She was feeling a bit disheartened, to be honest. She had wanted to see him, and the Doctor had warned her it wouldn’t be a good idea, but… well, never mind. Perhaps he was right after all. Now, here she was — at his party, being able to see him, but not being able to tell him who she is.
It was painful, and it was uncomfortable. She wanted to leave, but she wanted to stay. She wanted to spend as much time as she had left in this parallel world with him. Her dad, who wasn’t her dad. A man who looked exactly like him, who thought like him and spoke like him. But wasn’t him.
She sighed sharply, setting the tray down on the table behind her and headed for… somewhere. Just anywhere that wasn’t this bloody hot room with all these people she didn’t know, at a party for somebody she very much did. Except, she didn’t.
It was all a bit too The Matrix for her liking —
She stopped dead in her tracks. On second thought, if she were caught just wandering around the house all willy nilly, then she would almost certainly be fired. From a job she didn’t even have.
God, she was exhausted. Emotionally drained. She hadn’t even reached the door before she resigned herself to standing still with a tray in her hand, looking like a placeholder, because it was just about the only thing she could manage. And, the only thing really she was allowed to do at this point. But she did need to escape this room, all this noise, so she calmly yet hastily made her escape for the kitchen.
She was about to ask herself why she was here, what had brought her here before she remembered this was all her own doing. She had absolutely no idea why she was here, something to do with Vitex and knowing Pete Tyler was important, but honestly - she just wanted to see her dad.
“Not your dad,” she heard a voice that sounded uncannily like the Doctor’s in her mind. She pushed open the doors to a smaller kitchen that had, this evening, been turned into a conveyer belt of sorts: a line up of fresh trays and champagne flutes on one side of the central island; the other filled with disposed trays that were to be cleared. The waiting staff weren’t doing a good job of clearing them.
Well, they weren’t. Especially not the Doctor, who was bent over his tray of food, nibbling away when she had walked in, jolting in momentary terror before he realised it was only her.
Rose had to pay quite a bit of attention to preventing an audible groan at the sight of him, his hair all dishevelled and looking irresistible, his smile of relief at the sight of her-turned-cheeky grin when he recognised who she was. But she still didn’t know where she stood with him, and things were just a little bit… off between them. It was true that she had been enjoying his company a fair bit more recently — almost like before. It had been easier to smile at his jokes, she trusted him with her laugh a bit more. But his eyes would light up more animatedly than they used to, and she dreaded to think that it might have something to do with what she’d said last week.
She groaned once more, this one out loud. She hadn’t intended on telling him she was planning to leave, and she hadn’t exactly intended on telling him she felt her own heart imprisoned. She supposed that’s why she was trying a little harder to be normal with him, and she supposed she should forgive his stiffness when she linked her arm with his or made a flirty remark without thinking much first. Because really, what must be going on in that head of his? The poor sod had a hard enough time understanding emotions as it was, and she wasn’t exactly making it easy for him —what with her telling him she was close to leaving, then requesting he take her to all these different planets and time periods as though nothing had changed.
God, she was all over the place. She felt so confused. Well, actually no, that’s not strictly true: she knew she had partly forgiven him if not only for the way that he’d held her that night —
Her mind stopped mid-thought, as it often did these days, and she felt it once more like a shock to her core. The feel of him being so close when they’d danced, the way he’d assured her in one word that he couldn’t possibly have fallen in love with Reinette in a way that made her, for the briefest of moments, believe that it was because he was in love with her —
Stop it! Stop it stop it stop it. That’s not true and you know it.
She shook her head free of the thoughts and turned her attention back to him. He was looking at her, hopelessly.
“Never been to one of your mum’s parties before, but are they always this dull?”
“Not my mum, remember?” she pointed out. It was met by an odd little smile that tugged at the corner of his lips that was strangely not conceded.
She huffed in irritation and the tray slapped the table, shortly followed by the thuds of her elbows besides it. The Doctor kept mindlessly nibbling away at the remaining hors d’oeuvres on his own tray. Or, maybe he was taking them from a new one.
“So weird,” Rose concluded. “With mum. S’like, I wanna go over and hug her, n’ say hello cos I’ve missed her, y’know? But she’d probably have me committed or somethin’.”
“Mmm,” he mused. “I’d rather not spend the night trying to bust you out of an institution of any sort. Especially not on a parallel world.”
