The first time Mickey Smith meets Rose Tyler, she's shouting at Jimmy Stone from down the road, her hands balled into fists and her hair catching the light, looking magnificent. She seems just a bit familiar, like someone Mickey has known his whole life and never quite noticed. It doesn't feel important, really, not like he's finding his other half or his soulmate. He's seen her around the estate dozens of times, probably passed her on the sidewalk on his way down to the auto shop, and the first time he notices her, really notices her, she's yelling insults at some stupid wanker and she makes Mickey feel an odd sort of safe.
He wants to ask her out for a drink on the spot, but she's in the middle of a rage and he doesn't want to be that sort of rebound, so he gives it a week. Then he catches her near the park at dusk, says something offhand about noticing her about, does she want to catch the game over chips, and hopes like hell he doesn't sound too weird.
Rose considers it. He can see her considering every inch of him, trying him on for size, and he watches carefully enough that he catches the moment when her eyes light, when she fits him into place in her world and doesn't find him wanting. She wraps her arms around herself, tilts her head, and peers up at him through her thick eyelashes. "All right," she says, "but it has to be quick, my mum's expecting me home and if I'm too long she'll get ... ideas."
"Right, yeah, of course," Mickey agrees, already thinking of all the ways he can make sure he fits into Rose's life like she already thinks he might, all the ways he can become the sort of bloke she doesn't mind her mum having ideas about. He offers his hand, and she takes it; they walk down to the chippie together, Mickey's cheeks overheated with hope and joy, and he thinks that has to be worth something.
The first time Mickey Smith loses Rose Tyler, it's his own fault. He should have been braver. Faster. Maybe even just less tongue-tied, so that when Rose walked to him across the stretch of estate on the first worst night of his life and said "Thanks," like a challenge, he could have understood, said no babe wait I'm sorry please think about it don't leave with him. But he fed her the line, said "For what?" and gave her all the proof she needed that he didn't fit in her life anymore.
After that, every night is the worst night.
When the police question him on Rose's disappearance, his alibi comes in awkward stammers. I was trapped under the London Eye by living plastic from space. He doesn't remember what he says, what stupid rote lie he tells every time, with increasing desperation. It is his fault that Rose is gone; she might as well be dead. His guilty conscience conjures up a dozen mad ways Rose could be dying right now, out there in the universe in that old police box without Mickey around to save her.
He likes to lie under cars at the auto shop, only his feet out in the world, settling into the dark closed oil-smelling space, listening to the radio's echoing blare around the garage, and he tries to lose himself. Sometimes he almost manages, never quite enough for it to help.
Rose's mum Jackie hates him for months, until the police stop coming round. He wishes she had any of the right ideas about him. Mickey tries to avoid her, ignore the way her mascara smudges and her hair is never tidy anymore. But he can't actually run when she comes by, because it would be obvious and cowardly, and one day he can't avoid her without running, so he holds his ground as she walks past the shop.
Jackie stops. She looks at him with huge eyes like Rose's, only old and the wrong colour, and she says, "Mickey, yeah?" Mickey nods mutely. Jackie's mouth does something strange and tremulous, the attempt at a smile. "Want to come in for a cuppa?" she asks.
Mickey wants to cry. He says a hoarse affirmative and follows her.
By the new year he's calling her Jacks, and sometimes they drink together and swap stories about Rose. He never tells the really important story, though. He can't.
The first time Mickey gets Rose back, she's been gone three days.
Mickey's insides feel different than they did the night the mannequins walked, and he's had a year of nightmares. Rose has stories about space stations and Christmasses long past, and she's slept three peaceful nights aboard the Doctor's time machine. Three nights. Three days. She's nineteen.
This time Mickey helps her save the world. He's done it a dozen times in his head, and if the reality involves listening to the Doctor over a mobile and hacking the defense codes that will blow up Downing Street with Rose inside, Mickey's still gonna do it. He's a year older. There are things he's willing to do now.
Going with her isn't one of them.
