John was obviously a morning person. He was up and dressed and bouncing before Rose had even thrown off the covers.
“Come on, Rose!” he said, shaking her. “We’ve got a flat to move into! And we’ve got to go shopping! And your mum made breakfast!”
“Mmmmh.” She had just started to sit up when the memory of yesterday flashed through her mind. The Doctor was gone, burnt out of his body and replaced by a character. For a moment she lay there paralyzed and unable to breathe, remembering how the Doctor had screamed and writhed on the TARDIS floor and how some other man had just waltzed in and replaced him.
She swallowed and eased herself out of bed, reaching for the watch where she had left it on the bedside table. If John had noticed it, he hadn’t made any comment on it last night. It still felt warm on her skin. She slipped it onto the chain with her TARDIS key. She wasn’t going to let the watch out of her sight.
“You there?” she murmured tentatively. The watch didn’t respond. Not sure what she had been expecting and feeling very silly, she put on the chain. Three months without him. Three months without him and with...she wasn’t sure what exactly.
When Rose finally did get dressed, she found John at the kitchen table with Jack, talking with his mouth full of toast.
“And of course, they all thought it was a new disease, I mean what else would they think if the man showed up with enlarged pustules on the back of the throat and blisters all over his…Rose, you’re finally up!”
Jack gave her a lazy salute as she entered. “The D—John was just telling us about one of his patients.”
“Patients?” Rose repeated as she sat next to John and helped herself to a piece of toast. “Thought you didn’t start your job until tomorrow?”
John gulped down some tea. “Oh, I don’t. This was back in medical school. Some people infected with several different diseases. They weren’t even my patients, not really, they were Dr. Cassandra’s. But I cured them anyway! It was very impressive.”
Rose nearly choked on her toast. “Where was this?”
“Medical school, in…” Suddenly John got an odd, distant look on his face, like he was trying desperately to remember something that happened years and years ago. “New York,” he said uncertainly. “Internship in New York.” He thought some more. “Yes, internship in New York. On the Applegrass grant. That’s right. Further than I’d ever been before.”
Rose stared at him as he sipped his tea. Jack raised an eyebrow at her, questioning, and she jerked her head silently.
John gulped the last of his tea and set down his cup. “Your mum makes such brilliant tea. Absolutely wonderful, molto bene!”
“Is that French?” Rose asked sharply.
John shook his head. “No, it’s…” He thought. “Italian?”
“Where’d you learn that, then?” Rose’s voice was level, but strained, making the question sound more like an accusation.
“Well…I dunno,” John replied, looking a bit hurt. “Same place you learned your French, I suppose. Must have heard it on telly. Are you ready? Should we go pick up our key?”
Rose kept her gaze focused on her half-eaten toast. “Yeah, almost.”
“I’ll go get our bags!” John beamed. He pushed his chair in and scurried out of the kitchen.
Jackie’s head poked in. “His nibs gone then?”
“All clear,” Jack replied, stuffing another piece of toast in his mouth.
“Oh, good. Gobbing about pustules and who knows what else while we’re eating…” With a shudder, Jackie sat next to them at the table.
“But that happened, Mum,” Rose said, pushing her toast away. “It really happened! On a hospital in New New York on New Earth.”
Jack whistled. “So he remembers?”
“He can’t,” Rose shot back, “Because it’s not the Doctor.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Looks like the Doctor, talks like the Doctor, acts like the Doctor…”
“Bit of an improvement, though,” Jackie remarked as she nibbled on her own toast. “Do you know he volunteered to help make breakfast and clean up?”
“It’s not an improvement!” Rose snapped. “He went and—took over the Doctor’s body or stole his memories or something.”
Jackie sighed. “Far as I can tell, he’s the Doctor, sweetheart. Except…bouncier.”
“Less guilty,” Jack added. He drew out the sonic screwdriver and laid it on the table in front of Rose. “Here, take this. If you’re going to be living with him, you should have it.”
Rose gave him a sad smile and slid the screwdriver into her pocket. “Thanks.”
“And whether he’s the Doctor or not, I’d be happy to switch places with you,” Jack offered.
This time Rose’s smile was genuine. “Can you imagine the look on his face if we tried?” She put her hand on his arm. “I’m sorry. We’re off playing house and you’re bunking with my mum.”
“Are you kidding? You’re not going to be able to get rid of me. I’ll come over all the time. I’m not going to miss the Doctor actually doing domestic. Do you know how much fun this is going to be?”
Rose’s smile grew. “Hope that doesn’t mean you’re going to try and get him drunk.”
Jack grinned evilly. “Oh, never.”
