.

Rose was beside him in a moment, passing him a clear cut-crystal cocktail glass with something unknown and sweet smelling inside. “A little thank you, for you and Donna giving me a chance at this job.” She drew in a nervous breath, stirring her drink with a flamingo shaped plastic stirrer before glancing covertly at him again. “I won’t let you down.”

“Oh, Rose, don’t worry about that. You’re brilliant.” He caught her eye, caught the storm of wavering fear. “I’m glad you decided to stay and give us a chance.”

She sipped her drink quietly, apparently content to people watch with him at the edge of the crowd. The little bubble of hope that she might have brought up their previous meeting popped, leaving a hollow feeling in it’s wake.

“Did you get introduced to everyone?”

Rose nodded. “Everyone’s lovely.”

“Still nervous?”

Her composed face fell into an embarrassed blush. “Massively. This is totally out of my comfort zone.”

“Then you fake it incredibly well.”

The Doctor's eyes met hers. A beat of unspoken gratitude and anxiety. He wondered if his expression looked the same.

“Thank you.”

A double bass had appeared near the piano, and a willowy woman with dark curls was plucking at the strings in the unmistakable thumping bass of Seven Nation Army.

Rose's face twisted in confusion. "Is this The White Stripes?"

"Uh." The Doctor ruffled his hair. "Yeah. On a double bass. I guess that answers what kind of bar this is."

The pianist joined the woman, twisting driving drum beats and guitar rifts into something almost haunting and choral. Rose nodded along, the previous moment's nerves and embarrassment completely forgotten as she downed the rest of her drink in one before discarding the glass on a nearby table and offering him her hand. "Does it break any rules if we dance?"

The Doctor abandoned his own glass, letting his free arm slip around Rose's waist as he laughed and spun her around. How could he do anything else?

Chapter Text

Rose was humming when she walked into work on Wednesday morning despite the early autumn chill that had arrived over night, blanketing the sky in a cool grey that hinted of cold days to come. Her mind was full of indie covers, freeform jazz (she’d not been sold on that particular musical genre, but Donna and Amy spiritedly dancing along had been a whole new level of hilarious) and just enough pressecco based cocktails to still be pleasantly happy minus any painful, dehydration inspired headaches. That slight bouncy almost skip to her step was all about the great night out with new friends. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Doctor and his regular appearances checking she was enjoying herself; or the spotlight joy that bloomed in her belly when all of his focus was on her, as he told tales on his and Donna’s friends and their past escapades to break the ice. The Doctor was the perfect host, and it wasn’t his party.

Not that she was reading anything into that. Nope.

Whatever building work was going on seemed to have sprawled out and taken over part of the grassy lawns near the entrance of the University. Nearby a pop up coffee shop, run from the back of a tiny old classic van, had parked up near a strange round little building she had no idea what was.

Rose paused mid stride, tugging the collar of her jacket closer around her neck as the first few droplets of an autumn shower fell around her. She shoved her hands in her pockets, staring up at the sky as she tried to decide whether it was time to hurry inside or enjoy a last few moments of fresh air. Under her fingers she felt the cool plastic and glass of her phone and stroked the screen mindlessly. The scattered raindrops stopped, and before she’d thought it through she was paging through her texts and joining the queue.

Hey, new coffee place. Shall I get one for everyone?

The Doctor’s reply was almost instant.

PLEASE, lots of sugar. Decaf for C and N, or we’ll all regret it.

A smile played against her lips, and she chewed one nail as the queue shuffled forward and she tried to phrase her reply. Before she could her phone buzzed again against her palm.

Slight disaster here, but don’t worry, I can fix it!

Welllll, probably

What the hell was she walking into now?

 

The office was a warzone. All the desks had been pushed back against the walls and the floor was a sea of paper. Not plentiful but organised stacks to be filed, but a literal sea, surging and scattered by whatever storm had blown through. A huge sheet of grid paper covered the floor; littered with sharpies, highlighters and complicated equations that meant nothing to Rose. At the edges discarded previous attempts had been crumpled and thrown into heaps that ebb’d and flowed if you brushed past them accidently.

Nardole crouched in the middle, woolly hat low around his ears, a pen in one hand and a fat calculator in the other. A small stack of print outs was being flicked through with painfully agitated movements. Cautious and keen not to disturb whatever mind-map explosion she had stumbled into, Rose edged around him with the tray of drinks and made her way to the Doctor’s office, not particularly hopeful that his private space would be any better.

It wasn’t.

The Doctor’d spun his computer around so he could see it from the centre of the room and had his own paper flooring fetish going on, he stood in the middle, ruffled and messy haired as he slowly span around and scanned the piles of paper below him.

“What’s going on?”

A lazy smile graced his stubbly features as he spotted her, stepping over the papers to gratefully take his cup. “End of my career, probably.” He sipped nonchalantly before pulling a face and leaving the cup on his desk.

Rose watched as he took the rest of the coffees from her, checking the labels without any kind of sense that they were meaningful; he sampled them all before setting on stealing Clara’s. “…You don’t seem worried?” She ventured. The Doctor's brown suit was particularly rumpled and creased, the blue shirt half unbuttoned revealing a cotton tee beneath and tie discarded. When he leaned close she thought she could smell the faintest whiff of alcohol and sleeping in your clothes. And, oh, he would clearly be beautiful the morning after a night before. "Did you even go home last night?"

He scratched his neck absently. “Had an idea on the tube, came straight here. It’s been bothering me for weeks but I just couldn’t work out why the results of the laser work on high-order harmonic generation was giving us such inconsistent results.”

Rose stared at him blankly. “You’ve totally lost me.”

“Um, look,” he sipped Clara’s coffee again before abandoning it on one of the round windowsills. “Sometimes when I come up with a theory, it’s wrong. Total failure, but the results tell me something about why I was wrong and I can come up with new ways to approach the problem, write about that. These results are all over the place, years of my life, thousands of pounds of grant money and absolutely no conclusions to be drawn. Academic death.” His face was drawn and subdued. Rose had to resist the urge to draw him closer, kiss the slight sadness away.

She found her vocal chords. “Bad, then…”

He shrugged. “Sometimes that really happens. But not today.” He flipped a sharpie through his fingers, chucking it up in the air and catching it in a suave move as he shot her a tongue touching teeth grin that she couldn’t help but echo with her own.

Rose didn’t know where that kind of confidence came from, how he could describe near certain defeat, look it in the face and shrug, before telling it to go away.

It was slightly unnerving, but irresistible.

“Where do you want me? I can dig my desk out, get on with the work Donna suggested…”

He nodded absently, eyes already back amongst the papers. “Nooo… don’t disturb Nardole. Bring a laptop in here and work at my desk.”

She hesitated, torn at his generosity with his personal space and the fear of totally messing up on her first day without Donna in front of him. “Yeah, okay. If you’re sure I won’t be distracting.”

He waved his hands dismissively. “I like having you around.”

If there was one thing that consistently confused Rose about the Doctor, it was this. They had very little in common, yet she felt like she'd accidently walked into being his new best friend. He genuinely seemed to love having her around but sometimes the randomness of the instant connection made her feel helpless, drifting in his orbit at his whim, unsure of the depth of his affection. She tugged at the hem of her jacket anxiously. “S’long as you remember I know nothing about physics.”

He nodded, that instant smile of his shattering into a staccato ‘ha!’ of laughter. “That’s why this is so great! People who don’t know what they’re supposed to think ask the best most helpful questions.”

“Are you using me because I never finished school?” Rose’s face scrunched up in baffled indignation. Not sure if she should be happy or poised to slap him.

He didn’t even blush.

“Don’t be silly, I’m using you for your imagination, Tyler! Now get on with it.”

 

 

The morning passed in a blur of admin and phone calls, interrupted by the occasional panicked appearances of Clara and Nardole who would pop up in turns. Clara excited and Nardole despondent, sharing progress or pointing out additional problems; all of which the Doctor greeted with bounding enthusiasm, dancing around and doodling on things whilst irratically throwing questions at Rose that surely, couldn’t possibly be relevant.

“Last night, did you talk to Rory about how he doesn’t need to worry about Amy running off with a male model? It’s not really my area of expertise…” (it wasn’t her area either, but yes she had) “how would you describe the feeling of ice cream melting on your tongue?” (grey days on Brighton beach, filling her little bucket with pebbles).

They were easier at least that the ones that Rose couldn’t possibly answer “What does this mean in relation to Bell’s theorem?” (Reusing Christmas stock too many years in a row has a downward impact on sales of new products in that year. Ohhh, extending R-Matrix theorem. Yeah, I do love mince pies but the shops don’t stock them quite yet so no I can't get you one). And easier on the legs that the Doctor asking her to run around and fetch him a completely random array of objects, from cocktail sticks and blutac to perfectly ripe bananas for a snack.

At one thirty, Rose managed to convince the physicists that food was generally helpful for cognitive function, and also not being hangry arseholes that yelled at their lovely PA. Rose steered them all towards the cafeteria for chips and slightly questionable wilted ham and lettuce baguettes.

Bill managed to sneak off for five minutes at Rose’s begging for sane company; only to sit at her side around the white cafeteria table all wide-eyed blazing sunshine smiles as the trio of academics continued their raging argument about laser excitement, now with added chip throwing to go with the insults. All three of them liked to throw questions at Bill and Rose, not waiting for answers before they continued on.

“Do you understand any of this?”

“It feels a bit mental, but yeah, I think I’m starting to.”

 

 

Rose wasn’t really sure how she got from that table into a basement laboratory, entire body encased in a white plastic bag. A bag with arms and legs, and yellow dishwashing gloves for hands, plus a handy clear screen in front of her face so that, in theory, she could see where she was walking, except with no peripheral vision she couldn’t actually. She felt like a walking marshmallow.

They were on a quest, the Doctor had insisted, a quest to look for foreign contaminants distorting the results of the final round of testing. Every other error had been painstakingly tracked down and explained except this one last data set.

Rose wandered around the white sterile laser filled room fairly aimlessly, no idea what she was searching for.

Clara avoided her eyes as they passed.

In her earpiece she could hear someone humming Bravely Goes Sir Robin with accompanying coconut shell hoofbeats.

These things did not seem unrelated.

“Stop it!” Nardole hissed, “this effects my research too!”

Clara sighed, reducing the clip-clop rate to a steady one every two minutes as she examined some looming piece of equipment in microscopic detail.

Rose bit her tongue and tried not to giggle.

The equipment was a bizarre mash-up of space age and generic looking. In garbled bursts of question and answer sessions through the morning Rose had worked out that some of it shot lasers in short bursts, while other parts held stuff that the lasers shot and made it change into other stuff by getting it excited, and other bits measured the reactions in a million different ways.

It seemed unlikely that the stuff being subjected to pulsing laser light shows was really into rave culture and transformative dance so there were probably some technical aspects of the explanation that Rose hadn’t quite interpreted properly; but the Doctor had seemed very taken with the concept and declared it the perfect metaphor.

