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Author's Note: Huge thanks to my betas, particularly Giglet, Raven, and cedara.
Times Like These
It was times like these that Rose missed Shireen.
When Colin Maxwell had told everyone that Rose had gone "all the way" with him out behind the gym when she had barely let him do more than kiss her and maybe get a hand under her shirt, it was a thirteen year old Shireen who had descended upon him like the wrath of God as he'd walked towards home from the corner shop. He'd later said the black eye and chipped tooth had come from skinheads.
When Rose had been sacked from her first job after being accused of stealing from the till (which she hadn'tthough she'd caught Mr Collier's greasy-haired nephew nicking cases of batteries and beer from the stockroom at least twice), it was Shireen who had dragged her out of bed where she'd been crying for days. Shireen had simply declared that it was their loss and forced Rose to start applying to better jobs to prove she could land one just to show Mr Collier that she was neither lazy nor a thief.
When she and Jimmy Stones had gone up in the kind of flames that destroy everything in their path, it was Shireen who had taken Rose up to the roof of the council block, and they had gotten pissed off their heads on cider and Rose had cried and laughed and somehow everything had been okay again, despite throwing up on the lounge carpet at 3am and getting caught by Jackie.
If Shireen were here, she would know just what to do to make Rose feel better. It would probably involve catty comments regarding Trisha Delaney being desperate and easy (which while unfair would have made Rose feel better), Mickey being useless (which had always been Shireen's criticism of him), and Rose deserving better (which everyone likes to hear now and again, whether it's true or not).
Shireen would have known from the second Rose had walked through the door that something was wrong. She would have put the kettle on, and produced exactly the right DVD from her bag (for messy break-ups, for some reason Shireen believed The Cutting Edge healed all wounds) and they would gorge themselves on Chinese take-away and pints of ice cream.
And Shireen would say Rose was better off, and mean it, and somehow make Rose believe her. And Rose would stop closing her eyes and hearing Mickey's "You made me feel like nothing, Rose. I was nothing," and know that it was true. And Shireen would make Rose forget that she had hurt him and she had taken him for granted, and she was a horrible person.
But Shireen was back in London in 2005, and Rose was sitting on the edge of her bed in her room on the TARDIS, staring at the crumpled photo she had dug from the bottom of her rucksack and wiping away the tears as they fell.
"You should talk to her," Jack's voice drifted up from beneath the console as he groped for a silvery-metallic tool lying on the grate next to his thigh. The Doctor leaned down and laid the spanner-ish thing in Jack's open palm."Okay. Try her again."
"Because I've rerouted the sensor array through the"
"Why should I talk to Rose?"
The Doctor flipped some switches, and jumped back as a shower of sparks rained down onto the console room floor. Jack let lose a litany of curses from beneath the console, and the Doctor bent down again to hand him the mallet.
"I'm just saying," Jack continued, words punctuated by banging from the mallet, "Something obviously went down between Rose and her boyfriend."
"Oh. That." The Doctor frowned. "I don't do domestic. Rose'll be fine."
"I'm not so sure. Okay, try it now."
The Doctor carefully threw some switches, taking a pre-emptive step backwards. He grinned as the rotor began slowly oscillating.
Jack slid out from beneath the console, wiping his palms on the thighs of his jeans. "She didn't even poke her nose outside the TARDIS when we hit Raxacoricofallapatorius."
"She said there was a smell."
Jack gave him a look. "Have you ever known her to pass up an opportunity to set foot on alien soil? You should talk to her."
The Doctor's frown turned into a full blown scowl as he adjusted dials and switches, and stared at the screen without actually reading the data that streamed across it. "She'll be fine."
"When was the last time you hung out with a nineteen year old girl who had just broken up with her boyfriend?" Jack asked, pointing at him accusingly with the spanner.
"She'll be fine," the Doctor repeated through gritted teeth, and Jack threw his hands into the air in frustration.
"Fine. I'll go talk to her."
Jack knocked lightly on Rose's door.
"It's me, Jack."
