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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 Rose 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?”

“No!" She waved her hands wildly. "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, 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. Long tawny brown eyelashes narrowed 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 trailed 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. Scientists could 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 shook her head 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 filthy 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," She brushed one eye with the edge of her palm and hoped her mascara hadn’t run. "Going out was supposed to be about forgetting all this shit.”

“She moved in with this wanker musician when you were seventeen, didn’t you Rose?” Shareen explained, 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 in a few weeks!”

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 the Doctor's 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 the Doctor 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.

The Doctor's office was a surprising contrast to the outer one. One wall was entirely covered in the books he needed to work, while the one opposite contained a series of round porthole windows. The windows were too small to really let enough natural light in a plus that stopped the books being damaged by the sun.

A while ago, before the hasty divorce, the Doctor had snuck a battered second hand cream sofa in; 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 while they 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.

The Doctor 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… 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 the Doctor 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 the Doctor 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 hazy memories of the night before seeped into the Doctor's 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 the Doctor 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.

The Doctor 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.

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

The girl, her soft lips on the Doctor's their bodies pressed together, the sequins of her dress scratching 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.

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?

River 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.”

The Doctor 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.”

The Doctor 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…”

River threw a pen at the Doctor, 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, Rani was very, very drunk.”

“That hack 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.

The Doctor shot her a fake offended look. “I’m telling you, she never did the washing up.”

They settled into a comfortable silence and River grabbed some of the discarded sheets of paper from the Doctor's 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.”

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

The Doctor 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 councillor.

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 illegible 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; while pairs of elderly academics 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 champagne 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 as she weaved side to side in her seat, acting for all the world like the hyper kids fidgeting a few rows down.

As soon as he emerged Bill pointed out the Doctor, heading towards 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, not by me, and 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, leaning closer as she whispered. “That’s the Doc's 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 pretty hot.” Bill added.

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 be very welcome.

The Doctor had introduced 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. "S-" She bit her tongue.

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. They should not do this here.

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 brushing against Rose's as they drew level with each other.

“Rose, Bill." He turned to Bill and nodded politely. "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 arm, from Rose's 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 touching but knotted their arms pressed close together as they surveyed the last of the guests filtering away. “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 to the bottom of the auditorium, 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. The sun had already gone down, and even the gloomily lit 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. Kind of a teacher's bonus - you’d get to play on the climbing frame at the weekend, and 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 completely follow.

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. John had tried fruitlessly to get her to sober up with part baked bread rolls and pints of water, until eventually she'd 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. An apologetic note from Rose had sat on the coffee table, along with a slice of now 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.

So it was that the Doctor 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.”

Chapter Text

The photocopier was playing up again and Rose frowned as she tried to find the opening in the plastic to reach the insides. Not that she really knew what she was doing, but a bit of wiggling the printer cartridges and poking around often seemed to kick it back into gear. The copying room was particularly grim, windowless and full of stale stuffy air at the end of busy days. The single bulb hadn’t been replaced with an energy saving one yet, and flickered if too many machines were running at once. The walls were pasted with old faded and peeling notices urging her to recycle and save the Earth (it’s the only planet with liquid water and the optimum atmosphere for human life!) crowded around a laminated copy of the health and safety code. It was a pretty crap place to spend the afternoon, compared to say: the beach or wandering around a museum with the Doctor, but it wasn’t the worst place either. It definitely beat lugging plastic mannequins around the basement at Henrik’s, or being covered in a fine coating of grease twelve hours a day at the chip shop.

She could hear footsteps scuffing down the lino of the corridor outside the open door and twisted to see who it was just in time for John to appear, reaching down to grab a hunk of junk off the floor “Where did this come from?” John tossed the heavy plastic Easter egg studded with orange and blue plastic screws between his hands.

“No idea; it’s good for holding the door open though.” An automatic smile flashed across Rose’s features, a reflex action that seemed to occur every time she greeted her skinny limbed science nerd. Even in the most sober or dull situation, she was totally unable to suppress the up-twist of the corners of her lips and the tiny extra heartbeat of anticipation that flushed across her skin and made her feel like a sunflower, turning towards the sun and glowing in it’s gaze.

God help her, she was getting poetic. Bad, teenage diary poetic.

He frowned at the lump of plastic suspiciously “I think it’s a model of the influenza virus.”

“Huh.” Rose quirked one eyebrow at him. “I didn’t think biology was your specialist subject.”

John pouted at the teasing jibe, the poor light casting his face in angular shadows that highlighted his skinny features, before sighing and turning away. “Do me a favour: If it turns out Nardole was involved in repatriating this from some other department, just don’t fill me in. I could live with knowing a bit less right now.”

“Sure.” The plastic lip Rose was looking for finally appeared under her fingertips and she pressed it into place as she heaved the bulky top half of the photocopier open. “Gotcha!”

John leaned into the room curiously. “How’s she looking?” He whispered

“Why are you whispering? And did you just call it she?”

“You’re about to rummage around in her insides!” He protested. “Wouldn’t you prefer a calm soothing voice?”

Rose smirked at him, one hand on hip. “Shall I leave you two alone?”

John paused, tactically ignoring her as he dropping the flu model onto a rickety table someone had wedged into the corner and letting the door click shut behind him. “Do you need a hand?”

“Got two.” Rose tried to ignore his proximity as he moved to her side, close enough to tell he smelt slightly appley today as they leaned into the open guts of the machine to try and work out what was going on. “But, help helps.” She pulled up the plastic cover that hid the paper feed mechanism. “’s not a paper jam.”

“Nope.” He agreed, brushing against her as he stroked some rotating element. “Hmm, movement seems good. What about the ink?”

“Changed it yesterday. And cleaned the heads.”

John grinned at her, a lopsided smile that lit up his eyes. “Brilliant.”

Bemused Rose twisted to face him properly as he shucked off his brown jacket and rolled up his sleeves. “Why?”

“Because, Rose Tyler,” His eyes fixed on hers as her name rolled off his lips lasciviously and she moved towards him instinctively, forgetting where they were. His eyes dropped away, the slight movement giving away his preoccupation. “This thing, I can fix.”

It was a stupid thing to do at work, but Rose couldn’t help it; her fingers reached out for him, curling around a button on his blue shirt and pressing her palm against the warmth of his chest. She tugged John closer, a tiny imperceptible pull of the soft cotton that he heeded instantly; dipping his face towards her upturned one, finding her lips with his own for a soft, restrained kiss. It was demure, but tiny bubbles of excitement popped over Rose’s skin in anticipation, making her shiver involuntarily.

They hadn’t done much more than kiss in the few weeks since their meteor based date, and Rose was getting impatient at the slow pace. They were both adults, she wanted him, and the hard length she was pretty sure wasn’t his phone suggested he felt the same.

“Rose...” He murmured her name as he pulled her closer, sliding his hands along her side as he raised one hand to cradle the back of her neck, and the other to grip the back of her own stripy pink shirt and pull her closer. The sudden move sent her heart soaring in her chest and she pressed against him blatantly, slipping the closest of his shirt buttons from it’s hole and sneaking a couple of fingers under the fabric to stroke the wiry wall of his chest. Her pulse thudded in her ears, avoiding his eyes as she waited for permission to continue, waited for him to pull back or tell her to stop, to throw her against a wall and follow through for once.

Primal desire snapped, and with a ragged breath that echoed in her ear he backed her over to the rickety table, nudging the back of her thighs against the rough wood until she got the hint and perched on the edge, automatically letting her legs fall open and hooking one foot around the back of his knee to guide him home against her. He chuckled against her lips, pulling the hem of her shirt out from under the waistband of her skirt and letting his own hands dance along her bare skin. Any sense of propriety abandoned, Rose started working on the other buttons, pulling each one loose with a flick of her wrist until she was free to run both palms along his chest. A sigh escaped her lips and he pressed a smug kiss against her collarbone as he let her explore. John might have been skinny but a lifetime of running had left his chest surprisingly strong, a wall of pale lean muscle that begged to be licked. She ran one thumb over one nipple and kissed the other as he groaned in response. The apple scent clung to his skin, and she smiled against his chest, strobing images of his morning shower and future ones also containing her flashing through her mind.

“We shouldn’t do this here.” He whispered it into her hair, before tugging her back up to him for another kiss. Apparently his hands hadn’t got the message his brain was trying to sell though, because they’d found her bra under her shirt, cupping the lace and cotton and gently squeezing as he rubbed his own thumbs against the cloth above her nipples until they pebbled hard and aching and she drew back, panting.

“Too many clothes.” She muttered, hot and uncomfortable, and desperate to feel her own chest pressed naked against his. He loosened a couple of buttons on her shirt, enough to pull it over her head and abandon it, crumpled on the floor beside them.

John paused for a moment, taking in the sight of her heaving chest and swollen lips, dusky eyed in the dim light of the glorified cupboard. A war was battling inside him, and Rose knew which side she wanted to win. She reached behind her back and undid the catch of her bra, letting the straps fall from her shoulders and the cups follow shortly afterwards.

He couldn’t help himself, one beseeching look and the responding nod was followed by burning kisses that felt like fire against her lips, fire that sparked wherever they pressed against each other, from ribs to lips. Hands roamed greedily across each other’s skin, stroking featherlight touches that burned with an intensity she hadn’t felt for so long. She licked and kissed his neck and shoulders, finding the places that made him groan with pleasure and thrust his hips towards hers, gasping every time he put delicious pressure in just the right places.

Something buzzed, a dull feeling against her thigh.

It took them a few minutes to notice and even then, John couldn’t seem to bring himself to pull away from her properly as he struggled, one handed, to fish his phone out of his pocket. He tapped his passcode impatiently into the screen.

She knew the moment he’d really understood. Saw his face fall, lust replaced by drawn, pinched anxiety. “Rose. Get dressed.”

She glanced around him at the still closed door, crossing her arms across her bare chest. “What’s wrong?”

“I.” He stepped away, dropping down to grab her shirt and bra from the floor and pass them back to her. “I, Rose…” He looked so lost. “Missy knows about us. And we can’t, this can’t be a thing anymore.”

Anger flushed through her and she struggled to manipulate the stupid bra back over her. “What the hell are you talking about?”

He ran one hand through his gelled hair, mussing it up so the strands flopped disorganised around his head. “No, I – Rose you know, I... It’s just, there’s policies about this, about colleagues and relationships.” He waved vaguely between them, clearly uncomfortable. “And Missy is…” He drew in a ragged breath. “She just sent me a photo of the exact paragraph of the handbook. She knows, Rose.” The idea seemed to alarm him a lot more than it did Rose. “Missy might, no, she almost definitely will use this against me. Or you. I mean I probably should never have…” The hand was back rubbing against the back of his neck anxiously. “I probably should never have asked you out anyway.”

Hot tears prickled at her eyelids and she tugged at her own sleeve as he turned away. “Don’t say that.” She turned away to hide her face as she did up the last few buttons of her shirt. “Seriously, don’t ever.” She stood up, tucking the hem of her shirt back into her skirt and smoothing down her hair mechanically. “Are you going to let her just blackmail you like this?”

He didn’t reply, just stared at her balefully, shirt still undone and phone limp in his hand. She took it off him and read the message. It wasn’t a message really, just a photo from the handbook. “Colleagues in a personal relationship should not work together under any circumstance… Failure to declare a personal relationship (as defined in this document) to the Senior Manager may constitute a disciplinary offense, including where there is no unfair advantage or disadvantage to either of the parties to the relationship.” She’d put a sepia filter on it and a perky pink heart in the corner.

Bitch.

“We can’t possibly be the only staff at a University to ever hook up.”

He laughed flatly. “Of course not, this place is practically built on academic incest. These rules only got made last year. Protecting the institution from harassment claims.”

She fiddled with a loose cap at the corner of the printer tray. “That’s easy then: just tell the head honchos it’s all mutual, no one’s being taken advantage of, problem goes away.”

“It’s not that simple, I’m your senior manager.” John tried. “I could get fired, and you don’t technically have a permanent contract yet, so it would be easy for Missy to...” He trailed off. “I know you need the money. I can’t let you lose your job because of me.”

Rose studied him. The hunched slope of his shoulders, the worried downturn of his lips and eyes that made him look tired and older than usual. One threat, and he’d given up instantly. He wasn’t going to fight for her. “You knew this was a risk the entire time.”

He said nothing, stayed where he was, hovering uselessly and silent.

“Fine.” She cleared her throat and waved at the photocopier. “Teach me how to fix this.”

He cleared his throat, blinking slowly as he joined her beside the plastic and metal hulk she was probably referring too. “Rose, please believe me that I really like you. I wish we could-”

“Don’t.” Her voice snapped and she nodded at the photocopier pointedly. “The photocopier.”

Chapter Text

Building work on Waterloo Bridge turned Rose’s usual early morning bus ride into a grim, stop start affair. The dilapidated bus, still not upgraded to the promised new electric version, vibrated in time with the struggling engine as it pumped noxious fumes into the wet fog. The traffic was terrible, angry horn blasts punctuating the interminably slow progress. Rose hadn’t been able to get a seat, so she stood listlessly, pressed against her fellow commuters, her arm hanging pointlessly above her head from one of the plastic handles. Her other fist gripped the battered cables of her headphones; broken at some point in her bag, now Rose had nothing to occupy her thoughts but the muffled coughs and coffee slurps of early morning public transport.

Trying not to accidently catch anyone’s eye she peered through the dirty grey bus window at the squat buildings that huddled around the Thames along the south bank. Idly Rose considered the CV she had started drafting in a moment of rage the week before. Now she had some office experience, maybe Donna could help her get another job in the city; there were a million places that might consider her now. Not for anything great, obviously, but just a foot in the door at a big company.

A pointed throat clearing near her ear jogged her from her thoughts, bring with it the stubborn two tone buzz of her phone bleeping through the fabric of the bag she’d slung across her body; taking advantage of the stationary bus Rose awkwardly twisted around, abandoning the handle to struggle with the zip and find her phone.

The message from Clara was scrolling across the screen before she’d even unlocked it. “All clear: M at KCL all week.”

Well, thank adipose for that. Since sticking her oar in Rose and the Doctor’s unofficial relationship, Missy had more or less disappeared. If Missy hadn’t insisted on getting her name plaque back for the office door so quickly Rose could easily have believed she had no intention of coming back at all. As it was every glance at the black and white sign on Missy’s office door sent a storm of anger and sadness pulsing through Rose’s blood. Like tin soldiers, her emotions raged at her to start a fight she knew they couldn’t win. The Houdini act was a blessing in disguise, at least every day Missy wasn’t at work was another day Rose hadn’t been arrested for Grievous Bodily Harm.

The bus lurched back into movement and Rose staggered sideways, stumbling into a heavy set man who glared at her over the top of his folded Financial Times before turning pointedly away, nostrils flaring indignantly at Rose, as though she’d fallen against him deliberately.

Rolling her eyes at the back of his head Rose grabbed onto the ring above her head again, feeling the bag slip back around her body to hang against her hip as she leaned her head against her arm, drifting off into her own thoughts as the bus finally picked up pace, tourist landmarks flipping past her line of vision, towers of scaffolding obscuring old favourites as they were restored and cleaned to a newer, shinier version of the city she’d grown up in.

Nothing stayed the same.

 

 

John squinted over the top of his glasses at the teenager sat across the desk from him. A red hoodie was zipped up tight against the early morning chill, damp from the foggy drizzle that had settled over the city and made walking anywhere akin to walking through clouds. Her trainers had been cheap and so deeply scuffed her socks were almost visible, while her long mousy blonde hair was scraped back in a plait. It wasn’t unusual for the young adults who trooped through his office to be a mess, in dirty or scruffy clothes they couldn’t be bothered to look after. Something about this particular girl didn’t fit with that, some little mismatch that had caught John’s attention, just enough to make his brain pause and try and puzzle her out as she fidgeted compulsively with her fingers and waited for the Doctor’s answer.

“Sorry… what did you want?”

“I’m-” the student coughed to clear her throat, which rattled ominously, the chesty echo of a cold that wouldn’t go away. Childhood friends with damp houses and undertreated asthma marched through John’s memories. “I’m starting on your course next week so I went to the library to make sure I had the core texts.” She avoided his eyes, ducking her head slightly, and the awkward movement made stray strands of hair flop against the pallid skin of her face. “Apparently, I can only have them for a month at a time, but the course is longer. Obviously. I just wondered if you could speak to them about extending the borrowing time for core texts? Or…” She grinned cheekily, tongue slightly protruding. “Make all the courses a month long. You know, either is fine.”

John frowned. “It would probably be easier to just to buy the books, are you doing a straight Physics degree?” She nodded, eyes twitching downward almost imperceptibly. “A lot of these books will be extremely useful for your whole degree…” She said nothing, so John ploughed ahead, filling the awkward silence. “Additional bonus: they’re fascinating! When you’re elderly and bored in a care home you can get your old textbooks out and relive the glory of my classes.”

She stared at him, wide eyed and eyebrows raised.

He mentally climbed down from his pedestal. “Or, not. Whatever.”

She blushed, scuffing one foot against the front of his desk with a soft squeak of plastic sole against the wood, intertwined fingers limp in her lap. “Okay. Um. Yeah, of course.”

John leaned back in his chair, the fabric back pleasingly solid against his back; considering his options.

There was policy of course, but he wasn’t exactly wedded to the idea of obeying the rules at all costs. Maybe he should have learned his lesson by now, but instead his rage at Missy had turned into petty insolence. Some rules were not black and white. There was what he technically should do, nothing; balanced by what he could do, and who would it hurt?

Abruptly, he got up from his chair, feeling it rock against the back of his legs as he went to the bookshelf. The spines of weighty tomes aligned neatly together; navy, purple and black. He picked up a copy of Fundamentals of Physics, feeling the heft of it in his hands as he spun around and dropped it onto the table with a thump in front of the student.

“Huh.” He stared out the portal hole window pointedly, leaning further back in his chair to swing his feet up onto the corner of the desk. “I seem to have mysteriously misplaced this book.”

The girl’s raised eyebrow was back, one entire side of her face wrenched upwards in confusion so that the beige line of her lips curled haphazardly on one side.

“I do have five other editions, so I’m pretty sure I’ll cope. I definitely won’t miss it… when you walk off with it. In your bag.” He expanded, scratching his head as he watched her reflection in the cheap glass and continued to pretend to stare out at the grim, grey sky. The fog had lifted slightly, replaced by heavy driving rain that collided with the glass in a thousand tiny splatters.

The girl placed one hand on top of Fundamentals of Physics hesitantly and he nodded almost imperceptibly, just enough of a signal that emboldened, she grabbed the heavy text and hugged it to her chest. “Thank you so much, Doctor Smith.”

“Don’t mention it,” He smiled, feeling smugly pleased with his random act of kindness; the student’s mouth opened again, and instantly John cut her off. “No really. Don’t mention it, to anyone. Don’t want a queue out the door.”

Not of students, anyway.

“Well, thanks, again. I’ll see you at the first lecture.”

The office door opened and started to shut as the girl disappeared, its slow arc of movement flooding the room with more natural light and a burst of laughter from the outer office.

John’s feet slipped off the desk immediately; guiding him towards the staccato burst of joy, just in time he caught the closing door with one converse clad foot before it clicked shut. The soft canvas bent uselessly against the weight of the door and John found himself hopping into the main room as he tried to snatch his foot away before his toes got trapped.

“Smooth.” Rose teased, dropping her bag by her desk and slipping her wet jacket off her shoulders to hang it over the back of the chair. Wet patches of water dripped on the floor by her abandoned umbrella and glinted in the dull light of the office desk lamps.

“I meant to do that.” John squeaked.

Rose was wearing navy blue again, baggy trousers and a lighter coloured shirt. Her belt had a rambling road map pressed into the leather. Not that he was looking.

John absolutely was looking, id in full control and laughing. They’d had so few face to face conversations since the copy room that the running tab in his head of all the things John’d wanted to say to Rose was overflowing into the margins of his notes when he worked. He’d repeatedly turned down drinks with Jack and was spending most of his time pretending to be doing research while staring mutely out the balcony window of his flat and contemplating buying a cat.

“Mmhmm.” Rose turned away, tossling the damp hair away from her face and neck until it was twisted in a loose bun at the back of her head. Task completed, she sighed and started peeling off the post-its that had been stuck haphazardly across her computer screen.

The depths of his frustrated, shackled soul demanded he end the ridiculous charade, this pointless pretending it was better for them to stay apart, to stand on a desk and declare his ardent –

The side of John’s neck prickled, and he reached up to rub the tired muscles there.