“What am I even looking for?”

“Dust, lint, hair, phlegm… anything at all that might produce any of the above or similar.”

Clara huffed. “It’s not year nine Science, I think we can discount phlegm, and hopefully semen.”

Seeing nothing particularly obvious, Rose squatted down and looked underneath a nameless piece of equipment. “So, when you say might produce lint…” She pocked cautiously deep under the hulking grey machine until she managed to hook the almost imperceptible difference in shadow at the back towards her.

“Ha! Rose, you’re brilliant! You found it! How did the cleaners miss that?”

The scrap of cloth dangled from Rose’s yellow hands as the others gathered around, eager to see what had caused them quite such epic trouble by shedding tiny specs of dust and lint in the vicinity of the laser.

“Is that…?”

“It’s pants.”

“It’s grey, saggy, old man tighty-whitey pants.”

Gamely, Rose tried very hard to remember that she was wearing a basically bomb-proof suit and that there was no need to drop said pants on the floor. And that in fact if she did move them too much by, for example, dropping them in disgust, more dust would definitely be produced.

“How is it pants?”

It was a fair question.

“How many students are allowed in here?” Rose asked, perfectly reasonably in her opinion.

“Basically none.”

“Did Professor Hannigan got exceptionally lucky?”

A collective shudder passed between Nardole and Clara.

The foursome stared at the pants in silence, increasingly disturbing scenario’s bubbling up in each other’s minds.

“I’ve got a theory.” Nardole finally ventured. “What if this technology is going to create a post-apocalyptic dystopia, and amidst the rubble and zombies a hair-brained soldier stumbles across an abandoned lab containing time-travel technology that allowed them to come back to now and stop this research from continuing; thereby creating a causal loop paradox?”

“And they chose to do this with pants did they?” Clara jibed.

“It’s a post-apocalyptic world, Clara, it’s all they have! More importantly, how large a margin of error do we need to add to any project which works within the realm of implication for Bell’s theorem and therefore time travel, to include the possibility that future agents have come to destroy our work?”

The Doctor seemed to consider this momentarily. “One point seven eight nine two times ten to the power of negative seventy two.”

“Really?” Nardole was in awe.

“No.”

"You can be so very silly, you know." He huffed, indignant.

The Doctor's earlier antics with the revolving coffee cups suddenly seemed very relevant.

"I may have had a part in accidentally caffeinating you Nardole." Rose confessed. "Sorry."

“There is another option.” Clara put in. “Doctor... I saw Missy on campus this morning.”

Chapter Text

“I’ve brought you tea.”

The worried pose that scrunched the Doctor’s brow and squashed one cheek against his palm disappeared immediately, leaving him looking pleasantly ruffled as he rose from behind his desk, sliding the glasses from his face and dumping them on top of his keyboard. The last few days of manic behaviour had given Rose a solid hint as to how exactly it was that despite his frequent dalliances with styling wax, he still ended up looking like a pack of monkeys had thoroughly picked through that mess of hair for nits.

Rose bit her tongue before she offered to fix it. Or demand he put the glasses back on.

The Doctor took the proffered mug and Rose smiled as he immediately sipped without checking the temperature. It might have taken a week or two but she was on to him now, and let the tea sit awhile before serving it up. “It’s quiet out there.” He mused.

Rose leaned against the open door frame, one arm folded over her chest as she sipped her own tea casually. “Yeah, I think I’m actually out of things to do. Plus Nardole is working at home and Clara left for her trip to Cambridge.”

The creased brow returned. “Did you warn her about punting?”

Rose paused, trying to remember some epic disaster related to the flat Gondolaesque boats worthy of the my-puppies-were-murdered face the Doctor was pulling. “What’s the problem with punting?”

He shook his head, chuckling in an awkward, disingenuous way as he span and slumped onto the battered white sofa. “Sit down, I’ll tell you all about it.”

Rose shrugged casually, as though it was no skin off her nose whether she stayed hovering in the doorway or sank into the comfy leather. “You fell in the river, didn’t you?” She teased, crossing the room to slide beside him, arranging the loose skirts of the summer dress as she sat. It was black and white, with a tiny star pattern. It was pretty, but she missed the easy practicality of her jeans.

“Ah, you say ‘fall in’ really it was more a sequence of highly calculated moves to transport me from one side of the river to the other using my newfound knowledge of fluid mechanics, and… a swan.”

“Swan?” A smile teased her lips and he ducked his head indignantly.

“A very angry swan.” He protested. “It was definitely imperative to stay away from the swan.”

“I believe you.” She grinned at him over her cup of tea.

“Have you ever been?”

“What? Chucked in a river by an angry swan? No.”

“Not the swan! I mean punting.”

Rose shook her head. She’d seen them on TV, snippets from Midsomer Murders of rich students lazing down the river on the flat bottomed boats, propelled by long wooden poles scrapped along the bottom of the river and glasses of champagne. She assumed the actual experience was less like that and more like the Doctors swan attack, but who knew. “I’ve been on the ferry to Calais once. That’s it. Not really that bothered about boats.”

“Oh?” The Doctor genuinely seemed surprised, twisting in his seat to face Rose better and she wondered if she’d said something wrong. “Why not?”

She pressed her tongue against the inside of her teeth as she considered her words. “It’s just not as exciting as flying is it? You don’t get that giddy feeling of doing something that feels unnatural; seeing the Earth from miles up, the way you aren’t really supposed to be able to. Plus when you’re right out there in the sea, and the land’s behind the horizon there’s not much to look at.”

“Nah, ferries are boring. What you need is a teeny little wooden dingy, row out to the middle of Loch Doon in the dark of night… then look up.” He said Loch with all the right inflections.

She frowned at him. “Really? Are the stars that clear?”

He nodded. “London is terrible. How many stars can you see out the window of your place?”

It wasn’t something she’d spent much time considering before. “I don’t know. Basically none.”

“Exactly! You’d be lucky to even see half a dozen stars at three am the light pollution is so bad. The UCL observatory had to get moved out to the suburbs decades ago just so we could keep doing our jobs. But go somewhere really properly deserted, go to Scotland and the Dark Skies park; it’s just you and a telescope and the sound of the waves. The boat moves around too much to do any accurate work, it's just about being there enjoying billions of miles worth of stars and…” The Doctor trailed off. “I'm probably describing that really badly.”

She shook her head. “Sounds amazing.”

“Yeah.” He nodded thoughtfully. “It is. Stunning. I could probably take you at some point, if you wanted.” The Doctor’s voice was tight as he tugged at his collar, trying to sound casual. “Donna used to come with me on research trips sometimes, help out.”

“I’d love to.” Rose told her thumping heart off, sipping nonchalantly at her tea. “I mean, if that’s alright.”

“Of course!” He flashed her one of his blinding grins and she returned it automatically. The china surface of the mug in her hands felt warm and reassuring, a strangely British command to maintain her senses as she studied her bosses features. The eyes that seemed to twinkle mischievously whenever he proposed a plan, the dimples that pressed his cheeks when he smiled; visible even under the few days stubble.

“Are you going out this evening?” Rose asked, hoping her voice was didn’t betray her intense interest.

He shook his head then paused, some delayed thought trickling through. “I’m meeting River for dinner.”

Well, shit. Rose arranged her face into a neutral smile.

“Have I met River?”

“She was at Donna’s leaving drinks. Lots of curly hair?”

Oh god, Rose remembered her. She’d been lovely; welcoming, clever, looked gorgeous in a form fitting black dress and red heels. The claws out instinct to find something to hate about the Doctor’s apparent beau was scrambling around for material and failing miserably. There was nothing wrong with River, she’d just got to the Doctor first.

The Doctor rambled on, not noticing Rose’s fixed smile. “I’ve not seen her a while, it’ll be good to catch up.”

“Oh? How long have you known her?”

Rose cursed her mouth and it's feigned polite interest. She didn't want to know this, she didn't want to know any of the details.

“Oh, years. We did our post-grads around the same time. Ended up forming a sort of support group for tortured almost-academics. She’s good fun, but spends a lot of time staying with her bloke in France now.”

Rose felt her face flush pink with embarrassment as the realisation sunk in, and the Doctor caught it, one eyebrow quirking in that damnable way of his. “What’s that about? You’ve gone all pink.”

“Subtle.” Rose scolded, turning away and crossing her arms as she sulked slightly, before turning back to point a finger at him. “You made it sound like she was your girlfriend! I was going to ask how long you’d been together, imagine if I’d said that to her!” She covered.

“Ohhhhhh.” He pulled a face as he drew out the sound. “No. Definitely not. She’s brilliant,” he hastened to add, and Rose wondered if despite his protests the Doctor would be interested if the chance arrived. “But… just, no. Definitely just a mate.” He concluded and something about the way he said it, the way his dark brown eyes rested on hers made her believe him. Made her feel like he’d only ever had eyes for her.

The Doctor was at least thirty and Rose knew, if she was cold about it, that how willing she was to believe he’d been single for years was naive. She knew he was divorced to start with, and he was definitely good looking. Nothing beyond an above average amount of hand holding and flirty touches had even happened between them, but every time Rose reminded herself of that fact she found herself ending the sentence ‘yet’.

Rose nodded, pursing her lips together and picking at her nails to suppress the blinding smile that was threatening to spill out. She went to take a last sip of her tea and realised it was empty. She stared glumly at the last few tea leaves clinging to the bottom of the cup. “Guess break is over.”

The Doctor yawned, leaning back as he stretched out his tired limbs, a surprisingly flexible move that pulled his jacket up his chest and revealed the top of his trousers. There was no elegance in it, but Rose found him mesmerising - a cat move personified. “What are you doing this weekend?” He asked, standing up and rolling his shoulders as he glanced glumly at his desk.

Rose pulled a strip of her blonde hair through her fingers, wondering if it was time to dye it again. “Nothing. Few drinks at the pub maybe.”

“Right…” The Doctor considered. “You could do that, and I could finish this lecture prep…” He offered Rose his hand and she took it automatically, letting the Doctor pull her up from the sofa. His hands slipped to her shoulders, spinning her slowly so that they were both looking at the porthole windows. The view wasn’t great, mostly blocked by other buildings, but they were high up, and right up in the top right picking between offices and rooftops was the sky. The mornings steel grey had given way to a light gauzy blue, totally unblemished by clouds.

“Or?” Rose prompted, amused by his impetuous turn and giddy at the heat of him so close against her back.

“Or, I pick you up around nine-ish, we’ll drive out to the middle of nowhere and I can give you a tour of the night sky.”

Maybe he realised how the suggestion sounded because he stepped away slightly, clearing his throat and dropping his hands so she could turn around. “Seems only right, now you’re one of us that you get to experience a genuine Physics based phenomenon with my fantastic commentary. The Perseid shower is still on for a few more days, hundreds of meteors in one night if we're lucky… Or I could give you the standard Physics department tour, show you the proper observatory and all the other lasers you haven't seen yet.”

