The real problem had nothing to do with some jumped up plasmavore with delusions of grandeur trying to break open a dimensional portal to the planet Hillosofox, which would let all sorts of unhappily displaced aliens loose on this small town, and eventually the whole Earth. That was pretty much just another day at the office, or the lack-of-an-office, as the case may be. (Though there was probably an office on the TARDIS somewhere, the Doctor thought. He should really try to track it down when this was over.)
No, the thing that had the Doctor practically vibrating with frustration was that Rose seemed to have somehow, without even needing to so much as meet the man, gone and found herself another pretty boy.
“Really, Rose?” the Doctor asked. “The world’s ending, and you’re busy making eyes at a complete stranger? Overexposure to Jack Harkness clearly had long-term effects.”
Rose frowned, looking genuinely puzzled. “Um, yeah, on you maybe. What’re you even on about?”
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “You’re staring,” he said. As if she didn’t know exactly what she was doing.
“Well yeah,” Rose said. “There’s a massive hole in the ground. And there were tentacles squirmin’ about everywhere just a minute ago. Course I’m starin’.”
The Doctor sighed, feeling very hard done by. “Not at that. At him.” He pointed.
Rose followed the path of his finger. “What, seriously? I looked for about a second. Nowhere near enough for you to be gettin’ all jealous over it.”
“Jealous!” the Doctor sputtered. “I’m never jealous, Rose. Never. I’m just worried that you don’t have your mind on the job.”
“The job’s done,” Rose reminded him. “Did you somehow just miss that whole apocalypse aversion part of the evenin’? Kind of hard to ignore, what with all the aliens and earthquakes and us closin’ that universal gap while those high school kids were busy throwin’ that guy onto the big stick and makin’ him all skeltony – which, by the way, how exactly did they think that would be enough to save the world?”
“I’m told it’s a surprisingly effective tactic in this town,” the Doctor commented. “Er, not that I’m endorsing that kind of violence. Of course not. Not me. Not at all.” Although he might make an exception, actually, if Rose went back to staring at that man like she had been, the Doctor considered with a frown.
“Yeah, well, thanks to our plan, which was way more useful than any pointy stick, I’m pretty sure the world is as safe as Earth ever gets. At least for next few hours or so before the next big problem hits, anyway. So if I wanted to take this opportunity to, you know, scope out the local sights...” Rose said teasingly, a sly smile working its way onto her face.
“But him? He’s a plasmavore!”
“Well, yeah,” Rose said. “Obviously. I do have eyes. But I’ve got nothin’ against aliens, personally.” She raised her eyebrows pointedly at him, and the Doctor had to fight back a blush. There was no way she meant that the way it sounded, so he wasn’t about to let her know he’d read anything into it. “Anyways,” Rose added, “even you should be able to tell that the bloke’s really sort of nice to look at. All right, more than just ‘sort of’. Though I dunno what’s up with that thing where his face went all bumpy and grrrr for a bit there. That was weird.”
The Doctor scoffed, “Simple morphic illusion, obviously. But anyone can see that it’s not even just the facial deformities and the high probability of getting your blood drained that you have to look out for with that one, Rose,” the Doctor was quick to point out. “I mean, look at him. He’s got ‘unstable weirdo’ written all over him. He’s all over that girl who’s probably hundreds of years younger than him. And look at that stupid sticky-upy hair, and the brooding eyes, and the completely ridiculous coat that he’s bound to trip over the second things get...”
The Doctor stopped, seeing Rose’s laughing eyes pointedly move from his own beloved ’do, to his eyes, and all the way down to where his coat brushed the dusty ground.
He huffed, put out, but merely muttered, “I bet Janice Joplin didn’t give him his coat. Probably bought it in some overpriced department store, as if that makes it cool. Time Lords scoff in the face of department stores. In fact, as I’m sure you’ll remember, we tend to blow them up. Or at least I do.”
