“Since when do you need a reason to buy a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bedspread?” 4,253
A/N Part 2 will be posted some time tomorrow night.
It is Shareen, of all people, who first alerts her to the problem.
“So, you and your guy,” she says out of the blue one day in August, “things winding down?”
They’re folding shirts together in the Junior Petites section of Henrik’s. Looking down at the polo she’s completely mangled in her confusion, Rose manages a miffed “…Sorry?”
“Well, like. Summer’s almost over. He’s older than us, isn’t he? Won’t he be going away for school?”
She gives up on the shirt as a lost cause; her hands have gone numb. “Well, I… I guess I hadn’t thought about it.”
Shareen shakes her head, as she always does when she thinks she’s about to say something worldly and wise. “I’ve had boyfriends like that. Going from spending every waking moment together to hundreds of miles apart. My poor Rose. We’ll have a movie night, when school starts.”
Rose bites back a laugh, despite the sudden trepidation pooling in her stomach. The idea of her and the Doctor being just a summer fling is frankly ludicrous, but she can’t deny that Shareen has a point. “It’s not Grease,” she says instead, keeping her voice light. “No one’s getting a personality transplant as soon as the summer’s over. We can do long-distance.”
“But you haven’t talked about it?”
Of course they haven’t. The Doctor never talks about anything. (It’s a remarkable talent, really—the way he can babble for hours without saying a word.) She knows his favorite fruit and his shoe size and how many marshmallows he can fit in his mouth at once (eight), but she has no idea where he’ll be living in a month.
“I’m seeing him after work—he’s got a whole set up out in the woods, we’re going to watch the lunar eclipse together. He’s been planning it for ages. He probably meant to break it to me tonight.”
“Probably,” Shareen agrees in that offhand way of hers that meant she doesn’t agree at all, but is willing to let Rose delude herself just a little bit longer.
Rose tries not to wonder if she’s right.
It’s not like this is the first time he’s kept something huge from her, after all.
As she climbs on the bus to take her out of town and to the camp site, her mutinous mind starts building a vindictive little list of all the things he hasn’t said.
I love you is a big one.
By the way, my parents are dead and I live with a family friend named Sarah Jane was another.
(It had taken two months for her to figure out just why it was that she’d never been to his place; why he rarely mentioned events at home or how come all of her what would your mother says and I bet your dads went unanswered. He’d mentioned Sarah Jane plenty, of course, but she hadn’t thought anything of it—he talked about Donna and Martha all the time, and he hadn’t been adopted by either of them.)
Most of the time, she’s happy to leave him in peace. Whatever happened to his parents, it’s clear that he was old enough to remember them. Old enough to blame himself. But every once in a while, she gets to wondering what else he’s hiding from her, if he thought it was that important to keep such a large part of himself secret.
It is at these moments that she remembers she had to steal his wallet in order to learn his fucking name.
He’s lined the road with bread.
He’s lined the road with bread, and Rose isn’t sure what she’d been expecting when she’d started walking the familiar path to their favorite clearing, but a trail laid in Wonder Bread certainly wasn’t it. At first she’s caught off-guard by the sheer audacity of his ridiculousness, but there’s something grating, perhaps, in the way the innocent-looking slices punctuate her every tenth step. Not even trying to swim against the current of her bad mood, she adds ‘wasteful’ and ‘littering’ to his rapidly-growing list of offenses.
At the end of the path is a meadow, containing a picnic blanket, a large water cooler, two sets of binoculars and a tall, gangly boy in pinstripes.
He looks up at her, his expression a delighted you made it!—as if her mere existence made her the most singularly impressive and charming person on the face of the Earth. “There’s my Bad Wolf,” he says with a grin, bounding over to her like a puppy and sweeping her into a hug. “Ready to howl at the moon?”
You’re mad at him, she reminds herself, biting her lip. Stop it. You’re mad at him.
“What’s with the bread?” she asks.
“Well, I wanted to do a Hansel and Gretel kind of thing, and lead you here with breadcrumbs, but then—much like in Hansel and Gretel, which probably should have occurred to me beforehand—the local wildlife found it before you did so I had to drive to the gas station down the road to get, er… bread slices.”
“How’s that relevant to the eclipse, exactly?”