It didn’t help.

Logical explanations stacked up across his brain. The wall staring until the early hours probably wasn’t helping the state of his poor tense spine, and yet…

Clara, arms wrapped around a folder, stood five feet away; head tilted to one side and squinting at him.

“What?”

Caught out she dropped the folder on her desk with a slap of paper against the surface. “Ah… nothing. Did you need a cup of tea?”

Several minutes too late John realised he’d been well and truly caught, standing in the outer office, staring at Rose for no reason.

“Um, yes. Yes, please… And I need that research update for McCrimmon, as well.”

Clara nodded, glancing between John and Rose meaningfully before raising her voice in Rose’s direction. “Would you like a cuppa?”

“God, yes.” Rose agreed, stretching her limbs and yawning before slumping comfortably into her swivel chair, oblivious to Clara’s blatant plotting “…Do you want me to?” Rose offered, hands loosely braced against the arm of her seat in the least convincing offer to get the tea round in John had ever seen.

“No, no, I’ll get it.” Clara insisted, winking at John as she swept out of the room.

The wooden door clicked shut with a dull thud that set John’s heart racing. He should have known Clara wouldn’t have left them be, but actually being alone with Rose had not been the plan, not yet. Not while he still felt like this. Was there a point at which he would stop feeling like this? Like his tongue was too fat for his mouth, too full of unsaid words he didn’t want to say.

“Doctor.”

John twisted to face her, the greeting his polite brain had intended replaced with. “What happened to John?”

She eyed him blandly, mouth just that little bit tighter than normal, her pose restrained and professional. “Your friends call you Doctor.”

“Missy started that.”

The words had tumbled out of John’s mouth before he could stop them.

Whatever neutral mask Rose had been wearing dropped away in an instant, her lips snarled as she stood up apruptly, pacing backwards and forwards behind the desk as she opened and closed her fists, muttering under her breath. If Rose was a cartoon, a cloud of special symbol crowded rage would be floating above her head.

He shouldn’t have said anything.

“Rose…”

She paused abruptly, eyes closed, drawing each breath in deeply as she tried to calm down.

Wondering slightly if poking a bear with a stick felt this dangerous John tried again. “What are you thinking about?”

“I’m making a detailed list of the ways in which prison is much worse than our current situation. Reason twenty-three. The odd social cigarette definitely more pricey behind bars.”

“Not going to argue with that…” He moved towards her, pressing the tips of his fingers against the aching hollow at the back of his neck. “Although your lungs might thank you.” The glare was turned on John. “Your bronchiole…”

“My bronchiole are fine, John.” She snapped, stepping towards him with short angry steps and crossed arms.

John stood his ground, letting her within slapping distance and hoping it was over with quickly.

She stopped abruptly, breaking into scattered nervous laughter and rubbing one hand against her tired face, the movement dislodging a lock of hair that fell against her temple, messy and beautiful. “I miss being friends, you plonker.”

He wanted to apologise, but it felt a useless pitiful gesture. Was there an apology that covered employing someone you were far too attached to, too much to be professional about, then having to break things off because things got too unprofessional? It wasn't exactly a situation the Doctor had ever had to face before.

Rose’s fingers lingered against her face, and John itched to knot his own fingers against hers, to cradle her open face and kiss the unasked questions behind her eyes away. He shoved his fists deep in his pockets. Her palms slid away. “Take me somewhere.”

Air pooled in his chest, fighting his impatient heart as his internal organs lurched between unjustified hope and nerves. “What do you mean?”

“I didn’t-.” She amended, quickly, face flushing. “Just to hang out and people watch, yeah?”

“That might be difficult.” His pulse pooled in his throat, lips twitching in a tentative smile. “It's never just one trip with you; something else I want to take you to see always pops up.”

Rose smirked. “Better than death and destruction.”

They could try again, do things properly this time. Just be mates. Of course they could.

John pretended to ponder her words. “Lunch, then?”

She paused, chewing the inside of her lip as she considered her answer, the silence dragging on interminably to John’s restless mind. “If… just lunch, is all fine with the big bosses. Then yes, please.”

The sly upward pull of his lips parted immediately. “Just lunch.” He agreed, smile becoming a grin so wide he suspected he looked a little mad, and ducked his head shyly to hide it.

“Meanwhile…” Rose turned and moved away, plucking a bright yellow note of her desk and waving it at John. “D'y think there's a policy on how I’m supposed to turn down students who think they can buy drugs off me now Nardole has gone? 'Cos I'm guessing I'm not allowed to boot them up the arse for picking me as next in line for dealer.”

Chapter Text

“What are you doing here?”

The words slipped out of Rose's mouth before she could stop them, a rush of hackles raised irritation at the black and white clad interloper in the office.

“Just checking on some things, honestly darling, you look surprised. I do work here if you recall.” Missy’s piercing voice was as precise and tightly wound as the hair deliberately pinned back from her face; leaving an unimpeded view of her striking blue eyes, the black pupils dominating her pale blue irises. The fixed gaze of her superior left Rose feeling like a very small mouse, caught in the stare of a rather too hawkish predator. Sucking the inside of her cheek, Rose drew in a slow breath, letting her tense muscles relax as she forced her shoulders back and headed in as casual a manner as possible towards her desk. The mouse took a walk through the deep dark wood… she reminded herself.

“Of course, it’s just; my diary had you down as at King’s College for another two days?” Rose braved a lopsided smile as she passed Missy, reluctant to turn her back as she made her way behind her desk. Maybe picture books weren’t the best material for inspiration, but facing off with a Gruffalo at least felt somewhere on par with the ovaries of steel she needed to keep up the small talk with someone who was apparently happy to use her as a pawn in petty revenge against John.

“Changed my mind.” Missy shot back, entirely perkily and without any visible malice.

Rose smiled again: the bland, impersonal smile she had employed frequently whilst mind-numbingly bored at the shop. Pain thumped behind her brows, her brain melting down as it rapidly tried to calculate her next move. Nothing was jumping out at her. Running out of the room crying ‘the witch is back’ would pretty solidly give the game away; actually trusting Missy’s presence was work related seemed an equally unpalatable choice. That left Rose with doing nothing, while remaining suspicious. Which would be fine – a solid, base covering plan. Except Rose was pretty terrible at doing nothing, if she was truly honest; instead she had the kind of restless spirit that demanded action and wouldn’t quit until she’d jumped in feet first. Worse, Clara didn’t seem to be here yet to run interference.

Rose wasn’t even sure that Clara was much good at diplomacy with saboteurs.

Quietly Rose peeled off her jacket and hung it up, grabbing her keys and phone out of the pockets and leaving them on her blotter as she busied herself with rearranging her bag.

Missy did not take the hint. Instead she moved from standing idly by to sitting in Nardole’s now empty spot, pulling open the vacant drawers of his desk and poking around in them with bored curiosity. A pencil appeared, balanced between Missy’s forefingers like a treasured object. “You CERNtainly can do it!” Missy intonded, laughing so uproariously that the wheeled chair she sat in flew backwards from the desk, spinning wildly as she threw her body against the chair back, splayed out like a sunbathing starfish. “I can’t believe they spelt it C-E-R-N!" Missy used a French accent when she sounded out the letters, the C turning into a soft hissing seh. "Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire!”

Bemused, Rose lifted one half of her lip into a wry expression, nodding that she understood without any real belief that she looked like she found the crappy pun as ridiculously side-splittingly funny as Missy seemed too.

“You get it?”

“I CERNtainly do.” Rose quipped, abandoning updating her diary to watch as Missy started to spin the chair in circles, the pencil still trapped between her fingers.

“I mean it’s hilarious. Well, no.” Missy stopped the chair, slamming her feet on the ground and ignoring the creaky rebound as the seat protested at the sudden brakes on it’s momentum. She threw the pencil into the bin by Rose’s desk with a single, perfectly executed shot. “It’s absolutely terrible, I can’t believe anyone bothered to print it, let alone buy it. But here it was, in ole Nardole’s desk.” She sighed wistfully. “I might miss him a bit, you know. It’s rather unexpected.”

“He was an interesting guy.” Rose ventured cautiously; the thumping pain in her head returning as she tried to cope with Missy’s rapidly cycling moods. “Liked his puns.”

“I hate puns. Unless I’m telling them, obviously.” Abruptly, Missy stood, sending the chair flying so far behind her that it ricocheted off the front of Clara’s desk and wobbled ominously, almost but not quite tipping over. “Right, I must work now. Don’t disturb me.” Now upright, Missy slunk across the room, darting through her office door without any further preamble.

“No problem.” Rose called at the office door as it clicked shut behind the departing madwoman. “Seriously.” She muttered at the closed door. “No issues with that, what-so-ever.”

 

 

Rose could hear the air con unit before she got to the photocopying room, a beast so old and dusty it rattled nearly as loud as the photocopiers and spat out ancient dust at the beginning of each cycle. Dust that snuck into the printers and left dark freckles marks on every copy. Maybe it was because of that that Rose didn’t realise that the room was already occupied.

A cascade of ginger hair greeted Rose as she swung open the door, blocking Rose’s view of its owner, bent over as they whacked the side of the photocopier with a hard backed red file.

“Donna? Why are you here?”

Donna swiped her hair out of her face and huffed irritably. “Or, hello, nice to see you Donna. I keep meaning to call and catch up, but you know, been busy at my shiny new job.”

Rose flushed, crossing her arms defensively. “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting you and today has just been super weird.”

Donna threw the binder down on the rickety table that had once housed a plastic replica of influenza. “The Doctor said you guys were crazy busy and asked if I’d help out this afternoon. Did he not warn you?”

Rose shrugged diplomatically, shuffling into the remaining small space of the glorified cupboard and hopping up onto the rickety table in the corner as Donna leaned around the back of the unit to wiggle the power cable. The truth was; Rose hasn’t seen John that much at work or otherwise in weeks, teaching kept him out of the office outside of his scheduled hours and the first rush of eager students kept him busy being the Doctor when he was around. Despite agreeing to a friends-only lunch earlier in the week it hadn’t happened yet and without the chance to speak more freely Rose still felt awkward and conflicted in John's presence. Logically, Rose supposed she should be angry with him for even starting anything with her in the first place and muddying the waters, but the dull ache of rejection that John didn’t want her enough to continue sneaking around in secret if necessary, hurt far more.

“Okay.” Donna eyed Rose suspiciously, as she rose to her feet and leaned against the grey plastic behind her. “You and the Doctor. Spill.”

“What?”

“Is Missy trying to stir up shit because of you two?”

“No, she’s been fine.” It was an automatic response, a dormant instinct to not slag off the boss. Rose's mind briefly flickered back to the text-that-ruined-it-all and maniacal laughter over science-pun themed pencils. “I think. Maybe?”

“Maybe?” Donna rolled her eyes. “Missy is a Class A, bona fide, bitch Rose. How has Space Boy: the man with a mouth so highly motorised it could power the flipping sun, not warned you about that at least?”

Rose opened her mouth then closed it again mutely, chewing the words she didn’t know how to say. “He’s just… got a lot on.” It sounded lame even to Rose’s own ears.

“Mmhmm. Coincidentally, as soon as Missy shows up, he’s too busy to spend time with the girl he’s crazy about. Un-be-lievable.”

Rose tried to keep her voice light and casual. Clearing her throat and pointedly keeping Donna’s sceptical gaze. “Hey, him and me, it was never anything official. It’s just not gunna work out probably. Better now than after we’ve worked together for ages. At least this way we can still have fun together. I was promised free flights on glamorous worldwide academic book tours when I first met the Doctor and I intend to claim ‘em.” She joked.

Donna laughed, a proper throaty giggle so unlike Missy's that it made her eyes legitimately sparkle in the dim print room light. “He was telling you about his work at that club? I thought he was way too drunk for that. He was drunk enough to dance and that is…” Donna trailed off. “Why are you looking at me like that, with the pointy finger?” Rose dropped her hand, twisting the accusing finger into a spin of the wrist while completely and utterly failing to do anything about her scrunched, puzzled face. “Come on, I know you remember, Rose. We met in the bathroom got chatting, I don’t know how you ran into the Doctor, but there’s a photo of you two snogging somewhere.”

Rose’s stomach dropped somewhere towards the floor, the dull ache of ancient, hungover memories and the sinking realisation of forgotten nights. “Of course I remember, but I don’t… I mean there was a guy, but…”

Donna paced anxiously in front of her friend. Fumbling in her back pocket she grabbed her phone and started tapping through it impatiently.

“He was there?” Rose finished flatly.

John had met Rose days before she thought they had. John had never mentioned since, that he and her... that they'd met before John walked up to Rose in the office and told Rassilon he’d already given her a job.

Donna didn’t reply, just passed her phone to Rose. The screen was open on a photo. Mostly of Clara, and someone she didn’t know, and cocktails. But there in the background… they weren’t snogging. But it looked like they were only seconds away, her back pressed against a wall and him holding her there, faces turned together as they laughed. She remembered. Remembered the drunken electricity flying between them; undoing the buttons on his shirt, his lips on her neck.

“Do you really not remember?” Donna sounded nervous.

“No… I mean, I do remember now.” Rose did. In surround sound. The relief of cooling sweat from frantic dancing as they stood under sweet smelling air con, the soft cotton of his shirt and the leather of his belt, slipping through her fingers.

Donna clapped her hands in relief. “Thank god, jeez… You really had me going for a minute there. You two need to drink a bit less, eh? Save us all from heart attacks.”

Rose tapped the screen, using two fingers to zoom in on their faces, her upturned smile and his toothy grin. “How did you get this photo?”

“Jack took it; just about wet himself that the Doctor finally hooked up with someone. Plus he’s really bad at secrets. Well, the kind that shouldn’t be secret, anyway.” Donna gave the forgotten photocopier a final swift kick and it roared into life, immediately shoving a test sheet through it’s system and spitting it out into the tray with asthmatic huffing noises.

“Right, obviously, makes sense that I’m the last to know.” Rose knew she sounded bitter, but how else was she supposed to take this revelation?

Donna smirked, waving one hand dismissively. “I didn’t know you didn’t know! I figured you and John were in on it, you’re always sneaking off together.”

“Well, he didn’t, and we’re not sneaking anywhere anymore.” The screen light died and Rose passed the phone back, staring at the floor as she considered her options. It was arguable, and she definitely goddamn would since there was apparently photographic evidence, that she and John had been together before she got the job working for him. Which meant John couldn’t get fired for having a relationship with her… But he might get fired for having hired her in the first place.

Great.

Chapter Text

The Doctor straightened the stack of papers in front of him before adjusting his tie. Make busy movements that did nothing to ease the disquiet tension that made his muscles twitch and whispered run with every intake of breath. Beside him, Missy leaned backwards in her chair, exchanging some thunderous laughter with a grey haired Professor from the Chemistry department. If there was any joy to be had in the interaction for John it was in knowing how much Missy hated such insipid exchanges and having to make small talk probably ranked up there as slightly less pleasurable than having her nails pulled off with a pair of rusty pliers.

A little folded card on John’s other side said that Nardole was supposed to be sitting next to him, although he’d failed to turn up to their pre-interdepartmental disciplinary preparation meeting and still hadn’t arrived now they’d moved on to the biggest meeting room, a wooden vaulted ex-ballroom that looked suitably judicial. No second chances sat heavily at the forefront of John’s mind.

The first row of tables were arranged in a horseshoe shape around the central platform that would house the Vice and his assistants. Behind John, somewhere, at the second row of chairs and desks that fanned behind the first; sat Rose. Rose, who he had been avoiding for weeks now. Despite a brief, torturous chat and promise of lunch John couldn’t help but think Rose probably still thought he was quite the arsehole. Not an unfair assessment, in the circumstances.

Rassilon swept into the room, red robed and red faced. The kind of ruddy sweaty gleam that came from an afternoon drinking scotch out of your bottom drawer. As he moved past the huddle of neurochemists that sat opposite John Rassilon stumbled into Rani’s chair, the sweeping sleeve of his robe flopping over her head inelegantly and causing a yelp of bafflement. Vaguely registering that he’d knocked into her Rassilon patted Rani on the head apologetically before going on his way. Rani rubbed her scalp, lips twisted in almost-voiced indignant irritation as the woman next to her whispered urgently in her ear, hand clamped over hers on the table as though physically holding her down.

Rassilon found his seat, slumping into it and slapping his hands down on the table so hard it must have hurt. A few of the newer staff jumped visibly from their own perches, glancing around furtively before sinking down, clearly hoping they wouldn’t be noticed.

“Alright everyone.” Rassilon coughed and snorted, a hacking sawing noise that rattled the jowls of his throat as he cleared the phlegm. John tried to resist staring at him; it had been a long time since he’d seen Rassilon this inelegant and obviously off his game. Not since his wife left, at least. “It’s October… whatever it is. And this is an interdepartmental damage limitation meeting. What did you idiots do this time?”

There was a hollow squeak from Professor Chronotis, his white hair and thin round glasses combined with his disapproving glare gave the distinct impression of Father Christmas updating his naughty list. “Doctor Smith and I sent you a report, Rassilon. There’s another copy there, in the handout.”

Rassilon glared at the little stack of paper in front of him. “Summarise.” He demanded.

Chronotis stood up, raising his fingers in a gentle greeting to the assembled academics and staff. “Around a month ago it was brought to the attention of both myself and Doctor Smith that two of our post-graduate students were using the Pharamacology labs to manufacture a variety of illegal substances, most notably class A drugs.” A muted murmur spread through those who’d somehow escaped the news. Chronotis allowed the whispers to ripple past before continuing to speak. “The two students involved were immediately placed on academic probation and suspended from paid employment pending a decision on their future at this University.”

Rani, looking slightly less flustered, half raised one hand and Chronotis nodded his acquiescence to her request to speech. “I assume you called the police?”

Chronotis sighed and John cleared his throat to draw Rani’s attention back to himself and away from his dissatisfied colleague. “We did. They contacted us in the last few days to confirm that the CPS feels there isn’t enough evidence to prosecute Nardole and Velma.”

“Oh right, it was Nardole.” Rani smirked at him.

“Yes, Nardole.” John bristled. “He did pass his background check. There was no reason to assume-”

Missy snorted; then tried to cover it up by staring at the ceiling, hand fluttering at her mouth.

An older woman with salt and pepper hair rolled her eyes in their direction. Where did she work? Legal? “If the Crown Prosecution Service isn’t proceeding that does leave us in rather a tricky position.”

Rassilon seemed to remember he was supposed to be in charge. “Why? And where is Nardole?” He peered at the empty chair beside John.

"Not exactly here."

Rassilon waved one arm dismissively, turning back to the legal representative.

“Well, because if the CPS felt there was insufficient evidence do we have sufficient evidence to-” she dropped her voice to a furtive tone, “terminate their employment without risking a tribunal case?”

“Yeah, we really don’t want to end up in the press over this. The tabloids are gunning for us already.” Pete, John thought his name was, from the Empowerment department. A fact that stuck in John’s head only because he still wasn’t entirely sure what the Empowerment department actually did. “Did you see the Mail over the weekend?”

A rowdy grumble took hold. “Rassilon, when are we going to talk about that?” Someone whose name John definitely had forgotten piped up. “They want our students to spy on us!”

“I’m not sure I’d describe it exactly that way, although the parallels with-”

“Don’t say it.” Pete warned darkly.

“What? You can’t deny that this kind of authoritarian-”

“Yes, Dave, we’re all highly aware of the inevitable badness involved in totalitarian governments.” Missy snapped. “I don’t think we’re quite there yet though.”

“Does the opinion of someone who’d enjoy a totalitarian take over count?”

Missy smirked at her accuser. “I’ll have you know, I fully support the democratic rights of every citizen to vote for whatever sociopathic nitwit they want.”

Salt’n’Pepper held Missy’s gaze with a long cool stare, not at all put off by Missy’s aggressive approach to existence. “Is that our only voting option?”

“Well…” John drawled. stop talking John He could almost feel Rose mentally treading on his foot.

“…Pretty much.” Missy finished.

An uncomfortable beat followed, as Missy chewed the end of a pencil. John tugged at his collar and tried to ignore her, sweat pooling at his collarbone. “So, Nardole. Any thoughts on… that.”

“Fire him.” Rassilon declared, banging a gavel wonkily against the table. “And you-” he waved the wooden hammer at John. “Any more bullshit in your department and the whole lot of you can make a nice space in the budget for whichever department pisses me off least in the meantime.”

Missy leaned towards him, icy blue eyes on his as she turned away from Rassilon to blow a kiss behind them. “Best behaviour, John.”

