The Doctor tells her he’d be back in a week’s time. She tries to argue, saying that was too long, but he insisted and told her that maybe Jackie would stop calling so often if she finally got some good healthy mother daughter bonding time. (He was wrong, of course, but that didn't stop him trying.) And so Rose finds herself snuggled in bed with her mother, laughing over some poorly thought up line the man at the market had given Jackie earlier that day.
As she goes on, gossiping about the neighborhood and wondering with skepticism over whether or not the cat she’d been feeding really was a stray, Rose realizes there are many things- so many precious, little things- she’s missed while away travelling with the Doctor. She watches Jackie from where she’s tucked against her mother’s side, arm draped across her stomach, head pillowed familiarly on her arm. She notices a new set of wrinkles appear and disappear at the corners of Jackie’s eyes every time she laughs at Rose’s occasional quips. It’s funny how quickly you forget the impact time has once you start travelling through it, Rose thinks.
Jackie shushes an already silent Rose, reaching for the remote to turn up the volume of the overwhelmingly lack-luster reality show. Jackie seems to have developed an addiction to reality TV. Maybe this isn’t one of the precious, little things Rose has missed. She tries her best to keep her mom company, but once she finds herself nodding off before the sun’s not even near setting, she forces herself up.
“There’s the leftover pizza from last night in the fridge, love, or you can make that pasta we were talking about this mornin’,” Jackie offers.
“Thanks, Mum. I’m not hungry, but I can heat up the pizza for you, if you’d like.”
Jackie smiles mischievously and leans up, head tilted to the side. As she does so, Rose laughs, shakes her head, and leans down and presses a kiss to Jackie’s cheek.
“Mwah,” Jackie smacks, playfully.
“One pizza for the Lady of the house, coming right up!”
Jackie swats at her retreating figure, pulling a yelp out of Rose. She tries to pin her with a glare, but Jackie’s giggles are contagious as ever and she finds herself laughing as she moves into the kitchen.
The microwave whirs behind her as Rose leans against the counter, fiddling with her cellphone. It’s only been a handful of days since the Doctor dropped her off and as much as she’s admittedly enjoying her time back home, she can’t help but theorize on what new mission he’s taken upon himself. She wouldn’t mind being caught up. Certainly, she doesn’t have anything of note to tell him, but she asks good questions. (Or at least the Doctor seems to think as much.)
It isn’t until she hears Jackie’s exasperated, ‘Oh, tell him to go away already! He said a week! It’s hardly even been three!’ that she realizes the whirring isn’t coming from just the microwave anymore. The familiar cadences of the TARDIS echo throughout the council estate courtyard. Rose straightens, pretending like there isn’t a smile threatening to break out across her face when she passes Jackie’s room.
“I’ll tell him, don’t worry. Back in a mo’!” Rose comforts, pulling a trainer over the heel of her foot.
“You better well do!” is the only warning Rose allows before she’s scampering out the door, shuffling along the hallway to slip into her other shoe.
“Just a mo’!” She shouts over her shoulder as the door swings shut.
Rose approaches the TARDIS and quickly fans her hair out over her shoulders.
“Bluer than normal, eh?” she comments, brow furrowed as her lips quirk into a sly smile.
“Trying to impress me with a new paint job…This might be the first and only time it’ll work.” She chuckles, fondly.
She goes to push the door open only to find it locked.
Muttering to herself, Rose knocks on the door.
A few moments pass and the door is still locked before her.
She knocks again, firmer than before.
Still nothing. Irritation slumps her posture and she knocks, yet again, loudly complaining, “Doctor! What’s the point of coming here if you won’t even let me in? I know you were the one who said a week, but you really could just let me in and I won’t make fun, promise!”
The doors swing open and Rose begins an annoyed lecture stopped short by the sight of a small, elaborately dressed and wholly unfamiliar person before her.
“Hello.” Their voice is as soft and curious as their gaze. “How have we met?”
“W- well. We...haven’t?” Rose stumbles, still taken aback.
“Oh, but we have! You wouldn’t be shouting my name like that otherwise. Of course, there’s always the possibility of running across someone with the same name... but these aren’t average probabilities, given the circumstances. And I have yet to find another person named the Doctor. Unless you count myself. But I don’t run into him all that often. Try not to, anyways.”
The person before her seems to hold a conversation all on their own, their mouth running freely. She refuses to acknowledge the similarities between this "Doctor" and her's. Instead, Rose has only one thought. One skeptical, perplexed thought.
“You’re not the Doctor.”
“No. You’re not.”
“Fascinating!” they exclaim, eyes bright. “How do you know?”
Rose blinks, shocked by their vibrant energy. So shocked, in fact, that she only manages to blurt out, “You’re too posh.”
“Am I?” They look down at themself, assessing their clothes.
“Oh, it’s this jacket, isn’t it? Charley is always telling me it’s too much.”
“No, ‘s not the jacket.”
They look at her quizzically and she huffs lightly. “Well, I mean the jacket is a bit-” she holds up her hands and flicks out her fingers in a sharp, still jazz hand gesture. “It’s the accent. Not... northern enough?”