“It’s… not. Exactly. We’ve got about fifteen minutes! And I packed sandwiches for later—unless you’re hungry now?”
“It can wait.”
“Okay. A toast, then,” he declares, taking out two plastic Solo cups and a bottle of sparkling apple cider. “It’s not champagne, obviously, but it’s golden and it bubbles so I figured…” he trails off, and then looks mournfully back down his bread slice path. “Pity I didn’t save any,” he explains when he catches her look, “we could have had a toast toast.”
“I could have improvised.”
She smiles in spite of herself. “Guess we’ll have to save that one for another day. So, a toast?”
“Right! Yes,” he agrees, shoving a cup in her hand and raising his own in the air. “To us,” he says, and drinks deep.
Rose stares at the slowly-vanishing foam at the top of her cider. “That’s it? ‘To us?’”
He looks at her sideways. “You’re right,” he decides, studying her carefully, “I’ll, um. Hmmm. To you, then, eh? To Rose Tyler: the greatest summer companion a guy could ever ask for.”
Drinking to that is hard—she feels kind of like she’ll throw up if she swallows anything. “A what?” she tries to ask, but her throat is so suddenly parched that it barely comes out a whisper.
Unaware, the Doctor turns around and starts unpacking the picnic cooler. She clenches her hands into fists and steels herself.
“Do we have an expiration date?” she blurts.
He freezes; she can literally see the muscles in his back tense beneath his jacket. “What do you mean?” he asks, focusing on his task.
“You know exactly what I mean. Are you going away to school soon?”
“Those are two different questions.”
“How am I supposed to know that?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
The look on her face tells him that was not the right thing to say. He flounders:
“I thought we had a… an unspoken agreement. I mean, my flight isn’t until the 21st so I thought—”
“Flight? Where, exactly, are you going to school?”
“On the west coast. But that’s not… Rose. We went to Bed, Bath and Beyond the other day. Why else would I have gone shopping for linens with you?”
“Since when do you need a reason to buy a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bedspread?”
“Good point, but that’s not—I just. I didn’t want this hanging over our heads during our last few weeks together. Do we have to talk about this now?”
She looks at him as if he’d slapped her. “…Last?”
“Hold on, stop it, that’s not what I meant—”
“How long were you going to wait to tell me?”
He looks at the ground. “Does it matter?”
“Yeah, it does, if you were just gonna let slide and hope I never noticed. Were you ever gonna mention it, or were you just gonna call me up one day and say, Oh, by the way, I’m at school now, see you at Thanksgiving?!”
“As opposed to what?” he asks, a bite in his tone. Rose doesn’t like what she can read in his expression—offended hurt, as if she’s the one being unreasonable and dramatic.
She deflates. “A little honesty, is all. Aren’t I worth that? I thought you and me were… well. I obviously got it wrong.”
“I—what, no—Rose…” he stutters, mouth opening and closing several times. “Of course you’re… I just. I’m not good at… at… you know I can’t just… argh! It’s always hard to say goodbye to someone you—” he cuts himself off.
“What?” she asks coldly, suddenly needing to hear him say it more than she’s ever needed anything in her life. “Someone you what, John?”
They both freeze in place when it tumbles out of her mouth.
Her first thought, wildly, is that she’s been terribly misinformed. Sticks and stones may break her bones, but words are weapons and oh god, she’s just pierced the heart of them with a single name. She instantly wants to take it back, to safely return over the line she’s crossed, but she can’t unsay it now.
And besides, she remembers with a start, you only said too much because he won’t say anything at all.
He swallows, and she stares at the clenching muscles of his jaw. “The eclipse is starting,” he says mechanically, turning back to his spread.
Something vicious twists in her chest, and her mouth operates once more without her permission: “Yeah; it is,” she mutters lowly.
Rose turns on her heel and walks away.
As she gains distance, she starts picking up speed—going from a jog to a run to a sprint, leaping over roots and ducking under low branches. Her eyes are miraculously dry, but she’s running blind anyway—not sure of where she is and not caring where she ends up, as long as it’s away. Her feet take her deep into the woods and straight to a familiar tree—the sycamore they’d been… where she fell. Their first kiss.
For just a moment, she allows herself to consider the aftermath of breaking up with him.
She starts climbing.