Jackie patted Rose’s hand. “But you’ll be all right, Rose, won’t you? I mean, you’re with him. You thought he was going to forget you, but he didn’t. ”
Jack nodded in agreement. “Yeah. Didn’t forget either of us. And we’re stuck here, but hey, it could have been a lot worse. We could have ended up in the Middle Ages. Or in Siberia. Or right before World War I or something.”
Rose sighed. “Yeah, I suppose. I just…I miss him.” She let out a shaky laugh. “It’s been a day and I already miss him, and he’s there but he’s not and I…”
“Hey,” Jack put a hand on her shoulder. “You can do this. Trust me.”
John burst back into the kitchen, bouncing with boundless energy. “Bessie’s all loaded and ready! Off we go?”
Rose tried to smile to match his enthusiasm. Jack was right; she could do this. “Off we go.”
“Brilliant. Thanks for letting us stay, Jackie.”
Jackie waved them off with a yawn. “Take care, come and visit.”
“See you later,” Jack promised, grinning reassuringly at Rose.
“See you,” Rose echoed.
John reached out his hand, and she took it, ignoring the guilt twisting through her stomach as she felt the familiar fingers in hers. Wordlessly, she followed him out the door and down the street, towards where they had left the TARDIS. For one shining moment, Rose thought he was going to walk into the ship, but he stopped just short at a blue car parked right in front of it.
Rose was about to ask what he thought he was doing when he pulled out a key, unlocked the car, and plopped into the driver’s seat.
She gaped at him for a second before John frowned. “Aren’t you coming?”
Rose shook herself slightly. “Right, yeah, sorry.” She hurriedly sat next to him in the front passenger’s seat, then glanced back at the TARDIS suspiciously. The car was nearly the same shade of blue…
“Rose, what’s wrong?” John asked suddenly.
Rose nearly flinched. “Nothing,” she said, fixing on a smile, “I’m fine.”
But John’s forehead was still scrunched with concern. He reached for her arm, and she forced herself not to recoil at his touch. “Something’s bothering you. Really, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Rose said resolutely.
“You can tell me, Rose, really. I know I’m hard to shut up but I will for you. Really, promise. Not a word. Zip my lips. All ears—well, some ears. I’ve only got the two. Strange phrase, isn’t it, ‘all ears.’ It’s not like you say ‘all noses’ or ‘all eyes,’ although I suppose you’ve got ‘four eyes,’ don’t you?”
Rose couldn’t help it—he looked so much like the Doctor, and that was just the sort of thing he would say.
John looked encouraged. “Was that a smile?”
“No.” Rose fought her own treacherous lips. Not the Doctor, she reminded herself. Different man, same face.
“That was a smile...” John said happily.
This only made Rose smile bigger. “No it wasn’t.”
“You smiled!” John declared, triumphant as he started the car.
Her smile faded when she looked behind them to watch the TARDIS slowly shrink as John drove them away from the Powell Estate. The blue box became smaller, smaller, smaller…
The car turned the corner, and the TARDIS disappeared from sight.
The moment John picked up their key from the landlord, he dragged Rose from room to room, gushing about how lovely the carpets were (“Look, those splotches will hide all the marmalade stains!”) and how they’d need to get new curtains (“Ergh, don’t like that. Mauve’s a bad colour. How about blue? Blue like Bessie. Good colour, blue.”)
When they reached the bedroom, John eyed the double bed appreciatively. “Want to break the bed in?”
At which point Rose hastily reminded him that they had better go shopping for food and Bessie-blue (TARDIS-blue, she corrected in her head) curtains, once again reminding herself that this wasn’t the Doctor. Just holding John’s hand felt like enough betrayal for now, ta.
By the time Rose had successfully steered John through shopping for food (“John, do we really need twenty jars of marmalade?”), finding curtains in the exact right shade of blue (“Right, Bessie-blue. Why exactly does your car need a name?”), not buying a puppy (“But Rose, it hasn’t got a nose—who else is going to take him?!”), and clothes shopping (“Do you think I’d look good in pinstripes?” “…Don’t. Just don’t.”), Rose was utterly exhausted. John was at least as hyper as the Doctor, even if it was over things like curtains instead of TARDIS parts.
“Ooh, just in time for EastEnders!” John said happily when they arrived back at their new flat. He plopped onto the sofa and patted the seat next to him. “Want to watch?”
The entire scene—the Doctor, or at least a Doctor-lookalike, eagerly anticipating some soap— on top of everything else was so utterly foreign and wrong that Rose couldn’t bring herself to join it. She needed some time to just think and not worry whether John was convinced of her happiness.