“But what about that time –”
“Doesn’t count,” he cut her off quickly. Honestly, he’d only let her drag him to that planet-wide shoe sale because it was Rose, and she’d directed those big pleading eyes at him, and... and, actually, that line of thought really wasn’t going to restore the damaged part of his ego any. He was fairly certain that he didn’t used to be the type of man who could be swayed by a pouty lip. Stupid regeneration.
“Well I wouldn’t worry. You’re way different in other ways,” Rose placated him. “I mean, obviously you’re way smarter, seein’ how you’re smarter than everyone. And you’re loads skinnier.”
The Doctor beamed for a long moment before realising he had no idea whether that last part was supposed to be a compliment or not. He’d never really understood the human preoccupation with big muscles. He wasn’t skinny. He was compact.
“Besides,” Rose added, her expression cheeky, “all that aside, there’s really no need to be jealous, since I reckon he’s off the market. It pretty much looks like he’s got his own blonde girl to hold his hand.”
As the Doctor went off on a ramble about her once again bringing up that crazy idea that he was jealous – he couldn’t figure out why no one ever seemed to believe him when he pointed out that he clearly wasn’t – Rose grabbed his hand demonstratively and took off running for the TARDIS with a laugh.
His protests died in his throat, and the Doctor smiled and followed her, not even really much caring where she was leading them.
* * *
Two days (or three years, depending on who you ask) later...
Xander had barely had time to pull over to the side of the road before there was a man slapping his hands on the side counter, a massive grin painted across his face.
“Hello there! We need to commandeer your ice cream van.”
“I think what he means to say is ‘please’,” a girl standing slightly behind him piped up. “And also ‘hurry’.”
“Yes, that!” the man agreed. “Well, except for the part where I’m not exactly asking so much as telling.”
“Uh, wuh?” Xander blinked. Then he blinked again, only to see that the man in question was now bounding up to and pulling open the driver’s side door. “Woah, woah, hang on there, crazy pinstripe man. Where’s the fire? And if there is an actual fire, which really isn’t out the question in this town, then I think what you’re really looking for is a fire truck. This truck? More of the ice cream variety.”
The man frowned for a moment, as if considering, and then shook his head. “Nah! Way too conspicuous... at least this time. Maybe another day. Could be fun, don’t you think Rose? No, getting off track again. Can’t do that. We’re on a deadline here. And right now what we’re looking for is something incognito. This looks like it will blend in nicely... ish. Now come on, even I can’t slow time down enough for us to be able to go through all the details. Just trust me. Out of the way.”
“Look, don’t get me wrong,” Xander said. “I’d like nothing more than to see the back of this stupid truck. Or not even the back of it, really. I don’t even want to see the dust it kicks up as it goes; that’s how much I hate this job. But I kind of need it, see, because I need actual money for that whole ‘living’ thing. I can’t just give my source of debateable livelihood over to any old stranger than strange kind of stranger. No offence.”
The man shrugged. “I’m the Doctor, and this is Rose. See! Now we’re not strangers anymore. All sorted. And honestly, you’re welcome to come along with us if that’s the hold up. Only I’m definitely driving.”
The Doctor pushed through the door, and the girl – Rose, apparently – followed, though slightly more hesitantly.
Rose said, “Um, Doctor? Can you actually drive this thing?”
“Course! Well, I expect so!” the Doctor said. “Well... how hard can it be?”
Xander had been hanging around the Hellmouth more than long enough to know a jinx when he heard it. Apparently Rose had similar experience.
“Oh, well, now you’ve gone and done it. He’s not exactly about to let us have his van now. Look,” Rose added, looking directly at Xander. “We wouldn’t ask... or probably not, anyway. Except the fate of the universe is at stake here.”
“Point me to a week when it’s not,” Xander quipped.
“Exactly!” the Doctor exclaimed. “I really think this town might give even Cardiff a run for its money in terms of alien activity. So you should be used to this sort of thing. As a matter of fact...” the Doctor peered at him. “Weren’t you there for that business with the creatures busting through the floor of that school library?”