His stomach lurched painfully.

 

 

“Dinner?”

Rose turned away from her screen, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the more natural light of the room. “What, tonight?”

“Yes, tonight. A bunch of us are going down to that new pub, you know that one that used to be a bank.”

The clock hands were only just pointing to five, but Donna was clearly raring to go; packing up her rapidly expanding stuff from her temporary station at Nardole’s old desk and shovelling into an extremely large handbag. Rose glanced at the closed door to her right, as far as she knew, Missy was still ensconced inside. If she stayed and kept working she’d be left alone with the more facially blessed Voldemort of Physics.

The choice suddenly became very simple. Rose saved her work and turned off the computer with a couple of quick clicks of the mouse and a giddy smile that woke her tired muscles with a burst of energy as she spun backwards towards the coat stand and grabbed her jacket and bag. “Two seconds.” Donna paused at the door, holding it open as Rose riffled through her purse, looking for her phone. The bag felt heavy and empty in her hands. Where was her phone? She thought she’d… Rose took a couple of steps towards her desk, trying to retrace her steps from the morning. Her jacket flapped against her hip, stiff and heavy on one side. A heavy feeling settled low in Rose’s belly, the gnawing ache of uncertainty as her fingers crept inside the soft lining of her jacket’s pocket. The smooth surface of her phone slid under her touch, cold and reassuring. “That’s weird. I swear I took my phone out of my jacket this morning.”

Donna frowned, the tiny flicker of her narrowing eyes betraying her suspicious nature even as her lips quirked into a sceptical smirk. “You sure? ‘Cos I’ve seen you spend twenty minutes looking for the keys that are actually still in your jeans…”

“One time!”

“One, two… a dozen.”

Rose glanced around the room one last time, letting the disquiet have it’s moment before she let it go and met Donna’s impatient hurry up hand movements with her own tempered smile. “Oh, shut up. Not my fault I haven’t got a memory as long as yours.” She teased.

 

 

The pub really had been a bank not that long before, the kind with an elaborate carved stone frontage and the hints of a more beautiful, elaborate ceiling lost at some point to developers and flats upstairs. The long dark wood stained counters, at least, had had the modern reinforced glass barriers ripped out and lovingly restored to a facsimile of the 1800s original style, complete with fancy twisting metal framed details framing either end. The location was perfect, just far enough off the main roads and just pricey enough that large groups of students rarely entered in, but cheap and boring enough that the city boys didn’t bother with it. Instead, the round oak tables filled up nightly with lecturers and museum staff from the rarefied institutions that huddled around Euston and King’s Cross Stations.

Donna was on a mission, guiding Rose to a table near the back and collapsing into an imposing winged chair with all the elegance of a tired giraffe.

“Oh come on, I didn’t work you that hard, Donna.”

John’s familiar voice hovered beside Rose’s ear, snaking warmly through her senses. She hadn’t even noticed him slipping through the chattering crowd and slotting into position just beside her. Electricity brushed through her with the gentle knock of their sleeves, the hairs on the back of her neck standing to attention and making her skin prickle uncomfortably.

John knew, and now so did Rose.

Impulsively, she grabbed the cuff of his jacket, pulling him away from the table where Clara had just arrived, wrapping Donna in an excitable hug and cutting off Donna’s hissed warning.

At least it was probably a warning.

It had started “Don’t; not h-” at any rate.

Rose ignored them, ignored the rabble of rowdy fresh-faced new recruits in ill fitting suits, weaving between them and the dart board with John at her heels. The bottle of beer in his other hand close to spilling with every tight turn.

Abruptly Rose stopped, trapped between the corner of the room and a corridor that led to the toilets and fire exits. Possibilities flashed rapidly through Rose’s brain, a mash up of some very beautiful moments where she and John had run off and… “Focus.” She muttered under her breath, dropping John’s sleeve and shooting him a lopsided smile. “You, John, have got some explaining to do.”

John tugged one ear awkwardly, eyes on his black chucks as he avoided Rose’s pointed gaze. “The meeting, yeah…” He shot her one of his trademark lightning smiles, all bashful elegance and knee weakening power, damn him. “Bit weird, I’d like to say they aren’t always like that but there was a whole thing once with a massive rat that I really-” he laughed dryly.

“Massive rat, huh?”

“It went up Rassilon’s trouser leg.” He scratched the back of his head thoughtfully. “Maybe you had to be there.”

“Nah. Sounds pretty good to me.” Rose could well imagine Rassilon, a probably alcoholic, definitely control freak’s reaction to a giant rodent clambering past his knees. She chuckled and John, relieved, joined in, purposefully bashing his shoulder against hers as they drifted closer together in the dark corner of the pub. “Tell me about Missy.”

He shrugged, evasively.

“I know you don’t want to talk about her, and you don’t have to tell me everything." Rose's heart thudded in her chest. Well aware she was bashing past barriers John preferred left firmly fortified. "But... people over the age of two blowing kisses at me… urgh, already dodgy territory. Missy?" Rose pulled a disgusted face. "It’s not even subtle. She’s picked out our burial plot already, hasn’t she? Nardole’s already out. Next it’s you, me, Clara… the whole department.”

John sighed, taking a swig from his bottle before passing it to her.

Rose took her own long draw, letting the familiar bubbly tang of the alcohol calm her frayed nerves. “Are you going to let her?”

For the first time, John looked shocked. “I forgot."

"What?"

"That you haven’t known me that long.” He said it casually, a sentence of facts without reference to emotion.

Fresh anger drew fire to Rose's veins. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means of course I’m not going to let Missy ruin us! Why do you think I’ve got everyone here?” Some of the lingering customers had wandered out of position, leaving a clear view to the table Donna had set up at, now three tables dragged together and a dozen people gathered round, pints in hand and heads together. Rose recognised most of them, saw River shoot them a teasing smile and wave them over. “Need the team if we’re going to save the Universe.”

“Physics department.” Rose corrected.

He grabbed her hand and led her back towards the table, fingers knotting together automatically. “That’s what I said. I don't know what her plan is now, I know what she's done before. Academic theft on a massive scale. If we can prove it I can get her out.”

Chapter Text

Large sash windows ran along the exterior wall of the office, allowing the bright morning light to fall across the desk. Littered with paperwork seemed to be a standard feature of University offices, even here in the original parts of the campus. Rose found she felt oddly at home amongst the crowded bookshelves and carefully labelled artefacts, musty smell of books and library vibes included.

“Where were we?” River flipped through a small leather bound notebook, settling on a page covered in her own scrawled handwriting. “Ah! Forms… where did I put those?” River rolled her chair away from the desk and leaned down to start pulling out drawers at random, riffling through their contents with audible sighs.

Awkwardly, Rose started turning up the corners of the paper she could reach from her side of the desk, fingers carefully brushing past tiny intricate jewelled boxes and chunky silver photo frames as she looked for the familiar logo’d corner of the paperwork they needed.

“Eureka!” River’s head bobbed up in a wave of corkscrew curls, a happy grin set across her face as she slapped the paperwork down on the blotter and grabbed the corners of the desk to roll herself back towards it. “I’ll just fill it in, much quicker.”

“Er, okay.”

“Let’s see… Name: Rose… Marion… Tyler.”

“How d’you know my middle name?”

River shrugged opening up a laptop and running her finger over the touchpad a few times to wake it up. “Just got one of those memories. I won’t lie, it’s very handy when you work in ancient history.” She paused for a moment, deftly directing the computer to some document or another. “Your address… oh the Powell Estate!” She flashed Rose a pleased look. “There’s Roman remains under there you know, a high priest and three slaves. Incredibly dirty mosaic in the temple. The British Museum turned it down; I think it’s still buried under the community room.”

Rose felt her eyebrows quirk, a bemused grin settling over her features. “They didn’t mention that part at school. It was more: pretend you’re a Centurian, getting knocked back by naked blue people again.”

“Well, sometimes they got knocked back...” River shot her a look that was ninety percent filth and Rose burst out laughing, nerves dissipating in the face of a woman it was very hard not to like.

“John keeps you and Jack apart doesn’t he?”

River’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “You know, I think he does… Now – education. I need your highest qualification level… is that your GCSEs?”

Rose eyes flickered nervously between River and the window, then nodded. It had been months since her first interview at UCL, but the urge to run away rather than talk through her CV hadn’t completely disappeared.

“Well your grades then were perfectly respectable.” River tapped her fingers slowly against her notepad. “I can sort you out with part time classes to take your education further, if you’d like to?”

Rose’s heart skipped a beat. “Really?”

“Of course, I can find space in the training budget. We’ll have to pick your job role and the qualifications you want so they match up… gives you more options for promotion later on. If you’d like a career here.” River shoved the pen behind her ear, leaning back and folding her arms over her chest in an extraordinarily self-satisfied move. “I know you’re good at your current job, Rose. If you’ve stuck around in the Physics lab you can cope with Archaeology and Anthropology. The profile of this department is essentially a very high percentage of tenured staff that like an afternoon nap, and me. You should be much safer from evil scheming Borgias.”

Rose’s eyes narrowed, waiting for the catch. The catch that wasn’t losing all her days with John, in the hope she might keep some of their evenings. “What about the students?”

River shrugged. “They’re the same all over. Just don’t sleep with any of them.” Rose blushed, opening her mouth wordlessly as she tried to think of an appropriate response. “Oh it’s fine.” River continued, waving one hand dismissively. “I mean, really don’t sleep with the students, but you and John… I know dozens of couples who met at work. it’s just bad luck and awkwardly worded regulations screwing you two over. In fact, I have a strong suspicion that HR worded that document so fiercely because of-” River paused, clearly aware her mouth was running away from her, and snapped it shut.

Rose leaned forward, slipping one of the little jewelled boxes off the desktop and playing with the lid as her pulse thudded in her ears. “Go on then, because of what?”

“Maybe I shouldn’t say. I’m not sure John even knows.”

There was a beat where Rose considered that maybe she should mind her own business. It was over quickly. “Knows what?”

“About Reinette… I mean, he knows about her and Missy of course, everyone knew about that, and I won’t say that I think John was completely innocent there. But before that, when John and Reinette first got together, she was very junior here, still finishing her PhD. Rassilon was newly Vice-Chancellor then and very odd about her, very attached, normally speaking he would hardly even deal with PhD students. I know he interfered in who was chosen for her Viva panel, and I was never sure how she felt about the attention.”

Rose slumped back in her chair, putting the glittering box back on the table with an unsatisfying clunk. “Odd doesn’t have to mean dodgy.”

“It does if you’ve known Rass as long as I have.” River sighed. “And, it’s all rumours, there’s never been any proof.”

 

“Clara!”

Clara’s dark head bobbed in shock, pulling the headphones from her ears as she leaned around a tall bloke in a navy suit blocking her path down the train. “Doctor.” She smiled broadly, twisting sideways to squeeze through a tiny gap between the man and the packed seats to stand with the Doctor near the train doors.

There was a mechanical hiss as the doors ground into action, sliding closed with a thunk and trill beeping. “Are we really standing all the way to London?”

Clara shrugged. “You can. I reserved a seat.”

“Ah!” John wiggled a finger at her accusingly. “If you reserved a seat why aren’t you actually sitting in it?”

Clara twitched one eye, arms crossing automatically in a stiff look John was more used to appearing when stationary went missing. “There was an old man in it, with a stick. You can’t ask elderly people to move.”

“Yes, you can.” Clara’s defensive pose amused John and he deliberately struck a lounging one in return, leaning against a glass partition near the door and shoving his hands in his pockets. “Go on then Clara, name one time that you asked someone to move from the seat that you paid to reserve?”

“No…” She stalked over and prodded him with the corner of her phone, scowling. The train lurched into movement, and she stumbled slightly, having to drop her crossed arms to grab onto a pole and steady herself. “Anyway, how did your interview go?”

“Not an interview.”

Clara rolled her eyes and John ignored her prickly irritation at his lack of response. It really hadn’t been an interview, more the kind of informal chat that could lead to an interview if he wanted. Options were wise, and a sensible precaution and other words that made his hackles rise in irritation. Leaving London… and certain people in London… was unthinkable. Running was not happening. “What about your interview? I heard good things, Clara. Welllll,” he teased her. “Great things.”

The change was instant; Clara straightened up, arms falling from their grip on the pole and a tiny squeal escaping from her lips before she could hide it behind her hands. “Great? Cambridge University used the actual word great? Or professional – tell me they said professional?”

He grinned back at her, automatically. “I believe the phrase ‘extremely competent’ was uttered. Boris was pretty sick, so I think you’re safe.”

“Sick?” Clara laughed giddily, wrapped up in her own success. “Huh, that was a really funky t-shirt, and the moaning in the waiting room was a little weird.”

John paused, holding out one hand. “No I mean, literally green when he came out. I’m pretty sure he vomited in a bin then hid it under the table. At least I really hope that was where that smell came from… it’s not me is it?”

“No, it’s not you!” Clara threw her arms around him, sending the pair of them staggering sideways on the moving train. They fell apart and Clara clutched a pole again to right herself. The gathering speed of the train sent tiny glimpses of the still frosty outskirts of the city flying past the windows. “Just, hah! I’m so excited!”

“Don’t get too cocky. We’ve got to be back here on Saturday for this career fair, plenty of time to mess it up.”

Clara waved dismissively, “Nope. I mean what were the odds the other candidate would be ill? It’s like it’s meant to be. I’m invincible!” She giggled at her own terrible bond villain accent and John couldn’t help but be carried along with her hyper enthusiasm, grabbing the bag from his feet and motioning down the train.

“Come on, let’s try and sneak into first class.”

 

.

 

Rose knew she looked tired, blonde hair spilling out from under a pink woolly hat and the formal work outfits he’d got used to swapped for jeans and half zipped hoodie. Relieved, she waved at John as he spotted her, his surprise at her presence immediately melting into a warm smile that made every inch of a rubbish journey worth it. Rose trudged through the crowd towards John, the awkward wheeled trolley trailing behind her, catching on every other step with a jolting bump of the dodgy wheel.

“You need to answer your phone.” Rose grumped, sticking out her tongue before dropping the handle of the trolley so that it rocked back onto it’s legs and stood alone. She pulled her hat off, letting one hand sweep her hair back away from her face as she glanced at the empty table John was lounging against.

“What are you doing here?”

“Clara rang me this morning sounding like a truck hit her.”

Alarm crossed John’s face, arms bracing against the table as he stood up and moved closer to Rose. “Is she okay?”

“Yeah, she’s fine - just ill, Danny’s looking after her. She was supposed to be bringing all the flyers and stuff for the event here today so she asked me to sort it out for you. Of course, if you’d answered your phone we could have got a car instead of me dragging all this stuff across the country on the train.” Pointedly Rose indicated the stack of cardboard boxes at her side, looking rather bashed and worse for wear under the bungee cord straps that held them to the trolley.

He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “I came up to Cambridge last night, forgot my charger, phone is totally dead.”

“Of course it is.” Rose snarked. The table John was stood beside was barren, a plywood aberration amongst the highly decorated stalls either side, a complete failure at selling the University or Physics in general. “Come on, I’ll help you out.”

John swept her up in a hug, pressing a tiny subtle kiss against her ear that sent delicious thoughts curling through her mind, then spinning away to attack the boxes so fast she missed her chance to pull him close and breathe in the citrus tang of the soap he used, feel the soft cotton blend of his jacket. Just having him so near was a head rush and Rose felt her thoughts flutter, a tiny stuttering moment where she struggled to remember what she was supposed to be doing before she lurched into action, opening boxes and unearthing the brightly coloured contents.

“Excuse me, are you the Physics representative?”

A whispy teen whose long hair danced around her shoulders in a long loose afro was peering at Rose over her clipboard. Rose glanced behind her at John battling to put up a free standing banner. “Well, he’s the expert.” The banner bucked as John struggled to pull it from the base and slot the clips into place. Those trousers… Bad Rose flushing Rose flipped her own hair out of her eyes and turned back to the student. “But, yeah, I can help. What would you like to know?”

 

John came and found her later, there was a limit to how much time Rose could stand by and watch him argue about hydrogen powered cars with a huddle of slightly awed followers without losing interest. The Cambridge College that was hosting the access event was too beautiful to go unexplored, and Rose slipped off, trainers silent on worn stone floors as she picked her way around gothic cloisters. Immaculate lawns were framed by beautifully arched and covered passageways, wispy winter jasmine trailing along the brick work and carved stone, statues peeked out from hidden nooks, beautific and strangely thoughtful. It was still a few weeks until the winter holiday and there were students around, their laughter echoing down stone halls and stairways, before disappearing with the resonant bangs of HMO fire doors towards their rooms.

John caught up with Rose at a discreet door that had caught her eye, mossy green and tucked in the side of a walled garden it's stubbornly closed lock promised intrigue on the other side. “There you are! Are you heading back to London? It’s getting late.”

“I suppose.” Rose kept her eyes on the door wistfully, there wasn’t anyway to satisfy this particular curiosity apparently.

Giving up she turned back to John, taking in his tired rumpled look. “What about you, have the baby physicists had enough?”

John shook his head. “They've all gone – but my friend is letting me stay at his place here. It’s just a few streets away, and he’s in New York.”

Rose smiled teasingly. “That’s a very convenient friend.”

“Yes, he is.” John shot her a look that made her momentarily forget what she was doing as all the blood in her body rushed away from her brain and further south.

Taking advantage of her distraction John reached past her and tried to turn the door handle.

“It’s locked.” She filled in helpfully.

“Hmm. Guess the Porter doesn’t want us going through here then.”

Rose pretended to look contrite, hands on her hips as she sighed. “I guess so.” A small metal pick was already in John’s hand, swiftly inserted in the lock and deftly twisted until the mechanism clicked. “Have you ever met a locked door you didn’t mysteriously find your way through?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” John glanced around before opening the door behind his back as he pretended to casually lean against it. “And no, don’t think so.”

John disappeared and Rose ducked through the door after him. It was dark and cold on the other side with a stale almost mouldy smell, like standing in a cave. Rose let her hand trail along the back of the door as she tried to orientate herself, blinking into the blackness and breathing in the damp earthy air as she waited for her eyes to adjust. “You never had any surprises at Christmas, did you?”

A flame flickered into light in the distance, the tiny blue and yellow dancing glow of a lighter. “Hang on.”

Electric lights snapped on, not the usual single blaring bulb but dozens of low level lanterns set into alcoves around the rough cut stone edges of the room. At the centre a raised flower bed overflowed with exotic ferns, the green and red tones moody and strange in the dim orange and blue light and creeping outwards across the floor. “I’m freezing, why is it so cold?”

John wandered around the flower bed, peering up at the darkening skies through the glass ceiling before turning his attention to the far wall, running his fingers along the surface then sniffing them experimentally. Curiosity peaked, Rose followed him around, watching as he stared up at the ceiling again, spinning around as he looked for something. There wasn’t anything to see as far as Rose could tell; the room was completely empty apart from the flower bed. John jumped up impatiently, before balancing precariously on the edge of the flowerbed with arms outstretched. “Ha!” He shouted, waving her over with all the giddy excitement of a kid on Christmas morning.

“What is it?” Rose grabbed John’s outstretched hand, bracing her weight against his as her trainers slipped on the hewn rock wall. Overbalancing Rose tipped towards him and he ended up grabbing at her shoulders, holding her close as she steadied herself. “Oh… wow.” Rose leaned back slightly, taking in the shifted view of the outside. Higher up the crumbling wall blocked less of the ceiling, giving away glimpses of tall reeds and the pointy white tails of ducks. Further away, abandoned pint glasses leaned against the metal feet of patio furniture.

“Yup. The river is pretty much right on the other side of that wall, and also apparently a pub garden.”

“That’s so weird. Why isn’t it more damp in here?”

John shrugged. “The plants must help.”

He was still holding her, the arm that had held her taut while she struggled to balance now comfortably looped around her shoulders. “John…” Rose broke the silence awkwardly. “Have you ever just said ‘fuck it’ and run away?”

“From what?” He was peering at some distant corner of the rapidly darkening skies.

Frustrated, Rose twisted out of his grip, dropping down from the wall with quick steps and grabbing John’s hand in her own as she tugged him down behind her. “Not from anything, exactly…” He raised one eyebrow pointedly and she slapped his arm gently. “Fine, there might be some stuff I’d like to avoid.”

“Well, the point stands, I suppose.” John tugged one ear and a small smile pressed her lips at the familiar nervous gesture. “Have I ever run away? Ye Gods yes, loads of times. I'm basically a terrible coward.”