“Christ,” she chuckled, and apparently the sound of it caught him by surprise, “with your track record, I’d end up stuck here forever — need I remind you of that time you waited until I was literally on death row before you managed to get me out?”
“That happened once! Most other times I’ve managed to get you out on time, need I remind you.”
“That fact that you’ve just said “most other times” only makes me realise this happens far too often considering I’ve only known you for fourteen months.”
“Admittedly, I didn’t think they’d get so arsey about the signature thing.”
“If you’re going to forge somebody’s — no, the King’s advisor’s — signature, then you should get their name right, first. ”
“Speaking of,” he interjected impatiently, “what exactly is the plan now, dear?”
She’d have laughed if she weren’t so clueless herself. “Honestly, no idea. I don’t even know why we’re here.”
She was thankful for him not making a smart comeback. When he didn’t reply, she looked up at him, offering him not much in terms of elaboration. “I just wanted to see him.”
He kept his face straight when her voice cracked, and his eyes remained even more closely fixed on her. He was concerned for her — she could see that by the way he was reading her face. Some days he needed to concentrate hard on her features because the way she was feeling was a little less obvious to him, and then some days he looked into her, penetrating her gaze and attuning himself to her exact feeling. So she knew he knew how she was feeling, and was himself concerned in response to her anguish. But it was a little bit more urgent somehow. Like he was a little more desperate to fix it for her, as opposed to his usual stance of keeping a watchful eye while she worked through it herself. Rather than ask him what was going on, since she was less able to penetrate the gaze of this particular Time Lord, she reached for one of those little cucumber salmon hors d'oeuvres on his tray.
“Well that’s bloody beautiful,” she mumbled.
“I know,” he sighed, helping himself to one, too. “I can’t stop eating them.”
And then he was gone. Dropped to the floor, out of her sight below the table, and her eyes widened in surprise. She was about to peer over to him and ask him what on this parallel Earth he was doing before she heard the door close behind her and another waitress step into the kitchen. Rose gave her a smile, and the waitress returned hers awkwardly before she put her tray stacked with empty champagne flutes on the side and began picking up some more from the fresh line up, and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to keep a straight face - what with Rose essentially looking like she was dossing around at work, and knowing that the Doctor was still down there, below the table and out of sight.
When the waitress eventually left, and they were alone once more, Rose finally released her laugh. He did, too, although he didn’t stand back up, so she moved around the table and lazily slumped down on the floor opposite him, her back resting against one of the kitchen cupboard doors.
“When I was younger, I always wanted to be a waitress,” she admitted, much out of nowhere.
The Doctor tilted his head, his brow raised in surprise. “Really?”
“Mmm.” Rose neatened out her skirt and began to fiddle with the white cloth. “My mum was a waitress at this bar, and sometimes after school, I’d have to sit and wait for her to finish. But I liked that she knew so many customers, and she used to give me free chips without the chef knowing.” The Doctor’s smile in response to her recollection of those days made hers only grow wider, and it fleshed out in more vivid detail her memories. “We used to play this game, basically how much food mum could smuggle me without him ever finding out. I wasn’t old enough to have my own key, but I was old enough to know the head chef was a wanker. I don’t think it was until I was much older that I realised that was mum’s way of keeping me fed on the weeks the tips were low.”
She couldn’t remember a time where it wasn’t her and her mum against the world. She imagined her mum, right now somewhere back in her own world, probably settling in with Eastenders and it made her think about those nights, the ones where they’d come back from that restaurant and her mum would crawl up into the sofa with a Pot Noodle and Rose would finish whatever homework she had left at the table. And then, if she was still going at 7, her mum would tell her to put her books away because apparently Kat’s about to learn about Anthony’s affair with her daughter in tonight’s episode. Rose felt her smile widen at the sheer excitement of a good juicy episode of Eastenders, how she would chuck her books into her unkempt school backpack while her mum bustled about the kitchen to make them both hot chocolates and oh — how it was exciting when it would be a double episode!
“What are you smiling at?”
His voice tugged her back to her surroundings, and she’d have felt more frustrated at being pulled out of something so comforting if it weren’t for the softness of his smile. “Oh, just remembering some nights at home with mum, back when I was younger.”
“Tell me about them.”
“Nothing excitin’, really, just nights after school where we’d watch the tele with a nice cuppa. One year, mum got this posh nail kit from her secret Santa at work and we’d test out the colours while watching Pride and Prejudice an’ that,” Rose recounted. “Then, of course, there were the days the tele wasn’t working and we’d have to make our own fun. Board games, daft little things. We’d spend bloody hours playing ‘Who Am I?’.”
