Since they’d been left together on that beach in Norway, Rose had never once really complained about anything. Nothing at all. From the reporters that followed them around like lost puppies to the fact that travel by zeppelin was ridiculously slow, Rose always remained strangely silent.
That was what convinced the Doctor that something must be terribly wrong.
It wasn’t as if she was the type to constantly grumble or anything – far from it – but she certainly never used to hesitate to tell him about even the tiniest little things that irked her. She’d even found something to rib him about in his teeth-brushing habits, of all things. And he’d liked the fact that she never held back when she had something to say. That way he’d always known where she stood.
But that had been before, of course, when they’d finally found a place where they’d been comfortable with where they stood and she’d felt safe to tell him practically anything. Those days seemed to have passed.
Now she didn’t even have a negative word to say about being unexpectedly dumped back in this universe that she’d hated, though he knew that she’d fully expected by now to be skipping around the stars again. She must have been frustrated to end up back here after spending years working tirelessly to get away. She must have wished she could be elsewhere... with someone else.
Being deserted with him after all the time she’d spent searching for the full Time Lord Doctor and his TARDIS must have driven her half-mad. The Doctor kept expecting the day when she’d turn around and ask him what he thought he was doing, trying to slide into her life as if he was the real Doctor, but it still hadn’t arrived.
He’d even resorted to asked her outright what was bothering her when they’d been curled up on the couch together watching television one quiet evening. She’d simply turned to him and looked at him as if he’d grown a second head (he’d later checked to make sure he hadn’t, of course, because you never knew what crazy consequences might come of a metacrisis) and asked him where on Earth he got the idea that something was wrong.
Perhaps a man less prone to overthinking everything would have just taken her at her word and let the worries die away. After all, things were just about perfect as far as he was concerned; he was only asking for trouble by second-guessing it. But he still had the brain of a Time Lord, even though he’d admittedly lost a few other bits and pieces along the way, so the Doctor couldn’t so easily stop his mind from racing with every dire possibility.
Maybe it was just absurd insecurity resulting from becoming half-human, or half-Donna, or something; he couldn’t believe he’d possibly been like this the whole time since he’d regenerated into this body. But he knew it couldn’t be just baseless fear alone that was driving him. He was certain it was only a matter of time before she decided that this wasn’t what she’d wanted, and that she couldn’t keep living the lie. And as much as he wanted to be with her, he didn’t want to force her to accept him just because he’d been pushed on her.
He decided after quite some time had passed without any sign of change that the nerve-wracking wait just might be worse than if she’d just come out and actually told him that she didn’t want to be with him anymore.
He supposed that if Rose wasn’t going to be the one to tell it like it was, then he knew precisely where else he could go.
Though he really wasn’t looking forward to it.
* * *
If anyone had ever told the Doctor that he’d be voluntarily walking into the lion’s den for any reason – let alone to ask Jackie Tyler for relationship advice, of all things – he would have laughed himself right into the next regeneration.
Yet here he was, ready to all but prostrate himself before Rose’s mother. If Rose was going to voice her problems to anyone, Jackie would surely be the first to know. Of course, he’d also always expected that he could rely on her to be first in line to tell him all about it and demand that he fix it, so he was rather disappointed she hadn’t come to him long ago.
He tried to introduce the topic gradually, but Jackie kept going off on little rants about this politician and that new kind of chocolate that even the Doctor, the king of random segues, honestly didn’t really follow. Eventually he grew tired of being subtle – it wasn’t really his style, nor Jackie’s, anyway – and burst out with the question, “What does Rose hate about me?”
“Why does she what now?” Jackie asked. “What’re you on about this time?”
“I just want to know what Rose says about me,” he said urgently. “Privately. When I’m not around, that is, because I know what she says when I am around, since I have two perfectly working ears and all. Obviously. What I mean is that I want to know what she complains to you about.”
Jackie shrugged, as if it wasn’t important. “If it’s botherin’ you, ask her why don’t you.”
“I have!” the Doctor whined. “She won’t tell me. But she must have said something to you about me. Human women talk to their mothers about these things, I’m sure of it.”
And Jackie, who had never once missed an opportunity to point out his every shortcoming, could apparently come up with nothing more consequential than, “Well, she did mention that you snored.”
The Doctor ran his hand through his hair in frustration. “No, not that. Well, actually, that’s good to know I suppose. Well, ‘good’ isn’t really the word... But no, I mean the real stuff. The things she won’t tell me because she’s Rose, and she cares about people, and she’d never want to hurt my feelings on purpose no matter what. There has to be a reason that she never complains about anything!”
When Jackie whacked him upside the back of the head, it wasn’t the kind of terrifying slap that he’d remembered and dreaded since the second time he’d met her. The only thing it really hurt was his pride. Still, he gave her a wounded look, though he only received a glare in return.
“Why exactly would she be complainin’? She’s too happy for that, you goose,” Jackie said. “And if you tell me that you still don’t recognise what she looks like when she’s happy after all that time you ran about puttin’ her in danger, you’ll have somethin’ comin’ to you, make no mistake.”
The Doctor shied back out of her reach, holding his hands up in a gesture of peace. “No, no, no need for that,” he reassured her. “I’ve definitely seen her happy before. Very much so, actually. It’s just... you know, it didn’t occur to me that she would be. Not now, here, like this. Not with me.”
Jackie looked at him like he was the biggest idiot in the universe... which wasn’t entirely different from her default expression when looking at him, he had to admit. “And why not?” she asked indignantly. “Here you are, big as you please, standin’ in my kitchen like you’ve been here waitin’ for her all along. Don’t you know that that’s all she ever really wanted?”
But what she’d wanted was him, the Doctor thought, before he realised that Jackie truly didn’t seem to see a difference. And no matter what he’d spent so much time fearing, it seemed that nor, apparently, did Rose. He was the Doctor, end of story.
“Oh,” the Doctor said. Then he grinned. “Well. Good. Molto bene. I’m brilliant, me, obviously, so what more could anyone need?”
Seeing the thoroughly unimpressed look on Jackie’s face, he wisely decided that this would be a very good time to run for the hills.
Or, more precisely, to run to Rose.
* * *
When Rose got home a few hours later, he swept her off her feet as soon as she passed through the door. She giggled as he carried her through the flat and then pinned her to the soft mattress.
“What’s this all about, then?” she asked, still laughing.
“Oh, nothing,” the Doctor said. “I just realised that I’m an idiot, is all.”
She reached up and ruffled his already messy hair and teased, “Oh, is that all? Well I could’ve told you that ages ago.”
Yes, he decided, he imagined she could have. Especially if she’d had any clue what it was that had led him to that conclusion. She might have even taken a leaf out of her mother’s book and smacked him one as well, if she knew.
After all, much as she was doing right now, she’d always given him ample reason to suspect that she liked having him exactly where he was.
He’d just have to make sure he appreciated her efforts all the more from now on.