Rose eyed him sceptically. “I can’t believe you’d ever be a coward.”

“What do you think I’m doing now? Applying for other jobs rather than come clean about how, you and I…” He trailed off, brown eyes fixed on her lips. Shrinking the gap between them he moved his hand to her upper arm, letting his fingers trail down her sleeve as though he’d temporarily forgotten that they were supposed to be keeping well away from each other.

For now at least.

“That’s not cowardice! It’s just…” Rose chose her words carefully. “Sensible. You know Rassilon will use it to fire us both if he finds out.”

John’s fingers brushed against her wrist, sending a little spark of electricity straight to her brain. “Well. He’s not going to find anything out in here.” Rose motioned at a bronze plaque tucked away inside the overgrown foliage. “Pretty sure no one’s been through this door since 1987.”

John didn’t give it a second glance, instead reaching over to take a loose tendril of her hair back behind her ear. “Apparently not.”

“Very… private.” Rose ventured letting her hands slide to his side.

The hand in her hair shifted to stroke the soft skin at the back of her neck, and she shivered unconsciously, eyes on his lips as he spoke. “I suppose it is.”

She tugged him closer, a tiny amount of pressure from one hand at the small of John’s back that he folded to immediately, his lips finding hers for a broken moment.

Rose leant her forehead against his, wetting her lips as she tried to think clearly. She kissed him back, felt his lips part as she touched his bottom lip, slow and gentle. They’d kissed dozens of times before, sneaked moments where temptation rapidly gave way to wandering hands and breathy moans. This felt different, both more and less considered. Torturous in every detail.

John pulled away, just enough to be able to hold her gaze. “There really are freckles in your eyes. Sixteen different genes worked together and couldn’t settle on one colour.”

“I’m not very good at settling.”

“No. You’re not. It’s one of the very many reasons I enjoy your company so much.” The dim light reflected in his eyes and her falliable human heart lurched painfully at how honest and unguarded he looked. “I don’t want to stop working with you.” He confessed.

The breath she didn’t realise she was holding came out as a jagged, relieved, laugh. “Me neither.” Her hands rested on his hips and she flexed her fingers against the fabric of his jacket. “Do you want to live in denial for a bit longer?”

John’s wicked grin sent a shiver of want through her body, making her toes curl and eyes close.

There was a moment where the decision was made, wordlessly, that this was fine. That they were miles from London, that no one knew, that not having to wait any longer was worth the tiny nagging doubt at the back of their minds.

“Stay the night.”

Chapter Text

“This is the weirdest tea set I’ve ever seen.” Rose picked up a single cup, chunky and clearly hand cast, the outer glaze yellow and golden. The hexagonal shape and slotted handle meant the teacups tessellated together on the tray, huddling around a silver teapot that gleamed warmly in the sunny reflection of it’s neighbours.

John glanced up from behind the kitchen counter. “Oh, my mate likes bees. I think his boyfriend bought that.”

“It’s pretty cool.” Rose put the cup back carefully, half listening to John flitting around restlessly as usual, opening cupboard doors at random and completely at ease amongst the opulence of their surroundings.

Despite being nearby the flat wasn’t at all like the College they’d spent the day at. Instead of ancient carved stone the building was a modern concrete formed block, it’s slanting angular lines broken by sheets of glass that reflected the twinkling lights of the city. The crisp winter air had turned the sky fat and pearly grey hours before, the kind that promised snow. John and Rose had left the College together, wrapped in as many layers as they could find, and Rose had been happy to be whisked away; wined and dined and guided by the hand through dark narrow cobbled streets to the glowing warmth of the block.

The austerity of the outer shell was misleading and the penthouse flat was soft and cosy. A small entrance where they dumped their coats and shoes lead on to the open plan living space – a magazine perfect spread of oak surfaces and soft fluffy cushions.

With the lights inside the flat still low the windows became giant, flickering pictures; a night time vision of pointed spires and dotted lights. For all that most people were down on the kind of housing estate Rose had grown up on, it had always had this in it’s favour: glorious, uninterrupted views off across the City that got better with every set of stairs you climbed. These were better windows for it though, she had to admit. No wrapping yourself in blankets as you huddled on the roof required here.

“Ahah!”

Rose twisted towards John, just in time to see him skirting around the kitchen island towards her, a slightly dusty bottle of wine and two glasses in his hand.

“How much do you think that bottle cost?”

He shrugged obliquely and her lips pressed into a thin smile that made her cheeks twitch from the effort of suppressing it. “Put it back.”

John pouted, but let the bottle slip from his fingers to stand on a side table. He paused to drop the glasses carefully next to it, a move that struck Rose as unusually delicate by his standards.

“You’re nervous.”

“No I’m not.” The rebuff was automatic.

The long pause where there should have been a stream of indignant blustering sat uncomfortably in Rose’s mind. She teased the lock of hair behind her ear with her fingers. “I can go, if you want.”

John crossed the remaining space between them in quick strides, hand catching her wrist as he sought her attention and avoided her gaze. “No, don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

His eyes met hers then glanced away, back at the huge window she’d been so taken with. “Don’t leave. You should keep your job, I’ve been speaking to other Universities; I can get something else.”

Rose snorted inelegantly, drawing away from John slightly. “Do you really think I want to stay with Missy around? I already have a new job lined up with River. I’ll be fine.”

John ruffled his hair, a hollow laugh dying on his lips before he’d voiced more than the first syllable. “Fair point. And - I do have a plan. No more Missy soon.”

His eyes studied her face, and unsaid words sat heavy on her tongue. Rose cleared her throat. “I meant now, anyway. It’s not too late for me to get a train back to London.”

“Do you want to go?”

Rose didn’t have to think about it. “No.”

John’s smile became genuine. “Then stay.” He stuck his hands in his pockets, rocking on his toes in his mismatched socks. “I know I ran away from Missy’s threats before. But being here, away from it all. It’s like I remembered who I usually am.” He grabbed her upper arms gently, piercing brown eyes fixed on hers. “It’s like… when I was a kid. My parents got a new car and they let me sit in the driver seat and pretend to drive it - but they couldn’t help saying.” John put on a tinny high pitched voice “‘Don’t press any buttons, John! We all remember what happened with Uncle Max’s brand new Fiat’.”

Rose shot him a bemused, tongue touched smile. “What did happen to Uncle Max’s brand new Fiat?”

“Oh, it was completely fine and they should have realised I could reach the peddles.” He shook his head ruefully. “It’s less about the car, more the family legend that I was a secret joyrider. They never knew that every single time anyone mentioned it afterwards I wanted to dive into the nearest car and speed away just to laugh at their shocked faces.” John’s grip loosened and his hands slid down the sleeves of Rose’s hoodie until his fingers grasped hers, an electric move that shivered down her spine.

“Ahuh.” Rose found herself leaning into him and out of his gaze, letting her arm slip away from his grip and curling into the warmth under his jacket as they stood side by side, watching the blinking light of a low flying plane crawling across the sky. “Are you comparing me to a new car?”

“No!” John pressed a defiant kiss against the top of her head. “Okay, yes, maybe a bit.” He muttered into her hair.

She laughed at him and he pulled her closer, tickling her side with his fingers. “I’m not sure I want to be anyone’s last fuck you to authority.”

John twisted Rose in his grip, dipping his head to hers until they were almost nose to nose. “But you aren’t. Because I never did drive away; I stuck around with the family that loved me, until they died. I haven’t… I haven’t met that many people I want to stick around with since then. And here I am – stuck. I don’t want to go, because I don’t want to lose you. And if we have to go, if we can’t evict Missy first, then I want to go with you.” He paused, and she felt the hesitant rise and fall of his chest against hers, his halting speech matched by the fear and hope that seized her heart with alternate beats. “If that’s alright.” He added.

It didn’t feel like a question. Maybe that was because she knew what the answer was.

“Yeah.” Rose’s heart thudded in her chest, a thousand tiny movements of her body and soul adjusted themselves to John’s guarded admission. Doubt still hovered at the edge of her senses, dull enough that she could ignore it under the weight of emotion from every unspoken word. The truth was her own heart had run away with John months ago. “You’ve got me.”

He closed the gap between them, pressing his lips against hers and she savoured the feel of it. The arms that wrapped tighter around her waist, drawing her closer with every gentle touch. She opened her lips to his, letting her tongue taste his and dialing the temperature from sweet to hungry in moments. Her hands fisted his shirt and he read her impatience immediately. Breaking away he glanced towards a closed door that must lead to a bedroom and Rose took the lead, stepping away Rose unzipped her hoodie and chucked it over the back of the sofa as she walked away, hands already manipulating the button and fly of her jeans.

Rose glanced backwards as she reached the door, her nervous heart thudding in her chest as she twisted the door handle. John was staring at her intently, pupils dilated and fervently focused; he had already shed his own jacket and socks and was halfway through unbuttoning his shirt as he stalked barefoot towards her and the door. A jolt of want made Rose pause, the warm flush of her skin growing under his gaze.

The door handle depressed further under Rose’s grip, letting the door swing free into the room and her attention was drawn away, taking advantage of the moment alone to shuck her jeans off quickly. It was a bedroom, much plainer than the rest of the flat, but still warmly dressed and smelling of fresh clean cotton. Rose stepped further into the room as she toed off her socks and abandoned them on the floor. Another huge window looked out onto a side street, the complete lack of light in the bedroom and the orange street lights throwing the brickwork of the neighbouring building into sharp relief.

Hands slid along Rose’s waist from behind, tugging at the hem of her shirt and Rose pressed back into the warm wall of John’s bare chest happily. John sighed in her ear, wrapping his arms tighter around her as he pressed a series of kisses along the side of her neck. “Are you sure?”

Rose span in his grip, rolling her eyes at his question. “Yes. Stop asking, okay? It was yes, it's still yes. And you’re still over dressed.” Pointedly she glanced down at his trousers, the tight fabric looking decidedly uncomfortable.

“So are you.” He cocked his head and shot her a toothy grin. “On three?”

Rose gripped the edge of her shirt, “One,” daring him on with a tiny raise of her eyebrows and wrinkle of her nose. “Two…” John wrestled with his trousers, releasing the button at his waist in a fumbled move.

“Three?”

They stripped, Rose’s tee shirt torn off hurriedly over her head and chucked on to the rug behind her, followed rapidly by her mismatched pants and bra. John did the same, and as he straightened up from pulling the last skinny trouser leg loose Rose felt her heart soar against her chest, giddy anticipation and a few drinks with dinner strumming through her veins in a toxic cocktail of want. John was beautiful, lean but strong. A scattered path of hair across his chest dwindled down his belly and the urge to follow it with licks and kisses flashed through her brain with a surge of arousal that shot straight to her core. She peeked lower and felt herself blushing, the tips of her ears hot and embarrassed.

They reached out at the same time, John’s fingers brushing against Rose’s waist and along her sides as she pressed her palm against his chest, feeling the glowing warmth of his skin against hers. Unable to resist Rose lent forward to press a teasing kiss against his bare chest. John shuddered in response, whatever control he’d been clinging to snapping back as he lent down to cradle her head with one hand, capturing her lips again, as the other hand skimmed across her skin. She met his ardour with her own, sighing at each delicious contact as they pressed together.

Suddenly impatient, Rose shoved him gently towards the bed, backing them up until his legs hit the edge of the puffy duvet cover. Obediently, John followed her lead, dropping away from her as he settled back onto the mattress before reaching out to pull her along with him. Unwilling to give up her position Rose crawled along his body, leaving nipping kisses along his thighs and belly before settling over him, thighs astride his hips but teasingly distant from the full body contact she knew he wanted.

Eager hands drew Rose closer, and John sighed against her lips as she rewarded his patience. “You look very pleased with yourself.”

“I am quite. You are…” Rose let her hips drop to grind against his cock and John moaned audibly, chest rising as he arched his back in response. “Completely fantastic. Did I ever tell you that?”

“Maybe occasionally.” John teased.

John's hands found her breasts, palming the heavy weight and brushing her nipples with the tips of his thumbs until bolts of shuddering pleasure that made Rose gasp in response, letting her head fall into the crook of his neck as he pressed and twisted the sensitive skin.

Taking advantage of her distraction, John wrapped one arm around her back, cradling her against him as he rolled them over in a tangled of knotted limbs. Her hair splayed across the pillow and out of her face and he lingered over her, pausing to study her features as they got comfortable, his weight braced against his hands and the messy spikes of his own hair touchably close.

Rose didn’t bother resisting, letting her fingers slide through the surprisingly soft tips and watching the parted lips and flicker of pleasure in John’s eyes as she rubbed the hairs at the base of his neck. Taking back control, John leaned down to press a butterfly soft kiss against her lips, her neck, her collarbone.

Rose’s skin tingled in anticipation. How low was he going to go? Unspoken conversation’s nagged at her soul. “Are you ever going to confess that we met in that club?”

“What?” He glanced up at her from his perusal of her breasts, one hand hovering over the right.

“I didn’t remember until Donna showed me the photo.” Rose confessed, tugging John closer until he collapsed on his side next to her, face inches from hers across the pillows.

Some mess of confused emotions danced across John’s features. “I didn’t realise either, until Jack said. I’m sorry I didn’t say – I don’t normally drink that much.”

She believed him. It was easy to, but the act of speaking the words seemed to unlock some final barrier between them. Rose flicked some stray hairs away from her face, snuggling closer. “Me neither. I don’t know how we even met again.”

John nodded, one hand sliding down her side to skirt the curve of her hip then pull her thigh over his. “The odds of running into you twice were tiny.”

“Maybe the Universe was trying to tell us something.” Rose scooted nearer, using the back of her leg to draw them together and he hissed quietly as his cock pressed between her thighs.

They hadn’t bothered to turn a light on and away from the street lit window John’s eyes were impossibly dark, pools of black that drew Rose in, a silent bid for another kiss. “Sometimes, the Universe can be very clever.” He agreed.

A draft drifted from the open doorway past the bed and her skin puckered slightly at it’s cold touch. Unspeaking, John tugged the bed covers down underneath them, waiting as she rolled over and arched her back so he could shove the duvet free, moving it below their feet then throwing it back over his shoulders, sheltering her from the cold air with his body and the heavy duvet as he settled back into position between her splayed legs.

A siren wailed somewhere in the distance and Rose ignored it, knotting her fingers in John’s hair as any semblance of conversation died away, lost to their reassuring fluffy cocoon of lips and tongue and sighs and wandering hands intent on exploration. Once more hovering over her John took advantage of the opportunity to resume kissing his way down the column of her neck, his tongue laving along the hollow of her collarbone before continuing downward, whispering unheard promises against the round swell of her breasts before circling her nipples with his tongue.

Rose bit back a sigh, tugging John’s hair as she shifted beneath him, feeling her hips rise up in search of the friction she wanted. John grinned against her skin at the sound of her frustration, taking his time as he explored each breast with his mouth before leisurely heading downwards, his head disappearing under the covers and out of her reach as his tongue mapped a path down her belly and around her hips, hovering around the top of her thighs as he teased her, deliberately ignoring the places she wanted him to touch most. The flat sweep of his tongue ran along the apex of her thigh, so close to her centre she hissed, muscles clenching and fisting the sheets beside her. A muffled chuckle came from beneath the duvet.

Impatiently she lifted the top, sitting up to glare at his toothy, self-satisfied grin. Hurriedly he tried to rearrange his expression into something contrite.

Rose grabbed a pillow from beside her head and tried, unsuccessfully, to throw it at the smug bastard.

The pillow jammed between her belly and the thick duvet and John grabbed it, lifting her hips and tugging the pillow underneath her arse. “Perfect.” He declared.

Apparently satisfied he returned to his previous position, all teasing abandoned in favour of seeking out the wet heat at her centre. Each touch of his tongue sent wisping tendrils of want curling through her body, each spiralling reaction building on the last as her senses sharpened. He found her clit, sucking sharply against it before using his fingers to explore her reactions, rubbing and twisting as she shifted restlessly under his roving touch. Sweat gathered at the backs of her knees and she raised and drop them futilely, shrugging off some of the adrenalin that knotted low in her belly. Her skin felt too tight, and her fists abandoned the sheets beside her to pull at her own hair, dragging it away from the intense heat at the back of her neck. “John!” She gasped.

Hearing the note of desperation in her voice, John picked up his pace, holding one thigh down as she strained against his mouth. The mess of adrenalin that pulsed in her belly grew almost painfully large, pressing against her nerves until the dam broke and a thousand shooting stars skipped across the surface of her skin before sparking across her darkened vision. An electric wave of pleasure followed instantly behind flushing every nerve in a sharp explosive burst of gratifying intensity.

John slowed his movements, abandoning his pose between her legs to climb back up her body, the mattress shifting under his weight as he paused above Rose, dropping a kiss against her lips. Lazily, Rose reached up to brush her finger through the tips of his hair, lifting one leg to wrap around the back of his thighs and pull him closer, gasping against his lips as the hard length of his cock brushed against her swollen clit.

“I-” John cut Rose off with a searching kiss and she arched her back, pushing her pebbled nipples against his chest as she tried to get closer. Rose’s hands found his arse, and John’s lips dropped to her neck, panting against the crook as Rose manoeuvred against him, pulling him closer until his cock nestled between her thighs. “I’m on the pill.”

“Okay.” John didn’t hesitate, pressing a kiss against her cheek before sliding inside her.

If the orgasm had been amazing, the feel of being completely, totally connected after so long made her toes curl as cartoon hearts exploded all over her mind. “Oh, God, I love this.” It slipped out before she could help it, a mid-coital admission that her rational brain cringed away from and her heart seized joyfully.

John paused above her, those brown eyes locked on hers. “Me too.” The next kiss was incredibly gentle, a thousand unsaid thoughts dancing between their closed lips, until finally, slowly he drew away, pulling his hips back before gently pressing back against her, setting a slow rhythm that Rose matched automatically, the pillow still below her bum tilting her hips perfectly towards his, so that each draw of his cock brushed against the sensitive bundle of nerves inside her.

Sweat beaded between their bodies and John’s pace sped up, shifting his position to move harder and faster against her until they were panting together, Rose clutching at his shoulders and chest as she let herself slide towards oblivion again, eyes rolling in her head as she shouted out uncontrollably, letting a second wave of intensity fire off a delighted string of synapses in her brain. John’s rhythm started to falter, uncontrolled groans and stuttered half-words whispered in Rose’s ear as he neared his own orgasm. His head buried in the pillows, pressed close to her own and Rose took advantage of the opportunity to lick and kiss the smooth arch of his neck, sucking on the skin as he cried out against her, any pace gone as he bucked wildly against her before collapsing, inert, against one shoulder; one trembling arm still trying to keep his weight off her as he babbled unintelligibly.

“That was…” She breathed, vision still clouded by the fading trails of the flashing light show of her double orgasm.

“Yeah.” He agreed.

They shifted position slightly, John moving his weight until they were lying side by side, pressed tightly together, the heavy duvet shoved away from their hot bodies. Sex with John had been blissful, monumental even, and it had to stay a secret. “We can stay in the denial bubble forever, right?” Rose whispered into the dark.

“Whatever you want, Rose.” John pressed a sweaty kiss against her collar bone, draping his arm across her chest as he curled around her, eyes drifting closed. “Anything for you.”

Chapter Text

Lunch today? x

The Whatsapp message had scrolled across his phone in a jerky start, the screen light dimming and blacking into nothingness before he could press anything. John bashed it against his palm uselessly before chucking it into the rucksack propped between his feet. What was the point of a phone whose battery died every five minutes?

The bus journey was agonising, sandwiched between two elderly ladies huffing and puffing about how small the seats were. The phone call had come before he'd left his own place at least, leaving him time to look up a route west and try and warn Rose before he left.

It had taken more time than John had to remember which flat was hers, the slap of his converse echoing around the bare concourse as he ran up the concrete steps of another building. Rose hadn't been there, just her mother, hoodie and joggers and hair half set; wary eyes that watched him stumble over his words.

He didn't leave a message, turning away from the closed door before slapping his palm against the metal balcony handrail so hard it hurt.

 

The chair Rose sat on was intensely uncomfortable, the soft velvety exterior hiding painful lumps and bumps of old out of joint springs and lumpy padding. Opposite, Vice Chancellor Rassilon lounged in his own high backed chair, the lines of his face smoothed by careful lighting scattered around the luxurious office space. The man radiated confidence, legs splayed wide behind the oversized desk and fingers smoothing restlessly over the end of one highly polished wooden arm. It didn’t seem a ridiculous assumption that Rassilon’s own seat was a lot better made.