“What’s ‘Who Am I?’?”
Rose blinked. “What?”
“Never heard of it. What is it?”
“It’s ’Who Am I?’!”
He shrugged and shook his head. “Nope. How’d you play?”
Rose scowled, craning her neck up in search of some paper. She spotted a battered old notepad on the corner of the island and sprang up excitedly. She reached for her pen in her pocket, scribbled down the first name that came into her head — Nicole Kidman — and then when she remembered the Doctor most likely didn’t know who Nicole Bloody Kidman was, she scribbled ‘The Doctor’ down instead — unoriginal, and played to death, but he’d never played before — and scurried back to the floor.
“Here,” she attached it to his head with a rogue piece of blue-tac she nicked from the fridge. He stared back up at her, confused, so she explained. “I’ve written someone’s name on your head and you have twenty questions you can ask to find out who you are. But they can only be yes-or-no answers, ok?”
“Affirmative,” he nodded, and she rolled her eyes at his grin. “What about you?”
“You can do one for me if you want.”
“What do I do?”
“Just, think of a person, and write it down and then put it on my head. Simple.”
He took the pen from her hand. “Anyone?”
“Anyone, alive or dead. Try to keep it to my own world, though,” she added. He thought for a moment, then scribbled something down and stuck it to her head.
“Alright,” Rose started. “I’ll go first. So. Am I a man?”
He squinted. “You know what, come to think of it” — he ripped the paper from her head — “I don’t think this one’s alive, yet.”
“Oh, yes,” she added hastily, “forgot to mention. Can’t be somebody who wasn’t alive from 2006 onwards.”
“Well, that answers my first question of ‘was I alive before 2006?’,” he joked, as he scribbled a new name on a scrap of paper and slapped it to her forehead.
“Right, so that’s nineteen questions left for you.”
“You’re a sneaky cow!”
“You givin’ me a free clue?”
“No,” he affirmed. “And now that’s nineteen questions left for you.”
She pursed her lips, although she realised it was little more than an attempt to hold in her giggles. He thought for… an unreasonable amount of time for what was his first question of the game. She jokingly looked at her watch.
“You said we had twenty-four hours about five hours ago, is this gonna take a while?”
“I have nineteen questions to determine who I am out of all of time and space — ”
“Oh my god I didn’t limit it to Earth, am I an alien? I’m a bloody alien, aren’t I?”
“No. And that’s eighteen left. And you asked on my turn, so I’m back up to twenty questions.”
“That’s not the rule!” she scoffed. “You’re at nineteen, I’m at eighteen and that’s that.”
“Alright. So.” He folded his arms and leaned his head back in thought. “Am I alive today?”
“Yes,” she said, pleasantly surprised that the question had been so simple. Normal, almost. He smiled back at her, and for a moment she forgot what she was doing. “Right - so if I’m not an alien, I’m human?”
“Hmm,” he considered. “Depends who you ask.”
“That isn’t a yes-or-no answer.”
“You didn’t ask a yes-or-no question.”
“I really didn’t think it wouldn’t be.”
“Alright, fine. No, not human.”
“God help me,” she scowled.
“Ok, so I’m alive,” he nodded to himself. “Have I met this person before?”
“Since I’ve been travelling with you?” she pretended to think, her eyes narrowing as she flicked through any situation where he might have met himself. “Yes.”
He nodded again, slowly.
“Am I a woman?” she pursued.
“Depends who you ask.”
“For god’s sake.”
“Alright, for the sake of the gods then, yes, you are a woman.”
Her head fell back against the cupboard door and her eyes closed in an existential loss. “Your turn.”
“Ok, so alive, and I’ve met them. Someone I know, then.” She didn’t have to open her eyes to see him chewing his bottom lip in contemplation. “Do you know them?”
Ha, she thought. If you’d have asked me that last week, I wouldn’t have said so. “Yes.”
She opened her eyes to catch his face, brow knitted and lips thin, eyes searching the air above him and she could very nearly see the clouded thought bubble above his head. “Ok, so I’m not human, but maybe I’m a woman.”
“Can I just have one question that’s open-ended? Otherwise, we’ll be here all night if I have to go through every possible species.”
“No. And that’s fifteen left now -“
“Don’t you bloody dare get smart with me!”
He cackled. “Alright, I’ll help you. You’re of Earth origin. Ish.”