Rose hesitated, and watched as he tried to brush her pause off, backing up until he was sitting on the edge of his desk, picking at some lint on his trousers.

Rationally speaking, driving hours from London in the middle of the night with a guy she didn’t know that well to look at the stars. Well, it sounded nuts. Properly mental. The kind of irresponsible thing her mum would chew her out for a week over.

But it also sounded amazing, and all the other crazy things that had happened over the last few weeks since she’d started saying yes to every random invitation that crossed her path had left her feeling more alive than she had in years.

Her face gave her away, side eyes and tongue touched grin and he grinned back at her as she nodded. “You think you’re so impressive.” She sneaked closer as she teased.

“I am!” The Doctor puffed out his chest. “As long as you don’t ask me to play football.” He qualified.

“Or face off with a swan.”

“It was a very angry swan! Whole different scenario!” He protested again and she leaned over to swat his arm. The Doctor pouted, rubbing his arm in an over exaggerated pose.

Rose tipped almost imperceptibly toward him, eyes locked on the protruding lip and heart thumping again, now so painfully loud in her chest it felt a wonder that he couldn't hear it. She wanted this, she wanted him. Why was she not acting on this again?

The Doctor was closer suddenly, the hand that had been rubbing his arm now somehow on hers. Warm and soft against her bare skin as his thumb rubbed against her upper arm. His chestnut brown eyes were locked on hers, and she felt herself melt in his gaze, sinking ever nearer.

“Rose?” A thin voice intruded.

Rose tore her eyes away, took in the skinny limbed woman in the doorway, pale brown and grey eyes peering out from a nervous face, wrapped in a gorgeously patterned head scarf. The woman motioned at Rose with a couple of manila folders. “Sorry to interrupt, I’ve got the papers you needed.”

Work Rose reminded herself and she nodded at the woman. “Hi, Aisha right? Thank you so much, that’s really helpful.” The Doctor had instantly fallen away beside her, sharing a quick friendly wave with Aisha before returning to his desk. Rose left him behind without a word, wondering how bad their moment had looked.

Maybe Aisha hadn’t noticed.

As soon as they were in the outer office Aisha shot Rose a bemused grin. “You and the Doc, huh? He always did like blondes.”

Rose felt herself blush red hot from head to toe.

 

Rose almost successfully avoided her mum, but was scuppered by the agonizing amount of time she’d spent choosing the right jeans/hoodie/jacket combo to spend the night outdoors with the Doctor; both sexy and genuinely warmish without looking like a human-snowman hybrid being quite a bit harder than she’d anticipated. At the last minute the back of her wardrobe had produced the long knitted scarf someone had got her last Christmas, plus a beanie hat and gloves, just in case.

You couldn’t drive up to her flat and Rose didn’t want her neighbours endless questions anyway, so she’d arranged to meet the Doctor by the off license around the corner. Something she was extremely grateful for when she ran into her mum on the stairs of their block.

“Oh Rose, give me a hand with these bags would you?”

Rose paused, teetering on the step as she racked her brains for an excuse not to track back up three stories again. “I’m just running out, Mum.”

Jackie eyed her daughter suspiciously, and Rose cringed back into the shadow of the dimly lit stairwell. “You look nice, have you done something different with your make up?” She observed, not at all casually.

“I said I’m going out.” Rose mumbled.

“Who with? Mickey?” Her mum fished.

“No, just, the Doctor. From work.”

“That’s what you’re calling him, is it?” Jackie propped one hand on her hip before reaching out to tuck a loose strand of Rose’s hair behind her ear. “Well, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Rose shot her mum a teasing grin. “You know I know about Howard from the market right? Every time I come back from a night out there’s another crate of fruit in the kitchen. Tell him I like strawberries if he pops by tonight, yeah?”

Jackie blushed and Rose laughed, pulling her into a quick hug as she grabbed some of the shopping bags. “Come on, I’ll help. He can wait a minute.”

 

If Rose had expectations for the Doctor’s car it wasn’t that he didn’t have one at all. He’d turned up in a silver rental from one of those car share schemes, it’s green eco friendly logo printed boldly on the side and a picnic basket and some blankets plonked on the backseat. He was still wearing his brown suit, and Rose laughed as she opened the car door and slid into the passenger seat beside him, jacket and scarf looped over one arm. “Do you own another suit?”

He looked put out to say the least, indignation all over his face. “What’s wrong with the suit?”

“Nothing.” She bit back her teasing smile. “I was just curious. How was dinner with River?”

The Doctor flicked on the car indicator and eased it back into the traffic flowing past the little row of shops he’d picked up Rose by. “It was good.” He peered carefully around then zoomed out, taking advantage of a tiny gap. “She’s got classes here this year, so I’ll probably see her around more. Plus if River's around I reckon we can get John back for a few of the special lectures.”

“Another John?” Rose queried.

“Her husband.”

If there was any lingering doubt left about the Doctor and River left the way he offhand way he’d delivered that answer absolutely killed it in Rose’s mind.

“Snuck off and eloped while they were in France.” He shot Rose a grin. “Isn’t that brilliant? Just the two of them. Feels like how a wedding should be.”

“My mum would kill me.” Rose groaned. “But yeah, I know what you mean. That’s lovely.” A moment later the question she'd been wondering for weeks bubbled out, filling the silence. "Your name is John too, right? Why don't people call you that?"

He cleared his throat anxiously. "It's just a stupid thing Missy started, now everyone does it. You can call me John if you want."

She studied his profile as he drove, the quick movements of his head as he checked the position of the other traffic and glanced occasionally in her direction. She was well aware that the Doctor and Missy were not besties, but the rest of the story clearly wasn't coming now. "Which do you prefer?"

"You can decide, Rose. I don't mind either from you."

Rose nodded, and it felt a strangely loaded situation. Like there was a right or wrong answer in how to address this slightly infuriating man. "I'll think about it."

The rest of the drive passed companionably, Rose gave the Doctor Drivers Dibs on the music; leading to a eclectic indie punk mix which, Rose insisted, completely explained his obsession with the brown suit. “You haven’t seen my coat yet. Janis Joplin gave it to my mum.” Pride in every word.

The sat nav that came with the car caused more issues, since neither the Doctor nor Google on Rose’s phone agreed with it, and he grumbled as he steered the car off it’s programmed route so they could ramble away from the motorways and onto smaller village roads at every opportunity.

They were heading roughly north west, past the sprawling giants and motorways that made up the commuter towns that ringed London and into the woods and fields of the Cotswolds. After an hour the sun started to dip towards the horizon, and an hour after that the tail end of the orange and pink sunset striped with stringy grey clouds finally disappeared into inky blackness and a glorious scattering of stars.

The stars were bright and bold, and it had been so long since Rose had left London that she had forgotten just what this moment was like, the first few brightest stars popping up as the sky darkened, followed by hundreds more as the night went on. It was so beautiful it looked almost fake, their spread so perfectly random it could have been planned.

Lights on they barrelled further away from civilisation, down A-roads narrow enough that the trees either side completely encased them on both sides of the road and grew overhead, branches interlocking in a black and green tunnel to a completely different world to the one Rose was used to. The English countryside was stunning, rising and falling in subtle hills that revealed ancient church spires and sleepy villages.

They nibbled on biscuits as they drove slowly down the single track dirt lane that covered the last few miles, pulling them away from the woods and into open farmland. Nothing but wide fields of wheat and the occasional hulking presence of a barn or silo on either side of the little city car as it bumped down the track. Until: Orion Farmhouse. The sign hung from a wooden frame, rocking gently in the breeze of the car as they drove past, turning up the straight drive towards a modest farmhouse and a larger collection of barns, the black shadows of tractors and trucks parked up in the yard around it.

“Is this it?”

The Doctor nodded, carefully easing the car into a parking slot beside the house. “Yeah, my family used to live here, but there’s no one renting the place just now.”

Rose quirked her lips, half a puzzled frown forming. “You grew up on a farm?”

He laughed and shook his head. “No, I didn’t, definitely a townie kid. This was my grandparents farm and I used to come here a lot. I wanted to be an astronaut when I was little; when they built the loft conversion they had big windows and a balcony put in, so I could get a good view of the stars away from the city lights.”

“That’s so sweet of them.”

He nodded absently, staring out the window at the dark house.

“Are they still around?” There’s not really a polite way to ask if someone’s grandparents are dead or not.

He shook his head, leaning back between the seats to eye up the mountain of stuff littering the back of the car. “Let’s get this stuff inside.”

 

From the balcony the view was even more astounding. The array of stationary stars on such a beautiful clear night had been gorgeous by itself, a hundred thousand pin points of light and every single one brimming with potential. The Doctor’s virtual tour of the Universe had been quite impressive, if Rose was honest, huddled beside the telescope directing her to look at actual planets and stars that might support life. He knew all the myths too, not just the Greek and Roman ones she knew from school, but native American stories that wound the same patterns of stars into different shapes and tales.

Rose hung off his every word.

Which is how it was, that one late August night, wrapped in a checked woollen blanket and perched on a wooden bench on the east facing balcony of an empty farmhouse miles from anywhere Rose Tyler saw her first ever shooting star. The thermos of tea cradled in her hands crashed to the ground as she shot up, pointing up at the sky in the direction the meteor had soared past.

“Did you see?” Rose jumped up and down ecstatically, her breath puffing out into the cold air in tiny clouds as she span around to grab at the Doctor's coat sleeve and pull him over to the edge of the balcony.

The Doctor instantly stopped fiddling with his telescope, matching her unfettered joy and wonder with his own brilliant smile as he melted to her side. “There’s more.” He pointed, making sure she was looking the right way before he pressed his hand in hers, the pair standing together as space rocks flew through the atmosphere and flashed past above their heads as brilliant hypnotic bursts of light, burning away before their eyes.

“You must have seen this so many times.” Rose murmured. “I bet you don’t even wish on them anymore.”

Rose glanced up at him and found he wasn’t staring up at the sky, but at her. “Sometimes I do.” He confessed.

The Doctor's lips met hers, startlingly warm in the cold air. Soft and familiar and so right the pit of her stomach seemed to lurch in recognition. She closed her eyes but the stars didn’t go away, flashes of burning meteor spotting through her brain as she gripped that Joplin coat in her fists and pulled him closer, deepening the kiss as he sighed against her, looping his arms around her waist.

Rose had absolutely no idea why she had been trying so hard not to kiss him, because this? This was fantastic.

Chapter Text

“Rose?”

“Yeah, Mum?” She drew her eyes away from the TV reluctantly. Things had been slightly frosty since the Doctor had dropped her home late on Saturday morning. If Jackie felt that Rose was moving too fast, she knew better than to say so; if Rose wanted to protest that the Doctor had been, frustratingly, a perfect gentleman she knew better than to bring it up too. The words sat heavy and unsaid as Jackie went about her usual Saturday afternoon cleaning ritual and Rose tried to stay awake, pairing socks sat on the sofa in front of old episodes of Friends.