Xander was well aware that he looked slack-jawed at that, but he thought it was pretty much warranted. “How did you kn– er, I mean, I have no idea what you’re talking about. At all. Nuh uh. Nothing weird going on here.”
“You’re a terrible liar,” the Doctor informed him flippantly, “but that’s all right. You can make yourself useful in other ways. You must have picked up some handy skills along the way, fighting the alien horde.”
“Well sure,” Xander said. “Except for the alien bit, obviously. I’m running headfirst into danger guy. That’s gotta count for something, am I right or am I right?”
“How about drivin’ into danger?” Rose asked. “How are you at that? Because whatever he might say,” Rose gestured at the Doctor, “I’d personally feel safer with someone who actually knows how to operate this thing behind the wheel. He’s not the best of drivers even in his own vehicle, between you and me.”
“Oi,” the Doctor said, sounding annoyed. “I can actually hear you.”
“All right,” Xander said. “Let’s say that we’re living in some mad universe where I drive the crazy bus for you guys – not completely different from this world, I’ll admit. Where would I be going? And, you know, why?”
“There’s a secret alien invasion happenin’ right now in this town,” Rose answered. “Bit rude, considerin’ that we only just got done savin’ this town.”
“Well,” the Doctor said, “if we’re going to be completely honest here, it’s more that there’s another invasion. As far as I can tell, there are more aliens than humans already settled in this town. Fairly unusual for 21st century Earth, but some of them really are very peaceful, and humans only see what they want to see, so whatever works.”
“Again with the aliens!” Xander exclaimed. “That makes you two, what, Mulder and Scully?”
Rose and the Doctor grinned at each other and shrugged.
“Sure,” Rose said. “Why not. Better nicknames than ‘the Oncoming Storm’, yeah?”
The Doctor huffed.
“And these aliens that you’re on about are going to somehow be defeated using my ice cream truck?” Xander continued.
“Look, we can’t all run around trying to solve alien problems by poking them with big pointy sticks,” the Doctor said. “We tend to frown on that sort of violence, Rose and I. Also, you might want to pass the message along to all your band of friends that it’s probably not going to work on most species. More often than not, you’re just going to make the aliens mad.”
Xander could barely even hear the Doctor’s rambling over his own brain’s continued insistence that they were completely nuts. It was the only explanation, obviously. “Aliens,” he said disbelievingly. “Sorry, but that’s impossible, even for Sunnydale.”
The Doctor grinned. “Oh, nothing’s really impossible, whatever I might often find myself saying to the contrary. That’s what makes it fun!”
Xander considered that. Fun. Apart from his exploits with Anya (and really, that was a very different kind of fun), he really hadn’t experienced much of that, lately. And he couldn’t deny that he was intrigued to find out whether these two (the Doctor especially) were merely mental hospital escapees, or whether (as mad as it sounded) there actually were such things as aliens.
He grinned, grabbing the stupid cardboard ice cream vender cap off his head and chucking it in the back, just in case; if he really was going to help save the world today, he was going to attempt to do it with as much dignity as it was possible to have while driving an ice cream truck.
“Buckle up,” he ordered the other two. He shifted the truck into gear, trying to ignore how the high-pitched rendition of Camptown Races being broadcast from the truck across the neighbourhood as they went didn’t make for the most dramatic soundtrack to their mission.
Later, Xander thought about telling the others about stalking real life aliens up and down the streets of Sunnydale in an ice cream truck, and then defeating them with (of all things) huge gobs of whipped cream. Then he thought better of it. Even Anya would probably never believe that one.
It occurred to him, as he watched the Doctor and Rose skipping away hand in hand, that the two of them acted as if this was just a normal day for them. Or, honestly, like it was some kind of a date.
But really, he thought, living on the Hellmouth, maybe he should be used to that sort of thing by now.