Rose bit back a comment about his cocky pose, trying hard to keep her expression neutral in the face of a man she had only ever seen angry and threatening.

“It’s – Rose Tyler, is it?”

She smiled blandly. “Yes.”

“Rose is a lovely name. Very pretty.” Rassilon’s eyes wandered slightly. The kind of wander that refused to politely skip her breasts and instead concentrated far too long.

Rose hunched her shoulders forwards automatically, ruining the line of her jacket. “Mmm.” Rose nodded robotically, lips pressed together thinly. She knew that kind of comment, everyone did, the wasn't-what-you-said-exactly kind. It jarred, making her skin prickle and her clothes itch uncomfortably.

She didn’t know why she was here, sat in the office of a Vice-Chancellor she had barely spoken to before. When Rose had arrived in the morning the note asking her to come over was already in the middle of the desk, the signature line blank. The anxious reasonable guess that being asked to see her boss’ boss wasn’t for a good reason sat heavy in her stomach and made her head ache painfully.

The denial bubble of her long weekend, hidden away in Cambridge with John, felt light years away.

Rassilon shifted a little in his chair; leaning in to tap the neatly arranged sheets of paper on his clear desk with one long finger. “You work quite closely with Doctor Smith, don’t you?”

“I suppose.”

“I’ve received a report that Doctor Smith’s behaviour may not always be-” Rassilon paused briefly, eyes flickering back over Rose’s loose hair and unbuttoned jacket. “…Entirely appropriate, shall we say. I invited you here to give you an opportunity to speak with me privately.”

“Why would I need to do that?” It came out defensive, and she held her tongue between her teeth to stop extra words falling from her lips. Words of impressive levels of couthness and definitely not advisable in a meeting with your Über boss. No matter how much of a lech he was.

“Well…” Rassilon templed his fingers. “As someone that spends a lot of time with Doctor Smith, you would be an excellent witness as to his general behaviour.”

“Right.” A tiny spark of hope flickered into life. Defending John was easy. “Well, then I’d say his general behaviour is good.”

Rassilon raised one eyebrow sceptically. “That’s your preferred statement? That his general behaviour is good.”

“Yup.” Rose sat rigidly, can-I-help-you smile fixed in place. “Do you need me to write that down?”

“No, no.” The Vice Chancellor leaned back again. “This is just a discussion right now.”

Rose hesitated. “Okay.”

“You can’t get in trouble for anything we talk about. Do you understand?”

The patronising tone was unmissable.

“Right.”

“This report here that states Doctor Smith has been sexually harassing his employees.”

Rose heart beat sped painfully in her chest. “Multiple cases?”

Who wrote it was no mystery.

Rassilon smiled flatly. “I can’t divulge those details.”

“Can’t, or won’t?” She challenged. "He's my colleague. Don't you think I'd have a right to know if that was the case? If it's true."

“I could say the same to you. You haven’t told me anything about Doctor Smith at all. Are you sure you know him as well as you think you do?.” Rassilon paused, taking a moment to take the papers off the desk and lock them in a drawer.

“I think you might find you have hitched your wagon to the wrong star, my dear. There are other members of this institution much more worthy of the attention of an ambitious junior staff member. Your current job role may well no longer be needed very soon, but if you can prove yourself needed.” Rassilon spun the word out, his eyes lingering down her body and over her chest once more - the pause in speech slow and deliberate. “Then another opportunity could be found at a more senior level.”

Anger stirred low in Rose’s belly, and she bit the inside of her cheek, digging her fingers into the rough velvet cushions of the chair as she fought her instincts to slap the man.

“If you have nothing else to say, Rose. You can go back to work now.”

Rose stood up stiffly, loathe to turn her back, but with no other way to leave the room. A leaden dread filled her movements, and her tiny pause at the door as she left seemed to catch the Vice Chancellor’s attention.

“Oh and don’t worry about updating Doctor Smith, we already spoke. He’s going to be on sabbatical until the end of the year. Professor Yana will take over as your immediate superior.”

There it was, of course, the final kick of the beating. Silently, Rose left the room tugging at the edge of jacket restlessly and closing her eyes as she tried to calm her temper.

It did not work.

Rose’d left her phone in her bag in the shared office, forcing her to return sooner than she’d like to her desk. John's lack of reply to the morning messages, something she'd thought nothing about twenty minutes before, had become ominous and urgent. The last tendrils of fond weekend memories were sliding away, lost in a haze of panic as everything slowly crashed down. Why hadn't John called her? Why hadn't he texted? whatsapp'd? sign written across the sky?

Clara was buzzing around as usual as she’d come in, standing by her desk and sorting through print outs of lecture slides. “Hey, Rose!”

“Hey.” Rose waved a couple of fingers vaguely in Clara’s direction as she strode past, heading straight for John’s door. It wasn’t locked, and with a swift twist of the doorknob she was inside, alone amongst the few spiralling dust particles and dated furniture.

Rose's heart stuttered as she took the tiny details in. Empty chair, clear desk. Breath caught in her throat until her lungs started to ache, swollen and tight against her ribs until they felt close to bursting. Like she'd ducked under the water in the pool at the scabby leisure centre, holding her breath until she couldn't bear it anymore. Tears swam at the corner of her eyes and she scrunched her eyes closed as she tried to force her body into functioning, a stream of old air escaping from her lips with a strangled gasp.

“He’s not in yet.” Clara stood in the doorway, arms crossed as she eyed Rose uncertainly. “Is everything alright?”

Rose hadn't even noticed her coming in.

“Uh.” Empty chair, empty desk. No papers strewn across it. Some of the books on the shelves were gone. “Yeah.” She spun slowly back to face Clara, caught a glimpse of Missy’s open office door behind them. By now, Missy was probably in there. Excited about the fallout of her machinations. “I’m fine.”

He’d gone, John was gone and he hadn’t warned her.

Clara pursed her lips, slipping inside the room and pulling the door closed behind them in a quick decisive move. “What’s happened?”

“Rassilon sent John on sabbatical. He’s probably going to get fired; because of me and him.” The facts left her lips robotically, somehow disconnected to the muddled mess that was her feelings.

Rose stalked through the room and slumped in the leather chair behind the desk. “I can’t call him because I left my stupid phone up here while I was talking to Rassilon and that bloody witch out there is now our boss.”

Clara’s eyes widened, tapping her fingers nervously against her thigh before she started pacing around the length of the room, quick circuits from board to closed door to windows and back again. “We’re getting fired, we’re all getting fired. My career is over.” She laughed shakily. “I haven’t even started yet, and it’s over.”

“We’re not there yet. There’s processes and stuff.” Rose waved her arms dismissively. “Me and John are… well, completely screwed probably, but not you. They can’t fire you for nothing.”

“They can if there’s no department left. Can’t be part of the teaching staff of a subject that is no longer being taught. You don't know how insecure academia is Rose - it's all temporary contracts and hundreds of people going for the same job.”

Rose snapped her mouth shut. Impulsively, she turned the computer on.

Clara paused her pacing. “What are you doing?”

“John didn’t tell us he got put in academic detention.”

“So?”

“So, why not? Can’t shut up usually, why hasn’t he said anything yet?”

Clara shrugged. “Maybe he’s just upset.”

Rose watched the screen stir into life, blue and white flashing across the screen. “Maybe.” She agreed. “We can’t do nothing though. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t met the Doctor totally by chance one day, I’m guessing you wouldn’t be either. I can’t sit and wait for him to get fired. I've already had one job burn down on me this year, it's not happening again.”

Clara squinted at her and Rose ignored her, pulling open the desk drawers to check through the discarded contents. A stiff yank got the top one open. His phone charger stared up at her. Of course. She dumped it on the desk. "Charge your fucking phone, John."

Clara sighed, rolling her eyes as she headed over to the sofa by the window to slump with her head in her hands. “If he’s on sabbatical, he’s probably gone to Cambridge. They were looking for someone for maternity cover in their Physics department, and I know he talked to them about taking the job. I can call and find out, but let’s leave it until lunch okay? Don’t let Missy know you’re rattled. We got rules now, and that’s number one.”

Rose shot her a tongue touched smile, the relief of an explanation for the lack of contact and a partner in crime rolling together into a giddy ball that burst through her joints. "Gone a bit Blackpool there. Sounds good, Clara."

A dull ringing sounded from the outer office and Rose ignored it as she tried to sort her thoughts. Cambridge made sense. John could have got on the train not long after he spoke to Rassilon and be there by now. Give him a bit longer to get set up at the University and buy a new charger, it would be a while before there was any point in trying to call, and John wasn’t much for email, though as soon as she was done with the office she could check. Rose spun the chair around with her feet, turning away from the groaning computer to the still mostly stuffed bookshelves. He’d had time to grab a few things clearly, probably just text books he’d need for his new job.

High pitched laughter drifted through the door. Paranoid, Clara rose from the sofa, waving Rose away from the desk as she held up two fingers and whispered urgently. “Two, only speak in private.”

Rose had just made it around to the front of the desk, a random book seized from the shelves and clutched in front of her as she tried to block any view of the lit computer screen. The door opened just as Rose slid into position, Missy fixing them both with an amused smile, waving Rose’s pink covered phone in her direction. “I hope you don't mind, your phone was ringing - it’s your Mum. We had a wonderful chat.” She beamed at them, blood red lips thinly stretched over her teeth.

She moved instantly, letting a mangled thanks past her lips as she grabbed the phone and pressed it to her ear. “I’ll just take this outside.” She whispered, pointing exaggeratedly at the handset as she sidestepped Missy and escaped from John’s office. “Hey, Mum. How are you?” Instead of stopping at her desk Rose kept going, out into the corridor and continuing until the open door of the photocopying room slid into her eyeline.

“Rose, what is going on with you? I thought that phone was permanently glued to your side.”

Seizing the opportunity, Rose ducked in and pulled the copier room door closed behind her. “I’m not that bad, Mum.” She leaned against the handle, holding it shut.

“Whatever you say, Rose.” Jackie's tone made it perfectly clear that it was not, in fact, fine.

“Look, there’s loads going on – can I give you a ring later?” What had her Mum said to Missy?

“You were supposed to come with me to the hospital this morning? I went by myself. But fine call me when you’ve got time for me.” Jackie’s huffed sigh was worse than the spiky anger Rose deserved and shame flooded her, making her stomach churn in a distant relation of the itchy skin crawl she'd been suffering with all morning. The kind that seemed to want to tell her she couldn't do anything right and everything was her fault. She’d known about this appointment for weeks. Known her mum was worried.

"Sh-" Rose pressed her forehead against the back of the closed door, tried to hone in on the reassuring feel of the cold pressed wood. “No – I’m so sorry, Mum, I forgot. Tell me now.”

“Not on the phone, alright? I haven’t seen you since Friday. You come home late and disappear before I’m up in the mornings; it’s like living with a ghost.” Hurt echoed through every word.

“Don’t Mum, I feel terrible. Maybe I can ask the professor to let me come back early today.”

“Is that allowed then? Didn’t think that Doctor liked having you out of his sight.”

Rose sighed. “I told you, John’s not like that and he’s not even here.”

The unmistakable sound of a magazine being dropped against the coffee table slapped over the line. “Well he was here this morning.”

“What?”

“He was hammering on the front door after you’d gone to work. Looked a complete mess. It’s like you’ve forgotten all about Jimmy –”

“Mum!” Frustration boiled over. “John is not Jimmy Stone. He’s not a controlling, deadbeat, wankbadger trying to make me do things I don’t want to. Trust me, I am well aware of the difference.”

“Hmm.” The disbelief was palpable.

“He just left his phone charger again. Couldn't ring me, that's all. What did he say?”

“Nothing, he just said he wanted to talk to you. Are you really sure everything is okay?”

“Yes, it’s fine, Mum. I promise." Rose let out a relieved sigh, if things were really awful surely her Mum wouldn't still be fussing about her. And right now, John did not matter. "Tell me about your appointment, please? Don’t make me come over there…”

Jackie laughed at Rose’s teasing tone. “Fine.” Rose could hear her taking a deep breath. “They said they wanted to do more scans.”

Rose’s heart dropped through her stomach, leaving a sick yawning chasm where fully functioning organs should be.

“I’m coming home.”

Chapter Text

“Rose?”

“Just a sec.” Rose pressed the phone tight to her ear, shoving the blanket away from her as she uncurled her legs. She stayed as silent as possible as she rose from her station to stretch her achy limbs. The old armchair that stood in the corner of her Mother’s bedroom was comfortable enough to sit in, but after hours of pacing around the flat and trying to get her Mum to communicate the details of her breast clinic appointment Rose had ended up slumped in it, cradling tea and watching her mum watch repeats on TV until she fell asleep. Though not quite as bad as the chair in Rassilon's office, it had still rapidly lost any appeal.

“What’s going on?” John’s voice was unhurried, a calm oasis in a terrible day.

Rose kept her mouth closed; skirting around the bed and out the door she glanced one last time at the huddled form of her sleeping mother before closing the door behind her. “I left work early.” Despite the closed door she kept her voice hushed, whispering into the handset as she ran one hand through her stress-tossled hair. “Sorry, I know you called to tell me about Rassilon and stuff – there was a family emergency.”

“What happened? Where are you?”

Rose could hear John moving, his swift footsteps and the burr of traffic speeding past in the background. Probably, she should tell him not to come. “My mum might be sick. It might be…” More words she didn’t want to say. “We don’t know yet, she has to go back in to hospital tomorrow afternoon for more tests. She’s asleep now.”

“I’m so sorry Rose.” Purposefully, Rose turned away from Jackie’s door, lingering in the open doorway of the living area as she tried to think straight enough to decide where to sit. Rose wasn’t ready for sorry. Sorry meant bad. She wasn’t ready for that either. “Mind you… Didn’t you tell me your Mum is the woman who scared off actual gangland drug dealers from the estate? Properly got them running off with their tails between their legs and dragging half a kilo of oregano and weed in a bag so holey it could’ve been a colander? Dogs were getting high for months, licking little flakes of marijuana off lamp posts? Maybe you don’t need to worry too much. I reckon she’s made of strong stuff.”

A dry chuckle escaped her lips, and she could almost hear his pleased smile.

“Yeah, not gunna argue about that. How was Cambridge?”

“Students are all weirdly tall, nothing else interesting to report.”

Across from the little table in front of her, where Rose and her Mum sat and ate dinner most nights was a tiny side table, just big enough to store the little knick knacks of a life long lived. Rose’s dad, Pete peered out from a silver frame. He had a funny, sceptical look like he hadn’t had much patience with posing for photographs. Pete who’d died when Rose was a baby. Rose’s stomach dropped painfully and she turned quickly, heading into her bedroom and closing the door firmly behind her. “I got your message about Rassilon, incompetent pompous arse, huh?” She tried to sound light and calm.

“Eh.” The beep of a traffic light interrupted him, drowned out by the thrum of an idling engine and some muffled shouting. “I publish next week, he can have his hissy fit and fire me then.”

She sat on the bed, slumping back against the covers and tucking one arm below her head as she kicked her feet idly. “You don’t seem that bothered.”

“You’re ready to transfer to Arch and Anth right?”

It was all sorted with River and the HR department. Sign on the dotted line and Rose could transfer the next day. “Of course.”

“Then I’m fine. Stop fussing and tell me when I can take you to dinner.”

Rose rolled her eyes, wedging the phone between her shoulder and her ear as she picked at a chipped section of nail polish. “After you get the sack?”

“But that could be weeks!”

Rose couldn’t help but laugh and this time John harrumphed in response, faux indignant. She should worry about him, Rose knew, but he clearly didn’t want her to and for now – just now, wasn’t it so much nicer to roll with this puffed up lie that everything was fine? That it didn’t matter if they got fired, it didn’t matter if her mum was sick. Because they were them and they could brush off anything. Put any hurdle in it’s place and laugh in the face of sudden, gut wrenchingly unfair death and dismissal.

“What’s this Jamaican place like?” John’s question cut through her brooding thoughts.

She stopped picking at her nail. “What place?”

“That restaurant up from your flat. Bloke outside was very convincing, but I’ve absolutely no idea what I’ve ordered. Reg? He also gave me some kale.”

“What, like for veggies?” Rose grabbed the phone again, pressing it closer to her ear as she tried to work out exactly where John might be. “And why are you walking around near my flat?”

“No, no. The kale is raw. Also, think I saw a slug…” Rose heard the clunk and creak of a heavy door. “I’m at your block. Number 48 right?” Footsteps echoing up concrete steps, calm and steady. “And I got dinner for you Rose. Clara already told me about your mum, I figured you probably weren’t up for cooking yourself. In fact, do you ever cook your own tea?”

Too much information crowded her brain. “Do you mean allotment Reg?” Rose rolled onto her side then off the bed in a bound of cynical shock that left her head and body slightly out of synch as she stumbled towards the front door. “Reg just started randomly chatting to yo... Ohhh. The kale. Allotment overproduction, you’re such a rookie. You’ll never stop him giving you veg now.” Impatience in every move, Rose twisted the lock and pulled the front door to, wedging it open as she stepped out onto the rough mat that marked the beginning of Tyler property.

“On the other hand," Rose considered. "Clara is a traitor who will be made to pay.” Rose stepped further out and cold radiated from the bare concrete balcony path through her slippers; her breath instantly clouding in front of her face, just visible in the orange glow of the security lights that ringed the block. Dragons breath, her mum used to say.

“We can plot Clara’s demise after we save her job.” John promised.

“Oh, fine…” Rose jiggled on the spot, trying to stop the chill that was already trying to sink into her bones through the thin layer of her hoodie. “Hurry up. It’s freezing.”

John appeared as soon as she spoke. The collar of his long coat was turned up against the bitterly icy wind and both hands were tucked into his pockets, despite the very full looking reusable bags swinging from one fist.

John greeted her with that slow lazy smile and long stare that was prone to making her knees melt.

The bastard. He always knew what she needed and it made Rose's heart lurch to realise how much John had woven his way into her life; she'd run off to deal with her Mum alone, but John had still rapidly become the first person she wanted to reach out to for comfort.

When John finally reached Rose, she leaned up to press a kiss against his lips and the tiny contact was a soothing balm, an open invitation to lose herself in the company of someone who felt safe while all around her went up in flames. Awkwardly, John brought the bags around Rose's body and they clipped against her bum and thighs as he tried to hug her closer, his one free hand splaying across her back as he deepened the kiss and walked her back into the warmth of the hallway.

Rose broke the kiss first, leaning back against the wall that separated the hall from her bedroom and sighing before taking the bag that didn’t appear to contain vegetables from John. Clearly conscious of her sleeping mother, John carefully shut the door, shooting Rose a sidelong glance that spoke much more of pity than she would like. Purposefully, she propped the takeaway bag up against her chest to nose inside, breathing in the searing spices and sighing happily. “You know the way to a girl’s heart.”

He smirked at her as he stuck his hands in his trouser pockets, rocking back on his heels. “I do my best.”

 

 

It wasn’t the alarm that woke John so much as the yawning cold patch beside him and the muted whack of radio against table as Rose attempted to beat it into submission. Blaring beeps finally silenced she rolled back towards John, snuggling back under the covers and into his arms. Rose was soft and warm and the urge to slide his hand around her waist, to slip his hand under the loose shirt she’d slept in and skim over her velvety skin was completely impossible to resist. Rose shuffled closer, grinding her arse against his hardening cock, a pleased sigh escaping her lips.

Same page, then.

He kissed her shoulder, tracing a path along the exposed skin of the loose neck of her shirt from the edge of her shoulder towards the ticklish spot at the back of her neck. “Morning.”

Rose twisted just enough in his grip to shoot him a sleepy smile, brushing her lips against his before throwing her arms above her head in an arching, stretched yawn. Her hair stood near enough on end, puffing out around her face in a tangled blonde cloud.

Remnants of the day before’s make up were smudged around her eyes and Rose ran one finger through it before slumping back into his arms and sighing. “Tell me I don’t look like I’m about to host Strictly.” She kept her voice low and the soft murmur first thing in the morning drifted pleasantly over John. Leaving him indescribably pleased they’d reached an unspoken agreement the night before that it was already past midnight and there was no chance he was going to bother making his way back to his flat on the torturously long and weird night bus journey across the river.

John shrugged, pressing another kiss against her shoulder to hide his automatic smirk. “Hey, Winkleman’s got a solid look.”

“What, did her makeup in a taxi on the way to the studio?”