“How’re Shareen and Mickey? Not heard you mention them this week.”

Absently, glanced back at the open kitchen door hiding Jackie. “I dunno? Fine? I haven’t seen them.”

“Hmm.”

It was not a meaningless sound.

Tea appeared on the coffee table next to her, in her favourite spotty mug that was just the perfect thickness, beside it sat a small plate with a selection of chocolate covered biscuits. It wasn't a very subtle attempt at buttering Rose up. Her mum sat down on the armchair opposite a moment later, eyeing Rose over her own brew. “Spending a lot of time with that Doctor then.”

“Suppose.” Rose replied shortly.

“That name’s an interesting choice, isn’t it? Can’t be what his mother went for.” Jackie remarked, idly, as though it was a casual observation and not an intensely loaded dig.

Rose huffed irritated, chucking some balled socks into the laundry basket. “His real name is John, and are you going to come out and say what you’re getting at or is it going to be little swipes at him all afternoon?”

Jackie gaped indignantly. “I’m not swiping! I’m just worried love, aren’t I allowed to worry about my only daughter?”

Rose softened, just enough to bite back her first choice of cutting remark. “Of course you are, just save it for when there’s actually a problem, yeah? The Doctor is nice and decent and you don’t need to worry about me.”

“Anyone that’s got you ignoring your friends and calling ‘em a title instead of their name deserves a little bit of suspicion.”

Rose snapped her mouth shut abruptly, grinding her teeth as she considered her mother’s words. She was annoyed at accusations being thrown at John, who really hadn’t been anything but lovely. It wasn’t because of his actions that she hadn’t seen her friends in a while, or ended up calling him Doctor. John was not a problem, but maybe… maybe she was getting in too deep.

“He’s not like that Mum, I promise.”

A sudden wave of anxiety slammed through Rose, shattered thoughts scrambling through her brain so fast they blurred her vision and left her skin clammy and claustrophobic. The impetuous to carry the conversation on any longer died in her throat and Rose picked up her basket and took it to her room, gently nudging the door closed behind her. Long ago, she’d learnt not to slam it. If she wanted to be alone she had to seem fine, rational, no more than mildly upset. Rose dumped the basket on her bed and ran her fingers roughly through her hair, pacing backwards and forwards as she tried to control her breathing. Her mum’s questioning had left her feeling panicked and claustrophobic, flashing images of a crappy bedsit strobing through her mind.

Rose knew; logically, truthfully that what had happened with Jimmy was not her fault. But she also knew there was a bit of her that had ignored the warning signs, that had overlooked Jimmy’s early creepy controlling behaviour because when he felt like being charming he was so incredibly brilliant and funny and besotted with her. More than that, she’d been so desperate to run away from the estate, to a different life that to start with Jimmy’s bad parts hadn’t seemed worth bothering about. Rose hoped she was wise to red flags now, but that bit, the urge to run as far and as fast as she could had never gone away.

The instinct screamed through her now, to grab a bag and turn up on the Doctor’s door. Just as hard her mind slammed in the opposite direction, what if he was too nice? What if she was being blind again?

Rose slumped spread eagled on her bed, staring up at the patchy ceiling, still slightly brown in the corner where the upstairs neighbours bathroom had leaked. She counted the artex swirls in the plaster ceiling as she concentrated on breathing in and out, feeling her diaphragm and ribs rise and fall, soothing the galloping heart rate in her chest. Forced herself to focus only on the feel of her body righting itself until it truly felt right. Eventually her vision went back to normal and she rolled her head around; looking for a distraction for the weaving pain in her stomach and dark thoughts that threatened to send her off balance again. Rose rolled onto her side to stare at her half open messy wardrobe; a cardboard box slung at the bottom caught her eye, half covered in fallen hoodies and an old blanket.

Curious, Rose slipped off the bed, crawling the few feet across the floor to sit on her knees beside the wardrobe and pull the box towards her; shoving the discarded clothes off the top as she did so. The tape ripped off easily and she flipped the cardboard lid open.

It was full of text books. Psychology and Sociology and her forgotten English Literature set novels. Underneath were half filled binders full of scribbled notes and essays, she lifted one out: love hearts with R+J inside were scrawled all over the covers.

Fuck Jimmy.

Rose flipped the folder over and started flicking through her forgotten A-Level notes, abandoned in a box until now, pausing every so often to get lost in theories and ideas she’d completely forgotten about. This had been a thing, a thing she had wanted… maybe she could still do her exams.

It was a thought.

A glimmering, hopeful thought.

 

The Doctor wandered around his flat restlessly; moving from the tiny dark kitchen, to bland living room with it’s abandoned crossword puzzle through to his bedroom and unmade bed then back again in twitchy indecisive moves. Every sweep of the flat took him past the little side table in the windowless hall, patchily painted teal and scrapped and scuffed from years of use. Past his keys and unopened mail and the scarf Rose had left behind in the car.

When he’d realised she’d left it his first thought had been to drive straight back and drop it off. Some dormant dating instinct (if he was honest probably forced into him by Donna) suggested that this wasn’t actually the greatest idea and he should really be rational and just give it back when he saw her at work on Monday.

He’d come home, gone to bed and tossed and turned for the better part of an hour before giving up on any chance of a nap. It was so tempting to just run back to Rose, to those subtle meeting of lips and wandering hands that lit up his memories of the night before. His guilt about all the things he had not confessed to her seemed strangely absent when they were together. Alone, the photo of them locked in each other’s arms in the club was burning a hole in his conscience. Much as the Doctor wanted to believe that Jack was right and Rose had just been embarrassed about them drunkenly hooking up his nagging worry that Rose really couldn’t remember hadn’t gone away. If anything, finally giving in and kissing her, sober, last night had made his anxiety worse.

Nothing more could happen between them until they’d talked about it. The Doctor was resolved.

He was already not sure he could stick to it.

Someone knocked on the door. A sharp rap that startled him mid heel turn and almost made him fall over. Grabbing onto the kitchen doorframe he glanced down at the slightly ragged joggers and Henley shirt he’d been napping in. Oh well. The door buzzer hadn’t gone so it was probably his downstairs neighbour moaning about the noise of his pacing. He wrenched the door open without checking the peep hole.

“Sorry Mrs B…” He trailed off, caught off-guard by the immaculately dressed blonde in front of him. “Reinette? How did you get in the building?”

Reinette shrugged, the subtle shine of her golden raw silk jacket and knee length dress catching the light as she moved. “Someone held the door for me.”

Whether it was a tactical move on her part to avoid naming the neighbour the Doctor would very much like to go and yell at now or she genuinely had paid no attention was pretty much fifty fifty with Reinette. It was funny how that ingrained instinct to invite unexpected guests in magically disappeared when it was your ex-wife who turned up.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m trying to be polite, John, let you know I’ve moved back to our old place. I’ve got a teaching position at King’s College: lecturing on European political philosophy.” She smiled hesitantly, clearly a little proud of her success. It was a good job at an excellent University, he couldn’t deny that. He couldn't return her smile either.

“Right. That makes sense, that they’d need new people.” He scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “I thought you sold that place.”

“No, I…” Reinette looked a little embarrassed, and he almost felt bad for being so stand-offish with her. “Did the solicitor not say? I wanted to keep it so I brought you out. I’ve been renting it to some Americans while I lived in Berlin, but they moved out last month so it seemed convenient to move in instead of looking for somewhere else.”

Berlin. Hadn’t Missy been in Berlin? After Clara’s abrupt pronouncement that Missy had been seen on Campus no one had heard anything more, and the Doctor hadn’t dared ask Rassilon in case it gave him ideas. Besides, technically Missy was his junior in the department and not knowing what the hell she was doing or where she was wasn’t going to win the Doctor any points in Rassilon’s book. Things were dicey enough as it was.

Reinette’s face was inscrutable, so much better than the Doctor's at always looking poised and prepared. He could ask her about Missy, but he dismissed the thought as soon as it came to him.

“Yeah. No, they did say. Sorry, I forgot.” He mumbled, remaining awkwardly in the doorway. It was really starting to be rude that he couldn’t bring himself to invite her in.

He still had no plans to.

Reinette smoothed an invisible misplaced hair behind her ear, eyes down on the lacquered outer hallway floor. “Can I say that I’m sorry?”

Distance yawned between them, a chasm of bad nights and endless fights that had long ago soured everything pleasant that had come before. They had liked each other once.

“In general or for something specific?” He replied, the words tight in his throat.

She brushed invisible lint of her skirt before sighing and twisting to meet his gaze. “I need to apologise for the affair I had with Missy. When it happened… you were travelling so much, leaving me behind in that empty house. I was so very lonely and she became my companion, I don’t mean to make excuses, but lately, every moment I could have made different decisions had been playing on my mind.”

He did like her once.

Stiffly he nodded. “Okay. I… It was a long time ago, Reinette. I hope you’re happy now.”

She nodded back, hands clasped demurely in front of her. Hair still perfect, every single strand in place, outfit still immaculate. “Yes, my angel, I’m happy enough. I’d love to talk more.” She waved at his dishevelled appearance. “At a better time. The house phone is still the same number.”

“Right.” He sniffed absently, rolling his shoulders and motioning back inside his empty flat. “Now is a... bad time.”

Reinette smiled understandingly before waving a small elegant goodbye, walking off towards the lifts with a swish on her hips. The Doctor closed the door on her retreating back, the dark of his own hallway and Rose’s scarf still piled on the table strangely comforting after such a surreal experience. He leaned back against the door, feeling the click of it closing with a finality that brought home his own scattered thoughts.

His marriage to Reinette had been short and explosive, a clash of overly high expectations and selfishness on both their parts. If the Doctor was honest, he owed Reinette apologies too. He didn’t regret the marriage, precisely, but it had moulded his heart into a harder, sharper state. He hadn’t had a long term relationship since, had not been tempted at all; he wasn’t even entirely sure what kind of partner he would be now. Would he be the same? Or better?

His phone sat heavily against his thigh in the soft pocket of his joggers.

 

 

Rose’s phone buzzed against the carpet, and she leaned it towards her to read the message scrolling across the top of the screen. Did you get any sleep? A barely suppressed grin spread across her face and she tapped the phone against her lip; leaning against the pile of open folders in her lap as she mentally composed her reply.

No sleep. I’m going to power through. Also your grandma’s old bed was surprisingly comfy. How was the sofa?

After she died we found stacks of cash under the mattress. Was kind of lumpy when we took them out, clearly moulded around them - had to replace them with copies of my unpublished articles.

She snorted.

Tell the publisher they’re surprisingly supple and supportive.

Maybe I could add that to the abstract? Improve sales. Sidebar: also add them to the sofa, it was not comfortable.

There was plenty of room in grandma’s bed, I did offer to share… Rose paused sighing at the screen, hesitating with her finger over the send button. When the meteor shower had finished and they were both too cold to stay outside any longer everything had got awkward. The Doctor’d gone into manic host mode, finding pillows and blankets and insisting she slept on his grandmother’s giant old wooden bed alone while he slept on the sofa. She’d felt fourteen, dating a Mormon. Revisiting the rejection did not feel joyous. Probably better not to bring it up.