Her first instinctual reaction is utter horror; denial and blame. What have you done, her heart demands, and she takes a deep breath and moves a branch higher, pushing away her panic.
Beyond the shock is heartbreak—a deep well of pain and loss that she struggles to fathom. She’s always been petite; the idea of such a little body holding so much grief… she can hardly comprehend the geometry of her sadness.
She scrapes her hand on a bit of rough bark and nearly slips. The sting of her palms gives her the focus she needs to move ahead one more layer: bafflement.
She rests a moment, catching her breath.
If they broke up, what would she do with it all? The reams of knowledge you gain about a person when you’re with them for so long. She still gets pangs when she sees pineapple pizza—Mickey’s favorite after-soccer snack—or happens to hear ‘This One’s For You’ by Barry Manilow—the first song Jimmy Stone had ever dedicated to her, sitting on her bed and playing his acoustic guitar. And if she thought those had been difficult break-ups…
Rose reaches higher.
The idea of untangling herself from John Smith is more than daunting. It’s impossible. Getting over him would mean, in so many tiny, essential ways, getting over herself. How could she drink a Shirley Temple without him sitting across from her? How could she read a comic book, or make a dorky pun, or—oh god. Sleep in her bed?
Coming to a stop at the branch where he’d been when she fell, it hits her like a freight train. She’s poured all of herself into this relationship—into him—and like water into a glass, she’s taken his shape.
And the honest truth is that she likes herself better this way.
(He hasn’t followed her, apparently, but that doesn’t faze her—she can see him so clearly. Still standing in the same exact spot she left him, mouth hanging slightly open, a look of befuddled betrayal on his face. He won’t leave without her. It won’t even occur to him to leave without her. He’s her ride home, and if he thinks she doesn’t want him to give chase, he’ll wait there all night if he has to.)
The thought of him alone in that clearing next to the picnic he’d set out for the two of them shatters her into a thousand pieces. It is only now that she starts crying—mortified at her own petty selfishness.
The voice in the back of her head that sounds remarkably like Jimmy says: I told you so.
If he left her, she’d deserve it.
Her ears perk up suddenly. Is she imagining things, or…?
A frantic holler in the distance: “Rose?!”
He’d called her by name for the first time here, too. (Funny, how his was a betrayal when hers had been the key that unlocked them. It feels like an ending to a beginning, and that terrifies her.)
“ROSE!” she hears again, closer now. Less muddled. The hysteria in his voice grows more apparent with each step.
He breaks into view and stops walking immediately, completely arrested at the sight of the sycamore. Trance-like, he wanders over to it and places a hand on its mottled bark. As she watches him slide to his knees, sink against the trunk and close his eyes, a crushing weight settles in her chest.
“I’m up here,” she says quietly, causing him to startle.
In the rapidly-waning moonlight, she can see pure terror all over his face.
“Rose,” he breathes desperately as she scampers to begin her descent, “I… you…”
He starts to babble.
“You know, I can’t help but notice that the structural integrity of this tree is questionable at best. Look at how the root—no please don’t actually look down!—the roots are completely tangled up in the root systems of the other trees. And, y’know, that old adage about lightning never striking the same place twice? That’s a total fallacy. There was a, a US Park ranger named Roy Sullivan, and between 1942 and 1977 he was struck by lightning seven times. Seven! And he survived them all. He didn’t die until 1983, when he… when he shot himself. They say it was due to unrequited love. And I just…” he clears his throat. “Imagine that, Rose,” he croaks, voice cracking as she jumps down from the lowest branch. “Surviving all of that… just to end up dying of a broken heart.”
Their eyes meet.
With a strangled sob, she throws herself into his chest. His arms wrap around her immediately, squeezing her into a tense hug, and his voice is low and insistent as he endlessly repeats “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
She strokes his hair away from his forehead with one hand, holding him tightly with the other. “Shhh. Shhh. It’s okay. M’not leavin’ you. I’m right here. You’ve got me.”
“I love you,” he whispers fiercely into her ear.
The dam breaks.
She falls into him, needy and desperate and scared, so scared, and he lets her—matches her in intensity, hands tangling in her hair. She kisses every part of him she can reach—the hollow of his throat and the curve of his jaw; the jut of his lower lip and the sensitive spot under his ear—mumbling Doctor, Doctor, Doctor every time she pulls back for breath. She takes the word and she scatters it across his skin, creating him all over again.