The food the night before had been amazing, spicy and sweet and incredibly filling. Rose had worried and John had tried to look like he wasn’t worried while insisting he stay the night to keep her company. Rose had joked about putting him in Howard-off-the-market’s pyjamas before the pair succumbed to the lazy option of just stripping off their outer layers of suits and hoodies and lounging around in t-shirts and pants, filling in some awkward steps they’d missed in their relationship between flirting and sex-filled weekend away.

“Yeah, she does that.” True fact. “Saw her once going past on my bike.”

Rose giggled, spinning around to face him properly and drape her arms around his neck. All her twisting about had bunched the shirt she’d thrown on last night higher around her waist to reveal a long stretch of untouched skin.

The night before, Rose’d fallen asleep somewhere in the middle of Attack the Block. Boyega still sword in hand; the calming sounds of real South London chatter mingling through the open window with the film. John’s arm had slung loosely round Rose’s shoulders and she’d curled into him, feeling the reassuring thump of his heart beating against her cheek pressed against his chest and his fingers gliding through her hair absent mindedly until sleep claimed her, lips falling open as she drooled on his chest. He watched her for a while, the stress wiped from her features behind closed eyelids.

John let his hand slide across her belly, letting his thumb dance over the dip of her belly button and teasing circles across the bare skin.

Despite John’s blasé assertions the day before about not being worried if Rassilon fired him (and truthfully, he wasn’t that concerned about being unemployed) the anxious thought that he had crossed a moral line pursuing this beautiful, caring woman worried at him endlessly. What would Rose think if that decision was made? Would she laugh it off and roll her eyes and run off into the sunset with him like John wanted? Or would she have second thoughts? Would she turn around for her new job and leave him behind? Had he been unfair?

Rose eyed him wolfishly, throwing one leg around his hip to draw him closer before deliberately rubbing herself against his straining underwear. Rose smiled and bit the corner of her lip as he groaned in response, sliding one hand down her side John drew her closer, gripping her hip as he pressed against her, the thin scraps of fabric between them nothing but an irritation.

It hadn’t been about sex the night before. Just the warmth of each other’s company in the dead of night, while disaster loomed around them; enemy at the gate.

John drew her closer again, letting his hands ride back up across the dip of her waist and the swell of her rib cage, pushing the soft cotton shirt higher until his hands could skirt her breasts. Rose was so warm, and real and irresistible. She copied his move, silently tugging the front of his shirt impatiently until he sat up enough to pull it off, the v neck catching his messy hair and letting it flop against his forehead. Rose’s fingers danced across his chest, mapping the lines of his muscles and scrapping her nails gently against his nipples before pulling away to tug her own shirt off.

How could he worry about Rose leaving? The dull morning light that filtered through the net curtains, so grey and low it was barely better than moonlight, brought Rose’s wide smile and laughing eyes with it, the gaze that watched him with a dedication both of them rarely voiced.

If Rose had been beautiful last night, silent and sleeping; she was gorgeous now, old makeup and sleep rumpled amongst violently pink sheets: a vibrant explosion of taste and colour and teasing wit.

Impatient with his slow progress and the lack of time, Rose leaned in to seize his lips. Her hands dragged down his chest, fire trailing behind her fingertips as John deepened their kiss, each press of their lips sparking joyful synapse jolts across his brain. One bright finger hooked inside the waistband of his underwear and tugged purposefully.

John took the hint, helping Rose to shove them down his hips before turning his attention to her own pants. They didn’t talk, conscious of the need to be quiet, the guilty rush of hiding from her parent like teenagers adding urgency to every hurried move; they moved together entirely by instinct and memory. Rose looped her thigh back over his naked hip and shuffled against him in subtle movements that brushed the tip of his cock tantalisingly against the wet heat at her centre. John reached between them, finding her clit and rubbing against it until he found the spot that made her bite her tongue as she groaned, back arching as she pressed against him, her pebbled nipples pressing against his chest. Hands found his neck, brushing through the tiny hairs at the back before dragging him closer for a kiss that covered her broken panting.

A hiss escaped from her lips and she pulled away just enough to bury her head in the crook of his neck, clutching at his back as she drove her body downwards. John gasped against her, letting his head fall back as they slid impossibly close together.

John opened his mouth to speak and Rose shushed him with a hushed giggle, covering his lips with her own again as they started to rock against each other, setting a lazy rhythm that pulled deep at the knotted ball of anxiety that had haunted his restless night and tugged the end free in grinding bursts of pleasure. They lost control quickly, her lips settling at the crook of his neck as she leaned against him, too far gone to cogently kiss anymore. He leaned down to lick her own skin, tasting the sweat that beaded along her collar bone as he shifted his hips and moved his hand back between them to brush against the bundle of nerves in and outside of her and push her further over the edge.

Rose seized against him, gasping out wordlessly as orgasm rushed through her. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she fell away from him, listless hands tugging him with her as she breathed a row of inarticulate vowels sounds against his ear. John wasn’t far behind, a few more sharp thrusts enough to send him tumbling after her, a rush of jerking adrenalin that flooded every muscle and left his brain spinning and unraveled from the rush of pleasure. His hands gripped hers against the mattress as he buried his head in her neck, smothering his cries against her salty skin.

The muscles in John’s arms ached in protest as he remained propped above Rose and rode out the last few muscle spasms. They panted together, letting their hearts slow in synch as he watched her come down from her own high, pink cheeked and shiny, strangely seriously eyes. “I-” She reached up to cradle his face in her hands, running her fingers through the stubble that decorated his cheeks, licking her lips in a tiny nervous gesture. “I love you.”

The confession sat between them, swelling his heart until it felt too large for his chest, bursting against his rib cage in a rush of pleasure that rivalled the frankly spectacular orgasm he’d just had.

“Rose!” There was a dull thump as someone rapped on the door. “You’ve got work love!”

Rose stilled her movements; closed her eyes and mouthed what looked distinctly like a swear word before opening her eyes just enough to squint up at John. “How long has it been since you last climbed out a window?”

Chapter Text

“Come on, come with us – Smithy in’t allowed back on campus outside of lectures and I don’t want to leave him out.” The girl flicked her immaculately straightened hair back over her shoulder, shooting an irritated glance at the fat drops of rain water that dropped from the craggy trees that sheltered the queue at the coffee stand.

Her friend huffed irritably. “Yeah, but I like going to SU bar. I want cheesy Christmas tunes and that barman that works Wednesdays… the one with the curly hair. In a Santa hat. Near some mistletoe.” The second girl was northern versus the first’s rising Essex lilt and Rose smiled to herself as she wondered how long the pair had been friends. After the panicky revelation that her Mum may have cancer had finally sunk in and Rose had confessed the truth to her own mates, she’d frequently come home from work to find Mickey or Bill sat in her flat, sharing a slice of cake and giggling at Rose’s expense.

Friends were a good thing.

The one with the hair was fiddling with it again, coiling it in a rough bun and pulling her jacket hood up against the scattered spots of icy rain. “You have thought about this far too much.”

“Not as much as you thought about Doctor Smith…” Her friend teased.

Yup, there was that déjà vu she was looking for. The queue shuffled forward and Rose turned away, amused, pulling up her own hood as she pressed her lips together and pretended not to listen.

“He's a good teacher! That’s all.”

“Mmhmm.” Or bollocks, as it was more commonly phrased. “You tell yourself that.”

There was a long pause, before: “Do you know when he’s coming back?” and giggling laughter.

Rose opened her mouth to say, 'tonight, tonight finally he will stop calling me from his impromptu trip to Pisa and babbling about the father of the scientific method’s dodgy maths!' She pulled the hood closer around her ears instead. She really needed to get out more and talk to her own friends without her Mum around. Especially since John had taken advantage of his earlier finish from term by sodding off to Italy for a week to give her and her Mum some space.

At this point, Rose and her Mum’d had enough time together.

The front of the queue finally neared and the girls deliberated over their orders, oblivious to the wait behind them. The cold wind that had stayed away for most of Rose’s morning commute brushed past, pulling a couple of loose flyers away from the counter of the coffee stand; automatically Rose stepped out of the line to grab them. Dodging through scattered students and staff Rose almost barrelled straight into Rassilon, still bizarrely dressed in his red robes as he stomped across the grounds, his ruddy, sweaty face clashing with the wizard get-up.

Silently, Rose ducked out of his way, spinning around before he could spot her; her heart seizing in her chest. The brief moment of calm she had witnessed when John was shuffled off to work at Cambridge and out of the Vice-Chancellors way didn’t seem to have had a positive effect on the Über Boss for long; now the entire staff was going out of their way to avoid him. Bending down to grab the flyers and dump them back on the counter with a quick smile at Dan the barista, Rose abandoned her drink plans rapidly, hurrying off to take the back way to the office to make sure she was there on time.

Rose opened the office door to nothing more than Clara with her feet up on the desk, reading a battered paperback with a cup of tea in hand. “Kettle’s still warm. Do you want one?” Clara nodded back towards the kitchen as she raised her mug in greeting.

“Please.” Rose sighed, shucking her damp coat off and crossing the quiet office to hand it up on the rack. Both the side offices looked unoccupied, doors still propped open by empty bins from the cleaners the night before. “That bus gets worse every day, properly stank this morning. I think a fox may have died in it.”

The University post had already been delivered and under the usual pile of letters was a stack of brown card parcels, roughly A4 size, sat on Rose's desk. A little thrill of curiosity tickled Rose, and she nudged the letters out the way to look at them first. They were not addressed to her, but one each for Missy, Clara and John. Deflated, Rose passed Clara hers before passing through Missy’s unlocked office door to leave the box inside. The office was empty, as usual. Missy seemed to have absconded for the holidays early, cancelling her last few lectures (and those that she had been covering for John) with nothing more than an early morning text.

This was no bad thing.

“Rose…”

Rose spun around, alarm instantly ringing through her, fearful she’d been caught off guard by Missy. The office was still empty. Really empty, actually. Missy didn’t seem to collect nearly as much stuff as the other academics she’d got to know. Clara appeared in the doorway, a large book hanging limply from one hand. “Rose… give me Missy’s parcel.”

“What?” Rose hefted the box against her, turning it over as she checked the packaging. “Why?”

“Give it to me.” Clara hissed, face pale as she stalked towards Rose. “You don’t know what she’s done!”

Wordlessly, Rose passed Clara the box, shoving her thumbs into her back pockets as she watched Clara angrily rip the package open, her dark head bobbing as she muttered wildly to herself and strips of card fluttered to the floor. An identical book to the one Clara had already been holding was revealed, bound in a crisp green leather that wafted an earthy smell through the room. Impatiently, Clara shoved her copy at Rose and started paging through Missy’s. She paused at the title page, her pallid complexion drawing more pinched and angry. “‘Final edits sorted for you. R.’

“Clara, I don’t understand.”

“I know we thought she’d do something like this – that was John’s whole plan, weeks of getting in touch with the academics Missy was working with while she was off on sabbatical. He knew she’d stolen people’s work before, translated something that didn’t get much attention and passed it off as her own - we just needed proof. But I never expected her to be this blatant…” Clara threw the book on the floor, fisting her hands in her hair and pulling the immaculate plaits that knotted around the back of her neck out of place. “Missy stole Nardole’s work, all of it. I know he was kind of a liability but this is his work! Nardole slogged his guts out for seven years and now it’s got that bitch’s name on it.”

Frowning, Rose eyed the book in her hands more carefully. “‘The finite impact of ultracold lazer spectroscopy on strong lazer interactions’,” Rose read. “‘By Professor M Yana’… Holy shit…”

“Where is she?” Clara demanded.

“I don’t know. She hasn’t been in for a few days, cancelled her lectures. Who is R?”

“It’s Rassilon, it must be. A copy of every PhD thesis is sent to his office at the same time as they go to the printers. I doubt he ever reads most of them, but he’d have plenty of opportunity to interfere. Plus they’re thick as thieves, I mean, she pisses him off sometimes, but he always ends up getting her back working here.”

Rose frowned. “Yeah, but why? I get Missy – I mean, I don’t get her, she’s completely and utterly mental. But it was her that found out about Nardole and the drugs, she’s been planning this for ages. Publish or perish, right? Obviously, she didn’t want to bother doing any work but she had to keep producing articles and books. So she found someone who’d nearly finished their research, destroyed their reputation and stole their work.” Clara nodded along glumly. “But how did she know she’d be able to get Rassilon on side, to cover it up; that he’d do what she wanted?”

“I don’t know; I’ve barely even spoken to the guy. Bit of a letch, but…” Clara spun on her heel pacing across the office space at a frantic pace, fingernails tapping against her folded arms in a distracted rhythm before stopping dead and turning back to face Rose. “Same reason we keep quiet about the shit she pulls. Missy has dirt on Rassilon, something big.”

Rose shoved up her shirt sleeves, determination in every move. “Come on then, Clara. Let's dig this dirt up.” Rose paced backwards and forwards, trying to sort through everything she knew about the miserable Vice Chancellor. “River knows something, she told me half a story about Reinette and Rassilon, I don't think she knew the details for sure. But… Missy and Reinette had some kind of affair too, right? Missy might know the rest of the gossip and if it’s bad, it could be enough to make Rassilon do what she wants.”

Clara cocked her head, folding her arms as she eyed Rose thoughtfully. “Maybe we don’t need to know all the details, maybe it just needs to look like we know.”

“Do you really think you can bluff this?”

Clara shrugged, shooting Rose a sly smile as she shook her head. “No, not me. I've never walked into a job I wasn't remotely qualified for and stole the whole bloody show. But you…”

 

 

The seat in Rassilon’s office was just as uncomfortable as it had been the last time Rose had sat in it. Rassilon seemed to be viewing Rose’s uninvited return with glee, sat regally in his own high back chair and staring across his over large desk at her with a self-satisfied grin and the now-permanent pink cheeks. A glass cut tumbler sat openly on his desk, half full with golden liquid that definitely wasn’t apple juice.

“Back again so soon?”

Rose shrugged. “Apparently.”

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Perhaps he did enjoy it; he seemed very comfortable lounging about in his fancy office while Rose had been forced to wait. “Or do you just miss me?”

Rose drew in a sharp breath, lacing her fingers together on her lap as she rehearsed the little speech she had prepared with Clara. Boldly she sat forward in the chair, meeting Rassilon’s uncomfortable gaze with her own, confident one. “My little corner of the Physics department had an unpleasant surprise this morning. One of the senior lecturers has stolen the academic work of a PhD student and passed it off as their own. Vice-Chancellor, I’d like to request an immediate investigation and the suspension of the guilty party in accordance with University Policy.”

Rassilon leaned forward; wry knowing smile touching his lips as he leaned his elbows against the desk and templed his fingers. It was quite obvious he was in no hurry to write anything down. “And who might this incident involve?”

“Professor Missy Yana and Nardole.”

“Oh, Nardole.” Rassilon leaned back in his chair. “How is an unemployed drug dealer my concern?”

Rose raised one eyebrow. “How is that relevant? Nardole still wrote that book, the entire department watched him do it. Doctor Smith and Clara can vouch for him.”

Rassilon shrugged. “Of course I’ll investigate, but I haven’t had any reason to suspect Professor Yana before. It would be rather odd for her to suddenly start plagiarising the inferior work of drug-addled PhD students in the middle of your career don’t you think? Perhaps you haven’t worked here long enough to know how frequently young academics panic and try to pass off another’s hard work as their own. We even run everything through software to catch the idiots out.”

Rose’s jaw dropped. “Nardole wasn’t like that! Yes he was a drug dealing social oddity, but he was a Physicist too. He did his own work, from the start.”

Rassilon shrugged. “I told you, I’ll investigate.”

“I don’t believe you.” Rose shot back furiously. “You’re involved in all this somehow, you and Missy are working together and I’m not going to let you. You aren’t the ultimate boss here; I can report this to the Governors!”

“Are you sure you want to do that?”

“I know Missy’s got dirt on you, but you and her haven’t got anything on me.”

Rassilon leaned back a little. Pulling open one of the drawers of his desk and leafing through its contents until he found a simple vanilla folder. He placed it on the desk casually, flipping it open.

A photo Rose had not seen for a very long time sat on top.

“Where did you get that?”

“Our good friends at The Sun keep copies. No More Page 3 doesn’t apply to their newspaper archives apparently.” Rassilon leaned forward. “Although I did wonder who they’ve hired as librarian – I mean to say, cataloguing boob shots? That’s quite the job. I bet teenage boys are all over that application process.”

Rose’s skin crawled, unpleasant memories crowding her brain and threatening to overwhelm her. The day the photos had been taken was awful, hot and sticky and how short they were of money plaguing her thoughts. Her and Jimmy had gone together, his band was going nowhere but she loved him then, believed that one day they’d get that big break and it would be worth it. Jimmy’d been relentless too, haranguing her most of the night before about how she should just take the photos, how she needed to contribute more to their grotty little flat and skint existence and just a few photos would pay so much; more than he earnt in a single gig…

Rassilon spread the copies out around the desk, full colour shots of her skinny frame and distant eyes, the full swell of her breasts barely covered by a tactically arranged chair back, glossy and seedy all at once.

The photographer had been much older than them, scrawny and twitchy with furtive eyes that darted endlessly around the room more quickly than was comfortable; checking her ID twice when they’d arrived to make sure she really was over sixteen. Like seventeen was old enough to understand what it would be like, arranged naked on a barstool in a room full of men as they adjusted her limbs and demanded she pout more, stretch more, look more excited at the wonderful opportunity. Jimmy had put her name forward in the first place and then made her do it, of course. Like he’d made her do so many other things.

Rassilon leaned his head to one side. Trying to read her impassive silence. “Don’t look embarrassed. They’re so… lithe.”

Rose wasn’t embarrassed, she was furious. Couldn’t help the shudder of rage that rolled through her and flushed her cheeks. People had said worse than embarrassing at school once the dirty photos had been printed in a national newspaper. Whispers about how she must be a slut followed her around the corridors and more than one group of six foot teenage boys in blazers tried to trap her in a corner for a closer look. Rose forced her brain away, concentrated on the feel of the lumpy chair beneath her. Rose’d stopped going to school soon enough, Jimmy had buggered off, eventually the photos were forgotten: things had started to improve. None of that made this moment better.

“Unfortunately they do leave me with a bit of a dilemma. You see, at a rarefied institution like UCL staff do have a certain reputation to uphold. A past like this… there’s nothing wrong with it.” He leered at her and her heart clenched painfully. No, there wouldn’t be, if Rose’d wanted it, but that wasn’t how things had happened. “But it could easily bring the department into disrepute. As soon as a student found out…”

“Why would they find out?” Rose challenged him. “Those photos were taken years ago; it’s none of their business. Or yours.”

Rassilon shrugged. “If John was a little more… reliable. He would have made you aware of this risk. I did offer you, Rose, the chance to see that you may have been misguided in your choice of mentor. If you want to move to my department-”

“You don’t have a department!”

“I have a secretary. That’s what you do for John, isn’t it?” His eyes flickered across the exposed skin at her neck, wandering lower with a blatancy that made her skin crawl so hard she wondered if she could slough it off, like a snake’s, leaving her able to walk away from the body that had to endure this conversation.

“Personal Assistant, actually.” One hundred words per minute. Channelling Donna was oddly cheering.

“I’d be happy to have you under my wing, keep this all under wraps. I’m sure you’d find it a pleasant experience.” That narrow eyed loose lipped leer was back. “Any misunderstanding about Nardole and John could be cleared up, quite simply. I even offer extended private health insurance, I believe your Mother is unwell. Skipping the NHS queues can make a huge difference to treatment outcomes I’m told.”

It was perfectly obvious that Rassilon was not looking for a new secretary. “Yeah? Well, I’m not a prostitute, so you can stuff that offer up those ridiculous robes and swivel on it-”

Rassilon smirked. “How unfortunate.” He pulled a sheaf of papers out from under the photographs. “In which case your temporary contract for the University is terminated effective immediately. Gross misconduct for violation of the University morality clause. Plus this little verbally aggressive outburst, for good measure.” In a leisurely movement he ripped her contract in half before chucking it behind his head to flutter slowly to the floor.

“You can’t fire me for something completely legal I did years ago!”

Rassilon tapped the paperwork with one long finger. “I think you’ll find I can.” He stretched idly, leaning back in his chair, self-satisfied grin back in place. “It’s all in the contract. Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got drinks tonight with the heads of department and I really must start getting ready.”

Numbly, Rose stood up, her shocked limbs moving stiffly as she headed out of the office. How had things gone so wrong?

“Oh, and have a lovely Christmas, Rose.” He was taunting her, of course he was.

Rose paused at the doorway, taking in the smug man and his ludicrously red, bad Santa clothing. “Oh, I will. Trust me.”