There was a long moment, and then the door swung inward and Jack stepped inside.
He'd actually never been in Rose's room before. Somehow, it was exactly how he'd always pictured it would be, with clothes draped over chairs and the bed still unmade.
Rose was sitting on the floor at the end of the bed with her arms wrapped around her knees. A rucksack was spread out in front of her, and she had a crumpled photo clutched in one hand. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks were chapped from crying.
Jack sat down on the floor next to her and touched her shoulder gently. "You okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine." She wiped at her eyes with the heel of one hand, and shrugged. Blonde hair fell forward, and she swept it back with a frustrated gesture.
"Sure you are." He put one arm around her, and she rested her cheek against his shoulder, sniffling. "C'mon, you can tell Uncle Jack."
"Me and Mickey broke up, that's all."
"It wasn't fair, me expecting him to wait for me, or anything."
"Did you want him to?"
"I dunno. Not really. I just wanted...I only rang him up cos I missed him, you know? I just wanted... I dunno." She sighed. "He wanted to go to a hotel."
"Really?" Jack said before he could stop himself. Having spent much of the last year in London in the 1940s, it took a second of mental adjustment on Jack's part.
"Yeah. For old times sake, I guess. One last go before he dropped the bomb."
"He's seeing someone."
"Trisha. Trisha Delaney." Somehow, Rose stretched the name out as if it were a particularly filthy alien curse word. "Rob's sisterI dated Rob for, like, five minutes a million years ago. Rob's sister, Trisha. Trish. Trish Delaney. She actually listened to Busted. Had all their albums," Rose said, her voice faintly tinged with horror. "Thought she was so impressive cos she'd gone to some party at a church and got their autographs by standing outside. She actually cried buckets for days, when Charlie left the band."
"Okaaaaay... You do realise I have no idea what you're talking about, right?" Jack asked, and Rose gave him a look.
"Trisha bloody Delaney. She's a cow."
"Well, he's obviously an idiot. Because you're smart, and beautiful, and sexy"
"You really think I'm sexy?" Rose wrinkled her nose at him.
"Heydo you think I break out the champagne and Glenn Miller for just every girl that falls out of the sky into my lap?"
"You were trying to seduce me."
"Trying and succeeding, I thought at the time. And why not? There I was, on top of the worldliterallywith a gorgeous blonde in my arms. Sure, I had ulterior motives..."
"Other than getting into my knickers, you mean?"
"I'm wounded! Cut to the quick!"
"Aw. Want Mummy to kiss it better?"
Before Jack could come back with a suitably filthy reply, he had a sudden lap-ful of curvaceous blonde pressed up against him in all the right places and it wasn't polite to try and talk with your mouth full.
Every instinct in his body was warring with his innate if occasionally atrophied sense of decency (this would be taking unfair advantage) and common sense (the Doctor would skin him alive) as he took hold of her shoulders and carefully moved out of her embrace.
"RoseRose, stop," he said gently.
The hurt and confusion shining in her hazel eyes made his throat feel pinched and there was a dull ache in his chest.
"But you said"
"You are amazing," he said quickly, meaning it and hoping like hell she believed him. "And believe me, I've definitely thought about it. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't. But not like this." He shook his head. "Not when you're hurting like this."
He cupped her cheek with one hand, brushing her tears away with the ball of his thumb. "Rose, listen to me. You don't have to prove anything. Not to Mickey. Not to yourself."
She dissolved into tears again, and Jack rubbed her back, murmuring inane things like "It'll be all right" and "It's okay" until the flood slowed to a trickle. She finally sat back, scrubbing at her wet cheeks with both hands. Jack fished a clean and pressed handkerchief out of his hip pocket. She gave him a funny look.
"A gentleman always carries one," Jack said with complete sincerity, earning a watery smile before she blew her nose.
"You're even better'n Shireen," she said as she folded the handkerchief and handed it back to him, looking slightly apologetic, and he chuckled.
"My best mate. Usually she's the one to pick up the pieces when I fall apart."