“Er…no, I think I’ll just go for some fresh air.”
John’s smile faltered for a split second.
Ignoring his clear disappointment, Rose pasted on the same smile that she had been wearing all day. She kissed the top of his head. “Enjoy your show.” She hurried past him to the door leading to the flat’s outside balcony.
The chilled evening air bit into her bare arms, but Rose didn’t mind. The sky stretched wide above her, fading to deep purple as the sun tucked itself behind the London skyline. She gazed hopefully at the sky, fixated on the few stars appearing in the inky darkness. London was too bright to see the stars properly, and a fierce wish to see them—all of them—surged through her with such longing that it hurt.
She wondered when exactly the idea of settling down to watch a soap after a day of shopping and picking out curtains had become more bizarre than setting foot on a new planet.
She sat down, the cold cement numbing her bum, and let her feet dangle out from under the horizontal bars of the balcony barrier. She shivered, but didn’t move as the evening deepened into night, as the tiniest pinpricks in the sky fought to compete with the garish city lights.
Rose tore her gaze from the stars only long enough to occasionally look down at the silver fob watch dangling around her neck with her TARDIS key. She ran her thumb over the intricate grooves on the cover over and over, willing for something to happen.
“Doctor?” she finally whispered.
The door behind her opened. “There you are, Rose! I made beans on toast, do you want some? Oi, have you been here this whole time? You must be freezing!”
Rose stuffed the watch back down her shirt as John draped a blanket over her shoulders and sat beside her. He curled an arm around her back, just like the Doctor always did, and Rose felt herself leaning into him out of habit, head resting on his shoulder.
“Lovely view, isn’t it?” John said appreciatively. But his gaze was too low—he was looking at the buildings, the cars zooming noisily on the roads below, the crowds bustling on the sidewalk. “London’s beautiful at night.”
“I was looking at the stars,” Rose said before she could stop herself.
“The stars?” John said in surprise. He tilted his head up to look at the sky, as if finally noticing it was there. “Not very many stars out. This isn’t really a good spot for stargazing.”
“I know. But I wish we could see them.”
John looked utterly bemused. “Whatever for?”
Rose sighed. “Don’t you ever just wanna…see them? Wonder what’s out there?”
“Oh, there’s plenty out there. Trillions upon trillions of miles of space, stretching into infinity, filled with trillions upon trillions of great big balls of exploding gas.” He paused thoughtfully. “I suppose they do sound a bit interesting when you say it like that.”
Rose’s head lifted from his shoulder. “I want to go to one.”
John failed to stifle a laugh. “They’re balls of exploding gas, Rose. You can’t exactly set foot on them.”
“Still, though. Be nice to travel out there. Or anywhere, really.” She looked carefully at him. “Don’t you ever just want to travel? See what’s out there?”
“Welllll…Not really. I mean, change of scenery’s nice now and again, but what kind of life is that, really?”
“I think it’d be brilliant. New ground beneath my feet, new sky…”
“The sky’s the same everywhere, Rose.” He squeezed her shoulder and grinned. “No point in going anywhere else when we’ve got everything we need right here.”
He turned his head and kissed her. Rose stiffened but let him, wondering why this felt so familiar but still so much like a betrayal.
And then she saw John’s eyes, and knew what made the man before her so much not the Doctor. She was surprised her mother and Jack hadn’t noticed it.
The wanderlust was gone from his eyes.
Rose woke the next morning to find the other half of the bed empty. A note lay beside her instead.
You look too beautiful to wake up. Don’t worry that you didn’t see me off for my first day—I know you would have. I made you pancakes. Sorry we’re out of banana marmalade already. I’ll be home at six. Have a fantastic day.
I love you.
Rose clutched the note in her hands as she read it again, then again. She doubted she had ever felt more guilty in her life. She should be happy. A couple years ago, this was everything she ever would have wanted—no job in a shop, just a nice flat with a nice man who loved her and made her breakfast.
But the Doctor wasn’t here, and all Rose could think of was the proud expression on his face when he took her to a new planet.
John didn’t deserve this. Maybe he had replaced the Doctor, but he deserved somebody who loved him back. And Rose couldn’t. Not when she missed the Doctor so much that it felt like half of her was missing.
Carefully, she laid the note back on the bedside table, careful not to crease it. She ran her thumb over the grooves of the fob watch for a moment, not sure what exactly she was expecting. Then she got dressed and nibbled on John’s pancakes (which were utterly delicious) when the doorbell rang.
She opened the door to see Jack standing there and let out a squeal.
“How was your first day, dear?” Jack said in a sing-song.