Before she could decide what to reply Rose heard footsteps on the footpath past her window; they slowed to a stop with the sharp rattling of a familiar fist knocking on the glass. Quickly she turned off the screen of her phone and clambered over her bed to push the gauzy net curtains out the way and open the window. “Mickey! What are you doing here? Shareen at work?”

Mickey leaned low against the sill, handsome face filling the open window as he pulled a stupid face at her trying to make her laugh. The plastic handles of a bag wrapped around his fist and he fiddled with them absently. “Yeah until four am. You wanna come to the pub? There’s a game on.”

Rose rolled her eyes at him. “Definitely not. Come in and have a chat though, Mum was just asking about you.”

“Yeah?” He looked absurdly pleased that Jackie thought of him fondly.

Rose stuck her tongue out at him. “Be grateful, she loves you more than me right now.” Slamming the window closed she swished the curtains shut again and wandered through the flat to let Mickey in. He wrapped her in a brief hug then eased past her to move down the narrow corridor towards the living space, shouting out a hello to her Mum.

Less than five minutes later the three of them were sat at the table, tea in hand, half a lemon cake on the go. “Did you seriously make this Mickey?”

He nodded nonchalantly, his nearly bald head bobbing bashfully in the dull light of the lounge.

“Bloody hell, it’s amazing! When did you learn to cook?”

“Shareen’s been out a lot: study, work, volunteering all on the go. I had the time. Got quite into bake off.”

“Good for you.” Her mum was looking at Mickey like he’d hung the moon and Rose suspected she’d soon be reminding Jackie that the Rose and Mickey romance train was long dead.

Mickey blushed, turning away from the compliment towards Rose. “Hey Rose, before I forget I saw a job advertised up near the WI Hall.”

Rose had already opened her mouth to point out she already had a job when Jackie interrupted; scooching her chair in, all ears. “Oh, yeah?”

“Get this – some couple is offering forty grand a year for a nanny.”

“Forty thousand pounds?!”

“Wow.”

“I told you Peckham was getting gentrified.” Jackie pointed a finger out the window dramatically. “First time I saw someone on one of them little fold-up bikes I said this is it, Rose’ll never afford a flat round here now.”

Rose pointedly ignored her mum, fixing her attention on Mickey instead. “You should tell Lynda down at the Children’s Centre. She’d be great at that.”

“Why Lynda?” Her Mum protested. “You could do that Rose, forty grand for looking after a kid. It’s not that hard.”

Rose shook her head, mouth open and eyebrows raised, blood starting to thump in her ears again. “No, come on. I like kids but I don’t want to be looking after one full time. That much money they’re going to want you at their beck and call all hours aren’t they? Besides I like my job.”

“Hmm.”

Mickey was rubbing his shoulder, looking incredible awkward and mouthing sorry at Rose across the table.

Rose rolled her eyes irritated. “Not this again Mum! I really like my job, and it’s not about the Doctor, or whatever else you think is the problem with me working at a University. I love the job Mum, every day is different and exciting. It could be a career, with travel and better money and learning about new things every day for the rest of my life. I’m not swapping it for wiping some snotty kids nose just because it pays more.”

“Oh you are naïve, Rose. It’s not going to last, and when it all falls apart you’ll be back here again wishing you’d taken a job that actually gave you enough money to save.”

Chapter Text

It was already dark by the time the Doctor made it back to London; stiff from an hour cramped on a busy train, most of it sandwiched between some particularly giggly school girls and an irritable business man whose leg jiggled restlessly as he swiped through his phone for the entire journey. The endless restive movement crept into the Doctor’s brain, making his own leg twitch in turn, restlessly crossing and uncrossing in the cramped space between his seat and the one in front. As soon as the train finally pulled in at King’s Cross he was up and out of the carriage, striding across the city towards his office above ground on foot instead of bothering with the tube. There was no point trying to do any work, his head stuffed full of the funding woes that had left him busy for most of the week and travelling to join Clara in Cambridge at the last minute, but in every quiet moment alone he’d worried about missing yet another chance to talk things through with Rose. He’d had no chance to do more than send her a quick text in the morning – warning her he wouldn’t be in the office for a few days; she’d replied with chirpy acceptance and the offer to pick him up coffee the next time he came in. A tiny x that made his heart soar and his conscience prickle uncomfortably finished the message off.

He continued his breakneck pace through the dark corridors, ignoring the buzz of conversation as research fellows worked late in one of the labs, moving onwards until he found the open plan office that preceded his own. He didn’t bother turning on the main light, the light pollution spilling through the big window enough to guide him to Rose’s surprisingly tidy desk. Everything important had clearly been filed away; bar a little stack of cryptic notes sprawled over her blotter, ready for the next day. He found a yellow block of post-it notes by her keyboard and switched her desk lamp on as he hunted for a pen, taking a seat in her chair as he searched. The top drawer of the desk was unlocked and he slid it open to paw through the contents. Sweat prickled at the back of his neck and he ignored it pointedly, shoving past any suggestion from the objective part of his brain that actually going into her desk was more than a little intrusive. He nosed past a crisp new leather bound diary and a brightly coloured discarded paper lei until his fingers closed around the cool plastic of a biro. He palmed it, sliding the drawer closed as he moved then paused, gaze caught by a scrap of unevenly folded lined paper.

Furtively he glanced towards the door as he eased the little slip of paper out of the drawer. The words ‘half marathon’ had jumped out at him; unfolding the paper he scanned the list surreptitiously. Or probably a list, though the contents were random – a selection of unrelated countries; America, Italy, Japan, Peru, Central African Republic interspersed with a vast array of other things: wild camping, Marrakesh markets, climbing mountains, base jumping, Guggenheim galleries, backstage at Glastonbury, Bayon temple, Easter Island, speed boats, finishing her A-levels, the northern lights… Shooting stars was crossed out. The Doctor clutched the list, this glimpse at Rose’s restless inquisitive soul, like it was a lifeline as he slumped back against the seat back, rocking the chair from side to side with his toes.

As if he hadn’t been besotted enough with her already. Smoothing the paper back out he carefully placed it back in the drawer, leaning forward to scrawl a note for her on the top post-it. Satisfied he peeled it off and stuck it to her computer screen, pleased he’d gone out of way to write something by hand instead of merely sending yet another text message, a medium of communication he was definitely not satisfied with. He'd see her face to face tomorrow, and they could talk then.

 

The University campus was getting busier every day now, with staff returning from holidays and late admissions students being herded around the grounds for last minute tours. The queue at the coffee van had been longer than usual and Rose had born the wait impatiently, anxious to see the Doctor after a few days apart and talk to him about her newly formed plans. It was predictable, but disappointing, that when she finally made it to her desk the little outer office was busier than she had ever seen it. Clara had half a dozen anxious looking Masters students huddled around her desk as she tried to show them something on her computer, while the door to Missy’s empty office was propped open for the first time.

Curious, Rose tried to peer inside as she passed, but the room seemed completely empty. Even the bookshelves lining the back wall were completely bare. The days irritations were mounting up already, and if Rose hadn’t exchanged a few sweetly flirty messages with the Doctor the night before she might have been tempted to take it as a sign to hide away for the rest of the day. She dumped her bags by her desk and took Clara her coffee with a quick exchange of grateful smiles and good mornings. Nardole’s coffee was left on his empty desk as she passed by making a beeline for the Doctor’s closed door, nudging it open with her foot as she tried to avoid spilling the coffee.

Her boss greeted her with a warm smile that lit up his eyes and a friendly wave as he beckoned her over, phone clamped between his ear and shoulder as he tapped furiously at his computer keyboard. “Yes, Rassilon. Four proposals were hand delivered in Cambridge yesterday… Yes, I know. I did speak with her.” He rolled his eyes at Rose before miming hanging himself with his tie as she placed the paper cup on his desk and shot him a teasing grin. Quietly, she sneaked back out of the office and to her desk, where a small queue appeared to be forming.

Sighing, she resigned herself to the fact flirting would have to wait and got back to work.

 

 

It was almost lunchtime when Rose got a chance to sort through the assorted post-it memos she’d peeled off her monitor and put to one side while she dealt as diplomatically as possible with the panicked people in front of her who had suddenly realised the new academic year was starting in a few weeks. The first few messages were all IT related and she figured she would deal with them after lunch when she was up to a painful slightly circular conversation with the company the University had outsourced all their software packages to. The last was scrawled in the Doctor’s familiar looping and near indecipherable hand ‘No visits from Reinette de Pompadour please.’ the rest of the sentence was scribbled out. Apparently he was incapable of finishing thoughts on paper as much as out loud. A little PS had been added to the bottom. ‘Stay for my evening lecture? We could go for a drink after?’

What the hell was that about? Who was Reinette? Rose’s pulse thudded in her ears as she slumped back into her office chair, letting it slowly roll backwards from her desk as she glanced unseeingly around her. She pulled the collar of her shirt away from her neck, scratching the hot and itchy skin there. She needed a drink, and her eyes scanned around the room as she looked for the little cup of water she normally kept nearby.

Her gaze landed on Clara. Clara had been working with the Doctor for years, if anyone knew who Reinette de Pompadour was, Clara would. It would be so simple to ask her, and although they didn’t know each other that well, Rose certainly knew her well enough to say ‘hey, what’s this about?’ The words sat, unsaid on Rose’s lips. Clara was basically lovely, possibly because of and not in spite of her deadpan sense of humour, and Rose had no reason to think she wouldn’t just answer the damn question. But Clara was also always, always immaculately dressed and perfectly spoken and had never, to Rose’s knowledge, accidentally ended a phone call with another department by saying “Love you Mum, bye!”

It was really quite incredibly difficult to imagine Clara having a relationship that was as messy and complicated as Rose’s with the Doctor felt, especially now that Rose was holding a note that clearly told her to keep a woman away from him and also asked for a date later. The combination of which left Rose more than a bit suspicious he was actually a monumental arse, with girls stashed and abandoned all over the place – AND her harried thoughts reminded her, the Doctor and her had specifically had a conversation where they agreed to keep things fairly quiet. Which meant she couldn’t really show Clara the note not unless she wanted everything out in the open; plus she had to add ‘does he want to keep this quiet so it’s less hassle for him when he fucks off?’ to her list of urgent questions.

Clara glanced at her from across the office, and Rose didn’t tear her gaze away quickly enough. “You okay?”

Rose nodded mutely. “Fine.” She stood up abruptly. “Just going to nip over to have a word with the Maths department about core classes.”

Clara eyed her suspiciously, lips drawn in a tight line. “Sure? Because that looks like a Courtney decided to play a deeply unfunny practical joke face. Did she send you a STI results letter? Because I have been there…”

Rose laughed awkwardly, the idea of it all being a prank was looking incredible appealing right now, but not convincing enough to stop Rose as she hurried towards the door. “No, no. Maths, just not my… favourite subject.” She replied weakly.