“Oh, really? Will I be northern in the future? That should be fun, I think.” They retreat into the TARDIS, shrugging off their jacket. As Rose listens closer, she's surprised to note a subtle hint of Liverpudlian. What's in Liverpool? she wonders.
“Maybe the accent will come with a different wardrobe. Anna Girò- one of Vivaldi's muses, his favorite, actually- always used to say she felt differently onstage once they had their costumes and began to do full runs of the opera. But I think anyone would feel differently on stage in the middle of a three hour minimum 15th century Earth opera. You know, Antonio and I never quite got along."
There's a brief pause in their words. Rose continues combing her brain for Liverpool trivia and trademarks.
"Well, are you coming in, or aren’t you? Don’t let the warm air out!”
Rose startles out of her distracted state when the being glances over their shoulder and calls out for her. Maybe their monologue was meant to be a lure. If that was the case, it wasn't so much the content of the monologue as it was the presence they held while they gave it that has Rose cautiously following behind.
“Doesn’t the TARDIS have an atmospheric self-regulator...or something like that?”
They pin her with a sly grin as the doors swing shut behind her.
“Yes, but you wanted an excuse to come inside, didn’t you?”
Rose harrumphs and pins them with a scrutinizing squint that doesn't have quite the effect on them that she’d hoped.
“Only trying to help!” they answer, and step around the console out of sight.
In the silence that ensues, Rose takes a moment to look around the interior. This console room has much more grandeur than the earthy (Gallifreyan? she wonders briefly.) tone of the TARDIS she’s accustomed to. There are aged books shelved neatly along one wall with a small reading space just in front of it. It looks like the tea perched a top a pile of books was just recently made.
She approaches the chair, her brows knit in mild confusion as she drags her fingers across the back. “This chair is supposed to be in the library.” I read in it all the time, she almost adds.
The Doctor pops their head back around the console to take in the chair, a stray curl falling into their face. “Hm, I suppose so. But that’s my favorite chair, and I’m loathe to make the trek to and from the library every time I want to read a book. Especially when this old girl needs as much attention as she does.”
If Rose didn’t know any better, she would have described the noise the TARDIS makes in response as a growl.
“That’s quite a lovely suggestion, though! If I happen to redecorate I’ll take that into consideration. Thank you!”
Rose can’t help but mirror the charming grin that takes over their face and she allows herself to consider the possibility that this traveler might be the same Doctor she’s come to love. But she’s still not entirely convinced. The Doctor would have told her about something as impossible as the ability to change one’s face, surely. Before her mind wanders too far down a path of hypotheticals, she approaches the console and glances over the Doctor’s shoulder.
This “Doctor” is much shorter than hers. She can actually see over their shoulder if she lifts up onto her tiptoes.
“What are you doing here? If you really are the Doctor, you would know it’s bad luck to cross your own timeline and I am most definitely a part of the Doctor’s timeline.”
The Doctor chuckles, sinking to their knees to fiddle with something on the underside of the console. Their reply is minutely affected with effort, “Bad luck is putting it lightly, I’m afraid.”
There’s a small clink and a light that Rose hadn’t previously noticed on the control panel flickers back to life.
“I may be incredibly smart and insightful, but I can’t actually predict my own future. Besides, if your Doctor isn’t around, there’s no risk of crossing my immediate timeline. No harm in getting to know a friendly face, I always say!”
“Do you?” Rose questions, unconvinced.
“Do what?” The Doctor turns around, tucking their sonic screwdriver into the inner pocket of their coat.
This gives Rose pause before she shrugs and mumbles with resignation, “Fair enough.”
The Doctor opens their mouth to say something undoubtedly egg-headed when Rose’s phone starts ringing. She offers them a politely guilty smile before sidling away and bringing the phone to her ear. She barely gets out a hello before her Doctor starts prattling off a long winded story- that sounds more like an excuse- about why he’s on his way back so soon.
Behind her the TARDIS rumbles, warningly, bidding the Doctor to usher their visitor out. They take a moment to examine a few readouts, stray curl falling back into their face yet again. Rose ends the call with hushed tones, suppressing a few giggles before spinning back around with renewed confidence.
“Sorry, mate. It was… lovely to meet you?” she begins, haltingly. “My friend just called. The, erm, real Doctor, and he’s on his way. You should probably get a shift on. I figure you’re on your own journey, but a bit of advice: Lose the jacket, get some hair gel,” she mimes pushing hair out of her forehead. “And don’t forget about the tea on your, er, table there.”
She gives a nod to the tea and offers a radiant smile, laughing through her teeth when she notes their familiar look of astonishment.
“See you around, maybe. But hopefully not. Timelines.”
She finishes and offers a final wave. Rose turns decidedly on her heels, pausing for a blink of an eye when the doors swing open for her. She doesn’t look back when she steps across the threshold. Instead, she pretends to examine the graffiti on the opposing wall, listening closely to the familiar groaning wheeze of the TARDIS. She glances over her shoulder only when the last echo dwindles into silence and turns fully when a different, more battered ship fades into view.
The Doctor pops his head out of the front doors, big ears and all smiles.
Rose grins cheekily and strolls right back into the TARDIS.
“Missed me that much, did you?”