Eventually their frantic energy dies down, but neither one of them wants to be the first to take a step back. Above them, the moon burns orange behind the shadow of the Earth.
“How long are you going to stay with me?” he asks shakily, eyes squeezed shut. He’s trembling beneath her grip.
“Forever,” she promises, nuzzling her nose into his neck.
They decide to spend the time they have until he leaves cramming several months worth of bonding into two weeks—doing something or going somewhere they never have before, every chance they get. One day they’re at the zoo, making up soap opera storylines about the secret lives of the animals over rapidly-melting ice cream cones; the next they’re conducting theoretical (and then practical) experiments to determine the optimal distance from trampoline to swimming pool when attempting a front flip dive. It rains all weekend, so they spend it curled up on her couch, each attempting to beat the others high score at Tetris.
And before either of them is ready, it’s Tuesday morning.
Rose rubs at her bare arms and tries to keep from yawning, sitting on her porch in her Cute Pajamas. Waiting for her chance to say goodbye. She smiles as his familiar blue station wagon emerges from the muddy gray light of pre-dawn, stands up as it pulls in, and then…
The Doctor gets out of the passenger side door wearing jeans and a Superman t-shirt, and her chest constricts painfully. It’s been months since she’s seen him in anything other than the suit.
He looks like a stranger.
She waves to Sarah Jane, who’s waiting patiently in the car. “You took the TARDIS?”
“We needed the trunk space,” he says with a shrug. “Even though we shipped most of my stuff, I’m still checking luggage.”
She toes the ground, feeling awkward. He scratches his arm.
“How long have we got?”
He glances anxiously back to the car. “About two minutes?”
She barks out a laugh at the absurdity of it all. “I don’t know what to say,” she tries to chuckle, but her voice warbles and she finds she’s fighting back tears.
He takes a step closer and pulls her to him, and she shuts her eyes tight.
“S’just,” she sniffles into his chest, “what if you meet someone, an’…”
“Oh, Rose…” he sighs, pressing his lips into the crown of her head. “Do you remember what I told you, before… right before our first time?”
She nods; he doesn’t so much see it as feel the bob of her head against his heart.
“What did I say?”
“You said… that… you’d been waiting.”
Another sniffle. “Me.”
He pushes her away from him so she can see his gentle smile. “I only take the best, Rose. And I already have you.”
She kisses him. There’s nothing else she can say.
“Have a good year, okay?” he requests when he pulls back, keeping his forehead against hers and cradling her head in his hands. “Do that for me. Have an absolutely fantastic year.”
Sarah Jane honks once on the car horn, and they both wince.
The Doctor leans down for a quick peck on the lips and starts walking backwards. “I’ll see you later,” he says, sounding more confident than he feels.
She gives him a watery smile. “Not if I see you first.”
Rose opens her phone for the fifth time in as many minutes, missing him fiercely.
And closes it. She’s not going to be that girl. The needy girlfriend who ‘just wants to hear his voice’ and requires that he constantly check in. He’s barely been gone two days. She’s not going to bother him when he’s probably busy doing important college-y things. She’s not.
She opens her phone again and hits speed dial.
Yes, she is.
She blinks at the unfamiliar timbre on the other end of the line. “You’re not the Doctor,” she blurts, only realizing how stupid that sounds once it’s out of her mouth.
“No, I’m not,” the voice admits in a manner she can only describe as sultry. “But I’ve been told I have the healing touch. I’m Jack, Jack Harkness. Are you in need of touching, Miss—?” there’s a commotion and a muffled argument, then—
“Hey, you. S’me.”
“Rose! Hi! Sorry about that, Jack’s being… difficult.”
“And who is Jack, exactly?”
“Oh. He seems…” she trails off, not exactly sure what’s safe to say. She finally settles on “nice?”
“Oh, yes,” the Doctor agrees, sounding slightly—possessive? She bites back a giggle at the thought. “Very nice. Too nice.”
“I was just saying hello!” she hears Jack protest in the background.
“Well don’t!” the Doctor snaps. “So, what’s up?”
“Nothing, I just… missed you. Is now a good time?”