Clara quirked one perfectly sculpted eyebrow sceptically, then turned back to her computer, clearly not at all convinced.

Taking the opportunity to escape Rose shot through the door and let it click shut behind her, heaving a long puffed out sigh of relief that sent stray tendrils of hair flying around her face. Maybe that was wrong of her, not to confide in Clara, but the feeling wouldn’t shake. Instead, Rose headed down towards the cafeteria and familiarity.

 

Bill was on table clearing duty and not serving up food, thank all that was good and, on this occasion, gross; Rose managed to spot her as soon as she entered the dining room, sliding side to side to some unheard tune as she cleared a particularly disgusting table strewn with mashed up smarties and wadded up damp paper towels. She shot Rose a lopsided smile as she spotted her approaching, motioning towards the debris with a wet dishcloth. “Some of these students are properly grim.”

Rose frowned as she took in the carnage, unpleasant memories of her extremely brief stint working at the pub flashing through her mind. “Pretty much.” It really was a mess, turned over coffee cups spewing sticky black liquid that someone had scrawled their name in with a stirrer. “’JD’ for example,” Rose pointed out, “is a dick.” Reluctant to leave Bill to clear it all up alone, Rose started picking up the obvious pieces of rubbish and piling them up on a tray.

“Thanks, babe.” Bill flashed a grateful wide eyed grimace as she cracked on with the job. “How come you’re down here so early, do you want me to sneak you some chips?”

Rose shook her head. “No… well, yeah - but it’s not that…” She trailed off, slowing down her clearing up so that Bill wasn’t finished too quickly and they had longer to talk. “It’s more, the Doctor left me a weird note, not sure what to think of it.” She tucked one strand of flyaway hair behind her ear, trying not to let her nervous fidgeting become too obvious. “Do you know who Reinette de Pompadour is?”

Bill shot her curious look, her vibrant hair bobbing with each twisting movement. “Did he not say?”

The anxious swirling in Rose’s belly, a tumbling cork on a sea of uncertainty that continually bashed her insides hammered around irritably, preventing her from speaking.

“It’s his ex-wife.” Bill was blatantly studying her reaction and Rose tried to look casual about this piece of news. She knew there was an ex, she just hadn’t realised that there was any possibility of her popping up at work. It was understandable, and not so bad Rose supposed, that the Doctor wasn’t that keen to see her. His complete failure to warn Rose was not. The shifting anxiety in her belly knotted into anger and she stared beyond Bill’s head as she tried to hide her narrowing eyes.

“Oh. What’s she like?”

Bill shrugged. “Pretty, blonde. Got that French accent, obviously, if you like that sort of thing.” She added, in a tone that told Rose that French was definitely Bill's kind of thing. “I’ve only seen her around once, as soon as she was gone all the staff were talking about it. I guess it was a whole big drama when they broke up; she cheated with one of the other professor’s here.” Bill let the news sink in. “If it helps, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t work here anymore, but… like I say, I only saw her once.”

“Right.” The sudden influx of information was overwhelming, especially after the Doctor had said so little himself. Rose struggled to try and give him the benefit of the doubt: if Mickey had cheated on her with someone they both knew she probably wouldn’t be jumping to tell everyone she met either. She cleared her throat, “So, unrelated, but are you going to the special lecture tonight?”

Bill laughed unrepentantly at Rose’s blatantly pink face, bumping her with her hip as she walked around the table and grabbed the tray piled with rubbish to dispose of it. “Stop panicking, I’ll go with you. Be your wingwoman while you check out your honey.”

Something clunked behind Rose, knocking into the back of her shoe. She glanced down. A salt shaker rocked backwards and forwards on the floor before slowly rolling to a full stop after being so rudely stopped on its path by her foot. A quick look around told her nothing, the canteen was still relatively quiet – only half the tables in use, though a lot of the patrons also seemed to be glancing nervously about, furtively trying to see around the large raised flower bed that decorated the tray return area in the centre of the room.

“No! Not like that!” An exasperated voice was crying.

A very familiar exasperated voice.

Without any need to look, Rose picked up the salt cellar and dropped it, now upright, on the table. Cautiously she approached the voice, hoping against hope that she was not going to see what she knew she would.

Nardole held court at the back of the dining room, three round tables shoved together and covered in far more accoutrements than the table could have originally contained. The middle table had salt and pepper poured out into giant interlocking circles and dotted with ketchup pots. A small crowd of interested onlookers watched as he darted from table to table, squeezy ketchup bottle in hand as he drew oscillating waves across the whole mess, splattering droplets of the sticky red liquid over everything in sight. “You can’t think of it as being atoms or waves in an individual moment. It has to be atom and wave at once! Otherwise the transformational energy equations are meaningless.”

An older woman with dark hair piled neatly at the back of her head clucked her tongue impatiently. “Of course, but what about Compton scattering? You can’t create something bigger with less… And are you going to clean any of this up?”

Nardole glanced down, almost unseeing at the chaos that surrounded him. “Were you just drinking coffee at another table?” Bill demanded, her face flushed an angry grey at the sight before her, waving her dirty cloth at the table she had finally finished with before sighing heavily at the task yet to come.

“Um, yes? I think so. Tasted a bit different.” He pondered.

“Did you remember to get decaf?” Rose asked, with little hope.

“Decaf?” Nardole echoed.

Bill’s lips curled upwards as she moved closer, curiously. “What is this anyway?” her feet scuffed through the salt that was scattered on the floor around the table like the first sprinkling of snow.

Nardole seized on her interest as the rest of his little crowd faded away, sensing a potential argument they didn’t want to be called witness to. “First you have to imagine a very big box fitting inside a very small box.”

“Okay.”

“Then, you have to make one. It’s the second part people normally get stuck on.”

Bill smiled wildly, laughing as she flicked her cloth at Nardole.

Chapter Text

The special lectures weren’t in the Physics building. They were in a much larger, nicer block, an annex to the main building; the inside was vast but homely, dark grey walls that bulged and dipped for acoustic reasons, Bill said. A hundred or so padded, fabric covered chairs rose up from a central stage. If they’d taken away the curved desks that ran along the front of each row and added a stale butter popcorn smell it would have passed as an architecturally quirky cinema.

By the time Rose and Bill arrived the room was about a third full; scattered groups of excitable students clumped together, rummaging in each other’s bags for pens and paper with phones out, square dots of light amongst all the grey. Younger teens with bored looking parents swung on the pivot of their flip down seats, rocking backwards and forwards with shuddering creaks as they leaned all around taking in the cavernous space and the pairs of elderly academics who greeted each other with booming enthusiasm and low laughs that echoed around the room.

It was a slightly disconcerting mix of people, all crowded together to share a moment of intense nerdyness – going to a physics lecture, purely for fun. Not that long ago there had been zero chance of Rose spontaneously deciding to attend one of these things; instead of feeling slightly freaked out by the random assortment of letters and symbols that squiggled around the board at the centre of the stage, curiosity tickled her toes. Her feet skipped up the steps towards the higher rows. Bill was at her side, her boring black and white work uniform swapped out for a shiny jacket and a vibrantly coloured tank top.

They paused as Bill dithered over the best row, and Rose took a moment to study the central board more closely. Apart from the few letters she recognised, plus a few Greek ones she was starting to get used to, the impossibly long equations that covered the surface meant less than nothing to her.

“Bill,” Rose muttered quietly, acutely aware of the many bright minds gathered around them “do you understand any of this?”

“What?” Bill glanced around, trying to work out what she’d missed.

“No. On the board.” Rose hissed.

“Oh.” Bill studied the writing briefly before turning thoughtfully back to Rose, one side of her lips turned up in a bemused smile. “No. Not really, sometimes I do by the end.”

It was a weird thing to smile about, but that was how Bill always was. “Well I’m glad someone does.” Rose sighed, flipping her seat down and slumping down into it with a thump.

A light brown haired girl with a round face, lit a warm champagney beige in the odd lighting, watched Bill as they passed; then blushed and ducked her head as Bill waved in return. “Who’s that?” Rose asked, elbowing her friend teasingly as they sat together.

“Heather.” Bill smiled as the girl’s name fell off her lips, eyes still on the curly waves of Heather’s hair as she turned back to her own friends. “But later yeah; she has bizarrely good hearing, like Supergirl enhanced.” Bill responded evasively weaving side to side in her seat as she sorted through the rest of the audience for people she knew, acting for all the world like the hyper kids fidgeting a few rows down.

As soon as he emerged Bill pointed out the Doctor, fidgeting around the podium in the centre of the low central platform, black rimmed glasses squaring his face. “There’s your boy.” He caught Rose’s eye and shot her a silly grin that warmed her soul, then needlessly reshuffled the papers in his hands against the podium’s sloped surface in an endless loop as he lingered. “Don’t tell me that look is just for friends.”

“Shut up.” Rose hissed, deliberately turning away from her boss and messing around with her jacket, staring at her zip with unnecessary intensity as she slid the zipper open and took the thing off before shoving the scrunched leather into the empty seat beside her. Bill giggled at her, eyebrows quirking suggestively at Rose’s embarrassment.

Coming with Bill to this lecture had been an impulsive and possibly terrible idea, a destructive piece of relationship self-sabotage. If Bill was here, talking to the Doctor about their relationship (if they actually bloody had one, bar one ridiculously fantastic date and the suggestion of more) was impossible.

Earlier in the week Nardole had explained Schrödinger’s Cat to Rose. That if you stuck a cat in a box, with some poison and nailed the lid shut… well, first you’d get done by the RSPCA, but after that you’d not be able to tell if the cat was dead or not until you opened the box. While the box was closed, the cat was basically both: alive and dead.

It probably wasn’t intended as relationship advice, and she still wasn’t quite sure what the hammer and quantum superposition had to do with it, but that’s how Rose was flying with paradoxes today. If she didn’t talk to the Doctor – they could continue both snogging at opportune moments (or more, she was not opposed to more) and she could keep Reinette the ex and possible happiness saboteur as a dead/alive cat in the background. Don’t know either way, can’t do anything about it.

Bill’s face when Rose had explained her theory earlier, the wide eyes and raised brows, shoulders slumped forward as she tried to work out what to say. Well, it didn’t scream ‘great plan, Rose’ but…

The lights dimmed and the chatter died down immediately with them, pulling Rose out of her muddled thoughts. Dozens of expectant faces turned towards the spot lit Doctor at the centre. He gazed up at them, a giddy open mouthed smile on his lips and one hand in his pocket as he gave a chirpy wave. “Hello! How fantastic to see you all. Well, not so much see, because of the lights, but I saw you a minute ago so assuming you haven’t all sneaked out the back just yet. Don’t sneak out the back because today’s talk is, well it’s not by me, but it is honestly brilliant: really exciting work on-”

The door they’d entered through earlier clicked open, followed by the swift clipping noise of heels on stairs. Bill nudged Rose, lips close to her ear as she whispered. “That’s his ex.” Trying and probably failing to be subtle Rose leaned around Bill to check out the source of the noise. It was difficult to see in the gloom, but Rose got a brief impression in the spilled light of the open doorway before the door swung closed behind her. Reinette was small, blonde and immaculately dressed in something smart/casual. “She’s hot.”