The second and third and fourth times he gets Rose back, she's still nineteen. She turns up with another new friend, some smarmy wanker named Jack. She loses him. She loses the Doctor, and sobs to Mickey and Jack in a chippie, and Mickey sees that even if she's still nineteen, she's changed too, her insides so different that the two of them don't even fit into the same world anymore. He tries not to mind, tries to see other girls, tries to avoid Jackie's eyes so he doesn't see his own heartbreak reflected there. He floors it with a big yellow truck to help Rose leave him again, because he still loves her. She comes back with a new Doctor, another change, another space between them. It's like she's crying all the time now. Mickey doesn't know who to hate.
The first time Rose loses Mickey, he feels lightheaded with freedom.
The truck rattles and rumbles under him, its engine built just differently enough to give Mickey a buzzing delight at the strangeness. Jake, his hands clenched white-knuckled to the steering wheel, is silent while the road skims away through headlight flashes in the dark, but Mickey doesn't mind. For the first time since he asked Rose out for a drink a lifetime ago, he's done something for himself, and it feels good.
"Do you think there's a copy of me in your world?" Jake abruptly asks the dark windshield.
"I don't know," Mickey says, surprised.
"Your girlfriend wasn't here," Jake points out.
"I don't think it works like that," Mickey says, but maybe it does. Maybe every alternate reality fits together like a vastly complicated jigsaw puzzle, with Ricky and Jake and no Rose in one, with Mickey and Rose and no Jake in another, with some rule that says that if the Doctor gets Rose, Mickey has to be shuffled one reality over to bump Ricky out of alignment. He glances sideways at Jake, sitting there with his jaw set in a grim line, all resolute and hard determination. Mickey thinks, experimentally, There was a version of me in love with him. It isn't so hard to imagine. But Mickey isn't a replacement any more than he's a tin dog.
Jake darts a sideways glance at him, and his expression softens a little. "It doesn't work like that," he agrees. "Now get some sleep, or you'll be no good once we reach Paris."
The first time Mickey really understands that it's always going to be like this, he's been three years fighting Cybermen, becoming the best comrade-in-arms Jake could ask for, hacking systems and firing guns and talking back to Pete Tyler and even, now and then, having a good laugh. He's become someone who'd fight a hundred zombie mannequins and wouldn't have to ask for a second what his girl was thanking him for.
Rose looks the same as ever.
She's wearing a soft blue jumper. Her eyes are still young. Mickey sees her across the room, squinting up at the void sphere like it's just another day in the life, and Mickey keeps his cover, but it doesn't stop him from feeling that all the air's left the room. Three years gone, he's all alone in a universe of Rose's orbit, and there's nothing he'll ever be able to do about it.
In some weird way, it's the best day of his life. He knows what he's doing here, knows things Rose and the Doctor don't. They fit, moving as a unit, all parts in place, getting it done. The Doctor beams at Mickey, bumps bony knuckles against Mickey's in greeting as though they do this every day, and Mickey can no longer find any room in himself to hate the Doctor for anything.
He can feel Rose watching him, considering every inch of him, trying him on for size, and even though he's busy, Mickey can feel the moment when Rose lights up, fits him into place, aligns him back in her life. It's not Mickey the boyfriend, but it's not Mickey the idiot either, and Mickey is content with the compromise.
The first time Rose really gets it, too, it's the night after a long drive from Norway. Rose is rung out with crying and has retreated to her room. Mickey probably shouldn't follow her, but he does.
"Not now, Mickey, all right?" Rose glares at him in the doorway.
"No," Mickey tells her. "It's always 'not now', isn't it? I just want five minutes."
"Fine," Rose says. She scoots over a little on her bed to make room for him to sit. "Five minutes."
Mickey comes and sits next to her. Rose stares down at her hands, and Mickey looks at her hair, turned silver in the moonlight. He tries to think what to say. This place, it changes you. No. One alternate reality can't compete with a hundred times and planets; they've both already changed. Don't cry, babe. No; Rose always feels with violent passion, and he doesn't want to change an inch of her that she's not changing for herself. I love you. God, no. Not out loud.
"You know I'll always be here," Mickey says finally. He doesn't know what to add. He doesn't know where either of them fit anymore, not in time, not in space, not in any one reality, but he does know where he fits with Rose, for as long as she wants him.
"I know," Rose whispers. She looks up at him through her thick eyelashes and, for the first time in ages, smiles her thousand-watt smile. Mickey's cheeks heat with hope and joy. He's exactly where he should be.