"Then I'll take that as a compliment. Assuming, of course, that I'm a better kisser."
Rose couldn't help but giggle as he waggled his eyebrows lasciviously, even as the tips of her ears went pink. "That's her there," she said, nudging the photo resting on the floor near her foot with her big toe.
Jack picked it up, smoothing it out. In the picture, Rose was grinning as Mickey pressed a kiss to her temple. They were in a bar with half-drunk pints of lager in front of them, the arms and shoulders of other people at the table visible around the edges, including half the face of a smiling girl about Rose's age with a coffee-and-cream complexion.
Rose's eyes in the photo were almost closed, she was grinning so wide, obviously caught giggling.
"We were nice, and we were happy. That's what he said. Like we were, I dunno... a ratty old jumper. Something comfortable and warm and familiar. He loved me, and I..." Rose swallowed, and shoved the photo back into the pocket of the rucksack before kicking the entire thing beneath her bed. "I made him feel like nothing."
"Because you left him?"
She nodded, wiping at her eyes again. "Stupid. Stupid to expect him to wait for me, after the way I treated him. I don't even know if I wanted him to wait for me... I just expected him to. Good old Mickey. Always there for me, and I just took him for granted."
"Do you love him?"
"I thought I did. Maybe I just wanted somebody to love me."
"There's nothing wrong with wanting to be loved, Rose."
She shook her head so violently hot tears spattered Jack's knee, making dark circles on the denim. "Not when you're hurting somebody else, to make yourself feel better. That's just selfish and... and I just couldn't see it. That's what hurts. He was right. I made him feel like nothing. And I didn't even see it."
Part of him wanted to reassure her that it wasn't her fault, but that would have been a lie. And while little white lies could help soothe the pain now and then, Jack got the feeling this wasn't one of those times.
The fact was, Rose probably hadn't really loved Mickeynot the way he'd wanted and needed her to. Having survived quite a few messy relationships of his own, Jack knew better than to try and pretend it wasn't going to hurt. But given enough time, it would hurt less. All she needed right now was time. And no 19 year old girl wants to be told that it was best to learn from her mistakes and not repeat them. No matter how true the sentiment.
"I asked him to come with us. Last time we were at my mum's. I asked Mickey to come with us, and he wouldn't let him. Said he was 'a liability' and he wouldn't have it. Said his decision was final."
There was no question who 'he' was, and Jack just nodded.
"And I keep thinking... if he'd come with us, maybe things would have been different. It would have all turned out differently, and..." She trailed off, and Jack was worried another round of waterworks might follow, but Rose simply drew in a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "And then maybe neither of us would have got hurt, you know? I wouldn't have hurt him so bad, and... and it wouldn't hurt so much now, yeah?"
"Would you have danced with me, at Big Ben? If Mickey had come with you, I mean."
Rose bit her bottom lip. "I... I dunno," she admitted, her cheeks going a bit pink.
"Well, then, I can't say I'm all that sorry," Jack leaned toward her conspiratorially, resting his forehead against hers. "Especially not if he's the sort of guy who'd pass up a girl like you for someone likewhat was her name?"
"a Trisha Delaney, instead of a Rose Tyler. Because really, near as I can tell, there'd be no contest." Jack gave her a bright smile, and she answered it with a pale echo of her own.
The Doctor knew Jack was coming even before the captain appeared in the entryway of the console room. It wasn't so much a matter of hearing his footsteps tromping up the catwalk as it was the waves of righteous indignation that came off him like heat. However, to his credit, none of his fury was betrayed by the carefully constructed façade of amiability as he leaned against the hexagonal console to the Doctor's right, arms and ankles crossed.
"How's Rose?" the Doctor asked carefully, keeping his eyes on the TARDIS screen, which was currently displaying a five-dimensional map of the area of the vortex they were flying through.
"It took two pints of ice-cream, and some movie about figure skating I can't fathom why the TARDIS would have in its data banks, but she's sleeping."