Rose glared at her friend.

“Sorry,” Bill murmured. “just… noticing. It’s been a while, seriously.”

Reinette’s footsteps stopped, presumably she had taken a seat, though Rose couldn’t see where. It was painful, how much the cat explanation had been completely useless. Reinette bothered Rose intensely, not her existence but the Doctor’s bastard no explanation note. Jealousy coiled in her belly like a cobra waiting to strike, and she clutched one sleeve of her discarded jacket in a broken death grip. For a moment, she closed her eyes, trying to sort through the tangled mess of thoughts that crowded her brain, shouting over each other and leaving her with a dull ache in her temple. Rose was happy the Doctor was back, she wanted to just be happy. She wanted to disappear with him to somewhere convenient and forget about everything.

The longer she stayed here the worse her chances of successfully not thinking about it. Walking out and dragging Bill with her for a drunken reunion with Shareen and Mickey was incredibly tempting. They’d already had a few drinks at a pub, killing time and catching up between the end of work and the lecture, the warm buzz of the alcohol was making itself felt and a top up would not be objectionable.

The Doctor had welcomed someone else to the stage, a younger white guy with too short trousers and questionable taste in bow ties, before smartly exiting stage left. “Who’s that?”

Bill shrugged.

They could go, though Bill would need convincing. It felt like a vodka night, at her Mum’s flat with her Dad’s old records belted out and sang along to until the neighbours thumped on the walls in complaint.

The man at the podium clapped his hands together and spun so violently his brown hair flopped into his face and he had to scrape it back before giving a huge “Welcome: to life without water!” His hands undulated at his sides in full on jazz hands, like he’d just flung open the gates to Jurassic Park. The audience applauded politely and Rose followed suit, watching as the man wandered back to the board and started scrubbing all of the calculations off with a dismissive “Don’t need any of that nonsense.”

Instead, he doodled a huge picture of Saturn, turning to the crowd to explain relevant features as he went, pointing out different layers of gasses and liquids visible on the surface and the aurorae that crowned it’s pole. Impatiently he skipped through the rings of dust and moons that orbited the huge planet until he found his target: Titan. A very exciting moon, apparently, if the ripple of chatter was anything to go by.

Rose’s jacket slipped under her fingers, and she turned automatically to grab it before it hit the floor; an unexpected face startled her and she dropped the heavy fabric clumsily. The Doctor’s brown eyes sparkled in amusement, fixed on hers as he tried gamely to ignore her inelegance and waited for her nod that she'd finished sorting the jacket away before he slid into the seat beside her. In the low light the shadows of his spiked up hair played across his face. Memories jostled for space in her mind, those hazelnut brown eyes reflecting hers as he leaned in to taste her lips. Her heart lurched, thudding painfully in her chest as it remembered what had happened last time they’d been in such close proximity in the dark.

Relationship self-sabotage it was.

Rose grabbed Bill’s arm, pulling her around. “Bill, this is Bill.” Rose whispered. “She gets us chips.”

The Doctor smiled warmly, offering his hand and introducing himself to a surprisingly nervous seeming Bill. “I’ve seen you at these before, haven’t I?”

Bill nodded. “Yeah, I usually come if I can.”

“Aren’t you meant to be down there, doing your thing, teaching us about physics?” Rose whispered, her lips twisted into an amused smile despite herself, watching as he patted down his own pockets before finding a paper bag of jelly babies and offering them both one.

“Nope. Guest lecturer tonight, they do all the hard work. I basically just let everyone in and lock up afterwards.” He chewed a jelly baby thoughtfully. “I’m the janitor.”

“Is that you volunteering to clean the toilets?” She teased.

He looked horrified.

“I missed this one’s name.” Rose fished.

“Ahhh.” He scratched his neck awkwardly. “You won’t believe me.” She pulled a face and he let his fidgety arm fall along the seat back behind her. “It’s John.”

“Seriously?!” She echoed, just a fraction too loud, and the person in front turned to glare at them. “Is it on the job spec? Only John’s need apply?”

The Doctor smirked. “That’s why we call him Harry.”

Rose studied the strangely old seeming young man dancing around the platform below them, clad in tweed and braces, calling out questions to the kids in the audience and cheering excitably at their hesitant, random answers. “Harry works.” She agreed.

A dull buzzing noise interrupted proceedings, and the Doctor slammed his hand over his jacket pocket, calling out "Sorry!" as he fished out his phone and turned off the ringer. His face lit up blue as he checked the screen, throwing the angles of his face into sharp relief as he sighed. “I have to deal with this, I’ll catch you at the end if I don’t come back. Don’t wander off.”

 

 

“What did you think?” Bill bounced up from her padded chair and stretched her long limbs out as she surveyed the rising audience around them.

“Honestly, that was kind of a mind-fuck. I mean…” Rose tried to find the right words. “Okay, so aliens could exist that are completely different in every single way to anything on earth? Like they could be random gassy masses with conscience thoughts. It’s just not very star trek.”

Bill turned back to face her, grinning widely. “I know, it’s amazing – it’s not just that they could look like anything, but maybe they’d exist in a totally different way, maybe they feel different stuff. Maybe there’s living rocks out there that can sense and communicate using the wave gap between different colours or eat time.”

Rose grabbed her jacket, pulling it on as she glanced down at the stage, watching Harry (or John the third) chatter animatedly with a small group of flushed cheeked students. “Huh. Science geeks really are cool at University.”

Bill looped her arm in hers, leading them along the row and down towards the stage. “Yup. One of many reasons I love it here.”

The Doctor stood at the base of the stairs, chatting to an older man with a shock of mostly grey hair. Politely the Doctor excused himself then ran up the steps towards them, fingers slipping into Rose’s as soon as they drew level with each other.

“Hey, you. So, life without water: what did you think?”

“It was good.” Despite herself, Rose automatically greeted him with a wide smile, eyes flickering shut for a moment as she felt the familiar warmth of her hand in his, his gaze on her skin, felt the flicker of desire instantly spark in her belly. Felt Reinette disappear into instant obscurity. Try to remember what he'd just asked about. “Makes me want to go and find out the answer for myself.”

Bill disentangled her own arm, tapping against Rose’s sleeve as she stepped away. “I’m going to catch Heather before she goes, it was nice to meet you Doctor. See you later, Rose!”

Alone, the Doctor drew closer, their hands no longer just touching but knotted together fingertips to elbows. “My neighbour is throwing a party tonight. Do you want to come?”

“Go on then.”

Of course Rose said yes, she always said yes to him. It was an instinct she didn’t care to examine too carefully.

The Doctor guided her down the last few steps, sneaking her out a side door away from the exit the others were using. The corridor on the other side was plain and wide, completely silent and only lit half way along to the next set of fire doors and, opposite, where another set of doors led to the outside. The sun had already gone down, and even in the gloom the path outside seemed empty too. “It feels like we’re sneaking around at school after it closed.” Rose’s gaze lingered on the dark corridor. “When I was a kid I though teacher’s slept at school. Like they had bunk beds in the staff room and that’s why you weren’t allowed in. Seemed like a good deal to me, because you’d get to play on the climbing frame at the weekend, plus all the pudding you want.”

He laughed, tugging her closer and drawing his other arm around her as his fingers found her hair, “I missed you.”

“Me too.” She confessed. Her fingers played against the edge of his jacket, brushing against the warmth of his cotton shirt and the body underneath. She tugged him towards her and he obliged, pressing closer as he leaned down to kiss her gently. The small sparks that had been flickering since he’d first grabbed her hand roared into life, propelling her own hands into his hair, as she felt the glorious mess of it against her digits, felt his pleased sigh in her mouth.

Reluctantly, Rose broke away, smiling mischievously as her heart thudded against her chest. “Did you realise your ex is here?”

“What?” He pulled away, glancing anxiously at the closed door to the lecture hall.

“Is there something going on I should know about?” Rose tried to sound light, but there was a dangerous tone she couldn’t hide. Pretending she was upset because she wanted to avoid future heartache was bullshit. She was already invested, way too invested in this brown suited madman.

The Doctor leaned back on his heels and shook his head defensively, so emphatic in his movements his mussed hair danced about. “No, definitely not. She just moved back to our old place and it was a bad divorce, I don’t want to see her. That’s all. I certainly didn’t invite her here.”

“You could have said all this in that crappy note.” Rose pointed out, irritably as she poked him in the chest with one supercilious finger.

“I…” he floundered for words. “I didn’t think she’d actually ever turn up… I promise I didn’t know. Sorry.”

She huffed, aware of how annoyed she was with herself for assuming, again, the worst of the Doctor. The awkward conversation felt like it had physically forced them apart, shoved them from reuniting lovers to quarreling ones in the breadth of a single question. Rose suddenly felt cold and vulnerable, she reached out to catch his sleeve, draw him back towards her. “Forgiven.”

Chapter Text

When Rose woke up, her face was pressed against something rough and unpleasantly sticky. She closed her open mouth and grimaced at the foul dry taste, rolling over onto her back and instantly regretting the movement as her stomach lurched and head thumped ominously. She needed water, food, and not to drink that much again. Rose didn’t think of herself as a heavy drinker, and she didn’t know why she was slipping into such bad habits lately. She stayed still for as long as possible, eyes closed and pulse thumping in her ears; until the suffocating heat of the duvet and the desperate thirst that had woken her made her peel her eyes open again.

It was not her ceiling above her head. Not her room with the brown patch from the leak that had never been painted over.

Slowly memories of the night before shuffled disjointed back into her mind. There’d been a party, the Doctor’s neighbour – John. She’d finally decided she’d call him John. But the neighbour, it was the Scottish woman that she’d run into a few times before. Donna’s friend from the nightclub, and the Shoreditch bar. She’d been celebrating a new very lucrative modelling contract with her fiancé and vast quantities of prosecco (and possibly actual champagne, it had all tasted much the same after a while and Rose wasn't exactly a connoisseur.) Jack had turned up with his boyfriend and a few other people Rose remembered. All greeted her like an old friend and tried to prise details about John out of her, while joking about things she didn’t understand.

It felt completely comfortable and normal, when she knew it shouldn't.

It was good.

Braced for the inevitable crashing waves of nausea Rose twisted onto her other side to inspect the rest of the room. It was a typical period flat, all high ceilings and fancy plasterwork lined with wooden shelves full of books, which seemed so obvious now she thought about it that she debated whether it had been worth the effort of turning over to find out. It was John’s room, Rose’d stumbled next door to his flat instead of bothering to try and get across London so late. He’d been so gentlemanly it was verging on a farce, her insisting she wasn’t drunk, and even if she was kissing was completely fine. While John tried fruitlessly to get her to sober up with part baked bread rolls and pints of water. She’d eventually collapsed on his bed, attempted an alluring pose and fallen asleep fully dressed.