Rose tackled him in a hug.
“That bad, huh?”
Rose led him into the kitchen and let him eat the rest of the pancakes while she told him everything that had happened yesterday and that morning.
Jack swallowed the last bite of his pancake just as she finished. “You’ve gotta admit though, he sounds wonderful.”
“He is,” Rose agreed, “But…he’s not the Doctor. You should have seen him, he was like…” Her brow scrunched. “Like a normal bloke. Like all he wants is beans on toast and telly and...and he’s not real. He’s not even real.”
“Do you want him to be?”
Rose sighed sadly. “Do you remember, right before he changed, when the Doctor was telling me how to change him back? He said I might not want to. This is what he meant, isn’t it? He still thinks like someday I’m just going want to settle down somewhere and do domestic. And that’s what he’s given me. The happy little domestic life. And it’s perfect, really, it is, but I don’t want that anymore. Not unless he’s here. I miss him. The real him.”
“Are you sure it’s really not him though? I mean, yeah, sure, he’s gone domestic. But some of it…the note-writing is very Doctor.”
“What are you talking about?”
Jack paused. “Wait. You don’t know?”
Rose shook her head. “He doesn’t write me notes.”
“Oh. Well…sometimes, when you’re sleeping and we’re in the console room, and we’re not fixing anything, he has this book he writes in. In Gallifreyan.”
“And you think it’s him writing me notes…why?”
Jack smirked. “Because even though it’s in a language I can’t read, he still tenses up and tries to hide it when he thinks I’m trying to read over his shoulder. One time, I asked if he was writing me love poetry, and he turned red. It was absolutely hilarious. So I figured he must be writing it to you.”
“I can’t read Gallifreyan either.”
“He doesn’t read it to you or translate it or something?”
“No, he hasn’t…I mean sometimes he speaks Gallifreyan, when we…” Rose felt a lump inside her throat as memories clouded her head. “I don’t want to talk about this. Not now, when he’s gone. Because he’s coming back. He’s got to.”
They sat in silence for a moment before Rose cleared her throat. “So what’d you get up to yesterday, then?”
Jack’s eyes lit up as he grinned widely. “Your mum—”
“Nothing involving you and my mum as you and my mum!”
Jack was silent for a moment. “Well, I fixed some of Jackie’s cupboards. Literally. Don’t tell the Doctor or I’ll never live it down. Although seeing as he now enjoys shopping for curtains, I guess he wouldn’t really care much. And then this morning, I went back to the TARDIS, picked up some equipment.”
Rose raised an eyebrow. “What sort of equipment?”
Jack grinned and leaned forward. “The alien-detecting kind. Turns out, it’s already detected something not too far from here. Nothing lethal, not even threatening, but I thought it might be fun to go check it out. How about it?”
Rose’s heart leapt in her chest. That’s what she needed—running. “Oh, yes!”
Later that day, Rose stumbled back into the flat, covered head-to-toe in thick green slime, but feeling happier than she had in the past day. The not lethal, ‘not even threatening’ thing Jack had detected had turned out to be an incredibly lethal Vernoslimboa using an ice cream stand to feed mind-controlling desserts to children. Fortunately, she and Jack had managed to stop it before any harm came to the children, but not before the Vernoslimboa had exploded, coating both of them with thick green slime.
Turning down Jack’s offer to share a shower, Rose headed back for her and John’s flat. She felt like she was walking through a stranger’s house as she made her way to the bathroom.
She was just about to turn on the tap for the shower when she heard the front door of the flat open. Thinking of resurrected Vernoslimboans seeking revenge, she rushed to the kitchen in a panic—
To see John, clad in a lab coat, back from his first day of work.
“I’m home! Brought home bacon! Well, not literally, but—Rose? What are you covered in?!”
Rose thought frantically, trying to come up with an answer that wasn’t “an alien exploded all over me.” The silence seemed to last an age.
“Jelly,” she said finally.
“But—but—where’d it come from?!”
“I…made some. In the kitchen. Botched it and got it all over me.”
A glob of the green slime dripped from her hair and plopped onto the otherwise gleaming floor.
“But…” John frowned, as he took in the perfectly clean kitchen. “…But the kitchen’s spotless.”
“Well…I cleaned it first, didn’t I? And…and now I’m going to clean myself off.”
“…How exactly do you botch up jelly?!”
Rose jutted her chin out, trying to save the remains of her dignity. “It’s not my fault the box had the wrong instructions on it.”
John stared at her, clearly unconvinced but unwilling to press the issue. “…Shall I pick up some pizza then?”
Another glob splotted on the kitchen floor. “Yes, please.”