Chapter Text

Rose couldn’t go home. How did you go home and tell your Mum you’d not just been fired, but fired over a stupid mistake it had been years of work to sweep firmly under the carpet? Her feet sent her North instead, her thin wool and acrylic blend coat scant protection against the bitterly cold wind and wet sleet that now fell miserably from the sky and gathered in slushy puddles that soaked through her boots.

There’d been no one at all in the office when Rose got back; it had been short work to shove the few possessions she usually left at her desk into her shoulder bag and leave. She’d left a note for Clara, and another for River. Hopefully not all her bridges were burnt there, and left the building.

Hot rage dogged her steps, propelling Rose away from the river until the anger melted in the miserable weather to a stewing mess of conflicted thoughts. Robotically she rounded the corner of a locked park without really seeing the black bars and evergreen bushes that shrouded the secret space inside, past houses she could never afford, and tried to work out how to get back at Rassilon and her job back.

It wasn’t a conscious thought that brought her to John’s building and Rose stood at the front door for a few moments, staring at the keypad and trying to remember which number his flat was. She wasn’t even sure if he was back yet from Pisa; though he’d left her a key – just in case, and it burned a hole in her pocket. Around her, the sleet hammered against the pavement as it turned back to perpetual icy rain, a London weather special that plastered her hair against her scalp and stung as it struck her skin. Distracted, she huddled under the overhang; leaning against the door to peer up at the endless grey sky and try to figure out her next move.

The door vanished; John stumbled back as Rose fell through the sudden gap, flopping gracelessly in a huddle at his feet. He peered at her, brown eyes wide and coat trailing from the tips of his fingers. “Rose! You’re early.”

Rose rolled her eyes from her position on the floor, accepting the hand that reached out to her and helped her up as she rubbed her bruised arse with one hand and gave John a friendly shove with the other. “Great first sentence. Am I intruding on the other girlfriend?”

John laughed, wrapping her in a hug that felt shockingly warm and she squirreled her cold fingers under as many layers of his clothing as she could reach. “I missed you. What happened? Is it your mum?” One hand brushed her cheek and she leaned into his touch, eyes fluttering closed as she tried to process his questions. “You’re freezing. How long were you standing there?”

“Uh…” Rose snapped her eyes open, twisting away and stepping back infinitesimally. “Can we pass on talking? Find a bar; get really, proper plastered?”

The light words felt all wrong, ashen in her mouth and Rose leant her head against John’s chest, feeling the little droplets of rain rolling down her brow and into his dry shirt. It was oddly reassuring to be close enough to mess up his clothes again.

John pressed a kiss to the top of her head, rubbing his hands against her arms and carefully pivoting them further into the warmth of the lobby as he shoved the front door closed against the cold.

“We can do that later.” It was clearly a lie, but a comforting one.

“I’ve got this new tea upstairs; found a tiny shop off the Vittorio Emanuale, full of old radios for some reason, and the woman there made a fantastic cuppa. I fixed her faulty security light – just a loose cable - and she let me in on the secret blend…” John trailed off teasingly, moving away and offering an outstretched hand across the yawning gap he’d created. “Quite good for getting people to talk, well, I hope so. Wellll, it worked on me.”

Rose let his finger find hers, content to interlock as they turned back into the building. Silence yawned between them, broken only by the slight squelch of her wet footsteps as she tried to work out how to phrase all of these things she didn’t want to say. At least her Mum knew half the story already.

John knew nothing. Was completely oblivious. Guilt itched at the palm of Rose’s free hand, and she tugged it through her knotty hair in a nervous twitchy move.

The door of his tiny flat was guarded with several locks and Rose lent against the corridor wall as she watched John's domestic routine without comment, dumping his keys on the little side table next to a couple of hair ties she must have left some other time. “Coat.” He ordered. Dutifully, Rose took it off, handing the sodden fabric over with an amused look. She was almost as sopping wet underneath, the driving rain having seeped through at the seams and leaving cold wet patches that dripped down her back and chest, while her soaking shirt cuffs trailed over her hands. She shifted uncomfortably as she toed off her boots by the entrance, wriggling her toes in damp socks as she nudged the shoes under the table. Even her pants felt wet…

John threw her back the coat and shook his head, clearly bemused. “I honestly don’t know how you do it. How far did you walk? I’ll get you something dry…” He wandered off, ruffling the back of his head and muttering under his breath.

Taking the hint, Rose made her way to the very blue bathroom that sat opposite the kitchen, climbing up to stand on the edge of the bath to sling her coat over the shower rail and let it drip into the tub like she'd done so many times at her own place. A small pile of clothes appeared around the half closed door and she took them from John gratefully, before closing the door, finding strange comfort in the feel of the soft cotton of a simple t-shirt and joggers under her fingers.

The shower was unbelievably tempting, a siren call to her aching muscles. Regretful, Rose turned away and stripped off the wet clothes as quickly as possible, hanging them off the towel rail and drying off with a fluffy towel before attempting to get dressed again. Clearly, John’d not considered the wet-to-the-undies scenario, but the joggers did the job of keeping her decent, folded up a few times at the waist. The tee smelt of him, crisp and warm on her tired limbs.

Rose glanced in the mirror; the towel had taken a lot of the water off her hair but left it all over the place, sticking up in peaks and troughs. Her makeup has washed off in places exposing the natural pink flush of her cheeks and cold nose while mascara smeared around her eyes. A quick search of the bathroom cupboards found a flannel, and she washed the remains off before brushing through her hair with her fingers into something less resembling a damp haystack. Washed clean and shrouded in John's baggy clothes, Rose looked tired, but okay enough. Maybe that was meaningful.

Maybe she should stop staring at mirrors when she was feeling morose.

As soon as she twisted the lock to open the bathroom door Rose could hear John in the kitchen, the clink of teaspoon against china and the soft rise and fall of radio chatter. She padded towards him, listening to his scoff of derision at some comment or other. She leaned against the door frame, arms crossed against her chest and a wry smile on her face as he continued ranting. “No, you idiots – if you won’t listen to Nobel prize winning economists-” John spun around, two mugs in hand and trailed off. “Hello.”

“Hi.”

He passed her one mug, and she sniffed the contents while letting the warmth of the boiling liquid inside warm her hands before taking a tiny sip. “Feeling better?”

“Feeling less like a walking puddle.” She conceded.

“I called the office. Clara seems pretty confident you’ll have your job back by tomorrow - by which, I assume you lost your job." There wasn't any judgement in John's tone, just the simple relay of facts. If anything, it made Rose feel worse. "Anything you want to add to that?”

Rose sighed, stomach lurching as she stepped closer into the room. Making a quick decision, she put the mug down on the side and heaved herself up to sit on the counter, and lean her head back against a high cabinet. “I hate not being in control of this.”

It was a more honest confession than she had intended.

John opened his mouth then closed it again, a slightly helpless expression crossing his face. “No.” He ruffled his hair again with his spare hand. “I don’t think it’s my strong suit either.”

Rose picked up the mug of tea carefully before sipping her drink. “Is that why you ran away to Italy?”

“Oh no, Italy… come on Rose, birth place of practically everything, that is! Couldn't say no to that.” His eyes twinkled in the artificial light. “You should come next time. Wasn’t as much fun without you.”

“Yeah?” Rose hid her grin in another sip of her tea.

“Are you going to tell me what the excuse was?”

“What excuse?”

John leaned back against the opposite counter top, one arm crossed against his chest as he sipped from his own mug. “For firing you.”

Rose's mouth felt dry, and she licked her lips self-consciously as she considered her words. “A very, very long time ago - I needed money, and my crappy boyfriend convinced me to take some even more crappy photographs for a particularly crappy newspaper. Apparently the fact they even exist is enough to get me the sack.” Rose eyed John over the top of her mug. “Do you want to see the photos?”

“What?” John looked genuinely baffled.

“The page three ones.”

“Oh.” John put down his own mug and shoved his hands in his pockets, eyeing her thoughtfully as he digested the sudden splurge of information. “Do you want me to see them?”

“Everyone else has. Why should you be left out?” She was goading him, Rose knew, poking one of very few guys that wasn’t, as far as she knew, a total shit.

“So?”

John’s phone had been discarded on the counter near where she was sitting and Rose stroked its glass screen absentmindedly. “I mean, you could just Google if you wanted.” She picked up the phone and waved it in John’s direction. “I did them under a false name but… still my face, y’know. Everyone in Peckham knew basically straight away; maybe Jimmy told them, I don’t know.”

“Ah.” Rose could see John’s hands fisting in his pockets, his face contorted in anger. “Jimmy the fucking Wanker.”

John stalked off, grabbing the side of the sink and kicking the cabinet underneath before letting out a quiet hiss that completely punctured his strop and left Rose chewing the inside of her cheek to stop her laughter. “Hurt your foot?”

John nodded, twisting to face Rose and chuckling under his breath at his own stupidity. “Why aren’t you more mad? How can Rassilon think it’s okay to fire you because of something so totally irrelevant?”

Quietly Rose put her mug down on the side. “Of course I’m angry, just not about the photos anymore. I mean. I guess other girls went into taking topless photos for a thirty pence newspaper with their eyes open. I went into it with a manipulative abusive arsehole forcing my hand. They were the shit sandwich in a pretty rough year and I wish they didn’t exist.” Rose’d wanted to reassure him, but instead John looked more sad, and she hated that, hated how young and adrift in a sea of misery he looked. “But… that’s not why Rassilon fired me and that’s not why I’m angry; he fired me because I wouldn’t have sex with him.”

“What?” John straightened up, his whole body near enough arching in indignant shock.

“Sex. With him." Rose watched John mentally pace, tugging at his hair with both hands as his jaw moved mechanically, chewing on words he wouldn’t spit out. "I said no." She added.

The room was so small John was back beside her in seconds, hands either side of her on the counter, eyes on hers. “I’m not really a threaten to murder people person.”

“Tempted?” Rose could feel the heat of him, wanted to draw his rigid form into her arms and soothe the angry lines of his face with kisses.

“It’s written inside my skull in neon lights.” It came out like a untapped bubble, a carthartic release that slowed the violent pulse of the vein by his neck.

Rose stroked John's shoulders, letting her fingers drift down his arms until they brushed against the pressure points in his wrists. “Are you okay?”

John snapped together suddenly, moving closer to brush a damp flyaway hair away from her face. “Are you okay?”

Rose’s heart thumped in her chest. “I have to know if you want to see them. The photos.”

John stared at her mutely, brows furrowed as he tried to comprehend, then slowly shook his head. “No. Of course I don’t.”

Some last tiny shred of worry brushed away under his gentle, worried gaze and Rose leaned forward. Brushing a kiss against his lips before drawing back, leaving their heads pressed together as their fingers found each other again, locking together. “Good answer.”

Chapter Text

The low grinding buzz of her phone vibrating was at least as irritating as an alarm, and Rose swatted one arm blindly towards the bedside table as she tried to make it stop. Beside her John mumbled incoherently, the arm slung across her waist drifting away as he buried his head in the pillows. Reluctantly, Rose rolled over and crawled across the bed, bleary eyed in the early morning light; she found the lump of plastic and flipped it over to squint at the screen.

Her Mum.

Fuck. Rose’s heartbeat soared and she scrambled to sit up, tugging the sheets around her chest as she pulled her knees up close to her body, fingers already swiping across the screen and calling her mother back. “Mum!”

“Rose, love. Are you on your way to work?” Jackie sounded happy. Rose fought to tamp down the spark of hope that ignited as soon as the cheerful tone hit her ears, the past days had been enough of an emotional yo-yo without making assumptions just because her mum sounded particularly chipper.

“No, I’m at John’s. Is everything okay?”

Over the phone there was a slow intake of breath. “Yes – I’m fine, Rose." The scrap of chair against wooden floor. "The letter from the hospital arrived. I’ve got the all clear!”

Rose squealed and beside her John startled, rolling away as he raised his head and almost fell off the bed in an inelegant tumble of naked limbs and bedding. Biting back a laugh, Rose watched as he scrambled back onto the mattress, glaring at her half-heartedly before slinging the sheets back over his head. Shooting a toothy smile at the tiny bit of boyfriend that was still uncovered Rose stretched and rose to her feet. The floorboards were cold against her bare feet, and Rose grabbed John’s discarded shirt from the night before as she juggled the phone between her hands and slipped the top over her shoulders. Yesterday’s sweet hoppy cologne assaulted Rose’s senses, the perfect spike in a morning-after-been-fired emotional cocktail that left her feeling giddy and impulsive. “That’s fantastic news. What do you want to do? Shall we celebrate?” She tried to button the shirt up with the phone wedged between her shoulder and ear, giving it up as a bad job after a couple of buttons and started looking around for some underwear.

“Bev said she’d come by this morning so I thought me and her might go out for the day…” Rose attempted to sneak quietly out of the bedroom, tip-toeing through the scattered remains of the night before and into the hallway. “…go shopping, maybe – What about you? It’s nearly nine.” There was a suspicious pause that made Rose cringe automatically, flashing back to teenage lies and bunking off school. “Aren’t you going to work?”

Rose squinted into the windowless hallway, trying to think of an excuse that might put her mum off the scent. “No, Mum, I’m not going in today…”

“Why not?”

Rose stared at the ceiling, grasping at nothing but the truth. “Might have, slightly… got fired.”

“Slightly fired? Slightly?” Jackie’s voice spiralled off, squeakier and higher with every word. “Is this like ‘a bit pregnant?’ because-”

“What? No!”

Her mum’s sigh heaved slowly down the phone line. “Go on then – tell me what happened. I thought it was all going well? Your boss seemed alright when I when I talked to her.”

“Her? Who were you talking to?” Behind her, Rose could hear John stirring again through the open door to the bedroom. Heart in her throat, she made a quick decision, darting into the bathroom and locking the door behind her. “And when?”

“Hold your horses, I haven’t even had a cup of tea yet…” there was the gentle clink of spoon on china and Rose tried not to tap her foot impatiently, counting the blue tiles as she suppressed the urge to hurry her mother. “Oh, you know, she was an older woman.” Jackie finally added. “What was her name?”

Dread clutched at the threads of joy that had been soaring happily through Rose, balloons of hope snatched back before they could fly away. “Missy?”

“Yes!” Over the line the spoon was dropped in the steel kitchen sink, and Rose leaned against the ceramic basin as she avoided her reflection in the bathroom mirror. “She seemed like a real love, I know I was a bit worried about you and John after that waste of a good pair of shoes Jimmy Stone got his mitts on you, but Missy was very reassuring about John being a perfect gentleman… though don’t you think I don’t know he legged it out your bedroom window not long ago. I’m not an idiot you know. Plus Reg saw him...”

“Mum.” Rose spoke slowly. Trying to pull scattered fears back from the edge. “Did you talk to Missy about Jimmy?”

“Hmm? Oh, only briefly. That band of his was playing down the Slug and Lettuce, brought it all back you know.”

Jimmy’s band had been minorly successful at one point, a one hit wonder that never became more due to its front man’s obnoxious behaviour. It was a very small perk that Jimmy the Wanker's™ momentary fame had burnt out so quickly. Unfortunately, Rose knew there was at least one barrel scrapping sidebar-of-shame Daily Mail article that mentioned her, as Jimmy’s ex, and the pictures… It would have been short work of Missy to find them once she’d heard Jimmy’s name.

“Right.” Rose drew in a ragged breath. “Well, Missy’s not my friend Mum. Maybe keep out of it next time, yeah?” She could hear her Mum huffing indignantly. “How many times did you even speak to her? I only remember once…”

“I don’t know. A few, she called from your phone.”

All those times Rose’d convinced herself she was just imagining things, that she’d forgotten where she left her phone. Fury coiled through her and she ground her teeth slowly, watching her pinched expression in the mirror as she kept the phone pressed to her ear. “Just don’t talk to her again alright?”

“Rose?” Her mum sounded worried and Rose closed her eyes, already regretting letting her anger slip through. “They’ve not fired you because of what I said, have they?”

“No, Mum. Of course not. Please, don’t worry.” Rose cleared her throat, feeling the reassuring cool surface of the basin against her palms as she pushed away from the sink then brushed her hair away from her face. “I’ll be home this evening – what time are you going to be back?" She could hear her mum's hesitation. "Let me take you out to dinner to celebrate – my treat.”

“Oh, don’t go wasting your money on me-”

“Mum!” Rose rolled her eyes, a bubble of frustrated laughter escaping. “It’s fine, I promise and I want to buy you a fancy dinner. Just let me, please?”

“Fine. I’ll be back by six or seven.”

 

 

At first, John assumed the knocking was Rose wandering around the flat. The rhythmic beat, four short raps and a pause before repeating lurked at the edge of his consciousness; just different and familiar enough to keep him from sinking back into sleep as his tired brain insisted on trying to puzzle it out. Outside the window the bin lorry clanked down the street, stopping and starting with the muffled shouts of the bin men as they worked their way along the road.

The knocking stopped and John stretched languidly, spreading out in the empty bed as he watched shadows dance on the ceiling. The run up to Christmas in London was always manic, but there were places they could go – little nooks of festive cheer and tranquility where they could while away the day; before John could settle on one his thoughts drifted quickly to Rose and her job, and Rassilon. John fisted his hands against the sheets, trying to stem the tide of angry thoughts that had dominated his restless dreams. He'd spent so much time concentrating on how to protect Rose from Missy, Rassilon had taken him completely by surprise.

The knocking started again. Curiosity snapped and John shoved the covers away from him, jumping out of bed and sticking his head into the wardrobe just long enough to sling some trousers on, leaving the fly undone in his haste to throw a t-shirt on. Rose had closed the bedroom door behind her, and once John had stepped through the source of the knocking became much more obvious. Vaguely, he glanced at the hallway clock before padding over to the front door, suppressing a yawn behind one fist as he flicked the locks and opened the door.

Blonde hair burst confusingly into his vision. The gold dress his ex-wife had appeared in last time had been replaced with a pale green outfit, the pastel tones totally unsuitable for a city in which a couple of trips on it’s underground would turn your snot black. In fairness, Reinette probably never took the tube.

Sighing, John leaned against the door frame.

“It’s kind of early.”

“Apologies, I have a lecture in less than an hour.” Reinette tried to peer subtly around his elbow. “Is Miss Rose Tyler here?”

“It’s not-” John trailed off. “What?”

“Rose. Rose Tyler? I heard that she was…” Reinette stepped back slightly, her inscrutable face flickering slightly over John’s hastily thrown on clothes and sex-mused hair. Feeling self conscious, John avoided her gaze. “Someone said and I presumed, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have. I have another address, I’ll check there.”

“Wait.” John glanced behind him, checking Rose was still out of sight, before stepping out into the hallway and tugging the door mostly closed behind him. “Why do you want to talk to her?”

He could see Reinette hesitating, the unsaid words cycling behind her eyes. Clearly, she was making a decision about whether or not to trust him. “It’s about Rassilon. I heard about what happened to Rose and I think… I think I have information she may find useful.”

 

 

Rose gave up on a sensible outfit, armed only with her hastily washed office clothes from the day before and the half drawer of bits and pieces she’d left at John’s previously, sensible wasn’t really going to happen. She had a bra and clean pants at least, and had just resigned herself to pairing the skinny work trousers with a baggy Ian Dury t-shirt John had lent her to sleep in and told her to keep. It would look fine under a jacket, and didn’t feel uncomfortably like she should be at work at least.

It still felt weird.

Rose’d worked most days of her life since before she’d left school, and the hole that being fired had blasted into her pride irritated her endlessly, making the clothes chafe her skin and the simple make-up feel slightly misapplied. Discontent, Rose wandered around the small bedroom, brushing her hair mechanically.

John stuck his head around the door at just the right moment, slipping into the room and closing the door behind him in a furtive movement.

Rose dropped the hair brush on to the bed. “What are you hiding?”

“Uh.” John scratched the back of his head in a tell-tale guilty give away. “I don’t know exactly, she only wants to talk to you.”

Curious, Rose leaned around him automatically, hampered by the closed door. “Who?”

“Reinette.” John coughed needlessly, shoving his hands into his pockets. “She wants to talk to you about Rassilon.”

Rose’s jaw dropped. Unsaid words scrambled around her mind. Hadn’t River said that she thought there had been something odd there? Had he… the possibility sat heavily on her tongue. Suddenly resolved, she snapped her mouth shut. If Rassilon had done the same thing more than once, it wasn’t Rose’s place to say it.

“Okay.”

John looked startled. “You want to talk to her?” Rose nodded, touching her thumb nail against her lip as she considered what was about to happen. “I can stay if you want…” John trailed off, uncertain eyes on hers.