“Well, Jack and I were about to head down to the Activities Fair to, ah, join clubs and things. But I’ve got a few minutes before… I… well. No. To answer your question. It’s not, strictly speaking, a good time. But I want to talk to you!”
She bites her lip, but tries to keep a smile in her voice for him. “I know you do. Don’t worry about it; I don’t want you to be late cuz of me. I’ll talk to you soon, yeah?”
“Absolutely. I’ll call you back as soon as I—yes, Jack, I’m coming!—soon as I can. Bye!”
She puts her phone down slowly and takes her time snapping it closed and putting it away, feeling very young and very left behind.
He calls her back about a half hour later.
“You have to help me,” he whispers.
She sits up straight in her chair. “What happened? What’s wrong?”
“I… it’s possible that I joined all the clubs.”
“All the clubs! I joined them all, Rose. Just. Everything looked so interesting, and there were shouting people with clip boards, and they were all so excited.”
“So you joined all the clubs.”
“It’s possible that I put myself on the mailing list to pledge Theta Sigma.”
“You signed up to join a fraternity?”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time!”
“Doctor,” she says, laughing, “I’m sorry to break this to you, but you’re not Max Fischer. Turn around, march back to the Fair, and cut it down to five clubs, tops.”
“Don’t make me change it to four.”
There’s a brief pause, and she can practically hear him pouting at her. “Fine,” he says petulantly, and she mouths along with him as he quotes, “I saved Latin! What did you ever do?”
At three a.m., her phone rings once more. It takes her three tries to grab it, groping blindly from her bed.
She yawns. “H’lo?”
“Rose,” the Doctor breathes, sounding excited, “Isn’t it weird how some words are okay to say and some words aren’t?”
“Like, curse words. Swears. Colorful language. Pardon my French. Which is probably a very prejudiced thing to say, now that I think about it—how come the French are the only ones who talk filthy?”
“Doctor,” Rose says slowly, “are you… drunk?”
“Of course not. Superior Kryptonian biology. I can metabolize alcohol like that. Banana daiquiris, by the way, are delicious.”
“Except for the part where you’re not Superman, that’s a really convincing argument.”
“Of course I’m not Superman, Miss Lane, that would be ridiculous. Gosh. I’m Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter. How goes it with you, Lois?”
“Wondering why you woke me up for this.”
“Words! I was just thinking that—” the Doctor cuts off suddenly in a helpless fit of laughter.
“Nothing, it’s just—” he tries, before dissolving into giggles again.
“Doctor, what is it?”
“I’m walking home, and I just entered the dorm. And the stairwell has truly exceptional acoustics, and so every—” he laughs, “every—everything I’m saying echoes.”
Rose smiles indulgently. “Sounds awesome. But what were you saying, earlier?”
“Isn’t it funny,” the Doctor begins, over-enunciating his words, “that I’m allowed to say I want to have sex with you, but it’s inappropriate to say I want to fuck you? It’s so random. Why is that? Fuck is a perfectly good word. Such stigma!”
To Rose’s sleep-fogged mind, trying to hold onto the thread of this conversation feels like trying to hold onto soap in the shower. “Actually, I think it’s inappropriate to say you want to have sex with me, too. Without buying me dinner first, anyway,” she adds, tongue in her teeth.
“What would be appropriate, then?”
“I dunno. Making love?” she suggests, struggling to keep a straight face.
“Okie dokie. I want to make love to you.”
“What the hell kind of gutter has Jack Harkness dragged your mind into?”
“Jack Harkness? I’m insulted! I’ll have you know that I have always felt this way.”
“Yes really. I wear my underwear outside my pants, Rose; what more of a clue could you want?”
“I’m Lois. Apparently.”
“Right; yes! Lois! And I want to ravish you, Miss Lane.”
“Well, you’re faster than a speeding bullet, aren’t you?”
He scoffs, offended. “Just what are you implying?”
“That if you really had superior biology, we wouldn’t be having this conversation on the phone. You could fly here.”
“Miss Lane, I think by now you are well aware of how superior my biology is. And—oh, shoot. I have to go. I will call you,” he announces grandly, “in the morning.”
Rose falls back asleep with a smile on her face and delicious, drunken blackmail in her heart.