"Don't ask. I suggested Danny Kayewho was a great kisser, may I addbut she didn't even know who he was."
"Kids today," the Doctor said with an exaggerated shrug. He reached for a dial to adjust the external sensors, and Jack leaned forward into his line of vision, forcing the Doctor to look him in the eye.
"She said you wouldn't let her bring her boyfriend," Jack said, the barest hint of an accusation lurking beneath the words.
The Doctor's hand paused on the controls, and he went very still. "Did she, now?" he said, his tone deceptively light.
"She feels guilty for leaving him behind, and thinks maybe everything would have worked out, if he'd come along."
"You've met Mickey. What do you think?"
"I think he'd have gotten himself killed, and then Rose would feel really guilty," Jack said with a shrug. "But that's not the point."
"Oh, you do have a point to make, then?"
"You knew. You knew when you saw the two of them head off. You knew, when you told her we'd wait for her, if she wanted to go out and find him. And you just let her"
"She'll be all right."
"How can you say that? The kid's a wreck. You didn't see her"
"Because I know Rose," he said with a shrug. "And I know you."
Rather than mollifying Jack, this seemed only to anger him, and the façade finally cracked and crumbled.
"Are you playing some kind of game? What, I'm the good cop to your bad cop? This is Rose here! Doesn't she deserve better than that?"
"Yes. She does," the Doctor said simply, and that seemed to take the wind out of the captain's sails a bit.
"If you care about her so much, then why are you avoiding her?" Jack asked. "And don't give me some bullshit about kitchen-sink drama. That line may work on Rose, but not me."
The Doctor stared at the TARDIS screen display. If he squinted, he could make out shapes in the randomly intersecting lines. Like seeing shapes in clouds on a summer's day.
"I asked Mickey," the Doctor said, his voice even and pitched low, despite the fact that Rose was asleep in her bed and wouldn't hear. "He said he couldn't do it."
"This life," the Doctor said, gesturing with one hand to the TARDIS and by extension their vagabond existence. "He said he couldn't handle it. Didn't want Rose to know. So I haven't told her. And you won't either," he said darkly.
"But if you told her"
"What good would it do, finding out that someone who supposedly loves her wasn't up to the job?" The Doctor shook his head. "Mickey the Idiot, while not an Olympic sprinter, did once help save the world. I figured I owed him that much."
"But she blames you."
"Good," the Doctor said with a firm nod.
"Good?" Jack echoed, looking genuinely puzzled.
"Better she blames me than herself," the Doctor said quietly.
"So you'll just shoulder the blame, even though you don't deserve it?"
"I've got a lot of baggage, me. What's another handbag or two?" The Doctor forced a smile. "Don't you go fretting about me, Captain. I don't need looking after."
That earned him a wry look, and Jack reached out to give his shoulder a squeeze. "Good thing you've both got me, then?"
"What, you offering Danny Kaye and ice-cream?"
"If you want..." Jack said sincerely. "Or if you just want to talk."
"You humans. Always wanting to beat a dead horse, with your yammering on about bits ad infinitum. Can't just let a thing go. Live in the moment."
Jack had the audacity to laugh. "That's rich, coming from you. You realise that, right?"
"Don't psychoanalyse me, Captain."
"Wouldn't dream of it. And on that noteI'm off to bed." Jack leaned forward slightly, adding in a husky tone, "unless you want to join me?"
Jack flashed him a grin. "Wouldn't be me, if I didn't try."
The Doctor waited until Jack's footsteps had receded, and the only sounds in the console room was the gentle hum of the TARDIS engines, and his own breathing.
He felt a flicker of conscience as he touched two of the TARDIS controls, and the display screen came to life. On the flat LCD screen, rendered in shades of greens and shadows, Rose and Jack of several hours earlier sat on the floor of Rose's room.
The Doctor watched as Rose leaned forward and kissed Jack. A long moment went by, and he let out his breath in a sigh as Jack pulled back and just held her as she cried.
With a touch of a button, the screen went dark.
It was times like these that the Doctor was glad Jack had joined them.