“Wonderful,” she muttered.
“Right, I’m alive. I’ve met them, you’ve met them. Do I like this person?”
She squinted, and the more she searched for an answer, the more out of her reach it became. “I think… that you’re starting to see eye to eye.”
“Is that a yes or a no?”
She couldn’t answer that question. And it broke her heart.
“I think you do. Yeah. Sort of. It’s hard to answer a question with yes or no when it’s about your opinion towards them,” she pointed out.
He nodded an agreement. “Fair.”
“Ok so I’m a woman, ish, I’m of Earth origin, ish, and I’m human, ish. Have I met this person?”
“Great, that narrows it down and clears a few things up.”
“Do you like this person?”
She made a point to look at his forehead, pretending to remind herself who she was thinking about. She shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Somebody we both know and neither are too sure we’re keen on for certain,” he surmised.
“You didn’t say if we knew them well.”
“Do we know them we-“
“My turn now,” she scoffed. “So, someone I haven’t met, who might be a woman, who’s not human…” her voice lost itself in the sea of uncertainty. “Of Earth origin. Am I an animal?”
She groaned, liking this game a hell of a lot less when it wasn’t her mum’s suggestion of ‘Kylie Minogue’ or ‘Freddie Mercury’.
“Do we know them well?” he pressed.
“But you don’t?”
“My turn!” she insisted, albeit through giggles, about to ask another question but they were interrupted when the volume of the outside room increased, alerting them to somebody’s entrance. Rose stared at the Doctor and he stared at her, wide-eyed, their lips thin and cheeks hollowed as they held in both their breaths and their giggles.
Rose winced as she heard the footsteps coming closer, and she prayed whoever it was wouldn’t find the two of them sat down on the floor with pieces of paper stuck to their foreheads. She bit down on her lower lip as the need to laugh became almost unbearable, coupled with the Doctor’s vigorous shaking of his head and she nearly lost the battle.
Thankfully, when they heard the outside noise increase once more, they were left in silence. Still, Rose blew out her breath slowly and cautiously, aware that they may still yet be heard. Unlike the Doctor, who breathed out his laugh loudly. Rose nudged his leg.
“Listen, I don’t think I want to know what this Jackie Tyler’s like angry, alright?”
He winced at the imaginary slap and nodded. “Good point.”
“Right,” Rose tried to reorganise her thoughts. “Where was I?”
“Er, not human, Earthling, woman but not a woman, you don’t know them. Personally.”
“Ah-ha! Thanks for that little nugget of info there.”
“You were struggling. Thought I’d give you a hand.”
“Most appreciated — HA!” He jumped at her unexpected exclaim. “Am I fictional?”
He mirrored her grin in return. “Depends who you ask.”
“Right, well, I’m asking you.”
He hummed in thought. “Technically, I would say so. Yes.”
“Should have asked if I’d have said they were,” she grumbled.
“Don’t know if you know of them.”
She closed her eyes in her best attempt at remaining calm. “Are you kidding? How’m I supposed to guess someone I don’t know of?”
A pause. “Good point.”
“You’re the worst.”
“Na” — he waved his hand — “you’ll have heard of them in school, at least.”
“Better not be bloody Juliet Montague.”
“Capulet,” he corrected. “Also, not technically a fictional character. She is a fictional character.”
“The female protagonist in a story of forbidden love?” Rose scoffed. “Each to their own, I suppose.”
“Where did I get up to, again?”
“Alive, we’ve met them, we like them.”
“Not sure if that helped,” he sniffed.
She groaned and hung her head to her chest. “Someone I learnt about in school. English lit - oh, god. I never listened in lit. Never thought I’d have needed to.”
“Mmm,” he murmured, and she heard him reach up to the table to grab — presumably — some more food. “I’m with you on that one. English literature could be wonderful, but some of it wasn’t half rubbish.”
“So you’ve given me a character from a subject neither of us liked?”
“First, never said it was a character. Second, never said you’d have learnt about them in English lit. It’s possible, but not exclusively English literature.”
She groaned, louder this time.
“Alright, alright. I’ll give you another hint.”
“Think less fiction, more legend.”
She rolled her eyes. “There’s no hope left for me now.”
She gathered the strength to bring her head back up and she met his gaze. His smile took her by surprise; it wasn’t in the spirit of the game. It was kinder, somehow.
He counted his fingers. “Twelve left, seems …hopeful to me.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “I think I’m even more clueless than I was when I started.”