“No.” Rose dropped her hand, crossed the small space around the bed to slip his hand into her own. “I don’t think it’s a trio conversation. I mean, we can go find a café if you feel weird about us being here-”

He shook his head. “It’s fine, you should stay here. I’ve got something I need to do actually, I was going to pop out.”

Love swelled up, overwhelmingly, pressing against her ribcage and threatening to burst free without her consent. Helpless, Rose wrapped her arms around John, reaching up to press the palms of her hands against his back and draw him down towards her, catching John's lips in a kiss that was less chaste than she intended. Pulse thumping in her ears, Rose moulded against John as he chased the path she laid for him, his own hands tightening around her back and down her hips before gripping the base of her arse and pulling them closer together.

Gasping they broke apart.

Slightly shocked John moved back, hands back in his hair. “Rose...”

“Yeah.” Rose backed away, the flush of their connection breaking into a shiver at the sudden loss of contact. “I’d better. Go… talk to Reinette.” She clamped her mouth shut before more words fell out, words she wasn't ready for.

Rose pivoted on her heels and stalked about, John’s eyes following her as she left, hungry and a little baffled.

Seemed about right.

There were only two steps between John’s bedroom door and the puddle of light that spilled from the ajar door of the living room. The red hot charge of being with John had dissipated by the second, leaving her with only nerves and the certain knowledge that this might be her only chance at making things right and getting her job and career back on track.

Reinette was as Rose expected, sat primly at the edge of the sofa in John’s front room, staring at a xkcd mug.

Gently, Rose pushed the door open and Reinette rose from her perch, putting the mug down on the coffee table to hold her hands in front of her pale skirt. Smiling in a slightly regretful, whistful way.

“Hello.”

They spoke at the same time, and Reinette laughed as Rose grinned, relaxing a little into the other woman’s presence.

“I take it you’re Rose. I’ve heard good things about you.”

Rose’s eyebrows twitched. “Who from?”

“I’ll explain.” Reinette motioned to the chairs. “I’m sorry, I don’t have much time. I’m teaching,” she glanced at the clock and then the door. “In half an hour. Would you mind closing the door, please?”

Rose did as requested, trying not to hear the click of the door sliding into it’s frame as ominous, before making her way around the little coffee table. She took her own position in the low slung sixties armchair that sat near the balcony doors. “Then what is it you wanted to talk to me about?”

Reinette had the dramatic seating down to a pat, the a-line of her skirt draping gracefully around her as she crossed her legs and touched the slim waist of her jacket in a tiny nervous movement. “I, uh.” She sighed, glancing out of the window at the dull London skyline. “It’s funny being in the Doctor’s flat. We had a place together, further East.” In Shoreditch, Rose remembered. “But he never seemed at home in it. You know… him and I getting married, I thought he was my lonely angel, but it was my mistake.”

Rose’s heart plummeted, and she wondered irritably what damage was being done having this much up and down before it was even mid-morning. “I don’t need to hear about your relationship, if that’s what you’re about.”

Quickly, Reinette shook her head. “No, no – that’s not my intention at all, I just wanted to be clear that everything I am sat here telling you, has nothing to do with him. I never...” She licked her dry lips. “When your relationship is insubstantial, when the depth of your emotion is much shallower than you want to believe, it’s easy to keep secrets. We both did, I’m sure. This one of mine, I’m not telling the Doctor.” Reinette moved forward, her voice dropping lower. “I’m telling you, Rose.”

The nerves returned, and Rose picked at the arm of her chair, swallowing the dry feeling in her own throat as she nodded. “Course. I won’t tell him, if you don’t want me too.”

Satisfied, Reinette sat back, glancing away and swallowing a little sigh before bringing her gaze back to Rose. “I have a meeting with Rassilon and the Governors of the University later today. If you'd like to come you'd be very welcome, Rose."

"What's the meeting about?"

Reinette shrugged. "Ahh, old history. It's all been done before, nothing is new - five years ago, before I met the Doctor, I was a PhD student at the University and Rassilon was very new to his job. He was very… kind. Exceptionally so. I knew Missy vaguely, and she warned me off him.” Reinette laughed. “I wasn’t worried though, I thought I knew Rassilon well enough. We went to dinner a few times, just as friends.”

“I did very well in my Viva, even before I'd officially finished I'd secured my job staying at the University, working at ESPS.” She flashed a brief smile. “Everyone was very proud. I was working and I didn’t see Rassilon much anymore... I met the Doctor.” Reinette’s eyes flickered over to Rose, then away again, her cheeks colouring subtly. “We got married quite quickly. The Doctor was away a lot, sabbatical as well as the usual conferences, guest lectures, so when I applied for a promotion and didn’t get it, I didn’t even tell him about it. Another job came up, the interview went exceptionally well, I knew no one else had applied. I didn’t get it.”

Rose could hear the dejected frustration in Reinette’s words.

“I tried to find out why I hadn’t been given the job, I asked for feedback but my request was refused. I was,” her voice broke. “I was so frustrated and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, except Missy. She told me to go to Rassilon, she told me that he had made changes in my favour before. I don’t know if that’s true – and it eats away at me. I worked so hard and… Missy was sure it was a mistake that could be fixed.”

And there was Missy in the middle again.

“I didn’t expect… I know it must seem naive now, to have walked into the office of that man and expect equal treatment as an employee. Rassilon made it very clear he had stopped me from progressing my career. He said he’d be very willing to find another role for me if we resumed our relationship. He wasn’t at all bothered that I was married, or that I was never interested in him romantically. He said if I didn’t he would make sure I never worked again.”

“What did you do?”

Reinette shrugged diplomatically. “I knew I was already getting divorced, I had some money of my own, but nothing guaranteed. I didn’t think I had an option.”

“And then you got a job in Europe.”

“Yes.” Reinette took a sip from her mug. “A very large part of me came here to congratulate you on telling him to go fuck himself immediately. I did eventually… but.” She sighed.

Rose slumped back into her seat, a little broken to think of Reinette, fighting the same battle but alone. It all rang true, there was no doubt that Rassilon was an arsehole slease of epic proportions. She sat forward a little in her chair. Wishing gin wasn’t inappropriate before breakfast. “I believe you."

Hazel eyes met blue. A moment passed. "These governors... they have the power to fire him, right? How do we convince them?”

“Believe me, I've considered this.” Reinette folded her hands deliberately over her knees. “In the gap between thinking I had to… submit, and telling Rassilon he was the son of an English whore that smells of roast beef and blue cheese after a long day in the sun - I brought a hidden pen tape recorder, then I blackmailed him."

Rose grinned wickedly. "Reinette, you might just be my new favourite person."

Reinette shrugged diplomatically, her lips pressed to hide her own smile. "The money was very helpful."

Chapter Text

At this point, Reinette and Rose clearly didn’t even rate the uncomfortable guest chairs in Rassilon’s office. Rassilon’s pinch nosed secretary had guided them instead to a couple of fold up plastic seats at one side of the spacious room, the metal and plastic backs carefully spaced a few inches away from the walls to protect the carved wooden panelling. The Governors were seated along the wall opposite, their own chairs considerably more padded, with Rassilon lording over the space between them.

Awkward didn’t cover it. Rose gripped her fists around the edge of her chair, the puckered surface denting the palms of her hands; tucking her booted feet below the seat as she leaned forward, chewing the inside of her cheek as she waited for her cue.

If there was a cue.

Hopefully there’d be a cue.

At the moment, there was just small talk.

Reinette had arrived a little late, breathing hard from her journey across central; still immaculately dressed, every blonde hair pinned perfectly in place, and swept straight into action. It was a level of social eloquence that Rose envied, this ability Reinette had to work her way along the line of Governors and name checking each in turn with a little comment or wry smile that made it clear she knew everyone’s role and background.

Some of the Governors were vaguely familiar to Rose, faces that wandered around campus and occasionally stuck their head into the physics building; surveying the staff with pursed lips and murmuring quietly to their senior staff guides. The black and grey haired lady at the far left had been the grumpy legal woman at Nardole’s disciplinary meeting. A guy further down she recognised from the author blurb of a series of accountancy books that took pride of place in the University bookshop.

Restless, Rose found herself focusing on the sumptuous luxury that surrounded her, as natural and surprising as the first time she’d walked in. The thick carpet had a slight pattern, dark gold vines climbing through a naturally toned green. The crimson of Rassilon’s favourite robes was reflected everywhere, in the wallpaper and dour faced paintings.

Ruddy cheeked amongst it all, Rassilon sat slumped behind the desk, rounder than Rose remembered and uncharacteristically quiet. He leaned back in his chair and watched proceedings with nothing more than the occasional nod and sip from a tumbler full of ice.

Rose would lay good money on it containing vodka.

“As you know,” Reinette had slid smoothly into lecture mode, remaining standing as she raised her voice and addressed her audience, pointedly ignoring the source of their woes. Rose’s eyes kept flicking back over to Rassilon’s lined face, the inscrutable flatness of his thin lips. “I originally instigated a complaint against Vice-Chancellor Rassilon four months ago, and we held a preliminary meeting where I submitted evidence of Rassilon’s attempt to coerce me into a sexual relationship.”

The woman from legal shifted her legs, perfectly manicured nails brushing against the knee of her grey trousers, as though flicking away a tiny spec of dust. “You are aware that this evidence would not be considered admissible by the Crown Prosecution Service.”

The air felt tight and stuffy, the office windows firmly closed against the grey drizzle and Rose found herself shifting uncomfortably in the fitted work dress she’d had to run home to her flat to throw on. “That didn’t matter when Nardole got fired.” The words had spilled out before she had a chance to reconsider, and she played with one earring nervously as the curious eyes of the Governors followed her words. Legal’s gaze came with a slight flicker of approval.

Rassilon sat forward in his chair, the wooden squeak of the frame of his seat drawing attention back to the elephant in the room. “Different circumstances.” He huffed. “These completely false allegations could absolutely destroy my life!”

Legal ignored him and turned pointedly back to Rose. “It’s a factor, but not the only one.”

Further along the line the accountant drew a card folder onto his lap and flipped the cover open. Inside were stacks of paper, grouped and tied by coloured ribbons. “Witnesses are one of the most important parts of a complaint like this. In our duty to maintain oversight of the proper running of this University we asked for and were given access to all computer activities carried out by or related to Vice-Chancellor Rassilon. Obviously, it is taking a long time to analyse all of this data and we have not yet finished. This file represents a small sample of the sections we have found that may be relevant as evidence in a sexual harassment case against the Vice Chancellor.”

There was the wet click of Legal flicking her tongue against her teeth and Rose’s heart scrunched at the sound, freezing mid beat. “Naturally, in the course of these investigations we also found a pool of potential witnesses. Some of whom were absolutely delighted to offer their own statements in support of Dr De Pompadour. Doctor Song and a Ms Donna Noble were particularly helpful, as well as a someone referred to as 'The General'? ...I must follow that up.”

Rassilon downed his drink in one.

Rose crossed her arms, a self-satisfied smirk crossing her features. Legal gazed back at her, something mischievous about the curl of her lip and the glint in the older woman’s eye.

Rose balled her fists in the pockets of her dress as she tried to stay her temper, control the wobble that threatened her nonchalant composure as she rose to her feet. “I’ll be a witness too, if you’d like. Rassilon fired me this week. I’m guessing he said it was for refusing to take a internal transfer job as his secretary. But, that’s not even-” The rage she’d been clamping down so hard rose like a hard ball of air in her throat, trapping the words like a cork in a bottle.

Rassilon was watching her. Those thin lips twitching upwards, leaning forward; straighter, taller. Finding pride in her silence.

What were corks even made of? Bunch of scraps, nothing good or useful.

The truth formed, heavy on her tongue and rolled off her lips, pushing past the caught air as fast as her heart demanded. “He fired me after trying to blackmail me with some old page three photos.” Rassilon’s implacable calm flickered as she spoke, and every slightly too sharp breath felt like a jolt of adrenalin to the chest. “He was a total letch about them and definitely tried to bribe me with private health care for my Mum too.”

One booted, suited man’s jaw literally dropped, exposing a row of perfectly straight and shiny teeth. Rose shrugged. “I’ve already lost my job, I’ve got nothing to lose by telling the truth. Believe me; I wouldn’t bring up those photographs if things were different.”

Somewhere beside her two women shone with pride and Rose felt a creeping blush warm her cheeks.

There was a muffled boom against the door as someone tried to plough straight through followed by muted shouting and the aching creak of the heavy oak door resting back into its frame. Startled the motley group were caught mid action, drawn to watch the rattling handle as it slammed to and fro.

Rose took advantage of no one telling her specifically not to and walked over to help the interloper. The inlaid surface of the ornate handle was slippery against her sweaty palm as she gripped and pulled, waiting for someone, anyone to say something. The person on the other side pushed, momentum carrying them through the doorway. A flash of blue suit and brown coat took centre stage in an instant; dancing feet and floundering arms just managing to keep the body upright as they screeched to a halt.

Bemused, Rose let the door fall shut behind John, eyes off him to watch the round, owlish face of the Vice Chancellors secretary, stuck in the outer office and leaning as hard as she could to keep watching the action before the closing door swung shut, locking her out again.

“Wait!” John cried, a crumpled padded envelope held aloft over his head. “I have proof Rassilon is guilty of gross misconduct! You should fire him immediately! Or…” He stared at the ceiling, a slightly pained expression on his face. “After you’ve completed a thorough formal investigation, but I’m definitely right so you could just skip that part.”

“I'm on the side of just sack him now.” Rose echoed. Giddy at the sight of this ridiculous man, flying in to the rescue after she’d already stolen the show.

Spinning at the sound of her voice, John shot her a riotous smile; clearly not at all surprised to see her and she returned one of her own, before settling into position keeping guard by the door and firmly in eyeline of the glowering Vice Chancellor.

“Doctor Smith!” Rassilon spat out. “You were not invited to this meeting. Why are you here?”

Everyone ignored him.

One of the Governors cleared his throat. “We’ve already gathered a substantial amount of evidence of misconduct, but Doctor Smith if you have more to add…”

With a flourish, John handed over the envelope, the long tails of his coat swishing as he walked across the room. “For your perusal. Academic theft by Doctor Missy Yana, only possible with the active help of Rassilon. The evidence is all in here, our team tracked down all of the original authors. They were mainly students from Universities where Yana was working on sabbatical. Statement translations from German are in there too, although of course you’re welcome to do your own… then there’s references and official article submission rules for the department that spell out Rassilon’s involvement. I’ll think you’ll find it’s beyond question.”

Rose met Rassilons eye, that bulging vein in his neck and red tinge of his cheeks turning purple. “Go on then, what do you fancy? Being sacked for sexual harassment or theft?”

“Ohh, theft. Academic theft. That’s got a lovely ring to it.” John agreed, regret tingeing his words. “I should have led with that.”

“Get out!” Rassilon roared, eyes wide and spit flying from the soft maw of his mouth.

Silence. Then a dozen people on their feet, shouting over one another as Rose’s pulse thudded in her ears, drowning everything out with a flush of euphoric pride.

They’d won.

 

 

The spot by the coffee cart was an obvious choice for Rose and John’s stake out, Dave the barista humming quietly behind them, a damp cloth whipped off his shoulder to run across the polished metal surface of the bar. He’d served them already, and the warmth of their hot drinks radiated into their fingers and kept them toasty enough as they huddled together away from the last spots of rain under the trailers overhang.

Rassilon’s car was parked mere metres away, temporarily abandoned with the boot popped open and boxes wedged inside.

“Not really the car I expected.” Rose remarked.

John shrugged. “It’s a sports car. Sort of.”

“Yeah, but it’s not a Beamer or an Audi. It’s not a classic selfish tosspot car.” The bold white face of the University sat just behind the pale blue polished car, it’s imposing classical steps and columns a fitting backdrop for the Vice Chancellor’s final walk.

“I chalked him up for a Merc.” John admitted taking a measured sip of his drink, then grimaced. “I should’ve run to the cafe, didn’t realise how long it took to pack up a desk. How much stuff has he got?”

Dave huffed behind their backs and Rose twisted to meet his arched brows with a wide grin.

“Best coffee on campus, Dave.” She reassured him. Restlessly, John shifted beside her the sleeve of his coat catching hers. There was something electric about the tiny movement, some tiny snap of elastic that brought them back into sync after a strange few days. “Oi. Rude.” She reminded him, and John twitched his nose, shooting her an apologetic look as he scratched the back of his neck.

Silently, they both tilted their heads, getting a better look at the hybrid car’s eco credentials, embossed on the rear of the boot.

“The thing is, absolute wankers don’t normally seem to give a shit about the environment.”

Dave let out a dry ha of laughter behind them and Rose caught the tail end of his shaking head.

Rose nudged John to the left before he got them into more trouble and he followed her movements automatically, wandering along the path over towards the old observatory and away from the coffee cart. John shifted his takeaway cup into one hand, the other finding her hand, palms sliding together as he gripped her hand. “How are you feeling?”

“I don’t know. They kind of pissed on our chips, Rassilon mainly got suspended over someone copying an essay. And I’m still unemployed. But...” Rose shrugged, sneaking a glance at John’s serious expression, brows drawn and eyes tired. She wondered if she looked the same.

Rose’s phone bleeped and she dropped John’s hand as she unzipped her jacket just enough to fish her phone out from an inner pocket. That massive head is really shiny from up here

Rose frowned. Glancing back towards the University building. Rassilon was back by his car, red robes flapping around his legs as he slammed the boot closed. The sun was peaking out from behind the overcast sky and the dull light glanced off the bald surface of his head. It was pretty shiny. A siren wailed, flat toned and low in the distance.

She drifted to a stop, twisting back the way they’d came, John trailing behind her as she stared up at the tall building; eyes scanning every plastered wall and polished brick until they spotted an open window. A mess of curls blowing in the breeze. Her phone bleeped again. You start in Arch and Anth 4th January. 9am sharp, bring a trowel! Rose’s chest ached, caught frozen in time as her heart skipped a beat.

“Is she serious?”

John slipped the phone from her hand, scrolling through the messages before letting out a short ha of laughter. “River? About the trowel? Probably.”

Rose thumped his shoulder, taking the phone back. “About the job!”

“Yeah, of course.” John frowned. “Hang on, why wouldn’t she be?”

Harried thoughts scrambled across Rose’s brain. There wasn’t a reason precisely, just the bitter stress of a life that endlessly went completely wrong. The siren peeled around a corner somewhere nearby, louder and shriller as it moved closer. “I don’t know, I just…”

“Well say yes then.” John prompted. “Or don’t you want to?”

Of course she did. The thought was straight and centre, burned in her brain like the visual blur of a snuffed out candle, still imprinted on her retinas. It took less than seconds to type a message on her phone and hit send. The adrenalin rush was instant, a surge of pride and joy and self-satisfaction, mixed with a beautiful glorious fuck you to everyone who had tried to stop her.

The siren bleeped to a stop, and a moment later the yellow and blue chequered car crawled past the high walls and through the open gates of the University campus, POLICE scrawled across the side in loud letters. Rose watched it curiously for a moment, tracking its path as it rounded the green and pulled up to a stop in front of Rassilon’s car.

“What about you?”

John followed her gaze, watching as the two cops left their vehicle. Opening and closing their car doors with decisive thunks and calling across to Rassilon. “Eh, something’ll turn up.” He muttered, completely offhand.

Rassilon folded himself into the front seat of his car and slammed the door shut with barely a backwards glance, the hem of his robes trailing out of the car door and dragging along the road as he jerked the car into life. One officer was already on their radio and the other, a stout woman whose tightly plaited hair barely fitted into her rounded Met officer’s hat knocked impatiently against the closed glass of Rassilon’s driver window.

“Course it will.” Rose agreed, looping her arm in John’s as they watched Rassilon wind down the window, trying to look peaceable beneath red faced resentment. There was no way he was going to talk down London coppers. The car's lights snuffed out and Rassilon reluctantly left his car, unfolding awkwardly from behind the steering wheel to face the short police officer and her notebook.

“Do y'think we should feel bad about this?”

John laughed and some of the stress that had coiled in Rose's joints leaving her tired and weary, lifted; washed away with giggles that shook her body. Their fingers found each other again, and the warmth of his palm against hers drew her into his body, one arm looping around her shoulder as they walked away, feet guiding them over the pristine grass. “Where shall we go?”

“Ohhh, somewhere new.” Rose ran her thumb over the back of his hand, lent her head against the rough fabric of his coat. “Surprise me.”