Rose peeked down under the covers. Still fully dressed. Explained a certain amount of her discomfort. A flashing red light under the duvet caught her eye, and she groped around until her fingers closed on the warm glass and plastic of her phone. The screen light was painfully bright, it was six am, and her Mum was really unimpressed that she hadn’t told her she wasn’t coming home last night.

Time to go. The night had been embarrassing enough without having to deal with the morning-after.

 

The Doctor had woken mildly hungover and with a sore back from sleeping on his sofa. A apologetic note from Rose had sat on the coffee table, along with a slice of cold buttered toast, some paracetamol and a pint of water.

He’d walked to work, even though it took forty minutes, because the idea of trapping himself in a metal can hurtling through noisy tunnels whilst pressed so close against strangers he could hear the tinny music from half a dozen different headphones was about as appealing as climbing into a washing machine and sticking it on the spin cycle. He didn’t have anyone to pray to, but he closed his eyes periodically against the scattered raindrops and hoped fervently that today would be the quiet, calm, kind of day where he could feasibly lock himself in his office and play solitaire for five hours straight without anybody noticing.

It was fair to say then, that the Doctor wasn’t best pleased when having walked through the empty outer office he opened his office door and found his personal arch-nemesis perched on his desk; sat amongst his pen pots, heels up on the chair that sat in front of it, fiddling with his nicest Mount Blanc.

He'd've rather it was Rassilon, and given how much that six foot bundle of rage and robes hated John's guts that was saying something.

It wasn’t the outfit that caught his attention first, demented Mary Poppins styling was par for the course when it came to Missy. But the rush of memories that trapped him in the doorway, every moment that pallid face and the pale green irises of her small eyes had fixed on his own in a moment of offhand cruelty from her to him. The Doctor found it hard to remember that they’d been friends once. That at one point he would have spotted the antique brooch pinned properly at her neck, and been interested enough to ask about it – he’d found himself intrigued even, by someone for whom convention was little more than an inconvenience. Now he saw the blank silhouetted young man’s head as nothing more than it was. A faceless forgotten someone, used for a purpose and then discarded.

“Hello.” Missy smiled, a thin lipped insincere offering. “There was no one here, so I just came in. That’s alright isn’t it?” Her voice was perky, the Scottish lilt wheedling with John to forgive her trespass. Dully John knew he was probably about to be genuinely screwed.

He stayed in the doorway, shoving his hands in his pockets with a faux casual air. “Missy. I wasn’t expecting you until your classes start.”

“Oh well,” She slid off the desk, sauntering towards him, the pen still dancing between her fingers. “If I waited until then I’d not have time to get everything running the way I like it. And you know I like to keep a tight ship.”

“Sure." He paused. "You remember that I’m the head of the department, right?”

Missy laughed briefly, a small emotionless noise, like the deflating of a balloon. “Of course, Doctor.” That name she gave him. John felt pathetic in her presence, caught off guard and trapped by the need to keep his job. “I admit, I wasn’t planning on putting the hours in quite this early but I heard the most delicious rumour and we really must discuss it.”

Shit scrolled across John’s brain in flashing neon letters. He had been stupid, too blatant and indiscrete with Rose and Missy knew. Of course she knew.

The muffled clicking of heels on the lino floor warned him, and John fought the urge to glance behind, stepping further into the room instead. “Go on.” If Missy knew, then his time as the Doctor was fucked. Maybe at another school, with a different vice, he might have got away with a consensual relationship with an employee. But Rassilon? This was not going to end with anything other than academic death and the world’s worst references. John'd be lucky if he could get a job as a barman after this.

Missy smirked at him. “Best do this one officially, what do you think? My office, ten minutes?” Her long fingers flickered towards the open doorway imperiously. The mistress ordering around her servants. “Have the new girl come and take notes.”

The Doctor scrambled to regain ground, long dormant instincts to fight his ground with her rising back to the fore, as he struck a pose of studied nonchalance. “Your office isn't set up yet. We can stay here... and do we really need minutes? No one ever reads them." He tugged his ear. "You could just tell me what the problem is.”

Missy sighed. “So impatient.” She stomped across the room to throw herself into the battered sofa, leaning forward as she arranged the thick fabric of her long tweed skirts around her. “Get the new one in now then. I was only thinking we could give her time to get the tea, maybe a few biscuits.”

John kept his eyes on Missy, assessing his options. He couldn’t refuse to have Rose present, if there was any chance at all that Missy didn’t know about his relationship with Rose the slightest trace of possessiveness on his part would give it away. Barely moving his head, John called out to the outer office. “Rose!”

They listened in silence as Rose’s chair scrapped back against the floor, the subtle click of her heels. She slowed and paused at the doorway, fidgeting with one sleeve of her long black sweater, waiting for more than just her name before she interrupted. “Morning.”

Manners prodded the Doctor’s id with a big stick, and he released his stiff pose, walking towards Rose with a quick, subtle nod that he hoped purveyed a speechless warning. “Rose, this is Missy – Professor Yana.”

Rose smiled warmly, walking over to Missy and shaking hands politely. “Lovely to meet you.”

Missy’s fingers stroked against Rose’s as she withdrew from the contact, head tilting as she fixed those piercing eyes on Rose. “Likewise.”

John’s stomach lurched painfully. “Rose, would you mind, we need to have a department meeting right now, apparently, could you take notes for us please?”

Rose nodded, turning away from Missy to mouth ‘what’s going on?’ at John as she passed by. He wanted to reply, wanted to run his fingers along her wrist or waist, to feel the solid reassurance of her before everything was blown apart. He closed his eyes briefly, trying to work out the likelihood of them both getting out of this unscathed.

“Well sit then.” Missy huffed. “I don’t want to be staring up at you all morning, you’re not that good looking. In fact, I don’t know why I said that. You’re not good looking at all.”

John glared at her. Stalked around his desk to sit behind it. The computer was still off at least, he tested the drawers experimentally, relieved that they all seemed still locked. They didn’t speak to each other. What was there to say? Missy, to her mind, had done nothing wrong by sleeping with a lonely little French lamb. Nothing more, nothing less. John had forgiven Reinette, but Missy, Missy who’d turned to him afterwards and demanded to know why he was upset… the betrayal had run deeper than a marriage based on lust and naivety. Missy had spent years getting to know him, being his friend, calling him Doctor and joking about his pathological need to fix things and wasn’t chaos so much more fun. As soon as John had found some success, became busy travelling and lost his inclination to let fireworks off on rooftops or experiment after hours in the lab Missy got bored.

Bored Missy was a sociopathic thing.

Missy’d probably always been that way, but at first John hadn’t noticed. He’d been too wrapped up in himself to care if she made a student cry or crossed the limits of acceptability too frequently.

John felt guilty, felt responsible. Felt the painful tendrils of regret that touched his every interaction with Missy. Missy was getting restless already, inspecting her dark purple fingernails for chips as she waited for Rose.

Rose reappeared, a slim folder tucked under one arm, and a tray of tea in front of her, three mugs and a little jug of milk and bowl of sugar. Irritation mounted within John, he didn’t want Rose to be polite. He didn’t want her to make an effort for Missy. Missy, whose name was basically interchangeable with denizen of hell in John’s mind. Rose started to offer drinks and John cut her off abruptly. “Missy can get her own.”

“Yeah, I’m sure she could, or I could do it.” Rose shot back, that slight note of warning that always came out when John overstepped his boundaries pulling her brows low. Tea was made, and he seethed at every clink of spoon against china, every softly spoken ritual word of tea preparation. A mug was placed in front of him, without comment at his sulky face. Eventually Rose sat down opposite him, opening the folder on her knee and uncapping her pen, all ears towards Missy.

Missy supped her drink, and the morning light from the porthole window behind her head crowned her hair with a beatific gold glow.

John wondered how long Missy’d spent in his office, planning where to sit for maximum impact when she pulled his world apart again.

“Shall we get started?”

Rose sat, poised, pen millimetres from the surface of the paper. She didn’t know, yet, that Missy was their Blofeld, mentally stroking an overly fluffy cat and giving them advance warning of their doom so they had plenty of time to panic. John’s hands splayed on the table in front of him, gripping the polished wooden surface tightly. Unless… unless Missy really didn’t know. There was a chance. A very, very small one.

He cleared his throat. “I suppose.”

“Excellent.” Missy folded and unfolded her legs, gripping one knee with interlocked fingers. “Let’s get right to it then, vis-à-vis this madness with the junior staff of this department.”

Rose made a few marks on the paper, nothing more than curiosity written in her unhurried movements.

She was being vague. "What madness?" John demanded.

"Oh, surely you've worked it out? You are head of the department after all. And it is absolutely within your remit to monitor acceptable behaviour-"

“Whatever this is about, do you know for sure? I would never want to cause any issues over something… unsubstantiated.” John warned quietly.

"Obviously." Missy smiled. “I’m quite sure. You see I was working quite closely with one of the people involved. I know their secrets.”

John snapped his hand away before he pulled at his sweaty collar, making a fist and then dropping his hand against the table again. “Are you going to keep us waiting all morning?”

“Honestly, Doctor. You’ve got no sense of the dramatic. I am trying to set a scene here, I had it all planned, this sabbatical has been very… informative. I have to say.”

“Sorry, who are we talking about?” Rose tapped her pen against the paper.

Missy huffed, throwing her hands in the air. “Nardole, of course!”

The tense knot of fear that had been coiled in John’s stomach surged free and he lurched forward in his chair. “Nardole!” Rose raised one eyebrow at him, clearly confused by his weird behaviour. He tried to temper it, act slightly more outraged. “Nardole did something bad?”

If Missy noticed, she didn’t show it. “Yes, Nardole. Honestly, I told you when he was accepted onto the program. That boy is ridiculous. He could start a black market locked in an empty room.”

John frowned. “He’s been fine though, no issues with his work or teaching. And no thefts either.”

“He is rather clever you know.” Missy stared at John disdainfully, as though he were stupid. “Plus, his girlfriend works at the School of Pharmacology.”

Rose got it before John did, suddenly hunching over her paper to write at a shockingly quick pace. “Pharmacy.” John echoed weakly. He remembered Nardole telling him that, but he'd thought nothing of it at the time. Too wrapped up in his own worries. Again. “That’s not good.”

“No it isn’t. Although, I have to say the drugs they’ve been supplying do appear to be extremely pure. The likelihood is they’ve not accidently poisoned any of their witless customers. At least, no more than any of the other shite students put in their systems.”

The Doctor slumped back in his chair, resting his hands on the arms and spinning the chair from side to side. “This is really not ideal.”

Missy leaned back on the sofa, a smirk playing at the corner of her lips. “I hate to say I told you so...” She sang. “Now, the question is, how much of it is our department’s problem and how much do we need to be pilling in a truck and driving over to the School of Pharmacology.”