He chuckled. “So, let’s see. I’m not human, we both know them, we both like them, and I’m alive today.” His words were slowing as his options were narrowing. She presumed that bank of knowledge was still fairly extensive. “Am I allowed to guess?”
She howled with laughter at that and his smile dwindled rapidly into a frown. “I’ll take that as a no.”
“You were just so hopeful!”
“That dog’s still kicking and I am ever the more grateful for it,” he muttered in nimble defence.
“Ugh!” she groaned when she remembered it was her turn. “Bloody help me out, will you? Just, give me a clue. I’ll lose two questions for a clue?”
He rolled his eyes and held up his index finger. “I’ve already given you a clue.”
“I’m even worse at legends than I am English lit.”
Any resemblance of a smile disappeared instantly. “Doctor?”
“I’m bloody shit at Greek Mythology — ”
“I’m me! I am, aren’t I! I’m me! Ha!”
She snatched the piece of paper from his head and he looked at the letters like they’d told him he’d won free milkshakes for a year. He pointed to it, then to himself, mouth agape in surprise. “Clever!”
He chuckled. Seeing Rose’s face, he carefully peeled the paper off her forehead and handed it to her.
“‘Elpis’,” he read the word aloud as she tried to discern his handwriting. “Greek spirit. Or goddess if you like — although that’s disputed.” He scratched the back of his neck, and she looked dumbly at him. “Only name I could think of at the time.”
“How in the world was I supposed to get that?”
“You had twenty bloody questions!” He reached for two glasses of champagne and handed her one. “Don’t know what they’re teaching you kids in schools these days — ”
His chuckle was one that was playful, and she felt an effervescence that did not come from the bubbles in the champagne. She looked away from him.
“They’re not even getting along.”
The Doctor glanced up at her, his eyebrow raised in confused. When he saw her discouraged face, he lowered his gaze to the floor.
Rose sighed. “You know, the way my mum always talked about him made me think she was so in love with him, and he the same. And then when we saw them back in — back at that wedding… I don’t know. They argued. Mum accused him of cheating and he just… I dunno. Took it, like he was used to these wild accusations. That either of them could doubt they weren’t made for each other. And now this...”
When she finally looked back up at him, he was watching her. He didn’t flinch when she met his gaze.
“Sorry,” she dismissed awkwardly. “It’s not even my mum and dad. Don’t know why I’m getting so upset.”
He fiddled awkwardly with a stray string of cotton on his trousers. “Your mum and dad loved each other. So much so, they found each other in other universes.”
He said it so simply that it made sense.
“Yeah.” Her smile grew. “Maybe my mum got the short end of the stick, the one universe they couldn’t be together.”
“Any universe with you in it is not the short end of the stick,” he pointed out.
He meant it, oddly enough. It wasn’t a throwaway comment to cheer her up — she felt his words reach a vulnerability in her so sincere she foolishly severed their momentary bond, averting her gaze and diffusing her nerves. She glanced at the piece of paper still in her hand.
“Elpis,” she thought out loud. “Who’s she?”
“One of the spirits in Pandora’s box, if I remember it right,” he said, frowning a little in uncertainty.
Rose scoffed. “Ain’t those spirits evil?”
The Doctor laughed, but not fully. She could tell he was thinking about something and she wanted to probe him. “She was the only one who didn’t escape,” he said. He finished his glass and shrugged. “They say she’s trapped.”
“In the box?”
Her brow furrowed. “Why couldn’t she escape?”
He shrugged. “Lots of theories on that one. Some say because she was humanity’s protector, so she stayed behind. Some say she represents the hopelessness of mankind.”
Rose mulled over his words. “That’s sad. What, so, mankind is trapped by their own hopelessness?”
“In a way. The ancient Greeks had a different interpretation of hope,” he explained. “Doesn’t really mean what we think it does. At least, not so… hopeful. Hope was inextricably linked to suffering, so it wasn’t seen as something all that good.”
“I suppose that’s true, if you think about it.” Rose handed him her glass and he took it, but he held onto it loosely as he looked back at her in question. “Makes sense you’d want to keep it trapped in the box.”
“No hope, no suffering,” she said simply.
She laughed. “Bloody hell, you’re right. It’s all a bit doom an’ gloom, isn’t it?”
His smile was weak as he looked at her empty glass, and he stayed quiet for a moment, before he reached up to put it up on the table.